Have you ever felt a little sad? Have you ever had millions of thoughts running around your mind that were foreign to you that you didn’t initiate but that had such a tremendous impact on your living and livelihood? Have you ever felt a little more sad… have you ever felt depressed?
I find it difficult to talk about and still shocking when someone tells me that they went through a depression. I find it threatening, the extent of their vulnerability, making me feel at the risk of their relapse.
But depression is not just deep sadness, it is the slow death and isolation of oneself who loses interest in everything, whose thoughts become their realities, who come to see life as a chore rather than a blessing, and who are so critical of themselves that they feel as though they are a burden to others and clutter in the world.
Knowing the beauty and richness of life, that being dead while still alive is such a heartbreaking thing. Something that I never understood — until I experienced it.
One of my very best friends, a person who ranks in my top five, whose well-being is more important than my own, was overcome by depression. I remember once when she told me, ‘I don’t think I am good at anything.’ Such a thought, which had become her belief, was so heart-wrenching, not just because she is actually one of the MOST naturally talented and dedicated people I know, but because if it were true that she wasn’t good at anything then SO many people in the world were doomed — because they were far less talented than she was. I felt extreme sadness for her and all of those people, including me, as I am not as endowed as she is either.
So hurt by her condition, I started to pray that God would give me some of her suffering. Before that time I was always extremely positive and optimistic. I was the sort of person who took everything on my chest with my chin up and marched forward. But God always answers my prayers, especially when they are about others. God gave me some of that suffering.
And I have experienced it here and there for the past six years. My experience of depression is no where near my friend’s own, it is very minor, but it still exists. There have been times I have felt extremely inadequate, unambitious, lacking in personality, too weird to ever fit in, too tall and too athletic looking, too big, not intellectual enough, not committed enough, too eccentric, selfish, annoying, and other things. Stuff that was told to me by mean people in the past became exaggerated. My faults and weaknesses became the foundations of my destiny, which in those times looked absolutely bleak.
What I notice in these times is that my thoughts take me there and my thoughts keep me there, and being there I lose motivation, I lose faith in myself, I lose hope. I repeat, my thoughts take me there and they keep me there.
But are we slaves to our thoughts? NO.
Can we separate our mind from our heart from our spirit and conquer those thoughts? I HOPE SO.
That is what I do every time. I promise myself that I will never stop believing in myself and that no matter how dark and corrupt and difficult the world and life becomes, I will never give up living.
So it was really interesting when I listen to the TED talk by writer Andrew Soloman called Depression, the Secret We All Share.
He said that ‘What depressed people are really expressing is not illness but insight.’
This rings true to me. During the times when I feel down I don’t necessarily believe that I am thinking wrong thoughts, and neither was my friend. I think that I have a very strong insight into many things, and so does she, which is something that makes us both very creative and interesting. For instance I get down when I think of how meaningless much of our life is because we are churning the mud of capitalism and feeding someone else’s dreams in our jobs. I get down when I think of all the things that I don’t know that I wish I did and the people that I haven’t met that I wish I did. I get down when I think I am falling into mediocracy. My friend was depressed when she thought she wasn’t good at anything.
These are all insightful thoughts that are true in some way. In her case, thinking that she wasn’t good at anything was an insight into the fact that, although she was talented and very good at many things, she needed to change the way in which she worked and approached her goals or else she would become terrible at being good at anything. She had an insight into her future.
Andrew Soloman said: ‘Most of us know about those existential questions but they don’t distract us very much.’
Depression comes as a result of internalising existential questions and the negative bi-products of the bleak answers to these questions we find through insight.
Dorothy Rowe, writer and psychologists, spoke on my favourite program Desert Island Discs about depression. She, and Andrew, suffered from depression before they found a way out of it. She said that:
‘Good people blame themselves. The way to turn sadness into depression is by blaming yourself.’
EVERYONE feels sad at points in their life. Because life is really hard and the nature of humanity is that it is prone to hurt and disappointment — people give us great grief, by being selfish, by changing, by dying. There are many many reasons to be sad. Depression arises because a person takes the blame for such sadness and because they are the monster, they cannot be comforted by others.
There are certainly some severe forms of depression that cannot be cured by a overhaul of the way one thinks. And some people will need medication to get back onto the tracks of life. But I agree with Dorothy who thinks the cure of depression is not medication but wisdom.
She said, ‘I have seen hundreds of people get themselves out of depression by realising that the way we see ourselves is a set of ideas and we are free to change those ideas.’
Why am I pondering on this? Because recently I have had an existential crisis that was rather significant. You could probably tell from my blogging. I wonder: how does God desire us to live our lives? How do we know we are living the lives we are meant to? Am I where I am today because of my effort or because of my lack of effort? Will I ever be able to be in love and allow myself to be happy and relaxed? Will I ever be less – weird?
I have been living with these thoughts for sometime and at times they bring me down, sometimes keep me from sleeping but Andrew and Dorothy have confirmed what I believe — that I am not owned by my thoughts, I am not a slave to them, that they are insightful rather than detrimental.
I have learnt recently that deep down I want to learn how to work harder and to be more efficient, I want to face my fears and write my second book, allow myself to fall in love, commit to things without worrying about whether they will commit to me, love my God with all my heart and have relentless faith in his promises.
Andrew Soloman said: ‘The opposite of depression is not happiness, it is vitality.’
Vitality is ‘the ability to live’. We are alive and we have three choices: live fully while alive, live as though we are dead, or take our own lives. The third option is a HORRENDOUS one because it is final and solves absolutely nothing — it is one of the greatest sadnesses of the world.
Of the other two, which one will you chose?
Every day of my life I chose the first one — to live while I’m living, to live fully, to love and challenge myself.
I am grateful for the minor experience of depression that I had and that it has made life all the more precious to me. I hope the same for all others who are experiencing the same thing.
Do share your stories…