Depressed: Why "What to Do?" Was the Wrong Question to Ask
While it might be an exaggeration to say that I have been depressed my whole life, it almost feels that way.
As a child, I always felt just a little bit left out, as if my siblings and friends were all ready, at any moment, to leave me behind and go have some real fun.
There was no real reason for this - no disapproving parents or bullies who taught me I was bad to have around.
It’s just something I believed to be true.
So no, I wasn’t depressed my whole life. But looking back, it’s clear that I was already on the path.
It’s a pretty short trip, after all, from feeling consistently left out to believing you are fundamentally unlovable and hating yourself.
And that total self-hatred? Well, that is a little, isolated island in Depression Land. Or maybe it’s a whirlpool. Or quicksand. Hard to say, but it’s definitely raining there.
Not that anyone knew what was going on, of course. I played the part of the happy, well-adjusted kid pretty well.
My personality is naturally upbeat, so it was an easy role to slip into before I went to my room and lay on the floor, feeling like the emptiness inside of me was a physical entity that would rise up and smother me.
It wasn’t until university that the truth came out and my mom helped me to get help.
I wound up seeing several counsellors, reading a ton of self-help books, and getting a degree in psychology.
It made a difference, to a degree, but nothing came close to healing my core belief that I was a useless waste of space that nobody could possibly love.
I wasn’t able to challenge that core belief until later, after a very unexpected epiphany.
I was having a fight with my then-boyfriend. He thought I was being too negative about myself, which I thought was rich, coming from him, who was negative about everything. When he said that he thought he was awesome, and that he was just negative about everything else, my brain jolted for a moment.
He thought he was awesome? And I, who was objectively way more awesome than him, thought I was worthless? How was this possible?
I almost laughed out loud.
Obviously, that relationship was doomed. When your partner tells you they are awesome and you want to roll your eyes and laugh at them, it’s a bad sign.
After we finally ended things, I turned that moment over in my mind. Somewhere inside me, I believed I had value. I must have, or I wouldn’t have had that thought.
Yet every other thought in my mind told me the opposite. It didn’t make any sense.
I finally realized that I had been lying to myself for a very long time. Or, more accurately, my depression had been lying to me.
From childhood--maybe from birth--I had a brain that was susceptible to depression, and it did what it does best: made me believe I was worthless.
This was the catalyst that pushed me to make real, lasting change.
I gathered all the tools I had discovered from those years of counselors, books, and school, as well as a little of my own intuition, and started a concerted effort to fight back.
I used cognitive-behavioral therapy, gratitude journals, and even the kinds of clothes I wore to work to change my core belief about myself.
Every single day, I worked on teaching myself that I had intrinsic value as a person.
The only trick was to keep at it.
Sure, I had one moment of revelation, but as wonderful as that moment was, it didn’t actually change decades of well-worn beliefs. Just like Frodo didn’t simply walk into Mordor in Lord of the Rings, I did not simply walk away from hating myself.
It took consistent, meaningful effort, even when it seemed pointless.
Because that feeling of pointlessness? That’s depression. That’s the lie. That’s the part that makes you want to give up and let the black hole of emptiness swallow you, once and for all.
It wasn’t pointless. It was hard. There is a difference.
Learning to like, and even love, myself didn’t change my life from the outside.
I still had the same job, the same friends, and I didn’t suddenly fall in love or magically gain the ability to run a marathon.
It changed my life from the inside, though.
From that point forward, every challenge I face in life, including depression, heartbreak, and financial woes, I face from a new vantage point: one of someone who doesn’t already hate themselves.
It’s truly amazing how much difference it makes.
Andrea Loewen is a writer, theatre-maker, and choreographer in Vancouver, BC. She writes for a variety of online publications, including Loose Lips Magazine and Vancouver Presents, as well as her own site, The Receptionist Blog. In her spare time she reads a lot of fantasy novels, ideally with her cat on her lap and a mug of tea in her hand. Her first book, Feeling Better: A Field Guide to Liking Yourself is set to release in February of 2019. www.andrealoewen.com