1. Patients and Caregivers
  2. Life Effects
  3. Can you learn from Depression

Can you learn from Depression

Getty Images / KatarzynaBialasiewicz

After a particularly severe experience with depression as a younger man, Dr. Jon Rottenberg was able to come out the other side -- but depression is still a big part of his life and work. Here, he shares some of the lessons he's learned from living with depression.

When I was a depressed young adult, my life seemed like a total loss. At that time, I gave up on career goals, withdrew from friends and family, and felt all alone in what seemed like a futile struggle. I was stuck, blocked, hopeless, and slowed down by negative thoughts.

My depression was a whirlwind that left only wreckage behind.

However, now that I’m on the other side of depression, I see things differently. Yes, my depression was destructive, but it was also creative. Stranger still, I now see that depression gave me things I didn’t have before.

While I would never wish depression on anyone — even my worst enemy — depression taught me a lot about how to be an adult.

Here are a few of the lessons that depression taught me:

Normal moods are precious

Before I got depressed, I took a lot for granted. You could even say I was holding onto an illusion. My younger self lived in a bubble of invincibility — the sense that I could glide through life untouched. Enjoying mental and physical health was, of course, a given.

This bubble was forever burst by the weight of days, months, and then years of low mood. But that bursting was a good thing. On the other side of depression, I place more value on just feeling OK. In fact, I’m grateful every morning I wake up feeling OK.

People really are there for me

Make no mistake, depression can tax your relationships. Almost certainly, some people will disappoint you. I certainly lost friends who were not interested in hearing about my depression, especially as it wore on. Depression can be a solitary place.

At the same time, I also learned there are some people who will stay with you no matter what. Twenty-five years later, I’m still married to one of these people.

I developed greater empathy for others facing hard times

Depression knocks you on your back. It may feel as though you’ve become as helpless as a kitten.

When you regain your footing, you may find that you’re now more open and alert to the signs that others are also struggling and feeling helpless — whether that’s because of depression or perhaps some other challenge.

Having been knocked down yourself, you’re much more likely to extend a helping hand to those who’ve lost their balance. In these ways, going through depression has probably made me a better listener and a better friend.

I’m stronger than I think

In my depression, there were many times I thought I was done. Finito. Fin. To be brutally honest, there were even moments that I thought about ending my life. Somehow, I found a way to persevere. Somehow, depression was not the end. I did not throw in the towel.

Like many who struggle with the condition, I learned that, at my core, I’m a survivor. I discovered a secret strength. This strength accompanies me today.

I gained a new perspective on life’s minor irritations

Having survived the horror of depression, life’s daily annoyances and hassles look just a little bit smaller: the annoying boss, the struggle to find a parking place, that dog that won’t stop barking, or that flight that gets canceled.

After going through a raging depression, you’re less rattled when these “smaller” things happen. Sometimes depression can give you more confidence. You think: “If I can cope with a raging depression, I can probably cope with whatever else comes my way.”

I (re)discovered my purpose

In the middle of my struggle, I was overwhelmed by depression. My life seemed completely senseless and random. Although I don’t pretend to understand all the reasons why I got depressed in the first place, depression ended up serving as a huge wake-up call for me.

I learned there were some parts of my life that needed work. Once my depression lifted, there was a chance to work on these parts and a chance for me to seize on things that really mattered.

Crawling from the wreckage of depression, I became a psychologist who tries to understand depression. I became a husband and a father. I became a mental health advocate. I got second chances to make a difference. I won’t waste them!

The takeaway

I want to be especially careful about what I’m saying here.

It’s possible to learn from depression, but this does not mean that we should discount other people’s suffering. It does not mean that depression is a good thing that we should welcome with open arms. And it does not mean that everyone learns the same things from depression.

But by the same token, I believe that my learning from depression is more than just one man’s experience.

With the right tools, community support, and help from mental health professionals, many of us with depression are able to find our way with the condition. And in some cases — like mine —we emerge stronger than ever.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-US-NP-00469 May 2021

I found this article:

Share this article:

You might also be interested in...

Group of young people sitting and talking

5 Terms that Stigmatizes Mental Health (and What to Say Instead)

By Bryce Evans
Read more

How My Mental Health Affects My Parenting Style

By Martin Gallagher
Read more
Woman hunched down on floor with her dog struggling with mental health stigma

4 Myths about Suicide Debunked

By Megan Potts
Read more