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.
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…
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…
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.
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.