I find myself in a peculiar situation. I generally do not vent my deepest torments in public, but two dear friends are dealing with similar issues, and I’m hoping some of my revelations may be of help to them… as well as to myself.
My demon is depression: paralyzing despair that blinds the heart and mind to everything but omnipresent agony.
There’s no logic to it. I cannot attribute my bottom-of-the-barrel spirals to anything in particular, which, of course, causes crushing cognitive dissonance. I’ve braved all kinds of trauma with nary a blink. In fact, many times when I should have dissolved into a blubbering heap of incoherence, I’ve surprised myself by being the “rock” upon whom other people leaned. On the other hand, the inevitable disappointment with an undependable friend can send me plummeting directly into hell.
My first serious depressive episode struck at the ripe old age of fourteen. That’s when my doctor and parents first drugged me. In truth, I suspect that I was born depressed and that drugging my teenage brain only exacerbated the problem. So, over the past unmentionable number of years, I’ve studied depression — the causes, symptoms, and remedies (pharmaceutical, herbal, homeopathic, nutritional, ad infinitum). I’ve also learned as many coping skills as I can find, in effort to escape the indefinite torture that accompanies each depressive episode. One of the highlights of feeling like something that should be scraped from the bottom of a shoe is the distorted perception that the depression will never, ever end… that even if I win the $48 million lotto, I won’t feel any better… that if my books become bestsellers, I will still feel worthless… that my temporary self-loathing will become permanent.
So, how is all of this delightful information supposed to help anyone? Despite the above ruminations, there is hope in the gloom. But one must learn a few things in order to function in “official” reality.
I suppose it’s human nature to want to “jolly” the sadness out of another. With the possible exception of little kids, it rarely works, though. In fact, it tends to deepen the already-present guilt that is part and parcel of depression — guilt that naps in the nether regions of the mind just waiting to be awakened.
Truth is, ubiquitous optimism can make matters even worse. Perhaps it’s because during many harrowing episodes some helpful soul(s) feel the need to expound upon how much worse my life could be — you know, the old “children are starving in Africa” approach. For the record, gratitude is part of my daily spiritual practice, so it’s not like I haven’t pondered my fortunate life before. It’s just that while in the depths of desolation, the guilt of my perceived ingratitude simply adds insult to injury.
If you’ve ever observed a sick or injured animal, you will note that they often find someplace quiet to heal. That’s because they don’t need a well meaning someone telling them to buck up, go buy something nice, or visit a friend. Animals instinctively know that sometimes peace and quiet provide the only remedy for what ails them. Similarly, there are times when the only remotely sane thing for me to do is hide out until the storm passes. Doing the “happy dance” to please someone only serves to drain the hell out of me.
One of my greatest sources of solace is communing with nature. I used to live in the woods, which made it easy to “escape.” And I did… often. I’ve been known to grab a blanket and pillow in the middle of the night, go to my favorite tree, and sleep on the earth just to ground myself. Alas, I've temporarily lost my access to my woods, but I still go get my nature hits to keep myself sane.
Break the news habit. Seriously. I stopped watching network news and most network television over a decade ago. Mornings are hard enough during a depressive episode. The last thing I need is to drag my achy body out of bed and turn on the television for a dose of broadcast fear that sets a tone of despair for the day. Nor do I need commercial reminders every 13 minutes to tell me that I am incomplete unless I buy something. And forget that ten o’clock nightcap of doom. I find no sweet dreams there.
Finally, and strangest of all, is my experience of depression as a shamanic journey. I’ve studied spirituality all of my life and have always been drawn to the mystical. So, I can say without reservation that a conscious approach to depression has taught me more about myself than any other discipline I have attempted. As an observer of my own mind, I find many revelations in the melancholy darkness.
Don’t get me wrong; I do not endorse this path as a quick trip to enlightenment. Even so, the rigors of surviving with a modicum of dignity have required me to observe myself carefully. When I can step back enough, the view is amazing and informative. And when the storm has passed, I find ways to use what I have learned.
To those who deal with depression, try to remind yourself that there is a reason for everything. I’ll get back to you when I finally identify what my reason is.