I Am Not Grateful for Depression Itself but for the Lessons It Has Taught Me
“Be grateful for what you have,” is a mantra I’ve heard from a young age. It is something I try to instill in my own children. I’m grateful for the roof over my head. I’m grateful for the food on my table. I’m grateful for the clothes on my back, my employment, my faith, my family and my depression.
Yes, that’s right. I’m grateful for my depression. Well, not for the depression itself. Depression is hell as anyone who experiences it will tell you. What I am grateful for, though, are the lessons I’ve learned from it. Here are just some of them:
Only those who have experienced depression themselves can truly understand what it’s like and relate to others who are struggling with it. Even though the pattern of depression might manifest itself differently from person to person, the underlying feelings and emotions, I believe, are the same. Those of us who wrestle with depression can relate to and help each other in ways no one else can. I have personally been strengthened countless times by an encouraging word or hug from someone who I know “gets it.”
I know so well the overpowering feelings of guilt, self-loathing, inadequacy and hopelessness that are common to this illness. I understand how it feels to watch the world pass by so normally when you just feel so broken and useless. I’ve experienced the massive weight pressing down on my mind and body. I know how impossible it can be to try to explain to others what you’re feeling. I’ve stared at the prescription bottles wondering if I should take them all at once or stop all together. I’ve contemplated driving my car into a barrier more times than I care to admit. I lie and answer, “I’m fine” or “I’m just tired” nearly every day.
So when I tell someone who is struggling with depression, “I know what you’re going through,” trust me. I really do. When you tell me the same thing, I believe you, and it helps.
Different from empathy, compassion doesn’t require first-hand experience. I have never broken my leg, but I can imagine how painful this must be. Therefore, I can feel compassion and sympathy for someone who has. I believe pain of any kind increases one’s ability to sympathize with the pain of another.
As a result of my struggle with depression, my capacity for compassion has increased. I find myself drawn to others who are hurting, troubled or in pain of any kind. I am filled with a desire to help them however I can, even though my contribution usually seems pitifully meager.
When depressed, my natural inclination is to withdraw and retreat within myself. I cut myself off from the world and hide in my dark corner with self-destructive ruminations coursing through my mind. One powerful antidote I’ve found to this self-centering is to force myself to look outward. To look for an opportunity to serve someone else. To find someone who is need or struggling and provide whatever type of help I’m capable of giving in that moment.
Some days, I succeed at this brilliantly. Many days, all I can muster is a forced smile at a passerby. Other days, I have nothing to give, and it takes every ounce of willpower just to keep myself safe and stable. This is OK, too. We who know struggle have so much compassion to offer to the people around us, whether they are dealing with the same malady or not, which brings me to my final lesson.
3. Everyone struggles.
In the words of R.E.M., “Well, everybody hurts sometimes. Everybody cries.” Life is hard, and we are not shallow people for struggling. Pain, sickness, loneliness, loss, anxiety and fear, they affect us all in different ways and at different times, but they do affect us all. So I remind myself to be kind, to be considerate, to not make assumptions based on appearances, to give people the benefit of the doubt. So often, those who are hurting the most hide it the best.
Trust me, I know. If I could have this illness taken away, would I? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s an exhausting battle that I have to fight. Yet, I do know that my life is richer and more blessed because of it. For this, I’m grateful.
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