Check your depression privilege

I've been dealing with some quality depression lately.

I mean, this is the good stuff--no weak-ass, I'm just having a meh day kind of shit. But rather, a deep and hearty depression.

Then again, my depression isn't the super bad shit as far as mind trips go. I don't suffer from something more hardcore like bi-polar disorder. I gotta check my depression privilege, I just have good old-fashioned clinical depression and luckily, it hasn't really hit a critical point yet and so sometimes it feels wrong to talk about it--like, how can I complain about this little ol' thing when so many people have it much, much worse?

That said,  I am trying to understand it better--and understand how, in some ways, these feelings can help me and eventually make me feel better.

That distinction—between being better and feeling better—is significant.

We all want to feel better. It’s our God-given right, damn it.

Mostly, I keep this matter private, because depression doesn’t make for good company.

But perhaps it should.

In 2010, The New York Times explored the benefits of feeling blue in an article titled “Depression’s Upside.”

Having a case of the blahs just might have a “secret purpose … [as an] unpleasant yet adaptive response to affliction,” reporter Jonah Lehrer surmised, drawing on a lengthy Psychological Review article that combined research and anecdotes from the likes of Charles Darwin, David Foster Wallace and various psychologists.

Lehrer’s article is too complex and lengthy to adequately sum up here, but the general conclusion is such: Depression can be beneficial, and perhaps we should learn to “embrace the tonic of despair.”

It's been nearly 20 years since I was first diagnosed with clinical depression, and I’m inclined to agree with Lehrer’s point—which is not to make light of the affliction’s often debilitating effects: the fatigue and sleeplessness, the sorrow and the anger, the anxiety and the malaise.

No doubt, depression hurts.

And though I don’t wholesale agree with the idea of psychologists who claim that “medical interventions can make a bad situation worse,” I can fully support the notion that “sadness comes with its own set of benefits.”

Why should we, after all, be so quick to try to rid ourselves of the feelings that make up who we are?

I’ve taken the meds before—when the anxiety and heaviness become too much to bear—but mostly I try to listen to my feelings. Sounds kind of hippie New Age, I know, but I learned a lot about myself when, years ago, a therapist suggested I stop trying to “shut down” the depression and, instead, allow myself some moments of quiet and reflection—some moments of listening and absorbing and processing.

“The next time you feel awful,” she told me. “Try lying down, closing your eyes and just allow it—just feel awful for a while.”

And so I did. I closed my eyes and I felt awful.

Really awful. And as I felt awful I thought about those feelings and why they existed. Eventually, however, my mind—as minds are wont to do—started to wander off to different, lighter points. Eventually I opened my eyes, stood up and went about the rest of my day. The issues that contributed to my depression were still there, but I felt clearer and more resolute about my ability to deal with them. Happier even.

This kind of “rumination,” psychologists argue, can help us think better, process feelings better and, ultimately, be better. Happier, more creative, more fulfilled.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all fix. It’s not a works-every-time solution. But it’s part of the process.

(Portions of this post originally appeared here in a somewhat different form. Did I just violate some sort of blogging etiquette? Maybe, but three years later, I'm dealing with another cycle of this. So there's that).



Perfect. Thanks for sharing this.

- Madeleine

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