My lowest point hit when I was in my Emergency Medicine residency. The days felt so black, and the future felt so empty, that I couldn’t see any point to continuing. I was sure that there was something biologically wrong with me. After all, depression was genetic, right? Even worse, I was still miserable even though I was taking anti-depressants. You can imagine how excited I was about the future. What future?
That was ten years ago, when it was still pretty unusual to be on anti-depressants. Today, they’re the number one drug class prescribed in the United States, can you believe it?
Is everyone really this depressed, or have we somehow started calling normal life experiences “depression”? Is there something about Western life that sets us up for disappointment and depression? Or is there more to this, still?
I’ve mentioned before that research tells us that we’ve got the whole money/happiness thing wrong. People chase after money for a lifetime, putting it ahead of everything else, and then feel like they’ve been cheated when they sit in their huge house in front of their stadium-sized plasma TV, and feel the same, or worse, than they did when they were penniless and struggling. Certainly, the misguided pursuit of money and stuff, while neglecting what really counts, must be contributing at least in part to our culture’s epidemic of depression.
So what really counts? Your family, your friends, your health, your contribution to the lives of others, your values and ethics. So, if you’re feeling depressed, does that mean that you’ve got your priorities all wrong? Perhaps. Try spending more time with loved ones, and helping others, as these actions have been shown to significantly improve symptoms of depression.
For me, depression was one of the biggest gifts that life ever gave me. If I hadn’t gotten so depressed, I’d probably still be half-heartedly slaving away in Emergency Medicine (a profession which I’m not remotely suited to), instead of doing the wonderful things that make my life, today, so rich. I turned to other options in life, out of desperation, because my depression was so bad that I just couldn’t continue my Emergency Medicine training, no matter how hard I tried. Thank goodness!
Our bodies signal us, through pain. If you’ve got an infection in your body that needs to be treated, your body signals you with pain, so that you get yourself to a doctor. If you’ve injured your back, your body tells you, through pain and spasm, that you’ve got to take it easy and rest your injured muscles.
When your life is full of emotional pain, that’s also a symptom.
What are your moods telling you? Your emotions are very real, and so important. I used to be a total drag. My friends would call, and I would spend half the time crying to them. It wasn’t just a matter of adopting a positive attitude, or cheering up, or taking a pill. The only way I found peace of mind, and stopped crying, was to change my attitudes, thoughts, behaviors and choices. My faith journey as a Christian has also really revolutionized who I am and how I see things, I experience so much more joy, peace and perspective. That’s my story. Your story, of course, may be totally different.
If you’re feeling depressed lately, give yourself permission to reflect: what element of your life might be at the root of it? Have you noticed that some people make you feel better, and some make you feel worse? When do you feel worst? When do you feel best? Have you felt like this at another time in your life? What was going on?
Depression isn’t a death sentence. For me, it was a game-changer, in the best of ways. I will forever now speak of depression as a potentially precious gift. Of course, that’s hard to believe or see when you’re in the midst of it, and I don’t mean to dismiss the very real suffering (which sometimes is lifelong) of those who battle deep, chronic depression. But cherish it you just may, some day.
(Note: this is not intended to be medical advice, nor does it establish a doctor-patient relationship. If you are suffering from symptoms of depression, see a local health professional immediately)