Today, I’ve spent some time thinking about how long I’ve had depression. Has it been ten years? Twenty?
Actually, when I think back, I can remember being this way as a small child. It’s what’s psychologists would call the “highly sensitive child.” I remember being really little when I realized I looked at the world differently than my own family. It was a strange realization. I remember feeling frustrated and lonely, but also like I had some gift. Like I could see emotions and experience compassion for every living thing around me.
Have you ever noticed that really incredible artists have severe depression or drug problems? Think of all the greatest musicians: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, etc… They all have/had these incredible artistic talents, and from the outside looking in, who wouldn’t want to be a rockstar? OK, so it’s an immense amount of pain and drug use, but who wouldn’t want a sea of people cheering just for you? Singing every word you wrote down on paper? Is the extreme pain these greats experienced worth the fame?
So I’m not some famous artist or writer, but I do know that depression can give us a kind of insight that others don’t have. As badly as it affects the day-to-day, it also makes us extremely empathetic and open to others. I’ve been told I wear my heart on my sleeve. I do wear it and that’s one of the things I’ve hated for so long, but maybe with my heart hanging out there, it makes it less awkward for someone to confide in me. Maybe it means I can say or create something that makes others feel less alone.
I had a wake-up call this weekend. My best friend was laying in bed next to me and she was listening to a voicemail on speakerphone from her grandma. Her grandma says, “So I’m wondering about your friend, the one with all the problems…”
I can’t explain what I felt, but it was like I came out of my body and saw myself in the way I look to other people. I’m the one with all the problems. It was so ugly and raw and shocking, the feeling has ruminated all week. Am I too needy? Am I the friend with problems? Do I make it all about me? What problems really exist and what do I capitalize on to bring attention back to myself? Am I too self-centered? Even the thought of being self-centered feels self-centered.
Just to clarify, my best friend is extremely supportive. She has seen me at my absolute worst and continues to not only hang around, but listens to me and talks it out and jokes with me when it gets too heavy. She has been through the nitty gritty times where I sob about losing my music partner and lover again and again, taken me for help when I needed it, and been a shoulder to cry on. I would’ve dumped me already. But she’s consistently right there next to me, helping me cope and deal. I can’t explain a sisterhood like that.
I know my best friend didn’t say a single ill word about me to her grandma, but when I was referred to as “the friend with all the problems,” I wanted to sneak away and never ask for help again. How embarrassing to be known for that. Her grandma meant well too. She was just checking on me. However, it’s like I was on the outside looking into who I really was and it didn’t look pretty.
As that out of body experience has worn off a bit, I’m beginning to see that while I have an often troubled mind, I have a lot to give the world (like the artists listed above). Since there is so much going on in this head of mine, there is a lot going on in my heart. Because I take criticism and confrontation hard, I also love hard. Because I regret a lot, I forgive and empathize a lot. Because I feel more, I can give more.
Sometimes depression isn’t just a mental illness. Sometimes it isn’t just something that sucks the life out of you. Sometimes it is a weird gift.
And from the outside looking in today, I realize it’s all worth it.