I identify as neurodivergent. I choose to identify this way because I consider my mental health challenges “dangerous gifts” meaning that they are both sources of extreme challenge and of tremendous power and capability. Neurodivergence is also a political identity which recognizes the ways in which systems of oppression intersect with mental health challenges.
When I think about the gifts of my atypical brain functioning, it’s easy for me to connect with the benefits of my hypomanic states. These times often come with a waterfall of energy, creativity, and cinematic euphoria. It’s harder to find the value in my depressive and anxious states. These periods are often filled with strife and can drag me down into pain, pessimism, and overwhelming hopelessness.
I am currently experiencing another bout of depression, and in the midst of it, I feel compelled to write this list of how depression helps my growth. This piece is not meant to trivialize the seriousness of depression — I know many of us fight to have our depression recognized as a very real and life-threatening part of self. Depression has sharp edges and can feel excruciating and paralyzing. Many of us — myself included — have faced very serious consequences from our own depression, the depression of loved ones, and from the mental health systems that too often do more harm than good.
This piece is for those of us who experience cyclical depression, to give us new ways of relating to this powerful part of self. Because my depression is an integral part of me, I want to find better ways of interacting and resonating with it, mitigating its consequences while gratefully embracing its gifts. I needed to create this list to see through the fog and remember why I believe that all my mental health states have value, even the really challenging ones:
- Depression increases my empathy for all people, especially those who struggle with mental health challenges. I access a wide emotional range of the human experience. Depression helps me be a better friend, co-worker, and social change agent.
- I usually function at an unsustainably fast pace: Depression slows my system way down. My body and brain need a slow-down from time to time to function most optimally.
- Depression reminds me that I am interconnected and that I have a support network of people who care about my wellbeing.
- Depression humbles me. Resonating in humility helps me be a more conscientious and loving person.
- Depression helps me feel gratitude for my standard state of being. I usually move too fast to really appreciate it.
- When I authentically express my depression, it encourages others to express their authentic selves and states of being.
- I connect more deeply with art and music when depressed.
- I listen more and talk less when I’m depressed. Listening is a skill I value and appreciate the opportunity to practice.
- I usually really struggle with asserting boundaries. Because I don’t have the spoons (emotional energy) to say “Yes” and I don’t really give a fuck when depressed, depression helps me draw boundaries and see that the world doesn’t crumble when I say “No” to people. I’m also more direct because I don’t have the energy to beat around the bush. I can carry these skills back to my standard state of being.
- I sleep more when I’m depressed. Sleep is good for me, I usually don’t sleep enough.
- Personally experiencing the weight of depression makes me a better advocate for mental health justice.
- Depression reminds me of my strength. Survivors of cyclical depression are extremely resilient.
- Depression is a different way of experiencing reality. I learn and grow from altered states of consciousness.
- Having depression makes me a better performer and creator.
- Depression helps sharpen my anti-capitalist and anti-ableist lens: My value is not rooted in what I produce and what I do, I have value in just being.
If you’re struggling with depression, know that you are not alone. If you want support, here are a several resources to check out:
Unsuicide: A comprehensive resource page full of online and text-based support through crisis and suicidal thoughts.
Crisis Text Line: Text support through mental health crises. Text “Start” to 741–741. 24 hours a day, confidential.
San Francisco Peer-Run Warm-line: Warm-lines are call lines that provide support before the point of crisis, to connect with someone and talk. This warm-line is 100% staffed by people with lived experience of mental health challenges. They also provide support over chat. 7am-11pmPST, 7 days a week. 1–855–845–7415.
Trans Lifeline: Hotline by and for transgender folks. US: (877) 565–8860 Canada: (877) 330–6366
Befrienders Worldwide: This resource lists all the known hotlines in every country.
Find a list of warmlines across the US here.
Find a list of hotlines & mental health resources across the US here.
Amanda Gelender is a writer, speaker, organizer, performer, and mental health advocate currently working as a Project Manager on GitHub’s Social Impact team. Her background is in civil & human rights, community organizing, social protest theatre, and tech diversity and inclusion. Amanda holds BAs from Stanford University in Political Science and Drama. She’s a queer, neurodivergent, anti-zionist Jew. You can follow her at @agelender on twitter.