The Confidence Trick #2: know who you are, not what you are
When I think about it, it really isn't all that long ago that I couldn't get out of bed. Or have any kind of conversation, other than with a select handful of people. Never a fan of answering the phone at the best of times (maybe my most millennial trait), it became an impossible task. As did leaving the house in any kind of danger zone (seeing someone I used to know from work, for example). The prospect of lying curled up on the couch with a blanket - a lovely non-judgmental, no questions asked blanket - was infinitely more appealing.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating, that I was, for a long time, firmly of the belief that having depression didn't happen to "a person like me". A person who had lived in multiple cultures and found a way to cope with living in a country where I had to SHOUT THE SAME ADDRESS FIVE TIMES at a taxi driver to get to work in the morning; had also learned to adapt to a mind-bending norm of everyone being super! excited! about everything (like, we're talking about a coupon for pens, how "exciting" can it be? my baffled British mind would often ask). A person who had, by most financial and career metrics, achieved success, with my budget responsibilities and my stock options and my corner office and my (vintage) Prada handbags and my ability to shop at Whole Foods (yes! even for aluminium foil!).
Oh, foolish Jen of a few years ago. Mental illness has no respect for Prada handbags or Fidelity accounts.I have written before about my descent into depression and my gradual climb out (it's here if by some miracle you've managed to avoid it) so we don't need to revisit the whole thing. The point of my post today is that the experience left me shattered and shaken and entirely unsure of myself.
I was no longer the identity I had always prided myself on - the resilient person who could handle anything without breaking stride, the person that everyone else came to when thy were unsure what to do next.
I was also no longer my job title, the autosignature that had taken up so many of my waking hours, consumed my energy and time, where I had derived so much satisfaction and achievement to go with the grey hairs.
I was no longer my role. The head of a team of people over whom I held a giant umbrella, poked and prodded to greatness, felt joy leading.
In other words, not only was I questioning who I was, because apparently the adjectives I would have used to describe myself were at best delusional, and at worst downright lies (depression is a very harsh critic). I wasn't doing any of the things that made me, me.
So... who was I? And, more importantly, who did I want to be?
Oh my. I threw so many things at the wall to figure that one out. Like some overgrown teenager, figuring out my identity. Trying to find the answers to stabilising my shaken mind, and mending my fractured self-belief. Searching inward to find out how this self I had, worked. Looking outward to how everyone else approached this question. Of the things I tried...
World's biggest advocate for depression medication right here! If there were an opening for a Citalopram influencer, I'd be at the head of the queue.
For a while I was a meditation zealot; the calm you can find in your own mind, once the clouds drift away, was nothing short of life-changing.
Buddhist philosophy, a combination of the most glorious common sense and the most aspirational of ideal behaviours, was a life raft at sea to my logical and spiritual minds. I have never had religious faith, and don't see that changing ever (you do you and so forth) but the teachings were something I could learn from instead of suspend my disbelief around.
Most of all. Coming to some conclusions about who I wanted to be: what impact I wanted to have on the people around me, what I was good at, what difference I want to make, what cause I wanted to benefit, what I valued and held dear, what I never wanted to be part of, what parts of my identity I was dropping....all of those big, deep, simple-sounding questions that are a lifetime's work to answer. But I didn't remember ever having consciously asked them. It took me several goes around, some things stuck and some didn't, and it still evolves now. But having an identity, one that I felt proud of, one that I could describe to other people and I identified with (is that an oxymoron?), I can honestly say that that was the thing that most righted me on my feet.
And this identity, that I had consciously chosen and crafted for myself, it wasn't something that I could ever have taken away from me. Because it was me: not something I was paid to do, not a position I would move on from, not a set of behaviours or values that would fall out of fashion the next time the roulette wheel in the CEO's office span and stopped on someone new. I no longer felt like I was walking on lava.
It was a slow process. But for someone who couldn't get out of bed, 3 months later I strolled into my first real job interview in over 20 years walking, talking and (most importantly) feeling like a confident woman who was there for a nice conversation. And I got the job. And made a whole load of new friends and colleagues, and learned a ton and go to fly to Argentina for the weekend. But we're not here for that part of the story, are we? We're just here to hear that it's possible. If you need to hear it, take heart. It really is.
You don't have to have to be scraping along the bottom of the self esteem barrel to ask big questions about who you are and who you want to be. It's a conversation I frequently have with clients. But it can be a daunting task to face alone. I have teamed up with the founder of marketing agency Her Story on a self-guided course in creating your personal brand. In it, we guide you through many of the questions I mention above, and give you the tools to turn these insights into action. You may also want to check out this webinar on getting unstuck.