This is not a normal year. I think we are all craving light and happiness and joy a little more this year. So, even though I absolutely love Thanksgiving and feel that it is extremely important to express gratitude at this time, I am all for Christmas lights this year. Today we went to a friend’s house to drop off some puzzles for them. They unexpectedly invited us to eat dinner with their family. Afterwards, we drove around looking at Christmas lights and then watched Polar Express to end the night.
We did church with more of our family today. It was fun to have us all together and be able to share Mother’s day. Afterwards we watched a devotional about mothers. It was inspiring, and I liked how it talked about finding happiness and sitting with others through their pain. That is what being a mother is all about- learning to balance your own needs while making sacrifices for the ones you love.
I started this post a couple months ago, but didn’t have time to finish it. I attended a devotional meeting today though that brought this back to my mind. Life is hardly ever exactly what we wanted or expected. Things change. Life happens and we find ourselves a million miles away from where we thought we wanted to be. The question is if we will make where we are, into the place where we want to be. When things do not work out and we find ourselves at a different point of life than we wanted, can we still see hope? When nothing is going right and your world seems to have crumbled around you, can you still find ways to be happy?
I first started this post the morning after a hard night. I had fallen into a state of depression. I wanted a way out of everything. I couldn’t concentrate on reasons for my existence. I just felt pain and hurt and loss. And I didn’t see a reason for me to feel that way. Things were going well for me so it was confusing as to why I would feel so hopeless when there was so much to hope for around me. The thing is though, people seem to perpetuate the myth that you need a reason to be depressed. In all reality, this is not true. I never need a reason to get depressed. Sometimes it happens on a beautiful day when the sun is shining, and I’ve just spent time with friends, and my room is clean, and my homework is done, and I’ve eaten well throughout the day. Everything can be perfect, but depression grips like a corset pulled so tight you cannot breathe.
That night was one of those times. There was no real reason for me to feel depressed, and yet my mind cascaded into feelings of being incomplete, feeling detached and withdrawn from the world, wondering what my purpose was for being alive. It didn’t make sense to feel that way when life was going so well for me. And being a logical person, I needed to find a reason for what I was going through. So, I looked up, “What is the purpose of depression?”
I didn’t find all the answers I wanted, but I did find one that felt true to me. Depression is an adaptation to help us contemplate life. It produces different thought patterns that force us to deal with things we might otherwise avoid. And it makes us find a reason for why things are the way they are. Today, another reason rang true with me. Depression has been my refining fire. Every good quality that I have has been influenced by my depression.
I remember vividly the worst period of depression I ever endured. It lasted approximately 9 months. During that time, I felt like I was being stripped of everything. My joy, my hope, my mind, my heart, my family and friends, everything was taken away from me. Although none of these things were really gone, depression made them unreachable. I could not think. I could not smile. I could not stand some of the time. The darkness around me was so thick that I felt it would extinguish everything I had left in me. But in that dark, desperate place, I found the one thing depression could not take from me. When everything else was gone and it was just me and the darkness, I found that I was not left completely desolate. I still had faith. Even if I could not hope in that moment or smile or even get up, I clung to faith. Faith was the last of my light, the one thing the darkness could not put out. And with that faith, I found hope, and with that hope, I found a way to endure.
It was promising to find out that at the core of my soul was faith, but at the time, it didn’t mean much more than just a way to get through my circumstances. In the last few months though, that knowledge has carried me through some difficult times. My sister (who is like my rock) decided to move to another state, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my baby nephew died, all within about 2 months. I was devastated, heartbroken, and scared, but it was not the worse thing I had ever been through. And in that sense, depression was a beautiful blessing to me because I knew that no matter how bad things got, I still had that faith at the end of the day. I could keep going because at one point, I couldn’t keep going. At one point, I had lost everything in the most real sense because when you lose yourself to depression, you become lost to everything and everything becomes lost to you. So this time, I could stand with my family and have hope.
