One of the difficult things I’ve been facing since becoming depressed is best described as a lack of sense of self. As always when I cannot name a symptom, or am looking for a way of solving a problem pertaining to my mental health, I took to the internet. I found many descriptions (mostly on BPD resources) which describe this symptom, but none describing what it feels like. So when thinking up a topic for my first blog post, this is what immediately sprang to mind. To be clear: I do not have a BPD diagnosis; this is simply my attempt to describe my experiences. When discussing this with friends, questions inevitably arise, such as What is ‘self’, anyway? How do you know you have a lack of sense of self at all? Why is this troubling? I can’t answer these questions – I’m not a philosopher, or a psychologist. Here I will try to describe what it feels like to me, in the vague hope that others may identify with it, or understand it a little better.
The first time I felt this, it felt like an awakening. Like I’d always not known who the hell I am, but was only just realising it. And it felt *huge*. Questions swirled around my mind… who am I? am I anything? am I nothing? Oh God.. I’m nothing! I’m empty.. I’m a complete fraud! I panicked. It felt like a huge existential crisis. I tried to rationalise first by describing things I knew about myself… I’m an atheist, this must I’m sure on. What else? My politics, that’s pretty defined. Naming things I like, things I dislike.. But none of this felt like it described who I am at my core, just what I believed. I next tried to think how others would describe me. This was a total no-go, because aside from times I’ve actually asked a friend, I had nothing. This only supported my belief that I have no personality, no core self, nothing that if this body was taken away and we all lived as floaty cloud-like beings made of energy, would remain entirely *me*. This echoes for me socially too, I realised I was afraid that others would discover I am nothing – a hollow shell, without opinions or beliefs, that I don’t know anything about anything – at best, a fraud. A copy of a person who looks real, sounds real, but is empty inside.
I’ve probably mixed past and present tenses in the paragraph above, because I haven’t resolved or “gotten over” this. In all honesty I am no closer to working it out than when it first appeared, like a looming chasm determined to consume me as I thought about it over and over and over again. As always, I turned to my very good friend, confidant and mentor, M, who taught me to remember that these are thoughts, and thoughts are just thoughts, that have only the power I give them, and do not dictate who I am or how I must act. Knowing this intellectually is not easy in practise, but reassuring to remind myself of. How I’m choosing to deal with this right now is pretty simple: don’t think about it too much. Sounds easy.. sounds obvious! but it’s a hard skill to master. I hope that in time, this issue will resolve itself one way or another… maybe it will just fade away and wont be an issue any more, or maybe I’ll explore this with a therapist in an environment that’s safer than the confines of my own mind. On days I can’t distract myself, it still cripples me, but my golden rule for everything this depression brings up is: if I don’t know what to do, do nothing.