Trigger warning: Depression
The word “depression” originates from the latin “to press down.” It helps me to think about depression like this. When I see it as a feeling state that is just one amongst many, I feel it has a place in my life without overcoming it entirely. Just as different weather patterns have different pressures, so does the psyche. Depression is a cold front, a winding down. The medicalized view of depression in Western narratives is just one way perspective in a multitude of possibilities. In the past, I’ve further “pressed down” uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings, unable to accept them as aspects of my experience. I’m learning, albeit slowly and imperfectly, to find my way through it rather than to fight my way past. I’m boarding a ship whose deck goes up and down not of its own accord, but because of the patterns, cycles, and rhythms of atmospheric conditions.
I used to turn away from how I felt. Instead, I’d entertain irrational thoughts that coursed through my mind. All I could do to cope was to wish away feelings of despair and console hopelessness with numbing agents. I am learning to be more curious. To slow down. Now I sit and wait; I take notes. I notice what I can soothe and what I can’t. I try to feel into what I can control and navigate and what belongs to forces beyond my control. I’m beginning to understand the delicate relationship between the two. I’m accepting that I’m not really the kind of person that can be on social media in any healthy way. Especially in the dampened realms of low mood. I am paying attention to the kinds of thoughts and feelings that course through me when I scroll through Instagram. I realize that when I wish I was somebody else, I end up being nobody at all. I’m learning to celebrate that healing is a paradox, and the places that are hurt and unacknowledged are also the same places where a deeper, ancient, and integral part of me is trying to come through. Just beside feelings of deep sadness are usually unique gifts that are seeking a means of expression.
Though I can see clearly now, there will be times when the fogginess returns. I will fall down again. But until then, there is kindness. There is understanding and listening. There is a way for me to lean in. There are deeper places inside of me that escape the presence of shivering and shaking. There are mountains to climb and paths to walk. There are coves of natural and abundant scenery along the way.
Depression can be a trickster. It wraps its arms around you until everything feels cold and broken and you are fooled into thinking that there are never ways to connect to anyone or anything again. In the modern world, where we are surrounded by perfectly curated images and selected scenes from other people’s lives, it can be difficult to welcome and accept these darker forms of thought and feeling. In the past, I’d seal difficult feelings further inside of me, thinking them peculiar to me and therefore evidence of my personal failure to be well. I’d keep them hidden because I was ashamed of how low I could go, and still be recognised as a somewhat functioning person. Someone that walks into the street and goes shopping, and socialises and compares the prices of things on the internet. It used to make me feel that I didn’t belong in this normal world, that I’d missed the last call to board the plane to a regular life that those around me seemed to enjoy easefully. In doing so, I cordoned myself off from the recognition and kindness I so deeply needed to heal.
I’m trying to open up. I’m starting to see that openness makes us feel whole, not only by making us feel closer to others, but in making us feel closer to ourselves. I’ve noticed the impulse to run away. I can see that when I do run, the parts that need my comfort and support cry louder and fall faster. What I used to experience as pathology or dysfunction, I now understand to be a lack of awareness and presence. When we see a friend or loved one crying, we extend a hand for them to hold or a shoulder to cry on. I’m trying to extend this kind of love to myself. Slowly, gently. I’ll get there.
I’ve changed the way I speak and relate to myself when experiencing a lower mood. I recognize it as an impermanent state, as transient as the shades of color in the sky. I notice how this cooler weather front feels as it travels across my limbs. I look for a part of the body that, in that moment, is free from the experience of dullness and heaviness. I let my awareness fall there. I am changing the way I talk to myself. I tell myself, Today was not a good day, but there are better ones to come. I am beginning to see that hope works in conjunction with depression in this way. That darkness and light interplay.
When I feel myself spiralling, I notice that there are clouds of thought arising, and beneath these clouds, there are beliefs forming. I’m starting to feel the texture of these thoughts, the tone of their voice and the rhythm of their speech. I’m noticing the context in which they arise. It seems small, but this subtle shift is a giant leap for me, away from the murky pit of despair in which I was once uncontrollably absorbed.
Just as we put on extra layers when it’s cold outside, there are parts of us on the inside that need to be taken in from the cold. We wouldn’t think twice about seeking shelter when the rain comes, so why shouldn’t we provide comfort and warmth to our own internal state when it liquifies? The weather today is warm and overcast. Inside of me, there are parts that are tender and strained and other parts that are lighter and buoyant. I can’t see very far beyond this, but I have faith now that I don’t need to. All I need to do is dress for today, and adjust my layers and provisions for when the weather changes and a cooler front arrives.