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What Depression Taught Me About Happiness


In September 2011, I wrote a blog about coming out of my depression by choosing happiness or deciding I was going to be happy.

I’ve considered deleting it, but I think I’ll keep it as a testament to where I was and what I’ve learned since. Because depression isn’t about choosing happiness. In fact, I’m not convinced it’s about happiness at all.

If those of us who face depression could choose anything other than the apathy or sadness or internal chaos we feel, we would. In the blink of an eye, normalcy would be the instant choice and better would be reality because we don’t buy into the romanticized bullsh*t of what depression is.

The truth is, when it comes to depression, the only thing we can choose is recovery.

And maybe in some misinformed way that’s what I meant by what I wrote, but I know now telling someone to choose happiness is not only unhelpful, but inaccurate.

My second severe wave of depression came crashing down on me at one of the happiest points in my life, which is honestly what made me realize the illness isn’t about sadness or happiness or any of that. I was probably confused before because my depression at that point was fueled by malcontent, misery, melancholy and an intense feeling of self-loathing. My depression latched onto and exacerbated those feelings to the point they almost destroyed me, but it wasn’t those feelings that created my depression.

Depression is its own entity.

One thing I’ve learned about my mental illness through my experience is it’s all about self-preservation. It’ll do whatever it can to survive and make sure I don’t get better, whether that means depression grabbing hold of intense negativity or leaving me with a near-constant undertone of apathy and inadequacy like it does now.

Depression has taught me its brokenness can come in many forms, not just the “sad and crying your eyes out” form we see in media. To some degree, my depression is exactly the same as it was six and many more years ago. I still shut down, I still numb myself and I still struggle with the negative internal dialogue. What’s changed is then I would have once blamed all of it on the fact I hate my life and was sad all the time, whereas now I understand those were just external factors playing into it. I especially understand this because I’ve been able to let go of a lot of what caused me misery, and yet, depression still came knocking.

I’m always reminded of a quotation from poet Shane Koyczan’s “Circle” when I think of this.

“If you keep your eye on depression and back away, spacing yourself farther and farther, but all the while watching depression shrink in the growing distance, when that tiny speck of sadness vanishes from sight completely, it’s at that precise moment your periphery will catch hands reaching up from behind you to cover your eyes, and you will hear a small voice whisper, ‘Guess who?’”

Depression exists on its own terms and in realizing this, I’m learning how to better deal with it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via frimages.