Depression played a major role in my self-identity for a decade of my life, from about 7th grade through the end of my mission.
Life is good. In fact, life is great now. I’ve worked through my demons. No, that makes it sound like I knew what I was doing. Even now I can’t say why things have turned out as well as they have. Just lucky, I guess.
I remember the day I decided to be lucky. I was walking to school with a friend on one of those frigid mornings when you can see your breath. Things hadn’t been going well for me, and I felt like Murphy’s Law incarnate. But that morning I decided I was done with it. I decided to be lucky, and I’ve been lucky ever since.
(How does that work? Kind of like this: For the orientation session of my MBA program, all of us students took a personality test. I like personality tests. I find it comforting to have myself quantified, conveniently understandable. But, for whatever reason, I was feeling contrary the day I took this test, and I decided to answer all the questions at random.
The results came back and classified me as a “reformer”. That’s not the result I would have gotten if I had answered the questions accurately, but I liked it. I decided to own that assessment, and I’ve been a reformer ever since :) )
Being lucky is great. It makes a person optimistic and grateful. It’s especially useful when you’re depressed. That odd combination of optimism and depression has probably done as much to define me — to make me “Dane” — as anything else has.
The thing I remember most about when the depression was severe was how physical it felt. It wasn’t some abstract emotion. It occupied a space in me. It was an iron ball, and I could point at the particular spot in my chest where it sat. At its worst, it became an external presence rather than an internal one, and I could point at the space in the room from which it pressed down on me.
That depression ceased to be a controlling force for me, though, in a series of sacred events that occurred in my life over the space of two years. That doesn’t mean that everything is gone, cleanly washed away. I mean, some of it is. The guilt and self-incrimination are gone, as is the hopelessness and despair. But the pain isn’t all gone. I can still point at the place in my chest where that iron ball sat.
Even though the ball isn’t there anymore, its presence left a mark. But I don’t mind that so much. It’s a reminder to me of how good things are now. It’s a reminder to me that the people I meet each carry their own burdens, and that I would do well to treat them with care, love, and patience, since I don’t know what sufferings they currently endure. It directly influences my faith and theology. I suppose that my personal articles of faith were largely borne of those experiences.
So my questions for you today are — Do you feel that your pain has helped to define you? If so, do you see this as a positive, valuable force in your life, and how? If you’re currently struggling, what keeps you going? And if you’ve overcome it, what advice do you have for those who still fight it?