Happy New Year.
It’s half-way through January, and I still don’t feel like I’ve landed in 2015.
I was late to the party. I don’t know what the rest of the world was up to over the holidays and transition into the new year, but I was deep undercover. I mean literally under my covers, not eating, shuffling around like a zombie, and then alternating between uncontrollable anger and despair. My condition might have been a side-effect of inflammation combined with “perimenopausal rage.” It might have been S.A.D. and a disconnection from Spirit… or any combination of the above. At the time, it didn’t matter. I was in the relentless grip of the “Grenade Monster” (launching its violent attack upon me and my world).
Almost every person I have ever known has suffered from some form of depression. There’s the ebb and flow of life, difficult spiritual growth spurts that I believe are a healthy part of being alive and human. I’ve heard others speak of a one-time extended “dark night of the soul.” For some, it’s a challenging recurring pattern over their entire lives, causing much suffering for them and their loved ones. Generally, the Grenade Monster shows up for me every few years or so, gifting me with some form of epiphany afterwards.
This book would never have been written if it weren’t for the following: Sleeplessness, Self-Doubt, Depression, and Anxiety. So, thank you demons. You guys are the greatest!
~from inside of Andrew Smith’s 100 SIDEWAYS MILES
Those familiar with deep depression know that there’s no way to think oneself out of it. Even when you recognize your thoughts as completely illogical. The Grenade Monster is a bully and a liar and feeds on our deepest triggers, twisting other people’s words and intensions.
I’m generally known as an optimistic person. I’ve been called the “Sunshine” on many occasions. I have attended so many personal development workshops, read dozens of self-help books, and have quite the stash of tools. And yet, in the grip of the Grenade Monster, I couldn’t use any of them. I didn’t even want to use any of them. The Monster launched “shut the f*** up” Grenades at anyone offering advice. Compassion for self and others completely shut down. I decided at one point I was going to buy a used car and move to Nelson, BC where no one knew me and no one could find me.
My husband (a leadership skills development specialist) was a great person to have around. During one of my crying jags he told me, “I’m just going to let you feel what you’re feeling, and you can tell me if you need any kind of support.” He didn’t get caught up in my drama; he didn’t try to fix me. I could cry and rant and rave, or hide away from the world, without judgement or chastisement. So, I cocooned myself inside my depression, refusing to leave. I didn’t want to let go of it, because (as silly as it seems now) I was afraid if I did, I wouldn’t have anything left.
Yet . . . even though it was painful, even though my thoughts were dark and twisted, even though in the throes of it I couldn’t remember what Sunshine felt like, and it felt impossible to find it again – somewhere deep inside I knew it was all temporary. I knew I’d eventually get out the other side to a better space. When I started to see some light, I told one of my friends, “I better have one huge friggin’ epiphany after this one. I’ve earned it.”
How did I manage it? To stay in the world, I forced myself to pick one small thing to do every day. One day I sent a query (that was a big day), one day I put some pads on a door that was slamming into a wall, one day I did laundry. It was as much as I expected myself to do. The important thing was that I allowed myself to feel what I needed to feel without adding guilt or shame on top of it. What would be the point of that?
My first two trips outside were not pretty. I was a balloon blown up so tight that anything even grazing me could make me burst. The first time out a woman closed a door in my face and I burst into tears.
On my third trip out into the world, I concentrated on my breathing to try to get away from the Maze of voices in my head. I started paying attention to my body, how my arms and legs were moving as I breathed. Eventually, I began to share with my friends where I had been and began to listen to others – seeing their suggestions as loving gifts that I could at least consider. Or seeing my friends as simply parts of me reminding me how to take care of myself.
I AM GRATEFUL FOR JELLO
Several years ago I had a friend with whom I shared a private “gratitude” blog. Every night we’d try to post 5 things we were grateful for. We were both in pretty bad financial straights at the time, and we used it to stay positive. My friend was in far worse shape than I. She had this knack for getting into bizarre situations. At one point she didn’t have money for rent, so she decided to risk the small amount she had at the casinos. She won several thousand dollars, only to have it stolen from her within hours. She had to move to a cheaper place, but the movers demanded more than they quoted, and when she couldn’t pay, they kidnapped all her belongings.
