Last updated on March 17th, 2019 at 12:34 pm
“You have to stop defining yourself as the girl with depression or the girl with anxiety, because now, you have become that emotion. You have lost your identity to an emotion or state of mind.”
Two years ago, my therapist said this to me after I told her about my latest bout with anxiety. I had previously halted my therapy for a few months after successfully conquering my depression and emerging, full of zest for life and ready to take on the world. But after being away for a few months at university, shaking off the remnants of a failed relationship and feeling the stress of readjusting to a new living situation, I was reeling. My anxiety came back full force and I was losing my patience. Completely defeated, I went back to therapy because I didn’t know what else to do.
When she challenged me, I was shocked and very angry. I left her office that day thinking, “How could she say that? I’m trying to beat this… I’m not trying to make it last longer.” I went home cursing her all the way and briefly considered changing therapists. But then it came to me.
I was sitting in class and my professor gave us a brief reflective task. She said, “Close your eyes and think about what makes you unique and what defines you from all the other individuals in this class.” I closed my eyes and bam! The first thought that came into my mind was that I was a chronic sufferer of anxiety and depression.
At that moment, I realized I wasn’t only letting my condition interfere with my happiness, I was also letting it define me. How could I do that to myself? I was (and still am) an individual with lots to offer as a friend, mentor and general human being. And the first thing to come to mind, the thing that I would share with an individual, the first thing that I wanted people to know about me was that I was anxious and depressed? Not only that, but I embodied the disorder. I WAS clinical depression. I WAS social anxiety.
I realized things needed to change. That night, I sat down and made a list of all the things that I knew I was and that I wanted others to see. My two page list emphasized two main things—to be happy and healthy. From then on, I did everything I possibly could to strive towards exactly those—whether it be taking a night off from my hectic work schedule to watch sitcoms or indulging in a bowl of frozen yogourt. I noticed that once I started taking care of myself and listening to my intuition, I was much more accepting of myself.
Today, I’m proud to say that even though I still struggle with feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness, I have achieved my goals, both mentally and physically. When I experience those same emotions or have my anxious days, I’m able to identify the emotion and say, “This is not me. This is simply how I’m feeling and in this moment, this is a signal from my body saying that I’m overwhelmed.” I’ve learned not only to understand my emotions, but also to accept them for what they are… emotions… not defining mechanisms or measures of my self-worth.
This was almost three years ago, but it has taken me this long to fully understand and accept that my conditions are not all I am. This morning, as I was drying my hair, I looked in the mirror and asked myself the same question that prompted me to reflect that day and truly understand my therapist’s words. I closed my eyes and thought about what made me unique; how I defined myself and the first thought that came into my head was, “I am me. I am happy and I am healthy.”
And that makes all the difference.