“Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Two years ago, reading this quote, I would smirk and think, “What a cliché.”
In the last two years, I would read this quote and be in utter disbelief that anything can be learned when one is in the depths of hell.
Today, I read this quote and resonate confidently, that yes, even though I tried to end my life, even though I had to quit a high paying job, even though I still suffer from major depression, good has come out of my negative experience, and I have learned the lesson to take care of myself and listen to my body, albeit the hard way.
Around November 2009, my doctor said to me, “Noch, I think you are burned out. Your migraines are most probably due to stress. Please go see a psychologist.”
My fiancé dragged a reluctant me into the shrink’s office, and I came out, diagnosed with major depression. I had no idea what it meant or what would become of me. I just felt extremely unmotivated, had no appetite, only had negative thoughts in my little head, and was excruciatingly tired of life.
I was immensely frustrated with myself. I didn’t know why I was depressed, or burned out. I thought I had it all: the executive job, high on the corporate ladder at the young age of 28.
I spoke a few languages, lived all around the world, had a man who loved me for who I was, had my few soul mates and a wide network of friends. So what happened to me?
Indeed, I felt really ungrateful to be sick at all. All the people who passed me everyday in the misty smog of Beijing seemed to live much harder lives, scraping by the wayside. So, who was I to be unhappy about my life? I had no answer. And the more I thought about it, the more I got caught in my web of negative thoughts and unreasonable reasoning of life.
I closed myself off from the rest of the world, and disappeared off the social radar. I was forced to take medical leave from work, being physically unable to do any work or concentrate.
The few close friends who knew of my plight tried to console me.
“It’s a challenge and test, to make you stronger,” they’d say. They gave me examples of all these great leaders of the world who had to go through trials and tribulations to get to where they were. There was something in store for me, and it would end up a positive life changing experience, they reassured me.
But I could not agree with anything they said. I could not see beyond that dark tunnel of despair. I found no meaning in life.
I tried to end my own life a few times. Each time my fiancé stopped me or saved me in time.
This lasted for some nine months. I stopped caring how I looked or dressed. I spent each day in bed or on the beanbag in the living room. I was too aloof to even watch TV or read a book.
I was amused by the irony that when I was so busy with work, all I wanted was time to lie around to watch TV or read; yet when I did have the time, I had no energy or interest.
Somehow, a little spark went off in my head one day, and I decided to write my own blog. Perhaps it was after reading too many articles in the blogosphere on depression, or how to live a better life that I got such inspiration. So, I started writing and rambling.
I fleshed out my negative thoughts, amidst pain and crying as I recounted the days and livid emotions in those none months of my worst days of major depression. I searched within my soul.
I asked myself again those fundamental questions on what I wanted in life, what would make me happy, and what my passions were.
Through my self-reflection and writing, I finally learned, painstakingly, in no particular order:
1. Don’t ignore warning signals in your body. Frequent petty colds, stomach aches, and headaches may all be a sign of stress.
2. There is no need to be strong all the time, and even less of a need to maintain an image of strength in front of others.
3. Achievements and titles mean nothing if they’re not something you’re passionate about.
4. Creativity is therapeutic, and it’s in everyone, just sometimes suppressed.
5. We need to matter the most to ourselves—over any job promotion, meeting, excel spreadsheet.
6. Not replying to emails immediately is not the end of the world.
7. We all need spare time for ourselves—time for solitude and reflection.
8. It doesn’t matter what everybody else thinks, if we know in our hearts something isn’t right.
9. Most petty worries aren’t serious. So save some energy.
10. Everything will be okay in time.
11. Health is the most important thing in the world.
12. Sometimes it’s best to stop doing so many things, and instead spend more time enjoying what we have.
13. There is no point in being afraid of the uncertainty because it doesn’t change that the future is uncertain. Leap.
14. We don’t have to worry about being a disappointment to anyone, because we do not need to live according to anyone else’s expectations of us.
15. We will all hurt. Embrace the pain, and know that suffering is a choice.
Depression was a loud wake up call for me. It taught me to stop sprinting towards the vanity of titles, money, and achievements with a muddled vision. It was a signal that something was wrong in my life and change was needed. It took getting close to death for me to fully appreciate the value of every breath.
I do not purport to have learned everything there is to learn about adversity. Yet, my mind has opened to welcoming experiences that might seem negative, now and in years to come.
Whatever befalls, positive or negative, embrace it with open arms, experience it, and learn from it.
Today I am still recovering from depression, but I’m learning to free myself from the traps of negative thinking, and establishing new habits for a new life.
So I say thank you sickness. Thank you depression. Thank you adversity.
We’ve all had our fair shares of struggles, and we’ll all have more—which means we’ll have new opportunities to learn, grow, and share it.
What are some of the wisdom you’ve reaped in your challenging times?
Photo by hang_in_there