Depression is the hardest thing I have ever been through. I still have depression and can go through long periods of feeling depressed, but I see the light in my depression. I can see the purpose of my depression. I can see the blessings it has been in my life. Is my purpose for depression the same as yours? Probably not. But, I know that you can also find purpose in your depression or in your trials. You can find light in the darkest of places. I know because I have been there, and in the greatest darkness, I found the strongest light.
I lost my little nephew on Sunday morning. He was a perfectly healthy baby boy and it all happened so fast and was completely unexpected. The last few days have been a series of ups and downs. Some days are easier than others.
The world doesn’t really stop for grief though. I took Monday off of work (which wasn’t a big deal since I was just on call anyway), but I had classes to attend on Tuesday, the funeral services were on Wednesday, I was back at classes on Thursday, and then I went to work today. It has felt strange to be caught in the middle of the world standing still and everything moving way too fast.
Today was a hard day. Work was okay, but as the day wore on, I knew I needed something to be okay. I needed to get out and do something or see someone or anything to get out of my head. There is a balance between moving on with life and giving yourself time to grieve. I have been stuck the last few days in the reality of our situation. I live with my brother and his family so I felt like I had to be strong for them and help as much as I could because of how hard this has been for them, but in the process, I completely neglected myself and my own needs.
I need people. I need to see people all the time. I need to talk to people and spend time with them and even just be around people having fun. I usually go to activities on Wednesday nights, and I felt like I needed to go this Wednesday, but things were complicated and I didn’t feel like I could abandon my family to go have fun. Then on Thursday, I felt again like I needed human interaction, but I decided to forgo attending a scripture study night to do other things instead. Anyway, I have just been putting off doing things I enjoy because I felt like there were more important things.
Tonight though, I broke. I shattered. I was crying so much that I didn’t trust myself to get out of bed because I was afraid of what I might do if I did get up.
I feel like there is a strange dichotomy to grieving. You have to reconcile the feelings of wanting to be sad because something tragic occurred, and needing to be happy because life is still going on around you. It feels almost like a betrayal to be happy when you lose someone. Does that mean you don’t miss them as much as you should? Is it even okay to have fun this soon? I think that little Gabriel would want me to have fun. That’s what I have always thought when someone passes away- they would want you to be happy and to live and love and do all the things they would have wanted to do. When it happens to you though, it is more difficult to sort out the thoughts and come to this conclusion. I was made for joy, and no amount of tragedy or difficult circumstances should take that away from me.
So, yes, in the end, life does go on. But that is probably what makes it most beautiful. It is beautiful that we can move on with our lives, that we can laugh again, that we can have fun, that we can be ourselves. I am learning through this that it is okay to be both happy and sad. It is okay to find happiness in a sad situation and it is okay to be sad in a happy situation. It is okay to feel. And even though it is hard, life is meant to go on.
Happiness has about as much to do with depression as hygiene has to do with being healthy.
Happiness definitely influences depression, and it is an important thing to learn in overcoming and living with depression, but there is so much more to treating depression than learning to be happy.
Depression is like a blanket that covers you from everything around you. It makes it hard to see the light. It makes you feel like there is nothing else in the world but how you feel right now. But as bad as it is, it makes you feel safe somehow. It makes you feel like if you stay in that state, if you isolate, if you don’t do anything but stay in bed and cry, you won’t have to deal with all the worse things in the world. Because while others around you see a world filled with light and hope, and they wonder why you are staying under a blanket when you “don’t have to,” you see the dark shadows of the world.
You see the demons that hide inside of you and everyone else. You have nightmares that wake you up or make it hard to sleep. You feel the pain of the world- the hurt and neglect, the children that are abused or starving, the wars and violence and men and women that show no respect for others, that take advantage of people and tear people down and take away another person’s ability to feel human. You hear the screams that no one else seems to notice. You see the pain in the eyes of someone that has been hurt.
In the depths of depression, depression can feel like a safe place because depression shows you everything wrong with the world and tells you that it is hopeless to fight against the dark and the only way to find peace is to get out. Depression tells you that getting out of depression will only make you have to face a broken world with no filter, with nothing between you and the hurt. Depression is your shield in an uncertain world because depression is very dependable.
