Posted by: jedwardswright | September 8, 2010

Never Enough? Be Yourself

Many people who struggle with depression also struggle with low feelings of self-worth.

Maybe we couldn’t please our parents, no matter how hard we tried. Perhaps we were subject to verbal and/or other abuse, and were told that we were stupid losers. Some may have been berated by teachers or other authority figures. Some struggled socially, finding personal interaction to be a maze of social conventions and subtle overtones that we could never seem to navigate. Perhaps a physical trait or awkward name drew unwelcome attention in the form of taunts and mean jokes.  Dodging bullies, with varied success, might have been a way of life throughout childhood. Then there were the unfortunate individuals who experienced all of the above.

Our depression alone creates challenges to climb daily, as we agonize over that mistake at work or whether friends are avoiding us because of something we said. Depressed people tend to catastrophize, which means that we generally fix on the worst possible interpretation of past events, and expect the worst possible consequences for the future. Just as we see the world through dark-colored glasses, we view ourselves from the most unflattering angles, and conclude that we are destined for disaster.

How interesting that we are generally more generous in our assessment of others. We have coworkers who are all much more successful than we are. Our sisters are model moms, or so intelligent, or simply much more attractive than we could ever be. Our brothers have a knack for getting along with people or are more athletic or talented than we ever were. Sooner or later it all comes down to this: if we were more this or more that, like so-and-so, we would be happier, wealthier, better looking, or more popular. In other words, being ourselves is never enough.

As a child, I remember having a record album in a cardboard sleeve (yes, I am that old), that has survived in my mind for just one reason. There was a little ditty in it, presumably about an ugly duckling or some such, and it went like this, “Be yourself, you can’t be anybody else” and then it repeated that simple axiom again. Well at the time I thought it was the most profound statement ever! After all, it was an undeniable fact: I couldn’t be anyone but myself, now, could I?

That may have been one of the first inklings I ever had that individuality, even eccentricity, might not be entirely a bad thing. Maybe, just maybe, it was okay to be different.  This insight formed the basis of a philosophy that informed my efforts as a parent and teacher: we need to celebrate what makes each individual one of a kind.

No matter what anyone else has said or will say, no matter how many mistakes we make, or disappointments we endure, we are each unique and special. Every one of us has a specific part to play in the great orchestra of life, and the world would be the poorer without our contribution.  We have to realize and appreciate who we really are underneath – and focus on developing that person to his or her fullest potential. 

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

William Shakespeare   Hamlet, Act 1, scene 3, 78 – 80


  1. It hurts to be different. Different isn’t safe. It’s so much easier to hide. Sometimes I use different to hide. If people laugh at my funny hat, they might not notice my awkwardness. Am I allowed to feel?

  2. Yes, you are allowed to feel!
    Depression can rob of us the ability to moderate our feelings though, so we put on a false front to cover up the raging pain inside, which instinctively we know must be excessive and thus, socially unacceptable.
    If our lows weren’t so low, then we wouldn’t have this problem.
    For this reason, people with depression often wonder who they really are, the person out front trying to get by, or the person inside who is falling apart.
    Since my meds have stabilized my moods considerably, I have learned that I am neither of those people. I am someone in the middle.
    The person I pretend to be is fake, although she shares some characteristics with me.
    The suffering soul inside, who used to feel like the real me, was a distortion created by my mixed by biochemistry. Again, she was a fair bit like me, but with the angst and negativity magnified greatly.
    (Wow, this is almost another blog!)

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