Fighting Depression: Why Get Well?

Recently, I’ve started asking myself a basic question: Why get well? What do I really want in fighting depression? After all, if I’m working on recovery, I ought to be able to see what I’m aiming for. I thought for a long time that what I wanted was to be free of depression. That would be tremendous, of course, but then what? What do I expect my life would be like? I tend to hear several formulations of this. One person wrote to me and mentioned happiness as what he’s looking for, and I’m sure that’s what most people would say.

Saying I want to be happy seems like a self-evidently true thing. A person with major depression can mean by this that he or she wants the ability to think positively and hopefully about life and about self. It’s possible to imagine a life free of depression and all the harm it causes oneself and others. But happiness goes beyond simply not being depressed. There are plenty of unhappy people who don’t suffer from this mood disorder. So if happiness is the goal, it means a lot more than just getting over this illness.

I’ve often thought of the goal as feeling like myself again. After first taking Prozac in the early 1990s, that was exactly what I felt – for a few months anyway. I could suddenly do what I wanted to do. My brain worked the way it used to, my will reacted to my thoughts and feelings and carried out my ideas, everything seemed so easy and natural! Why can’t life always be like this? For a long time, that’s what I thought my goal was: getting back to being me. Wouldn’t life be fine if I could get to this state of being who I really am more or less permanently? I still think of that every time I ride the waves of depression to their peaks and troughs. Just let me alone so that I can be myself again. Isn’t that enough?

But when I think about that goal or the idea of happiness as what I might aim for, I am reminded of a startling book I read many years ago at the suggestion of a marriage counselor my wife and I were seeing at the time. A Swiss psychologist (Adolph Guggenbuhl-Craig) wrote in Marriage Dead or Alive that happiness had nothing to do with this bond between two people. In his Jungian view, the purpose of staying married was not at all to be happy or to achieve a state of well-being. Instead it was the much deeper goal of “individuation.” That Jungian term refers to the process of personal growth by which you work to achieve integration of often clashing psychic drives. I think of it as self-discovery and the completion of the spiritual as well as psychological journey at the heart of living. Guggenbuhl-Craig also calls it salvation. It’s the attainment of a kind of psychic wholeness. Was it possible to think of dealing with depression as another step in the struggle toward self-realization?

And then I started reading the remarkable bipolar diary by the author of Living Manic Depressive. I found a post that hit on this issue exactly but in less cosmic terms than a Jungian would use. He says in one post that he doesn’t want to stop being bipolar. He has defined and built his inner strength by fighting back against this disorder. So if his illness suddenly went away, he says, “I may be better off without it, but I don’t think I would be me.”

Like the author of Living Manic Depressive, I’ve been dealing with my condition since childhood. Of course, I had no idea what to call it or even how to think about what I was going through for many years. But that didn’t change the reality that I was living with depression and discovering who I was partly through my reaction to its effects.

So when I think of how to answer the question Why Get Well? I have to question if getting well is what this fight against depression is all about – and if “just being me” is as simple a matter as getting rid of the illness and becoming my old self once more.

My goal is to become the person I was put on this earth to be, but who should I become other than the person I already am, illnesses and all? Depression is one of the conditions woven into my psyche. There’s no wishing it away. It confronts me every waking hour and pushes me to fight for who I am. I’d better make the most of it. Depression doesn’t seem to be going anywhere without me so I might as well focus on the daily struggle. That’s where I’m discovering what I’m all about. And that’s what I’m aiming for.

Photo Credit: Jane M. Sawyer and MorgueFile

16 Responses to “Fighting Depression: Why Get Well?”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Mimi says:

    When you realize your entire existence is based on your reactions to situation as seen through mental illness, your own distortion , then where is there to go? Experiences cannot be ‘redone’ , a lot of harm cannot be undone. Is the only point then to treating one’a illness to assuage guilt , or perhaps make one blind?

  2. ayelet says:

    lately i have been thinking about this question a lot. i started a new rare treatment in our country (only 3 private places can do it). there another pharmacologic aspects. chances and risks.
    i also asked: who am i withoit my deppresdion? i lost my memory so i hardly can speak about “being myself again”.
    so i said to myself: “why not create myself relatively from scratch? being someone new? trying new things that attract me and see what happens.

    good luck to all! may each one will find their own best way.

  3. i have started taking anti_depressant one year a go under the medical prescription after suffering from depression for about one and half years.It seems like i can’t live without taking my antidepressant but,i dont want to live on drugs any more,i want to be free from drugs,i tried to change my life styles but nothing chage my mood,untill i started taking those antidepressant,now i want to become as i’m before.Any help?

  4. Radhika says:

    why get rid of depression? because its not me. its myself holding me down. i couldnt ..cant take the helplessness the utter inability to do anything the crying im afraid of the emotions im ashamed of being me the way i have become.
    though about it being an identity of sorts, a part of me..i think i can identify with. there has not been any time in my life that i didnt have a certain tendency towards being this way..depressed. rather i should say sad, as i was not depressed, just incredibly sad always. sad for everyone else, guilty for being happy.terrified something would destroy my family. i was sad for characters in the stories i read as a child.i would peek at the endings to see if the book ended happily else i would not read.. i avoided all movies that gave me ’emotion sickness’.[ havent even watched ‘titanic’ yet and dont get me started on La vita e’ Bella] i hated my mother for tricking me into reading Cujo when i was 16. but all that apart i was a functional being, reasonably happy. a good student. my friends thought me ‘jolly’.i was friendly with everyone but friends with only a few.
    i was not given to bouts of silent crying till my lungs felt sliced like now after my worst fears for my family have come to pass. now im friendly with no one and have 4 steadfast people left [bless them]. after the meds i am actually able to appreciate the people iv got left.i might have lost them too had i not sought help. i want to be able to experience life. not be locked in my room all the time. i want to be able to handle being sad. that is normal. i dont want to be happy or ecstatic all the time..thatd be creepy. im getting there artificially.. i want to be there by myself naturally. i want to be merely sad and not a mental cripple anymore.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Radhika –

      You mentioned medication is your other comment, and I’m wondering if you have tried any therapy. For me, therapy has been one of the methods I’ve used to explore all the confusion about feelings, the fears and guilt and other moods that restricted my life at various times. It has served the function of helping me learn to be the person I was meant to be, which is the conclusion I came to in this post.

