Is depression always bad?

When we think of the many different human emotions, we often separate these feelings into categories of “good” and “bad” feelings. There are many reasons for this- maybe we were taught that certain expressions of feelings weren’t okay and so we categorize that feeling as bad. Or maybe someone else’s expression of an emotion frightened us, or perhaps even our own expression has frightened us and so we avoid those feelings that are uncomfortable, labeling them as “bad”.

But sometimes I think, is depression really “bad”?

Humans have a wide range of emotions. And those emotions are information that help us to determine what is happening to us and around us in our environment. Emotions help us determine how to respond. So, are any of our feelings truly bad or is that really just a matter of our interpretation?

This is not a moment where I am saying that depression is “all in your head” or “have you just tried to not be depressed?” Depression is very much a mood and can be a disordered mood at that. This state requires emotional work and sometimes outside help in the form of talk therapy and sometimes medication.

Rather, what I am getting at is this- if emotions are information that help us to determine what is happening in our life, then, what is the purpose of depression? I think that depression is also just another way that we make sense of our environment and what is happening to us right now. And if we consider that there may be some purpose or something to be learned, then perhaps this perspective can help us as we work on the areas of our life that is affected.

Depression usually makes us slow down and think. We become more introspective. We isolate, which I believe can be helpful and is not always a bad sign. We turn our thoughts inward. There are lots of unhelpful behaviors too, but we can say that about any kind of feeling or mood.

Maybe sometimes depression is an opportunity to process an experience, to learn a valuable lesson. Think about it- if we are depressed because of a breakup, maybe the message is pretty simple and obvious. Maybe we clearly did something that caused the breakup. Maybe we finally had to break up with a partner because we are truly incompatible. Perhaps we need some time to think about what has happened, and to realign ourselves with what we want in a partner.

I think that maybe we attempt to move away from these feelings too quickly sometimes and rob ourselves of the very real lessons we can learn. It makes sense- who wants to feel depressed and sad? Who wants to really sit and think about the ways we have been harmed or the ways that we have caused harm? Our culture also sends us messages that positive thinking will cure anything, and perceived negative vibes can be isolating. Well-meaning family and friends may reinforce these messages by telling us it’s time to move forward, stop being sad.

But what if by not facing our depression, by not feeling it, by not learning the meaning and finding the growth- what if we are feeding it?

I think we must learn to honor our feelings, to examine them and feel them, in order to resolve them. And honoring them may mean no longer naming a feeling as “good” or “bad” but simply seeing them for what they are. If we can exchange the word bad for uncomfortable maybe, we can create a little bit of space that helps us to move that depression in a healthy way, so that it will run it’s course as intended.

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