Getting to the other side: Would you go that route again?

by Kristin on May 11, 2011

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by aaron13251

My youngest daughter once said, “I wish I could be a character in a book. Things always happen to characters in books.”

I know that feeling—the numbing claustrophobia of a life that’s typical and predictable. It’s neither here nor there, it just is. I suspect this is why people spend so much time planning vacations, shopping for new shoes and rearranging their furniture—they’re all sorry substitutes for something real happening, that alters our lives in fundamental ways.

I’m pretty sure it’s those fundamental, never-again-the-same experiences my daughter loves to read about. The fictional characters she loves are indelibly altered by whatever adventure, mystery, or hardship they endure. She wasn’t talking about a little excitement to spice up the afternoon—she was referring to characters who are orphaned, battling evil, or living in hiding.

Most life-changing moments come with plenty of pain

Of course, my daughter is young. She hasn’t yet learned the very grown-up phrase “Be careful what you wish for.” As it turns out, most of the events that really shake up our lives aren’t exciting in a fun way. They tend to be scary, exhausting and full of uncertainties. They don’t come with a guidebook, or even the promise of a clear conclusion. I got a divorce. My husband got laid off. My father-in-law fought cancer. Those are the things that tend to happen—to shake us out of our predictable existences and cause us to rethink everything about who we are and what kind of life we’re living.

Lately I’ve been realizing that although we would never want to be in the middle of those experiences again, we also wouldn’t want to erase them from our stories. In other words, they were important—critical even—in making us the people we are today.

It’s a funny line to walk, when you think about it. As I was writing my post about “happy talk” surrounding divorce, I realized it’s somewhat contradictory to say “divorce is bad—I would never wish it on anyone” while also saying “my divorce ended up being good—there are things I wish had happened differently, but in the end I wouldn’t exchange that experience.”

Would you go through it again?

This morning I ran across a Wired article that suggests depression helps us think better, by forcing us to ruminate on our predicaments rather than gloss over them. I had to laugh—not at the concept, but at the thought of how outraged some people might be about this level of “happy talk:” Yay, I’m depressed! Now I can think better!

I tweeted a link to the article, adding “talk about a silver lining,” and got several responses, including this from @hopefulleigh: “Very interesting. I see the point but don’t think I’d want to wade through depression again for that kind of silver lining.”

What about me? I wondered. Would I want to ‘wade through depression’ again, in order to reach this more compassionate,  reflective, whole version of me? Would I want to go through divorce again, in order to find a passage to this better life and better love?

You might be thinking none of this matters—it’s neither here nor there, because those things did in fact happen and now my only task is to make the most of them and learn what I can as I move forward.

But maybe it does matter. Maybe the way we think about these situations changes the way we react when we find ourselves in the next set of unhappy circumstances. Maybe it changes the way we value what we’ve learned, and how far we’ve come. Maybe it changes how we react and reach out to other people who are going through a hard time. Maybe it helps cultivate hope. Or maybe my experience with depression has just caused me to over-think all of this. :)

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  • ed cyzewski

    There’s probably a fine line here. While we can grow and develop after going through tough times, that doesn’t mean we should WANT to go through them in order to grow. :) Tough times just happen and we need to hang on and learn what we can. You’ve certainly detailed how to do that in this post.

    I will add that we can also choose to make some life-changing moments. It has been absolutely life-changing for me to minister in a prison, and that was a choice I had to make. While I think we can take this idea a bit too far in trying to “manufacture exciting lives,” I think Don Miller has some helpful thoughts on this in his Million Miles book.

  • HopefulLeigh

    I really like where you went with this! While I agree that I’m a better person for having come out on the other side of my depression, I absolutely would not want to go through it again. However, I believe that if it were to happen again, I would handle it much differently now.

    I definitely cope with difficulties better because of that period in my life. I know that I can survive more than I thought I could before. I am more sensitive to others’ pain. I am better at self-analysis and realizing when my thoughts are getting close to a bad place. I’ve learned a lot post-depression. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the hard-won lessons but it’s hard to think of willingly embracing that kind of pain and darkness.

  • Diana

    I think about this frequently, as I have had some pretty dark days through my previous marriage and divorce. My husband also shares his thoughts with me on this issue since he also experienced depression and loss at the end of his previous marriage. We both agree that while we would never voluntarily “sign up” for this kind of experience again, it has shaped us and, for me, gave me a self-awareness and opened me to accept love in the the way my husband offered it. I don’t think I was ever in a place before being transformed by my depression that would have allowed me to experience intimacy, compassion and love the way I do now.

  • Kurt

    It seems most feel the same way: When the call for volunteers to do it again goes out, we would act like the kid in class who didn’t do their homework when the teacher is asking a question…head down, pretending to do work, not making eye contact, shuffling the feet, praying not to get called upon…

    However, I think you have delineated a few shades of gray that are worth thinking about. As someone who has held the hand, heart and head of another going through this excruciating journey, I also know that the journey is never OVER. The “other side” less of a destination than it is the other side of “half-way there”. You know how on a road trip, when you finally reach past HALF POINT, the trip feels different. You can finally start thinking about the destination and hope that you might actually get there. You still have to keep driving and putting up with the “are we there yet?” moments, but still, you can FEEL that you are getting closer…

  • Shawn Smucker

    Great post Kristin. While I cannot redo or change the difficult days I have had, I hope they have prepared my spirit for the next round that’s sure to come.

  • sarah louise

    As I think about roads traveled, I always think about Robert Frost. Not just “two roads diverged” but also “whose woods these are I think I know…miles to go before I sleep.” Making the decision to get on the path, or BACK on the path even if it’s just a mental one, out of the place that has you stuck.

    I would not redo my descent into depression almost 15 years ago that led to my diagnosis of bipolar. But I am grateful I have a diagnosis, so that I can take care of myself. I think the unknown is part of the problem. Saying, “I got a divorce” or “My husband lost his job” is naming the road. If the road doesn’t have a name, there’s trouble.

    And for the record, I love books about orphans or kids in the Holocaust…because if THEY could live through that, then I can live through my THIS, whatever it is that I think I can’t get around/over/through. Tell your daughter to keep reading. She’s getting strength from those characters, and those characters will help build her character.


  • Kristin T.

    ed, there’s always a fine line, isn’t there? They keep us on our toes. Thanks for the reminder that we can make choices that inspire and push us to grow–experiences that might very well be outside of our comfort zones but aren’t necessarily painful.

    HopefulLeigh, your list of things you’ve learned since your depression is right on track with mine–I agree completely. Thanks for the Twitter exchange that sparked this post!

    Diana, wow, what you said about depression transforming your ability to be intimate and receive love is so powerful. I’m always amazed by how the broken pieces of our lives can be redeemed and made into something beautiful and new.

    Kurt, the road trip/journey analogy is great! Everything does start to feel different–lighter and more hopeful–when you’ve passed that halfway point.

    Shawn, I like the idea of “preparing our spirit” for whatever’s next. It’s a bit like weathering a bad storm on a boat, then making adjustments and repairs so you’re stronger and more prepared for the next one.

    sarah louise, this is so true: “if the road doesn’t have a name, there’s trouble.” I’m grateful for the moments that are hard enough to get us to seek help/healing/closure. (And you’re right about children’s literature, not surprisingly!)