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How do you know who you are - if you're not allowed to be yourself?

One Morning in New Zealand I had a mental break down. I was sitting at the breakfast table just about to get ready for work. Then, my boyfriend and I got into an argument. I don´t even remember what that was about. Then there is a blank space. The next thing I do remember is me sitting in a corner on the ground in a fetal position. I banged my head against the wall, covered my ears and screamed that I didn´t want to be there, that I wished I was dead. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. What just happened?


That mental break down was a major turning point in my life.

In that moment on that morning I realized that I needed help. This was definitely not only about that situation at the kitchen table. It must have been old stuff controlling my behaviour on an unconscious level. I guess in order to admit that you actually do need help you have to hit rock bottom first. The tension builds up over time until you reach your personal breaking point. It felt as though I broke into a million pieces in that moment. It wasn´t pretty. I was barely able to function in the aftermath. Some days I had to go to the bathroom at work several times a day because I coulnd´t hold back the tears for even one second longer. Sometimes the panic made me shake. Other times I felt like going to sleep and not waking up anymore.


There it was, the pain I tried to keep at bay for all those years. All of a sudden I felt the urge to tell my parents that I was not able to function anymore. If I stopped functioning then they finally have to be there for me right?


Wow.


Where was that coming from? Something, it seemed, came up to the surface that I tried to not know about for a very long time. Obviously that thing needed a big boom in order to show up.


I was diagnosed with depression and dysthymia last week - not uncommon for children of borderline parents, as you may be aware of. This is something I have started researching after that big boom and my pretty severe symptoms afterwards. Last week I finally got it confirmed on paper.


What is depression and what does it have to do with not knowing who you are?

Depression is a mental illnes which is characterized by low mood, hopelessness, loss of drive, loss of happiness, loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy, low self-esteem and low energy. It can also be accompanied by excessive rumination or sleep disturbance. As I read about it I was in total shock and disbelief. The literature around depression perfectly described how I felt for my entire life! This, by the way, is were dysthymia (my second diagnosis) fits into the picture. I always felt low, incapable, like a burden and just hopeless in general. Why would anyone care what I did or what I had to say? What does it matter anyhow? Something was wrong with me fundamentally as a person and there was nothing I could do about it - This is what I always believed. So there I was reading that what I felt for my entire life was not normal? This state of mind actually qualified for a clinical diagnosis?


My believe of being inherently wrong was challenged all of a sudden. I had a name for the problem. A diagnosis. Depression. And apparantly there was indeed something that could be done about it. Not only that. Depression does not come out of nowhere. What I learned from research is that depression in essence is the suppression of the self. It is an automatic survival mechanism that started in childhood. Christine Ann Lawson writes in "Understanding the Borderline Mother":


All children have the following emotional needs:

  1. To be held (to be enveloped by safe, loving arms)

  2. To be mirrored (to see a positive reflection of themselves in their parent´s eyes)

  3. To be soothed (to be comforted, reassured, and protected)

  4. To be given some control (to elicit predictable responses to expressed needs)

I don´t remember that I have ever been held.


I don´t remember that I have ever been mirrored. I do remember that I wasn´t seen or heard. How can a child be mirrored if she isn´t seen or heard? There simply was no room for me.


I don´t remember that I have been soothed. I do remember phrases like: "Don´t be so sensitive!" "This is all your fault!" "Only outsiders do get bullied, you just have to make more friends! Go ahead!" "Don´t worry about it!" "Stop crying!" "You are such a burden!"


I don´t remember that I was given much control. I remember begging my mom for a horse. I loved horses as a child. I never got one. Instead I had to take stupid dance classes. I hated attending to those dance classes. Now as an adult I know this could have been handled very differently. Maybe what I really needed as a kid wasn´t to own a horse but what about horse riding lessons? My mom, as a borderline, partly lived through me. She needed me to be her mini me. So I had to be a dancer. What happens to your dreams and hopes if they are not mirrored. You learn to not have dreams and hopes mom doesn´t approve of.


In essense my emotional needs haven´t been met. I remember very clearly that I pretended to not have needs at all most of the time as a child. If no one is there to meed your needs what do you do? You pretend that you don´t have them. Problem solved right?


What I just described was the suppression of my true self which over time turned into depression and later made me unable to function normally at a time that should have been one of the most happiest times of my life.



I had lost myself.

That realization really sucked. But it was an explanation for why I felt like I was drifting through life not knowing where I was heading. I was determined not to run from the truth any longer. At the end of the day, you have to face what is in oder to be able to do anything about it. If I don´t know who I am what can I do to find out? A first could be to think about what you liked as a child. Like I mentioned above, I loved horses. I really enjoyed writing little stories as a kid and I loved being outside in nature. So here I am writing. I am outside and tale walks as much as I can and who knows, probably one day I'm going to take horse riding classes. It doesn't only have to be activities from your childhood, though. You can still try different things and just give yourself permission to be playful and explore.


Thanks very much for reading and don't forget to subscribe!


Hugs to you... till next time!


Josi



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