“Don’t be afraid to be weak
Don’t be too proud to be strong
Just look into your heart, my friend
That will be the return to yourself.” ~ Enigma
For years, I struggled with depression almost every single day, recurrent severe episodes on top of less but often still severe, long-term depression. I was suicidal or wanting to die, in different degrees, nearly every day, sometimes just brief thoughts all the way to dangerous contemplation. My depression is not environmental or circumstantial, although it can be triggered or worsened by environmental factors, it’s more of a biochemical depression. The initial onset may have been triggered by things in my environment and certain insecurities but once it manifested, it is here to stay, even when my environment is pleasant and I’m not struggling with any specific problem. I’m not depressed everyday anymore.
Now it comes and goes. It’s in my genes and unpleasant situations I have experienced brought it out as the whole disorder.
This condition confused me for many years. I couldn’t understand why I was so depressed. Sometimes it felt like I had every problem in the world which was causing my despair. Other occasions, it seemed like everything was going amazingly well and I was still devastatingly depressed.
I often made excuses for why I was so depressed. I took every little problem I had or ever had and said that’s what was depressing me. Sometimes I exaggerated the problems, making them out to be worse, more dramatic, or more frequent than they were, to make sense of my depression.
I said it’s because I had no friends, because my family argued, because I experienced a verbally/emotionally abusive environment previously, because I’m worthless, because my friends were arguing, because I got a low grade in class or on an exam, because I haven’t accomplished much, because it’s all too late, ….while these things were sometimes true or seemed to be, they weren’t always what triggered or caused my depression and they weren’t always as frequent as I made them out to be.
Sometime they were the culprits, but often they were just the scapegoats I used, sometimes consciously, some occasions, unconsciously, to make sense of something that made no sense to me.
They can trigger or contribute to my depression but that’s because it’s in my genes already, I’m already prone to it. And even when things are going great in other ways, I can become depressed. Those problems would likely make anyone unhappy about them but not everyone would fall into a deep, full blown suicidal/psychotic depression in the face of them.
Also, depression can make problems seem exaggerated, worse than they really are. Sometimes when I’m depressed, even just mildly depressed, I care so much about little problems or things I would never care about when I’m not depressed.
It can be completely chemical, coming on for no known reason, it can be triggered by an unpleasant environmental factor, or it can be psychological, triggered by certain thoughts I have, painful memories I dislike, an insecurity I may be struggling with, a negative self-image, a hopeless feeling about certain situations…this kind, I can sometimes reverse before it gets out of hand if I catch it quickly enough, I can change my thoughts or perceptions or attitudes before it sucks me in too deeply to where I can’t pull myself back out, when I realize my own negative thinking is the main contribution. This is a technique I learned through the years.
If you’re not susceptible to depression, you can most likely struggle with a negative thought, situation, insecurity, environmental issue….and not sink into a deep, dark place where you want to die, lose all sense of hope, joy, pleasure, energy for weeks or months. For someone with depression even while not currently depressed, these things can trigger that.
After struggling so long, I was never sure where the despair and pain ended and where I began. It became my identity. It was threaded throughout my every day, throughout me, throughout my entire existence. I couldn’t separate it and me. We were one and the same. When I looked into a mirror, into my own eyes, it wasn’t any kind of me I saw, it was the dark entity lurking about deep within me, all around me, crushing my body til I couldn’t stand up straight and my speech was often slow and slurred. People pointed this out occasionally. It was more alive than I was. It choked me and suffocated me.
I saw things I would have liked or loved if it wasn’t for the pain, the emptiness, the loneliness, and nothingness. I could detect things that would have won my heart if I were “a regular girl.” I saw things I wanted to want.
I knew which things would bring me joy if I wasn’t so worn out and wrung. And sometimes those things would bring me joy but it was tainted joy. I felt pleasure but not to the fullest.
For many, many years, nearly every day, I had no clue what I was. I saw myself as a monster, as the pain itself, as “different” than all the other girls I saw, knew, encountered. I literally never thought of or referred to myself as a person or as someone. To me, I was no one.
I remember writing in a journal when I was a young woman about this one moment I actually pretended to be someone. I pretended to have value. I looked into a mirror and told myself I’m someone, knowing it wasn’t true. And I wrote about how pathetic that was. And that it was a lie.
I had no dreams, no goals, no plans other than to die. My main interest was my own death and planning it. Everything revolved around that. It was often the only thing I was passionate about, the only thing with some sense of purpose or meaning to me. Everything was wrong with me, I was deeply flawed, irreparably broken, shattered to pieces. A million little pieces.
Pieces that could never be put back together.
