Authenticity, Confidence & Depression

When I look at the decade I spent medicated I have to wonder if it was necessary.  I know it was necessary to get me out of bed (when I got out of bed) but was the real issue something other than chemical?  Was the real issue that I believed I was supposed to fit and succeed within a broken set of parameters?  That maybe the issue wasn’t internal but external?  If I’d had access to my own authenticity and confidence, would depression have been a possibility?  Can the three coexist?  I am wondering if I was trying to conform to a version of Young Woman that the world had told me was necessary to attain love, happiness and success.  Maybe I was trying to mold myself to It instead of expecting it to mold for me.  If I’d considered this earlier, then maybe those 10 years or so wouldn’t be such a fog.

What I had failed to identify but can now see clearly, is that upon leaving highschool and the following ten years, it never occurred to me to question the legitimacy of the values I had been taught.  Values like femininity, accumulation, professionalism, politeness, stoicism, containment, wealth, success. I accepted these as right and, as a result, came to see myself as wrong.  And not only was I wrong, but the things that I was told would make me right (a partner, employment, travel, possessions) weren’t making me happy.  So I was wrong (which sucked) and the paths to remedy it weren’t proving to make me any happier (which sucked more).  So naturally, escape seemed like the only answer — hence medication, over-consumption, tuning out, numbness.  This allowed the depression to then fuel itself.

It never occurred to me that I was right, ok, enough and that only I could know what was right for me.  And how could anyone come to these conclusions at 17?  20?  23? if they are engaged in a culture of more and belonging like ours?   How does one come to see the water they’ve been swimming in their whole life, not only its existence but its toxicity?  For me, depression was the result of doubting the legitimacy of my own experience.

It’s really scary to look back on the life I have lived and the things I have done and recognize that I did it all without really trusting myself.  Taking big risks is one thing, taking them without a foundation of self-belief is another.  Believing you can trust your senses, knowing your feelings are real and important, being certain that your footsteps carry the same value as another life.  I have always and only looked for confirmation externally.  I have had no central guidance system that I could identify.  And what this makes me wonder is, can one be both authentic and confident and also be depressed?  At the crux of all of my deepest turmoil, I see one common thread: a deep lack of self-trust.

I found authenticity first, almost apologetically.  Feeling no right to take up space publicly as I was, so doing so privately at first.  Writing was opening me up, showing me to myself when I finally started doing so honestly.  At the beginning, I always told myself: no one ever has to see this.  This was the only way I could be sure I was being completely honest.

Only very recently have I discovered fleeting moments of confidence that feel like colouring myself in and up to the lines — fully meeting my edges.  Taking up as much space as I am truly meant to take up, not expanding past through the use of bravado, volume, external decoration or rebellion, but the subtle difference of unapologetically owning and BEING all of me without need for permission, apology or force.

Confidence, I am learning, feels like encompassing all of the space within you, no more and no less.  Even with softness, even with compromise, compassion, empathy, it’s when you continue to meet your edges from above and below, within and without.  I fought myself for so long, frustrated and hating myself for how bad I was at remaining contained, composed, controlled.  Ten years of medicating before daring to ask the question: whose values were those anyways?  I said it softly at first, it was a whisper, a nudge.  The thought flashed through my mind several times before I finally acknowledged it.  And then I went a step further by asking a follow up: how does one love, create, adventure (my values) with that other set of traits?   

This retraining and reframing has at times caused physical pain, looking within instead of without and choosing to stay the course.  Now I can see that confidence, in me, looks like taking deep breaths to ground myself, taking long pauses in the middle of meetings and conversations to think, process, feel.  For a lot of years, what I seem to have done was have a whole ten by ten room to work with but only call a two by two square of it home.  I trusted the words of others over my lived experience, I searched for someone else’s orgasm, apologized for my questions, hid and regretted my emotions, my body, my voice.  

For the first time in my life, I am experiencing moments of genuine confidence.  And, like everything else of value, it’s much softer than what I thought it would be.  I’ve experienced the wanting to hide that shame brings, and the opposite reaction of the ‘fuck you’ of defiance, but even though they appeared to be opposites, they were just flipsides to the same coin.  Genuine confidence is not in reaction to or defiance of anything.  It is what it is what it is what it is.  Always.  End of story.

Depression was the result of fighting who I was and trying to make my insides fit the space I believed the world had allotted for me.  The belief that how I felt was wrong, the desire to appear to feel differently than I did, and the very real, possibly physiological, results of what happened from all of that doublethink.  It was the result of taking my cues from the world instead of allowing the world to react to who and how and what I was.  

I remember thinking so clearly how much easier Living seemed to be for everyone else.  How alien I felt, how difficult it was to execute Being Alive compared to how I thought others seemed to be dealing with the task.  I thought I’d find the answer to who I was from the world. I thought if I was just better at being who I Was Supposed To Be, I’d finally be able to do what others managed to do: just live.  Why couldn’t I make small talk at parties?  Why couldn’t I work a job simply because I was being paid to?  Why couldn’t I eat when I was hungry, sleep when I was tired, make love when I was horny?  Why was everything always something else when it all seemed so simple for everyone else?

We have a system in place that may work for some, but we demand that everyone participate.  And as a result, by not talking about alternative ways of being, living, working, loving, our brains and hearts and spirits are breaking.  I once said of my yoga practice: it sure makes it easier to live the wrong life.  Because it does, the endorphin rush is real.  And the same, I suppose, can be said of medication, it does make it hurt less.  But it’s not solving the problem for a lot of us.  I don’t think I needed to be saved, I think I just needed to hear: I know why you can’t do it.  I know why you don’t fit.  I know why it hurts.  I know, I know, I know.  

There is so much acknowledgement of mental health these days, of it’s realities and import, and goddammit is that a relief. One thing we can be sure of is that there is value in honesty, in hearing the experiences of others.  Even if the system wasn’t going to change (don’t worry, it’s changing), the coming together and sharing of stories, knowing you are not alone, that is the piece that saves.  

We all have the potential to make the rooms we are in better.  I am now working on allowing rooms to change for me instead of the other way around.  The world told me to be hard so I tried; but I was bad at it so I cried a lot.  By crying all the time I assumed that something was wrong with me.  Now, I still cry (it’s my therapy), but understanding that it wasn’t me that was broken allowed me to break the cycle of depression.

It’s not you that’s broken.

Published by Pam Stewart

I am a writer living in Victoria, BC, Canada. I got my start in spoken word and am now a frequent contributor to Elephant Journal. My writing is the result of a deep dive into the world of self-help. I don't profess to know how others should do it, but am interested in having the conversation. I think there is real value in revealing our blindspots, our vulnerabilities and our fears; which is what I am trying to do through my essays on mindfulness, self-exploration, and living honestly. I have found God through writing, which is to say, I have found myself through writing. My book, I Really Thought It Would Be Easier Than This, is available now.

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