[May 6-12, 2013 is Mental Health Week in Canada. At least 1 in 3 Canadians experience challenges with their mental health each year. To grow empathy for people struggling with mental health and depression (and their families), I am sharing my experience with depression today, and Olive will be sharing her experience as a wife of someone with depression on Thursday.]
When I first met Depression, I hated it right away.
I hated how it took away my hope.
I hated how it made me want to hide from the world.
I hated how it made me sad.
I hated how it sapped up all my energy, and made me feel weary and exhausted.
I hated how it left me feeling helpless.
I hated how nothing I did could make it go away.
I hated how it made me hate myself and made me want to die.
Depression was an intruder that slowly destroyed the life that I loved. Depression was my enemy who was slowly killing me from the inside out.
And then it would leave. And I was able to enjoy life again. It felt great to have energy and hope, to look forward to seeing people, and to laugh and have fun. I missed all these things. And for those months, I would forget the dark days when Depression was with me.
Then, unannounced, it would barge back into my life. Sometimes it stayed two months. The longest it was with me was six months. During my 20s, it haunted me a total of six times.
During Depression’s fifth visit, I was so desperate that I finally admitted to my mentor what was happening. He recommended that I read a book written by Parker Palmer called Let Your Life Speak [affiliate link], in which the author shared about his own experience with depression. In the book Palmer asked the question, “What if you were able to treat depression like a friend that brought you gifts instead of an enemy that was trying to hurt you?”
What?! How could I befriend something so vile, something so terrible? I wondered. It was impossible. I hated Depression. It was evil and dark. It had hurt me so much.
But the question lingered in my mind for days and weeks.
I’m not sure what changed my mind – maybe it was my desperation or maybe it was God, but I finally decided to give my relationship with Depression a chance. And when I did something amazing slowly happened.
I started by treating Depression like a guest instead of an intruder. I introduced Depression to my wife, to my closest friend, and to my counselor. Instead of hiding from him, I spent time getting to know him.
What happened over time was that as I was kinder to Depression, I was also kinder to myself. I was able to start accepting the fact that when Depression visited I would have less energy, less motivation, and feel wearier. I was able to start extending myself grace for being less productive at work and at home during that season.
As I started to embrace him, I realized that Depression had actually brought gifts for me.
One gift he delivered was the realization that my value was not tied to my productivity. Though my work results suffered when Depression visited, I was able to stop beating myself up about it. Instead of feeling guilty and worthless for not working well, I learned to value myself apart from my productivity. Then I was able to start valuing others apart from their productivity (or lack thereof), their possessions, their looks, and even their personality.
Another gift Depression brought was the ability to be vulnerable. At first, it was my closest family and friends that I introduced Depression to, not knowing if they would think less of me or not. Then I was able to blog about it and share my experience with Depression online. Last spring, I spoke to a crowd of a hundred people, sharing with them what Depression felt like. Because I was able to be vulnerable, I was also able to help others.
To be honest, I’m not looking forward to Depression’s next visit. I am still afraid of him and how he affects me. But next time he visits, I will spend more time with him, and perhaps, in time I can call him my friend.
Note: Thank you for those of you that have asked how I am doing. My last episode of depression was in the spring of 2011, and I have not experienced any symptoms since then.
[This is a guest post I originally wrote for The Good Men Project]
Photo credit: *_Abhi_*