Authenticity and Recovery

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This is the first time I’ve participated in a blog carnival, and I’m grateful to Evan of wellbeingandheath for inviting me to contribute a post on the theme of authenticity. As soon as I heard that word, I realized how central authenticity is to recovery from major depression, but I had never before reframed the process in that way. What’s changed in my thinking? I’ll try to summarize briefly what had occurred to me so far.

  • Depression tends to mask my behavior, hiding a more balanced personality from the world and from my own awareness. Obsessed with despairing thoughts about my whole life, my mind unable to focus, complete isolation the preferred state, all I present to the world is a person distant, self-absorbed, unable to follow a conversation for long, quick to anger at anyone’s efforts to reach me. Above all, I can’t share my feelings with anyone, and the only feeling that consumes me is despair and self-contempt. In a sense, I’m living a lie.

  • When I’m hidden away like that, my wife is not only hurt by the withdrawal but also loses trust in me. One day I’m cheerful and present in our relationship, the next I’m sullen and isolated. If she can’t know what I’m feeling as the emotions flow through me, how can she trust me? If my personality is suddenly hidden under a smothering blanket, there is no true me to relate to. One day of closeness can’t restore the bond if it is soon lost the next morning to depression.
  • Something similar happens at work. My colleagues lose touch with me as I’m losing touch with who I am. All they can see, all I can grasp is that I’m not able to get the job done consistently. I’m no longer reliable – where did all that talent and promise go? Everything is turned on its head, and I’m convinced that the real me is the hopeless and worthless idiot who has never done anything right or kind or competent in his entire life. Being authentic, even with myself, is impossible.
  • Recovery only began for me when I could at last see that depression turned me into a false person ultimately bent of self-destruction. This was not really who I was – it was an illness temporarily in charge of my mind and feelings. It would go at some point, and it was something I could fight hard to get rid of. It was a storm with clear boundaries, and I knew it would spend its force and disappear.
  • For the first time in years, I could reconnect with an authentic self and once again feel hope. I could begin to separate the constant anguish of depression from the true emotions that coursed through me. And I could begin to share them with others, to reconnect with my wife and children because I was reconnecting with myself.

There is no way to present an authentic and trustworthy self to the world if my feelings and thoughts are twisted and hidden away, if I believe that the false me of the illness is the whole of who I am. I need to be present with myself before I can be present with anyone else.

It is so easy to lose touch, though, that I have to be constantly aware of the trend of my thinking and feeling. There are so many times when my head is pushed down by a heavy feeling, my eyes can only look at the few feet of ground around me, and self-contempt is surging. I’m disappearing again.

It’s then that I have to catch myself with a simple thought: I don’t have to go there – that’s not me. Just saying that literally lifts my head, and I’m staring into the sky and “the bright blessed day.” The world emerges again from the lifting fog. I can see everything around me, its beauty, not its faults, hear what my family and friends are saying, talk to them, be with them. I feel hope and energy and purpose. I feel alive. I’m back.

Recovery is full of starts, diversions, steps back, leaps ahead, stumbles. But being in touch with the authentic self is like hitting bedrock. There’s someone solid and trustworthy there, and If I lose sight of him for a while, I know I’ll see him again.

15 Responses to “Authenticity and Recovery”

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  1. john says:

    Lynn –

    These are the most important questions you could ask, and I’ve tried to answer as best I could in the post I put up today (2/21/09).

    I want to be clear that I’m not in a “rush” to excuse intolerable and destructive behavior by chalking it all up to an illness. I hope you will read Why Depressed Men Leave – 2 and see if that makes sense.

    Let me know if there’s anything else I can offer.

    I wish you all the best — John

  2. Lynn says:

    So if you leave a wife and 4 young children, including a new baby, move in with a single, fun-loving woman you met at work, lie to your wife about the affair, file for divorce and convince yourself that it is because your wife was unfaithful, move to California and marry the fun-loving woman soon after you divorce your first wife, see your four children one week-end per month, make two more moves to further your own career, divorce the second wife, date and sleep with multiple other women, marry a third wife, walk out on her numerous times, each time blaming her for your leaving, and then look back over your life and blame all the problems on the fact that you have a depressive illness, is that authenticity that will lead to recovery? Where in all of this rush to attribute horrible actions on a depressive illness is the real person? Who is the real person? A sad, ill man who needs to be comforted and forgiven or a jerk who deserves to be shunned? Not guilty by reason of depression, or guilty but depressed? People and diseases do horrible things. But there are plenty of people with horrible diseases who live honest, decent lives and help, not hurt, those who love them. We all have a choice.

    JOHN AND OTHERS: WHAT ARE THE WIVES SUPPOSED TO DO? DOES WHAT THEY DO MATTER?

  3. John D says:

    Hey, Chunks – What’s this about being nothing? I don’t know if it’s really possible to love yourself, but it is possible to realize that you’re a fine person with or without a job or title. One of the worst things about the world we’re in is that it keeps telling us that success equals self-worth. It gives us a sense of shame about who we are – and we have to make up for it by proving we amount to something in the workplace. Work’s important if it’s fulfilling, but it can’t define your humanity.

    Sorry if I sound preachy on this – but it was a huge realization for me some time ago. As soon as someone focused me on shame, where it comes from and how it works, I really went to work on that. I hope you can too!

    Total hugs!! John

  4. I realized a few years ago how much work defined my life. I had never realized it before.

    It was devastating to figure out. I’m still reeling from it. I don’t want to be that person who cares about the corporate world but yet that is how I’ve unconsciously lived my entire life. Bigger, better, climb that corporate ladder, title, money, bonus, etc….without any of that I was nothing.

    Now I am nothing and trying to find out another way to be.

