Obviously before I even start, on balance I am NOT grateful for my depression. No positives would outweigh the loss of self, the emptiness, the overwhelming soul-sucking nature of depression. Depression makes you lose a piece of who you are, it’s a killer, it deceives you, it crushes you, it makes you feel alone in this world and so deeply ashamed to have depression that for a long time you will deny its existence and as such deny any hope of recovering.
With that essential caveat out of the way, there are certain aspects of depression for which I can now choose to be grateful:
- I know myself better than ever before – depression causes a lot of self-analysis, self-reflection, and once the dark cloud begins to lift and you see the world with a little more clarity, you realise most of the things you concluded during that time analysing yourself were lies. But in amongst it all, you found some truths and in time you begin to know which is which. You understand your needs better, you understand your triggers better. Since my diagnosis and the ensuing battle I have learnt huge, life-altering things about myself that were true before diagnosis but totally hidden and I never would have seen them without this process. With this knowledge comes better control and decision making for the future.
- Stigma is not what I thought it was – I’ll start by admitting I am very lucky. By far the worst stigma I have encountered has been from within my own head. I thought I was weak, I thought I was pathetic, that I was less than other people. I thought that if I had depression I would have to ‘just get on with life and get over it’ not because that’s realistic but because nobody talked about it and I knew no better. The truth is very few people have actively brought a stigma down on me for my depression. There have been those who have stayed very silent on the subject, but that may not be stigma, it may be not knowing what to say, it may be they are suffering but not ready to say anything. Stigma is real and it is out there but not in the form I feared it was – one of the many lies my depression told me.
- It taught me the power of opening up – Every time I have opened up about my depression it has been a positive experience. I hid my depression from myself, then from my wife, then from my family, then from my work and from my friends. Each time I opened up a little it was a good experience but the fear of peeling back the next layer remained. Now I have finally reached a point of confidence built upon many positive reactions from many diverse people whereby I know if I open up and someone reacts badly it is all on them and does not reflect on me as a person. I have always been the very definition of a closed book. Still to this day I talk very little, especially about my feelings or deepest thoughts. The idea of someone understanding me terrifies me, yet I also fear being misunderstood (a wonderful paradox). But from things that really matter I will not hide, as hiding only makes the darkest night even darker.
- I’ve discovered a strength I never knew I had – To begin with my internal stigma told me I was weak for having depression, for not coping with what life threw at me – many people have it worse and you don’t hear them complaining. Over time I’ve realised, like a clichéd answer to the job interview question ‘what is your biggest weakness’, that what I thought was my weakness was actually a strength. Every day I battle, every day I overcome things that drain me, push me, perplex me, devastate me. Every day I face things I don’t think I can overcome, every day I think I can take no more, but every day I keep going. When I am not suffering from depression I have had to do many things that require some form of strength, but nothing that can even come close to comparing to the strength I need to show each and every day when in a depressive episode. I am stronger and more resilient than I ever could have imagined. Not just me – anyone battling these demons has that strength.
- I am not alone – Not just in terms of there being a tragically high number of people suffering from some form of mental health condition. Not just that many people are going through what I am going through. It has either taught me, or reminded me (sometimes it’s near impossible to tell the difference) that everyone has issues and problems and self-doubt. I used to view the world as everyone else being perfectly confident and together and accomplished human beings, with me being the one person who fell well short of those ideals and standards. I now know this to be laughably untrue. Learning this a great deal sooner would’ve been a huge help to me, but this post is about being grateful, not dwelling on the past.
- Empathy – this can be a double-edged sword, but I would far rather have great empathy for others than be cold and uncaring. I would rather miss opportunities whilst aiming to make the world a little brighter than gain all the riches by being cold and callous. It is often said those with depression have a greater level of empathy due to knowing what it is like to suffer. Whether the link is scientific or not I am unsure, perhaps my empathy for others and my depression are coincidental. Either way, whilst it may not always feel it in the moment, I am grateful for my empathy and would never trade it in.
- Helping others – clearly linked to the previous one, my depression and in particular opening up about it has helped others. It has helped friends open up, it has helped people seek treatment, it has helped people feel a little more accepted. I feel uncomfortable writing this paragraph as I have a hard time blowing my own trumpet, I will always prefer modesty to arrogance, but just a couple of days ago my therapist was encouraging me to have more confidence in myself and be brave enough to state my strengths and achievements and to stop denying them, so here we are (after two beers!)! My journey with depression has helped others and that will always mean the world to me.
- In short, I am becoming a person I never thought I could be – for many of the items above and other smaller things or events that would make this article far too long if I included them I am growing as a person in ways I never thought possible, even when not in depressive episodes. For this, depression, I thank you.
All of these are things I am grateful for post-diagnosis and starting on my route to recovery. Prior to this upward journey the list would have been empty. Maybe you could argue without depression I wouldn’t have needed to learn these things, but as I said before I’m aiming to be grateful here!! Wherever you are (or aren’t) on your journey, know that you do deserve to live a more fulfilling life, you are worthwhile and are of relevance to this world. The voices which tell you otherwise are the lies that depression is so ready to tell you. Know them to be lies and know the strength inside of you is unrivalled.
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