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.