NON FICTION: Depression Can Be A Great Teacher, And Here’s What I’ve Learned

Woman staring out a window

Photo: Anthony Tran

All right I’m going to start this off my saying that I may or may not have depression. Let me explain.

I’ve never been a particularly happy person as far as I can remember. In fact, the last time I’d felt true joy was probably at the age of twelve. Then secondary school came and swept me off into the world of angst and darkness.

I always took that as part of growing up.

“That’s life. Deal with it.” Isn’t that what they always say? So I dealt with it. I mean, kids in Ethiopia barely had enough to eat, so what right did I have to feel down, right?

It wasn’t until I’d signed my first book deal that I thought: “Yeah, maybe I have a bit of a problem.”

You see, ever since I’d stumbled across the publishing industry, I would dream about one day writing a novel, and having said novel in the bookstands.

That would be the pinnacle of my career, I thought. To actually have people read the stories I make up!

I had always envisioned the publisher calling me (in my imagination, the deal was always struck by phone for some reason), telling me how they loved my book and if I could come to the office. Then I’d hang up the phone, pump a fist in the air, and maybe share a hug with my girlfriend or wife.

On the day I received the actual e-mail however, the only thought that went through my head was: “Cool.”

That’s when I figured that I might have some problems with serotonin, dopamine, or whatever the hell’s responsible for the good feels.

But here’s the thing though. Feelings are subjective, and that brings me to the first lesson I’d learned through depression.

Old school picture of classroom

And my learning session begins. Photo: Austrian National Library

1. Nobody really knows what’s up

Sure, you could go through a list of symptoms and compare them with yours, but what’s a seven on my Scale Of Anguish could be a four for you.

So it’d be pretty normal to see someone with depression leave the bed and brush their teeth, while others rightfully gawk at that prospect. But for all you know, the person moving about could be going through much more internally than the catatonic patient.

That means that whatever I’m dealing with is unique to me, to my upbringing, my attitude, my tolerance. I can’t base my recovery off someone else’s experience, nor can I take the same medication and expect similar results.

Because of that, I’ve learned not to tell people what they can or can’t do, not just for mental health, but for everything else in life. I just focus on improving and deal with my own pain, because that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?

Speaking of pain however, I’m beginning to think that…

Depression Teacher Skeleton - Mathew Schwartz

I’m going to say that we’re all practically clueless. Photo: Mathew Schwartz

2. The pain isn’t me

Or lack of, actually.

Does it frustrate you not being able to feel much? I mean not just happiness but the pain as well? It irks me to no end, and sometimes I’d rather just have a meltdown and be done with it.

I don’t remember crying when my mom died. I don’t remember taking time to grieve. I didn’t even have to push my feelings down. I just couldn’t feel.

But on the flip side, this opens me up to the most trivial shit. Like when I don’t have enough broccoli to make a full bowl of salad. When I run out of dental floss. When one sock goes missing in the washing machine.

Then I feel bad, and the world’s about to end. I still don’t hurt, however. I just feel empty.

And from this, I’ve learned that my pain—or absence of it—doesn’t define me. My thoughts, my negativity, my fears, they don’t determine who I am as a person.

Just because I didn’t shed a tear when my mom passed doesn’t mean I didn’t love her. And just because I cry over vegetables doesn’t make me a psycho.

Life isn’t uniform, nor is it binary. I shouldn’t treat it as a set of if-else statements—if sad things happen, I should feel sad, if happy things happen, I should smile.

And that is a comforting thought, one that allows me to live more freely. Because ultimately…

Girl crouching on bed

Yeah it sucks, but it ain’t me. Photo: Sydney Sims

3. I’m in control

Yes, I might wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweats, feeling like I could pass out right there in my bed. I could feel anxious in public for no damn reason. I could even want to abandon all plans of building a future for myself.

But I fight on.

I fight on because right now, at this moment, I still have a choice. I can choose to write an article that could help someone relate, or I could mope on the couch with a six-pack of beer.

As negative as my thoughts can be—and they do remind me how much I suck at writing, or how little people care about what I have to say—I can still choose how to act.

My life is made out of these tiny little moments, seemingly insignificant in nature, but they’re always choices that I have to make. Do I go out for a run, or stay at home? Eat healthy, or just order McDonald’s? Learn a new skill, or Netflix and chill?

Sure, my mind will always talk me into the more comfortable option, but it’s the person behind the mind—me—that calls the shots.

And the more I do the things that are good for me, despite hating doing them, the more accustomed I become to pain.

If I do that enough, maybe one day I’ll have the “sure-footedness that comes with having proved I can meet life,” as Ann Landers would put it.

Depression Controller - Sabri Tuzcu

I really do hold the controls. Photo: Sabri Tuzcu

My biggest lesson

And maybe my biggest takeaway from feeling bad all the time is that perhaps I was going about this the wrong way.

All my life I had sought happiness, thinking that it was what I needed to mask the feelings I didn’t want to deal with. I turned to things like alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. Later on, they would be used to help me feel some pain.

But maybe I wasn’t meant to cure my suffering. Maybe the way to address it is by living alongside it. Because it’s not the absence of pain that’s going to set me free.

