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real reason for me to feel depressed, and yet my mind cascaded into feelings of being incomplete, feeling detached and withdrawn from the world, wondering what my purpose was for being alive.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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What Would You Do If You Could See?

I acted out my suicide a few nights ago. I know I couldn’t really die, I can’t really die. It would hurt too many people. It would break my friends and family. People would question their faith and their resolve and their very being. I can’t do that to people. I can’t hurt people like that.

But I just needed a way out of the pain. So I did what I was wanting to do to die, but I did it in a way that wouldn’t hurt me at all. And to be honest, it was nice to surrender to nothingness. It was nice to focus on my breathing until I fell asleep. I felt at peace.

My life is quite wonderful. I have amazing friends, a wonderful family, and good things in front of me and ahead of me. But death has always been my biggest temptation. I want to die. I have wanted it for as long as I’ve lived, and even on the best days, death calls me home.

I’m on spring break. It is a wonderful time to get away from stress and relax for a week, but it is also incredibly hard because it reminds me that I don’t really know how to spend time with people and don’t really have anyone to spend time with. I have wondered if I’ll make it through to the end of the week. I often lie in bed and think of death.

I can’t die. I won’t die. But death is a familiar friend. And I wonder what that would mean to people. I’ve told my best friend. I’ve trusted her in my darkest hours and shared with her my best hours, but she’s the only one who has known about any of this. No one else has even known that I’ve felt depressed.

I read this blog post today that discussed what it might be like if people could see depression and what it does to a person. I wonder what people would do if they could see my suicidal ideation and what it does to me. If they could see the way it toys with my mind, how it feels like coming home. What would you think if you saw me getting ready to die on an especially dark night? What would you think if you knew that gift was my mind’s final goodbye?

I can’t die. I won’t die. But… Oh how I want to…

Disclaimer: I am not in danger. I have safeguards and procedures in place to prevent me from doing anything to harm myself. I am getting help and am in a good place mentally. This is simply how my mind works. I recognize the potential danger if these thoughts are left unchecked, and have multiple security measures that I use on a daily basis to keep myself safe. It is extremely scary to post this because I know it will make some people panic or become overprotective or not trust me to be okay, but I feel like I need to share this part of me because people need to know what this is like in case they ever feel it or know someone else who does.

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.

Sexual Attraction and Religion

There are a few things that I hardly ever speak about or write about because they are simply not culturally acceptable. Sometimes that means they are not acceptable in society at large, and sometimes it means they are not acceptable to my immediate culture surrounding me on a daily basis. Homosexuality, gender dysphoria, and sexual attraction are all things that are not culturally acceptable for me to talk about here, or anywhere else really.

I avoid these topics for a few reasons. One reason is that this blog posts directly to my personal Facebook page. I made the difficult decision to do that a few years ago because I realized how much people don’t talk about the hard stuff, and I wanted them to. I wanted to not feel so alone in what I was feeling. So I decided that if I wanted to see this, I had to start doing it.

I do not know how many of my friends know about my mental illnesses, disorders, or feelings toward gender or sexual attraction. I do not know who will read this today and learn something about me that I never would have told them in person. This puts me in an incredibly vulnerable place, but someone has to do it. Someone has to talk about the hard things to make it easier for others to talk about hard things.

So… Here it goes…

I read a post on Facebook that said sexual feelings are from God so we should not be ashamed of them. Since this was a post on a religious page, someone then asked why churches can discriminate between homosexual feelings and heterosexual feelings if they are all from God. How can we say that homosexual feelings are not from God if we believe heterosexual feelings are from God?

I don’t believe we can. I do not believe that we can honestly say that attraction in any form is unnatural, an abomination, or any other form of condemning language often used in religion to denounce the practice of homosexual behavior. If sexual feelings are from God, you cannot say that the direction of those feelings negates that statement.

However, believing that homosexual feelings are from God does not necessarily mean that acting on those feelings is sanctified by God. God gives us certain desires or tendencies that may or may not be for us to act upon. I have had depression for as long as I can remember. I have had the desire to die for as long as I can remember. I do not believe God wants me to act on this desire. However, I do believe that I should not be ashamed of this desire because it does come naturally to me.

We have a tendency in society, and often even more so among church members, to judge feelings as bad or people as bad for having these feelings. If you express natural feelings that are not common place or considered socially acceptable, you can be shamed, isolated, and abandoned by those around you. I do not think anyone should be ashamed of their sexual feelings. Whether you are attracted to the same sex or the opposite sex, the feelings that come naturally to you are not anything to be ashamed of. Again, that doesn’t mean you should act on these feelings (either heterosexual or homosexual) because there are bounds that have been set. But I believe that we need to break out of the mindset of being ashamed or shaming others for their natural feelings and inclinations.

I do not have sexual feelings naturally. Thinking about kissing or other sexual touching is not something I enjoy, and my body has an adverse reaction to sexuality in any form. Does this mean that my sexual feelings (or lack thereof) are not from God?  I cannot believe that to be true. I believe that God has given me these feelings for a purpose. I do not know that purpose, but I do know that it has helped me to better understand those around me and that it connects me on a more spiritual and emotional level with those around me rather than a sexual or physical level.

Because I feel no sexual attraction towards another person, I am more emotionally attracted to them. I feel the desire to get to know others because I feel their hurt or their goodness or their love or potential. I want to get to know people because I want to connect with them on an emotional level. I want to share their burdens and partake in their capacity to feel joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. I want to be friends with people because I like knowing and experiencing how others feel.

