I Am Not a Phoenix
Recovery From Depression Is Not An End To Sadness
I’m a big fan of end-of-year rituals. I like the ‘best of’ lists that circulate the internet in December and the memories that everyone shares about their past 12 months. I love how people tend to describe their whole year in one fell swoop, like “2015 was great!” or “This year kicked my butt.” However we do it, reflecting on the past year is an important exercise that gives us perspective and helps us shape our goals for the year ahead.
For me, 2015 was the year in which I began to slowly emerge out of a lingering depressive episode. I won’t delve into my experience with depression in this post, but I will just briefly say that I was able to make it through because I sought out and received the help I needed. For anyone reading this who needs help, know that taking this step was crucial to my upward swing. In this post, I'm focusing on what I learned from the recovery.
I barely even noticed when I began to feel better because it was such a slow progression at first. But as it gradually gained momentum, I started to gain hope. I began to imagine the possibility of life without the constant struggle; I dreamt of winning the war. That’s the language we always use, isn’t it: “the battle against depression,” we sometimes call it.
I wished, at my most hopeful times during the recovery, that I would burn off the depression and rise like a phoenix from its ashes. As I kept climbing up, I imagined that I would never feel this way again.
I was immensely grateful for the progress, but climbing out of it did not make me feel bulletproof to sadness like I had imagined it would. In fact, at first, it made me afraid.
Although I was beginning to feel more balanced and resilient, I still felt a twinge of nervousness whenever I had moments of sadness or loneliness. I was hesitant to pursue joy because I was afraid that being let down would make me crumble again. After experiencing the highs and lows of my emotional roller coaster, I wanted to sit at the top forever, and that made me afraid of the drop.
But as the end of the year approached, I took a look at my progress. I realized that my vision of being a phoenix and rising from the ashes of depression didn’t leave me much room to be human.
I began to understand that there are inevitable peaks and valleys ahead of me in life. I will feel sad and withdrawn at times. I will experience disappointment and loss; that is only natural. And yes, there is a chance I will even experience another depressive episode in my life. But it feels good to know that with help, I have already made it through one major struggle.
I wanted to remember, as I moved into a new year, that those emotions I used to fear are natural and healthy. After experiencing terrifying lows, it takes great self-compassion and courage to tell yourself that it’s okay to feel sad again sometimes. Just as okay as it is to feel joy.
Experiencing a full range of emotions, and learning how to cope with them, is necessary to living a full life. The key for anyone who has experienced mental health concerns in the past is to remain aware of what is normal and healthy and what is excessive. We can learn our own warning signs and get help early. This will inevitably make us stronger.
In the end I'm grateful to the whole experience for teaching me that I am not a phoenix. I do not wish to learn to fly away from sadness but instead, I wish to be wise enough to allow it to happen without letting it take over.