What does that even mean?
During one of my more recent depressive episodes, I posed this question to myself. It was within the context of trying to figure out why to this day I hadn’t taken any meaningful steps to try to recover and improve my mental health.
I’ve always thought that if you really wanted to do something, you would just do it. If you wanted to get into better shape, you would exercise and if you then didn’t exercise it would mean that the thing you really wanted to do, was to not exercise. You want to not exercise more than you want to be in better shape, meaning that you don’t really want to be in better shape. Obviously you do want to be in better shape, but not more than the effort required to actually get to that point. Does that make sense to anybody else?
"Wow, well done Dave, you're only three blogs in and you're already talking absolute nonsense..."
For years and years I had complained to myself and wished that I didn’t have depression. The low points from it brought on an existential feeling of despair I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Life loses all meaning and while you might not necessarily want to die, you sure as hell didn’t want to be alive anymore.
But if I didn’t want to have it so badly, why didn’t I do anything about it? On reflection of the really dark days in my life, I can honestly say that I didn’t do anything to try and improve things. The depression would take control of me and I’d simply wait until it had passed and then pretend it didn’t exist as I tried to pick up the pieces of my life again.
Familiarity and uncertainty
I’m going to make a couple blanket statements that I believe to be true of most people that will hopefully explain in some capacity, why I believe I and many others might not take the steps we need to improve in many facets of our lives.
The first being that people can put up with and live through a surprising number of terrible circumstances. I think all of us can come up with a situation that we’ve dealt with in our lives and when looking back on it, we can’t believe that we put up with that for so long. For some, it might be a job where our boss was a total dick and worked us into the ground. For others, it might be a toxic relationship where you weren’t actually happy and started resenting the person you were with.
Those are both situations where to a decent extent, we had a choice in whether or not we continued to be in that situation. There are of course infinite circumstances where choice is completely out of the equation but we are left in a truly awful situation. I won’t list specifics in case it might remind somebody of a time they wish to forget, but I’m sure you could think of some if you wanted to. During those times, people's ability to persevere and survive in unfavourable circumstances is commendable. We’re a lot tougher than we give ourselves credit for.
The second blanket statement I’m going to make is that people don’t like change. For the most part we are creatures of habit because change brings uncertainty and uncertainty brings anxiety. One in the hand is worth two in the bush. Even if the hand we are dealt isn’t the best one, we often feel that holding onto it is better than risking it for something that could be worse.
This familiarity breeds contempt. Which makes change feel like a laborious task rather than a process that should be relished if we are relatively certain that it will bring a positive end result. But that’s just the thing, we can never be certain of anything. Especially in the trying times that we’re living in right now. Current life can bring enough uncertainty and anxiety without trying to create a change in your life.
Why didn’t I do anything to improve things?
As I think I’ve made pretty clear, having depression is awful, but it was familiar. Each low point was a fresh dose of torture to an overall empty existence, but at least I knew what it would would entail. I knew I would spend an extended period of time not being able to look after myself and unable to scream out for help because I didn’t think that I deserved it. It was a constant see-saw of ups and downs (well not exactly ups, just not as down downs), but it was the only life I’d known for over a decade. If you feel like your life is always going to fall, why bother trying to build anything on it?
At least these are some of the things I’ve told myself over the years. In my own mind, I was also able to twist my depression into an excuse any time I wasn’t able to commit to anything for an extended period of time. When my depression struck me, I’d find myself immobilised from doing anything. Work, studying, socialising, anything really. This condition stopped me dead in my tracks. So when I didn’t excel at something because my depression beat me down time and time again, I told myself that the only reason I didn’t reach the goal was because of my depression. So I was able to still believe I was capable of doing anything, but then never achieve anything and subsequently hate myself for not reaching this unobtainable standard. I’d failed at everything in my eyes, so why bother trying to get better? I’d only fail at that too.
Reading that paragraph back, I realise that I’m being too harsh on myself. If I were able to show myself any empathy, I would be able to forgive my past self for not reaching those goals, accept that it’s okay to not be perfect and understand that until I’m able to manage my depression better, it may continue to hold me back in the future. But that doesn’t come naturally to me just yet.
To sum things up, I didn’t care about myself enough to change and figured I’d only fail if I did try to make things better. My low self-worth was familiar and changing brought uncertainty and I didn’t know what I’d do if I failed at even trying to cure myself.
My life sucked, but it was my life and I was living it my way.
Where do I go from here?
I suppose I better start with answering the original question. Am I happy being depressed? Not anymore. I honestly think that while my life sucked before I realised that being depressed all the time was not a life worth living, I would have carried living that life through the rest of my days in such a manner.
While it might not look like it in the photo, behind closed doors I was going through one of the worst years of my life and had resigned myself to the fact that I would never get out of the depressive hole I was in and would continue on like that forever.
As I write this however, I am not okay with a terrible existence, I want to be happy. At this moment in time though, I don’t know how to be happy. For so long I’ve been varying degrees of empty and numb that I don’t know what a truly happy Dave would look like.
I suppose that’s what makes life worth living though, figuring out what makes you happy and then doing exactly that. Living life as opposed to just being alive. The meaning of life is different to each person and I’m finally at the point where I'm ready to find mine.
Until we speak again, keep hanging in there.