Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad.Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I think a lot of people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses often have the impression that these disorders have wasted days, months, even years of their lives. I certainly have been feeling that way, this year especially. Looking back on 2020, it seems like I didn’t accomplish anything. The whole year flew by in an isolated haze of anxiety and self-destructive behaviors. And I don’t think I’m alone in my view of this year given the global pandemic and the negative mental health consequences many are experiencing because of it.
The other day I stumbled across the quote included above, and it helped me to challenge this perspective. Perhaps the many days that were shrouded in depression and anxiety weren’t wasted after all. I mean, I certainly would not be who I am today without them.
When I was younger, I used to think bad experiences ruined you. But now I sort of think those experiences are what create the best among us. Has there ever been a truly inspiring, talented human being that has not known great suffering? While there is certainly a lot we lose in times of despair, I think we also gain quite a lot.
Personally I think I would be insufferable if not for the hardships I’ve dealt with in my life. I would be much more arrogant, selfish, and coldhearted. My struggles and suffering have humbled me considerably. They have given me immense empathy and understanding. Things I don’t know if I would have developed otherwise.
These times of depression and doubt were important, crucial even. The suffering we feel is simply growing pains. It is a needed dose of tough love from the universe. It makes us stronger, wiser, more caring. On the surface it may appear that this time is being wasted, but underneath significant changes are taking place.
This realization may not make these times in our lives any easier, but I hope it can at least provide some small comfort. Days spent in bed feeling defeated are not days wasted. Allow yourself this time. You are not broken. You are not ruined. You are not a waste. You are growing. You are healing. This suffering is a burden, but it can also be a blessing if we choose to learn from it.
Your worth is not determined by your ability to be productive. There is value in every experience, not just the pleasurable ones. So try to be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to spend a year resting. Take as much time as you need. It is not a waste.