Depression – my faithful fellow-traveler throughout most of my life. I have tried to get rid of it so many times and in so many ways, I have tried to mute its voice, but it simply continued to insist stubbornly with its paralyzing voice: “Listen to me! Stop for a moment!”. But I was stubborn myself as well: “No! Let’s run away from this nuisance!”. And I kept on like this for many years.
Actually, this year we celebrate 10 years since me and depression met for the first time. And it is still my fellow-traveler in my life’s journey and most probably it will keep on appearing from times to times for the rest of my life. Throughout these 10 years depression hasn’t changed. It’s still the same old stubborn and tenacious lady. But I have changed. I don’t run away from it anymore. Well, I can’t say that depression is my best friend, however, I can honestly say it is a trusty adviser of mine, who always tells me when it’s time for me to finally stop all the fuss and focus on taking care of myself.
False beliefs about depression
Let’s talk first about some false beliefs about depression. Once I read a comment that depression affects only lazy people, who don’t have enough things to do. So their life lacks activities, plans and goals to such an extent, that poor people just get depressed because of boredom. Well, me personally, I do get affected by depression quite often, but at the same time I am an ultra busy person. In my teenage years I read a book, in which the author was stating that a happy person is a person who is so busy pursuing his goals, that he doesn’t have time to sit down and ask himself whether he is happy or not. So I decided to implement this tactic in my life. Goals, plans, tasks… I don’t remember since when I haven’t been studying, working, developing my own projects, doing sports and many other things at the same time. It’s a fact that when you keep yourself busy, this doesn’t allow you to remember how much pain you carry within yourself. You just try to put your broken pieces back together as much as you can, you put on the mask of a happy successful person and very often you manage to deceive everybody around you that you are happy and your life blossoms. But this tactic succeeds only in the short-term. In the long run you can’t keep playing this theater all the time.
Yes, a person needs to set themselves goals and make plans, because if you only go with the flow, this is not good either. But when you are super busy, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are successful and happy. This is more often an indicator that you are simply trying to run away from something in your life. But running away works only for a while, sooner or later depression will catch up with you and paralyze you, because it is high time you stop playing theater and simply look what is going on inside. So no, people who suffer from depression are neither lazy, nor lack goals and plans.
Another common misbelief is that depression is caused by lack of positive thinking. It’s a fact that the depressed person sees life in extremely dark shades, but this is more often as a result of depression, it is not the cause of depression. And when everything inside feels broken and even the tiniest household chores take three times more effort from your side to be done, the advice: “Just think positively.”and “Why don’t you try to view life more cheerfully, everything is ok!”, this actually makes things worse, it doesn’t help. Because no matter how many times you tell yourself: “Everything is ok”, this doesn’t cure the cause of depression. Me personally, I used to be a big fan of positive thinking. And I aimed to always smile and be nice with people. Today I am more of a fan of realistic thinking, which perceives reality clearly and takes a grounded view of things, seeing what is really possible and what is not. Which doesn’t mean I have stopped following my dreams! It just means that I do it more wisely, without tripping on every step because due to my overly positive perception I haven’t seen the stumbling blocks lying there. Today I am a fan of treating people the way they deserve, and not being good and nice to all no matter what.
What is depression?
A symptom. Depression itself is not the problem, because depression is simply the cry of the soul, reminding you that you can’t keep going the old way anymore. A call for change. A signal light in order for you to pay attention to yourself. Depression doesn’t mean that you are a weak person. It means that you have been strong for far too long and you have put too much effort into trying to keep the image of a person who can handle it all. But in fact all of us experience weakness from times to times. All of us have problems. And that’s ok.
Depression comes our way in order to make us slow down. It reminds us to stop the hustle for a moment and pay attention to ourselves. Depression paralyses you, robs you of most of your energy, nothing makes you happy anymore, you don’t feel like eating, you don’t feel like talking to people, you don’t feel like living anymore. And that’s scary. What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel like this?! I don’t want this! How can I be such a weak person! I am not good at anything! I want to die! I want this horrible feeling to go away! Help!
And here is the turning point – the task of depression is to shake us to such an extent that we can’t keep deceiving ourselves anymore. I am not a superhero. I am not perfect. I can’t keep helping everybody anymore. I don’t have power anymore. I am exhausted. I need help and support myself. Something needs to change. Me personally, I cried just one year ago: “Help!” And luckily there was a person, who heard me and didn’t try to fix the situation by saying: “Think positively!” and “There is nothing wrong.” Well, I don’t always like his words. They are often painful, but real. He is there when I need him, he listens to me, but always makes me realize that the responsibility to take care of myself is totally mine. The responsibility to make myself happy is totally mine. The responsibility to create the life as I want it, is totally mine. Depression is simply a state I reach, when something is wrong and needs to be changed and I didn’t want to notice this fact for far too long. If depression hasn’t appeared, I would have continued with my old way and I would have never realized that something very important is missing in my life.
