For the last six years, I have been living with depression. Despite the fact that I have extremely low moments when there is an inexplicable and unreachable pain inside me that demotes me into a sobbing, self-harming, low self-esteemed shell of the person that I actually am, there are a number of ways that living with (not suffering from) depression has improved my life and made me a better human being.
Here are the 10 things I always remind myself of when I’m starting to feel low:
1. I’m unafraid of emotions. Once upon a time, I refused to cry anywhere except in the privacy of my bedroom and even then, I would prefer to do it when no one else was home. With fluctuating moods and being a tad more emotional than I naturally am, I can no longer help but cry whenever my heartstrings are strummed, and I’ve learned to just accept it. I cry at work, I cry at home, I cry on the subway, I cry in bed, I cry whenever the moment strikes and I need to let it all out. Alternately, when I’m happy I laugh harder, louder, and more genuinely than I ever have before because I gratefully grasp at anything that will make me smile.
2. It’s made me more empathic. Having felt the agony of feeling like I’m totally alone in the world and that no one understands me has made me more in tune with the feelings of others. This isn’t limited to feelings spurred on my mental illnesses, but any emotions. Being more emotional means I weep at news stories and personal accounts of my fellow human beings and feeling so deeply for strangers makes it all that much harder to be anything but genuinely nice to the people who cross my path, even if they’re not nice to me.
3. I learned who my real friends are. When I started showing signs of depression, I was terrified and became reserved. There were a handful of people who, despite my pushing them away, kept gently knocking at my door to make sure I was all right while the majority of people in my life got angry at me for becoming undependable and flaky. Needless to say, the former are now my strongest support system and the people I’m the most grateful to gave in my life.
4. I learned to indulge in self-care. Putting my emotional and mental needs first was one of the hardest things I had to do because being overly empathic meant I was always trying to please others to ensure they never felt as shitty as I did. But that’s tiring, and I realized that I couldn’t help others if I didn’t take care of myself. I realized that it’s OK if I cancel on a social engagement in favor of watching Netflix on the couch, and that it’s OK to treat myself when I’m feeling low.
5. I began to love my body. I self-harm when I feel overwhelmed. My arms are covered in scratches and cuts that really alarm people. I also gained a lot of weight when I was first diagnosed, which made me hate myself even more. But now I have bigger things to worry about (like convincing myself that walking into traffic is not a viable solution to anything) and I don’t have time to worry about if my love handles are bulging or my arms are too flabby.
6. I began to love my mind. One therapist I used to see treated me as if I was broken and needed to be fixed. Another one blamed my parents for my mental illness. I resent the idea that my depression is something that needs to be fixed. In a way, I’m grateful for it and have learned to accept it as a permanent houseguest of my mind. I’m no longer concerned with kicking it out, but rather finding ways for us both to live harmoniously. I do not hate my depression, I’m almost glad I have it because it allows me to feel such a gamut of emotions — good, bad, and painful alike.
7. I’m bolder and more confident. This isn’t true for when I’m having a depressive episode, but once I come out of one I feel stronger, more proud of myself for effectively coping. Where I once used to be embarrassed to have a mental illness, I’m not unafraid to talk about it. I insist on talking about it, I insist on sharing any feelings I have. I write about it regularly and talk about it whenever I get the change. I refuse to stand by and let ignorance about mental health run amok.
8. Disrespectful people get cut out of my life. I need every bit of positivity I can get and what I definitely don’t need any more of is negativity. I don’t need people who are untactful and downright rude. I don’t need people who argue rather than discuss, shout rather than talk, or insult rather than trying to understand. It doesn’t matter if they’re family, best friends, coworkers, or lovers, I have no place in my life for schmucks, only for mensches.
9. I began writing again. When my father passed away, I took an accidentally hiatus from writing — the thing I’ve done and loved to do since I was a small child. However, with the overwhelming feelings brought on by my depression, as well as the adventures I began embarking on (thanks to my newfound confidence), I’m suddenly flush with words and ideas and cite writing as both a coping mechanism and my savior.
10. I realized I’m not alone. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20% of Canadians end up experiencing some sort of mental illness in their lifetime. A quick Wikipedia search gives an extensive list of celebrities who have experienced mental illness in their life. Talking to people about my own mental illness leads others to reveal their own mental health troubles. Regardless of how alone I always feel, I never am alone and reminding myself of this fact has been a lifesaver.