Finding Light in the Dark- The Purpose of Depression

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real reason for me to feel depressed, and yet my mind cascaded into feelings of being incomplete, feeling detached and withdrawn from the world, wondering what my purpose was for being alive.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.

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Best Friends

I was feeling lonely a few days ago because none of the things I was trying to do to spend time with people were working. I had invited people to a conference, movie night, game night, I even organized a committee meeting at church, but no one came to any of it. And I found myself in a lonely and vulnerable spot because I desperately need people, but I am terrible at figuring out how to spend time with them.

In my lowest moment of complete desperation, I got a message from someone thanking me for something I did for them. I broke down because I felt like I was doing everything I could, but I was still alone. And then, after a while, I felt the gentle reassurance that I was doing okay. I mean, I don’t have all the friends I want, and I wish I could spend more time with the friends I do have, but I have the friends I need.

When I was a kid, I prayed every day for a best friend, any friend. I prayed that someone would see me and like me and want to spend time with me. And I got some friends over the years. I only saw them at school or church or things like that, but it was something. And finally, at the age of 20, I got a friend that I could count on, that I felt like loved me, that I felt like wanted to be around me, and that I felt I wouldn’t ruin our friendship with my problems.

It was pretty amazing to feel loved, wanted, needed, important. For the first time since I was a little child, I felt whole. And then I became friends with the most wonderful person. And it was like every bad thing that ever happened to me was okay. I looked back at my life and saw hope in places I had previously seen pain. And it was life changing to feel safe with someone, to trust them with myself, to want to tell them everything. My best friend has been everything to me. She has had a healing impact on my life that I could not be more grateful for.

So, that night when I was feeling utterly alone, I remembered the little girl that just wanted one friend, and I thought, I have the most amazing friends I could ever ask for. I still get lonely. My best friends are farther away from me than I would like, but they still love me. I am still wanted, needed, loved, and safe with someone.

I heard about a school that was trying to ban best friends. They said that it was unfair to those who didn’t have a best friend. I grew up all through school with no best friends, with hardly any friends at all. I ate lunch alone and played alone, and when someone did talk to me, it was usually to get help with something. But I would go through that all again for a best friend. I don’t think you can truly ban best friends, but I would never want that for anyone anyway. As someone who knows what it is like to be jealous of other people’s friendships, I plead with you to never try to prevent a friendship. Teach inclusion, teach children that they do not have to only have one friend, teach children to make best friends with everyone, but don’t prevent that special bond with someone.

Having a best friend has changed my life. With each best friend I had, I became a little less broken, less lonely, less scared, more confident, more secure, more at peace. I think I will probably always have lonely moments. As an extrovert with autism, I simply do not have the capacity to create the friendships I want and participate in the amount of social activities I need to feel completely fulfilled, but I have the relationships I need. I have the friends I need to get through the lonely moments, and that is enough.

The Day I Stopped Hating Myself

I started realizing a little over two years ago just how much I hated myself. Prior to that I thought that I liked myself for the most part but just had some self esteem issues. After suggestions from some friends to make my new year’s goal to love and take care of myself, I realized just how hard this was for me. It was not long before I realized that I had a deep and persistent hatred of myself. I considered myself to be the worst, most worthless person on the earth.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this new knowledge. How do you learn how to love yourself? Where do you start? I decided to start with the people who loved me. If they saw something of worth in me, there had to be something I could love about myself. I wrote on my mirror every single kind thing I could find that someone had said about me. I started out with about 30 adjectives, but got to about 50 after showing friends what I was doing. It was hard to believe all these things about myself, but there was the proof in front of me, written proof that I knew someone thought about me at one point. That was the beginning of a turning point in my life, but there was still a lot of work to do.

A year later, I had grown so much. I was kinder to myself. I was more forgiving of myself. I was not so afraid of myself. But I still hated myself. I messaged a friend one night to ask her what she thought about me selling everything I owned and starting over. This friend is spontaneous and honest and I knew that she would be willing to entertain the thought of me getting rid of everything, but would also tell me if I was being ridiculous or overreacting. We got talking about why I wanted to do this and realized that at the heart of my struggles was an ingrained belief that I was a bad person. But the most interesting thing was that I believed I was a bad person because I could not stop myself from being a good person. I felt unworthy to do good things, but I could not destroy my innate desire to help others.

