Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is Depression a Character Flaw?

I think one of my biggest struggles right now is viewing my depression as a character flaw as opposed to an illness.

When I am feeling more down than usual, instant criticism pops in my head, “I am weak, I am a failure, and I am good for nothing.  Why can’t I be different?  What’s wrong with me?”  Thus starts a downward spiral of self-hate.  I begin to despise who I am rather that the disease from which I suffer.

When I said I “had” depression a couple years ago, I mean that I had severe depression that needed immediate intervention.  Had I not received help at that time, gone to the hospital, started medication, and seeing a counselor, things would not have turned out so good.

I will say that I am recovered, meaning, I am recovered from severe and even moderate depression.  However, I think I still struggle with mild depression on a day to day basis.

In order to keep my mild depressive symptoms in check, I monitor my stress and expectation levels, I try to pay attention to early warning signs, and I have reoccurring chats with my husband about my moods.  In addition, I regularly update my coping skills list to make sure it reflects the best possible ways to help me get through the tough times.

These things are really important.  I don’t want to go back to the way I was before.

Also, part of staying away from severe depression is recognizing that I still have mild depression.  I am not completely “cured” as my psychiatrist would say.
When I have bad days, when all I want to do is stay in bed or wallow in self-pity, I often make matters worse by beating myself up about it.  I think my persistent depression must be the result of some character flaw – some defect in who I am as a person – and, therefore, I must be beyond hope.

Falsely, I think my depression is something I’ve brought upon myself.  It’s because, “I am lazy, I am self-centered, and I am ungrateful.”  Sometimes, depression becomes a part of how I’d describe myself: quiet, artistic, patient, depressed.  I apply the same resolve to trying to be happier – less depressed – as I do for trying to be more patient.

In reality, depression is an illness that imposes itself, unwelcome, in my body and in my brain.  In this way, the disease is not so different than any other disease of the body, like cancer or diabetes.  I might be more susceptible to it because of my genetic makeup or my introverted personality, but that doesn’t mean I gave myself depression - or if I tried harder, I wouldn't have it.

And that doesn’t mean I am a bad person.

Depression is not a character flaw.  It is not the result of some sin or vice.  It is not a descriptive adjective.  If I knew someone suffering from cancer, would I describe them as fun-loving, determined, generous, and cancerous?  No.

I need to remember that mercy when I am dealing with my own struggles.  Depression is not part of who I am – not part of my character – but is an unwanted illness that I hope to recovery from someday.

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