The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
~ William Wordsworth
I am just emerging from a few days of a deep depressive state, one with which I am all too familiar. I’ve learned over my many years of dealing with depression that these states come and go. Some are worse than others, but none last more than a few days.
When I am in this state it is like being in quicksand. “Doing something” to try to get out of it is similar to fighting when you are sinking in quicksand — the more you fight, the worse it gets. I can see my “normal” life going on around me, but it is distant and unreachable. My method of dealing with this may not be not right for everyone, but this is what works for me. I just need to pull back, curl on the couch with Mombasa, and read some novels until it passes. I don’t talk to anyone, I don’t go out, I just play possum until it passes.
The hardest part of this is that I sometimes still feel ashamed when this happens to me, that I haven’t “solved” this once and for all. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. And when I am coming out of it, I feel awkward getting back into life, sort of like a Martian her first time on earth, trying to act like nothing happened.
Much has changed since I first starting writing about depression in Choosing to Be — people are more open about it now. Back in the early 90’s, it helped me to read William Styron’s account of his depression or to know about Winston Churchill’s Black Dog. Unfortunately some of my female role models in college like Virginia Wolfe and Sylvia Plath didn’t make it, nor did so many other sensitive, talented people like Rothko and other artists.
I remember seeing a retrospective of Rothko’s paintings in NYC many years ago. The paintings were arranged chronologically, moving from figurative to abstract, when he used thin layers of paint to develop squares of colors. As you went from room to room, the colors darkened from yellow and orange to blue to purple, until in the last room they were descending values of black. I sat in that room and cried, knowing that he had reached the end of his ability to be here on the planet.
I have long since let go of any suicidal ideation, so my black days are a temporary phenomenon now. I have had so many years of therapy, hypnotherapy, medication, natural supplements, EFT, meditation, and so many other modalities, including close association with the Feline Zen Master Poohbear Degoonacoon and his little muse Catzenbear. And now Mombasa is my companion during the dark days.
I write about this not to have you worry about me, or feel pity for me. I write about this for you to know that it is possible to live with depression, to make one’s peace with it even if you are not completed “cured” — whatever that is. I love my life and treasure every moment of it.
Because my years of meditation have taught me mindful awareness, I can sense triggers that lead to these dark times. Sometimes they are personal — criticism, feeling envy, feeling insecure or losing my confidence. Usually I know when these feelings are being stirred up and can release them. However, if several triggers happen in a row, especially when there are world events that are very upsetting, events that make me despair for the human race, then I can’t seem to stop the wave that builds up. I have to let it wash over me and descend into the depths until it passes.
I want to mention something else here. When I had my radio show called Finding Magic in Midlife, I interviewed Dr. Elaine Aron after reading her book, The Highly Sensitive Person. I cried when I read it, and wanted to hear from her how she was able to figure out that some of us — 15-20% of the population — are highly sensitive people, HSPs as she calls us. When I learned about this, my whole life seemed to make sense to me. Everyone was always telling me not to be so sensitive. I thought there must be something wrong with me. It turns out there was nothing wrong with me — I just didn’t know the beauty of who I was.
And so I am writing about my latest voyage to the deep today — for those who hide out periodically during those dark days, for those who are too sensitive, for those who worry about us. Sometimes we need help, and sometimes we just need to be alone. It never hurts to ask us what we need — and help us not feel ashamed that what we need is just to weather the storm and know that it will end. It does, and when we come back we know perhaps more than most how truly vulnerable we all are.