After realizing all that I believed about myself and working to discover what made me believe these thoughts, I made a breakthrough. I still remember the first time I did something kind for another person and didn’t hate myself for it. I came home happy. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t cry myself to sleep that night. I dropped off the little box full of stuff for a friend and felt proud of myself. It was the most amazing feeling ever to not feel like a failure for doing something good. That was the first night I didn’t feel like I still hated myself.

I still have days where I question my worth. I have days where I wonder why my friends stay friends with me. I still have times where I don’t like myself for something I have done. But I no longer have those nights where I just curl up on the floor and want to die because I tried to be myself. And every day of waking up not hating myself is a beautiful day.

Little Choices

Every day you make a million little choices. You choose to get out of bed. You choose to get dressed for the day. You choose to go to work or school or take care of children or relax or run errands. Each choice leads you to more choices or less choices. Once you choose to go to work, you choose how to get there; you choose your attitude on the way to work and at work; you choose how productive you will be; you choose whether or not to talk to coworkers; you choose when you will leave work and a thousand other choices.

Sometimes it feels like we don’t have a choice in things because life demands or expects certain things from us, but the truth is that we choose whether or not to cooperate. What I find interesting is that often times, the more we cooperate with life, the more choices we have. Choosing to get up rather than stay in bed leads to a wider range of choices on how to spend your time. Choosing to go out of the house for work or errands or school or something else usually gives us more choices about ourselves and our day. The biggest thing I have realized about choices though is that each little choice adds up to bigger choices, and all the little choices and big choices come together to make you who you are.

I made a choice a few years ago to make good choices. I decided that I would choose to act on any and all good thoughts I had. That simple choice led to many little choices, which led to some bigger choices, all of which came together to make me who I am today. I wrote in my journal the other day that I feel at peace with the world. I feel like I have done good things and led a good life. If I knew I was going to die today, I would have no regrets. I don’t think I could say that if I had not made that decision a few years ago to do good things.

We often tell ourselves that our little choices do not matter. We convince ourselves that it is just one day or one night or one person, so how much of a difference can it really make? I have learned by experience that one choice, one day, one night, one person can change everything. This may seem disheartening if you are thinking about a choice you made that led you down a path you did not want or if someone else’s choice forced you into a path you did not choose. But this post is not about the past. It is about the future. I am not saying to look back at your choices to determine how you got here. I am saying to look forward to what choices you can make to get you to where you want to be. You always have the choice to change. No matter how difficult or hopeless or painful your situation is right now, you have the choice to determine how you will react to it.

Choose today who you want to become and then make the choice to become that person. It won’t be easy. You will have to make difficult and sometimes painful choices. But if you are working towards who you want to be, it will all be worth it.

What Matters Most

Life seems daunting at times. The endless list of tasks that we should be doing to be a “good” person can be overwhelming to say the least. We hold up a measuring rod to ourselves and find that we are severely lacking. How can we possibly help our family, spend time with friends, care for those in need, do the dishes, wash and fold laundry, make our bed, get an hour of daily exercise, read good books, go to school, go to work, help those in need, go grocery shopping, date, keep in touch with distant friends and relatives, eat, sleep, and of course, take time for self care?

My mom always says that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. You choose how to spend it. The thing is though, how do you choose to spend it when there are so many good things you “should” be doing? I think one of the worst possible things you can do with your time is become overwhelmed by all the things you should be doing with your time.

I think the secret to life is really as simple as doing what makes you happy. There are a million good things to do with your time, but what is most meaningful to you? How do you want to spend your time?

Honestly, I need a good movie and popcorn every once in a while, but mostly when I have a chance, I like helping others. I like doing dishes and folding laundry and taking out the garbage- not because these things are fun, but because I know how much no one likes to do them. To me, it is a simple act of service, but to someone else, it can be the biggest help and relief for them. You can ask me to go to the movies with you, and I’ll set up a time to go. But ask me to help you with something, and I’ll be heading over before you finish your sentence.

So when I start to find myself stressing over not having enough time to do everything, I remind myself to step back and do what I enjoy the most, because really, that’s the most important thing I can do.

Distractions

I have the most amazing life. I can lie in bed and look at a galaxy of stars glowing on my ceiling. I wake up to the cutest little kids in the morning, that want to play with me and sit next to me and have me read them stories, and even though I’m not a mom yet, I get to be a mother figure to my nephew and nieces. There is always food in my fridge and I can almost always join my brother and his family for dinner. I have the opportunity to go to school to further my education and learn new skills, and I am at the exciting point where I can qualify for a job in my field of study. I have the privilege once a month of teaching an amazing group of women that actually listen and care about what I have to say. I have the most wonderful friends who would be there for me at two in the morning if I needed them. I am so loved and taken care of and have responsibilities that I cherish, and yet I find myself seeking distractions in my daily life.

