The Spectrum: Finding beauty in my depression

Lizzie Baetz, Op-Ed Contributor

This essay is part of The Spectrum, a weekly forum in our Opinion section for marginalized voices to share their perspectives. To submit a piece for The Spectrum or discuss story ideas, please email [email protected]

I feel compelled to write about my experience with depression — partly because reflecting on it is cathartic, but mostly because I want to focus on a part of mental illness that is often passed over: beauty. I have found such unexpected beauty in this hellish journey of mine. To others struggling with mental illness, to those who may right now feel totally hopeless: please believe that our scarred minds have a beauty of their own.

When I’m seriously depressed, I exist in whatever way I can. Usually this means sleeping all day because even my nightmares are better than my reality. I become apathetic: I don’t care about school, my health, or my future. Nothing really matters. I’ll maintain friendships and ostensibly remain social, but I do so largely out of a fear of ending up lonelier than I already feel. Yet, somehow, this world without hope has introduced me to a world of beauty.

This hopelessness is hard to spot from the outside: maybe my eyes look a little emptier, maybe I seem dull and fatigued, maybe I limit my engagement with the external world. But this barely scratches the surface of the bottomless tiredness I feel. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling wholly without hope, and when you feel this way for so long you begin to think it’s normal. You become numb to how truly horrifying it is to live this way.

Because of this, I think the best part of coming out of depressive episodes is a greater appreciation for being alive and healthy. No matter how much you may or may not want to live, quality of life takes an enormous hit. I’m not truly living during my worst episodes. I merely go robotically through the motions and do enough to skate by without alarming too many people. Now in a state of recovery, every day is amazing to me. I have such a greater appreciation for even the most routine, boring day. Being awake and moving and working and thinking and learning… I am so grateful for all of it. I am alive, I exist in this world in significant ways, and that is beautiful!

Depression has given me empathy, too. Feeling so deeply, despite those emotions often being hopelessness or sorrow, allows me to better understand and care for what others feel. In a mood disorder like mine, emotions can be so strong and distressing and unregulated that I often strive to feel nothing at all. But that depth of feeling has led to a profound, analytical understanding of my own emotions, and in turn a better ability to connect and empathize with others.

I’ve also learned from depression that not being OK is OK. I’ve messed up so many times during my few years at Northwestern. I’ve missed so many classes and meetings, flunked so many tests, and disappointed myself more than I thought possible. Until recently, I looked at my time in college as an utter failure on my part: failure to not be better, stronger, more hard-working and motivated, healthier. If only I had admitted so much earlier that I was not OK, and that it’s fine to do what you need to do to get to being OK. I don’t regret these “failures” now. I’m stronger because of them, and I’ve learned to believe that I’m a worthy person regardless of my mess-ups. Furthermore, I’m more likely to succeed when I separate my self-worth from my failures. I wouldn’t have internalized this difference had it not been for depression forcing me to so thoroughly examine myself and my life. My future feels a lot more hopeful and beautiful now that I know I’m more than the sum of my mistakes.

I feel more hopeful and beautiful knowing I am not my depression, in all the negative associations that diagnosis holds. Depression has hurt me badly, but depression has also been a learning experience. I’m grateful for this newfound clarity and gratitude that’s come from the hard work mental illness has forced me to do. Thank you, depression, for making me confront the beliefs and misconceptions I had and still have about this world I live in and this person that I am. Though you did it circuitously, thank you for showing me how beautiful this life is.

Lizzie Baetz is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.