Finding Peace of Mind: Is Your Depression Your Identity?

Written by  in category 
May 19, 2016
peace of mind

Firstly, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. People will take stances on both sides. I, too, have my stance on this matter. Which you’ll hear more about in a second. It is important to understand that each person will find his or her peace of mind in different ways.

Your Peace of Mind…Does your depression define who you are?

Have you let it control all aspects of your life? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, or even paused to think about it, you aren’t alone. So many of us have felt that sense of dread, just from thinking of walking out your front door. You know that you shouldn’t, but you do. And you resent yourself for it. 

When posed with this question, most people will instinctively (and often defensively) answer with a resounding “NO”. But then they spend the next 12 hours really thinking about it, ruminating over the notion that maybe it could be true. And that, alone, perpetuates the cycle…again. The internet is littered with articles about you are not defined by your illness, whether it be anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or cancer. You are you, you are not your illness. 

But…do you believe that?

Maybe you do. In which case, I applaud you. Keep up the good work. If you are more of the eternal pessimist type, your skepticism rains down, flooding your mind, washing away any semblance of hope that maybe, just maybe, your depression is not truly a part of your identity. An extremely impactful organization in England is in this camp. Time to Change is “an anti-stigma campaign run by the leading mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness1“. Their argument is that if you were placed in the shoes of someone who is depressed (assuming you are not), even though you will have a very different behavior due to this “sudden onset of depression”, you are not any different than who you were before the onset. You are still the same loving, tender, personable person, you just may not be able to show it. Now in this hypothetical scenarios, you imagine yourself in a single moment, a party, work function, whatever it happens to be. What if that same feeling followed you like cloud every single day? Hmm…

Another good resource is a Facebook group called “Depression Doesn’t Define Me2

If it does…is that bad?

Not at all! In fact, each one of us has a very unique identity which has been crafted over many years - all based on our individual experiences. If I happen to have General Anxiety Disorder and Depression, then I am forever different because of it. Not in a better, or a worse way: just different. So, it would make sense that my depression is so deeply ingrained into the very essence of who I am, it is a very big part of my identity. Now this doesn’t mean I am perpetually locked in my room, crying for hours without knowing why, going from freezing cold to burning hot within a matter of seconds. What it means is that, if I repeated my life, but removed the depression and GAD, I would be different than I am today. Those in the former camp (“you are not defined by it”), will rebut that this isn’t truly who you are, though. That deeper than all of that, you would be the same kind-hearted, generous person, just without depression. Not everyone agrees with my stance. Sandra Charron from the Huffington Post does, though3. So at least I’m not alone. 

So let me ask you this: if you were to grow up with only one eye, or one hand, or have early onset diabetes, would that be - in some fashion - a part of who you are? A peace of your identity? Absolutely. So why would depression or anxiety be any different?

So what’s my point?

My point is that you don’t have to shy away from your mental illness. It is not something to be ashamed of. It is the reason that you are who you are, and so many people love you - for you. That means they are grateful for the experiences that made you who are you, including your illness (whether they know about it or not). I often find myself cringing at the idea of waking up one day, and my depression and anxiety are completely gone, forever. Sounds like a awesome situation to be in, but I quickly begin to sweat thinking about eliminating such a fundamental part of who I am. As if to say, removing my illness actually removes a piece of who I am as a person. And that’s a scary thought…

I’ll leave you with this thought: no matter what struggles you are facing, no matter how challenging today may be, you can succeed. You define success for yourself. If that means eating breakfast one day a week, if it means simply getting out of bed, or finishing your novel - your success is yours, and yours alone. There is no part of you that is out of place. You are who you are because of everything you are. And you are beautiful. I hope this poem brings you warm feelings, a single smile, and brighter tomorrow. I love you.

Peace of Mind
For peace of mind to be a piece of me,
A piece of me I must give.
To truly find serenity,
Means my life will be mine to live.

But to ignore a part of what makes me, me:
To wholly tell me tale.
Showing only acts one and three,
But in act two is the big unveil.

Cutting the fat – leaving me lean –
free to fill the hole.
Ridding me of this cancer has made me feel clean;
But now filth invades my soul.
This disease they cut out, was not a disease at all
T’was a foundational piece of core.
Imperfections no matter how small
Teach us how to endure.
Peace was within me all along,
Fallible while I may be,
Every misstep adds words to my song:
Proudly singing the story of me.
          ~A. Hanna

Alex Hanna

Alex Hanna

By day, Alex works as a technologist. By night, he runs Challenge the Storm. Suffering from depression and anxiety, himself, he dedicates every day to help one single person. Something as small as putting a smile on someone else's face may have a bigger impact than you think.

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