It’s being the best person I can be, despite it.

30 thoughts on “NON FICTION: Depression Can Be A Great Teacher, And Here’s What I’ve Learned

  1. I love how you brought up the disconnect between feeling nothing at something huge, and then melting down over something tiny. I used to feel SO guilty about my reactions to certain things, like being totally blank and emotionless at a death that should have destroyed me. Realizing that our expression of pain doesn’t necessarily define us liberates us from constant guilt and self-blame.

    • Yes! I think a lot of people go through life blaming themselves for their thoughts and feelings, and that should be changed. Thanks for dropping this meaningful comment!

  2. Another great and super relatable blog! Can’t wait to read more so keep writing Stuart!
    PS – you really don’t “suck at writing”, give yourself more credit for your amazing work!

  3. Stuart! Wow. well done. Not only great writing but the journey to self realization (or perhaps resignation?). I love that you’ve embraced your true self and choose to live along side it. I don’t think you’re alone in that. –I know I too have experienced some of those things but to much lesser degrees but you’ve helped me understand even further. Thank you for your candor. F.

    • This is such a thoughtful message, and I’m very grateful that you enjoyed my writing (am never one to reject compliments for my work haha). Am also feeling all fuzzy inside that you resonated with it, so thank you once again :)

  4. Too true. And too many people still believe depression means staying in bed all day, staring at the ceiling. It’s as you described. And also anger, rage, frustration, so much more.

  5. What a refreshing post to read regarding our mental health! It really is all how we look at things. Perspective and perception. The key is to dissolve our minds and just be🧘‍♀️ after 30+ years in therapy I myself have done just that. Call me a late bloomer but I finally got it. Love myself the best and it then trickles out to everything and everybody else. Great blog site my friend. I’m happy to have found you on WordPress😊

  6. Great post! I’ve long since lost my nerve to blog about such personal matters, but I channel it all into my writing.
    I struggle with complex PTSD, and I didn’t cry when my mum died either. Now numbness is a blessing and a curse. The switch off from pain can be a relief, but the disconnect from family and friends is terribly isolating. I think suffering makes for great artists – I’m sure you’re a great writer too.

    • Aww, that’s the best thing you could say to me, so I want you to know I really appreciate your comment. I’m sorry to hear about what you have to go through, and I can only wish you the best on your journey. Thanks a lot for stopping by, Lorraine!

  7. I agree with some of the comments saying “you don’t suck at writing”. It’s actually easy to relate and you couldn’t be more right at the end. I have a bit of experience with depression and even though there’s always something to learn from it, it’s better to just move on with your day despite it. Being active makes it much more likely you’ll beat it than just staying on your couch with a pack of beers. Thanks for this post, and may the force be with you! ;)

  8. Thank you for the beautiful words!! I’m also a writer who struggles with self-esteem issues and this made me feel less alone. In the writers community, we’re told “fake it till you make it,” but some days that’s so hard and our inner editor is too loud. Please keep writing, though. I will follow along. Be well ❤️

    • Ha! I’ve tried taking it, but the only time I actually was able to move on was accepting that these feelings would never go away, so I sought to ask myself ‘And? What now?’

      That helped a bit more than trying to figure things out. Thanks for stopping by and dropping your lovely comment! You take care too.

  9. An interesting and brave post Stuart. Thank you for being so transparent. I have certainly dealt with depression and I’ve spent a good amount of time with a therapist to help me deal with it. I have found therapy to be a wonderful thing and would recommend it to everyone. Please understand that I’m not trying to convince anyone to get therapy. I’m just saying that I believe in the process and I love the results that can come from it. Thanks for helping to de-stigmatize mental health issues.

    • Thanks for dropping by Ron! I’ve tried therapy too, but I just couldn’t justify the high costs versus the returns. Maybe I just didn’t click with my therapist. Wishing you all the best on your journey, and thanks again for your thoughtful comment!

  10. “Because it’s not the absence of pain that’s going to set me free. It’s being the best person I can be, despite it.”

    … and also some fantastic anti depressants. Anti depressants can REALLY help. ;P

    In all seriousness, I LOVED this post. Yes, I have felt it all too. Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and Wellbutrin helped sort out my serotonin issues. I’ve since come off it, but I look back at the struggle and know it shaped me. I know pain produces beautiful things, and I hope that you can find both beauty AND happiness.
    Lately, I’ve found that the most joyful part of my day (outside of kissing my adorable sons), is writing. All the dark places inside of you can be purged by writing about the places or scenarios you want to be in. When you start feeling those highs. Man. It’s probably more addicting than crack (which I’ve never actually tried. So maybe I’m wrong.)
    Good luck in all you’re doing. You’re a fantastic writer, and I’m loving your blogs!

    • Glad to know that meds helped you out! I’m also stoked that you find joy in writing, because for me, I only enjoy having written, but the process itself can be stressful at times, lol.

      Am so grateful that you took the time to stop by and comment, and no matter how low I feel, it’s compliments like yours that add a little spark to my days. Wishing you all the best on your personal journey too, Claire!

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