Who Am I Doing This For?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

There’s a stack of Christmas cards on my desk. Blank. Not yet addressed to anyone. Last year, we had already sent out about 30 of them to friends and family, but this year, due to the state of non-activity I’ve been in lately, these, too, have been left sitting around idly. It’s now two days before Christmas, and up until yesterday, I was still convinced that we were going to start writing soon. I’m not so sure now. We’ll see.

It’s been interesting to watch my thoughts dance around these cards, the occasional flare-up of stress when I realised they were still sitting there, and the slight pangs of guilt whenever one dropped in the mail that I haven’t replied to. I realise not everyone makes such a big deal out of it, so I got to thinking what meaning I’m giving to the whole thing.

Somehow, whether or not I send Christmas cards has become a sign of whether or not I’m thinking about others, whether or not I care enough, as much for me as for other people. The reason I send them is so that others won’t think badly of me, and so that I won’t think badly of myself. It’s part of my mile-long list of what it means to be a ‘good person‘. Good people send Christmas cards to their friends and family.

This is, obviously, not a great space from which to do anything. If my self-worth is dependant on whether I do stuff for you, where does that leave me? It’s not the place from which you can give with generosity, unconditionally.

A few days ago, I had a great coaching conversation with a friend in which she gave me some tips for practices to ground myself. The same evening, I made a bullet journal spread about the same practices. I immediately felt the need to take a picture of it and send it to her, and then I took a step back and tried to sense why I wanted to do that. It wasn’t because I was proud of it and wanted to share it, it was so that she would know that I had taken her advice to heart. So that she would feel like her time had made a difference. It was to make her feel good, and so she would judge me accordingly.

I didn’t send the picture, because I don’t want that to be the energy behind it. I don’t want others to have to feel a certain way or have to respond a certain way. I want to leave others free to feel and do whatever they want in response to my words or actions, and I want my feelings of self-worth to be completely independent of their reactions.

There are upsides to having a depression. One of them is that it has become impossible to be a certain version of myself just for everyone else. When I feel the pressure rise to be a good mother, or a good partner, or a good friend, I also feel myself freeze up. My body is objecting. I have no energy left to give. Part of me is demanding that I am selfish for a time, while another part of me is objecting to what this means to my idea of self: does this make me a selfish person? Have I always been selfish? What was my motivation for giving before?

My depression is forcing me to review how I’ve operated until now, and what part of that is not working. It is uncomfortable, and painful at times, and it kind of pushes me back into the ‘Who am I?’ question all over again. But it also holds an opportunity to rewire. As my brain feels like it collapses into disarray and nothingness, I know that at some point I’ll be able to build it back up. I’ll be able to build myself back up. I’ll be able to learn how to give without conditions, from an energy that is overflowing and that doesn’t depend on how the other person responds.

Until then, I’ll just have to work through the deconstruction.

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