How to respond when you’re “not yourself”

by Kristin on October 9, 2012

in Love, family & community

Photo by SodanieChea

“I’m just not feeling like myself.”

It’s something we’ve probably all felt at one time or another, but it’s a funny thing when you think about it—this state of simultaneously being but not being ourselves. Of course I’m always me, I’m just not always the me I perceive myself to be, the me I’m comfortable with and know what to expect from. I’m not always the me I like best.

Having our expectations turned upside-down gets tiring enough in our external lives. There are those days that start out so sunny and full of promise, but suddenly seem intent on smacking you down at every turn. There’s the restaurant that sounded SO good, but its flavors don’t quite live up to the expectations of your taste buds. There’s that person you met who seemed like she could be a new friend, but then she blew you off when you emailed about getting together. Right when we think we have a good read on something or someone, we’re likely to be taken aback by some unexpected twist. When we can’t even get a good read on ourselves, it’s extra exasperating!

But that’s right where I’ve been these past few days. The real me—the one who is outgoing and social, engaging and always up for whatever—has shifted into a moody, minor key. Rather than the me who has to force myself to not look at Twitter so I can get some work done, I’ve been invaded by some person who has to force herself to get on Twitter and try to be social. Rather than the usual me who knows exactly what sounds good—where I want to go out to eat, how I want to spend the evening, which plans I want to put on the calendar—I’ve been inhabited by some uncertain, indecisive creature. Rather than being all about plans and forward momentum, I’ve felt stuck, as if my legs and heart are full of lead. Heck—lately, when I open my mouth, I haven’t even been communicating what I want to communicate, and that’s my profession! Who is this person?!?

It definitely isn’t the first time I’ve felt like this. Part of the reason I’m extra sensitive to this sense of losing myself, is that I think of the feeling as a warning signal that I’m hitting a depressive dip. And while it’s good to be aware of what might be going on, it can also trigger a vicious cycle—one I’m inclined to throw my hands up and give into, because to fight it feels like engaging in a losing battle.

I think, however, there could be an alternate route—a “third way,” somewhere between fighting and giving in. That third way might involve reframing how I see myself, and what it means to be myself. Because not feeling like yourself isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s about stretching and growing. We want to have that flexibility to function in a new way, those moments to surprise ourselves. Being a completely fixed, known quantity might be comfortable, but it isn’t inspiring.

That third way might also mean going with the flow for a while, not in a helpless way, but always alert, ready to jump off the inner tube and start swimming with purpose in a new direction. It might mean saying, “This isn’t my favorite version of me, but it’s me, nonetheless, and I’m going to respect and love on myself in this place I’m in right now.” There’s a good chance I’ll even learn something about myself and others along the way.

Speaking of learning, I learn so much from all of you who read and comment here. I’d love your thoughts, as always. Do you ever not feel like yourself? How does that feeling manifest itself, how do you respond, and what have you learned?

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  • sarah louise

    I used to HATE it when my mother would say, “maybe you’re just tired,
    dear,” as if biology could determine why I was feeling out of sorts. But
    I’ve learned that she’s right. When I take on too much, or don’t have a
    full weekend off…or when my paradigm has been changed, like a
    relationship ending, a car crashing, a new bill…yes. I am still me,
    but sometimes it doesn’t feel like I know who I am.

    Seasons. We all have valleys and mountaintops…sending cupcakes as you puzzle this one out.


    • Kristin T.

      I wish I could tell my daughters that you now realize your mom was right! :) Biology does play a big role, often in conjunction with the types of circumstances and paradigm shifts you mentioned. Together, they can create the perfect storm…

  • Bethany Suckrow

    I usually try to shame myself into functioning normally, which never ever ever works. I just have to let myself cry and write it out, and not tell myself that I have to do anything but basics – work, eat, sleep, spend time with my husband. To tell myself I have to do more than that – write a blog post, think about anything the requires ambition and momentum – will only exhaust me further. I hate this part of myself, because I hate having to let go of my expectations and my desire to be highly functional, but it’s the only way I ever get out my funk.

    • Kristin T.

      I can completely relate to this—especially to how you put it: “I usually try to shame myself into functioning normally, which never ever ever works.” I wonder why we’re so conditioned to “fake it til you make it?” Maybe in part because there is the sense that if we can trick others into believing we’re not in a funk, we might be able to also convince ourselves.

