Sometimes I wonder if I can be anything other than depressed. After all, dealing with depression is a full-time job for me. It requires putting in an absurd amount of effort in order to simply survive, to do things others find natural and simple. Being diagnosed with depression and going to therapy has improved my life drastically, but in confronting my mental illness, I seem to have made it my sole identity as well.
Lately, I feel like I’ve lost parts of myself that used to be essential to who I was, and this is mostly because I’m not sure if those parts of me can coexist with my depression. And that doesn’t just extend to my personality but to my beliefs as well. I’ve been especially challenged in my faith. I’ve always thought of myself as Christian; there have been times where I’ve been unsure, but when it comes down to it, that’s what I believe. I love so many parts of the Christian faith, but others can be isolating. Sometimes I feel my faith doesn’t seem to take into account those with mental illness.
Earlier this summer, I was at a retreat with my church. I was listening to the speaker when suddenly the topic of depression came up. The way he saw it, depression was a lack of faith. He felt it was a consequence of a choice that I had made not to trust. Later that day, someone challenged him; he then took it back, saying that there are certain cases where that may not be true. It didn’t matter though. Not to me, at least. I could feel the guilt and shame eating away at me constantly for the next few days. It was my fault that I was depressed. I was selfish. I didn’t have faith. I was a bad person.
That wasn’t the first or last time I’ve heard mental illness categorized as a wrongdoing or sin. I don’t think Christians, or any other group of religious people, come up with these things to hurt or shame people, but they do. Instead of encouraging me to have faith, it causes me to doubt my identity and myself. Am I not allowed to be a faithful Christian and struggle with depression? Am I somehow a bad Christian for allowing my anxiety to influence some of my choices?
This is just one example of how I felt I lost a part of myself after being diagnosed with depression. Some parts that slipped away were like my faith, where I wasn’t sure how to be both depressed and something else. But I’ve come to realize that no matter what anyone else says about depression and ideals, I can make the choice for myself of who I want to be. And I can make the choice to be the same person I was before being diagnosed and face my depression at the same time.
I will not allow myself to be trapped by my diagnosis. It’s about knowing that yes, I am depressed, but that’s only a small part of who I am. I am more than just depression. I am a student, a Christian, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a confidante, and a fighter. I am talented, funny, compassionate, sassy, empathetic, and strong.
I don’t want to continue making the mistake of allowing myself to believe that I can’t be anything other than depressed. Because if I do that, if I continue treating myself like the only thing I’m good at is being depressed, it’s highly possible that one day that’ll actually be true. And I refuse to let that happen. I am more than my depression. And so are you.