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!