Most of the time when I think of mental health disorders (more specifically depression and anxiety), I tend to shut down and go very brief and crude. Especially in the past year or so, I’ve put it in a box and labelled it as something soul crushing, destructive, draining, energy, life and joy sucking, crippling and paralysing (I am aware of the fact that I am also describing dementors. JK Rowling used them as a metaphor for depression and she did such a brilliant job.) I’ve learnt to shut it out somehow and leave it in the box, going into it is too dangerous. It is enough to somehow survive it when it creeps up every couple of weeks. It is so damn complex, complicated, personal, painful I don’t see the point of even starting to think about it or starting to talk about it in detail. Of course 30-40% of my life will always be managing it, learning ways how to cope with it and doing the inside work – this has been and will be a forever ongoing process. It’s always on my mind. But not the symptoms or the negative side – the practical every day things I can do to make it bearable. Being proactive is not just important, it’s essential.
I thought came into my mind: what if I forced myself to come up with a list about the positives depression has given me? Yes it is terrible and a potentially fatal disorder, but instead of just keeping it under a negative label, maybe I could stick on some positive ones on it too? It would surely have a balancing effect and ease the pain of the other side?
- Resilience and Adaptability
I’ve been through so much. The hopelessness, being completely alone, being stuck, the constant shame, embarrassment and guilt, moving between so many countries, cities, jobs, losing and gaining friends and love. Different lifestyles, plans, ideas. When I have bad days I feel like it was all for nothing, it’s such a chaos. And on my good days (thankfully they enjoy majority these days) I believe it was worth it. Because I am not scared of most things. I’ve been there and I know it’s ups and downs and you will come out of it. Moving to a different house, city, country, continent, finding and starting a new job, making friends and finding someone to love – it’s all doable. You will be fine. Of course I get anxious at the beginning of every new chapter, job (much less and less though!) but it goes away very quickly. I have become adaptable, I get used to change very quickly. And the way life works, so unpredictable and full of roller-coasters, it’s a skill I must be grateful for.
- Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
Elena Herdieckerhoff’s TED Talk on Highly Sensitive People is a brilliant watch. I’ve recently read an article about people who suffer from bipolar disorder and they agreed that in the end, they wouldn’t give it up for anything as the highs are when they thrive, when they are the best at their jobs, they get creative and find solutions to problems no one else can solve. Contrary to that, I would trade my intense positive emotions to a more balanced feelings pack in a heart beat. My lows are too extreme and painful. BUT, I can thank depression (together with my psychology degree) for being a Highly Sensitive Person. I was pretty much the opposite before the monster hit – quite rude and raw. I still have those moments sometimes, when I blurt something out and I notice the effects almost instantly (and wish I hadn’t said it). But most of the time I pick up on things. Someone’s small/sudden change in mood. A small comment or phrase. Seeing the bigger picture and understanding the motivations behind actions. Funnily enough, these traits are usually true to INFJs – so effectively depression has helped me to pick up the skills of a personality type that is almost the opposite of me and doesn’t come naturally at all! That is pretty cool I have to admit.
- Depression Is my Biggest Enemy
This is related to reason #1. It’s very simple. Just like the Theory of Common Enemy in psychology, for me, depression and anxiety are the ultimate enemies. Everything else may cause discomfort, sadness, uncertainty. Which is not ideal. But it doesn’t even come close to the extreme emotions you experience when having an episode. I’m scared of nothing else (psychical illness and time are exceptions). This is the psychology behind the decisions regarding my life. Some people call it brave or reckless. I still prefer the word audacious.
Depression caused many crises in my life over the past 14 years. Falling flat on your face countless times, feeling like there’s nothing and no one to live for, you don’t belong anywhere, you weren’t supposed to exist, you have no future and feeling like you failed in every aspect of your life (family, personal life, my internal world, career, friends) is one thing. But this happening when you are actively trying to better yourself, grow and find your path – is crushing on a different level. If I didn’t put any effort in it’s make sense. But how on earth do you go on when you’re already trying?! I’ve always thought trying leads to better things. It doesn’t matter what you bring to the table – as long as you’re trying – you’ll be fine, you’re moving forward. Doesn’t matter how slowly, but anything is better than no progress at all. I’ve had to learn that this is not the case. You can try speaking to friends, family, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists (I’ve lost count by now), going on medication (I’m on the 5th one at the moment) but it doesn’t necessarily help. Maybe most cases? But not in mine for sure. That crushes you so you’re below the ground. And it had an effect on me. I’ve realized no one REALLY knows what goes in me most of the time. Over the years I’ve become very good at projecting the ‘I’m all fine’ picture (mostly out of guilt). So if I look like I’m perfectly fine majority of the time, God knows what’s going on in others internal world. You NEVER KNOW. You have no idea what they’ve been through in their lives. So I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and I’ve realised it is not my job to judge people. In fact I’ve got no fucking right to judge anyone. What is that quote from Billy Connolly? “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” It’s my job to walk around the world, and whenever I’m able to, I exercise positive psychology and random acts of kindness, because it’s literally barely costing me any energy. And every little thing matters.
- Keeping an Open-mind and Flexibility
I care about material things waaaay less. I don’t care if my pink shoes go with my yellow t-shirt. I was never seriously a brand snob but now it’s really only the quality I look at (exception: surfing brands, but that’s a backpacker thing). I also don’t care if my friends and I go for Italian food when I’m in the mood to eat noodles. Or I’ve seen a pretty dress in ZARA I want to try on, but they feel like going into Topshop instead and we run out of time so I don’t get to try on the dress. Because it’s not important. Spending time together, listening to each other and being there for each other is what matters.
I also got a lot more curious about how others live. I tend to waste less energy on the habits, views that feel alien to me. I acknowledge them, ignore them and focus on my energies to find things I do agree with. This way you are literally able to learn something from anyone. My mother and sister like to tell me every time I go travelling or move somewhere new that I’m running away – what are you running away from? Being curious is also in my personality and living with mental illness has made it only stronger. It is not about running away. It is running towards the world, because I crave the new, the learning, the adventure. To see how people in other cultures think, how they live their lives and solve their problems.