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Redefining and Rebuilding Yourself
mikew Friday, August 31, 2018
One of the common things I hear at the support group I lead is that people so desperately want to "be the person they used to be." I've heard it a lot and I usually respond by saying that it is possible to rebuild yourself after being beaten down into a mound of rubble. I'd say that's how I feel about myself right now. because it's the truth. But then one night a lady nodded.and followed up my statement by saying "Yeah, but *how* do you make yourself a better person after being torn down to nothing? *How* do you get over your past and like yourself in the present?"

It was a good follow up question and I really had to think about it. I didn't have an answer at first so we continued with group. Then a few minutes later I figured out how I was able to make myself better than the person I used to be--the old person I used to like so much... the old person people really liked.

The biggest part of my realization was the "old person I used to like so much" part. It occurred to me that I wasted a hell of a lot of time stubbornly trying to go back to being the person I used to be before my illness. See, when something goes so wrong we end up in a psych ward, get force fed ridiculous amounts of medication and then are released, most of us face a paralyzing state of depression. When we're that depressed, things stick out in our minds--our regrets, what we've lost, what we did, what we should have done but didn't do, how we've ruined our lives, and how we'll never be the same. What also sticks out in our minds is how happy we used to be. But happiness is relative.

When you're consumed by depression and just feel like you're at rock bottom, pretty much anything seems better than where you are at that moment. There's this tendency to almost romanticize your past--what you used to have, what you used to do and who you used to be. Since we're so down, our past seems so perfect and unattainable... it feels like we've lost our identity and will never get a new one that could compete with the one we used to have.

That's simply not true.

Since pretty much anything in your past seems great when you're depressed and at rock bottom, we wish and wish and wish we could just go back to being who we were and living the lives we used to live. But this makes us blind to the reality of our past. Personally, it took me a while until I realized that "You know what, I'm not sure I even like the person I used to be. My former self had a hell of a lot of room for improvement than I thought I did." That was a turning point in my life.

The temptation of longing for the past is that we waste so much time thinking "if only I'd done this and that and this and that, then things would be perfect right now." But we can't time travel (side note: when I was delusional I was convinced I could time travel). The thing about the past (and the thing that has sparked many a science fiction novel and movie) is that if you change one thing in your past, it doesn't mean everything resulting from that change will be perfect. That's a fallacy.

We can perfect the past in our minds while ignoring the present and being unrealistic about the future. (unrealistic can mean being too positive or being too negative).

But what's most important isn't the decisions we made or didn't make. It's hard to do this, but it's crucial to getting over the endless fantasizing about "I just want my old self and my old life back"--you need to take an honest look at the person you used to be. We can build our former selves up in our minds, *especially* when we hate our present selves. But the truth is that nobody is perfect. You need to look back at the person you used to be with a nearly ruthless kind of honestly. When you do that, like I did, it quickly becomes apparent that you weren't as perfect as you may believe you were... that your life wasn't nearly as perfect as you thought it was... or that your friends weren't nearly as close to you as you thought they were.

What worked for me--and what I told the lady at group--was that if you really are honest with yourself while thinking about who you used to be, you should be able to see that there is a hell of a lot of room for improvement when it comes to your old self. You'll never be the person you used to be, so think long and hard about what you liked and (more importantly) what you don't like about your old self. If you can do that, you're giving yourself a big opportunity to build yourself into someone even better than who you used to be.

You'll never be able to change the past, but you can always change who you are in the present. You just need to be honest with yourself, that's it.



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