The Mighty Logo

What I Mean When I Say I 'Don't Know Who I Am' Without Depression

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I first developed major depressive disorder (MDD) when I was 11. I didn’t receive treatment until I was 17, at which point I was deeply depressed and suicidal. For the next decade and a half I went through countless medication and lifestyle changes, but very few things even showed promise. When I did find a medication that helped some, I had to stop taking it because I started having seizures. So I kept trying other medications, but my lack of success led to a label of “refractory depression” or “treatment-resistant depression.” It was an understatement. My depression wasn’t just treatment “resistant” — it was treatment impossible.

At age 34, I can say I’ve racked up a fair few mental health labels ranging from depression and anxiety to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and run through every medication on the market with even the slightest chance of helping. I developed seizures as an adult, with no apparent cause. I’ve been to an inpatient psychiatric hospital three times because I was an imminent suicide risk. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, and gone into debt, trying to find something that would make me a functional human. After almost 18 years of trying, I have finally gotten to a point of stability. Not perfection, but better that most of my life has been spent. My depression is (finally) under a bit of control.

You see, now I am in a position where I can “be myself.” Eat the foods I like, enjoy my favorite hobbies, hang out with friends — I can live life.

The problem is… I have no idea who I am.

I don’t know what I “like” to eat. All I know is that food is a requirement for life, so I would pick one of the same five things for years, because food was simply an inconvenient requirement. Or perhaps I was trying to self-medicate by eating anything I had, not even tasting it, just trying to feel better somehow. I don’t know what food I “like” because I haven’t “liked” anything for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what I “like” to do with my free time. I don’t remember the last time I actually got enjoyment from the things I thought I liked. Sports? Knitting? I don’t know what I want to do for fun because I haven’t “liked” doing anything for myself in as long as I can remember. I have no idea if I want to go hang out with friends because I’m not sure I’ve ever done it beyond some obligatory gathering which I escaped as quickly as possible. You say it will be “fun,” but I don’t have the first clue what “fun” is.

I don’t know “who I am” because I never got the chance to find out.

The natural development of one’s self is not something I had the luxury of enjoying. My development of things that brought me positive feelings stopped before my 11th birthday. So I did the only thing I could think of — I started there. I tried to remember things that I did like, once upon a time. I liked watching hockey. I liked sparkly stuff. I liked arts and crafts. And guess what? It turns out, I still do. My brain never developed any “adult” hobbies or interests because it was too busy trying not to self-destruct.

With time and patience, I’m learning new things that make me feel good — things that might be considered more “age-appropriate” than the pink glittery leg warmers I adored as a child. I am learning knitting (OK, one stitch), I’m trying to teach myself French (unintelligible, layered with my Texas accent), and I’ve advanced my love of hockey to a more profanity-laden adult version of fanaticism. I’m making progress, ugly as it may be.

But in the end, I’m learning to embrace that “who I am” is always going to be someone with depression. Just because I’m in recovery and doing well doesn’t mean I don’t have depression. I will always have it. And with it comes a loss of self — and I’m learning to be OK with that. I’m learning to be OK with the fact that I really only want to eat chicken soup and wear the same five t-shirts. I’m learning to be OK with discovering new things, as well as clinging on to the old.

It’s a process of self-discovery in the deepest sense. But part of that discovery is accepting that “who I am” includes depression, like it or not. So when someone asks me what I did over the weekend, I tell them the truth: I screamed bad words at the TV while knitting a pair of neon leg warmers and eating soup. I had fun.

Who I am may not be like “everyone else,” but that’s OK. “Who I am” is a person who has walked through hell and fought their way through. I’m not like “everyone else.” I’m me. Faults, failures, flaws and all. And that’s exactly who I am supposed to be. Just, me.

Originally published: April 20, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home