Embrace your depression

Image by: Auston Chhor
My first step on the ‘road to revelations’ was when I fully accepted that I was depressed.

Death is a cure, I tell myself, as I drag one leg over the ledge. It hangs there lifelessly while my other foot grasps the concrete roof with little friction. The wind is icy and forceful; it numbs my face and freezes my tears. The night sky is open and clean. The height of the building brings me closer to the stars and farther away from light pollution. I feel serenaded by ancient cosmic energy and think to myself: ‘what a night to die’. For whatever reason however, I cannot muster up the constitution to give myself up to gravity. Exhausted, I go home at 2 a.m. and fall asleep. 

There have been many nights I pondered the rationale of dying — of why it would be a simple solution and solve all of my problems. Oftentimes, I used to think it was selfish to do so. I don’t anymore. It wasn’t my choice to be born, but it should only be my choice to die. I have been living in a society that emphasizes the need to be happy, all the while feeling clouded and darker. It was evident to me that I didn’t belong. I felt like a burden being the walking antithesis of everyone’s joy.

This all changed the summer of 2015.

One doesn’t escape or recover from depression. One just successfully integrates it into their psyche and consciousness. My first step on the ‘road to revelations’ was when I fully accepted that I was depressed. I began to let myself feel the full force of the symptoms in terms of dysphoria, lifelessness, emptiness and loneliness — by far the worst aspect of it. All this helped me grasp depression as a reality. I still remember being in my dark room, on a dark day, staring blankly at the ceiling, lifelessly. I would scream with my face buried in the pillows and clench my chest. I told myself, “acceptance is always the first step.” It was a lot of emotional distress, but I always remembered that the next days would bring me clarity of thought — and to some extent, peace.

The defining quality of myself that helped me integrate my depression is my ability to let my mind run. This was mostly done through meditation. I began to psychoanalyze my own thoughts (meta-thinking, as they say) and break down the subconscious reasoning behind my emotions. I became the woodpecker of my own psyche — I dig and dig until I find the worm. 

For example, when I react with anger to some seemingly negligible event, I now stop to think why. If others see my action as an overreaction, then it’s a question of sensitivity and exaggeration. If so, is the emotion itself rational? What does the topic represent to me that it would bring out this side of me? So then what psychological need am I trying to indulge by reacting in such a way? The way I see it, every reaction is a window to my subconscious. 

This applies to other people as well; I think a judgmental person’s spoken words describe more about themselves than they do the person being judged. This sort of meta-thinking was the catalyst to my mental growth. Through my growing self-awareness and mindfulness, I realized how my past affected me and how it was mirrored through my attitude and perspective.

With the clarity of thought that accompanied this mental growth, I realized that it’s okay to be who I am. Regardless of how I feel about myself, I shouldn’t resist who I am. Why wouldn’t I want to be what I am made for? I was treating myself the way I was treated by others when I was a child; they persuasively changed the image of my selfhood. I realized that every person has the opportunity to bring something new to the table. 

The reason why a particular species is deemed successful is because of the level of genetic variability or uniqueness they bring. Genetic variability — since we can’t predict the environment — is a safety net for the chance of the species responding adaptively to the environment. Thus, variability allows species to survive a wider breadth of environmental challenges. This line of reasoning made me think that it’s okay to be different because it means that you have that much more you can bring to the table.

I think society views depression negatively because of its immediate symptoms. But this is only in the short term. In the long term, there are huge opportunities for self-growth and for opening one’s mind. In other words, the brain in ‘depression mode’ is sacrificing short-term capacity for long-term planning. I find the emphasis on happiness a little paradoxical because in a state of constant and consistent happiness, would it even be called happiness? It would just be the norm. My point is that without the lows you don’t even notice the highs.

Throughout the past four years I couldn’t help but think about why an organism becomes depressed. Is there an inherently adaptive function? Or is it rather an effect of a suboptimal cause? More relevantly put to myself, I think depression is a relic of a troubled past of traumatic events. Some people believe it’s in the genes, that epigenetic changes can be passed down to offspring, leaving them more predisposed. But this isn’t always why people become depressed; it’s rather just a factor involved in making it more likely to occur. 

Depression is an effect, and environmental input is often the cause. In other words, I think depression is largely a circumstantial effect and based purely on individual experiences. Genes merely provide a template of behaviours and personality traits that can be modified throughout life with external input.

To make concepts more mechanical and verifiable, take the weather as an example: there has been enough research to diagnose individuals with Seasonal 

Affective Disorders (SADs). I get a case of the SADs too, sometimes — all it takes is a dark, cloudy day. So, I bought a SunTouch light lamp as an artificial substitute for sunlight. This has helped me maintain a more stable mood for that day. This is an example of how the environment can influence our mood and cognition (whether it is done in this order, I don’t know). 

Now, imagine the influence of parental input. As offspring you have to have complete trust in your parents. I mean, what biological organism would forsake the direction of their genetic counterparts? But then, what are your parents influenced by? Culture, society, physical environment, culturally significant events and so on. The point is the past provides a rich context of interacting variables that leads to your cognitive self as it is now.

I think it’s certainly more useful to treat depression as experience-based and environmental — at least when dealing with patients with depression. What I’ve come to realize during my time in the ditches is that everything happens for a reason. I think unhappiness is a physio-emotional symptom that signals to cerebral organisms such as humans that the behavioural patterns (lifestyle, routine, etc.) are detrimental to the organism. It means that something in that person’s life has to change. So behavioural dampening by depression could be seen as a natural sensory deprivation to allow full processing of information — such as one’s value system. In this sense, we could define depression as an effect of cumulative unhappiness or a higher punishment to reward ratio. The deprivation can leave the person thinking about what life needs to be for them to be happy, and can motivate them to mobilizing those changes.

Overall, it’s been a very rough ride. That being said, I don’t think I would want to change any of it. As dark as I felt, the things that I’ve learned about life and myself are so valuable to me that it paints the whole experience positively. 

I still feel down from time to time and my view of death has become more spiritual and mechanistic. Every organism that has ever lived has died — there’s an energetic need that has to be fulfilled by coming into existence (i.e. being born), like a chemical reaction… but I digress. If there’s a piece of advice I can give anyone who is or has been struggling with mental health: Embrace it. Depression is an effect and it needs to be understood. And that can only come from within.


depression, Mental health, Mental Illness

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