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Reclaiming Your Identity Outside of Depression

Man standing on mountain top, taking in the summits appearing through the blanket of cloud - at peace with nature and himself.
Getty Images / swissmediavision

When you’re living with depression, I believe one of the most important struggles you have to go through is around identity.

How do you see yourself?

What do you say to others when you meet for the first time?

What words do you use to describe yourself on your social media profiles?

The stories we tell about ourselves, the thoughts running through our minds, and the way that we perceive who we are can easily become entangled with depression. These are issues we may battle for so long.

Lone(ly) Surfer | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

Globalization has enabled developed nations access to an incredible choice in careers, lifestyles, and activities. We live in a society where you can do anything, anywhere. We find activities that bring us joy in solitude, but this fails to fill the void in our psyche that longs for companionship.

I know because I’ve crawled through the dark trenches of depression, forgot who I was, and worked to rewrite my story with the help of my camera and photos.

In the beginning, the only way I could see the problem clearly — and start to understand it — was with my camera. My photos gave me an outlet to express what I was going through. Each photo became a story that helped me understand how I saw myself and the world around me. It became especially clear how my identity had gradually, and drastically, changed throughout my deepest depression.

My photos showed me how my self-perception had shifted. I used to see myself as someone who was strong, but I had become convinced and terrified that something was wrong.

It wasn’t a conscious shift. I wouldn’t have approved of it, if I had seen it coming.

Come With Me to the Edge | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

If you are alone, are you lonely? Loneliness is not exclusive to one, but can be shared by many. To find someone who will walk with you and push the boundaries seems to be one of the hardest things in life. Come with me, to the edge.

Odd Man Out | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

We invest so much in building a career. It can be devastating if you realize that it might not be right for you. It takes a leap of faith to start toward your dreams. You can feel like the odd one out, with everyone looking your way, but the biggest struggle you will endure is with yourself. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. The world needs more passionate people.

Seeing the stories we tell ourselves

I’ve found that when you’re stuck in a cycle of depression or anxiety, or both, it’s possible to become hyperaware. You may find yourself overthinking every thought, word, and move. But if it’s all seen through a negative lens, with a narrow field of view, all that overthinking won’t help you.

It’s like being stuck with blinders on, only able to see terrible things up ahead.

After overcoming depression and anxiety, and becoming deeply invested in my work with The One Project, I began to see how I was left identifying myself with the condition. I saw others like me doing the same thing.

Someone might say, “I’m a mental health advocate.”

Or we might tag all our best work #Depression.

Please don’t misunderstand — I appreciate and applaud everyone who is making an effort to open up about these issues and to lessen the stigma of mental illness. But what happens when we overidentify with it?

When we identify too closely with our mental illness, could it prevent us from moving forward and healing? I think it might. And it’s vital to remember that we are not our condition. It doesn’t define us.

That’s why I believe that actively reflecting on and working on the way you identify yourself is crucial.

Seeing Serendipity | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

He looked through his camera and saw a different world. He saw himself differently. Through his camera he created that world, and now he lives on the edge of it, looking out at the unknown in confidence — what a coincidence.

Holding Strong | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

At times it may be easier as you begin to move forward and let the light in, but it will never become automatic. A constant undulation like a curtain in the wind — for the unforgettable highs be prepared to work through the lows. Move along and hold strong — just don’t let go.

One way to start reclaiming your identity

Try taking photos. You can focus on yourself or choose something else that can represent you and the thoughts you’re having. Photos can help you track and understand how you’re perceiving yourself and your thoughts.

Instant Connection | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

How dark the world can become in an instant through the bright screens of our lives. In work, in wars, and the connections between ourselves and the world around us, ensure you pull away from the urges every once in a while. Look around to where you are here, now.

I believe that it’s important to do this work first. It isn’t as simple as “thinking positive.” You have to know where you’re at now to be able to set a direction and vision for where — and who — you want to be.

Make it a daily or weekly practice to check in and see where you’re at.

What’s changed?

Have you improved?

What’s the pattern? What continues to cause these issues to come up?

I think the most important shift — the turning point — comes when you realize that you’re in control. You are the author of your own story, not only of the present or the past, but of the future.

Do your best not to worry about who you’ve been told you are. In my experience, we know ourselves better than anyone else.

Try to forget the stories that have developed in your head through cycles of depression. I can tell you that’s the depression talking, not you.

Here’s something that worked for me. Take a deep breath, try to calm any anxiety, and honestly ask yourself: Who do you want to be?

(Journal) Day and Night | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

When the day begins and ends, do you know where you stand? Have you continued the same cycle, taken steps forward, or fallen back? In the face of uncertainty, be the one who makes it clear. Continue to create the next step toward progress — if only on the page at first.

Natural Immersion | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

Immerse yourself in Mother Nature. Be kind to her. Give back and help to restore her prominence on this planet. For we need more healing, calming spaces to refresh our minds.

You can start off by writing a list of characteristics of the best version of yourself.

Don’t hesitate or allow any thoughts to hold you back from crafting your best self.

It’s OK if this doesn’t align with your current life right now. You are setting the vision. From there, you can start to make conscious changes each day to make it your reality.

Through this work, you can start to create more photos and stories that bring your new self, your new identity, to life.

Intersection | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

Always pay attention at the intersections. You never know what will be coming your way. Be present and aware of your surroundings when two paths meet. You may come across something in an instant that forever changes your life. A turn for the better.

By continuing to write your story and actively author your own life, I believe that you gain back an important sense of control that you may have lost through depression or anxiety.

Looking back on previous photos you’ve taken, and stories you’ve written, can give you further insight into why you were struggling at that time. With every step forward, you can see more clearly how much you’re progressing and improving.

It may not be a perfectly linear process. You may have ups and downs. But in my experience, you’ll see improvements with time. Soon enough you may find yourself living and being the person that you created. The characteristics you put on the page will move to your mind, and your sense of self — and you’ll use them to describe who you are.

I think it’s common, when you’ve made this transition, to have a question that’s similar to what you may have asked yourself in the darker moments of depression: “How did this happen?” Only now you’ll know you had an active hand in shaping your identity. You’ll be able to go back and see the progress, the subtle shifts and changes over time that lead to where you are now.

Instead of foggy darkness and confusion, or questions that forever race around in your mind unanswered, you can have a clear picture of who you are.

Identify | Photo by Bryce Evans, 2018

Who are you? Who do you think you are? Who do they see you as? When you look in the mirror and decide to create an answer, rather than seeking it from somewhere, you start the process of becoming the person you’re meant to be.

You created it.

If you’re struggling right now, I hope that you’ll take the time to try this process for yourself, in addition to speaking to a healthcare professional or therapist as part of a multidimensional approach.

If you know someone who’s struggling, please share it with them. For me, it was life-changing. I believe it could be the best investment that you ever make with your time.

After all, always remember: you are the most important project of your life.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for managing mental health symptoms. Please consult a professional who can apply best practices and appropriate resources to your situation.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-ALL-NP-00784 JAN 2023

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