This makes me a good listener. It makes me more understanding of others. It makes me more compassionate when someone is hurting. It also makes life harder in some ways because I am more emotionally involved with others so the potential for emotional damage to myself increases. And it makes it harder to desire to date or find a companion because most people want a physical connection in romantic relationships rather than just an emotional one. In fact, romantic hardly seems like an appropriate term for me because how much romance is there if there are no sexual feelings?

The point of this though is that I believe we need to stop labeling thoughts as good or bad or people as good or bad for having certain thoughts or feelings. People are often quick to judge someone who does not fit their standard of normalcy. But if you believe that we are all created equal, that we are children of God, and or that God is no respecter of persons, I feel it is a contradiction to condemn another person for feelings that come naturally to them. We need to make discussing natural feelings normal if we ever want to understand how people feel and why they do the things they do.

Hidden Depression

I don’t normally talk about hidden depression because I talk so much on this blog about depression that I hardly feel it is hidden from anyone. But today I was hiding my depression. And in reality, most days I hide my depression.

I broke down in church today as we started to sing “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.” This song has been a soft spot for me over the years. I struggle with the thought of only the “faithful, joyful, and triumphant” being called to come celebrate the birth of Christ. Didn’t Christ come for everyone, including the broken and downtrodden and depressed? It bothered me so much that  I wrote my own version of the song one year. But today as I sang, I choked on the words. I want to come to Christ. I want to feel his presence in my life. But there are times when I just can’t handle it all. But instead of going to someone and telling them how I felt and seeking comfort, I left and stayed in my car until I could be okay again.

The truth is that I wanted to die today. I went to my car and wanted to drive away into nothingness and forget all the pain that I have ever felt. But I went back inside and talked to people and tried to be as friendly as I could. The problem is that I am depressed a lot. I feel lost and alone and hurt. But I don’t feel like I can tell anyone, perhaps especially my friends. I don’t understand why people are friends with me. But would they want to stay friends if they knew how much I struggle?

I convince myself to be strong. I convince myself that I am strong because if I wasn’t strong, I would never survive. I convince myself that I love life and that I am perfectly content with everything as it is because I can’t handle the pain of wanting anything other than what I have.  The truth is that I am depressed. I want to die. My greatest sacrifice is getting up every day and keeping on going.

I have good days and horrible days. But the real truth is that every good day I have is because I make a constant effort to make it a good day. I choose to constantly look towards the light. I choose to avoid the appearance of darkness because I know how easily it pulls me in. Then, something happens that reminds me that everything is not okay with the world. I am reminded that there are cruel people in this world, or I am reminded of my failures, or I am reminded that there are people struggling and suffering, and there is little I can do to change it. That is when I fall. I fall into the depths of depression and have to work to get back to the light.

My hidden depression is not so much hiding it from everyone else as hiding it from myself. I don’t usually show others how depressed I get, but I also don’t show myself how depressed I can be. I put myself in a bubble and protect myself from all the pain I don’t want to feel. I have been doing well, and I know I will feel well again. But I also know that I can only stay well as long as I stay in the light. Each time I fall, it is tempting to stay down. It is tempting to stop trying so hard to be okay. But people need me. I am needed and wanted, so I must become okay again. That is why I keep hiding depression so that it won’t block my light.

 

Depression and Happiness

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.

Suicide

People who are thinking clearly do not want to die. Even those who consistently think about dying do not really want to die; they just want the pain to be over.

I think about suicide a lot- nearly every day, usually multiple times a day. However, it is just a thought. It comes and goes like a wave on the shore. And as long as I have moments of peace in between, I’m okay and I won’t hurt myself. But every once in a while, the tides are high and the waves don’t really leave and you drown in it.

Last night was one of those times. I had done everything to feel okay. I had read scriptures and prayed and read positive notes from friends and colored and ate chocolate. I did everything I could think of to save myself, but at the end of the night, it was not enough. I looked up the suicide hotline and wrestled with the thought of calling for half an hour. But when you can’t call the suicide prevention line because you’re crying too much before you even dial the number, you know things are bad.

I kept telling myself I don’t normally feel like this. It’s just a night. It’s just a moment. Maybe I should call to get me through… But once I finally pushed the button and saw the call going through, I panicked.
“I can’t really be calling the suicide hotline… That means these thoughts are real. That means I’m actually considering acting on how I feel.” That means that I’m not as well as I think I should be.
These were the thoughts going through my head.

But I have made promises to stay safe. I have made promises that if I am ever in danger or think I might be in danger, I will let someone know. So I did. I didn’t know if they could help or how they could help, but I knew that if something happened and I didn’t at least tell them, they would be hurt.

It took another half hour of talking with them before I felt okay again. I kept hearing in my head that I had a friend and that things were going to be okay until the darkness dispersed. I felt the thickness and weight of a dark fog lift off me. I still hurt beyond belief, but I no longer felt like I was drowning.

I know you can’t completely understand unless you’ve been through this, but I want you to know that we try. Anyone who has depression and attempts to end their life or contemplates suicide tries to be okay. We try to find ways out of the darkness. We try to get help. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work, or we don’t know what resources to turn to, or we can’t seem to find the capacity to use the resources.

They say that suicide is selfish, and maybe it is, but I want you to know that getting to that point doesn’t just come. It’s a struggle. It’s a fight for your life. And if you know someone that loses that fight, I hope you also know that they probably tried everything to be okay. They just didn’t know what else they could do.