There is a famous idiom which rings true not only in philosophy, but even in science: life is a journey, not a destination. Happiness is only achievable insofar that we always have something to strive for. In other words, a person can only be happy in strife, rather than contentment, but to achieve that happiness and not succumb to the difficulty of the challenge, the joy the challenge brings them must outweigh the stress it causes. If we feel what we’re doing is rewarding, we’ll feel good.
But even in the face of certain adversity and difficulty, we humans have the power to overcome. This is because we can motivate ourselves to live on for something. It might be an ideal future, or a family to come home to, or a loved one we seek to protect. It might be for a certain legacy or for our children. We’re inherently incentivized to survive through some of the worst odds, and that adaptability and determination is part of why we exist all over the planet.
But depression can take that feeling away. Depression is unique in that it strips away the determination and amplifies the stress. Life is much the same for someone with and without depression, but without that all-powerful motivator of joy, gaiety, and hope.
Yet the motivator is never gone. Depression just blinds you to it. We all act in accordance to how we feel and think, and as a disease of the mind, depression heavily changes the way we feel and think. We all have our reasons to live. The will to live is always there, both in the pursuit of happiness and as a mechanism for survival.
But depression numbs us to it. This is an important distinction because it greatly matters whether life is truly not worth living, or whether your thoughts and feelings on the matter are, in fact, just a product of the disorder – a disorder than can be treated and managed.
You Are Not Your Depression
We can agree that a person is the sum of what they do, say, and feel, in the very least. While depressive disorders always play a part in every aspect of that, they don’t define a person. They don’t define you. Indeed, you are much more than just your depression.
It’s important to be careful about not giving undue weight to the thoughts and feelings you have when depressed. One reason why cognitive behavioral therapy works so well in helping people manage their depressive symptoms is because the ability to separate yourself from your negative thoughts and depressive feelings is paramount to overcoming them. Like an onlooker in a traffic jam, you learn to take a step back from your stream of consciousness, observing almost impartially. And it’s here where logic does its best work.
But sometimes that’s not enough. When you’re really hurting, no amount of thinking is going to help you overcome the feelings you’re feeling, the pain you’re going through. And that’s understandable. But it’s no reason to end it all. Don’t give up, because the pain is temporary.
The Pain Is Temporary
But death is permanent. No matter how bad you feel, those thoughts do go away. Not matter how much it hurts in your heart, that emotional pain is temporary. No matter how much you want to go and end it all – don’t.
Wait a week, or two. And then wait some more. Talk to some people. Look at old memories. Suicidal ideation is a common symptom of severe depressive disorders, but it’s always temporary. The thoughts come, and they’re overwhelming, and convincing – until they’re not. Then some time passes before they come again.
These thoughts can be stopped, and they can be mitigated. It gets easier with time to forget about the days when you wanted to kill yourself or hurt yourself, but it’s important to live to make it to those days. No matter how bad things get, suicidal ideation can be treated – provided it’s brought to the attention of the right people.
Get the attention of your friends and loved ones, tell them how you feel, tell them what you’ve been thinking, and tell them that you need help. That last step is the hardest, because it requires the most courage. Admitting that you think about suicide and need help takes a lot of strength but give it a shot.
This Can Be Treated
Treatments for depression are very effective. Studies show that the majority of patients struggling with depressive disorders respond very well to antidepressants, with some others only receiving a partial remission of symptoms. In cases where several SSRIs and other types of antidepressants seemed to show no effect, other treatments showed promise, particularly transcranial magnetic stimulation.
While treatments are promising for inducing remission of symptoms, it’s important to note that in individuals where depression is recurring and long-term, there is a good chance for relapses and flare-ups. This is where it becomes important to fortify yourself against worsening symptoms by taking your recovery seriously – grab life with both hands, hold on tight, and take control.
Diet, exercise, sleep, the company we keep, how much time we spent at work, how rewarding we feel our work is, time spent with friends and family, the quality of our relationships – these are all different factors that heavily affect the psyche, and can play a role in preventing a relapse of depressive symptoms.
It Gets Easier, and the Joy Comes Back
At its peak, depression is crippling, debilitating, and fatal. While fewer people diagnosed with a depressive episode continue to experience depressive symptoms in the long-term (for months or weeks), that’s still a substantial amount of people. However, we’ve established that depression is treatable. While you don’t get better overnight, you start to feel the little differences one day after the next.
Over time, you’ll look back and realize how long it’s been since you’ve been restless in bed. You’ll realize you haven’t had to cut into your skin to stay awake or fight the bad thoughts. You realize that you were out on a date, or had a good time with your friends, or enjoyed yourself recently doing something you used to love but haven’t done in years.
Every person fights their depression in their own way. Some swear on their medication, while others need alternative treatments. In nearly all cases, coping mechanisms and depression management techniques are paramount, from going for a jog every morning to eating a healthier, more enjoyable diet, and regular mindfulness routines. The fight against depression gets easier, but you must do it every day.