Depression is there at the end of the day when the world is quiet and there is nothing left in you. Depression is there when you wake up in the morning. It is there when you eat your cereal and get ready for your day. And it is there anytime you need it. If something hurts you during the day, depression is there to surround you with grief and tell you it’s okay to cry. Depression is there because sometimes people are not.
People can tell you to stop crying, to suck it up, to get over it, that things aren’t that bad, that you’re exaggerating, that you have no reason to be sad or upset, that you just need to try harder or think happy thoughts or pull yourself out of it. When people are not understanding, depression is there to turn to. When you feel isolated and alone, depression is there to stay with you.
Depression is comforting. It doesn’t expect you to fix yourself or make yourself happy or get better. In fact, depression is perfectly content if you never improve. And that in itself is comforting. It is comforting to not have any expectation of change or progress because those things are hard, and depression doesn’t expect you to ever improve.
Depression has little to do with happiness because depression is everything. It is an entire world, an entire being, and an entire state of mind. Depression is not about being happy. It is about learning to cope in a world with unhappiness. Depression is about living in a world that is broken, that is imperfect, that is difficult and sometimes impossible.
The most surprising fact about depression, for people who don’t understand it, is that you can be happy and still be depressed. You can be amazingly happy, incredibly happy, ridiculously happy. You can be laugh out loud and dancing in the rain kind of happy, but just outside of that happiness or underneath that happiness or coexisting with that happiness is a depth of discouragement and hopelessness. Depression does not steal your happiness. Depression masks your happiness. And sometimes happiness masks your depression.
I see depression as the absolute acknowledgement that something is wrong with the world. It is a whole body, whole mind, whole heart perception that nothing is okay. Can you still be happy in a broken world? Yes, but that doesn’t make the world stop being broken. That is the key to depression.
The difference between someone who is depressed and someone who is not is that freedom. Not having depression gives you the freedom to believe that things will change. It gives you the freedom to believe that what you do makes a difference. It allows you to go into the world with purpose because the world is there for you to put light into. For someone without depression, the world is changeable, able to become better or different or whatever you make of it. The world is yours.
Depression is hardly ever a one lane road. You have glimpses of the other side. You have moments when you feel like you’re making a difference and that you have purpose. The trick is getting those moments to stick. That is what I try to do when I am depressed. I try to give myself reminders that there is purpose, there is change, there is reason to believe that things can get better. This world isn’t that bad, but you have to see the good. You have to expose yourself to the good. And when you are depressed, you have to remind yourself of that good. Because otherwise, you will stay under that safety blanket of depression until you pass away or the world passes away because without the good, there is no real reason to come out.
I was officially diagnosed earlier this year with chronic depression- early onset, which basically means I have had depression for as long as I can remember and it will likely keep coming back for the rest of my life. I hadn’t really pursued a diagnosis before this year because it seemed pretty obvious that I had depression and I didn’t need someone to tell me. But even with a diagnosis, it is sometimes hard to believe that this may never go away.
There are times when I am just so happy and at peace with the world that depression seems like a distant memory, hardly relevant to the joy I am experiencing. But the truth is, those exquisite moments of joy are possible because of the deep craters of despair that have come before them. This is my life. This is my reality. I am going to have moments of despair so strong that I forget anything good ever came before them. But I am also going to have moments of joy that are so incredible that I forget what pain feels like.
I feel like I am a pretty happy person. I love life. I see the good in it. I see the good in everything and everyone. I love people more than anything else in the world. But I wrote a post a couple years ago where I talked about drinking up happiness as much as I could when it came so that I could get through the next period of depression.
The last few months have been really amazing for me. I progressed so much mentally and emotionally that I felt like maybe depression was finally gone. All the self doubt and self hate and hurt from past experiences had all disappeared. I felt completely and totally whole for the first time in my life. But… I have chronic depression. So, it came back.