When my depression would lift very briefly, or I wouldn’t be suicidal for a short while, I felt like I wasn’t completely me. Even though I would be so happy, it felt strange, uncomfortable. Sometimes I almost welcomed the suicidal pain back into my heart. I was me again. Home again. I felt relief. It was agonizing, pure anguish, but it’s mostly all I ever knew. It was a kind of comfortable there.
Even now when I think back to my years as a girl and young woman, most of my memories are clouded with pain. Even remembering when everything was going right, even happy occasions. Sometimes now it brings me pain to reminisce. When most people think back to each stage of life, they can probably think of many things they were interested in during each one of those stages, the thrilling obsessions they had back then, the happy memories they created, even the trivial little problems that were the end of the world then but now are laughable.
My memories are mostly of vicious darkness. Despair. Pain. Suicide contemplation. Year after year. Day after day. My struggle with depression and certain experiences contributed to some insecurities I have now that come and go. One of those is struggling with feelings of worthlessness, sometimes even when I’m not depressed. This can lead me to a Depressive episode then leading to deeper feelings of worthlessness. It’s a vicious cyclic process.
I have a few happy memories. Even some memories in the midst of my depression are happy. I had a very happy childhood until the depression hit making me sluggish and uninspired then worsened to a vicious darkness, a deep kind of despair. I loved high school and had lots of friends in school and some I saw outside of school. I loved college and met a couple great friends there. I loved all my classes, the professors, and people I met through the years there, the campus, the experience.
(me when I was fourteen years old, one of my truly happy, non-depressed days, at Wildwood NJ, on vacation with my family)
But I still often struggled so hard with suffocating loneliness and deep emotional anguish.
The depression was me. I was the depression. I was nothing but pain itself. The pure agony that suffocated me everyday but still allowed me to live so I would continue to suffer.
Except, not really. I was me.
The me I am now and the me I have always been, the me I always will be.
Nothing can take that away.
I have a few profound memories that to this day are poignant life lessons.
One of those memories is of one day in college I was sitting alone in the student activity center/cafeteria planning my own death.
I had a notebook out. An educational book about U.S. Politics in my hands, not for any class but because even back then I read about politics and government and law and philosophy for pure pleasure. So I bought the textbook for thrills. And reading did bring me some sense of pleasure occasionally, even with the pain and despair of depression. I had an opened pack of Reese cups on the table that I bought at 7/11 because just like now, back then Reese cups were my favorite and I had a bottle of Coca Cola on the table half full. Although back then it was half empty. Just like now, Coca Cola was my favorite then as well and has been since I was a little girl. I have a picture somewhere of me as a three year old girl guzzling up a glass bottle full of my sweet Coca Cola.
I had my plan all devised and was about to execute it very shortly. I was going to walk out of the University building and up the street and end my life. Then I looked down at the book I was holding. The political book that wasn’t for class but for pure pleasure. An unbiased book about how the political parties in the U.S. came to be, their similarities and their differences, their evolution through the years. I looked at the Reese cups and the soda and my notebook with the pink frilly cover that I picked out for some class because it was pretty. And I was struck with the reality of my uniqueness. My very own personality. My individuality.
I had interests that not everyone has. Interests that had nothing to do with pain. I was drawn to certain colors and designs not everyone else loves. I became filled with some small sense of compassion for me. I, very briefly, saw myself as someone. An innocent girl I was about to kill, for what, I don’t know. Would I kill some other girl for whatever reason I ached to kill myself for? That answer is always, never.
I was overcome in the clarity of what I was about to do to myself. I thought it would be nothing because I was nothing.
Through the pain I saw glimpses of me. The real me. This experience was very brief and I soon went back to wanting to kill myself but I was and still am able to use the memory of this mini awakening as a reminder now and again that no matter what, no matter what pain or problems occur, I am me. The pain is not me, I am not the pain. Problems are not me and are not even extensions of myself. If I look hard enough I will catch glimpses of myself in everything I do even when pain is consuming me. All of these things I saw that day were evidence that someone exists beneath the layers and layers of pain. Someone. Someone who is more than just pain.
(me fourteen years old, another happy day, in the Fall. I was laughing with my sister in the backseat, she was four years old and took all her clothes off!)
I have a strong ongoing sense of self. My identity is crystal clear to me. And I take pleasure in my own company whether I’m alone or surrounded by people.
(me eleven years old, at Wildwood New Jersey, very happy, on vacation with family)
Not all people with depression have dark, gloomy personalities. It’s a mood disorder, nothing to do with personality. Not all depressed people are always negative and too serious and want to live in the dark, alone. Not all depressed people loathe everyone and the world. I’m just the opposite. I’m very easily amused, playful, curious, I laugh a lot even when I’m depressed, I listen to music and love everyone even when I’m deeply depressed. Sometimes I feel that the depression violates my personality. My cheerful, pleasant personality. Even when I’m deeply depressed, if I pay close attention, I can catch glimpses of the true me underneath, the natural personality of mine. Even now if I skim through journals I used to frequently write in when I was deeply depressed and on the brink of killing myself, every single day, I see my true self through the pain laden words.
