Treating Struggle as a Virtue
In the past there have either been essays or website updates getting posted on this blog. This time I wanted to put up a personal update. I mention my lifelong struggle with depression on the 'About MLC' page. In the past I just resigned myself to grinding through depression reluctantly. However, in the past few months I have really started to analyze these depressive episodes. I have noticed some subtle changes in them and these episodes have forced me to come to some realizations about myself. My hope is that sharing these realizations will help me and perhaps others.
In the past when, depression would rear it's ugly head it manifested as a strange mixture of hopelessness, emptiness, and anger. This was a common theme in my teenage years. The anger became rooted in my mind as a part of my identity – I saw myself as an angry young man railing against the world. As the anger wormed its way deep into me the emptiness and hopelessness would eat me up inside. Eventually, the feelings of hopelessness and emptiness invited in suicidal thoughts which began to grow inside my head. As these feelings grew inside me I became quite the moody douche. Luckily, with the encouragement of the people I love I sought out help to deal with the depression. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to cure the depression and I've had to learn how to continue dealing with it.
Ever since I started Manic Love Co. the depressive episodes have changed a bit. They are far more based in fear. The focus of the fear tends to move around, but fear has become a common theme in my depression. For quite a while I was convinced that I would die young. There was no evidence to base this on, I just had a gut feeling that death was right around the corner. This notion lead me to believe that I was getting a late start at everything. For some reason I was convinced that I had less time to accomplish things so I needed to accomplish my goals faster than everyone else. Having this idea rattling around in my head created a fear within me, a fear that I'd never live up to my ambitions. It has only been recently that I have actively begun to combat that notion. I fight this poisonous idea by looking for evidence. There really isn't any hard evidence that I will die young. The majority of my elderly family members have lived into their eighties. My mom doesn't have any health conditions. My dad isn't in great health but nothing he has is fatal. In fact all of my dad's illnesses are manageable. I am in good physical health, so by adding up all of this data logic dictates that I will live into old age. I am holding onto this evidence with a Kung Fu grip to fight that old fear and it seems to be working. It is certainly possible to achieve my goals, but it won't happen over night and I need to be patient. I also can't lose sight that there are other fears to be fought.
Depressed thinking tends to steer you toward destructive thoughts. One of the thoughts that commonly occurred during depressive episodes was that I wasn't good enough. I was afraid that I was less than everyone else. This led me to see everyone as competition. In order to prove my worth to myself I felt I needed to out perform everyone. It's impossible to outperform everyone. I was setting myself up for failure, which would then send me into a deeper depression. Depression is a network of poisonous thoughts. I have had to confront the fact that I can't be the best person ever. I just need to focus on developing my life and making myself happy. I will be good enough as long as I can get closer to accomplishing my goals and being happy. Holding on to this realization is helping me to fight the fear of not being good enough. This realization led to other ideas that have helped me keep my head above water.
By approaching my depression with logic I am trying to create a few different anchors that will keep grounded in reality. My attempt to have a realistic view of myself and my life should help in forming a game plan to deal with depressive episodes. Part of that realistic outlook is realizing that this isn't a unique experience. I had a professor in a health psychology course that called depression and anxiety the common colds of psychology. These two conditions are comorbid with a tonne of other disorders and an incredible amount of people have to deal both depression and anxiety. While I'm in the middle of a depressive downward spiral it helps to remember that a lot of those people successfully deal with depression. That means that it is possible, which is a comforting thought. Another thought that comforts me is that my life is relatively comfortable. Everyone's life is hard on some level, struggling is part of the human experience. I simply need to appreciate the best parts of life rather than letting the depressed thoughts take over. I realize that these epiphanies and plans won't cure my depression but it has helped. I have also learned to appreciate the struggle against depression.
Struggle can be a very useful tool. One thing I have learned from life is that in order to get stronger you have to struggle against something. If you want to make your body stronger you have to struggle to lift heavier and heavier weights. If you want to learn something then you need to challenge your mind with new information. You never gain anything of value without struggling to get it. After you've been through hell to attain your goal it will be even more valuable to you. I have decided to apply this way of thinking towards dealing with my depression. I am going to make myself stronger by struggling against it. I will push my way past episodes and devise plans to make those times easier. I will use depression as a powerful tool to make me stronger than I was before, it will help me cultivate a form of toughness. That toughness will eventually help me navigate all the difficult times in life. I am in the process of reframing my outlook on life and I now see that depression is something that can benefit me. It is simply one more challenge to overcome in life.