I had one thing I needed to do yesterday. One single responsibility and 24 hours to use to fulfill it, but at the end of the night, it still wasn’t done. And I laid in bed and looked at the stars on my ceiling and wondered what I am doing with my life.

A year ago, I was at the end of my rope. I had taken on too many responsibilities that I could no longer handle after certain life circumstances. I woke up early to commute to work. I was taking night classes. I was an essential resource for everyone at my work, and I was depended upon at home and with friends and at church. I had thrived on the social interactions and fast paced flow of life, but I was in so much pain and so exhausted all the time that life was no longer a thrill, but a tremendous burden.

I reached a point where I could no longer handle things and withdrew as much as I could. I stopped taking classes. I quit my job and got a part time job instead. And I didn’t feel the need to go out and socialize much. I slowly started adding things back in. First school. Then family. Then friends. But I abandoned responsibility somewhere along the way, and I refused to pick it back up again.

I am basically back to normal now. I am not in constant pain every day. (Well, at least not pain I can’t handle.) I can do everything required of me fairly easily and without needing to find time in my schedule. In fact, I hardly even have a schedule and can do almost anything whenever I want. Yet, I find myself wanting to be distracted from life. I want to get away for no particular reason other than I just can.

I used to be addicted to video games because they distracted me from life. At a point in my life where I didn’t want to face myself or the world or the demons living in both, games were my lifeline. Now though, I have worked through the trauma from my past. I have faced my demons and resolved them for the most part. Why do I still feel the desire to distract myself?

I think as human beings we have a natural inclination to avoid distress. If there is a choice between facing something that may be beneficial but distressing or doing something that has no benefit but no obviously negative consequences, I think we would naturally choose the latter.

But anyway, to get to the point of all this, I found it both interesting and frustrating that despite my wonderful life, I often choose to be distracted rather than present and responsible. I find myself seeking forgiveness, while still not stopping my actions.

But tonight, as I look up at the stars, I feel fully present. I feel. I am. I am completely here in this moment, feeling the cool of the air around me, letting myself sink into the softness of my surroundings, and with all the good things in my life flowing through me in floods of peace and gratitude. Why do I distract myself? I have no idea… Because this moment is better than any I had all week.

You Can’t Do It Alone

You can’t do life alone. No matter how much you want to be independent from everything and everyone, you need something bigger than yourself. Whether that something is God or friends or Google, we all need things outside of ourselves to keep us going, to help us in hard times, and to inspire us to be better.

I take an antidepressant. I have been taking this same medication for approximately a year and a half, and in general, I have been doing really well emotionally during that time. Sometimes though, I think that I am doing “well enough” to stop taking my medicine. I have never really liked medicine or doctors, and I am usually defiantly independent, so every few months or so, I try to lower my dose of medication or only take it every other day to see what happens. And honestly, it’s not a good experience. I might keep doing well for a few days, but slowly, I find myself drowning again. It becomes harder to see the light. A heaviness overwhelms me and I hurt for no explicable reason.

This last time of trying to get by on a lower dose of medicine has convinced me that it is not worth it. I would rather pay the money every month to buy my medicine than find myself contemplating suicide or wanting to give up on life. At one point I thought that accepting the possibility that I may need to take medication for the rest of my life was giving in to depression. If I have to keep taking medicine to avoid being depressed, then obviously the depression is still there, right? But I am coming to realize that taking antidepressants is the opposite of giving in to depression. As long as I am doing things to keep myself safe, to fight my depression, to keep on going, I am not giving in to anything (accept maybe happiness).

The truth is that we all need something to help us keep going. For some people, that something is running or doing some other form of sport or exercise. For others, that something is eating chocolate or avoiding sugar or doing something else that helps them feel good. I am coming to accept that medicine is what helps me to keep going. I also need friends and exercise and good food and sunshine and moments of silence offset by moments of crazy fun, but I can’t enjoy all those other things if my mental illness is keeping me from being able to be myself.

So, I am calling today a victory. I am deciding today to use the resources of modern medicine to help myself find peace. And I am encouraging you to do the same thing. Do not allow yourself to feel embarrassed or weak or less capable because you need something. Taking care of yourself is the strongest thing you can do, and no matter how you do that, if it works for you, it is the right thing to do.