This post was contributed by Naomi Nygaard who specialises in working with eating issues and addiction.
Geneticists and neuroscientists are currently researching the possibility of ensuring babies are not born with a pre-disposition to depression. This should surely be a good thing, right? Actually, in a recent conversation with a colleague about this topic, I shared my feelings that eradicating depression from our gene pool might bring with it an unexpected negative consequence: a loss of our resilience.
Depression has been in my family for many generations, and has touched many people in my life, some very seriously. Whether mild or strong, or considered ‘clinical’ in severity, I wouldn’t wish depression upon anyone. When depressed we may feel cut off from life, wrapped up in anxious, panicky and self-critical thoughts, numb and unfeeling, and totally disconnected from anything that previously bought us joy.
Why Does It Come?
Depression can be a reaction to changes in our lives that feel overwhelming. It can signal areas in our present that we’ve been neglecting to attend to, or negative experiences from our past that we have tried to suppress. The word ‘depress’ suggests that there are parts of our nature we may have been trying to minimise, resulting in the suffering we are now facing.
None of this feels good: it can be a lonely, isolating and bleak experience. And yet, even so, my sense remains that there is a gift for those of us who experience depression.
A gift is available to us in learning to navigate life when we are depressed, and to explore where depression is guiding us to look. I have often witnessed a depressed person learning how to truly ask for help for the first time in their adult life. I have witnessed positive changes that have been made as a result of depression: the prioritising of self-care, the redressing of a work-life balance, new awareness about gender identity, or the commitment to make contact with estranged family members.
When enough wellness returns to a depressed person’s life, through necessary supportive and nourishing actions, creative and necessary life-changes are often instigated that would not have come about without depression.
Depression can feel like a dull cloud has settled over a person’s life. With help and in time, as the cloud lifts, a person can notice things they may have previously taken for granted: the sharpness of colours in nature, the beauty of music, their love of those close to them. In the wake of depression, the simplest things can become the subject of heartfelt appreciation. This can occur with such strength of feeling, that a person never quite takes such things for granted again. When relationships are damaged and then healed through the onset and recovery of depression, such relationships can strengthen and grow in maturity.
Depression can be a gift. Over time, it can teach us how to take our place in this world in a new, more mature way. It can gift us with a compassionate heart for anyone who themselves becomes depressed. It can slow our pace so that we notice things about life we may never have noticed before, and teach us gratitude for even the smallest and simplest things. Through disconnection, we can learn connection. And, once learned, we may find that life has changed us in a way that prepares us to be more fully present in our lives and with those we love.