Depression Is My Protector

by Enricoh Alfonzo

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We have this perception that depression is a bad thing to have. That it pushes away friends and family, isolates you, devours your feelings, makes you develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, essentially shutting you off from the active world around you. YES, depression is all those things and more. But WHY? Because depression is your protector.

It took me a long, long time to realize this because initially, until this revelation, I was under the assumption that I was being a horrible person for having depression. Those around me did not like it and would sometimes resort to trying to guilt me into getting out of it. That, by being this way, I was disrupting their lives and their vision for my future. I get it; I do. They were coming from a place of love, but love is not always articulated in the best way. It can be downright the most annoying thing when the person does not know how to deal with a problem they cannot empathize with. So, I ended up thinking it was just this bad, unfair thing that I had with no way or hope to fix. However, there was this day, like any other, in therapy when I was conveying my experience to my psychologist, and it all dawned on me. Why was I holding on so hard to my depression? Why was it so important, above all else, to me that I be in this state? Because essentially, this thing that I had thought had ruined my life or was making me miserable was actually protecting me all along! What a turnaround! 360-degree perspective change kind of thinking.

A quote from Dr. Christina perfectly summarizes this as: “A gentle reminder that many of our unhealthy coping skills served a purpose at one point in our lives.”

You see, when we suffer trauma or go through an experience that decimates our entire identity or, in truth, reveals what we have been subconsciously burying all along, the result is a complete breakdown of our psyche, and all our mind can do is retreat into itself. In “Vampire Diaries,” new vampires have it easy in that it is an actual switch they can flip within their mind that lets them turn off all emotions. But for us mere mortals, our depression can happen over years or sometimes almost instantly, to varying degrees. The extremes leave us almost catatonic, in just this debilitating state of nothingness. It does cut off your emotions, your feelings, but unlike “Vampire Diaries” where that effect leaves you free and enjoying whatever pleases you, because we are so driven by our emotions as human beings, the absence of this leaves us infinitely sad over the loss and guilty over being unable to get them back. This black hole of despair you now surround yourself with is what pushes those closest to you away because they themselves do not want to get sucked in.

Now, this is where it gets interesting and to my point. This trauma you experience, this underlying factor of why you are the way you are, varies for each individual. But I will tell you why you need depression because it keeps you safe. It shuts off your emotions, your feelings, so that you do not have to feel everything at once. Not the good, and especially not the bad, because those are emotions you just are not ready for or have the tools to deal with right now. They are too much, trust me. Think of it like a dam. Imagine if that dam were to break right now. Do you think you alone could withstand the water pressure of a thousand metric tons of gushing waves crashing into you? No, it is ridiculous to think you could, because unfortunately, no one’s mind is just supernaturally strong right out the door.

It isolates you from people because you are not ready for the world. The world is forever moving, changing, and becoming, all without you. To see that, to experience while you are within your black hole, just forces you to sink further into that abyss because their happiness, their achievements, only further increase your already overwhelming doubts that you’ll ever feel like they feel or achieve what they have achieved in your lifetime. This, I believe, is one of the key instigators of suicidal intention. Sometimes we get forced into the world by others around us, by laws, by survival, and even by ourselves on the preconceived notion that “you must,” “be a man,” “get over it,” “push through it,” “don’t be sensitive,” and so on. That isolation is so much needed, you have no idea. It keeps you away from all this noise and provides the peace of self you need for your recovery and healing. Whether it be in a hospital stay or your room/house, treat it like a COVID-19 quarantine and just let the depression lead that need you now have for isolation. It is in this isolation that you can find a peaceful state of being that no one can ever take from you.

