I have depression. I am not depression. See the difference?
Simple, you might think. But many of us depression survivors forget this difference.
There’s no doubt depression has been in my life since 1982 for a reason, and it has brought me to where I am for a purpose. But depression is NOT who I am and I must be really careful to avoid thinking that it is. Because those kinds of thoughts can happen without me realizing.
Depression is not my defining characteristic and it has nothing to do with my identity – unless I allow it.
Because I’ve recently gone public about my depression, and started this blog and a Facebook support page, it would be easy to define myself as “John the Depression Guy”.
It would be easy and it would be a big mistake.
(1) Depression is not “my thing” that makes me unique
It’s very easy to develop the mentality whereby depression is my special characteristic that sets me apart from others. After all, with it I can get attention (even if it’s negative attention), which can make me feel validated on some level. Many of us survivors do this – just the satisfaction of telling a helpful person to leave us alone means we have received attention and a twisted kind of validation. We feel a strange sense of power.
Depression is not “my thing”. It is not my way of standing out. It has nothing to do with my character. The fact is…
Depression isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom.
(2) Depression is not my excuse or crutch
I know sometimes I won’t be able to face a task or attend an event because I feel like shit. That’s fine, sometimes. But if I repeatedly tell myself that I can’t do things, or can’t join in, because I have depression, then I’m using it as an excuse. The fact is I can do/attend those things. I’m choosing not to. That’s the difference.
If I spend days or weeks or months sabotaging myself by refusing to get up and try, I’m using depression as a crutch. It’s an excuse not to help myself. I’m starting to let it rule me. Then I’m one step away from letting it take possession of my sense of self. Once that happens, I’ll give up entirely.
“Depression doesn’t rob you of the choice. It tricks you into making the wrong choice.”
– Mel Robbins
(3) Diagnosis is not a label
This relates to the point above about using depression as an excuse.
“OK, I got diagnosed with depression. Great! Now I know what’s wrong. It explains everything.”
But does it really?
If I let depression be the explanation for my problems, I’ll find it even easier to talk myself out of stuff. Then I’ll wear it as a convenient label. Eventually, in my mind, it will become me. The sequence of thinking goes like this:
- First: “I can’t do that because I have depression.”
- Which becomes: “I’m different/special because I have depression”.
- Then: “I’m stuck with depression, for good.”
- Then: “Depression and me are one, inseparable.”
By accepting the label, I affirm depression as my master.
At the time of my diagnosis, and for some years afterwards, I had no idea depression would be with me for decades or how much it would shape my life. Nor had I any clue of the enormous journey I had to undertake.
All I knew was I had a label. I had a hook to hang my problems on.
But a diagnosis did not explain away my problems.
(4) Depression is not my destined lot in life
I remember many depressive episodes where I thought, “This is my lot. Nothing will get better. I’m stuck with depression for life.”
In those moments, I had decided that depression was part of who I was.
Guess what happened? It persisted. Badly.
I can change my future. I can choose my destiny. I can live with depression or I can take steps every day to grow and change. (So far I haven’t won the battle, but I’m working at it.)
(5) Depression is a message service
That message service is telling me that something has to change. Pruning the branches is not the change that’s needed; the roots have to be dug out. I need professional help and plenty of support to achieve that. I have to ask for that help.
Depression worsens if I resist changing, forgiving and loving. It worsens if I refuse to listen.
The biggest danger: avoiding the core issue
Depression is not my problem. I repeat: depression is NOT my problem.
I am not my wounds. But if I keep allowing myself to be a victim to them, I will be.
The problem goes way deeper and I cannot use depression as an excuse to avoid getting to it. I have to pay careful attention to the issues that upset me most. And also to the issues that I think upset me but actually don’t rock me as much.
I’ve been listening to Kick Ass by Mel Robbins. One of the people Mel talked to is a sexual assault survivor who thought all her problems came down to that assault. Why? Because her therapist had told her as much. “You were sexually abused and that’s why you’re depressed.” It turned out she had very different issues. Unfortunately, the therapist’s statement allowed her to define herself by the issue, and thus her treatment didn’t really get to the root of her problems. The sexual assault was awful and traumatic, no doubt, but it was obvious in the recording that talking about certain other topics upset her far more than talking about the assault. Mel Robbins picked up on that and explored. It was amazing. It was a clear example of how any of us can simply accept the diagnosis as the centre of our problems, instead of digging deeper.
For me, I think I am at the point where I have dug around the roots and exposed them. Now I have to dig them out, once and for all.
Only then can I find my true identity.