Why depression has made me a better person
Over the past week, after a long period of severe depression, I have been feeling so much better. I hesitate to say it, because I know it could change again, but it’s true. I have smiled. Laughed. Sung. Cried with joy rather than despair. Slept at normal times. And with this new-found clarity, I have been able to put a positive spin on this episode of depression.
Yes, it has been hideous. Yes, it has affected my children. Yes, I feared for my marriage. Yes, I now have hideous and embarrassing self-harm scars on my arm.
But it has helped me to become stronger, bigger, better in so many ways.
1. It’s shown me that I have amazing friends
Pathetically, for a 35-year-old married mother of two, I care what people think. I care that I’m not part of the in crowd. I care when I post something flippant on Facebook and the vultures descend to pick me apart. But the past few months have strengthened my true friendships. I have become closer to the people who matter to me. I have hugged and been hugged, talked and been talked to. Friends have sent me gifts just to put a smile on my face. I no longer stand alone in the playground as I know I have proper friends to stand with. Not cliquey fair-weather friends.
2. People think more of me than I thought
I have only ‘come out’ about my depression to a select few, but those who know have genuinely surprised me in their reactions. I have been told that I am a ‘lovely person.’ ‘One of the kindest people I know.’ I’m not repeating these things to blow my own trumpet, but because these statements really surprised me. I don’t see myself as lovely or kind; I see myself as a waste of space, a failure. But other people see a different me, and that is quite amazing.
3. I have learned to be less self-reliant – and more honest
I am the queen of brave faces. To the point that when I handed in my notice as a school governor (see point 6), everyone was stunned. But this episode of depression has forced me to be honest. I got to the point where I couldn’t keep it under wraps any more. Okay, most people in my life have no idea what I’ve been through since December. I have lived with depression before, but never has it been as all-consuming as this episode. Some people, though, noticed the change in me, and through them noticing, I have been able to talk to them. Ask for a hug. Cry. Rely on them. It’s not an easy thing for me to do, but it has been necessary, and now I know that I have this little nucleus of people who can get me through anything.
4. And deepened my faith in the Lord
My guess is that depressed Christians can go either way: they can lean on the Lord more, or fall away from him. I am so thankful that for me, the former is true. In desperation, I have called on Christ Jesus for support, comfort and compassion. I have opened up about my illness to my Christian sisters, and received their love and prayers. God never promised to make this life easy, but he did promise eternity to those who trust. That promise has given me perspective on the darkest days.
5. I am a better friend than I was
Through people being great friends to me, I have learned to be a better friend. I’ve learned not to run away from people, but to offer love and companionship, even if I don’t have the ability to solve their problems. I’ve learned that if I don’t have the right words, a cake or a bunch of flowers at least shows my concern. I’ve learned the value of a quick text saying ‘I’m thinking of you,’ and learned not to be offended if there’s no reply.
6. It’s okay to say no – and yes
One of the hardest things I’ve done over the past few months is tender my resignation as a school governor. It’s the first time I’ve quit anything (apart from jobs, when I had a better one to go to). I wrote and rewrote the email so many times. Put off sending it so many times. I expected to feel relief when I finally hit ‘Send,’ but instead I just felt guilt and fear. But I know I had to put my mental health first, and being harangued in the playground because of my efforts to sort out the mess that is our school car park was not helping. Nor was feeling patronised at every single board meeting because of my lack of education experience and lowly stay-at-home-mum status.
But I have also learned that at times, it’s good to say yes. If I can help someone out in some small way – listening while they offload; looking after a child so they can get to an appointment or just spend a day recovering from a bug – then I am more than happy with that, and it makes me feel better too.
7. I am more secure
Eighteen months ago, I was stupid. I wrote an insensitive blog post, questioning someone's use of grammar, that caused massive fallout in our close-knit village. I was sinful and deserved every consequence, but it was horrendous. I was publicly called arrogant, rude, a bad parent. I am stil scared, when walking around our village, of bumping into certain people. But I'm beginning to put things into perspective.
At one point, I was seriously considering moving house just to get away from the blog legacy. Now? No way. My kids and I have great friends here, a lovely way of life. What matters more: that, or the opinions of a couple of people who I have rarely – if ever – met? What, after all, can they do to me? They can hate me silently. They can hate me publicly, if they like. But they will not destroy me. I am certain that every single one of us has hurt someone at some point. I may have made my mistake in a more public way, but it was just that – a mistake. I know I was wrong, but we have all done wrong to others. That doesn’t make it okay, but I need to keep in mind that we are all sinful in different ways. And now I am more mindful of the things I say and do, which can only be a good thing.
8. I appreciate happiness more
A few weeks ago, I was looking back on my old photos. Not really, really old, but photos from when my daughter was a baby. I was so totally, overwhelmingly happy then. I don’t feel like I’ve got back to that point yet, but I know I have come a long way from the despair I was feeling just a few weeks ago. There is laughter in our house again; sometimes it’s mine, sometimes I have incited it. I sang walking back from school this morning. At bedtime, I kissed my daughter all over her squidgy naked tummy, and she giggled until she lost her breath. It felt good.
I may not be better, but I am a better person than I was.