No, Depression is Not a Fucking Superpower

Trigger Warning: Depression, bipolar, suicide.

Struggling with bipolar disorder throughout my life, I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about bipolar and similarly, about depression. One of the prevailing and problematic narratives I’ve heard is that depression is a gift — that it makes us more creative, more insightful, more deep, and brings us closer to some ultimate truth about the true nature of the universe. To which I’d like to say, sit the fuck down. Depression is not a fucking superpower.

I will offer a disclaimer and say that the Western model of viewing bipolar/depression as an illness is not an unproblematic view, and that I am speaking purely from my personal experience as someone who comes from a very Western perspective. There is certainly some merit to reconceptualizing how we view neurological diversity, and I am in no way saying that my view of bipolar/depression is the correct or least problematic one. I am simply critiquing the very Western tendency to romanticize mental illness.

Before I was diagnosed with bipolar, countless people in my life tried to offer me a more optimistic view of my depression. They told me that the depression I felt was what allowed me to be so creative, to feel more deeply than other people, and even suggested that my intelligence was linked to my depression. I was told that my depression was just a natural condition of living in our Western society, and that consequently, I simply “saw a truth” that others could not see. And while I’m certain that all of this was well-intentioned, what this did for me was enable me to continue being depressed, without seeking out resources that could improve my coping skills. What this did was justify my suffering, and convinced me that my depression was a gift, rather than an illness.

I started to wear my depression like a badge of honor, convinced that it offered me insight that others simply didn’t understand or have access to. I thought that my suffering made me a better person. I thought that depression made my worldview more accurate — that struggling was the only way to understand fundamental truths about our world. It naturalized my suffering to the point of making depression seem reasonable. Eventually who I was and my illness seemed inseparable, and depression became part of my identity. And even after suicidal thoughts ravaged my brain each and every day, I reasoned that many artists and writers had tried offing themselves before — and that I was simply joining the ranks of some of the great minds in history.

I looked at my healthy, well-adjusted friends and I said that they were the crazy ones. Crazy because they just couldn’t see the truth — as if they were lesser than me because I had this gift of suffering. I distanced myself from them because I insisted that they couldn’t understand. I looked at the pessimistic nihilist in the mirror and mistook that for my true self. To be truly and fully alive is to suffer, I thought. And when my friends tried to offer me some perspective — that maybe the pain was indicative of a sickness, one that I needed help with — I pushed them further away.

Because I wasn’t sick. I just had a gift. A superpower, even.

And every superhero has their kryptonite. To me, medication would surely take away my gifts. Therapists and psychiatrists were the enemy. So I suffered, needlessly, for years, almost always on the brink of death. I thought that I was seeing things clearly — more clearly than everyone else. But the truth is, I couldn’t have been more delusional. Because depression wasn’t giving me insight, or creativity, or strength. Depression was slowly and insidiously sapping the life out of me, and with it, the will to live.

This is a delusion that almost cost me my life. The romanticizing of my illness convinced me that I did not need help, and it normalized dysfunctional and harmful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; my suffering became synonymous with my sense of self. And because of this, I did not seek help for my depression until after I tried to kill myself. It took almost dying, alone in my bedroom, to make me realize that the extent of my suffering was anything but noble. Depression was not my superpower. Depression was not my truth. And split seconds before my life threatened to end, I saw depression for what it really was — a liar.

Because guess what? All of the “original” truths that depression revealed to me and only me? Those are the very same “truths” so many depressed people share. And for many of us, it’s a distorted world view that costs us our lives.

And when I finally began to receive help for my illness, and a proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I felt betrayed. How could I have believed that my unfathomable pain made me a better person? How could I have been told, in the midst of my darkest moments, that depression was revealing to me an objective, indisputable truth? Depression did none of those things. It robbed me of years of happiness, and fractured relationships that would take years to repair. It stole from me my potential, my ambition, my vivacity, my hunger for new experiences — and it replaced this with agony, lethargy, anger, and hopelessness.

So no, depression is not a fucking superpower. Because the complexity, the creativity, the intelligence, the depth, and the compassion that make me who I am are not a side effect of depression — they are an intrinsic part of who I am. And those are gifts that can’t be enjoyed or expressed to their fullest potential until we are able to cope, effectively and fully, with the illness that seeks to rob us of those gifts. Depression does not speak the truth. Depression distorted my reality.

In therapy, it often felt like I was starting from square one — because for so long, the very core of who I thought I was relied upon this idea that pessimism, nihilism, and chaos defined me. But years later, with the help of medication to stabilize my moods, I emerged on the other side of this illness as an insufferable optimist. And rather than reject this optimism as an undeveloped, immature view of the world, I embraced it.

Because I think that the ability to feel hope, in spite of everything I have gone through, is a far greater gift than anything depression can ever give me.

8 thoughts on “No, Depression is Not a Fucking Superpower

  1. Sam Dylan Finch says:

    Previous comment by Gary has been removed; please review the FAQ before posting again.

    “Q: I’m [insert identity group here], and your narrative does not speak for me!

    A: No, of course not! And I encourage you to write about your own experiences in the comments, or write a blog post of your own. I can only speak to my own perspective, and I hope I’ve made it abundantly clear that I am not trying to act as a representative for any group.”

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  2. israelkendall says:

    I agree that depression is not a superpower, but periods of mania may be. I’ve accomplished truly amazing things during my manic episodes in a very short time. I taught myself web design and SEO within very little time, while simultaneously creating a very professional web site complete with tons of self written articles. I taught myself how to keep corals, and in no time I was raising corals with extreme success, some of the most difficult species on earth to keep alive actually. Staying up day and night researching, learning, and working on projects has given me a level productivity many only wished they could achieve. But then there is the depression, which I would liken kryptonite, destroying my powers, and my life as well.

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