A Sense of Identity

By Caroline Jones

I saw a blog post from Blurt recently. They’re an amazing organisation, and if you haven’t been on their site before, you totally should; lots of fantastic information and advice for helping to deal with depression, etc, whether you or a loved one is the sufferer. And it really made me think – stuff I’d thought before, but had pushed to one side, because it was kind of uncomfortable to think about. But today I couldn’t just shove it away, and it led me back to here.

The post was about how depression can steal your sense of self, with lots of good advice about how to try and combat that. Excellent stuff. And it’s right, depression can and does do that. And I realised again what I realised some time ago – I’ve suffered from depression (and now anxiety) for so long (well over half my life now…. bloody hell!) that I actually cannot remember who I was without it. And that’s a bit freaky, and a bit scary. Although I was only formally diagnosed once I was at university, I know now (from hindsight and conversation with medical professionals) that I was undoubtedly severely clinically depressed for the vast majority of my teenage years, and ever since, although it wasn’t picked up at the time. I didn’t realise; I suppose I thought it was normal to sleep a lot of the time, to hide from life, to hide away from people, to have suicidal thoughts and all the rest of it. As I didn’t talk about it with anyone, I had nothing to compare it to.

Now, I realise that I don’t know anyone who knew me BD (before depression, natch!) apart from my family – and as I was so young at the time, it’s hard to say that even they really knew me; there wasn’t much to know. And I don’t remember what it was like without it; I don’t remember what it was like having a (comparatively) uncomplicated, happy life. And I realise that I don’t know who I would be without it. I don’t know who I would have grown up to be, without this illness. Would I be totally different? Would I have different hobbies, different interests, different friends? Who would I be? And would the people who know me (and hopefully like me) now have liked the other me? I feel like my whole identity has been hugely influenced or shaped by this stupid, annoying mental glitch – I think wistfully of who I might have been, what I might have achieved, if my brain chemicals didn’t hate me quite so much. And I wonder if I would like myself more without the depression. But … if I could click my fingers now, and suddenly be totally free from depression and anxiety … I still don’t know who I would be, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like.

I’ve always tried to think and believe that depression and anxiety do not define me, or anyone else, any more than being diabetic or having a thyroid problem would define anyone. And now I have to wonder … well, maybe they do define me, to a large extent. If you removed that part of me, what would be left? And what would fill the gap?

Reproduced with permission, originally published here

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