In her new place she had nothing in her cupboards but a package of dried spaghetti and a box of jello. She ate the spaghetti the first night. The next night in our online gratitude journal all she wrote was: I AM GRATEFUL FOR JELLO. It made us both laugh and cry.
My friend Rev. Angelica also keeps a regular gratitude journal. One time she told me that no matter how depressed she gets, she can always write in her gratitude journal: I am grateful for my cat.
Half-way through my depression, I was curled up under my blankets, despondent, and Frederico Suave snuggled up against my legs. I remembered what Angelica had said, and I began to chant: I am grateful for my cat. I am grateful for my cat. I am grateful for my cat. Over time this became, I am grateful for all cats. And then, I am grateful for animals in general, they’re awesome. And since my husband had been especially awesome, I started being grateful for him too (he jokes now that he falls two below cats, but I think Freddy would probably agree).
There is a surprising amount of power in gratitude. Really feeling it from the heart and expressing it on a daily basis is a surprisingly simple thing you can do if in a dark cloud. If you’re in the middle of a truly debilitating depression, you might not be able to get there at all. It took me several days to even get to my “cat gratitudes.” But, if you’re open to it, give it a try. Whether in the grip of the Monster or not.
Want to read more?
Many other folks on the interwebs have blogged about depression:
Libba Bray’s fantastic post about an 8-month struggle with The Monster
Wait, But Why (This post is about procrastination – but they are so connected for me)
Hyperbole and a Half – brilliant, humorous, profound
Moms Who Drink and Swear on how Depression is different for everybody
*Tell me of any others you found helpful and I’ll add them to the list!
Erin M says
Just read your post and love it! In fact it was pretty much perfection for me today as I’m still battling my own demons and today was particularly trying.
Anyway, your post was powerful and wonderful. Thank you. I’m grateful for you. 🙂
Thanks so much, Erin. That means a lot. I know everyone experiences depression differently, but hopefully realizing it’s something so many of us do live through, will help us seek each other out for support when we need it and not be ashamed.
Derald Breneman says
When I first started reading this I wanted to give you a hug. As I read more I realized you were in a place where hugs don’t reach; a place I’ve had only brief glimpses of. Maybe that’s the real awfulness of that place you went to; you’re so very alone you can’t be reached and you can’t reach out.Maybe it’s way more than that.
I remember at the end of a love affair I was lying in bed looking at the ceiling and I felt like I left my body and shot into space. I was all alone in this indescribable immensity. It was real. It terrified me. I mean shocked me in my bones. Luckily, I was able to come out of it pretty quickly.
That experience is one of the few ways I can relate to yours. But yours went on and on and on it seems. Man. I want to say I’m sorry but that’s of no use. I admire you for holding on. For being brave enough to talk about it. I really really hope you can make the experience something powerful, something that expands your being. A new place to speak from. I have a feeling it will.
All the best,
“You’re so very alone you can’t be reached and you can’t reach out.”
Thanks, Derald. This really nails it. I think often of Robin Williams, a man who you’d think would be surrounded by love and support, yet he must have felt so alone. It seems inconceivable. I have experienced what that is like. Alone and trapped in that aloneness. And I do think there is something powerful in the experience for me. I am very fortunate in that this is only the 4th time in my life I have experienced such a dark place and this one wasn’t even the worst or the longest lasting.
Do know that I am in a MUCH better space now. I actually had this strange experience of being SNAPPED out of it very suddenly. It was like a light switch going on. And then I swung 180 degrees the other direction and went a bit manic for a few days. I’ve never experienced anything like that.
I love how you describe your body shooting into space and the terrifying immensity of that. And you wouldn’t want NOT to have that experience to pull from as a writer, right?
Derald Breneman says
“I am very fortunate in that this is only the 4th time in my life I have experienced such a dark place and this one wasn’t even the worst or the longest lasting.”
Four times sounds like a lot to me, but then it’s true there are people who have lived most of their lives in this place. If it’s any consolation you are in great company. The list of notable people who suffered from depression goes on and on. Too many to count. I looked. You know that I’m sure.
At the risk of sounding…I don’t know…like an imbecile, do you work out? Meditate? I don’t know what I’d do without both practices. Or without walks with the dogs in the cold cold woods.
