The Unexpected Gifts of Depression

walk the line“I feel like I’m always one wrong move from falling into the abyss.”

She described it perfectly.

My friend was talking about the delicate balance between making progress and falling into self doubt, and she put precisely into words how I feel about living with depression.

I walk a constant tightrope.

One misstep and I may wobble a little, have to flail my arms about to regain balance and keep going.

Or I may fall off completely.

I may fall all the way to the net and have to start completely over back at platform one.

And there is a part of me that hates that. There is a part of me that hates this part of me, that screams, “it’s not fair that my brain makes me so damn vulnerable all the time!”

I want a wider line. I want more leeway so that I don’t have to always be vigilant. I want my path through life to be a sidewalk, or a country road, or even just a matted down cow path so that just once in a while I could look up and enjoy the view without fear of falling to my death!

Instead, I walk the line.

And in return, I am granted a few rare gifts.

5 unexpected gifts of depression

1. I avoid the comparison trap.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

I cannot afford to spend too much time looking left or right. I mean, I am certainly tempted – but managing my depression means paying close attention to what I need to survive. I simply don’t have a whole lot of energy or attention span leftover to obsess about what’s happening on someone else’s path.

The comparison trap results in jealousy, low self-esteem, and a constant chasing of dreams that are not your own.

2. I appreciate the net.

I have no illusions about being superhuman or immortal. I know that I will fall from time to time.

And when I do, I know from experience that there will be a net to catch me. That net is my husband, my kids, my mother, and my closest girlfriends.

I have fallen into their gentle embrace too many times to take their support for granted.

3. Self care is not optional.

I see friends of mine who put off good self care. They put themselves last, promise to rest later, and go years without really and truly nurturing themselves. They manage.

That would kill me. Literally.

I can choose to take care of myself as a preventative method, or be forced to take care of myself in order to come back after a fall. Either way: self care is inevitable.

I will rest. I will listen to my body about what it wants to eat and when it wants to move. I will make connection a priority.

I am simply not built for martyrdom. Thank God.

4. I have to share the pain sometimes.

The worst part of depression is the overwhelming despair it can unleash. It is bigger than me, more than I can contain inside my own little body and head.

I have to let it out. I have to.

And that’s why I write and tell stories and stand up on stage and share my most vulnerable truths.

People have said it’s because I’m brave. “Thank you for being so raw and honest.”

But people like me don’t choose raw and honest. Raw and honest are our release valves; we let out the ugly so that it doesn’t consume us with its hugeness.

And in that release, our curse becomes our gift.

We let others know they aren’t alone. We give perspective; our darkness reveals what is light. We flash the world our insides and those who have the option to stay cloaked now know that opening up is not a death sentence.

5. I value happiness.

Perhaps the greatest gift that depression has given me is my appreciation for happiness.

I don’t think that depression is the opposite of happiness. Happiness is a choice; depression is a combatant.

But in fighting to stay alive, to stay on the line, I’ve come to demand more than just not dying.

I want this struggle to be worth it. I want every fall and every climb back out of the abyss to mean something, to have been in pursuit of something more than middling.

I want to see where the line is taking me.

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  1. Britt, I never knew that you struggle with depression. I have all kinds of addictions (alcohol, drugs, eating, all now in recovery for 18 years, thank goodness), however I still find it difficult to completely understand depression, despite the fact that my best friend suffers from chronic depression. Sometimes, I catch myself thinking, “Why don’t you just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stop using it as a crutch.” Intellectually, I know it’s a disease but emotionally it’s hard for me to understand. I know I’ll probably never fully understand it, just like anyone who is not an alcoholic will never completely understand my disease. But I was really fascinated by your comment that “happiness is a choice,” and the distinction between happiness and depression, though I’m not entirely sure what you mean by it being a combatant. Thanks for sharing this so forthrightly.
    Barbara Weibel’s most recent post: PHOTO: Stark snowy landscape surrounds houses painted in jewel tones in Havoysund, Norway

    • Britt Reints says:

      Yep! Been treating it since 2008.

      Depression being a combatant means that it’s something that comes at me, something I have to fight against. That, to me, is not the opposite of a choice you make about how you live your life.

      One (happiness) is intentional. The other is something to be handled.

  2. Hmmm, big one here. You see, everyone has their down time. Heck, Even Jesus Christ did. But these times help us appreciate the up times more. Then, they are usually packed with great lessons, when we take time to reflect upon it.

    Depression is temporary. One should not let it drown them. Swim as you keep saying, “This too shall pass.”

    • Britt Reints says:

      I have to disagree with you here.

      Sadness is temporary.

      Depression, for many people, is a product of brain chemistry.

      • *Smiling* You misunderstand. You see, Depression, like Happiness, comes and goes. No mood is permanent.

        In my book, if it isn’t permanent, it is temporary. For even the most depressed still get their lips turned upward once in a while.

        Tope Fabusola’s most recent post: The Brighter Side Of Destruction

  3. I really love this statement:

    I am simply not built for martyrdom. Thank God.

    I think somehow there is this social mentality that martyrs are better, silent suffering is better, destroying yourself for a good cause is better. And it’s not. Self care is SO IMPORTANT, and it is so often maligned as some kind of incredibly selfish act. But, as they say on airplanes, put your own oxygen mask on before trying to help others.

    Excellent post.
    Feisty Harriet’s most recent post: Six Things That Are Ruining My Life Right Now

    • Britt Reints says:

      Definitely among women. I think we’re socialized to believe it’s somehow noble – or maybe we think it makes us more worthy and useful if the world needs us to do it all and suffer in the process?

  4. Megan says:

    “I want to see where the line is taking me.”

    It fascinates me that the line, that darkness, seems to be the catalyst to so much creation, creativity, and beauty. What’s that about?
    Megan’s most recent post: On Discomfort & Being Vulnerable

  5. As someone who struggles with depression, this rings true to me.
    Kathryn Dilligard’s most recent post:

    • Britt Reints says:

      Kathryn, I’m glad.

      I mean, I’m not glad you have depression, but I’m glad you know you aren’t alone in that. :-)

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