About two weeks ago, one of our groups here at the step-down was, essentially, an interactive exercise among the clients. One of us would volunteer, and first that person would try to list all the things they felt others would see about them and how they saw themselves. Then, after that list was compiled, the rest of the people in the room would them compose a separate list of how they actually saw that person. It was an enlightening exercise, because it showed how vastly different we view ourselves as opposed to how others see us.
I was one of the people who volunteered, and I thought I had a relatively accurate view of how others would see me, and how I saw myself. When asked, I said that I thought I was quiet and shy – not necessarily the same thing, because one seems to be more purposeful than the other. I felt that I was somewhat detached from the people around me – not above or below, but separate. I said that I felt awkward and anxious around other people, pointing out the nervous fidgeting that I do when feeling out of my comfort zone. I see myself as sad, because that is what depression has left me, though I also saw myself as smart, funny, and nerdy – something I view as a positive because it reflects my interests and I’m not ashamed of it.
Thus, I was very surprised at the list that others had of what they saw in me. They said that I seemed engaged and vulnerable, that I was willing to open up and tell people what I was thinking and feeling. They agreed that I was funny, even if it was sometimes used as a defense mechanism. They said that I did seem shy at first, but opened up as I got to know others. They saw that I was determined and hard-working, because they felt that I was really devoting myself to my treatment. I was welcoming of others, especially new people; bold, which struck me as unusual, as well as confident; thoughtful and kind; fiercely loyal to others; wise, self-sacrificing, and supportive; anxious, but selfless and a contributor to groups and the program; creative; and a risktaker, which I found surprising. I wondered how their picture of me was so wildly different from my own.
I realized that I don’t really examine my strengths; we spend a lot of time here focused on trying to mitigate the negative parts of ourselves that we often neglect the positives. Some of my strengths I was aware of; some I didn’t see at all, but others saw them and thought enough of them to mention them.
I know that I am a good writer; this blog is a useful example, as is a long history of writing papers, and my unfinished attempt at a fantasy novel (which, if you are interested, can be found online here). I’m smart, something which I probably have objective proof of somewhere, but others around me seem to notice even without showing off my IQ. I am, in fact, fiercely loyal to my friends; there is very little I would not do for a friend, thought this can sometimes become problematic.I try to be kind to others, which I am not always successful at. I am a talented singer in Rock Band, and an entertaining singer in karaoke, something which both I and others seem to enjoy. I seem to have an ability to break some complicated concepts down to simpler, more easily understood ideas, which certainly helped while studying for my MA exam.
I never would have pictured myself as confident, though; that seems to be just what other people here see when they look at me, as well as my willingness to take risks – like going down a seven-story waterslide and getting a hell of a wedgie. I’ve been trying to work hard on my treatment, which I can be somewhat single-minded about at times, and while I didn’t count that as a strength, others certainly seemed to see it as such. Since coming to Menninger people seem to see me as friendly and welcoming, willing to try and make friends even if I have to overcome my natural shyness. I am even seen as vulnerable, which I never thought of as a strength – until I realize that it means letting people in, taking a chance to trust people with my innermost thoughts and feelings, even though I might be rejected.
I think the exercise was a great way to see and identify things which, while I never considered them, are strengths of mine. Now that I know other people see them in me, I have to look at them and consider why, so I can try to cultivate them further. Even though I certainly have weaknesses – many of my previous posts attest to that – it is good to know that through those, I also have strengths, and others can see, recognize, and point them out to me.
I think coming to Menninger, and to the step-down, has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Even if it is hard work, I realize things about myself now that I never would have before. While, if you had asked me 13 years ago if I could take my depression away, I would have instantly agreed; now, though, even through all the heartbreak and misery it has caused, and how awful I have often felt, I don’t think I would give it up, because I have improved relationships with my family and friends, opened up to thoughts and feelings I never even knew I had, and gotten to know a whole group of amazing people I never would have had the chance to know if my depression was gone. I don’t enjoy depression, but what it has brought me to at this point in my life is something I would not give up. Maybe that is a strength, too.