The point I am trying to make though is that sometimes having depression feels like trying to drink happiness through a cup with a hole in it. You do what you can to fill your cup and to keep it full, but it doesn’t always work. The thing is though, I have come to the point where I realize that it is okay. It is okay that I have chronic depression. It is okay that I have nothing to be sad about, and yet feel such deep despair that I cannot begin to describe the pain I am enduring. It is okay because I am alive. After everything, all the brokenness and lonely nights and heartbreaking thoughts, I am still here. I am still here to enjoy the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. I am still here to listen to the sound of rain outside my window and drink hot chocolate and watch fun movies. I am still here to experience all that life has and all that life is.
So, maybe in an hour, I won’t be able to get out of bed because depression grips me so tightly that I can hardly breathe. But in the moments that I am well, during the times when I can see the beauty around me, I plan to love it all as much as I can. I plan to find joy in the difficult situations and enjoy the good times. I plan to live because I am here for a reason. And whatever that reason is, I’m going to make it a good life. This is my life, and I’m going to love every minute of it.
Most people feel good when they do something for someone else.
I have thought about that a lot over the last few weeks. I used to hate myself when I did something for someone else. I would get home and just cry for hours after I dropped off an anonymous gift at someone’s house or gave someone a letter or took food to someone.
People always say that when you’re depressed or having a bad day, you should serve and help someone else because it makes you feel better. It didn’t make me feel better. In fact, I had to stop doing things for people for about a year because I was so depressed that doing something like that would have pushed me over the edge.
Yesterday I did something good for someone. I didn’t even do it anonymously, which is usually the only way I can handle things like this. I did something kind for another person, and I didn’t hate myself afterwards. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t curl up on the floor and cry for hours. I just felt good. It was such an amazing experience.
I want to feel like this every day. I want to feel like I can be myself and see the needs of someone else and not be terrified to do something about it. I want to love myself. I hope this feeling lasts because I so desperately want to love myself. I don’t want to have to forgive myself for acting on my generous thoughts. I just want to do things without even thinking about it, without wanting to punish myself for it. I want to be okay with who I am. I want to feel good when I do something. I want this feeling of peace to last forever.
They say that people who eat chocolate every day are happier. I am starting to believe it. I have never been a chocoholic. In fact, I have never really liked eating a ton of junk food or sugary food. I splurge every once in a while, but then I get sick of it and just want to eat fruits and vegetables for a few weeks. But I have discovered that a little bit of chocolate can really help offset a depressed mood.
There are times when I just feel heavy. Nothing bad happened that day. There are no reasons for me to feel down, but I do. I feel so heavy that I don’t want to go on. I don’t want to do anything or try anything. I don’t want to go outside or go to work or eat food or read a book or draw a picture or anything. I just want to curl up on the floor and forget about everything and pretend like the world doesn’t exist for a while.
Recently when I had an anxiety attack, I ate some chocolate and it seemed to help calm me down a bit. I remembered that today when the heaviness returned and life seemed almost unbearable. So I had a piece of chocolate, and it helped. I mean, I wasn’t jumping up and down or smiling or laughing or anything, but the heaviness eased up. I felt a little lighter, a little more able to bear the weight of life, a little less isolated from the world.
Depression is such a difficult illness. There are things that help, and you get better, and you have hope, but sometimes it just doesn’t go away. I have chronic depression. I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t depressed. The longest I went without long periods of depression was one year, and I still had moments of depression within that year. I described depression to a friend once as pain that grips you, and some days it grips you so tightly that you can barely breathe, and you feel so weak and heavy for no describable reason.
So, no, chocolate won’t cure your depression. But maybe it will help. And when every day is a battle for your life and you feel like you don’t want to fight anymore, anything that relieves the burden in the slightest is a blessing. So eat chocolate, eat ice cream, eat pizza, do whatever makes you happy, because life is too short to not feel better.
I want you to know that depression doesn’t keep me from being happy. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but when we remember that depression is simply a mental illness, or in other words, sickness that occurs in the mind, it makes sense.
