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