People struggling with depression often talk about how it can be difficult not to think of your depressed self as your “real” self when you’ve been dealing with depression for a while. This is absolutely a problem that I have experienced, myself, and my impression is that it’s a very common one.
I have a pet hypothesis for why this phenomenon is so common. It may be wrong – it may even be true that depression in and of itself is sufficient explanation for the phenomenon. That said, the “Depression just does this.” explanation has never felt sufficient to me.
Some background is going to be required to put my hypothesis in context:
I have always absolutely hated answering questions like, “What’s up?”, or “How are you?” when dealing with depression. When I’m in the middle of a depressive episode and someone asks how I am, I have the following choice: be honest and deal with the social awkwardness that the honest answer creates, or lie and say I’m fine. Since these questions are pretty common as a way of greeting someone, I find myself faced with this decision frequently. I never enjoy it.
Another thing that tends to happen when I’m depressed is that I have breakdowns with people. When I feel like everything is too heavy, I’ll try to find someone to vent and cry to until things feel a little bit less shitty. Some of my best memories from times when I was dealing with depression are memories of times when I was able to be really honest about exactly how bad I was feeling, and friends supported me through the expression of all of that.
My impression is that experiences I describe in the previous two paragraphs are not uncommon for people dealing with depression. My hypothesis about why thinking of depressed you as “the real you” is so easy to do comes from thinking about those things.
Because here’s what those experiences mean for me: they mean that, when I am depressed, I am being dishonest the vast majority of the time that I talk about being okay. When I’m depressed, “I am fine.” is always a lie. Concurrently, the times when I feel the most authentic tend to be those times when I am able to really spill how I’m feeling about being really depressed. The venting and crying sessions that I sometimes so sorely need are some of the most honest, connective moments that I have during those times.
Being depressed means that I am going through a period where I am almost always at my least authentic when I talk about feeling okay or good, and I am almost always at my most authentic when I am expressing my most intensely depressive emotions. I am usually telling the truth to people when I talk about feeling depressed, and I am usually lying to people when I’m talking about feeling fine.
Given such circumstances, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could avoid developing an association between authenticity and depression and inauthenticity and happiness.