What does depression show me?
Human beings are not created in order to be joyful and smiling all the time. Human beings are created with the capacity to feel different emotions, so it is normal to feel all emotions, because they provide us with extremely valuable information about what is important to us and if the direction we are heading is the right for us. I thought that I should always be smiling and joyful, otherwise I wouldn’t be good enough and nobody will love me. But when you pressure yourself to wear such mask day after day, you loose your most important compass, which guides you towards what you really want and helps you decide which direction to head towards. Without emotions you can’t distinguish what is important in your life from what is not. Because for the mind all tasks are equally important and need to be completed now.
All emotions are important, we need each one of them. It is a sign of good health, when we feel anger, sadness, joy and fear… However, I have said to myself for far too long: I am brave, I am not afraid! Well, from times to times I am sad and I cry, so this means I don’t suppress my emotions, right? Anger? What anger? It’s not spiritual to be angry, it’s not feminine! I can’t be angry! So what do I do when I eventually get angry? I cry! Or I smile! And this is how many women end up thinking that they are sad when in fact they are actually angry! When we suppress our emotions for too long, then depression comes to show us that it is not natural to always be happy! Other emotions are important as well! Sadness is precious as well! Yes, it is not comfortable to feel sadness in its depth, but we need it! And the more we try to avoid it and run away from it, the worse favor we do to ourselves. When depression comes, there is nowhere to hide anger, fear and sadness anymore – they come to the surface. And thank God, otherwise how would we take care of them?
The first and foremost responsibility of a human being is to take care of herself! That’s right – herself! Not to take care of others first! Not to make others happy! But to make herself happy… For so many years I was thinking that my mission on Earth is to help people. Not for me to be happy and to enjoy life, but to help people! I thought that helping people will make me happy. But when you haven’t taken care of yourself, when you are hungry and exhausted, then you can’t really help anyone. That is why depression comes to you and makes you stop – you can’t help people anymore, because depression makes you engage with yourself. And that’s wonderful! Well, it hurts a lot, but it gives us the opportunity to change things, to make ourselves a priority and to take care of our own needs, wishes and happiness first. Because this is the meaning of taking responsibility for your own life.
– Something is missing, but what?
Sometimes it seems that you have everything, but still depression manages to conquer you. I must be happy! I have everything! My life looks perfect on paper! What’s wrong with me? In order for depression to appear, there should be something very important missing. The soul speaks to you through depression. And tells you different things, not depending only on the different person. Every time I fall into depression, I discover a different message, of course as long as I stop fighting with depression and stop pretending it is not here. Last year I have finally learnt simply to listen. I am depressed… Let’s see what is the message for me this time. Deep within ourselves we know what is the most important thing in this life of ours. But we tend to forget. Different shiny things lead us in different direction. Wishes and requirements of others lead us in different direction. Fear leads us in different direction. So at some point we simply forget what was the most important thing for us in this life.
Me personally, I love writing. Especially when I manage to get out of the mind for a moment and words start flowing directly from my heart – the feeling is incredible. However, sometimes I am afraid. What if people don’t understand the words coming from my heart? What if they reject them, reject me? It will hurt. Well, it is better to play safe, I am not going to write… Who needs to read my writing anyway?! There are so many writers! One more or one less, what’s the difference? So I keep playing safe, I continue keeping myself busy with other activities, so that I don’t write, because “I am busy… I don’t have time for this!”. But something is missing. This emptiness inside… The soul starts speaking: “Hey, what are you doing? You are aware of your calling on Earth, why are you running away from it? Why did you forget it? Hey, why don’t you listen to me? Well, ok, so we will have to use depression as a messenger once again!”.
And all of a sudden – what a surprise! “I am depressed again! Why always me, I don’t feel like living, I am so sad, it’s all so bad… Let’s try to cheer up with a favorite activity! Ooh, nothing works! I am sick of this depression! Hmm, wait a minute, why did I stop writing? Let’s sit and write! Lol, I remembered! It feels great!” – This is how the soul uses depression in order to remind us what is important for us…
– Way for attracting affection and attention we have learnt as children
Here is one painful truth – depression is also a way of manipulation. Of course, nobody falls into depression on purpose, because they know that this way they will make people satisfy their need for attention. This happens unconsciously. This strategy for need satisfaction is developed in childhood – Mum and Dad are too busy, but when I feel bad, they leave everything and come to me! Well, it’s so tempting to use this strategy as an adult as well! And this is exactly what happens – we apply the exact same strategy automatically without realizing it. People will pay attention to me, when I feel bad. And the worse I feel, the more attention I will get. When I am suffering from such a deep pain and I am crying so much, someone will feel sorry for me and will come to hug me and take care of me, right? And, in fact, many people do… However, we are not children anymore. We are adults. And while children don’t really have much choice, because they are entirely dependent on their parents, we as adults do have the choice to act in a different way. I need help, something is too difficult for me, I need a hug – I have the choice to ask for those things directly, to say what my needs are directly. It is not necessary for me to manipulate people around me in order for me to receive affection and attention. Because depression is a powerful tool to receive attention, however the price one has to pay in order to use it, is tremendous.
