When we have depression – particularly when we’ve had it for a long time – it can feel as though our illness completely gobbles us up.
Depression strips the joy out of all the activities we used to love, steals our ability to think clearly, and can make seeing our friends feel impossible. We might not be able to remember the films that we like, or which kind of music we prefer. We might struggle to leave the house and forget the places we used to visit with our families. We may no longer be able to taste our favourite foods properly and lose track of whether we prefer chocolate or cheese. Depression can zap our creativity and dry up our inspiration.
We might start grieving the person we used to be. We might miss ‘old us’ and yearn for a past version of ourselves.
It can reach the point when it feels like depression has stolen everything that makes us, ‘us’, and rather than seeing ourselves as a person with likes, dislikes, loves, talents and amazing qualities, we see ourselves as a ‘depressed person’.
We aren’t just ‘depressed people’, though. We are family members, friends, and part of society. Under our depression, we have distinct and unique personalities – our illness doesn’t and shouldn’t define who we are.
Reconnecting with our true selves isn’t always easy. It can take a long time and a lot of hard work, especially as depression often robs us of the energy or motivation to take action. But it is possible.
Talking therapies can be very helpful, but there are also things we can do ourselves to help rediscover who we are. Here are a few ideas:
Make peace with your grief
It’s hard to make peace with our lives when we’re beating ourselves up for losing touch with the person we once were, or grieving the time we’ve lost to our depression. It’s natural for us to be angry at our illness, and to cry and grieve the loss of our old selves. However if we want to move forwards it’s important to accept that depression has changed things, and change our focus from who we used to be, to who we want to be.
A great way to reignite our sense of self is to allow ourselves to dream. Always wanted to be an airline pilot? Google the steps involved in getting there. Always wanted a cat? Print a picture, stick it on your fridge, and figure out how you can make it happen. It doesn’t matter if your dreams feel impossible right now, it doesn’t matter how big or small your dreams are, or if they change as you’re chasing them, as the Disney corporation say: ‘If you can dream it you can do it’.
Create a ‘you’ book
Write, draw, stick things, paint, make a mess. Cut up magazines, save newspaper articles, print bits and bobs off the internet – begin to pull together an idea of what matters to you. Save anything that you can relate to, even if you’re not really sure why they jump out at you. It could be a physical scrapbook, or perhaps a Pinterest board. Slowly you will begin to build up a picture of who you are.
Look up local groups
Lot of places have local interest groups. In many areas there are craft groups, local history groups, Scouts and Guides, sports clubs and other social groups. Meetup.com can be a good place to find out about things going on in your area, you could also go down to the library, check the display boards in supermarkets, or find local groups on Facebook. Pop along to one or two and see if you enjoy what they have to offer. It can be scary at first, but you could always rope in a friend to go with you. If you go once and you don’t like it, there’s no pressure to go again, but you might find a new hobby or meet some new friends.
The important people will stick around
When we have spent a long time squishing ourselves into the person we think that other people want us to be, it can feel scary to change. But living for other people will never make us truly happy. And we find that – despite our fears – those who really matter stick around, no matter what changes we make.
Nobody is perfect. You’re unlikely to crochet a perfect blanket the first time you ever pick up a crochet hook, or drive the perfect lap the first time you ever get in a racing car. When we have depression there is a niggling voice in our head, constantly filling us with self-doubt and telling us we’re not good enough. We need to tell that voice to hush. We’re not perfect, and that’s perfectly OK: if we enjoy something, the results really don’t matter. Focus on the journey, not the destination.
Finally, be patient with yourself. Depression knocks the wind out of us at the best of times. Don’t expect yourself to immediately step into a whole new life with enormous zeal, when you’re struggle to find the energy to get dressed. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take things slowly and be kind to yourself.
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