there’s light in the darkness

Depression is a complete downer. It’s a total buzz kill. Yes, I mock, but I’m allowed to because my depression is currently stalking me. I like to whistle in the dark. The problem with depression is that so many things make it worse. There are triggers and I’m hitting a lot of them right now.

First off, it’s dark. We’re in the dreary days of November; it’s cloud cover and heavy rain from dawn ‘til dusk. The lack of light takes its toll. I try and mitigate it by upping my vitamin D and using a seasonal affective disorder full spectrum light. They help but aren’t a total cure.

Then there are the body memory issues. Bad things have happened to me historically in November and the body remembers trauma. There are no lights for that, you simply go through it. It gets easier as time passes – this year isn’t as bad as last year, which wasn’t as bad as the year before – but it’s still challenging.

Lastly, the holidays are approaching and that means stress; money stress as I try and keep up with the Joneses, and personal stress as I deal with the increased influx of people and invitations. I prefer to be alone a great deal of the time; people overwhelm me. I prefer it even more when my depression is acting up. Interestingly, while the holidays are a trigger, they also hold a partial solution. I hate contemplating mingling and the demands of the season overwhelm, but once I’m with my friends, my mood generally improves. There are exceptions, but in general, people help me hold the line. My connections keep me tied here and sometimes that’s a good thing.

When I’m depressed, I find it hard to remember to practice gratitude, yet doing so helps with my mood, and, when I remember to be mindful of the food I eat, with my eating disorder. Even when I’m depressed, there are still good things in my life. One thing I’ve historically failed to be grateful for is my depression.

It’s hard to imagine being grateful for an illness that drags you down into a deep pit and makes you regularly contemplate ending your existence and yet there’s light to be found even in the darkest depths. Depression has bestowed some gifts.

It’s given me compassion. I believe I’m more compassionate than I would have been had I not been afflicted (not going to say blessed) with mental illness. I understand other’s struggles in a way I might not have, had I been neurotypical. I understand that things get hard. I understand that people make mistakes. I understand that we struggle. I relate. I’m often at my best with others when they’re at their worst.

It’s helped me be more empathetic. I’ve been fortunate (?) enough to experience most of the dark and ugly emotions. That means I really can relate to others when they’re facing something similar. I get it in a way that someone who hasn’t spent time in the darkness may not.

It’s given me patience. Things take time. Sometimes, a lot of time. I’ve learned that life doesn’t function according to our schedule. Life doesn’t even know that we have one. Things unfold as they will, not as we want them too. This becomes apparent when you’re trapped in the pit, desperate to get out and be out right now, immediately, and at once. You can plan for that to happen all you want, but depression follows its own timetable. You can do things to help chivvy it along, but ultimately, it’s not entirely up to you.

It’s made me a better citizen. Not everyone is overly concerned with the political life that’s unfolding around them. The empathy and concern that my own struggles imbued in me extends to the world at large. I am concerned by and try to work on the big problems. Poverty, homelessness, addiction, climate change, and the rise of extreme ideologies are problematic but not everyone pays attention. They can be daunting and even triggering but suffering too much in this area is better than ignoring it altogether.

Mental illnesses take a lot from us. They steal our present away. They can negatively impact the future. They leave us weary and teary at times. They make things harder than they need to be.

It’s good to realize then, since I have to live with them, that they bring something to the party as well.

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