A few years ago, I received some news that sent me spiraling into depression. Not the kind of clinical or major depression that’s best treated under the care of a doctor, but a situational depression — or, a type of “adjustment disorder,” as it’s sometimes called — that’s supposed to, you know, go away once you adjust to whatever change in your life triggered it.
However, this devastating piece of news was just one in a long line of related pieces of devastating news, and no matter how I’d tried to change my ways of thinking and adjust to the situation, the depression wasn’t going away.
All the typical symptoms were there: loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, inability to focus, withdrawal from social activities, etcetera and so forth, and while it seems like calling it a “crippling depression” would make sense, I can’t do that. If you’re crippled with depression, you at least feel something — anguish, pain, sorrow — something. I was just numb. I’d been covered up with a blanket of despair so heavy and for so long, I could no longer feel anything. The sadness was there, mixed in with some self-pity and, at times, panic, but I was so numb I was only aware those feelings were there. I couldn’t really feel them.
One day, while sitting on my parents’ couch in a pair of sweats that’d seen better — and definitely fresher — days, my father looked at me and said something that turned out to be one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received:
“Instead of getting depressed, you should be getting angry. At least if you’d get angry, you’d fight.”
My father is not a man of few words. He has a lot to say about a lot of stuff, and if you’re willing (and sometimes even if you’re not) you’re going to hear it. Yet, on the matter of my state of mind at that time, that was all he said.
Don’t be depressed. Get angry. Fight.
I didn’t have the energy to analyze it. I just wandered off to bed.
That night, I thought more about what my dad had said. Knowing I was as depressed as I was, why did he think adding anger would be a good idea? To fight? As if I had the mental or physical energy to fight.
Besides that, anger was unhealthy, too, wasn’t it? Anger causes increased stress and high blood pressure, two things of which I was probably already getting my fair share due to the depression, thank you very much.
Despite having written off Dad’s advice, at least on the surface, I kept thinking about it. I should be angry, right? I mean, what was happening to me not only sucked, but it was wrong. It was undeserved. And it seemed never-ending.
I bet if I’d had the chance to tell him about it, it would’ve been enough to tick off the Dalai Lama.
So why wasn’t I angry?
His Holiness aside, I had lots of family members and friends who cared about me and who were furious about what was happening, but they also had lives of their own to deal with. They loved me, but they didn’t have time to fight my battle for me.
So why wasn’t I fighting for me?
Had I been beaten down that hard? Surely not. I was still breathing, wasn’t I?
So what the hell was wrong with me?
I was depressed and, looking back now, I think I was using that depression as a sort of Band-Aid to block out any other unpleasant feeling. To keep me from thinking too deeply about anything else. To protect me from any more misery or pain. Maybe I thought if I was numb enough – if I could just sit on the couch and stare – I’d be safe.
I don’t know if it was Divine Intervention or just coincidental timing, but not long after I started considering Dad’s advice, I also started seeing – I mean, really seeing – what was going on around me. My family members and friends were living their lives – enjoying all the typical ups and downs of life – and I wasn’t. They were going on dates and vacations and seeing concerts and getting married and buying homes and having babies and living their dreams.
And I wasn’t.
And that pissed me off.
It wasn’t long before Dad’s advice started to make sense – before I started thinking, “You know what? I don’t deserve this. I don’t have to go through this. I will not allow this to go on any longer.”
Don’t misunderstand: It wasn’t a case of “I refuse to feel sorry for myself any longer” (well, not entirely). It was more a case of “This is abuse, and I have finally remembered that I care enough about myself to end it now.”
Before I knew it, I was angry. Once I started caring again – once I decided to get angry – the numbness didn’t just lift; it tore away like some invisible force was ripping off that Band-Aid. And I could feel again. Sure, it was anger, but I could feel it. And it helped me focus and pool my resources and fight with more gusto than I’ve ever fought in my life.
In case you’re wondering, I won the fight eventually, but that’s not the point.
The point is, even though the “angry people will fight” part of Dad’s advice wasn’t groundbreaking, the unspoken “anger will prompt you to fix this, you know” part was – for me, at least. I’d grown up, like many of us have, thinking adjusting to change was the healthy, mature way to go about things.
They’re no longer serving chocolate milk in the cafeteria? Adjust. Your campus’s Starbucks won’t let students pay from their meal plan accounts anymore? Adjust. Your boss decided to block all Internet access on company computers? Adjust.
What I’d never stopped to consider was that you don’t always have to do that. When the change isn’t good or justifiable – when it’s a gross abuse of power or harmful to others – you don’t have to sit back and figure out a way to adjust. You can get angry and fight.
Physically, mentally, emotionally, socially – anger can be a dangerous emotion, and I realize that. Yet, now, I also realize that when people get angry for the right reasons, and channel that anger into change-making action, there’s no time left for the kind of depression I was experiencing – and plenty of energy left to stop the change. To fight.