Who Do You Think You Are?

Who do you think you are? Are you whatever is in your mind? Are you who you see in the mirror? Are you whatever other people think of your appearance?

Self by John Hain via Pixabay (CC0)
Self by John Hain via Pixabay (CC0)

Jamie (MustBeTuesday) recently posted a video on body positivity that taught me a valuable lesson. He explained that we tend to think of the “self” as being in our our minds–our thoughts, character, intelligence, and so on. However, to really have a good sense of self we have to realize that we are not only what we think about or who we think we are. We are the totality of what our bodies and minds are capable of. That was an “Aha!” moment for me. To recognize that my body goes on taking care of itself and me in spite of what I might be thinking, is a revelation.

This was particularly relevant for me because I’ve just been through the worst period of jet lag I have ever experienced.  I got home from my trip on May 23rd and it’s only now, June 30th, that I’m starting to feel like my old self. I’m still not 100%, but I’m much better than I was.

After I had been home for about ten days I realized I was not getting my energy back. Normally after a trip I take a few days or a week to recover and then I’m back to normal. This time, though, that didn’t happen.  This was not my usual experience, and I also had a stiff neck, so I thought I might have the flu or some other ailment. It seemed to make sense to find out what was going on, so I went to see my doctor.

Departures Terminal 5, London Heathrow Airport by Andrew Milligan Sumo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Departures Terminal 5, London Heathrow Airport by Andrew Milligan Sumo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

She asked “So, what’s been happening?” When I explained that in the previous six weeks I had driven from California to Alberta, taken a cruise to Norway, and visited family in England, she said she thought I was experiencing stress. She prescribed muscle relaxants for my neck, that I should wear a hat in the sun, and that I should get lots of rest. So, that’s what I’ve been doing.

At the same time, though, I’ve been having lots of self-doubt. Maybe this is a sign of aging. Perhaps I should give up on the idea of going on a trip every year. Passport control, airport security, and sardine-packed airplanes have made flying miserable, so why bother? If I don’t have the stamina for it, I don’t know if it’s worth the effort.

While I am staying home, sleeping a lot, napping in the afternoons, and generally not feeling like socializing at all, I’m also connecting imaginary dots. My age, my ongoing depression, my weariness, my fuzzy thinking, miscellaneous aches and pains, and so on and so on. Are these all separate issues or all symptoms of the same problem? Is the problem jet lag or depression or both? Is jet lag, in fact, just another form of depression?

Jet-lag by Frisno Bostrom via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Jet-lag by Frisno Bostrom via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I should add that I have been living with depression for most of my adult life. I was diagnosed when I was thirty-six and have been successfully treated with anti-depressants ever since. The meds do blunt emotional responses to some extent, but that’s a small price to pay for a productive and happy life. Accordingly, I have learned to be aware of when I am experiencing normal sorrows and tiredness as different from the symptoms of depression. That’s why, when I couldn’t bounce back from my recent trip, it was troubling.

There have been days in the last six weeks when I wondered if my life was worth living. I don’t seem to be contributing much to society, and I know that I’m steadily becoming one of those people who doesn’t have much to talk about except ailments. I haven’t actively considered methods of suicide, but I have sometimes thought that the best of my life seems to be over. I just seem to be taking up space without the necessary energy or creativity to be productive.

Walking Street City from Max Pixel (CC0)
Walking Street City from Max Pixel (CC0)

Those dark thoughts don’t last long, though, when there are days like today when I get out for a nice long walk in the sunshine, and I feel more like my old self again. I recognize that I have a loving family, good friends, some skills, and generally good health. When I focus on those things, the temporary malaise gets put into perspective.

Additionally, now, I can think about Jamie’s video and remember that how I perceive of myself must take into account the fact that my body and mind are carrying on regardless of whatever I might think about myself and my life. Jamie’s ideas are about body positivity, but they can be applied equally well to psychological positivity. I must think of my occasional feelings of worthlessness as a temporary misperception that I will recover from, not as a truth that I have to live with for ever.

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