      My best to you —

      John

    • Christa says:

      Rahdika,

      I felt the same…I wanted to be free of that crippling feel that I cannot get my limbs to move…

      I was always sad too…embracing such feelings “to know who you are?”…really? I just don’t agree.

      I struggled for many years and discovered a few things in the proses about myself and health that assisted me in viewing things differently…

      Knowledge is an amazing thing, but it means you have to be brave to hope. I wish people would be brave to hope…it is so worth it!

  5. Anon for now says:

    If a seed is carried by the wind to an inhospitable place, yet germinates and sprouts, it may not grow to be as large and lush as it might have in a garden. But the urge toward becoming a tree is deep within it and it will do its best and, in doing so, will fulfill its life purpose.

    Plants tend to dig their roots deep and keep growing in any way they can, even if the results might be labeled “stunted,” “twisted,” or “deformed.” The cypresses that grow on the edges of ocean cliffs, shaped by buffeting winds, are not deformed. They are extraordinarily beautiful.

    I believe the human equivalent is exploring our inner selves, accepting the “buffeting winds” when they come, and reaching toward the sun the best we can. Whether we ultimately bear societally approved fruit or not, we are still beautiful beyond measure.

    I am not meaning to “preach.” I’m writing this to remind myself, as much as for anyone who reads it.

  6. Big Eddie says:

    “I may be better off without it, but I don’t think I would be me.”
    From romantic breakups to jobs that don’t work out, the difficult experiences can sometimes help us gain some wisdom, perspective or personal growth. They usually form part of our identity. Some people focus more on this aspect of depression. Others heavily emphasize the paradigm of treatable illness where success means something like a cure or something like reducing symptoms to near-invisibility. My ex wife thought that therapy and drugs were not having the intended effect if I was not leading the passionate, joyous life that healthy human beings generally live in her eyes.

    We admire people who struggle with their religious convictions or push themselves to the very limits of their being to be at the cutting edge of art, professional pursuits or athletics. Some truly great minds have struggled with mental illness. Let’s say I tell the people in my life: I have always struggled with bouts of depression and I always will; please support and respect my struggle without trying to take it away. Many, perhaps most would think I am throwing in the towel. Picking up the mighty gauntlet would mean trying to totally overcome the illness. Like people who can never lose enough weight to feel OK, people trying to completely, permanently vanquish depression can hinder their own progress toward healthier awareness. If alcoholics and other drug addicts are in a permanent state of recovery without ever becoming permanently recovered, why can’t we support depression sufferers in their recurring struggles?

  7. Siroj Sorajjakool says:

    This is a wonderful reflection on the issue of depression. You raised a great question for us to ponder. I have been amazed at what depression has done for me and, in a way, I would not have been where I am now if not because of my struggle with depression. Pain is always there but like you said, there is something more, a deeper sense of meaning and satisfaction.

  8. Don't Know Who Needs To Here This says:

    A song that comforts my heart is by Sonic Flood:

    Before the throne of God above
    I have a strong and perfect plea.
    A great high Priest whose Name is Love
    Who ever lives and pleads for me.
    My name is graven on His hands,
    My name is written on His heart.
    I know that while in heaven He stands
    No tongue can bid me thence depart.

    God has never abandoned me in times of mental illness. When we turn our lives over to Jesus, confess, and trust his sacrifice, WE have a high priest whose name is LOVE. He hears when we call.

    With Much Love.

  9. http://everyoneneedstherapy.blogspot.com says:

    I’m always telling people to quit trying so hard. Stay in the day and try to find the places that aren’t just flat lines or lows. That’s what people think of as happy; it’s certainly relative.

    My feeling is that if you’re a contributing member of society, in some way, some how, you don’t have to be whistling.

  10. Therese Borchard says:

    Wow. This is a powerful post. Makes me contemplate my illness from another perspective. Thanks! Therese

    • Larry says:

      Exactly. I was always depressed, why go back to that same person after this episode???? Maybe that is what fosters my Depression – I beat this episode and then return to a unhappy state until it returns in force. That’s what makes me back off recovery and then spiral down. I don’t realize that depression is a part of me, always has been, and always will be (my last psychologist even said that to me repeatedly). It is a disease – just like cancer, alcoholism, diabetees, high blood pressure – or also part of my whole me. Some people are short, have receeding hair (like me), blue eyes, big feet, good with numbers, bad at names, good natured, great athlete, whatever. Maybe the best I can do is come to peace with this and accept this is who I am. Simply deal with it every day and not look for a cure. Maybe someday Depression will get tired of me and go away. Who knows? Then I’ll finally realize the better person I became because of it…..

      Peace,
      Larry

By clicking "submit" below, you agree to follow our commenting guidelines.

*