There’s a lot of fear surrounding mental illness.
Fear of the mental health system. Fear of people who may be currently experiencing a mental health crisis. I hear about parents worrying for their children, because they themselves have a mental illness and are worried that it’s genetic.
I hear that people are reluctant to talk about their experiences of mental illness because they fear judgment. They don’t want to be seen as weak, defective or somehow worse than other people.
During Mental Health Week (October 5th—11th), the majority of media focused on the terrible experiences that accompany mental illness. I was disappointed to only hear the heart-wrenching stories of grief and heartache.
When I say “I have a mental illness”, what do you think? Do you feel sorry for me, or expect to read an article on how hard and sad my life is?
Well, not today.
I want to talk about the other side of mental illness. My journey of living with depression for roughly the last 10 years has led me to some fruitful places. It’s triggered me to dive deeply into self-reflection and learning, and have experienced huge personal growth.
While I certainly believe that we need to address the way that our society handles the issue of mental health (after all, I’m one of the people actively advocating for change), I also think there is another side of mental illness that often isn’t heard.
And that other side is what I want to offer you today: seven ways my life is better for having depression.
1. My sense of empathy is more developed.
I’m much more aware of, and receptive to, other peoples’ pain, having been through my own. I regularly get told that I’m a good listener. I have learned how to sit with someone through the discomfort of their own pain, without trying to say something to make it go away.
2. I have learned how to be vulnerable in front of others.
I have spent years learning how to break down my own barriers and connect with people. I’ve learned how to open my heart again after being hurt or disappointed. I’ve learned how to trust people and how to ask for help.
It is after understanding these lessons that I have experienced deeply joyful love and connection.
3. I’m a Clinical Exercise Physiologist.
During my own journey, regular movement of my body as well as mindful connection with my body improved my mental health significantly. I went back to University to do a Master’s degree so I could share the tool of movement with other people who have chronic and/or complex medical conditions.
4. I take care of my mind and body.
If I don’t look after the physical aspects of my body, my mental health suffers. This means that I prioritise sleep, healthy eating and exercise.
I try to avoid over-consumption of alcohol, meat and sugar. I regularly make time to meditate and practice mindfulness. All of this makes my mind more settled, and has the added benefit of decreasing my risk of developing diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
5. I love myself more than ever.
The grief and pain of hearing my own mind telling me over and over again that I’m a sh*t person—that I’m worthless and broken and useless—was intense. It led me to a lot of reading and learning about self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-compassion.
No longer do I simply tolerate myself —I now rejoice in the quirks and “flaws” that make me who I am.
My own self-love has allowed me to be open to receiving that kind of love from others.
6. I’m not spending my life doing work that I don’t like.
Every time I’ve been in a job I don’t enjoy I’ve become depressed.
Although quitting feels disappointing at the time, having the strength to do so is something I’m grateful for—especially when I meet so many people grinding through their day jobs that don’t bring them joy.
It’s dedicated to providing support, motivation and knowledge to people who want to use movement to improve their mental health.
I’m going for my dreams, I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and I plan to change the world.
This most definitely wouldn’t have occurred without having my own experience of depression.
This post is in no way meant to discount the struggle, distress and pain that people with mental illness (myself included) go through—sometimes on a daily basis. There is a lot that needs to change regarding how we treat mental illness. It is important to offer hope.
I’m grateful for the beauty that depression has brought to my life.
It needn’t be a death sentence—just because someone has depression, or some other mental illness, it doesn’t mean their life is any less meaningful, or that they are any less capable, or that they contribute less to the world or that they aren’t whole.
If anything, maybe it’s the opposite. How about you? Can you see the gifts that your difficult times have borne?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Louise Pontin
Editor: Emma Ruffin
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr