A few weeks ago I came across an article about a talk Stephen Hawking gave earlier this year where he compared depression to a black hole. In this talk, Hawking said: “The message of this lecture is that black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out.”
There are so many reasons why I love this so much. First, Stephen Hawking is a super brilliant person whose life story itself is a powerful example of perseverance. It is encouraging to hear someone so respected bring awareness and positivity to depression.
Second, I really like that Hawking–someone who knows more about black holes than just about anyone–uses black holes as a metaphor for depression. Depression truly is a powerful, scary, seemingly unknown entity that can completely consume you. It honestly seems inescapable. That is why some of us are driven to suicidal thinking or worse. There seems to be no escape–it seems too powerful.
But Hawking reminds us that while we used to believe that black holes were inescapable, now we know better. There is a way out! This is so beautifully true. We do not live in the ages of strict bed rest, lobotomies, or over-prescribed shock therapy. We live in a time when more progressive and less painful treatments exist. We have better medications than before. SSRIs are widely available, and other drugs, like atypical antipsychotics, are being approved to treat people like me with drug-resistant depression.
There are more choices and options now to help you heal more dynamically. I have done cognitive behavioral therapy throughout my illness and absolutely love it. I also took a dialectical behavioral training skills class–6 months of weekly, 3 hour sessions with a small group. In those classes I learned about mindfulness and gained practical tools to help me fight my illness and get my life back. It was intensive with daily homework, but I learned so much that I still practice today. I recommend that you consider finding a counselor familiar with cognitive and/or dialectical behavioral therapy. Look for someone who will encourage you to work daily on your mental health and keep you accountable by helping you set personal goals and helping you reach those goals through practical assignments. Also, I urge you to really try to put in some effort daily–whatever you can do–to fight against the pull of your depression.
Finally, I love this Hawking quote because I also believe that, like with a black hole, when you escape you may find something on the other side different from before–a different universe, a different you. My life–which I really love–is so different from what I expected of myself when I was younger, before depression. Not only have I been deeply affected, but I have been changed by my depression. I am kinder, stronger, freer than I expected or knew I wanted to be. Almost every day I am grateful for what I have learned through my struggles with depression and how those struggles have changed me for the better.
There is a way out and possibly something beautiful on the other side of your suffering. Every episode I have had has been it’s own black hole, and I may fall into more before I am done, but so far I have survived. I still struggle but I still have hope. I’ve always found a way out, and I have always come out stronger. There is a way out. I can’t tell you how long it will take or what all you’ll have to do to get there, but, with help, you can make it to the other side.