I am no stranger to depression. I suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and have had debilitating bouts of clinical depression that only anti-depressants have been able to alleviate. Sometimes years go by in between bouts; I have found non-prescription coping mechanisms, like my Happy Light and mood managing routines, that help control the SAD if it doesn’t get too acute. Sometimes, even when it is bad, I fight having to take medication. I don’t want to be in a chemically altered state, and always before, the side effects were prohibitive enough to make me use medication only as a last resort, and to wait far too long to give in and take it.
There are times, though, when the depression hits and I just don’t recognize it for what it is. When the slide is so long and slow that I’m surprised when I scrape the bottom with my belly; when I find myself contemplating walking away from everything and everyone in my life; when nothing brings me joy anymore.
That’s when my writings here help. Well, here-but-not-here. You can bet that when I’m not posting here, I’m still writing, it’s just staying in drafts. Draft after draft of angst, of questioning myself and my lovers and my choices and my life, of always coming up wanting. Always coming up short. They are awful to read – but they are instructional. It’s very obvious that I am not myself when I am writing them; I am not whole emotionally. I am grateful that I have learned the 24-hour technique (let it sit for 24 hours before sending or publishing) because almost invariably, within that amount of time I’ve had an emotional reversal and wonder how I could have felt so much sadness…
It was after reading one such post a few weeks ago that it dawned on me (finally) that I was in the midst of another bout of acute depression. I don’t know what took me so long to realize it. I feel like it has something to do with having just gone through such a horrible time for a “legitimate” reason, that going through it when things are good seems…illegitimate? Who am I to be unhappy when things are wonderful? What right did I have to be depressed? It felt profoundly ungrateful to be unhappy.
And…I worried that maybe this simply was the new me. Maybe I never would be happy again after losing W. Maybe nothing would ever feel good enough again. And maybe…maybe that was as it should be. There was this little voice inside my head that said, “How can you be happy, when he’s gone? What makes you think you deserve happiness, after you let him die? After you failed him so utterly?” And, “Do you want to risk being happy again? Look what happened last time.” Even now, when I know the words for the falsities they are, my eyes sting with tears as I write them. I feel so bad for that hurting girl inside of me, the one that hides away in the corner, tears slipping silently down her face. While I know the words are not true, I also know that she will always be a part of me now. When I hear those words now, I imagine myself holding her in my arms, cradling her, stroking her hair, kissing her wet cheeks. “It’s okay, baby,” I say. “It’ll be okay, I promise.” And she curls into me, settling deep inside once again, containing the pain in a small wooden box in her heart.
I listened to a podcast recently that made an interesting supposition: what if we were taught that, although no one wants to experience grief or sadness, that surviving it, experiencing it, is of equal value as experiencing joy and happiness. That instead of trying to avoid the inevitable sorrows that life brings, we were taught to lean into those feelings, to experience them as mindfully and fully as we do the “good” emotions, not because it’s good to hurt, but because what we learn from them is just as valuable as experiencing the highs of love, happiness, joyfulness, contentment?
I had to sit with that for awhile, to pull it apart and examine it in the context of my own experience, my own life. I have always been a person that avoided emotional pain, avoided conflict and always looked to the “bright side.” And then, when I suffered the unimaginable grief that stole my life when W died, I couldn’t drug, drink or starve the grief away. I couldn’t hide from it, it was all that existed, it was all I was, a hallow, empty place lined with grief like a steel coffin I couldn’t escape.
I could not have imagined that anything of value could ever come out of it.
I have sat with the grief. I have — tentatively, with great care, cradling my heart protectively — held it. Opened myself to it, to exploring its taste, its feel, its place in my world. I have practiced mindful sadness, and allowed it its place in my life. I don’t turn away from that sad little girl when she comes to me, begging me for forgiveness for her pain. I hold her in my arms. I listen to her, I hear her. And I have W – I have his death, and all the misery that ensued – to thank for that.
Maybe that sounds a little twisted. Yet, even as I write this, as I let the tears slide down my cheeks, I know it is right. This…what I am feeling…is as important to my existence as the joy I have felt, to the joy he brought me. I am…wholer…now than I was before. And the joy I feel now…while it is tinged with the taste of all the tears I shed, while I know that I couldn’t have this without having lost him, it is all that much brighter and more fierce, for having felt the other side of it.
As you may have guessed, I’m back on an anti-depressant. Not to avoid the pain, though. To enable me to manage it, so that it doesn’t overwhelm me. To allow me space to feel sadness, but not to be swallowed whole by it.
My world is no different. But now I can see both sides: the highs and the lows. There’s light where I am now; there’s blue sky again. I feel like one of those seabirds, the ones with oil slicked on their feathers, coming out of a Dawn dishwashing-soap bath. I’m that bird, and my Dawn is this little white pill. I’m shaking my head and trying to fluff out my feathers, to preen away the last of the oil slick clinging to them. Cautiously, I stretch my wings, giving my tail feathers a little waggle. And then, cocking my head, I eye the sky above, wondering if it’s possible. If I can fly again. Taking a deep breath, I spread my wings and launch myself into the bright blue.