“Sometimes the most difficult, horrific things can be the greatest spiritual teachers.”
When I started therapy in 2011, I just wanted the pain to go away. I was determined to figure things out so I could feel better. My life had become unmanageable, and I felt exhausted from living with depression.
During the first year of therapy, my therapist asked questions during our sessions. Those about things that happened in my life were very easy for me to answer. Those about what and how I was feeling were difficult to answer.
In the past, my depression has gotten so intense that I’ve wanted to self-harm or end my life. I desperately want to do everything possible to prevent it from getting that bad ever again. I felt frustrated during many sessions, because I only wanted a solid answer to my problem. It was evident to me that I constantly felt sad and angry, yet I had no clue why. Deep down inside, I believed that I was a bad person who was just a ‘hot mess.’ That is how I was born, and this is the way things will be until I die.
That is what I thought.
Here is what I have learned:
Through several years of therapy, I’ve had many breakthroughs in understanding what exactly is going on inside of me. I now know that my depression is a manifestation of many unresolved issues including:
Dysfunctional family dynamics that I remember experiencing starting when I was three years old.
Patterns that I keep repeating in my life.
Guilt, shame, and resentment.
My parents not being able to help me process emotions.
Perceived threats to my masculinity.
As I have begun to examine each of those issues, I have come to the conclusion that my depression is here to instruct me. In fact, many people who live with depression have learned some powerful lessons from it.
If you live with depression, I encourage you to take a different view of it. Try to see it as your teacher (even if you need to pretend at first). Like learning from any teacher, the lessons won’t matter unless you are willing to put in the work.
Here are three powerful lessons that I have learned…
The lesson of self care - If you had told me about the importance of self-care five years ago, I probably would have laughed in your face. More often than not, the intensity of my depression is an indicator of how well I am taking care of myself.
The lesson of self discovery - I used to think that I knew everything that there is to know about myself. I now believe that I’m scratching the surface of learning about who I am. This process has allowed me to embrace the unknown with humility.
The lesson of self control - Becoming aware of the deep meaning behind my feelings has dramatically reduced the self-destructive behavior that I engaged in. Nowadays, I think through decisions more thoroughly before I act out.
_ Credit: Mike Veny_
Here are some lessons that depression has taught others:
"Depression has taught me about the importance of seeking allies. Allies are people you can trust and be vulnerable with–your best friend who doesn’t judge you or your mental illness. That coworker BFF who has a loved one with a mental illness and has your back."Jessica Gimeno
“I grew up in an abusive environment, which is the source of my depression, an easy and obvious source,” notes Sonja Van Breda. She adds that when decided to remove the abuse from the equation, “I made a difficult and important realization. Although my depression came from my abusive childhood, I haven’t lived in that environment for a long time and I am now the one who is continuing its effects and I am so much more sophisticated at harming myself than my family ever will be. Which led to ‘if I can be trained into depression, I can train myself out of it.’”
“As someone with Bipolar Disorder I experience both ends of the spectrum when it comes to moods, but my body seems to ‘favor’ the depressive side, because mental illness is never fair. Depression has taught me a lot of things. It’s taught me how to fight for what I deserve; how to get up in the morning when I don’t want to; that sometimes you need to take medication to stay well – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Depression has taught me that not all illnesses can be seen, but they are felt and they can hurt more than a broken ankle or a burned hand.
But most importantly depression has taught me that our brains can lie. They lie because they can’t help it, because that’s just how they were programmed. And when our brains lie and tell us that we’re not worth living, or that there is something inherently wrong with who we are at our very core, the uphill fight against them can be harder than we’ve ever dreamed. This lesson is something I carry with me every day. I remind myself of these lies and I work hard to always remember that I have no place in my life for liars.”- Rachel Priest
There are so many lessons that you can learn from your depression if you are willing to go there with yourself. Here are nine additional resources to help you on your journey. As you finish reading this, please know that I have struggled with depression for my entire life. Last week, I checked in with myself (a daily practice of mine), by asking myself, “How are you feeling?” For the first time in 37 years, I am pretty sure that I can confidently say that I felt happy.
Maybe the most powerful lesson that my depression has taught me is that I can be happy.
What is your depression teaching you?
Mike Veny is one of America’s leading mental health awareness speakers, HealthCentral’s newest social ambassador, and a high energy corporate drumming event facilitator. He delivers educational, engaging, and entertaining presentations to meetings and conferences throughout the world. Learn more and connect with Mike at TransformingStigma.com.