This I Believe

Mimi - District of Columbia
Entered on November 9, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: illness

I believe mental illness brings about mental health. Six years ago this month, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. At the time, I was barely capable of leaving my apartment, of eating, of sleeping. A number of events had converged—a parasitic illness from living in Morocco, a soured relationship, doubts about the career path I’d chosen—and I had quickly and inexplicably sunk into this state of nonfunction. I sought out a psychiatrist and a therapist, who gave a name to my misery and provided medication and talk therapy.

As I healed over the next year or two, I learned many things about myself and about mental illness, but the main lesson I took away from the experience is this: only through depression and anxiety did I learn to face my issues and deal with them better. It was only through therapy, for example, that I became aware that my perfectionist tendencies had contributed to my depression. Armed with that valuable information, I can now stop self-critical thoughts such as “I could have done that better” or “I should have said that instead!” before they take root. I’ll admit, though, they still haunt me. But at least I’m now conscious of them.

I’ve learned how strong I am, too. The stuff I made myself do when I was feeling like hell—taking a shower in the early days of the illness, accepting a challenging full-time job in a later stage—astounds me to this day. Sometimes these experiences went smoothly, sometimes they didn’t. Regardless, they brought about the best mental health I’ve ever had. But don’t worry, I’m not advocating everyone get depressed. I’d suggest trying to think objectively about the things that hold you back or make you sad right now, so you can deal with those issues and not experience them later in the form of depression.

But if you are depressed, know that most people who get help get better. I did, and it was weirdly one of the best things that has happened to me. Part of my healing included changing careers and moving to a new city, which led to meeting my husband. My life is so much better now, and I have depression and anxiety to thank for it. Without them, I’d likely still be slaving away in that old city, with the bad relationship and the career that made me miserable.

This I believe.