    Really, when I think about it, I was always nothing….but for some reason if I had so-and-so job with such-and-such title with a particular amount of money, it validated to me that I wasn’t nothing. I was someone valued.

    How do I value myself?

    How do I gain self-confidence and self-esteem?

    How do I find me?

    Is it possible to love yourself?

    So many questions and too few answers.

    Thank you for listening to my babbling.

  5. John D says:

    Revellian – Talk about a gutsy fighter! I wish I had been so bold and trusting in myself to take a step like yours. As hard as it was to do it, you stayed with your principles – as you seem to do all the time. I think a measure of courage is the willingness to take a risk to do what’s right for you, no matter what fears and misgivings you may have. Thanks again for your honest insights.

    All my best – John

  6. John D says:

    Thank you, Barbara, for this interesting comment. “the experience of unknowing” – that’s beautifully put. I’ve been in that state as often as not, but these days I’m working overtime to separate a healthy me from any other me that gets in the way. It’s taken me a terribly long time to stay focused on this task, but I seem to be getting somewhere. Thanks for coming by! – John

  7. John D says:

    Chunks – What a huge issue you raise! That link between work and the feeling of self-worth is so strong, yet it contradicts so much of what I believe in. I don’t want to be in a position where my sense of my own value depends on the measurement of the work I do. I’ll have to write more about this – writing, of course, is my way of thinking. I’m glad this connected with you. You’re right – I’ve been imagining lately how great it would be if a group of us could get together every now and then.

    Hugs right back at you – John

  8. John D says:

    Etta –

    You remind me of the other false selves, the masks – apart from those of depression – that belong to the roles we play, many enforced by social demands. That’s another side of authenticity – sometimes I wonder if we are ever ourselves – or what being oneself really means. But like you I know it when I feel it, and there is such excitement about being able to say, believe, this is me today and I feel great in my own skin. It may be temporary, but, as I’ll write soon, perhaps that sense of self can be permanent than I have imagined until now. Thank you for bringing such thoughtful ideas.

    All my best to you – John

  9. Revellian says:

    I’m a little shaken by this post, but I’ve been in the blackened pit and know how it feels. My fiancée left because I gave up a career job–but I could not stand the lies, corporate politics and others taking credit for my work. So I went from making big money to making hardly any–working “menial” jobs. In her eyes (and her families) I had become a loser. I lost grip with reality and sunk.

    I finally realized I did the right thing and she was not wanting to marry only me, but a paycheck–now she’s married to a lawyer…yay.

    Even if I worked in McDonald’s washing dishes, I will never consider myself a loser. Even homeless, I wouldn’t be a loser. I sure felt like one at one time. I feel healed John. I hope you will feel healed too:)

  10. Barbara says:

    Hi John,

    It was difficult in the familiarity reading this post, at the same time empathizing. As you know, the depression wears all kinds of masks, disguises, portrayals of you, you’d probably just as soon not be there. But they are there. I think that may be where the question arose – is depression a part of the self. It certainly can seem imbedded, as you rid yourself from under it’s influence some days every other five minutes. Wondering which part of you is winning, the depressed you or the you observing beautiful skies. They appear to both ‘be’ you, don’t they?

    I’ve certainly had that experience of unknowing.

    I’m glad you participated in Evan’s blog carnival. I really appreciate reading candid stories.

  11. John, your post was poignant as always. It really hit home when you said:

    “Something similar happens at work. My colleagues lose touch with me as I’m losing touch with who I am. All they can see, all I can grasp is that I’m not able to get the job done consistently. I’m no longer reliable – where did all that talent and promise go? Everything is turned on its head, and I’m convinced that the real me is the hopeless and worthless idiot who has never done anything right or kind or competent in his entire life. Being authentic, even with myself, is impossible.”

    I have this horrible way of defining myself by the work that I do and if I can’t perform I really bear a lot of anguish about it. It’s just too much to bear.

    I wish so much that we lived in the same town and could meet for coffee once a week and have a small support group for each other. You are incredibly wise. I hope you realize this.

    *hugs*

  12. etta says:

    John–

    Nice, thoughtful post. Thanks. I agree with Merely Me’s pondering, too. Am I more authentic when my depression rears it’s ugly head? Perhaps, in my own, solo environment, I am.

    At home, I don’t have to put up that illusion of a well-put-together woman with everything under control. Or, the equally destructive persona of an isolated, distant loner whose gaze never leaves your shoe tops…

    As I recover, and have days free of depression’s influence, I am finding my authentic self even in public. It’s wonderful, even if temporary. For me, I need to remember it is ALL temporary. That thought reminds me to let go of judging the misery. If I can just let it be and know it will pass, life is a bit simpler in those dark times.

    But reminding myself it is ALL temporary also encourages me to wholeheartedly grasp the authentic times–the days free of depression–and ride them for all they’re worth.

    Thanks again for the post.

  13. John D says:

    Thank you for including me in that great post of yours.

    Illusion is a good description for ideas that occur in depression. Taking memories of real events and changing them into a different reality or seeing your lowered self reflected back at you wherever you turn your eye or mind. And I’ve often wondered about how depression fits into our psychic makeup. You’ve given me a bunch to think about. Is Depression a Part of the Self? Could I use that for a post title or are you already on it?

    Hugs – John

  14. Merely Me says:

    This is such an interesting focus. I am sitting here wondering if I am more or less authentic when depressed. Actually sometimes I think I am more real as I get in touch with my deepest core.

    Yet too there is so much illusion present with depression…the lowered self esteem…the muddled thinking that nothing matters and thoughts that I cannot pick myself up again.

    I suppose you get into the question of who we are…is depression a part of self?

    Great post!

    Oh and hey…thank you so much for your quote and you can find it in my article on health central here:

    http://www.healthcentral.com/depression/c/84292/55833/digitalize

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