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Don’t let depression steal your personal dignity!

Source: wrangle at big

It’s easy to lose a sense of your personal dignity when depressed, but it doesn’t have to be.  You might wonder: what is dignity, and what does that have to do with depression?  Think of dignity as a sense of having self-respect as a human being and being worthy of respect from others, and behaving in a way that shows this.  It’s an indication of how we value ourselves, that we matter, that our opinions and preferences matter.  How do we communicate this to others?  It happens in subtle ways, in our bearing, the way we carry ourselves, in our behavior and speech that together indicates we respect ourselves.

When you don’t feel well, taking care of your person and how you present yourself to others often becomes a challenge.  Think about it.  If you’re depressed and don’t think very highly of yourself and don’t have self-respect, then you’re probably not going to take care of yourself and not present yourself in a very good image.  At this point you might not care.  You’re fatigued and in deep despair so you might slouch, not make direct eye contact, and mumble or slur your words.  It’s a great effort to shower, shave, wash and style your hair so you might skip doing those things on many days.  It’s also much easier to reach for the stained, baggy tee shirt and sweat pants instead of clean, pressed clothes.  There seems to be no point in doing anything else given how you feel.  You might not care to eat healthy meals or get physical exercise.  It’s hard to make the effort when negative thoughts overtake your mind, when you think of yourself as a failure, not worthy and your situation hopeless.

One of the most impressive people I have met is an older gentleman, whom you might know of,  who bore his depression with a strength and quiet dignity that I try to emulate, or copy.  While you knew from his eyes that he was suffering inside, he did not communicate that in his body language.  He remained calm and composed to the outside world despite his troubles.  He got up each day, showered and shaved, washed and combed his hair, and put on clean, pressed clothes.  For him, there was no choice.  He stood or sat up straight and directly looked at others when they spoke to him.  He sat in a chair instead of lying in bed on the inpatient unit and made the effort to go to groups, introducing himself with a clear voice and a firm handshake.

These things may seem small, superficial or a bit “old school” to you.  But if you think about it for a minute you’ll realize that showing you care about yourself and your appearance is a sign of respect for yourself and the others around you.  It improves the way you feel about yourself and raises your self-esteem.  This in turn will help with your depression.  It doesn’t dismiss the emotional pain you have, but it is something you have control over that will make a difference.  The challenge is in doing these things when you don’t feel like it, when you’re so very fatigued and down.  I encourage you to try anyway.  Act “as if” you have personal dignity, and gradually it will become more comfortable to do and your new normal.

Stay well!


A version of this article previously appeared on Psychology Today.

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