Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Danger of Letting Others Define You 

No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow
--Alice Walker

For the longest time, I thought I was a depressive. Never mind that, actually, I was probably having more fun -- and was less scared -- than almost anyone else I knew. But because I felt intense sadness at times, and thought a lot about deep things, and wrote about those things, including about the dark stuff as well as the light, I never felt like I was "happy" enough. People told me I was depressed. I even pigeonholed myself, to an extent, becoming someone who writes about depression. And yes, I have been depressed, even been on antidepressants twice. But does that make me a person with depression? Or does that make me someone who is sensitive, thinks deeply, seeks help when things get bad, and isn't afraid of talking about the darkness? 

Recently, as I've begun to understand more about what happiness is, I realized that in some ways I'm probably one of the happiest people I know. If happiness is, as a friend and I were discussing today, the fact of living a life in keeping with one's values,  of feeling like you're living the life that you're meant to live, than I'm doing really well. Even despite - or possibly because of - the fact that I listen deeply to what my soul and psyche are telling me, and I talk about it.

For a long time I've thought of myself as a dour, dark person who feels sad all the time, and I've even considered stopping writing the blog because I've felt like it's depressing. But I feel compelled to continue to share my deepest feelings and thoughts about life. Does that make me dour and depressing? It's when I realized that the posts with the most emotion in them are the ones that generate the most feedback that I realized that the people I'm writing to aren't the ones who think we should only reflect the "happy" parts of life, but the ones who appreciate the true complexity of life. The ones who define me as a depressive are not my audience. The ones who don't bother to define me at all, but appreciate the way I mirror life in my writing, that's not only my audience, but the people I want to have around me. As friends. As lovers. As colleagues. The people who can't see the complexity that I weave with my life and my art are just, put simply, not my people.

I think this is true of all of us. The people who insist on putting us in a box are not our people. The people who accept us  -- or even if they have trouble accepting us, are at least interested in hearing about us -- in all of our depth and complexity, those are the people who will come along for the ride with us, who will be there to mirror our true experience and won't tell us what we're feeling or tell us we shouldn't be feeling it.

It's important that we take the time to define ourselves, and that we see clearly when others are trying to define us in their own terms or in relation to what they want us to be.  In researching verbal abuse for my last post, I found one writer who considered "attempting to define you" as behavior that could be a part of verbal abuse.

We all try to categorize the people in our lives to a certain degree, but it's when we need to define someone, to put them into a category such as "crazy," "slut," "asshole," "flake,"  or even "housewife," "businessman,"  or "straight A student", and refuse to acknowledge or even see the times when they don't conform to that definition, that it becomes a problem.

Someone who used to insist that I was always depressed (whom I no longer consider a friend) used to use my blog as evidence of this, despite all the times that we spent enjoyable, happy, laughing times together, and even the times that I wrote about more neutral or even happy subjects. She needed to think of me as a depressed, desperate person for her own reasons that had nothing to do with me. But for a long time, I thought she was right. Now I know that that sad, depressed, desperate person that she saw, though still a part of me, is not the whole me. And now I will only give my time to people who don't need to put me in a box like that.

How about you? How do you define yourself? How do others define you? And what are the parts of you that don't fit into any definition?


Dann said...

I define me as your friend!
Love the feeling of never defining or judging others.

Debby said...

I enjoyed this post. I, too, prefer to blog with depth and honesty about my journey, though there have been times when I have second-guessed myself, times when I've been reluctant to write the whole truth and nothing but the truth, especially as it relates to depression. And it's also been true for me, that that's when I get the greatest response and support, which has been the best encouragement to continue to post honestly and deeply. It's what I want to write and also what I want to read, so thanks for the chance to read the kind of blog that feels important to me.