The Bright Side of Depression
Depression is indisputably a negative experience. When you find that it’s
creeped its way onto your path, there’s really no way of avoiding it or getting around it. The only way through is the long, difficult, terrifying (but highly rewarding) road that is recovery.
I’ve experienced depressive episodes on-and- off since I was fourteen, and after five years, I’ve grown quite familiar with the process. While it is indisputably a negative experience, after living with it and analyzing it over many years, I’ve found that it has a bright side. There are certain unique positive qualities of depression, enough that in some ways I’m almost grateful to be prone to it and to therefore have the opportunity to gain the perspective and knowledge that living with it has to offer.
Here are four good things that living through depression has added to my life:
1. More Openness to Being Vulnerable
I’ve never been the most open person. Introverted and almost aggressively private, I’m the type of person who instinctively avoids sharing the personal and complex parts of myself with other people at all costs. When faced with personal problems, my natural method is to attempt to solve them myself, rarely considering asking for help.
Depression, however, was a problem far more massive and intricate than any I had ever faced on my own. It makes everything look dim and dull, like a curtain that surrounds you; it’s thick enough that it creates a disorienting,
murky, inescapable barrier between you and all the life around you, but thin enough that you can see through it and witness everything that you’re missing out on. The world looks like it’s behind grey clouds, a storm-for- one that envelops you in your own personal spotlight of shadows.
Those clouds are far too heavy to dissipate on your own, even for someone who’s used to doing things alone, yet it took me two years of living in that darkness to realize that the only way that things would change was if I asked for help. Even after that realization, it took nearly another two years before I had the desperation and the guts to accept it and to tell someone about what I was going through.
While opening up was terrifying and uncomfortable at the time, being in a position where the only option was to share about my struggles forced me to overcome my aversion to being vulnerable. As a result, it is now much easier for me to be open and to share about the issues in my life in a way it never would have been if I hadn’t been forced to reach out due the severity of my depression.
2. More Perspective and Appreciation for Everything in the World
Depression evaporates the interest, pleasure, and motivation that we normally take for granted, and it sucks all the colour and vibrance from your perception. Not only does life feel dull and empty, but the world literally looks more dull and grey than it should.
When my first depressive episode ended, I became obsessed with the OneRepublic song Life in Color, because it truly felt as though I was seeing life in full colour for the first time. Everything was brighter than I remembered it. The grey veil that surrounded me had finally lifted, and it had been there for so long that my mind was absolutely stunned by how beautiful and full of colour the world was without it.
Witnessing such a sudden transition from an empty, lifeless world to one full of energy and colour, where food had flavour and accomplishments felt rewarding, made it impossible to take anything for granted.
Knowing how purposeless food seems when it tastes like dry cardboard makes every flavour, every bite seem like it was divinely designed. Remembering what it’s like to be indifferent to everything and unable to concentrate on anything makes even simple abilities, like writing a math test or going for a walk, feel like miracles. My senses and perception were not merely restored to what they originally were; surviving that depressive episode made them far more strong than they were before.
3. Deeper Appreciation for Art and Music
The one pleasure that no degree of depression can steal is art. In fact, experiencing such an inescapable, profound despair only pushed me to become more connected to music, and to eventually discover more of other art forms as well. It’s natural to rely on art in times of suffering; we’re all familiar with how comforting it can be to hear a song that describes exactly how we feel or to find a fictional character that we relate to. Art in all its forms,
both consuming it and creating it, is how we survive, process, and use strong emotion; the need for expression through art is one of the things that makes us human.
I know that pretty much everyone loves music, mentally ill or not, but I wouldn’t have discovered most of the songs and bands that I love now, that have become part of my identity because of how much they’ve gotten me through, if I hadn’t had those dark periods when I relied on them to survive. I wouldn’t have needed those songs as much and therefore wouldn’t have bonded nearly as strongly to my favourite bands. While those bonds began from something negative, the need for something to relate to in those dark, desperate times, they’ve become such a positive, important part of my life. All
the suffering that led me to them feels like it might have been worth it just because it allowed me to experience loving and connecting to music that strongly.
Experiencing deep pain and emotion also creates a deeper understanding of the pain and emotion that has gone into creating every single song, dance, story, play, poem, novel, sculpture, painting, drawing, and carving that has ever existed. That understanding has both inspired me to create art, but also
improves my ability to appreciate all art, even the novels that I study in English class. While we can talk about and study the emotional aspects of the creative process, it feels like the only way to deeply understand and relate to it is to have actually experienced the kind of powerful emotion that motivates the creation of art.
4. Self-Knowledge and Motivation to Follow Passion
A struggle as life-changing, isolating, and challenging as depression teaches you so much about yourself, and the experience of life without interest and pleasure makes you realize what is truly important.
This knowledge doesn’t come easy; losing interest and pleasure in life when your depression begins, and confronting your depression when you begin to recover cause you to question so many things: how well you know yourself, how you react to change and negative events, what makes you feel safe, what you turn to when you lose everything, what makes you feel empty when it’s missing from your life, what adds meaning to your life, and what motivates you enough that you can get through all the bad stuff and keep on living in spite of it.
But once you do develop some understanding of the answers to these questions, you have knowledge of what will make your life feel most worthwhile and of what you feel passionate about and should devote your life to.
On the subject of following your passion, one of the other things that recovering from depression has done for me is motivate me to only spend time on things that matter. I know what it’s like for time to feel truly empty, so meaningless and pointless that having the hours, days, years spread out ahead feels more like a burden that must be endured rather than the opportunity to live that it really is.
Knowing that you’re capable of seeing your future so bleak and empty makes you realize how fragile and finite a resource time is, and you begin to value time differently. It’s not enough to just live through it, it’s only worth it if your time is filled with things that make you feel like you’re living for something.
Everything on this list can be attained without suffering from depression or any other mental illness. It’s just that we often don’t focus on the more abstract, less practical parts of ourselves and of the world until we’re faced with something that forces us to be brave and look for a greater meaning or for changes that need to be made that we don’t normally pay attention to in everyday life.
For those who haven’t experienced mental illness, I hope that you’re inspired to learn about and develop some of the things on this list, and I hope that you don’t ever need to experience a mental illness in order to learn about yourself and to grow your perspective.
For anyone currently struggling, know that no victory comes without reward, and fighting through something as negative and difficult as a mental illness is no exception. No matter how awful and unnecessary it seems to be, there is meaning in the struggle and positive things will come from conquering it.
Recovery is a long, confusing, difficult road, and it ends somewhere between having to constantly watch out for signs of the return of disorder, and being a stronger, braver, less innocent but more resilient version of yourself that you never could have been had you not been forced to walk this path.
Trust me, it’s worth weathering the storm; by the time you get to the end you’ll have learned so much and discovered and re-discovered so many of the great things in this world that your life will be completely different. The world that you see will be more vibrant and full of colour than you can even imagine right now.
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