Even back then in the midst of suicidal pain and psychosis, I expressed gratitude for things I loved, I can see my sense of amusement, the laughter, the inspiration I felt in me even back then in my seemingly endless struggle, the things that interested me, issues I was passionate about.
It wasn’t always as deep and not ingrained like it is now but it was there.
(me, ten years old)
Never forget who you are.
Even when it feels like your whole self is being consumed, swallowed up in pain of any kind, stress, being busy, taking care of others, working, depression, anxiety, grief, other people’s definition or ideas of you, or whatever it may be, remember you are still you, a unique individual person with a combination of interests, pleasures, thoughts, desires, ideas, experiences, points of views, and ways about you that no one else on Earth, no one who has ever lived or will ever live, has. You can define yourself. Pain itself doesn’t define you but the strength and courage and Truth you know in the face of it can. What other people say or think doesn’t define you.
“Her work, I really think her work
is finding what her real work is
and doing it,
Her work, her own work,
her being human,
her being in the world.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin
(me – that’s pure, raw, joy showing on my face!!) 😀
“You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly posses all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.” ~ Florida Scott-Maxwell
My reality is that I am not a victim. Not a victim of any sort. I have and have always had choices. I have the ability to change for the better, to try new things, to love and live and learn. I am alive.
And I know the woman I am.
I love Coca Cola and drink it way too much.
Still have that love for sweet treats.
Oldies music is still my love.
I still read educational texts for sheer joy.
I have these same big blue eyes that see beauty, compassion, and love everywhere they look.
(me, two years old)
I have long brown hair
I have a desire to help and make things better.
I still laugh until it hurts every single day.
Root beer flavor and ginger ale soda are things I dislike.
Watching TV is not my cup of tea.
I don’t really like butterscotch flavor.
I still have a strange obsession with letters.
My dreams are still something I recall very easily.
I love stationary stuff, pens, notebooks, markers….
Love songs and country music still have my heart.
My heart is a grateful, loving one.
I love people and animals.
I still have chicken legs
(me now, lol)
I have felt an intense craving. A hunger, a desire for Self. For myself. To look within, to explore, to Know. To know my Truth and to Nurture it, cradle it, to piece together all of the broken little pieces of me and make me whole. I have been starved. famished. Starved for Self. for self-love, self-knowledge. I paid too much attention to the pain, to problems, to everything outside of myself. I neglected the inner-me. I let me starve.
I am not without scars and flaws and cracks and breaks. But I am more beautiful for them, more Whole.
As the Hassidic saying goes, “There is nothing more whole than my broken heart.”
I encourage you to make a list of the things that make you, you. The things you like and dislike, things you love and loathe, things that make you laugh, cry, smile, inspire you, lessons you learned, profound memories your brain created through the years, your strengths and weaknesses. They can be new things about you or the same old things or a mixture of both. Look for the evidence surrounding you and within you that you are someone separate than your pain and problems. You are worthy of your own love & compassion. Nourish the self you see, feel, know underneath. Listen to those glimpses of self calling to you. Nurture them, pay attention to them.
Strengthen them. Take part of each of your days, no matter how brief, to focus on you. Do something for yourself. Walk, run, meditate, write, draw, paint, create an art journal, read something just for fun, something that inspires and speaks to you, the authentic you, listen to music, just lay in your bed and reflect….do something for you. And you only. You can live generally selflessly, helping everyone else but sometimes it’s good to do stuff for you to be in tune with yourself even more, to connect with you.
“Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered. Travel them and be expert in home-cosmography.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
No matter how many painful memories you have, you can create new, beautiful, joyous, happy memories, even in the midst of pain, insecurities, stress, anxiety, grief. There’s always something to be happy about and thankful for. I learned that lesson in my quest for healing and I hope you learn it too if you are struggling. Our experiences with anguish and pain and despair and broken hearts can teach us if we allow them to. Teach us greater compassion for ourselves and others. They can strengthen us, help us know ourselves deeper than ever, deepen our empathy and wisdom, help us evolve in ways we would not have without the pain.
“It’s when we’re given choice that we sit with the gods and design ourselves.” ~ Dorothy Gilman
“They can change their minds but they can’t change me. I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream. Oh, I know I could share it if you want me to. If you’re going my way, I’ll go with you.” ~ Jim Croce
” The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~ Rumi