Depression makes you form unhealthy habits, such as eating to fill that void, binge-watching TV shows and movies, binge-reading – pretty much anything to do with bingeing, gaming, or even the really bad ones like smoking, drinking, drugs, and so on. All these are what we call coping mechanisms. Right now, your brain does not want you to process anything: emotional baggage, intellectual thought, creative production, familial obligations, responsibility – nothing. It wants you to feel and do nothing, but in a sort of mindless way. And these coping mechanisms are what do exactly that. When you binge through a comedy series that is 10 or more seasons long, that’s 25-minute episodes at an average of 21 episodes per season, you end up watching 5250 minutes or roughly 87 hours of TV. But in truth, you are not really cognizant of any of it. That laughter is just a momentary fickle reaction; it does not reach deep within you as it should, it does not fulfil. All it does is allow you to pass the time with something that somewhat entertains you and keeps you from thinking about anything at all. Sure, those thoughts never really disappear altogether; it’s never that easy to turn off the brain completely. So, in the back of your mind, somewhere a new voice forms that’s telling you all the things you’re doing wrong: how you are letting everyone down, how you won’t find love this way, how lazy you are, how worthless you are for doing this instead of “pushing through” and ending your depression. Instead of telling that voice “it’s not that easy, it’s a process,” you end up egging it on and validating everything it’s saying.

So, while the depression IS protecting you from the harshness of your mental illness and the world, your self-worth and inner voice are berating you for being this way because like you were taught, this is not the right way to behave or exist. Instead of thinking of depression as this Dementor-like cloaked ghoul of a monster over your shoulder with its crooked, wrinkled, long-nailed hand pulling you back into the darkness, remember it’s actually protecting you from the light that’s just too bright for you to process right now.

Depression is defined as “feelings of severe despondency and dejection.” But I believe it is this despondency and dejection that is keeping you safe from the trauma you have had done to your psyche and being. It is this perspective change that might keep you from flinging yourself off a cliff while stating depression is the reason. While, yes, the statistics show a high-risk likelihood that suicide results from depression. However, let us reclaim that to say that maybe our misunderstanding about what it is, is what might cause us to think it is the reason for us to end our life now. But first, let us talk about it. Why do we feel suicidal? Because we see no way out? That the despair of the situation is just too much, that there is this hopelessness that nothing we do will matter and fix anything ever again. It is over now. Or conversely, that our trauma is just too overwhelming, that what has happened to us or what we have done is just too damn impossibly intensely hurtful that there is just no way that we can ever deal with or accept it. I completely agree, it is all these things and more. So much more. It is an endless play in your head of “worthlessness” and “I don’t deserve nor want to exist.” I get that, I was that and, on some days, I am still that even to this day. So yes, suicide and destructive behaviour are unfortunately still going to be tied with your depression. It is not so easy nor comprehensible to try and untangle that web. What worked for me to do it will not or may not work for everyone nor even anyone else. But I can share it regardless.

When I was at that stage of just no longer feeling anything at all, it was like someone could have come up to me, pointed a gun to my head, or even to anyone closest to me in my life, and I would have just shrugged, unfazed by any scenario. I just felt nothing, and that nothing would ever change. I was truly ready to end it all – no attempts, no small measures, no note – nothing but the intention that it was over now. It was going to be a definite end to my life; I was just that serious about it. My parents’ feelings, my future potential, my unfinished works, my possessions – nothing held any sway over me anymore. Nothing could guilt me into sticking around.

Then that December, I discovered the TV Series called “13 Reasons Why.” It’s about a girl who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes to explain why she had killed herself. I guess it was seeing that representation of just exactly how much intense crap a person goes through that NO ONE, not even the ones closest to them, least of all their parents, have any clue about. Because in the end, NO ONE lives in your body, your mind, or through your experiences other than YOU. YOU are your constant.

It was not in the condemnation or promotion of suicide, but more into the journey and understanding of the WHY behind a single suicide. YOU are also unique. No two people experience things in the exact same way. How one woman was raped, or how another was, is never identical because each woman is her own being with her own mind. Trauma is not something you dismiss out of hand as a cemented theory of generalness. It is unique, it is unyielding, and it is the most damaging thing to ever go through a person’s mind.

Which is why depression becomes such a crucial coping mechanism itself for whichever underlying causality of trauma you may have.

Therefore, I believe therapy is so, so especially important. It does not cure your depression; it does not aim to propagate a supposed cure. It helps you understand your trauma. You are there to basically offload that horrible weight towards the therapist so that they can take it and help you analyse it from every angle. They are there to help you walk through your mind, giving you validation for your thoughts, however dark, however ridiculous, and however profound they may be. They are trained not to be sucked into your black hole but still take a walk with you inside it, pointing out and discussing the different sections of your trauma with you. As with anything worthwhile in the world, it is a long and gruelling process whereby for the longest time you may not experience any significant change at all. However, those steps you take compound over time; they help you build a stronger psyche. Yet still, be mindful that you most assuredly will fall off the proverbial wagon. Even if it means you have taken 50 thousand steps backward, the therapy is there to simply help you find a new route or alternative path or even get you back on the same path, so long as you are staying with the process of getting treatment.

