Depression Is Your Friend

It’s crazy, right? How can something as unpleasant as depression, the leading precursor to suicide, actually be thought of as a good buddy?

First off, I would like to emphasize that I am in no way praising deep, debilitating depression. Instead, this article is aimed at discussing depression as a form of motivation, not a psychological disorder.

When you think of a friend, what is the first thing that comes to mind? A friend might be someone who you watch a ballgame with. They might even be someone who drives you home when you’re too drunk to drive yourself. For me, a friend is someone so much more than that; someone much different than a family member or spouse.

For me, a friend is someone who attends that ballgame not because they want to get out of the house for a few hours, but because they genuinely enjoy your company. A friend is someone who drives you home when you’re drunk not out of obligation, but out of concern for your safety. Really, a friend is someone who accepts you without question, sees the value that you bring to the world, and looks out for you during hard times.

So how does depression look out for you? Well, for starters I’m writing this post with my fingers. I have a brain that thinks and reasons in order to produce the language that is responsible for the post in the first place. I have a stomach to digest the food I ate two hours ago and a heart that pumps blood to keep me alive. The truth is, depression wouldn’t exist if, along with every organ in my body, it didn’t serve some kind of a survival function. The theory of evolution suggests that our predecessors who did not experience depression were selected against and died off, while those who experienced depression lived on to spread their genes and ultimately create you and me. With that said, depression is as much a part of us as our fingers, stomachs, brains, and hearts are. It is an instrument of survival.

Then again, depression doesn’t get enough credit. We condemn it, scrutinize it, and in many cases medicate it when it doesn’t need medicating. How do you even define depression in a positive light when it is this widely stigmatized and condemnable “sickness of the mind” or worse, character flaw? Well, it’s not an impossible task.

Normal depression, and by extension grief, can be defined as a self-regulatory mechanism in which a problem is continually reflected on and analyzed with the intent of preventing it from reoccurring. It’s almost like trying to solve a math equation that you’ve been stuck on for hours in that you’ll rework the problem over and over until a correct solution becomes evident. The only time the mind-boggling math equation that is depression becomes debilitating is when episodes are prolonged, lasting for weeks and months at a time, and disrupt personal and professional relationships. At that point, you never solve the problem, you just keep staring at it and expecting something to change.

I can tell you with certainty that for every mistake I’ve made and problem that I’ve created, I never would have improved as a human being if I didn’t feel depressed afterward. There were times when I failed a test or said something extremely hurtful to another person, and afterward that was all I thought about for the rest of the day and even the rest of the week. I’d think to myself, “How could I let this happen?” and “What went wrong, and what can I do to fix this mess?”

Don’t get me wrong, depressive rumination isn’t fun. Some of the worst moments in my life were where I would become so emotionally drained, so dispirited, and so, well… depressed, that I couldn’t even move. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t play video games, and I generally couldn’t function normally. Why would anybody want to suffer through such an experience? The answer is that it can be used as motivational fuel when it is channeled into something more meaningful. I look at it this way: you could achieve every major success in the book, but by the time that one failure comes around it’s suddenly the worst thing in the world because you haven’t acquainted yourself with what it’s like to truly lose. To truly face defeat. In this manner, the low points in life help us appreciate the high points and remind us of the progress (or lack thereof) we’re making.

Occasional, not chronic, depression is your friend because it’s got your back. It PUSHES you toward improvement by notifying you that you need to make some much needed corrections in your life. And trust me, you’re better off with than without it.

So What If I Like to Be Alone?

Where do you mostly derive stimulation from? Do you prefer the company of others for energy, or are you mainly excited by the calmness of your own inner world, and all of the unique things that it has to offer? For a second, this sounds oxymoronic. How could you derive energy from activities that regularly suppress energy, like playing video games, listening to music, and watching movies?

As almost everyone is probably aware of by now, the phenomenon I am discussing is known as introversion, and introversion, like many things, falls on a spectrum. It’s possible to display characteristic tendencies of reservation and reclusiveness while also demonstrating a marked enthusiasm for group settings and get-togethers. Therefore, it would be unwise of you to classify yourself as 100% introverted or 100% extraverted when elements of the opposite dimension factor into your behavior across multiple situations.

Personally, I try to avoid labels at all costs; I don’t like labeling myself as “this” or “that” because it is overly reductive. I certainly don’t like labeling myself as an introvert because it’s a lazy way of summing up my personality. Rather, I would prefer to say that I possess a predominately introverted brain because, while I am almost always happy to hang out with my friends, I won’t always feel comfortable when catching up with distant relatives or delivering a presentation in class.

There is a downside to living inside my head, though. Because my brain is predominately introverted, I fall on just about the farthest end of the introversion spectrum that you can imagine, if such a spectrum exists. Consequently, I miss out on a lot of the luxuries more extraverted people are able to enjoy every day. One of these luxuries may be striking up a conversation for the first time and potentially initiating a meaningful relationship. Keep in mind, however, that this does not mean I am shy or afraid to socialize. It just means that it’s hard for me to conjure up the willpower to socialize, as doing so would exhaust a great deal stamina. Still, once the words start flowing and dialogue is exchanged, I’m hugely relieved.

The main issue I have is with the production of spoken as opposed to written language. After prolonged social encounters, I become what I would like to call “socially exhausted.” I’ve tested it empirically, too, and my cutoff for socializing is about 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on my mood, the amount of sleep I’m running on, and other factors. By that time, I no longer feel like talking anymore. I speak in three word sentences, stutter, make speech errors, and sometimes struggle to even find words to say, whereas when I am just meeting up with somebody, words come to me effortlessly.

There are times where I think of my introversion as a disability, but I’ve learned to simultaneously appreciate it for what it is. I thrive on solitude, and I don’t really mind it. I endure fewer arguments and disagreements with other people, explore facets of my consciousness that I don’t normally pay attention to, and extract value from introspection and careful analysis of my feelings. That, I believe, is one of my better qualities.

The truth is, this poor introverted brain that I’m stuck with? I wouldn’t trade it for the world.