Where does the urge to self-harm come from?
Have you ever met a person, who says they want to die? Or do you know people who attempted suicide, but are still alive? This is a call for attention and help: “See how bad I feel and help me!” And support in this condition is extremely important, however the right kind of support is needed. Support that says: “Yes, it is difficult for you, I am here for you, cry on my shoulder, but then it is time for you to stand on your own feet and create your life as you want it. Because if I create your life instead of you, in order to help you, well, I will create a cage for you, no matter how good my intentions were. Your beautiful satisfying life could be created only by you.”
Regarding the urge to self-harm, people who tend to fall into depression very often feel like harming themselves, when they get angry at someone else… Why? “I can’t harm directly the person, who made me angry, I can’t even tell them directly that they pissed me off, but it is way easier to hurt them if I harm myself!” That’s the thought process that goes on. “I want to harm myself, so that I check if this person cares about me”, “I want to harm myself in order to hurt him, so that through this pain and guilt, he realizes how much I mean to him”. But isn’t it easier to learn how to say things directly when we get angry with someone? Or to check in some other way whether a person cares about us? Why should we punish them by harming ourselves? Or more precisely, why should we harm ourselves, since we are mad at them? (And here I don’t tell you to go and punch the other person, but harming yourself is not an option either!).
Yes, I know, these thoughts don’t seem logical at all when you think them through when you are calm, but when you are angry and you don’t know what to do with the whole anger, they seem like a really tempting option. But they are not. It is way more gratifying when you learn how to admit to yourself that you are angry and to say directly what your needs are. For example: “I am very angry that you talked to me like this and I don’t think that such attitude was deserved by me. When you behave like this towards me, it hurts me a lot, because I start thinking that you don’t love me anymore. I would like you to say that you are sorry! And afterwards you could hug me!”. It is way better to say this, in stead of harming yourself just in order to check if the person in front of you cares about you and just in order to show him in a passive way how angry you are! Learning how to say things directly takes quite some effort and practice, but it is worth it! Your life (literary!) depends on this!
What to do when depression comes your way?
Don’t try to fight with it, just accept its presence. It is not easy, me personally, I really love being stubborn and scream: “I don’t want this! Go away!”. But depression is a pro – it doesn’t go away as long as it hasn’t fulfilled its task. It is good to realize what effect depression has on us and to read more about it. When you are depressed, it is normal not to have energy and literary to drag yourself around. It is normal to have bad thoughts and not feel like living. You are more prone to turn on sad music and to choose sad movies. That is why you should be careful and consciously try to do things that relieve your condition and not such that make it worse. I won’t forget how last year I decided to watch a movie, so that it makes me feel better, but I ended up watching “Ana Karenina”, which is quite a heavy movie and in the end of it Ana Karenina actually kills herself… Well, when you feel really depressed, it is definitely not a good idea to watch something like this!
Do whatever you can to make your condition more bearable. Don’t dress yourself black from top to bottom, try some brighter colours, even small things help! Ask people for hugs, cuddle puppies and kittens, this will make you feel better. I know how scary it is when those bad thoughts start crossing your mind like: “I don’t feel like living anymore, there is no sense, I want to die…” And in this state you don’t feel like thinking what message does depression bring you, you just want it to go away as soon as possible! But even the worst thought is just a thought, don’t let it get you. This too shall pass. Come on, repeat after me: “This too shall pass!”. There is a meaning in everything, there is a gift for you in every single thing. It is simply necessary to go through the pain, so that you reach the precious gifts. Depression is just a symptom, it is not the problem itself. You just need to bear this condition for some time, until it loosens and then you can have a look at what message depression brings to you. And when depression is not so strong anymore, then it is time for you to ask yourself: “What gift did depression bring me this time?” Then make sure to put into practice the lesson you have just learned out of the depression!
Every single thing in nature has its purpose and use. Depression is not an exception. It is a powerful catalyst for awareness and growth. Don’t blame yourself for being depressed. You are not weak! You have been strong for far too long! Give yourself a break and look for help! I know that you can learn the lessons that depression tries to teach you. And you are not alone! Many people have had depression as a teacher. And those are great people! You can do it!
And remember, your life is extremely important! Each of us is a small piece of the puzzle on Earth. Even if one single part of it gets lost, the life on Earth suffers and will never be the same. You are important! We need you alive! Take care of yourself! We are here for you!