For those who live with depression or know someone who does, we’ve heard the message shared time and again about self-love and self-care…
“Remember to exercise, learn to meditate, be mindful, take a bath, stay social, see a therapist, eat well, get lots of sunshine and breathe.”
All excellent and well proven tools to help ease depression. There’s countless articles and research on the value in all that I’ve listed, and I even talk about the significance it’s played in my life in my book, Living with the Dragon.
However, the other night I came across a great article that resonated in me because it came from a different viewpoint on depression. It’s titled “Is Everything you think you know about Depression Wrong?” The article had a different perspective on viewing depression and it made me think deeply about another way to manage it.
One of the many factors that motivates us as human beings is about making connections and doing things that matter to us. Whenever we do things that have value to us, we have purpose. We strive for a subconscious contribution to something greater than ourselves. We yearn to belong to something and to someone. We want to be valued. We want to be useful.
Depression partly exists because we aren’t able to see value and meaning in our lives. We want to find a job where we are making a contribution and understand what we’re doing is important. We want to study subjects at school that’s challenging to our minds and matter to us.
We have the capacity to think for ourselves and have a sense of what we want and don’t want. When we’re forced into doing things that we find no meaning in, depression can kick in with a fury because we feel stress and anxiety over the mundane and what we see as futile. Our cortisol levels (stress hormones) increase while serotonin levels (happiness transmitters) decrease.
Take this simplified example of purpose and how it relates to ones mood: If I asked my teenage son to help me vacuum the floor and dust the shelves without much reason, he’d likely moan and groan, reject my request and carry on with his business. I’d nag him again and eventually he might give in and help, but not without complaining.
However, if I gave him purpose and explained to him that we need to tidy up the home before our friends come over for dinner, he’d more than likely help out in an instant. Because he found purpose, he’s able to do the task with a lighter step.
Those of us with depression lose sight of the meaningful and purposeful things in life. If we choose to exercise our minds and look at some of our daily events or relationships as opportunities to learn something new, we can assign purpose to them and in turn purpose for ourselves.
This past year I made a new friend “Jay” from a mental health conference. After my presentation, he approached the podium, shook my hand and introduced himself. He shared how much he related to my experiences. We stayed connected through the past year and I sometimes wondered, “what’s the purpose in meeting Jay? What have I learned thus far?” – Through Jay, I was able to connect with someone about my past; someone who understands the pain and someone who understands the anger of childhood abuse. He’s perhaps one of the most significant connections I’ve made who has reminded me that I am not alone with my past struggles with anger and abuse. And also, through Jay, I was able to reconnect with a long time friend from high school. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences) he and Chuck have been childhood friends and through a party, I ran into Chuck who I haven’t seen in 18 years. What a wonderful feeling that was.
Even with the girl I was last seeing, I’ve looked back and wondered what her purpose was as well. Albeit a short experience, I’ve learned a great deal about myself: self-regulating, self-esteem, confidence, setting boundaries and also accepting the outcome peacefully with a friendship in the end. I saw a lot of purpose in Anne and what I came out with was a wealth of new learnings about myself and the progress I’ve made.
To create meaning and purpose for ourselves can be an empowering tool for those of us with depression. I believe individuals (with some support perhaps) would benefit by trying to figure out what their purposes might be in life are – whether small or large, it can help place some significant building blocks to fill the gaping hole made by depression.
Here’s examples of what I think a few of mine are:
- to be a great father to my son.
- to inspire others with hope with my stories.
- to invite others to share about their vulnerabilities.
- to see purpose in the connections I make with others and learn more about myself in the process.
- to be healthy mentally and physically in order to do all the things I listed above.
And I know that in order to live up to my purposes, there’s a process I must endure which includes:
- time and a great deal of patience.
- doing the mundane tasks in life that may not seem to be making much of a contribution, and just simply accepting them.
- trying different things and allowing myself to learn something. This might be trying a new recipe, perhaps finding a different job, meeting new people or driving home from work a different way.
In the end, when I’m buried six feet under, I may just be another form of energy that gets recycled back into this world. I personally think that’s grim and rather see myself as someone who has more meaning to this world than just fodder. These are my raison d’etres, and it helps me to get out of bed each morning.
“If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love.