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I’ve had depression as far back as I can remember.
Even as a little kid.
Depression has no shelf life, and it has no calendar. It will come at any time, and it doesn’t care if you need to be there for a friend today or if you have a big presentation at work.
So, you start to live with it. You might occasionally find some comfort in it because it is a place that you have been oh-so-many times. Which doesn’t mean it feels good, but I am starting to see that my depression can be a superpower.
It gives me the power of empathy and connecting with others; it allows me to “give up” on things that aren’t working, and it makes me appreciate life more when I am not experiencing it.
Well, when you are sad, you feel small but you are open. It gives you this beautiful ability to be empathetic.
You don’t wear rose-colored glasses—you can sit with what is really happening. This brings the ability to truly listen and understand without judgment.
Of course, we are all striving for happiness, but that is not a constant thing we will feel. We will experience sadness, doubt, guilt, grief, anger, disappointment, and a whole slew of other feelings that aren’t our favorite. There is no person more understanding of difficult and confusing feelings than someone who has gone through the trenches of deep sadness.
I find that when I am down, I am much less likely to try and change the narrative of the person speaking to me. This means hearing what someone is saying and accepting how they feel without offering them suggestions. I can trust them to fix their situation (if it needs that) and trust their path. Simply being present and listening are often the best things we can do for someone we love.
Sometimes my sadness makes me feel like I am in a loop. It gets to be too much beating myself up, and I give up my stories. These are the stories I’ve told myself over and over again, even though it makes me feel terrible. In my head, I go over the exact stories that validate my pain a million times. It could go either way—the story will vilify me or another person or entity. It could range from such things as: “This is why I deserve to be unloved” or “how terrible someone or something is.”
Sometimes my head hurts from thinking this way, and I shut down—I give up my stories. Usually, I feel numb for a while, but the sadness does lessen when I change the narrative. When I remember that I am not a superhuman badass or a piece of sh*t, just somewhere in the middle trying to live my life.
Sometimes I am on the other side of sadness, and I feel like I can do anything and control my life. For me, this feels incredibly idealistic and often takes the shape of finding a way no matter what—fighting on. That can be a great quality as well, but sometimes I am pushing things that aren’t meant to be pushed in an effort to control a situation. And then I feel awful when it does not work out.
On the other hand, when the road gets really tough, sometimes my sadness tells me the answer is just to give up. I know, I know, we are trained to never give up, and this sounds backward. I don’t mean giving up on the people, places, and things you love and that consistently make you happy. I am talking about the things that you do only to bring about some effect that is not important to the real you at all.
The truth is, I am constantly figuring out what does and doesn’t work for me, and that has been bringing more peace and happiness into my life. Giving up and letting go can be one of the strongest actions we take.
I know that I can only change myself, so what about the qualities that I continue to bring into my life that make it more difficult? There are plenty of things during this pandemic year that I’ve decided to give up on. I’ve decided to give up on avoiding conflict. I am not looking to have a conflict, but I do not have to be afraid of it. I’m trusting my feelings and the truth that comes up (or trying to).
I’ve decided to give up on making decisions based on other people. I had to because I was holding on to so much resentment toward people (often for things they had no idea I was upset about). Along with this change, I am having more difficult conversations. When people disappoint me, I am letting them know. (Well, I’m trying to. I don’t always realize it right away.) When I trust my feelings and my path and do not fear loss, I can use radical honesty.
Sure, there is a part of me that “just doesn’t care” when I am depressed. Maybe that is good. Maybe once I “just don’t care,” I can be (kindly and nonviolently) honest with myself and the people in my life because I have nothing to lose. In a state of sadness, I understand that I do not control the outcome. I may as well be completely truthful and see where the hell the cards fall!
The third aspect of this superpower is that when my depression fades away, I am so grateful! I am excited to be engaging with the world and other people more. When I feel idealistic and positive, I can use my energy to inspire others and lead the way for a brighter tomorrow.
The thing that I encourage you to do is to be curious rather than dismissive of your feelings. They are there for a reason.
Whatever is coming up and hurting is asking for your attention. Don’t push it down again.
Ask the feeling to have a conversation with you.
Ask yourself, “How do I feel?”
Don’t use your monkey mind to try and intellectually figure it out. Feel it out.
I feel mad.
Okay, “What do you feel mad about?” “What does it remind you of?”
Remember that, with feelings, there are no wrong answers. Our sadness can be one of the best gifts we have to help ourselves and others by finally giving life and understanding of the things we need to heal.
But, maybe there is more to it.
What is “depression?”
While there may be a diagnosis for depression in the psychologist’s DSM manual, there is also a spiritual context to it as well.
Doesn’t everyone have sadness at times? Yes.
Isn’t my sadness and experience unique? Well, yes.
Maybe I will (or won’t) take medicine for it.
Maybe I will (or won’t) get a therapist to talk about it with.
Maybe I will (or won’t) study psychology to try and figure myself out more.
Maybe I will heal myself with classical music and process papers.
And maybe it will (or won’t) come back.
Maybe I can learn to look at it without fear.
Maybe I can be curious about the depths and shadows of myself and integrate them into the rest of my body.
Maybe I can let go of the idea that if I recognize my pain, it will take me over.
When I stop being afraid of my pain, I can start accepting myself.
I can accept sadness as part of my life, because it is not going to go away forever. Old things will come up, and so will new ones.
Maybe my perspective can evolve as I become a deeper, kinder human.
And maybe I don’t need to label my pain as depression to open up to it.