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When I experienced my first episode of depression, it was physically painful. It made me less functional. It left me adrift. But on top of all that, when I was depressed, it felt like depression took away my dignity. Or more likely, when I was depressed, I took away my own dignity.
Or perhaps, depression and I were partners in the deed: depression suggested to me,
“You aren’t worthy.”
“You’re a failure.”
“You deserve this fate.”
And I bought it all, hook, line, and sinker.
I didn’t believe I was entitled to dignity. There were times when I felt really bad and I wanted to lie down, but not on a bed. On the ground, the lowest place you can go. With the animals. As if I were not entitled to comfort.
Not only did I not want to take a shower, I also believed I didn’t deserve one. A horrible person like me should smell bad, right? Not only did I believe many terrible things about myself, I assumed that others thought the same. I was sure no one would want to associate with me. So, I isolated myself even more.
Reclaiming my dignity from depression was one of the toughest challenges of getting better, but gradually, I did. Though I have no easy answers and I doubt that any exist, I’m also sure that I learned from my mistakes.
Be aware of the ways that depression can distort your thinking
Depression may tell you irrational things like you’re a dirty animal who does not deserve a shower. When this happens, remind yourself that this is depression talking. I gradually learned I didn’t need to hang onto depression’s every syllable. I clawed back a little of my dignity each time I found a way to peacefully coexist with this voice, which still exists inside me in some form.
When I was at my worst, it sometimes helped for me to think about depression as a storm in my mind. I tried not to act during these worst moments or make any major life-changing decisions. I tried to remind myself that this thought or this feeling would pass, or at least diminish somewhat. Realizing that I would eventually outlast the nastiest of these storms was a baby step in winning back my dignity; these moments helped me see that, ultimately, I was more than my depression.
Depression is one of the hardest things that people go through. I eventually learned that you are entitled to dignity simply for not giving up.
Take care of someone or something — it may be a dog, a plant, or a charitable donation to a good cause. Sometimes, it helped me to talk to another person who I also knew was struggling with depression; my self-worth was still fragile, but it got a little boost each time I was able to help someone else.
One way depression strips you of your dignity is that it robs you of aspiration. Mired in pessimism and reeling in pain, future goals die away. They are replaced by the certainty that misery is your true destiny.
Naturally, it’s hard to have dignity when you don’t believe you deserve any future. My dignity was restored a little when I imagined myself starting a new career in psychology and when I took small steps to bring that future to fruition by enrolling in classes and researching training programs.
When I’m not depressed, I have a good sense of humor. When I’m depressed, not so much. Occasionally during depression, I found a way to make others laugh. Once on Christmas, I did a baking project where I made the ugliest possible cookies and boxed them up as a hoax gift. I found that humor, even black humor, is a potent weapon in affirming your humanity. Each time I got a chuckle, I took back a little of my dignity.
I hope that briefly sharing a few hard-won insights might help more depressed people hang onto their dignity, or at least win it back more quickly. If you feel overwhelmed and have thoughts of hurting yourself, call 911. For support and resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.
For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.