Bittersweet: A new beginning with clinical depression
“In the depths of winter, there lay within me an invincible summer.”
It’s that time of the year again. Everybody seems happy, excited, and contemplative. The New Year is full of hope, potential, and promises. Everyone is excited about new beginnings, but my own new beginning this year is bittersweet. Last year I was diagnosed with chronic hypothyroidism, which was followed by a diagnosis of ‘major depression’, otherwise known as ‘clinical depression’. On the day that my psychologist broke the news to me, I was calm at first, although I soon felt as though I had been punched in my stomach. As a culture, we tend to deeply misunderstand the suffering of those with mental illness, and this led to my feelings of pain, shame, guilt, and fear.
Until that moment, I thought I had led the perfect life--a busy, happy childhood, supportive upper-middle-class parents, and an exciting sibling rivalry; I had been an exemplary school student, with above average grades and an appetite for extracurricular activities. My college years were much the same. I eventually landed an attractive job on campus, delighted my clients and bosses with panache, and married the man I love. When I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism I quit my job and pursued my dream of writing. I started travelling a lot and landed a part-time project with a leading international travel brand. At the same time, I simultaneously pursued all the other interests I had planned for my post-retirement. I wondered what could have possibly gone wrong, and it was in that moment, something happened. Something changed. As I was forced to acknowledge my current condition which was altering my physical and emotional health, it also altered the way I look at, understand, and experience new beginnings.
Over the last eight months, as I have actively battled my depressive episodes, I have been witness to people going through their own new beginnings. Although I try to be happy for my friends, it hurts to see other people happy while it feels like my own life is on hold. On social media, friends excitedly posted about their new jobs, shared their vacation pictures, and posted other happy details about their lives while I was weighed down with thoughts of things that could have been, of the choices that I had made, and the ones I didn’t. Worst of all were the feelings of self-loathing and self-harm, even as people unknowingly envied my life. Well-meaning family and friends asked me to “chill out” and said that I “think too much.” I struggled to understand the root cause of my depression until it occurred to me that it was a direct result of traumatic experiences related to unfulfilled desires and loneliness from childhood. Forced to embrace my depression diagnosis, a new beginning consisting of mindfulness terrified me.
Acknowledging and confronting my depression head on
In short, I learned that new beginnings don’t have to be a complete makeover. Some beginnings mean slight tweaks -- a willingness to dare and experiment -- to just be comfortable in one’s own skin, no matter how odd it might seem to others. I realized that even though my mental health recovery is still a work in progress, it hasn’t taken away my ability to start anew. It just means that it is time to