5 Blessings I've Found in My Depression
One of the reasons I think it took as long as it did for anyone to diagnose my depression was the fear of stigma, that I would allow my mental illness to define me. And while my depression has taken me to hell and back, I want to reclaim the label. In a lot of ways, depression is something I’m proud of. Actually, my biggest fear in starting medication is that the medicine would take away my depression. This seems counter-intuitive because the whole reason I should take anti-depressants is to no longer be depressed. But while it’s awful to experience at times, it also makes up a large portion of my life experience, has shaped who I am and is actually a huge part of my personality. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but at the same time, I’m grateful for the positive qualities it gives me. Part of my recovery from this latest episode has been practicing gratitude. And while some days I’m not able to appreciate these things, while I’m having a good day, I’m going to count my blessings.
1. Depression allows me to experience more joy.
For me, my mental illness manifests itself in some very low lows and some very high highs. I have a huge emotional range. I’m not sure if it’s just that the happy times feel so much better compared to the dark ones or if I just have a broader emotional spectrum than average, but this is one of my most defining qualities. A lot of people describe me as “intense,” and I am fully experiencing every moment of this beautiful and broken life.
2. Depression drives me to connect.
While depression can certainly isolate me when I’m not at my best, when I’m functional I have an enhanced drive to express myself and establish genuine connections with those around me. This blog, for example, is creative connecting. I don’t like emotional walls. I’m not afraid to go to those deep and dark places with someone else because I’ve been there so many times myself.
3. Depression gives me heightened emotional intelligence.
Speaking of walls, I can tell when someone has one up. It’s taken me a while, but I’m learning to sense when someone’s just not ready to let me in yet. But I can still tell something is going on and how they’re feeling — and I’m prepared and waiting there if they ever want support. This ability has allowed me to connect, to find others going through similar experiences and to stumble across moments where people are going through some of their hardest times. If I can even just be a witness to their struggles and their joys, this is totally worth it.
4. Depression gives me self-awareness.
Learning to function with depression has told me a lot about what goes on in my brain. I know whether I need space or need to talk about something or when it’s just a bad day and I need to spend it in bed. I am always analyzing my actions, searching for a motive. Is it depression? Or do I really want to eat an entire pizza in front of “The Mindy Project” tonight? And while I can’t just “try to be happy,” there are some things I’ve learned lessen the effects of illness. For example, I love animals and they make a huge improvement in my mental health. I let my fiance buy a hideous shower curtain with cartoon rainbow blowfish on it just because it gave me mild amusement on one of my worst days. If something makes me feel anything but misery on my dark days, I know I absolutely love it on my good ones.
5. Depression forces me to accept unconditional love.
I think a lot of us have a hard time accepting that we are loved no matter what. We feel we need to have better jobs, or have better grades, or be prettier before we are worthy of love. With depression, I have been forced to accept I am worthy. Sometimes when people find out about my more recent depressive episode, they point out that it must be a strain on my relationship with my fiance. While it’s been a huge struggle for both of us and probably always will be, going through this has made our relationship stronger than it ever has been. If I ever had any doubt that he loves me know matter what, I have none now.
On nights when I would cry for hours, on days when I would lay in bed, numb, simply laying there, on days where I made irresponsible decisions to try and alleviate the dark feelings, he was by my side. Even when I couldn’t tell him I loved him back, he never stopped telling me. One night when he told me, I began to cry. He thought the worst, that it was the depression continuing to break me down. In reality, it had just hit me how loved I was even though I was an absolute mess. They were tears of both joy and pain. It was almost painful to accept. I finally realized that all my life I have been trying to earn love when it’s really just there all the time — you don’t have to earn it. And if my fiance and my family love me unconditionally, why can’t I? I’m still working on finding my self-love, but I know it’s there, deep down beneath the lies I tell myself.
If I’m going to love myself, I have to love everything that makes me me – and that includes my depression. So for now, I am proud and depressed. While this is so unique to me and mental illness manifests itself in many different ways, I imagine a lot of people out there have similar experiences. I know some of my friends and family who have anxiety and OCD have enhanced focus at times and bigger imaginations. To those of you out there who can relate: don’t accept the stigma, but please accept yourself.
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Photo by Gaelle Marcel, via Unsplash