On Suffering | How Does it Relate to Depression?

In life, there are a few guarantees. Some of them being the days passing, change and evolution, but it never occurred to me that suffering is also guaranteed. We can define suffering as a state of undergoing pain, strife, distress or hardship and at one point or another in our lives, I can guarantee we’ve all experienced suffering. It can be caused by something as minor as a cut to the finger, or a larger catastrophic event leaving hundreds dead.

Let’s look at suffering a little more granularly.

Say that there is a person who is obese, and is told to lose weight for the sake of their health. From the beginning, they are already suffering. They suffer the scrutiny from society who loves to fat-shame, they suffer from health ailments and joint pain, and a myriad of other reasons. Suffering exists for this person in both low-level and high-level forms, for example (as theoretic):

  1. Instant gratification by way of convenience of unhealthy eating habits. Not taking the time to choose healthier eating options or satiating hunger with junk food contributes to more health problems and continues the state of obesity. This is low-level suffering.

  2. Understanding their current health state and choosing to take control of the situation by way of exercise and increased activity. It can feel grueling to walk on a treadmill for 15 minutes and maintain the discipline to stay committed. Maintaining a more active regimen will contribute to a better health outlook. This is high-level suffering.

When we apply this concept of low/high-levels of suffering and see how it shows up in our daily lives, we can recognize that we have choices that either enable our suffering to continue, or to suffer in a way that will alleviate the overarching cycle of suffering. But know that suffering will always be on of life’s constants, and we will have to understand how to better recognize how to address our suffering.

I’ve been waffling back and forth on whether depression is a constant state of suffering, or whether it is a period of time in which suffering is exacerbated. As I continue on living with depression, I believe that it’s different for everyone. For me personally, I feel that it’s a combination of both, in which it ebbs and flows. There will be moments of highs in which things seem to be excruciating, and there will be moments of lows, in which there is nothingness. The goal in managing depression is to keep things relatively level, almost to a plateau, keeping the rollercoaster lines at bay.

My suffering, while it cannot be controlled, can be managed through choices I make.

Photo by  Maurice Berbano

In high school, I drank bleach and landed myself in the hospital under supervision. I didn’t want to be told when to eat, what pills to swallow, when to get my blood drawn, and who to talk to. All I wanted was to get out and be in my own bed where I would wallow in my own mental anguish. I figured out quickly that I would need to do everything asked of me to be released; it worked. But that was a low-level form of suffering. All it did was continue the cycle of an illness that was never fully addressed nor identified — and swallowing too many pills happened a few years later.

The high-level realization came after the second hospitalization. I didn’t want to keep going to the extremes (aka supervised hospitalization). I wanted to continue my studies at school and lead a seemingly normal life, with the college experience everyone touts to be the best years of your life (they are). I took two semesters off to rehabilitate myself. I sought the professional help I needed, went to the therapy recommended, and consistently started medication. In time, I felt like I was gaining control of my life again, instead of being chained to a grip that kept me from experiencing my college years as I should have.

Now, having experienced that in my younger years, I know when things get bad before getting worse. I know I have choices to make, and how to address the issue at hand, although it might take time. It’s just a matter of deciding the suffering I want to endure, and for how long. If depression is currently rearing its head in your life, the suffering is real. It can last and last and last — but no one can help you better than you.