Making Peace With The Beast
Depression entered my life when I was eight years old. There are two distinct memories that have stayed with me my whole life. One memory was of my grandfather sitting on his bench in the courtyard of the apartment building we lived in. He was sitting still, with his beer in his hand on a warm summer afternoon, my friends and I playing hide and seek around him. From the spot where I was hiding, I could see the blackness of his eyes and the empty way his eyes stared out into nowhere. I had seen those eyes before, but on that afternoon the hopelessness and emptiness was as clear as life going on around him in the courtyard.
Most members of my family have those eyes. Big, black and beautiful for sure. A gift of my grandfather’s perhaps. My mother has them, my sister, I do, as does my oldest daughter. Big, black eyes that often stare into nowhere. Depression has been a family legacy, a genetic mutation. We will never know where it started or how it started. Was it with my grandfather returning home from World War II or was it some genetic code from long ago?
I remember when I was a child as young as 8 praying that I would not have to wake up in the morning. I had many happy times in my childhood but I also seemed to have some depression default. Some hole I would fall into with a slight remark of a friend, an angry response of my parents or something as simple as seeing an animal suffer. Depression has been a constant in my life certainly during sad times when my grandfather passed away, when my baby died, during my daughter’s addiction but it was also a companion during periods in my life that by all accounts should have been happy ones, such as the birth of my twins, birthday and holiday celebrations or on wonderful vacations.
I studied Psychology in no small part because I wanted to learn what it was about me, my family and so many others like us that I knew were struggling with depression. I wanted answers but mostly I wanted to help. I was devastated when my daughter was diagnosed with clinical depression in third grade. I wondered if our family, myself, my daughter were missing some joy DNA. Was this the best we could hope to experience in life? Brief periods of relief inbetween the devastating pain of depression.
Throughout my life I picked up different tools and skills that I would use to get myself out of depressive episodes that I also saw working in my work with clients. I started recognizing certain characteristics that many people struggling with depression have in common and I started building my list of tools. Today, depression no longer rules my life. Depression is one tender and precious aspect of me. The beast has become my friend. We understand each other like two best friends. I may have periods where previously I would fall down the rabbit hole, but now I am always cognizant of my internal emotional system so I can avoid sliding down the hole in the first place. I wanted to share some truths that I have found through my struggle with depression and talking to countless others also struggling with depression. Some of these truths will certainly be challenging to hear, but bear with me….
Truth: We all have our Top10:
Those are the stories we tell ourselves that we know will lead us into depression. We all have them. What is yours? What would happen if you started becoming very conscious of what they are for you? You would be able to recognize what you are telling yourself and replace the narrative with a better feeling statement instead. This can be done when we are standing right on the edge of the hole. Once we fall in though, it becomes harder.
Truth: Depression can be comforting.
We all now what our depression behaviors are. For me, isolating myself and shutting myself in the house. When life gets big and scary, shutting myself into my depressive behavior feels less scary than whatever waits for me outside the front door. I know the pain of depression very well. There is comfort in familiarity.
3.Truth: Depression is predictable, life is uncertain.
I came across this one a lot as I was building my business. Each time a new big leap had to be made, I fell into another depressive episode. Why? Because I could be safe. If I am depressed, I lack the willpower or strength to step out of my own pain and therefore I cannot make any big decisions or changes. It keeps me safe.
Truth: Depression does not control you. You control depression.
That is the most powerful truth of all. Become conscious of this truth and you are in a position to clear the grip depression has on your life. It is a powerful truth because it is also the hardest to acknowledge and take ownership of. Why would we choose to be depressed? I don’t think it is a choice we make consciously at all! I think it is a pattern and conditioning in our life and it has created deep grooves in our brain. We think one negative thought that leads to a pain response, which leads to another negative thought and pain response and the cycle continues. We created a super highway of painful thoughts in our brain. Unfortunately, the very science of neurology tells us that neurons that fire together wire together and pretty soon it becomes almost impossible to step off the super highway of pain. Luckily for us, patterns can be broken and the brain does re-wire itself to new thoughts and new patterns. The decision though is ours. We can decide the moment we become aware of our emotions and our stories to not follow the old familiar path and forge a new one instead.
As much as depression is a decision, and I don’t say that lightly, so is joy. Which do you choose? I choose joy. I choose it every day, moment by moment. Why? Because my super highway was travelled on for 35 plus years and so for me, it is a road well traveled. Deciding on a lesser traveled path is a daily decision to love myself, take care of myself and watch how I speak to myself. I am starting to feel some worn in grooves on the new road and my default stories are now stories of love, hope and joy. I feel free from the grip of depression.
The decision to conquer your depression may be the hardest you will ever make. It will also be the most liberating decision you will ever make. The power is yours to grab!