For a long time, I felt the need to essentially maintain several distinct personas. The person I was around my friends was not the person I was around my family. I was a different person in class than I was outside of it. I never really thought much of it; it was just the way I dealt with things. I never questioned why I did it, or why it didn’t seem that the other people I knew really did it.
After coming to treatment, that has been one of the things I have been working on – being the same person with everyone. I don’t want to have to be a different person around my family than I am with my friends. I would rather not be a different Jamie at work than I am at home. It’s a lot of work keeping up those kinds of facade, because you have to constantly keep checking, consciously or unconsciously, to see whether what you are doing matches the situation you are in. It might be as simple as just remembering not to swear around my parents, or something more difficult like trying to keep any real expression from ever showing on my face. I divided my life up into little compartments, and in each compartment, I was a different person.
I wasn’t a totally different person – I don’t have multiple independent personalities. Most of who I was stayed the same; it was just a matter of choosing how to present myself that changed. Some people saw a different side of me than others did. When you do something like that, you tend to pick up lying well as a habit; you can’t separate your personas without it. Then you end up letting too many people see a particular side of you, and you lose control. Sometimes, that control over who saw what part of me was all that I felt I had control over, so I held on tight.
I have been realizing, though, that that control was one of the things that was keeping people away from me. People were never sure which side of me they would see, so they wouldn’t approach me. Or I felt that it wasn’t a good idea to walk up to someone and chat while I was with certain people, because it would break character, and so I didn’t. My control only helped to isolate me, and didn’t give me much control over my life at all. The problem was letting the walls down, and letting the people around me see the rest of me, the parts I kept hidden.
Being vulnerable is hard. Everyone feels it. Some people are extremely sensitive to it; one harsh word and they fall apart. Some people just don’t really have any secrets; they live their lives out in the open. I was never a particularly open person, and so learning to be vulnerable was hard for me. It took me a couple weeks to say anything personal in group psychotherapy; I was scared to talk about myself, because I didn’t know how people would react. I didn’t want to be judged by people I was just getting to know – I worried that what I said would be so stupid, or crass, or unpleasant, or boring that I would be seen as unworthy.
That was kind of silly, thinking back. It seemed like a very realistic fear at the time, but having gotten to know the people who were in group with me, I don’t think they would ever judge me as harshly as I did. If anything, talking in group, sharing something I had felt in secret and hidden for a long time, not only brought me relief, but it helped the people there not to judge me, but to get to know me better. And when I trusted them with my thoughts and feelings, they began to trust me with theirs.
So, now that I am out of treatment – well, intensive treatment – I want to continue that work. I know how freeing it was to be able to tell my narrative a few weeks after I started at the step-down; it let me get a lot out in the open, and it helped the other people around me to know me. Now, I’m not going to open up to everyone I meet – I am still, in general, a pretty cynical person. But I am trying to keep my life, and my persona, an honest and open one.
Hiding myself away, and compartmentalizing my life, and who I was, depending on who I was with was a strategy that didn’t really work for me. It made my depression worse, and it confused the people around me. So now I am trying to work in a different direction, and see where that leads me.