Often we talk about “fighting our depression” or “getting rid of our depression” as if our depression is something toxic that has invaded our minds and needs to be flung out like unwanted trash. But if we view our depression as something horrible that we need to get rid of as fast as possible, we miss the valuable messages it is sending us. In a previous post, I described how depression can be a sign that something in our life is not as it should be. If we see our depression as the problem instead of the alarm system, we shouldn’t be surprised when it gets worse. Our depression is trying to alert us to a deeper problem and if we don’t listen – or we try to silence our depression with medication – it’s not surprising that our depression has to shout ever louder to try to get our attention.
I find a more helpful way of thinking about my depression is to think of it as a part of me. A small, childlike part of me that desperately wants to be loved but which feels rejected, unwanted and unbearably lonely. My depression is the pain of the little girl inside me who has to spend her whole life doing things she doesn’t want to do, dealing with other people’s demands and trying to live up to other people’s expectations. And as far as that little girl is concerned, I am one of those “other people” – so sometimes it can be the demands I place on myself that can cause her pain, whether I’m being too much of a perfectionist, not living true to my values or just not taking time to nurture myself.
When I think of my depression as a little girl inside me, the last thing I want to do is get rid of her. I want to nurture her, care for her, help her find a path to a less painful existence. When you think of your depression as a frightened lonely child that is trying desperately to keep you safe, your whole attitude changes. You wouldn’t punish a child for trying to help you. You wouldn’t try to get rid of them or drown out their voice. You’d comfort them, care for them, do everything you could to protect their wellbeing. And if you were successful, you’d eventually be rewarded by seeing their smile and hearing their laughter. Sometimes we can be afraid that if we stop fighting against our depression, it will be with us forever and we will never feel any better. But actually, if we stop fighting our depression and learn to accept it, honour it, and listen to what it’s trying to tell us, we can integrate that lonely child into the rest of our personality. We can show her we are grateful for her insights, we can learn to see the world through her eyes, we can change our lives to accommodate her needs. And, yes, in one sense that means our depression will be with us forever, but it won’t be a burden any more and we won’t always feel bad.
We can’t find true inner peace while we are rejecting a part of ourselves, even if that part of us makes us feel miserable most of the time. We can’t just throw our depression away – even if we could, we shouldn’t, because that would leave a big empty space in our hearts. Instead, we should nurture our depression – treat it with gentleness, gratitude and love. When we do that, we give our depression a chance to grow into something beautiful – into joy, hope and peace.