Finding the self through severe depression
For me reading The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller is research.
Research into myself, and my past.
It was actually Camilla Gibb’s memoir This is happy that led me to Alice.
In Camilla’s book she mentions the idea of soul murder in relation to her father’s behaviour, and when I googled that term two books came up. Alice’s and a book by Leonard Shengold called Soul Murder.
These books are continuing a process for me that has been going on since my breakdown two years ago. The active search for my self.
You see I lost my self in childhood, and since my breakdown I’ve been letting that little girl self find her way back.
When as children we aren’t allowed by one or both parents, or our primary caregivers, to be truly ourselves we change who we are to try to gain their love by being who they want us to be.
This is adaptive and, as young children, we need love and attention to survive.
But this process causes us to lose pieces of who we truly are because expressing those pieces means we’ll be shamed or neglected or punished.
So we lose those pieces of ourselves as children and as we get older it becomes more and more vital to our mental health that we find them again. We are not living a true life if parts of ourselves have been lost along the way. Because depression, according to Alice, is the expression of loss of self, being disconnected from who we truly are.
I agree with Alice because when I had my breakdown I felt as if I were unhinged, floating, not really part of the world around me at all. It was as if my self had gotten up and walked away from me. What a terrifying feeling. I was in my body, but not at the same time.
And I fought to get up in the morning, get cleaned up and get dressed to remain seemingly normal for my son. I didn’t want him to think his mother had deserted him, or that I was losing my mind. And at times, I felt I was totally losing it. What I didn’t know at that time was my depression was actually helping me find my self again.
I had spent too much of my life being someone for other people, believing, as I was taught in childhood, that if I didn’t act like other people wanted me to I would lose their attention, their respect, and their love.
And when I was a child, with my mother, it was true. If I didn’t act a certain way, my mother shunned me or bullied me, and often did even though I did my best to be who she wanted me to be at any one time.
The thing was I could never predict her moods because she was so unstable. When she looked at me she didn’t see me; she saw a rival, a parasite, an inconvenient child. Someone who demanded things of her she didn’t feel equal to giving, so she blamed me.
And so I learned very well to try and predict her bizarre moods, and to conform to whatever mood she was exhibiting at any one time.
I learned so well in fact I ended up in a second marriage with a man very much like my mother. I got a job in the corporate world because I thought he wouldn’t think I was a good wife and leave me if I didn’t. And I ended up looking after all the bills, the house, our lives because he was depressed and moody as hell. Much like my mother had been during my childhood. And that was when my body, my mind said “time out”. And I effectively shut down.
That was my wake-up call. And wow! it was a BIG one for me.
And I really paid attention. Putting my self first, finally. Going to see my amazing psychologist and going on anti-depressants was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I felt like a failure at life. I needed serious therapy and drugs to be myself. That stiff upper lip crap that my mother always talked about wasn’t working anymore. Just keep moving and doing, don’t think too much–yeah, what bullshit. It was that kind of thinking that landed me with the diagnosis of severe depression.
And it was severe. I was severely disconnected from who I truly was.
And over two years of therapy and medication I’ve quit my corporate soul numbing job. I’ve divorced my nasty, messed up second husband and I’ve started to find my self every day.
It’s still hard sometimes to put myself first. To say No! to things I don’t like or don’t want to do. And even harder to do things I really do want to do.
But I am getting there day by day. And reading books REALLY helps. I find kindred spirits and super knowledgeable souls who have written wonderful things everywhere.
And so I say thank you! to Alice Miller, Camilla Gibb, Jenny Lawson, Susan Forward and many, many others who’ve helped me so far on my journey back to my self.
I couldn’t do it alone, and I wouldn’t want to.
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