There are many books and movies, and emotionally charged songs about people – mostly young – who had to conceive their true selves. I have always found that mildly hilarious, mocking this thirst for dramatic posturing, thinking about myself as superior to those people. This was a great example of a bias blind spot, because I had a much higher opinion of myself in that regard than it should have been, objectively. However, as I have grown older, through continuous soul-searching and a vast amount of these emotionally loaded songs, I realized the sheer hypocrisy of my scorning comments. After recognizing my egocentric bias, I fully understood the hardships of being a human, burdened with all these past experiences, dramas and, specifically, the convictions that everyone sees right through me. It became obvious to me that my assumptions that I am better than the others because I behave differently was, in fact, a bias that I have developed throughout my adolescence.
Reflecting on my relationships and journeys, I started to realize that I have never truly been honest about myself with anyone. Family, friends, acquaintances, even enemies – they all know very different versions of me, and I am not talking about various sides of my, indeed, complicated identity. No, I am speaking about pretending, which is, in my opinion, can be seen as the defectiveness maladaptive scheme due to the fact that I believe I am not enough. Pretending to be strong, or confident, or reckless, or alarmingly vicious, while I certainly did not feel like that – it had become my crafted persona. When I think about it, I, of course, find all these traits within me, but they never defined me to myself – only to others.
I hid my actual personality so well that it still backfires into my face almost every day, when my actions and the expectations of the other people who know me collide and clash. The simplicity of being what I am has avoided me for a very long time, and now I am well and truly afraid to show the world my weaker, much softer inner side. Or front side, which is equally tender without all my feigned brashness and bravery. This is, in fact, a challenge I have yet to overcome.
I have once observed a student with autistic spectrum disorder, who appeared to have a moderate level of autism symptoms’ manifestation. The student was a boy about 6 years old, and attending pre-school. Through a set of interactions, I have successfully established a connection with him, although not a close one. His behavioral attitudes were less pronounced as detachment from the world around them, but rather related to a desire to catalog contact with it. I have noticed that he preferred already established and predictable ways of doing anything. For example, if he needed to communicate with someone, he would first come up to them and wait for them to notice him. Then he would fully introduce himself, even if he and the person already know each other, and ask his question or request. This sequence could be repeated up to five times a day – even if he approached the same person again.
When I asked him why he does it this way, he told me that he was uncertain that the person would remember him, because he himself often could not remember names and faces. This ritual behavior helped him reduce anxiety when approaching other people, as well as offered him some sense of order in his interactions with the world.
I have always been a reflexive type, thinking and analyzing my actions, words and thoughts constantly. To me, it was “normal” – I could dissolve my behavior into pieces and understand how it impacted my decisions and my life in general. However, when I began learning about coping with stress, I looked onto that habit in a different perspective. I have realized that this perpetual overthinking was, in fact, my coping mechanism which I used to explain everything that happened throughout my life. With that mechanism, I was almost always analyzing my behavior in an overly critical way, blaming entirely myself for every mistake, misstep or wrong decision. I spent countless hours making myself miserable by convincing myself that I was the sole source of all my problems. Although that mindset often led me to anxiety, and a fear of starting anything new such as hobbies or relationships, it was also a very real coping mechanism, because it took the responsibility from me.
I would think “I have already failed to get a job because I am lazy, I lack the willpower and persistence needed to be successful. So I will just quit or would not start doing anything about the situation at all”. This would give me an excuse to continue being impassive about my life – I do not have a strong will so I will not achieve anything. And I used that same mechanism for everything, denying myself any opportunity to grow. However, after learning more about these coping strategies, I reflected again on my habits – this time, with more objectivity, and I realized I was not fair, as well as not kind to myself by doing this. Now I try to change this coping mechanism into something more healthy, and learn to take responsibility properly, without twisting it into a punishment.
I have a friend who has depression – it was diagnosed by multiple specialists and he has been receiving treatment for it for the past two years. When I ask him about his symptoms, it always sounds like he reads them off a psychiatry book – they are this much accurate for his diagnosis. He is constantly subdued in his emotional responses, his self-esteem is very low, he has a very poor appetite and insomnia, and often isolates himself from the others. Before he began succumbing to his depression, he loved to draw and write, but now, he states that he does not feel any strength or will to do his once-favorite hobbies. He takes Quetiapine, Mirtazapine, and Sertraline daily, as his depression treatment. He states that he often feels as if he cannot think properly or concentrate on tasks, and it is quite difficult for him to do his work. Moreover, he is constantly sleepy, and has trouble waking up.
Various neurophysiological studies show that the main areas involved in the development of depression are the cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala. The cerebral cortex is the smartest part of the brain, which is responsible for analyzing information and complex mental operations such as writing and reading. In depression, a reduced amount of gray matter is usually found in the cerebral cortex, especially in the frontal area. This part of the brain is responsible for purposeful volitional activity. A decrease in the amount of gray matter in the frontal cortex can be manifested by the fact that it becomes difficult for a person to concentrate and consciously remember information. When depressed, it can be difficult to do mental work or study, which is precisely what happens to my friend. The situation with his inability to work properly worries my friend a lot, he told me. He is almost always exhausted and often takes time off work as he does not feel he can concentrate on tasks. From this, it can be concluded that depression has affected his neurological functions greatly, to the point of periodical impairment.