Below is an article I wrote in September which featured on spunout.ie – http://spunout.ie/opinion/article/forging-meaning-in-your-depression
For anyone who finds themselves in this situation there are fantastic and completely confidential services that can be availed of,
Like so many others I reached a point in my life where I was so preoccupied with trying to find happiness I would have done anything to attain it. It was not that I was sad; it was what almost felt like a profound realisation that no one else had. I felt like I held the truth of the world, and that I being a minister of this truth gave it the justification to let it take over my life.
I knew the truth of reality, and that truth was that we are all alone, that no matter what we only have ourselves to rely on. That is the truth of reality. But so often the truth itself lies and that is the real truth of depression – the truth lies. We ponder these existential questions every single day and it doesn’t seem to bother most, but to a depressive who has nothing but their thoughts, emotions and a distorted reality to rely on these are the single most important questions in which an answer must be sought. This article is not supposed to be an anatomy of depression, but rather a narrative of how I had come to lose my identity and it was in the aftermath of my depression that a new one was forged.
Depression is a profound insight; it is in this insight that we search for meaning in life. In searching for meaning we so often look outwards, yet it’s looking inward to your own experience of trauma where meaning will be forged. You need to recall the tragedy of depression and fold it into a powerful story of insight, a tale of great endurance and an anthology of how you came to triumph over adversity.
I was 19 when I first had depression; it lasted for over a year. And in that time I lost almost everything, I lost my savings, my confidence, my romantic relationship broke down, I lost friends, and I almost lost my life on one occasion. I did not understand what was wrong with me, even though close friends pleaded with me to seek help I did not. Instead it festered and lingered, and the beast eventually went into hiding after a year. Sufferers like myself, will understand how the mask of appearance can be so tiring. Social settings can be exhausting. I just didn’t want to leave my bed.
Two years later I was rejected from two masters courses because of results gained in my second year of college of which 30% went to my final grade. This was the year I was sick. I was in a job that I hated, selling computer software, in a relationship, which was faltering, and living almost alone in an apartment just too far outside the city to walk to it. Time went on, and I fought with myself for just under a year again as I spiraled into a far more suffocating depression at the age of 22 and it too was to last for almost another year.
I remember the day that I really reached out, as a 22 year old I did what anyone would do – I sought the comfort of my mother. I phoned her that day and I said, “Mom, something is very wrong, I am very sick, and I really need to talk to someone.” You could say as Andrew Solomon once put it about his own parent, that in those moments when I had an ear to listen to my tale of despair, not only did she give me life once, but twice.
Over the course of the next few months I was to delve far back into my childhood and face the demons I had avoided over the past few years leading up to that moment. I started to write again, which I had not done since I was 18. I started to paint again, to draw, to express my emotions and deal with years upon years of pain and suffering through therapy.
Halfway through my therapy I stopped taking my medication. I had no semblance of what it meant to be me, and I couldn’t help but question whether the medication I was taking was making me more like me, or forging a new me with medication.
I applied for college once again and while I waited for the yes or no, I also worked on getting the cap on my grades from second year over turned. I spent a year correcting the damage that the 19 year old me did to himself. But I forgive him for that.
In my depression, I tried to forge meaning from it, and it shaped me as a person. Depression helped to shape my personality today and I am forever grateful for it. I worked to build a person from almost nothing after it broke me down over the course of 3 years and I finally sought help. It was in working from the inside out, rather than the outside in which I had tried to do on many occasions, that changed my perspective on everything as I had tried to do so many times.
It made me realise that despite the hardship I had to endure, it allowed me to treat a sickness within me that would have got worse had it been left untouched. Of course, I am not saying that depression is a good thing since it is quite the opposite. Rather what I am saying, is that if we can try to realise that there is a reason for it, then you can try to get better.
It is through adversity that we shape our identity, and meaning comes pouring from it. We could go through life without all the confetti filled evenings and strawberry sunshine mornings and still have identity…but we could not forge an identity without our misfortunes.
When you are sick, you are sick. When you are sad, you are sad, and when you are melancholy then it’s ok to be so. It’s important to accept that negativity in your life and try to learn something from it. On the other side of it now, I am back in college and I have had depression and I am still here.
When I opened the acceptance email from my University, I sat on a chair outside where I read it and instantly I began to weep. I cried because after 4 years of fighting a depression I had finally corrected at least some of the damage it had caused. It was in those moments as I wept, that I became thankful for the experiences that had shaped me and shaped this moment. I was thankful for the times I felt impossibly tired because it made me stronger. I was thankful for the times I felt unable to deal with life, because it made me more resilient, and I was thankful for the time that my life almost ended, because it has allowed me to turn a grim story of depression, into a narrative of strength, insight, and triumph over adversity.
I realise I am in a privileged position and I do not fear another episode of depression but nor do I welcome it. It has become a cornerstone of my understanding that I will learn something from it. And although it will be tough, I will come out the other side of it. It would be impossible for us to go through life experiencing torment and lamenting depressive episodes if it had no meaning for us. With meaning we can endure great pain if we can just see that it has a purpose. As students of adversity we need to retell the trauma of depression, fold it into a story of insight, a tale of great endurance and an anthology of how you have come to triumph over your own personal adversity.