Anonymous

Cambridge

CN: Depression, anxiety

 

In a recent therapy session with my counsellor, we discussed the possibility of “accepting” mental health. I have depression, anxiety, and panic disorder — a fact I have struggled to come to terms with in recent months. For many, it’s because we can’t remember a time before the dark thoughts became part of our everyday thought processes, the self-defeating monologues we repeat endlessly. The phenomenon has led some to coin the phrase “emotional amnesia”, either forgetting or subconsciously repressing memories of a time before mental illness. I’ve grown to think my depression is part of my personality — I have convinced myself that I am fundamentally a sad, pessimistic, apathetic person and that’s how the rest of my life must be.

But perhaps it seems that life must be like this because that’s the way depression is making us think, and if we can shift our thoughts then depression must too. The more I’ve been told this, the more I’ve thought “easier said than done” — if only one could get rid of self-destructive beliefs as quickly as they emerge. This is often exacerbated by low self-esteem, a common underlying factor of depression, which itself is characterised by feelings of low worth and incompetence. How can I escape my low mood if I can’t escape these feelings?

 

“I have convinced myself that I am fundamentally a sad, pessimistic, apathetic person and that’s how the rest of my life must be”

 

Lately I’ve realised that recovery relies on learning that my mental health issues are far beyond personality traits — they are illnesses like any other. If I had tonsillitis, I wouldn’t let that define me, so why is my mental health any different? An interesting metaphor recently introduced to me is that depression is simply a tenant in my body. My body is a home, and the depression has taken residence; it is not permanent, it is moveable, and most importantly it is not part of the house — not part of me. The thoughts, feelings and urges that come with depression are the furniture it brings. These too exist independently of me, and are not engraved in my brain or on my skin. This helps me to believe in a future, and an existence, outside of depression — if, very slowly, I can change my negative self-defeating thoughts, the furniture will be moved out, and one day, so too will the depression.

Extracting mental health issues from our concept of personality is not only important for our personal recoveries, but also in our perception of mental health as a society. Prejudice and judgement manifest when people are viewed as their mental health problems, nothing more. Education is needed to remove the stereotypes that some use to define those with mental health and treat them as illnesses like we would any other disease. We need to shift our terminology from trivialising mental health issues, such as using “anxiety” and “depressed” to describe normal everyday feelings when in fact they are illnesses like any other. Without this, mental health problems remain defining features of those who suffer from them; seemingly permanent personality traits they’ll never shift, parts of themselves they cannot change.

 

“Personally, I’m working on moving the furniture of depression — small, tangible changes to my thought processes”

 

In order to distinguish such issues as illnesses, and therefore alter how people view those suffering from them, we need to shift our terminology from trivialising mental health issues, such as using “anxiety” or “depressed” to describe normal everyday feelings. When people start to recognize mental health problems in the same way they do physical health problems, and therefore distinct from people and their characters, sufferers will get the acknowledgment and help the deserve. Without this, we can’t expect the change in societal attitudes that we so desperately need, and mental health problems will remain defining features of those who suffer from them; seemingly permanent personality traits they’ll never shift, parts of themselves they cannot change.

Personally, I’m working on moving the furniture of depression — small, tangible changes to my thought processes in the hope that one day, it will leave for good.

 


Header image by Kevin Harber

One thought on “Mental health issues are not personality traits

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