3 Lessons I Never Expected Depression to Teach Me
It is only now, months after having experienced one of the most mentally and physically challenging battles I have yet to fight, that I have finally come to realize all depression has taught me about who I am and who I wish to be. It’s strange to imagine that such a bleak and what felt like a seemingly endless period in my life could have brought with it a single positive note. What could I have possibly gained from months and months of misery and self-loathing? Much more than I realized, in fact.
#1. Depression taught me how to be stand on my own two feet.
Before I had ever faced depression I had been what some would describe as something of a social butterfly. I surrounded myself with people constantly, loved the endless chatter. I even began to enjoy the false pretense I had created to hide my anxiety from the rest of the world and eventually even from myself. People were sort of like white noise — no matter what they said, at least the sounds of their voices kept me company and gave me a distraction from myself. Other people’s worries helped me avoid thinking about my own, until mine suddenly felt worthless. I easily forgot the big void in myself.
When depression struck, I no longer had the energy to put on such an effective façade. Eventually I pushed them all away, I was tired of being a best friend, an agony aunt, a personal problem solver, when I was drowning in my own problems. Finally came some silence. But I guess nothing is ever that simple. I didn’t realize until then what solitude was and that it felt so lonely. I didn’t realize how reliant I was on everyone else’s presence in my life to make me feel complete. I wasn’t lonely because I longed for the friendships I’d lost; I was lonely because I longed for something to plaster up the whole inside me that I couldn’t seem to fix myself.
Being completely detached from friends and family, I became an alien in a world I thought I knew so well. Now I sort of have a newfound gratitude for those around me and all the things they bring to my life, even the bad things because I am constantly learning from it all. Most importantly I am growing as a person. What this sort of major period of silence also taught me was that I was strong enough to survive by myself. I could and had to stand on my own two feet. I finally found my voice. And that wasn’t the voice that strained to always be the loudest in a room full of people. It was that little voice within me aching to be listened to. The voice inside I’d shunned because it spoke the truth. It told me my fears, faults, doubts and what I was truly feeling, not what I wanted to feel. For so long I had tried to be the person I thought everyone wanted me to be, that I wanted so desperately to be, that I began to doubt myself and who I really was. I had always told myself I had to be fearless and that anything else was a sign of weakness. The truth was, I hadn’t lived a day in which I wasn’t consumed by anxiety. Now I realized it was time to fix myself, instead of trying to fix everyone else.
#2. Depression taught me I’m not the only one.
Depression can be such a strange, bewildering trance. You appear no different from normal on the outside, but on the inside you feel completely detached from reality. It’s almost as if you’re being isolated in the confines of your own personal prison cell within the darkest corners of your mind. You had heard of people with depression, but you never believed you’d be one of them. You didn’t even understand what depression really entailed. You just knew now you didn’t feel like you used to. You suddenly lost any feeling towards anything. Things you thought you enjoyed lacked any worth now, any sort of human contact felt useless and even food didn’t seem to taste the way it used to. What you also didn’t know was that there were thousands, maybe even millions of other people just like you, sat in their rooms silently but internally screaming at the world for answers.
I was never alone, I just didn’t realize it. Although our battles all differ in some way, we are still facing a seemingly long and never-ending journey to a place we never planned to venture to. Depression, a journey? I guess the vast majority of the time it’s more like floating in space, your lungs exploding in your chest as you desperately try to exhale the air that isn’t even there. If it’s a journey, then it feels like being thrown into oblivion, thinking as you’re shrouded by darkness that no light could ever penetrate it. Then you realize one day to get out of this place you have to be your own damn light and wade your way through the darkness until you reach the other side, wherever that place may be. We all had to make the decision to be our own saviors. We never chose this journey, and we never chose where it would lead us. All we chose was to conquer.
#3. Depression taught me it’s OK to not be OK.
While struggling with depression I received weekly counseling. Turning up to the first session, however pessimistic I was at first, was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. There were endless things I came away with after the 13 weeks with my counselor. The main thing which I remind myself of every day is that it is OK to feel weak. Before counseling I had always had this somewhat deluded idea that I had to always be strong. I convinced myself I wasn’t allowed to be sad, that my problems weren’t of importance and that I shouldn’t inflict them on others. I believed the anxiety I’d had since I was a small child was my own selfishness. Even counseling felt like self-indulgence. I learned through much convincing that I wasn’t expected to be strong all of the time. I was allowed, like any human being, to be unhappy, fearful, needing of love and affection. My mental illness by far felt like my greatest weakness. Now both depression and anxiety are simply a part of who I am. Perhaps my brain was wired wrong, but I can’t change the big lump of grey matter sat in my skull. I can only change my mindset. It’s the biggest struggle I have ever had to face. Each day is a continuous battle, but I always seem to win. There remains such a great stigma around mental health. I guess it’s not the entirety of the world, but there still remains too many people ignorant to mental illness. We will all one day, in some form, be affected by mental health issues. We might as well begin to start viewing it as less of a weakness and more of a challenge that people, no matter who they are, face on a daily basis, and above all, as a battle we can all win.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo by Ank Design