As with others who similarly have had to deal with a condition that does not manifest itself as outwardly, obvious physical signs, I am no stranger to people who question the validity of this ‘illness’ that I have. Close family members, friends, and complete strangers alike express their advice to “think positively” or to “pray to God and you’ll feel better”. Baffled acquaintances exclaim that “other people have it worse than you, have you considered that?” and “you’re way too young to have anything to be depressed about!”
I do not deny the good intentions of those people; they really do want to help. Nor do I completely disagree that those sentiments do work for some people: indeed, psychotherapies such as CBT aims to identify negative thinking patterns and replacing them with less distorted alternatives. It could be argued that CBT is a method of ‘thinking yourself out of depression’. And spirituality (indeed, my own personal relationship with God) is a source of comfort, strength, and healing to many.
The problem that I ended up grappling with was that I saw depression as a sign of failure on my part. That my aim was to rid myself of the symptoms that resulted in the suffering quality of relationships, self-care and academic performance. That to cease to be reliant on medication and function effectively equals a success.
Whilst a seemingly logical goal at the time, I came to realise that I can’t be in total control all the time. Appeasing family members and close friends was a strong motivator in trying to control self-destructive behaviours, but a slip-up results in a tenfold increase in the guilt and the sadness and the anger being directed at myself. Failure to shrug out of this blanket of depression weigh ever more heavily on my mind. I questioned my faith in God: I thought that the lack of immediate healing was due to a spiritual failing on my part.
So today I choose to accept failure. Does that mean I have accepted defeat: fall victim to the hopelessness of depression? No.
Rather, I choose to keep the responsibility of ensuring that I take actions which promote my recovery whilst absolving myself of the blame for not being rid of depression. I choose to take every effort to continue functioning socially and academically whilst forgiving myself when the bad days get the better of me. I choose to delve deeper in my relationship with God whilst accepting that I may not get healed in the way that I wanted today, next year, ever. I choose to keep trying to ‘get better’, not keep trying to ‘get cured’.
I am not admitting defeat: I do not give up hope that one day I will come out of this with the support of family, friends, professionals, and God. I am simply letting myself free of the responsibility of being cured and, as a result, beating myself up after every little setback.
Instead I will try to focus my energies on learning as much as I can about myself, about my relationships, about my closest friends. I choose to learn my limits and discover the methods that is most effective for my recovery. I choose to learn how to best protect my relationships on the bad days. I choose to cultivate empathy for other people who may be going through a similar situation. I choose not to lower my standards, but to alter them to healthier ones. I choose not to narrow my goalposts, just to change them.