As I described in my previous article Thank God For My Depression!, I have survived an acute juvenile depression, a major depression, and a clinical depression. All of those depressions could have cost me my life.
Because of my experiences with depression, I know about the dangers, the darkness, the despair, and death. I lived through all of them.
Today, my depression is my source for amazing personal growth, enlightenment, and empowerment and I call it – my modern messenger. My messenger tells me what I lost in the past, what I lack in the present, and what I can learn for the future. In regard to the past, my messenger informed me (when my own child was 3) that I almost died when I was 3. In the present, my messenger lets me know when I am not dedicating enough time to writing, not enough time for my horse, goats, sheep, cats, or 20 year old dog, or not enough time building something. And in regard to the future, my messenger reveals to me that I need continuous growth and change.
I don’t always like what my messenger is telling me. I don’t always like continuous growth and change. I sometimes like things to stay the same. Continuous growth and change takes a lot of energy and comes with a lot of uncertainty. But my messenger is, like most great messengers, persistent, resolute, enduring, determined, stubborn, and indomitable.
Being able to understand a depression as an indomitable and unconquerable messenger explains why people experience a depression that can be severe and enduring. Unless the message is heard, the messenger will persist and often times become stronger. The less one listens to the messenger, the louder and more persistent he (yes, personification) will appear. The success of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) depends therefore on being able to hear the messenger and his message and acting upon it.
Being able to understand a depression as a messenger also provides an insight about the effectiveness of medication. While medications can quiet the messenger temporarily, which at times is necessary in acute episodes of depression, the messenger will eventually demand to be heard. Unfortunately, I had to witness too many cases where the continued administration of antidepressant medication silenced the messenger for too long. Children as young as 10 committed suicide because the warning that the messenger was trying to convey was left unheard.
Fortunately in my case, my family doctor and later on my therapist, both understood the true meaning and purpose of a depression. They both taught me to listen to the messenger and trained me to be able to respond to the message through action.
Initially, that action included autogenic training (a form of meditation), and later on the use of a software program called The Triple A Survival Guide for Emotions. Both the meditation and the software program propelled me into the growth that my depression demanded. Because of my depression, I can sincerely say today that I have absolutely done everything in my life that I have ever dreamed of, – and more.
My life is not the only example of how an understanding of the true meaning and purpose of a depression as a messenger can contribute to a person’s amazing personal growth. There are other examples.
One of those examples is the life of Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain during WWII. Unlike me, Winston Churchill did not call his depression a modern messenger but Black Dog. Like me, though, Winston Churchill responded to his Black Dog. In an interview with Charlie Rose on Wednesday, June 13, 2012, Celia Sandys, Churchill’s granddaughter (and other quests) discussed her grandfather’s Black Dog. Around minute 30 of the interview, Charlie Rose inquired about Winston Churchill’s bipolar characteristics, his depression, and the effect of both on his accomplishments as a writer, a politician, a painter, and a partner in the synergetic relationship with his wife. One of the guests responded, “The way to throw the Black Dog off his shoulder was furious activity…it could be painting, it could be writing, it could be politics, it could be laying bricks, it could be dancing, it was action, -purposeful action, deliberate action.”
As one continuous to listen to the interview about Winston Churchill’s life carefully, one also learns about the other important messages that a depression tries to convey. Messages that I believe Ludwig van Beethoven, Hans Christian Anderson, and many other famous writers, painters, musicians, or politicians might not have clearly heard or understood.
The message a depression conveys is more than just being creative, innovative, and taking action. As in my own and Winston Churchill’s life story, it is also about finding your own unique way of structuring your daily life, your relationships with other people, and about the unrelenting message for continues change and growth – whether we like it or not.
Since my new understanding of the meaning and purpose of depression as a modern messenger, I still get depressed – for about 5 seconds. It takes me about 5 seconds to be aware of how I feel and to realize that I need to respond to the messenger. My usual reaction is, “Oh no, not growth again.” Like many people, I feel resistance to growth and change.
After having listened to Charlie Rose’s interview, I will try to remember what Churchill’s grandson, Winston Junior, told one of the guests (minute 31:40) about what his grandfather said, “Every day, in the evening, I look in the mirror. I ask myself, what have I done today. What have I actually done significantly. Have I written an article, have I added to a speech, …have I made some important political decision. This is important, you must do this. You must interrogate yourself every day. It is as important as cleaning your teeth at the end of the day.” Charlie Rose’s guest concludes, “And that sense of purposeful activity is absolutely basic to Churchill.”
I can hear my modern messenger loudly saying, “Indeed! Indeed!”
More from Jasmine Thomas:
Thank God For My Depression!
How I Overcame My Depression