      • sarah louise

        “fake it till you make it” can work in small spurts. I find when I am depressed I can do a really good fake “cheery voice mail message” expressly b/c I don’t want the recipient to know that I am down. And dressing in your favorite dressy clothes helps too. If you feel pretty, it can lift your mood a little. A benefit to this is sometimes you’ll get compliments and those feel great when you feel down. I also find that I compliment folks more when I’m feeling down, and that always gets a smile from the other person…these are all small things, but how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

  • Brenna

    Oh, yes. I have just been realizing this now. My tells are. When I cannot be persuaded to cook or bake, which is my love language.

    I am constantly trying to decide if it is an introvert coping skills or if it is hinting to something bigger….

    • Kristin T.

      Yes! When something you love doesn’t sound good to you, you can be sure something’s up. To push through and make yourself bake something, or ride the current and follow your mood—that’s always the question.

      • Bethany Suckrow

        Brenna’s comment is exactly what I’ve been feeling lately, only instead of cooking, it’s writing. I haven’t felt like writing at all. In fact, every time I do, I hate it. And everything I’ve written previously makes me want to vomit. WHY? I feel inconsolable, but I can’t figure out if it’s just me coping with other things going on in my life by taking a step back, or if there’s something deeper that I need to address.

  • Kate

    Hmm. Sometimes I don’t feel like myself… but it’s a positive thing. Like somehow quiet me becomes this person who laughs and jokes, speaks her mind and draws the attention of the crowd. It’s not how I usually am, but I enjoy the change. And it’s not ’cause I’m in a funk… it’s an outpouring of unexpected energy, a God-given moment when He’s pouring strength or His spirit or something into me and I shine.
    It’s been happening more and more this past year as I’ve been learning to walk with God, and I wonder if this way of being not-myself is a truer identity than what I think of as “me”… if these might be traits God intended for me to have all along. And when I think that way, my quiet gentleness, my desire to support others, and my need to sometimes get away from the crowd for a breather – these things stop shaming me (and stop being intensified/exasperated by shame). Instead, they become traits that enrich my character, and make me a more varied/interesting person.

    It kind of reminds me of that verse about being transformed by the renewing of your mind… “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”

    I get that you’re talking about not feeling like yourself when you’re in a funk, but… feeling less ebullient than usual doesn’t have to signal a depressive dip.

    • Kristin T.

      I love that you’re pointing out all the good ways we can “not be ourselves.” That’s what I was thinking, when I touched on how it’s not always a bad thing—I just didn’t have any fresh examples at the top of my mind. :) Yours are perfect, and this is so thought-provoking: “I wonder if this way of being not-myself is a truer identity than what I
      think of as “me”… if these might be traits God intended for me to
      have all along.” Thank you for reading and exploring this with us!

  • Travis Mamone

    I get that way, too, when I’m depressed. And when I look back, I usually say something like, “Oh, that was last week, I was a different person then.”

    • Kristin T.

      Yeah, it’s sort of a strange thing to say and feel, isn’t it? But it also seems healthy, in a way, because it gives us permission to be different today, and to move forward with a different take on things rather than getting bogged down in the past.

  • themoderngal

    I can certainly appreciate this post, especially right now. My mental endurance has been pushed to the limit a bit recently, and I finally had to get a little selfish and say ‘enough is enough.’ I’ve been taking time for myself a bit more lately and doing what I feel like I need to do to take care of myself, and I definitely feel a little bit more like myself.

  • Michael Hadley

    It’s interesting, I just got off the phone with my girlfriend and we were talking about a conversation on friday where I really wasn’t feeling myself, just off, blah, meh. Life just….was. I’m in college in TN and she’s in graduate school in FL; and life is hard. I agree, it’s important to go with flow and be mindful. But it’s also good to go to someone who HAS a read on you. She laid out some hard truths during our phone conversation. She told me some things that I hadn’t realized and some things that I needed to work on. Going with the flow means being open to what happens, but maybe also allowing someone close to give you a bit of direction in the flow.

    • kt_writes

      Long-distance relationships can be so challenging! They also force us to communicate in better ways, which can be good (assuming that we’re able to land on those better ways, and commit the time to them). It sounds like the two of you are doing that hard, important work.

  • Aperson

    i really like this article. I am usually a happy go person, but for some reason im just stuck in this bubble of sadness and i don’t know why. I might be happy for a little while, but i go back right away to my sadness. I don’t know. I may have depression but ive only been feeling like this for a week or so. I just keep thinking to myself that after i jump that hurdle it will get all better, but i feel like i already jumped so many hurdles already, but im not feeling any better…..