At the time, I had no way to describe it other than, “I just don’t feel like myself.”
Feeling out of place in my own skin was new to me. I was the person who seemed comfortable almost everywhere—the one who struck up conversations with grocery store cashiers while they scanned my purchases and with other parents as we watched our children play at the park. I didn’t get nervous at job interviews or speaking in front of a group.
The world was a fairly comfortable place. I had somehow lucked into the type of personality that “fits” best in the world, a circumstance that then snowballs in the best possible way: My general comfort allowed me the luxury of assuming the best of others and believing I also had something good to share with them.
But then, that vague out-of-placeness began lingering. It was like a dark cloud just over my shoulder, gradually seeping then settling deep into my bones. At first I was able to override it, when I needed to, but eventually it took root as a feeling of insecurity—a sense that I was no longer comfortable with myself, or with others.
Rather than seeing strangers as potential friends, and seeing friends as people who were looking out for my best interest, I began seeing them all as possible agents of hurt, as people not to be trusted with my fragile being.
I also saw myself as having little to share with others. Where I had once felt powerful in my ability to enrich and brighten people’s lives, I suddenly felt sure I would do the opposite. So I did something I had never done before—I turned inward.
* * * * *
Unfortunately, this turn in me coincided with a move I did not want to make, to a place I did not want to live. My then-husband had accepted a job in the middle of Illinois, so we moved our two daughters (one still in diapers, the other a busy preschooler) away from the wooded lakeshores of West Michigan to the flat cornfields of Illinois.
But it wasn’t the landscape that left me feeling foreign—it was being surrounded by people who only knew this out-of-place version of me. My history, my core, the way I had been just a year or two before—they were all unknown to the people around me, which made those parts of who I was feel even less real. When reality is shifting, one of the only comforts is being able to look into the face of someone who sees and recognizes it too—someone who can say, “I know. You are not crazy.”
It would be months before someone knew me enough to ask—and I trusted her enough to listen—“Do you think you’re struggling with depression?”
Now, looking back at that time, I find it hard to believe that I could have been so oblivious to something so obvious. But in most cases, depression sneaks in so gradually that you don’t recognize it, and then it changes you so profoundly that, before you know it, you don’t recognize yourself. It’s disorienting in the most fundamental way. Even your own sense of who you were—who you are at your core—is distorted and suspect.
* * * * *
Thankfully, anti-depressants have been effective for me, especially paired with a whole lot of self-reflection and a determination to uncover and embrace my truest self (which in many ways I had never done, even back in those pre-depression days when my skin and the world I moved through felt so comfortable).
Now I have a decade’s worth of perspective on that time in my life, and I’m able to see this: If depression is one of the darkest of clouds a human being can try to live beneath, my experience with it has a silver lining. Not only has it allowed me to develop great compassion for others who feel out of place—whether that sense is rooted in depression or in a too-narrow set of societal expectations and norms—but it has also revealed to me what love looks and feels like: a deep desire for wholeness in another. God’s love for me is rooted in his desire for me to live fully as my true self, the person he created me to be. And likewise, that is how I am called to love others, from my husband and teenage daughters to the people in my community who rub me the wrong way: To love them is to long for them to be at home in their skin.