Depression often had me contemplating the point of life. Failing to find a good point, my thoughts frequently turned to suicide. I felt that my misery and suffering far outweighed anything positive coming my way. I could not see the point of bothering to live. I felt I had no value and nothing to offer. I felt like I didn’t belong. If you are at the point where you fantasize about suicide, it’s not that you want to die. It’s that you want to escape the pain and you see no options.
I eventually got to a place where I decided suicide wasn’t an option. I didn’t want to live but I also didn’t want to die. So I existed. Resigned to just going through the motions.
I had a turning point in my recovery when I watched March of the Penguins – the movie, narrated by Morgan Freeman, about the yearly journey of the Emperor penguins of Antarctica.
Here’s the gist. These penguins have to travel about 100 km to get to their breeding ground each year. The males spend months huddled together in -60 C (-80 F), starving, with the egg on their feet to incubate it. The starving females take months to travel back to the sea to feed. If the male drops the egg, their chick dies. If the female doesn’t return to her partner, the chick dies. It’s completely absurd!
It’s unfathomable misery and suffering and for what? What makes them want to live? They obviously knew something I didn’t. If I could figure out what kept them going, I’d apply that to myself.
First, penguins have no expectation that life should be wonderful most of the time. They know that life, by design, comes with misery and disappointment. The point of life isn’t the pursuit of pleasure. I never saw a penguin give up no matter the suffering. They’re such stoic critters.
Watch out for any expectations you have for your life and yourself.
Hope is good. Expectations are dangerous. They’re not the same thing. I had expectations that life should be a certain way and that things should unfold on what I thought was a fair timeline. Hah!
Second, penguins seem to have a sense of belonging and sense of purpose. I appreciate those are basic human needs but I’m imagining penguins can relate. They didn’t feel alone in their misery and they had a clear mission that they believed in – to reproduce. They also had the support of each other.
If you’re depressed, it’s essential to establish a sense of belonging and purpose for yourself.
The tendency to isolate yourself will ultimately work against you. You are going to need support. Keep any possible supporters in your world. Challenge the idea that you have no purpose. You do or you wouldn’t be here. It’s your mission to figure out what the purpose is. Sometimes I think that discovering your purpose IS the point of life.
Third, at no point in the movie did any of the penguins say, “I’m so fat,” or “I dropped the egg and my chick died. I’m such a failure. I’m no good to anyone,” or “I have so far to travel and don’t even have wings. I’m pathetic. I should just give up.”
Accept what is without judgment.
It’s your judgment that is most painful, not what happened. It is your judgment that is in your control.
I also learned this: inspiration to fight for recovery can come from anywhere!
Have you seen March of the Penguins? Did it do anything to you? C’mon, I can’t possibly be alone in this.
About Michele Longo
I promote peer support and encourage people on their recovery journeys. My plan is to build through my blog a community of like-minded individuals offering ideas and encouragement from their own experiences. My master plan is to help create psychologically safe and supportive workplaces. I live in Calgary, Canada.
Follow Michelle’s blog at http://peerintowellness.com/