Learning to Look Past Your Pain

And not letting it become your identity

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

My mother recently got hospitalized. Seconds after the ambulance left, I got a text from a friend. She stated she felt very sad because her online presentation had gone badly. On top of that, the teacher had scolded her, and she would lose a lot of marks now. I froze. My mind was like static. What on earth do I say now?

I believe marks are just numbers on a screen. I’ve met 9.5 GPA students who’re absolutely deplorable people and I’ve met 4 GPA students who’re kinder and more brilliant than I could ever be. I don’t care about marks, and I definitely don’t care what teachers think of me.

I couldn’t relate to her sadness on any level. So, I ended up texting back something like this:

Look on the bright side; in a hundred years, both you and the teacher will be dead and none of this will matter.

Suffice it to say, she wasn’t amused. She got offended, in fact. Told me I was rude. At the time, I shook it off and moved on. But later that evening, after the shock of my mother’s hospitalization had passed, a thought came creeping back into my mind. I realized I’d just done what I’d been training myself so hard to avoid doing.

“Why Am I the Only One…?”

I was fourteen when I got diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. Mental illness hit me like a train, all at once and much too intense. I was in school then, surrounded by happy children laughing in large groups. I, on the other hand, was introverted and had crippling social anxiety. I was an outsider. The pain consumed me over the next year, and I began believing I was the only one with problems.

Why am I the only one who has to constantly excuse himself to the washroom to have a panic attack in silence? Why am I the only one crying myself to sleep every night? Why am I the only one who’s terrified of social situations? No one else has problems. Why do I?

I was too young then to see the errors in my thinking. As I grew older, I began to grasp an unavoidable truth — nothing is as it seems.

You see those couples happily strolling down the street with their hands linked? He’s planning to break up with her tonight and is only making today so special to cushion the blow. See that perfect family lunching in that expensive restaurant? In reality, the parents constantly fight while the children go to bed at night hoping they won’t have to hear mom crying again.

I didn’t realize this before. I saw a happy couple or a perfect family and took that at face value. And then I generalized to conclude everyone but me had perfect lives.

Losing Yourself in Your Depression

What I did with that girl was what I’ve been training myself so hard to avoid doing. I belittled her problem. That’s what happens when you spend too much time in your own head. I’ve spent seven years with clinical depression and anxiety. That’s a long time.

Over that time, it’s become a common occurrence for me to lose myself in my own pain, to amplify it and make it everything that matters. I obsess over my problems, and eventually they become all I can think of. By extension, I become all I can think of. I become the center of the universe, the only person who matters.

I become too self-centered for my liking. The pain becomes an impossibly high wall I can never peek over. As a consequence, I forget everyone else, that they have problems too, that friendship is a two-way street, that my issues aren’t the only ones worth discussing. I forget I can never allow myself to drown in my own pain and disregard the needs of others.

Simply put, I develop a fear of clinical depression and let it become a Goliath no David could ever conquer. It becomes my entire identity, the be-all, end-all of my life. How depression pervades one’s life in this manner to become their whole identity is explained perfectly in an article by Michael Friedman, Ph.D., at Psychology Today:

We think of ourselves as a “depressed person” rather than someone who suffers from depression. Add to that the fact that our social relationships and work performance suffer and we assume that we are “not good at relationships” or “not a strong performer.” And as we see tangible evidence that supports these conclusions, our erroneously formed self-concept becomes further engrained as our identity and depression rob us of who we are.

How to Avoid the Mistake I Made

Letting mental illness become one’s identity is more common than I’d thought. According to a research paper by Tegan Cruwys and Sathiavaani Gunaseelan in the Journal of Affective Disorders, when asked the question — “Is depression part of how you see yourself as a person?” — 15.4% of respondents had answered in the negative. However, 49% had answered in the affirmative.

In my own fight against clinical depression, I’d let it attain the status of unbeatable, and as a consequence of spending too much time with it, I’d trivialized the problems of others.

There are still times when I find myself slipping back into old patterns (the marks incident being a prime example), but I think I’ve mended my ways for the most part. There are two major changes I made to my life. If you’re going through the same thing, these changes won’t be easy to make. They’ll end up altering your lifestyle, and they’ll take time to implement. But they worked for me, and I’m hoping they’ll work for you as well.

Find an Outlet to Express Yourself and Vent

My mental well-being has improved substantially ever since I began writing these articles. Some are personal, some more technical, but I’ve been able to express myself through all of them. I’m also a novelist. Mental illness plays a huge role in my novels, and I have a character based on me I can vent through. My outlet, therefore, is writing.

Yours could be anything. Art, music, running, exercise, video games, reading, dancing, singing. Whatever helps you express yourself and let off steam. Make this outlet a regular part of your life. Revisit it whenever you feel yourself slipping too deep into your pain. It’ll help ground you and will relieve some of the pressure.

Letting negativity fester inside you will only increase its intensity. Pushing down pain only makes it stronger. Think of yourself as a cup kept out on an open street in the middle of monsoon season. Life won’t stop raining down negativity your way, and the only way you can keep yourself from being overwhelmed is by draining some of the water already accumulated inside you. This outlet serves as a way to do just that.

Become More Social and Communicative

I didn’t do this by choice. Before 2018, all I had by way of social media was a Facebook account I visited twice a year. I had maybe forty contacts on my phone and I talked to no one I didn’t have to. But it turns out becoming a self-published author entails creating a following, and that in turn entails being more social.

A major reason behind mental illness becoming such a huge part of your life is a lack of human interaction. I didn’t realize this, and spent years locked up in my own head. Mine became the only story of depression. There was no context to my pain, nothing to relate it to, nothing to put it into perspective.

Once I registered on more social media platforms and opened up to my existing friends, I was able to grasp just how big the world truly is. Mine is but one among almost eight billion stories of struggle and triumph, happiness and depression, bereavement and love. There are people who understand what we’re going through, and there are people who’ve overcome it.

Just like the outlet I spoke of above, interacting with people and opening up to them helps you both express yourself and vent. The aim is to let out everything you’ve been pushing down. Once the intensity of the pain diminishes, so does its role in your life.

Conclusion

Mental illness is no trivial thing. It’s like an omnipresent, invisible handicap. The very nature of clinical depression makes it hard to focus on anything else. It’s not completely under your control. An entire chemical imbalance can’t be overcome through sheer force of will, no matter who says otherwise.

At the same time, it’s highly unhealthy to let your mental illness define you, to let it become such a large part of your life that it becomes all you think of, and by extension, you become all you think of.

The trick is to find a balance. And while I won’t pretend to have found it, I have become happier and less self-centered than I was before, and I no longer view clinical depression as anything but an impediment I must overcome to reach my fullest potential.

I leave you with a quote from a touching Thought Catalog article by Ashleigh Solbjor:

While I know depression is excruciatingly painful even when you feel a complete emptiness, I also believe it doesn’t define you. No matter how consumed you feel by it, it doesn’t take away from all the beautiful little pieces that make you, you. You are still compassionate, strong, and empathetic. You will always be the kind of person who cares, the kind of person who chooses their words carefully and who asks how others are feeling, wanting real answers, because you know the difference it makes. Despite all the hell you’ve endured, you have not lost your heart.

21-year old author, blogger, and law student. I write crime thrillers with a heavy focus on mental health issues. Search my name on Amazon to get my books!

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