One day it just dawned on me. Being depressed had become a core part of who I was. It was central to my identity. And I didn’t seem to mind. Hmmm – there’s no way that can be good.
I can see three ways I was addicted to depression.
- I was addicted to negative thinking.
- My self identity included having depression.
- I got a payoff from hanging onto the depression even when I was mostly well.
Addiction to negative thinking
Spiritual author Eckhart Tolle calls the addiction to unhappiness a pain-body. Not an easy concept to grasp but a pain-body is accumulated emotional pain that’s stored in the body. Much of the time the pain-body is dormant but it can be triggered and then it craves suffering. It will take over your mind with negative thinking if you are not present and aware of what’s going on in your mind. The more you feed it with negative thinking and drama, the stronger it gets.
When I was depressed, the negative thinking ran rampant and the longer it took me to stop it, the more power it had. In the early years I couldn’t stop it at all. I noticed a sick pleasure that comes from beating yourself up. Your pain-body craves the negative thinking. The only way out is to learn to break the pattern of negative thinking.
If you want to read more about this, I’d suggest Tolle’s book A New Earth. It was useful for helping me understand why I seemed to want to have negative thoughts.
Depression was part of who I was
Depression occupied a lot of my thinking. How was my mood today? How are these meds doing? When’s my next doctor appointment and what are my goals for it? What happened today that made me feel worse? Can people tell I’m depressed right now?
Depression took more time than my career, my friendships and my activities so it defined me.
Years later I could no longer remember who I was before I was depressed. I felt oddly invested in this version of myself. I wanted to like ‘depressed Michele’. Rejecting the depression felt like rejecting myself. That’s a weird place to get to.
Payoff of keeping the depression label
I never told anyone I had depression so it was never a public excuse for me but I know someone who uses her mental illness for attention, affection, to avoid conflict and to avoid being held accountable for her behaviour. She’s not aware she’s doing it – so great is her need/pain.
For me, the payoff in hanging onto the depression label after I was mostly well was that it allowed me to play it safe in life. It was an excuse not to take risks and face possible rejection. The price was that I was never going to get what I wanted. So the label had to go (eventually). Well I’m not one for hasty decisions.
Time to ditch the label
Finally I decided to release depression from being part of my identity. Bear in mind I wasn’t depressed much any more at this point. I opted for a ‘fake it til you make it’ strategy. You know, you start behaving in new ways and a new attitude follows.
I stopped using it as an excuse for myself. I stopped reading about depression. I stopped journaling about my meds and moods. I stopped talking about it with BFF Steph like it was my primary hobby. When I had a depressive episode, I thought of it as an episode – it didn’t redefine me. Sometimes I decided I was just sad, not depressed.
A funny thing happened. I got nervous. I wasn’t sure who I really was. Same thing happened when I started to lose all the weight I had put on. As soon as I started to look different I had a panicky feeling. I was becoming someone I didn’t recognize. Someone I didn’t know. But I liked her.
No matter how much you want a new you, it’s going to be uncomfortable changing yourself. That’s just the nature of change.
Um yeah, I got over my anxiety of weighing less. Duh.
Does it seem like there’s a part of you that feeds on negative thinking? Are you keeping depression as part of your identity when it doesn’t need to be?
About the Author
I promote peer support and encourage people on their recovery journeys. My plan with this blog is to build a community of like-minded individuals offering ideas and encouragement from their own experiences. My master plan is to help create psychologically safe and supportive workplaces. I live in Calgary, Canada.