Climbing out of a depression can be excruciating. I often feel physical pain, on top of the emotional anguish. The combination can keep me down for weeks at a time. When I am in the very dark depths of such feelings, even getting to the surface or high enough to witness the light outside feels insurmountable.
In these moments, as I attempt to get out of bed, I imagine an alternate version of myself. One that is out, maybe shopping or socializing with a friend. I imagine that person receiving love, but instead of feeling motivated to move toward that image, I grow jealous. In the present, I feel no love for myself, everything is dark and bleak and hopeless –a stark contrast to my alternate-reality self.
But if I stop for a moment, and think about what my good days are like, I remember that it’s not as though life becomes perfect in the days where I can function fully. On days when I am not depressed, I am not automatically going to make my way to an amusement park or go on vacation to a new city, or do anything else I find to be fun and thrilling. Most of those good days I will be at work in the office, or at home doing laundry trying to take advantage of finally being in a good headspace. Is this important to my life? Yes. Is it thrilling and exhilarating? No.
I am so used to expecting only incredible, exciting things from myself, that the lack thereof can on its own feel depressing at times. Looking at everyone else’s highlight reels on social media, in movies or on TV, it’s easy to think that I am not doing enough.
It’s as though I imagine my “better” self to be so idyllic as a way to continue to put myself further down into the cave of despair. To tell myself, “See, if only you could be less depressed, you could be having the best life.” But that “best life” doesn’t exist. It’s just life.
And being able to appreciate all of the small, perhaps mundane moments when I’m well leaves me feeling so much better than when I dwell on the noteworthy moments I think I should be having.
What does this appreciation entail? It means expressing gratitude when I feel well. It means taking a moment while I am folding laundry, showering or grocery shopping, to praise myself for doing a chore—even if there are more exciting things to do.
What’s more important, is actively participating in life by experiencing the moments, dull and exciting alike. Which require work and effort, no matter how many or few illnesses someone might have. It requires work to keep up friendships, stay in touch, and care for others. And appreciating yourself for all of the work you do on seemingly mundane things means creating positive, encouraging feedback. Which in turn, incentivizes us to do more and be kinder to and more forgiving of ourselves.
Eventually, through this positive feedback and recognition, I have started to feel less inclined to expect a linear recovery with rainbows and parties and ice cream at every bend. Instead, I embrace all of the dull good days and the challenging bad days because they are part of my journey as a whole. And having the chance to be part of that journey in any capacity is exhilarating.
Marie is better known as Mxiety. She hosts mental health-related live discussions and interviews, as well as writes to help defeat the stigma. You can learn more about her and access other resources at mxiety.com.