The best way I can describe my depression on my worst day is an inability to cope; a lack of resources – being thrown into a gladiator fight wielding a spoon.
In those moments I look out and see my friends and the rest of the world with their suits of armour and swords parkouring their way through life as I watch from the corner, back against the wall, spoon clutched tight to my chest.
It’s a feeling of being unequipped. Like going scuba diving armed with a snorkel mask; the frantic treading of water, one arm flung over the side of the boat, choking back salt as everyone else gracefully swims below, air tanks attached securely to their backs.
But would you believe me if I told you that even after all of that, and knowing that for the rest of my life there are going to be many more days clinging to the side of that boat, that I wouldn’t trade it for the world?
Here is why.
It Debunked the ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ Myth
When you live with the weight of depression, all you want is to feel light. To feel happy and at peace. To escape the constant state of suffering you can live inside of.
So naturally, I have spent many years of my life chasing after happiness. Just out of reach, it always seemed to elude my grasp.
So I kept running, I kept chasing.
And a lot of the time it wasn’t as much of a run as it was a full out sprint.
Like at 15 when I started to see my body as something that needed to be ‘fixed’ or altered. Or after university when I chased happiness halfway across the country to a new city – a new life – and then all the way back home.
But in the past year that sprint has slowed to a light run, a jog, a walk on a good day and every so often, beautiful moments of stillness.
So what changed? I learned (the hard way) that I wasn’t as much running towards happiness as I was running away from myself. And it turns out trying to outrun yourself is really hard. Not to mention, impossible.
It was a tough realization that is was myself – my own thoughts – and not my environment that was making me unhappy for all these years. My chronic unhappiness stemmed from the stories I created around the environment I was in. That is what I was trying to get away from.
It took me many years of running from one mirage of happiness to another only to “arrive” and feel no different; the stories were still there. The struggle, my desperately wanting for things to be different, was all still there. They just adapted with their environment.
My depression has taken me on a terrifying ride that has led me to this beautiful truth: the bliss I longed for all these years exists inside of me in every moment. And if I can unhook from the well-walked patterns of my negative thoughts for long enough, I can feel it (a shout out to my favourite author and life teacher, Mary O’Malley, for this golden piece of life knowledge).
It Introduced Me to the Parts of Myself I Didn’t Want to Meet
In one of those brief moments when the sprinting slowed to a stop, I was able to turn around and look back at what I was running from. And what I saw was a scared, defeated version of my younger self, hurting and also out of breath from trying to keep up.
What I saw was me at 15 forming an idea of what constituted beauty. At 16, Googling how to make myself throw up. At 19, sitting in my doctor’s office horrified as he prescribed anti-depressants. At 21, having a massive panic attack before a date and having to cancel (again). And at 23, lying on the floor of my tiny basement suite in Vancouver realizing that moving two provinces away didn’t make all these things go away.
They packed up their bags and drove West with me.
Depression has taken me on a journey into the depths of myself – a journey that so many people in this world live their whole lives and never get to go on. It has introduced me to my whole self.
Through my depression I am learning how to help myself up – to put 15 year-old Laura’s arm around my shoulder and raise her back onto her feet.
I no longer want to turn my back on her or wish her away. Wishing her away would be wishing my whole self away and with me would go all my beautiful qualities – the qualities I, and all the people that love me, cherish.
It’s Teaching Me Compassion
Those who know me wouldn’t think of me as someone who lacks compassion.
A vegetarian who works in the nonprofit sector and walks homeless dogs in my spare time; a real-life Phoebe Buffay, I have compassion coming out of my ears.
But that’s my problem. I poured out compassion to the rest of the world and didn’t keep any for myself.
This awakening came to me a few months back while on the phone with my sister. ‘Laur’ she said, ‘you are kinder to the ants on the ground than you are to yourself’.
She wasn’t wrong.
The kind of person who would sprain an ankle to avoid stepping on an ant family, I can’t stand to see someone, human or non-human suffer, let alone be the one to cause it.
Yet there I was causing so much harm to myself. Beating myself up on the daily. Bullying myself until my wit’s end.
Depression has been a vehicle for me to learn how to sit down and talk with that bully. To call her out and rationalize with her – to start a conversation with the thoughts that kept an eating disorder alive and well for eight years. The thoughts that kept me running after happiness and away from myself.
And what those thoughts need more than anything else is compassion, something I deprived them of for so many years.
I’m even starting to appreciate them. Because as Mary O’Malley writes, these discomforts are the “raw material to my own awakening.”
Depression is my greatest teacher. Raw and forceful as hell, through its darkness I am finding my own light.