When You Wonder, as a Person With Mental Illness, 'Is This the Authentic Me?'

Who am I?

That’s just the first question I ask myself, and it leads to a plethora of questions, thoughts and feelings.

The facts, as I know them: I’m 48 years old. I’m a people pleaser. I’m an extrovert with introvert tendencies. My childhood and teenage years did me harm. I’ve “lost” years of maturing due to the stunting effect of an undiagnosed melancholia (major depressive disorder) since I don’t know when (11? When my Grandad died?). I’ve lived and struggled with my darling husband, who has a chronic pain injury, for almost 25 years. I am an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). I don’t know how to be me. More specifically, I don’t know how to be me and be comfortable. In my natural state, I’m a highly expressive person — its written all over my face, as it were — as well as in my tone and gestures. I am expression!

While I seem to read constantly about how we should embrace our qualities and self, I feel like I’m an irritation, hard to understand and an acquired taste — like anchovies but way more salty! I am at a loss as to how not to watch others’ responses to me so I can adjust myself to their taste. It’s a constant fight in my head. It saps my capacity and changes both my experience of myself and the experience others have of me. On one hand, I feel sad that people who would like (love?) me are ripped off and, on the other hand, I’m afraid to be unpalatable to most of the people I meet.

The constant question that goes around in my head is, “Is this the authentic me?” How do I know the answer to that? It’s so frustrating. Do I bear the awkward and painful possibility that 90 percent (or more?) of the people I meet will feel overwhelmed, confused and uncomfortable (aka find me “too much”)? Is the real question, “Can I ever stop worrying about what people think about me?”

Yesterday, I had two job interviews — one over the phone and the other in person. I was left feeling so uncomfortable afterwards because I really tried to “be myself.” This left me with an impression of someone who is hard work and difficult to please. I don’t know if I shot myself in the foot, and at the same time, I wonder if I should have kept a lid on things — there’s that same struggle again.

Another angle of this struggle is the fear that I’ll overpower everyone and everything. There’s a real fear that, once I lift the lid, I’ll lose my compassion, sensitivity, empathy and unselfishness, that I’ll become self-centered and self-obsessed. I never want to be that person — but, is that the real me? I feel there is so much “power” inside of me that’s yet undiscovered by anyone, let alone me. How do you harness your potential without giving everyone an overdose and becoming selfish?

The older I get and the further way from my depression, the more I know that my mental health is reliant on working through this fight and coming to a happier place. I need to be me and be happy with who that turns out to be. My values won’t change— I’ll still be an honest, loving, thoughtful, kind, opinionated, passionate, empathetic, sensitive, and generous person. It will mean I’ll be happier and healthier.

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Thinkstock photo by Creatas

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