I have an undiagnosed medical condition that has prevented me from being able to eat normally. Although it can be serious at times and it means my eating habits widely differ from those of most people, I am overall fairly healthy. The same is true with my mental illness. Although I may have long periods of darkness when I see little light or hope in life, I am overall happy.
In fact, I am one of the happiest people I know. Even though I think about suicide sometimes, even though I still struggle with desires for self injury, even though I sometimes cry for hours at a time for no real reason, I am incredibly, undeniably happy.
Here’s the thing, life is incredibly difficult. There are hard things, painful things, things that make you want to cry or scream or even stop living. But there are also beautiful things, amazing things, things that make you want to jump up and down and shout for joy and sing your heart out.
I feel those things, all of those things, the good and the bad. Because I have autism, I feel the world around me more than most. Because of depression, I feel emotions within me more than most. Because of my life experiences, I am more acquainted than most with pain and beauty, suffering and peace, destruction and ugliness.
So I struggle with the noise inside of me. I struggle to reconcile the explosions of joy that I feel with the craters of hopelessness that I experience. I struggle to make sense of this beautiful, crazy, heartbreaking world we live in.
But I want you to know that though the depression returns, though my suicidal thoughts may not disappear, though I wade through depths of darkness and hopelessness, I am happy. My depression does not leave me desolate. I still have joy. I still jump up and down flapping my arms because my body cannot contain the excitement of my happiness.
Yes, I may be depressed, but depression does not always equal sorrow. I am still happy.
These rules are individual to me. They have been developed and revised over a lifetime of experiences. Although they can be applied to anyone, I believe that we each discover our own path to happiness. Make your own rules to happiness, but feel free to use my rules as a starting point or to get ideas.
1. Don’t put off a good thought.
This is a combination of a few of my favorite quotes and philosophies. “Never suppress a generous thought.” “Never postpone a prompting.” And “write down the thoughts God gives you right away.”
2. Don’t watch, read, listen to, or do anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable thinking about in the temple.
Sometimes this one can be hard because a lot of good movies, etc have bad parts to them. But I try my best to stick to wholesome recreation.
3. Separate yourself from your anger.
When someone does something that upsets me, I try to stop and think about it before I react. I try to see things from their point of view before letting my anger out.
4. Don’t wait until you have the time or energy or peace of mind to help someone.
Be kind when you are broken; be patient when you are in pain; reach out to others when you are lonely; listen to others when you are hopeless. You find yourself by losing yourself. We will never have the perfect circumstances to help everyone. So we must choose to help when it’s not convenient.
5. Always take the time to be grateful.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. I have a lot to be grateful for. I just have to consciously think of those things every day.
6. Surround yourself with positive influences. From music to movies to people, do not allow negativity to occupy your time.
This includes news and current events. While it is important to be informed, I can get dragged into depressing thoughts if I get too many details about negative current events. If I want to stay positive, I have to consciously decide to avoid any unnecessary negativity.
7. Remember you are the same person when you make a mistake as when you do good. You do not lose worth or value when you mess up.
I’m still working on this one. I’m still trying to remember and remind myself of my worth. But as hard as it is, I keep reminding myself. I am that same person. I am not worthless. There are people who love me, which means I am lovable, which means I must have something inside me worth loving, and if they can see it, I can believe it.
8. See the goodness in people. Even when they hurt you, try to see them as God sees them.
We are all looking for the light. Some of us just lose our way before we find it. Try to help them find that light rather than stepping into their darkness.
9. Don’t be afraid to be sad sometimes.
Pain, heartache, fear, sorrow, and disappointment are all part of life. It’s okay to acknowledge them and live in them every once in a while. The sadness will not last forever. It’s just part of the journey.
10. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Worry about what you’re doing.
I especially apply this when I’m driving. It’s easy to see other people passing me or cutting me off, but if I focus on me, I’m less likely to take it personally or get upset by it. Everyone is fighting their own battles. I cannot control their actions, but I can focus on what I am doing and how I am behaving.