Derald, considering I’m entering my late 40’s, I thought four was pretty mild!
Indeed, I am in good company. Some people think creatives suffer from depression more than other people, but I don’t think depression discriminates. I think it seems like more creatives suffer from it because they get to express themselves through their art/craft. My heart goes out to those who are unable, for whatever reason, to express themselves.
My preference for physical movement is yoga, which I do when my body allows. Even in my darkest weeks, I still managed to pull myself together to do a little twice per week (again, thanks to my husband who does yoga every day). My meditation practice has become sporadic at best, so thanks for the reminder! I will challenge myself to meditate for the next 30 days.
(and btw, I MUST be doing better, because I took your advice as a friend reminding me how to take care of myself, and the Monster didn’t launch any “shut the f*** up grenades in my head!)
Derald Breneman says
Yes, and you didn’t lob a grenade in my direction which is better than I deserved. Considering I had no business making suggestions to someone who’s been dealing with such a serious matter for a lifetime. Thank you for your forbearance.
No worries, Derald. I can’t make a post public like this without expecting others to offer something. And, really, I don’t feel like depression has haunted me my whole life at all. I feel fortunate that I can actually count the moments in my life when it has taken over. But I’ve always managed to grow and learn from that space.
Gwendolyn Alley aka Art Predator says
<3 <3 <3 I too have been there. During this change of life I found the hormones to be pretty brutal. I found it hard to get the yoga done yet yoga really helped. Walking too. It is a good time to whole/hole up. So glad to know you are feeling better (for now). Big hugs and much love.
I agree whole-heartedly about the yoga and the walking. Baby and I are big walkers. The fact that we don’t own vehicles helps support this.
Ugh, toward the end of my depression I took a co-op car out do do errands at 4 pm. NOT a smart thing to do. I was a mess afterwards.
Bob Burrows says
I’m going to suggest aromatherapy. It worked for me when I was in a bad way. Try tea tree oil. Breathe in the vapors. Put some on your face at night. Lavender is good too. I read somewhere on the internet that these essential oils help to connect you with the Archangels.
Thanks, Bob. I love lavender. It’s always called to me.
Diane Thornton says
This piece has sat opened on my desktop since the day you posted. I am a depressant. A long-time depressant (from teens to late 50’s now). And I have learned over the years that there are times when I need to keep myself away from even reading about it. (It’s like my vertigo- I’ve learned that talking about it can trigger it!)
Today I was up to reading every word and every comment afterward. You have said it very well and I hope there are folks out there who can glean some help from your experience. There ARE times we can’t get out of bed. There ARE times we can’t appreciate what we’ve always appreciated. There are times when we cannot do more than a single thing in a day. When we can’t return calls or make dinner or vacuum or pay the bills. And know that these times are fleeting, as you have found, is extremely important. Like a broken leg, it, too, will heal.
I hit the depths about once a year. It’s rarely under-the-covers these days (though in the past it was). It might last a day. It might last a month. I just do the things you talk about – doing one thing a day. Just one thing. I would add to that that the thing to pick must be a thing that is productive. Even if it’s sweeping the floor or brushing your teeth. It can’t be watching Dr. Phil. It can’t be wallowing in old songs. It has to be active, and it should require you to stand up if at all possible. I would also add that you have to “control the input.” This means control your surroundings – watch cartoons, don’t be sucked into arguments, surround yourself with positive people, etc. (The last thing a depressant needs is someone around them who is complaining all the time.) There are many, many more tools. What might work one time, might not work the next. You just have to trust that something — something you will be doing — WILL work. And it will pass.
I love that you list the things you are grateful for. Excellent idea that is good for everyone, not only those of us who find ourselves under the dark clouds from time to time.
Thank you for sharing this with us. It’s important.
Hi Diane! I’ve been meaning to reply to your reply! 🙂
“I would add to that that the thing to pick must be a thing that is productive.”
Yes, that’s it, exactly. I would pick one productive thing, either something that i’ve been “meaning” to do (the door pads), something domestic, or (if I’m up to it) some kind of writerly bizniz. Anything that makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.
And then that’s all I expected. I didn’t get down on myself for what I hadn’t done.