Before this headline has you starting to worry about me, let me assure you that I’m fine. I’m not depressed in a clinical sense, but that does not mean that I can’t have short spells of feeling depressed every so often. Like James Corden, so eloquently puts it: We all have good days and bad months.
So why this topic all of a sudden? First of all, depression is still a taboo in our society where happiness, financial wealth, prestige and eternal youth are the values that rule, and sadness, depression, self-doubt, death and grief are feelings that we hide away from the public eye. We don’t want to bum others out with our feelings, so we put on a mask when we leave our doorstep. Here’s a thought: What if, God forbid, we let that mask fall every once in a while? I’ll bet good money that we would forge better and more meaningful relationships if we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and share our truest selves with others. I also bet that we would be surprised at how many would be able to relate to our situations.
These days, my spells of depression come in waves. I’m not terribly afraid of this type of depression because I know it’s a natural extension of my grief. Depression often follows great loss, and I’d quite frankly be surprised if I didn’t feel this way. Also, it’s not to an extent where I can’t function. It just makes me feel incredibly sad, and on the worst days it requires a few hours of lying curled up on the couch. I’m usually ready to face the world again after a day or so, but I have also experienced periods where it has taken me a few days to feel ‘normal’ again. Remember, the opposite of depression is not happiness – it’s vitality.
We all have our demons to fight with, and sometimes some of us need help to win the battle. In order to face my own demons, I recently tried writing them down on a piece of paper, to make it clear to myself what I was fighting with. Since this may help some of you who may be feeling similarly, I’ll share my demons with you here. Just to clarify, my demons are negative and destructive thoughts that momentarily occupy my brain, effectively blocking any positive (or realistic) thoughts from entering as long as they reside there. Again, before you worry about me, I always know that these are ‘just’ my demons and not reality, but I don’t always have the strength or energy to chase them away. On my stronger days I do, but I’ll get to that. Here are some of my demons in random order.
- Fear that the people I care about and rely on will abandon me
- Fear that I’ll never again know true happiness
- Convincing myself that I don’t deserve true happiness
- Feeling that I’m worthless and of no use to anyone
- Fear that I have missed my shot at life
- Blaming myself for feeling weak for not handling my situation better when others have survived civil wars, famine, and concentration camps
Yep, they’re pretty ugly. However, putting them on paper somehow takes away some of their power. And, I have to remember: Thinking doesn’t make it true. Thinking doesn’t make it true! Thinking doesn’t make it true!!
On my stronger days, I am usually able to prevent these thoughts from rooting themselves in my head. As soon as I sense the demons come knocking, I quickly bolt the door to my mind by keeping busy. This can be through reading (preferably something that requires a lot of brainpower like the encyclopaedia of the 2100+ Chinese characters that form the building blocks to the Korean language), or by going for a walk or, even better, a run. I also keep a list of all my major accomplishments and skills to dispel the feeling of worthlessness. I can effectively prove that I am anything but worthless, but rather a highly competent and intelligent individual. I reach out to people for support to feel a sense of belonging and feel comfort from the contact.
On my stronger days, I’m fine. On my weaker days, I’m miserable. Over all, I’m probably okay. But I know I could be better and I’m working on it.
How are you feeling? Feel free to share your experiences or your personal demons in the comments.
If you want to learn more about depression, and dealing with depression, I highly recommend this TED talk “Depression, the secret we share” by Andrew Solomon. His book “The noonday demon: An atlas of depression” is also worth reading.