Why depressed people are not fragile
I’ve been in a kind of funk recently. Kinda in a funk is code speak for a bit depressed around the edges. Not critical, though. Critical was college, where just making it from one end of the day to the other was an enormous triumph and where I first started training for marathons just to move my body and to get myself from one place to another in a structured way while out of doors.
I've kept the running and, for the most part, shed the depression. But recently someone described me as fragile. As in, “I’m worried about Kyra coping because she is so fragile." Actually, that was said two years ago. But it's taken me this long to articulate a response. Something like:
When every morning you wake up and think, “What’s the point? Why live?” and then have to claw your way up through nihilism and despair and into the realm of vitality and purpose and meaning or, if not that, at least into the realm of "What’s for breakfast?” then you will become a stronger person than you ever knew or possibly ever could have been without the depression.
As Alice’s Red Queen might say, if she were a Depressed Red Queen: I daresay you haven’t had much practice. Why, sometimes I’ve come up with as many as six reasons to live before breakfast.
It’s this practice that makes for strength, for resiliency to all kinds of hardships. Coping with depression helped prepare me for racing Ironmans. Eight hours into a race, I can focus on how grateful I am to be here and that helps me both dig deep to find the best and strongest of myself—and to relax my face and smile. I feel truly euphoric when I’m doing a hard interval ride, pushing my limits but still sitting on that watts target. Or on the track, when I explode out of stillness with such power, with such lightness, and then hold on. Just to be in my body in this extreme way is a miracle.
Depression also prepared me for falling in love. And for being a mom.
In its wake, depression offers the chance to experience a kind of gratitude and love for yourself and others that's really quite profound.
Which is not to romanticize hardship in any way, absolutely not. In yoga, we've talked about this misconception that because it's hard it's more spiritual: As in, because I've been on this uncomfortable cushion for three hours and my back aches and I haven’t had breakfast, then I know I’m being like so super-duper spiritual right now.
Pain or tough moments don’t inherently make us wise and beautiful and strong. Rather, they make for fertile conditions—but we still have to get to work and till the soil. Van Gogh wasn’t a great artist because he had depression. He was a great artist because he used that suffering to fuel his work, to see and to love in ways that might not have been possible were he not also intimately familiar with the darkest parts of himself and of his life. I wonder if Van Gogh would have been able to express irises with such reverence and care if he were not also aware of how fortunate he was to be here to enjoy them?
We all grieve. It's just that depressed people have grief that's out of proportion. So we all have the capacity to channel grief into painting irises with reverence; but maybe it's that depressed people have more practice.
I reject this idea of fragile because it invites people to tip-toe around me. But that is the opposite of what I need. I need to be challenged and to be pushed, to be in awe of myself.
It astounds me how much work is required just to know and love ourselves. But isn't that the work that's most worth doing?