9 Ways Depression Has Made Me a Better Person
Well this is a weird title, right? Depression is the hideous, mangey, snarling dog that prowls in the shadows of the mind. There is no escape, no matter how idyllic the surroundings and no rock to throw that will send it retreating into night. A brightly lit classroom, windows thrown open wide, filled with vivacious chatter and the buzz of teenage gossip? The dog curls in the corner, waiting to pick off the quieter few when the crowds have streamed into the corridor. On sunny beaches it skulks under the sun loungers, growling to remind us that we will never fit into the picture before us of happy, laughing families chasing beach balls. In offices it hides beneath the desks, looking to pounce on the worker who diligently tires and struggles day after day at the flickering artificial light of the computer screen.
It is truly the stuff of nightmares, depression. I have wrestled with this beast for most of my life, since childhood, but I was still shocked and horrified to tap the question “how many people commit suicide” into my keyboard just thirty seconds ago, and find the staggering answer of
I can barely process that number; it is 70 times the population of my home town. Everyone gone, 70 times over, every year. It is too awful to comprehend.
It is with mixed feelings, then, that I write this post. It feels wrong and grossly unfair to say that something that kills people has benefitted my life at all. I suppose the only thing I can say is that it nearly killed me, and that the positive things I have gained from it have only been discovered in the same way that a pig digging for truffles spends most of its life face-down in filth, vision blurred with mud and its breath dampened with the dogged, unending effort of finding one speck of treasure in the dirt. And like truffles, shaved and presented in a sterile environment, not everyone will appreciate them and some may even consider the effort to retrieve them futile. But, they are my treasures and so I will share them with you now, in the hope that someone else will realise that there is something worth looking for in the bleakness that is so familiar.
- Kindness. The breadcrumbs of humanity, seemingly so small and insignificant yet utterly life-giving and necessary. People cannot survive if only their physical needs are met; the times when people have shown me kindness stand out like nuggets of gold in an otherwise cavernous time of choking blackness. There is no argument against kindness; it is the ultimate diffuser, disarmer and weapon against hate. I have never regretted being kind and if I am ever tempted to be selfish or snappy, it is the desire for a life without regrets that brings me back to gentle words and compassion.
2. Empathy. It is easy to look at someone’s poor behaviour or actions that don’t measure up to our own arbitrary standards, and condemn that person without thinking what they might be going through or where they have come from. If I ever find myself annoyed with someone I find it helpful to remind myself that this might be their absolute best effort; that at one point it took every ounce of my day’s energy to stand up from sitting on the edge of the bath (true story). We don’t know why people act the way they do but it just might be because they are hurting, and it does us well to tap into our own reserves of hurt and remember the potential we have for acting out, too.
3. Perspective. I am alive. My kids are healthy. I have a home to sleep in and food in the fridge. Honestly, after going through depression and the resulting practical crises that come from an inability to function normally, I could not ask for more than that for myself. I prayed a long time ago a prayer that was inspired by Francis Chan, the American preacher. It was one of those prayers that you pray, frankly, half-assed and hoping God isn’t really listening. It was that I would live close to pay check to pay check; that we would never have an overabundance of money or stuff. I prayed that in thanks to God for giving me my health and bringing me from such a dark place; after going through that, asking for anything else seemed ridiculous. That prayer seems to have been answered (mega lols, cheers God) in that we have just what we need and sometimes what we want, enough to give and help others and pay for a simple lifestyle that prioritises time over money. As an aside, God has been exceptionally gracious as my main passion is travel and we would never be able to do this if it weren’t for my job as a travel writer. God gave me work that included travel but doesn’t pay a lot so that I didn’t have the choice of spending money on indulging myself in it, and this to me is one of the extraordinary ways that God shows how much He knows and loves us. I never thought I’d say I’m thrilled to not have much money, but my relationship with God is worth more than anything so I feel overwhelmingly happy with our situation.
4. Gratitude. As I said above, when you have been scraping the bottom of a pretty disgusting barrel for so long, you will happily jump into a clean barrel and say ‘thank you’ and enjoy the barrel. And if anything or anyone good gets chucked into the barrel too, you might just feel like you’ve won the lottery.
5. Patience. It once took me five hours- five hours– to stand up from the edge of the bath, because I was so sapped of energy. I remember sitting there, freezing, not even able to lift a towel to get myself warm. It is and always will be one of the lowest and most surreal points of my life. But from that kind of helplessness comes a realisation that we can only do what we can do. We can only do our best. And if our best means that we stand up in five hours instead of six, or we feed the kids but the house is left in chaos, or we remember to text our friend a caring message but forget to order the online shop or take the bins out, or you stay in bed all day but you are awake for some of it- well, that will just have to do. There are a million things any one of us ‘could’ be doing, and it is impossible to do them all, so you may as well take pride in what you do instead of beating yourself up for what you didn’t.
6. Hope. When I was really in the grip of anorexia along with depression, I distinctly remember thinking that unless an injection was developed that allowed me to inject calories into myself so I didn’t have to eat, that I would soon die. I was 1000% convinced that I would never be able to eat food normally and that a life where I had to eat was so abhorrent that I would not be able to do it. I was also convinced that I would never be able to maintain a relationship, that no one would possibly want me. Over a decade later and I’m sitting here with my Galaxy chocolate bar, WhatsApping my amazing husband to please get ready meals for dinner as a treat, and listening to our three kids laughing downstairs. I have said to several people since recovery that if my situation was able to be turned around, there is no such thing as hopeless.
7. Resilience. What, really, is going to faze me after a long and arduous battle with such a brutal illness? Things that people moan about on a regular basis don’t even occur to me to worry about. There’s really not much that can’t be overcome or worked through. If you need a thick skin to Do Life, depression will give you the hide of an elephant. (Including, maybe, the wrinkles, but whatevs).
8. Courage: I don’t know if and when severe depression will come back. It might, but it hasn’t today, so I am going to act as if this day were my last. I hear it a lot from survivors of other illnesses and it is just as true of depression. It is true, “Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow has enough worries of its own”. Depression helps me say ‘yes’ to life and opportunities, yes to love and patience, because I know that I might not get another day where I am fully healthy. We are not guaranteed tomorrow.
9. A sense of humour. Once you have reached the absolute bottom, where death seems like a better idea than staying alive, there is really not much that you can’t laugh about. I can see the positive in most situations and people and the funny side in almost anything, which really helps in those crappy situations that life likes to throw at us.
If you’ve experienced mental ill-health, what would you say you have learned from it? Can you identify ways in which it has made you a better person? We always love hearing from you so please get in touch <3
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Travel journalists, home educating our lovely brood of 3 girls. Planning a year-long RTW trip late Summer 2017.