Who am I? It might seem like a question on top of an introductory “About Me” page. I have one of those. Spoiler: this is not it.
Who am I? is literally a question that I ask myself every day.
For about two years, I am struggling with my mental health again. That means I was pretty much ‘okay’ for about two years since I got many (many) tests done and started tailored therapy in the Netherlands. The health specialists there diagnosed me with several things that can be merged under the term depression.
At first, I thought I might have an attention deficit disorder, but turns out I was just so sad, my brain didn’t want to function. Starting a task was really hard, remembering things was hit or miss, and keeping my concentration was next to impossible.
For ease of talking about that, I am just using depression as my previous illness, and burnout as my current one.
Moving to Belgium and living by myself improved my quality of life a lot. I had structure, a regular job and steady income. My social network was stable, my friends were close by and I often went out to social activities.
This was a time where everything was ‘on the up and up’. I was taking care of a lot of things that I had struggled with in the first two decades of my life. My therapist said it was okay to quit therapy, and the reason was that I was doing better. I was glad it wasn’t simply because traveling back and forward to the Netherlands for sessions proved quite difficult at times.
A year and a half later, I got an offer to start another chapter in my career. At the start of my work journey, I had had my up and downs, if I have to be honest. However, that year and a half in Antwerp really stabilized both my life and my work, and I was genuinely happy to be learning and working so hard. I grew a lot in a very short time! (Both mentally and professionally, I was honestly impressed with my own growth.)
I was not afraid of risks or possibilities, as in the two years previously, I had learned that change was good and helped me grow.
A new chapter of change
At first, the change seemed obvious and exciting. My new job was hard, of course. Luckily, I’m not scared of a challenge. It’s one of the reasons that I took the job in the first place.
More changes came, gradually and silently. Sometimes, I felt overwhelmed. Most of the time, I tried to stay positive. Optimistic and ambitious people surrounded me, the atmosphere of hope almost managed to mask the negativity. I’m forever grateful for many beautiful moments and memories, and the wonderful opportunities and people that I got to meet because of this time in my life.
Unfortunately, it felt like an impossible task to have the pros outweigh the cons. I felt unheard, unseen, and in the mean time I was giving so much (too much) of my time, energy and effort without getting something in return that justified the sacrifices I’d made. After a year of pulling and pushing, many ups and downs, literal sweat and tears… Those close around me forced me to the conclusion that the situation wasn’t healthy. More importantly, I wasn’t healthy. Unfortunately, this decline had been happening for quite some time and the damage was done.
Regretfully, I made mistakes.
One mistake ended up costing me my job. At least, that’s the official story. The unofficial story is a bit more complicated, but it’s also not my place to write that on a public blog. We can talk about it in private, if you ever wish.
Together with my doctor, I figured that I needed a break from work, because I was clearly overworked. I was so overworked that my old depression symptoms were too prominent to ignore, and I was making mistakes I wouldn’t normally make.
The doctor diagnosed me with depression and burnout. I started taking medication for the first time in my life.
Long story short, at the end of October 2019 I went home on sick leave. Two days later, I was no longer welcome to come back to work.
This was a shock to my system, to say the least. It has now almost been a year and I’ve still not fully processed it.
My first big question after the initial shock, was of course:
As it turns out, I have no idea what, because I am still sick. That is why this is a part one. Because I’m learning a lot of new things about myself, about life, about work and about the world, while I am out of a job. As always when facing hardships, I’m trying to be strong. Moreover, I’m learning that it’s okay not to always be strong.
At the beginning of this year, I re-started therapy. I am very happy that I took that step, and it helps a lot. Of course, I’m sad that I didn’t start sooner. It was hard to recognize the symptoms when they first started, and I regret that a lot. I’m bitter because I let myself get overwhelmed again. I fought so hard, I worked really hard for such a long time. Sadly, I could not win in this situation.
My therapy heavily revolves around identity. On one hand, this is because my depression is linked to my identity disorder. On the other hand, it’s also because I tied so much of my identity to my work. It literally felt as if my future was taken away from me. That’s not healthy.
As I move forward, I have to ask myself the question:
Who am I?
This is a frustratingly difficult question to answer.
The world is literally on fire. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Everybody struggles at the moment. Not just on emotional levels, like I am. Things are constantly changing on so many levels. I am not even sure what the state of things will be in a week or so.
I hope to clear this up a bit more in part two. Thank you for reading, and see you there.