When I first realized I would have the chance to write about my experience with depression I was thrilled. But my excitement quickly turned into something else: doubt, insecurity, and fear. Thinking about this article, I was sitting in a café when I felt a panic attack roll over me like a wave. My hands started trembling and my stomach turned. In a matter of seconds, I felt my mind spinning out of touch with reality.
Luckily, I managed to get it under control quickly. It’s a familiar feeling since my depression comes with anxiety. Meaning, whenever self-doubt is creeping up on me, there’s anxiety lurking just around the corner. But it also means that once I chase the doubt away, the anxiety also disappears. Of course, with depression, that is easier said than done.
I believe I was so shaken that day at the café because writing about my experience means fully committing to the idea, that I am depressed, that there is real pain within me and that my story is worth telling. Unfortunately, that is one of my biggest struggles. I was told from an early age that my feelings weren’t real – so that’s what I started to believe.
Up to this day, there’s a part of me that tells me I am making all of this up. It’s that same voice that keeps trying to make me feel bad about my decisions and condemns my plans before I can start putting them into action. I call it my “gloomy voice”. It’s my depression telling me I’m a drama queen, I am a burden and I am weak.
The silver lining
There’s also another part of me and it has always had my back. An optimistic, enthusiastic me that is ready to take on the world – the “sunny voice”. For a while, when my depression was at its worst, I had lost touch with that part of myself. Now, with the help of therapy and medication, I am reconnecting with it. And I like what it has to say. It shows me I can feel real, thankful, and empowered.
So, if you are struggling with your own gloomy voice, here are three things my sunny voice has taught me:
Lesson #1: If you feel it, it’s valid
It doesn’t matter if it’s objectively true or if anybody else can sense it. And if it hurts, it deserves your care. I have come to learn that self-pity can be a beautiful thing. In the haze of depression, I tend to deny myself any empathy because I feel like I don’t deserve it. With the help of my sunny voice, I am learning to acknowledge my feelings and treat myself kindly. So, when I am having a bad day, I pour myself a cup of tea and take a big break to feel sincerely sorry for myself. Just because my sadness stems from depression it doesn’t make it less real or deserving of care and empathy.
I want to make clear that I am not encouraging you to stay in bed for days and shut everyone out! Instead, I’m encouraging you to accept your feelings for what they are: sad ones, that deserve your understanding.
Lesson #2: Thankfulness rather than guilt
There’s no need to apologize. Depression is a disease and suffering from it is not your fault. I am lucky to have wonderful friends who have supported me throughout all of this without hesitation. Still, I often feel the need to frantically apologize to them for being a “downer” when, actually, I just want to let them know how much I appreciate their help. Unfortunately, the only thing I achieve by constantly apologizing is downgrading our time together. I have learned to replace the repetitive ‘sorrys’ with a big hug and a thank you. It does the trick.
Lesson #3: It’s okay to be weak
In fact, I have realized that sometimes being weak means being incredibly strong. Opening up to people and showing vulnerability takes a lot more strength than shutting people out. I used to try to come across as constantly cheerful and easy-going – and felt like a failure when I couldn’t live up to that.
Now, instead of judging myself for not keeping up that façade, I try patting myself on the shoulder for being brave enough to open up. And this has had such a big impact. Once you are comfortable with sharing, you start realizing how many kind souls out there can relate to what you are feeling.
And, as a side note for men who are told that being strong means showing no emotions: I, and so many others, deeply respect a guy who shares his feelings. It doesn’t matter who or where you are, the truth is, we are not alone in this.
What lies behind and what lies ahead
A few months ago, that gloomy voice was my relentless, uninvited companion. After hard work, therapy, and time this voice is growing fainter. Today, I am able to listen to my sunny voice most of the time.
I want you to know that even if your gloomy voice is all you can hear right now – like an unending layer of clouds hovering above your head – there will always be a clear sky behind that. I’ve seen it. If you allow yourself to seek help, it is just a matter of time until the storm will blow over and you’ll feel the sun on your skin again.