Midweekend, when the revelry of everyone I know would be at it’s height, barreling over with all the excitement of a child’s birthday party. But rather than toasting the chill bottle drips of summer beers or even laying listlessly in a park – an activity I could have done alone, for free, at a moment’s notice, AND in my pajamas – I’m at home in bed. I’m alone, again. I lay my head down on the cool pillow, and empty room save for the crowd of thoughts and worries I’m creating. My depression tells me to get comfortable, don’t fight it, we’ll be here together all night…
If you are someone who has depression, you might be aware that it affects twice as many women as men (a devastating 2:1 ratio that won’t won’t analyze today.) You might also know that one in every 33 children, and one out of every eight teenagers, are affected by depression, again we won’t analyze the why’s of that conundrum.(via) And you might also be aware of depression’s negative affects on the rest of your health: sleep abnormalities, muscle tension, lack of energy…but if you have or know someone with depression, then you also know the cloud it builds around your ability to use these facts for treatment or prevention. Knowing it’s common, knowing it’s a chemical imbalance doesn’t make it any less emotionally painful. It’s just that powerful.
Depression is like a ghost: an unseeable but clearly identifiable presence. The only problem is, it’s a very clever ghost who loves to taunt you. Depression makes itself known and will even let you know how to kill it, knowing full well you’ll have little to no strength and willpower to do so.
I devote my life to writing self-help and personal development articles, and as such I’d undersand if you assumed that I’m never depressed. The opposite is true; I’ve fought depression on and off since cancer. I wasn’t surprised to find that 25% of cancer patients experience depression (via). Mine came after; the pressure to live fully after something so transformational was daunting. Not unlike people who’ve achieved success (Donald Miller discusses depression after publishing a New York Times bestselling book in The School of Greatness Podcast), I had trouble understanding why I’m still here and what to do with my life after the greatest achievement of my life. I know you’ve wondered the same, which is what the articles on this site aim to address in a variety of ways.
Despite that it’s my life’s work, even I have trouble creating the kind of space around depression necessary to keep from punishing myself for it.
The worst thing you can do with depression is guilt yourself for having it. Depression feels awful enough; don’t tell yourself your wrong or bad or unworthy just because you have it.
Acknowledgement is a strange sensation with depression, because we want so badly to add a solution if we’re going to acknowledge a problem. If we’re going to say ‘yes, I have depression’, then we want to follow up with a ‘so I’m going to do ____ to help myself”. For a moment, acknowledge that the first step is to acknowledge. The first thing you can do in depression, and it takes a while, is to simply realize and digest the fact you are in the throes of depression, and allow that space to have a little breathing room before expecting it to go on a marathon of recovery.
Working with depression
There is no depression cupcake delivery service. It’s not easy to call in work depressed; bosses rarely understand that. There is no all-knowing guru you can phone up to say “hey, today’s a rough one, what do you have for me?”. Your friends probably won’t understand why sometimes you can’t even take leaving the house even if it is to see them, and that needing to be alone doesn’t diminish your love for them. When the weight of it becomes so mighty that the present moment cements me into a state of fear and the simplest, typically joyous acts become unbearable (seeing friends, enjoying conversation, the ability to wander through my own thoughts), there are a few things I rely on:
I can’t stop the ugly, terrible thoughts that depression conjures up in my own mind. But I can tell them to shut the hell up and to go sit in the corner. They aren’t any smarter or more powerful than me, they are just louder and more rude.
Meditation offers me the strength to venture back into my own mind, and that’s a vital step for me. In depression, the mind is the scariest place you can be, because that’s where the ugly truths and feelings of unworthiness are sprawling themselves like hungry lions, waiting patiently to devour you should you have the guts to walk in. But you have to walk in. And you have to tell those lions, those ugly thoughts, to sit the hell down and shut the hell up. It takes practice, trust me, but gaining control of the lions can have profound effects. Not only because being able to control and silence your thoughts again gives you the power to reassess this moment, placing fear back in it’s cage rather than allowing it to make decisions for you, but because getting back to this very moment is the only way to tap you back into joy, presence, and peace. Joy and peace are only in the here and now.
If you’re interested in meditation, there are some great guides in podcasts available right now. Deepak Chopra is great for presence, and there are also more spiritual guides out there. I’m also offering a super simple class if you’re interested, you can check it out here.
As simple or obscure as this might sound, sometimes I have to parent my depression like a mother would a very stubborn child. I have to cry because I wish it would behave for me. I have to feel it’s pain. I have to respect that it does in fact exist, is in fact a part of my life. And then I have to keep it from making decisions because it makes very bad, selfish decisions that ruin my health. Depression making decisions is the equivalent of a child; it will always want candy before dinner and will cry until it get’s it.
Depression doesn’t have the ability to tell you what to do or how unless you offer it that power. The more power you give it, the stronger it seems to become, but even that is often out of our control. When I think of my depression like a child, I don’t hate it so much. I can drag the little brat out of the house every once in a while. I may not enjoy it, but at least I can get to a place where I forgive…forgive myself, that is. Forgive myself for having depression. Forgive myself for any time I allow it to overtake my power. Forgive myself for sometimes even needing just to indulge in it, be alone in bed on a Saturday night with it, because I’m just too tired to fight it. Just for a night.
Feeling Love and Joy in Depression
If you’ve visited this site before, you know that I believe, absolutely and without a shred of doubt, that life is miraculous and beautiful and that we, as humans, are full of the power and potential to be happy. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be happy all the time. I may write self-help and life improvement tips, but it’s because I acknowledge that sometimes simply existing is incredibly difficult and gut-wrenchingly painful. I think that’s what gives me an advantage: I can’t solve all your problems (and let’s be honest, no one can), but I can help you love life anyway. I can help you see beauty in all of it.
Now, over a decade since cancer and having dealt with depression for longer than that, I realize that depression and happiness aren’t even necessarily polar opposites. Depression is simply a state my mind must cope with, a condition of genetics, that I don’t have to judge and I don’t have to see as the robber of all my joy. And I can still get moments of joy and happiness and I sure as hell have the ability to be grateful despite depression.
Best of all, now I know that I can still love even in depression. I can still care for others, even myself and my own body, in depression. I can still see the wonder of life: the divine and perfect design of nature, the comforting way that seasons change, appreciate art and music, experience the incredible and overwhelming pleasure of serving others…and I can do all that in depression. I may not be excited or energetic or altogether very proud of myself in that moment. But I can still feel gratitude for the profundity of life itself. Depression can’t take that away.
Even with depression, you are still worthy of life, of love, and of joy. Depression can hurt you, even keep you from feeling pleasure in your own life. But don’t let it fool you: it cannot take away your worthiness.
So if you are feeling depressed today or going through a state of depression right now and wondering what the hell you’re doing wrong, take a breath and know that you’ve done nothing wrong. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You are simply in a state in which you must work a little harder to make it out of. And when you do, things will be even more illuminated, because darkness only makes light shine brighter. Because life is not full without the spectrum of all emotions. Because you are patient, and resilient, and the fibers of your being are made of a love energy that is strong enough and powerful enough to help you forgive this state and forgive yourself when it’s over. Forgiveness isn’t always about something being wrong and saying it’s ok. Sometimes, to forgive is just to give forth love, surrender, peace, and put something to rest once it has died and it’s time to move on. That time will come.
And lastly, know that you are not alone. Even the happiest, most grateful people who are surprised and humbled to even breathe every day (me) can and often are depressed. It doesn’t take away your power to love and be loved. You and I will make it through.