I say therapy because I would not claim to say that you only need one thing to work, like simply going to see a psychologist. No. It does not work like that and if it maybe does then it is an exception. The truth is that it is a variety of treatments. The best action plan you can have is a combo of treatments that make up your therapy. I would advise you to try as many as you can. Psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, support groups, seminars, chat rooms, acupressure, herbalists, and so on. The importance here is that you find the combo of treatments that work for YOU. For me it was being hospitalized first, then treated by a psychiatrist who gave me meds, a psychologist with who I unloaded all my mental trauma unto and an occupational therapist that tried to help me see a future. Before that, I had tried support groups, seminars, chat rooms, counsellors and so on but they were not enough for me just like they may not be enough for you or maybe just what you need. Nothing is set in stone, however. Going forward the occupational therapy fell away as well as the psychiatrist, but the medication continued and what truly, truly helped the most was having the consistency of seeing my psychologist. There were even days where we dealt with the most mundane of things like my frustration over a bathroom schedule or the behaviour of a family member, yet all of those sessions compounded overtime. They helped me feel heard and validated for my thoughts. Also, another importance here is that once the meds {antidepressants} had started making me feel again, those feelings had a tendency to become overwhelming but mostly one at a time and my psychologist was there to help me process each of them, help me work through them so they became more controlled by me and less like an untended flame.

You know how the saying goes “it takes a village” well let’s say with this “it takes a village of trained professionals over a village of sessions.”

There is a part of you that wants to get better. I know that 99.999999999% of you feels like it’s over now, that there is nothing to be done. But there is still that infinitesimal part of you that wants out of this depression. So even if most of you do not believe it’s going to work, even if you’re not interested at all, just go, just do it. Tell yourself you are just doing it for the others who care for you; tell yourself it is just so you can appear to be doing something while you can then come home and sit in front of the TV all day thereafter. That is okay. Tell yourself whatever you want, just as long as it gets you into therapy. Even if you have to tell a loved one to do it all for you – do the bookings, drive you there, follow up, pick up your meds, and whatever – give them the responsibility if you have to, because you know what, they love you. And even if they themselves do not believe in it, that love will outweigh their doubt. They will help you.

After my own 3-year journey into this, I strongly believe that depression is my protector. That it has been my guardian through all of this, protecting me from my feelings, from living in the world, and from moving forward without first healing myself. And even though a vast majority of it is gone, I still feel like I gained a superpower from it. Now, whenever I have to experience pain or discomfort, I can go to this “dead place” within my mind where nothing bad in this world could ever come close to how I was when I was in my black hole of depression. It is almost like nothing else could ever be that powerful or relevant so as to overpower my trauma. Therefore, even though it was immensely and intensely tough to let go of my depression and that feeling of protection, I know now that it will always be there – not only as a superpower but also as my guardian who taught me invaluable lessons that I carry with me in everything I do. And yet, I still do not do it on my own; I still rely on my therapy sessions with KP to keep me grounded in my healing process because I am not so arrogant to think that I am cured or that a part of me will always be fighting to get that protection back. Because after being protected for so long, it’s hard to do things without the shield. Instead of having that guard to ward off things, you have to experience them and become porous like water in a river where things pass through you as you work through them. Not avoid them or push through them or force them out of your way. The key to my mental health is working through them. I do that with the aid of an objective party like my psychologist who can interpret these obstacles and help me understand my best method of overcoming them. Perhaps I too became addicted, in a sense, to my depression, to that protection that kept me safe from getting hurt in any way. And now without it, I’m raw like an exposed nerve. However, I just have to keep working to make that nerve stronger and more resilient.

So be mindful of this protection you have. Use it, stay within it, let it be that guardian for you against all that pain and hurt you have right now. But also be mindful not to get addicted to it. Seek out those trained professionals, let them guide you out of the protection safely and expertly. That is my opinion, my experience, and my advice.

Depression is my protector.

Depression may be your protector.

I sought professional help.

You should consider seeking professional help.

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