Depression came calling last month. No tragedies befell me, no cancer recurrence or family deaths. A bunch of little nothings in particular over several unremarkable months imperceptibly mounted a sneak attack on my mojo. I couldn’t write a thank you note, let alone a blog. I missed appointments with clients and struggled to focus on the ones I did not forget.
A couple of weeks ago I took a step back and recognized that my old nemesis, depression, had moved in. I have an intimate knowledge of this condition as a psychotherapist, but more importantly, as a patient. So I knew what to do for myself to get well, the first being to reach out to safe people and let them know I needed support.
One such person is a leader in breast cancer activism, and to my surprise she admitted that she, too, was struggling with depression. Neither of us had known that the other was in trouble, and we both felt encouraged by the empathy shared.
Because that shared vulnerability bolstered me so deeply, I decided to share my own experience with suicidal depression to let others know that they are not alone, and that things do get better. Below is a meditation I wrote thirty years ago about my
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL.
Often I would cry through the night, the family mercifully unaware of yet another collapse. On one such night I cried alone by the fire until my sides hurt. I frantically thought of harming myself, or ending my life impulsively, before the part of me that wanted to live could catch me. Such thoughts terrified me that I might lose control and kill myself. I had to evaluate my feelings about dying as opposed to living in agony I did want to die, to end my suffering, but I kept holding on because wholeness is worth the struggle (so I heard) and because I knew my dying would hurt my family too much. Besides, what if the unpardonable sin was suicide (A notion I rejected when in my right mind), then I would only succeed in condemning myself to an eternity of the despair I sought to escape. Anyway, suicide was not an option for me because I had already promised to keep myself alive.
As these questions rummaged through my beleaguered mind I trudged through day after endless day, looking at the clock for signs of nearing darkness and the escape into sleep. "Only ten minutes have passed?" Then sleep would give way to another day of waiting for hands on the clock to move.
Three steps forward, two steps back—permanent residence in the pit gave way to moments up, then moments linked with others to give me a day of relief. Days linked to each other into periods of something like happiness. I functioned again as a wife and mother, yet gloom clutched my heart. I looked like a concentration camp victim, even when I smiled. Inevitably I would buckle under the effort, and plummet to the pit.
The pit is filled with tarry mud that weighs heavily on my limp self. With titanic effort I lift my head, look around at the black heaviness, and drop my head in defeat.
I pray for death.
God is silent.
Eventually the misery of despair yields to the agony of hope; I push through the layer on top of me, gradually working my way to a standing position. From there I can see where I've been and where I need to go.
I must scale a very steep grade that is covered with a thick layer of mud oozing downward, engulfing me if my concentration on the ascent slips, i.e., simple things like keeping the head up and forward, lifting one foot up, down, then the other up, down, straining all the while against the pull of the mud flow.
When I stumble from exhaustion, or from looking down, I collapse, and hope vanishes. But I learn that if I scoop the muck from my eyes, to my amazement I find that I am not at the bottom of the pit: my face was mired only a pace or two back from where I fell.
All was not lost!
It just felt that way as long as my face stayed in the mud.
So I drag myself out again…and again…and again…
NOT from the bottom of the pit
but from a ledge on the wall that I could not see from below.
And from here I see glimpses of a rim of this pit where I hope I shall be able to step clear out of the mud, shake off all the residue, and run and skip and play again.
But never so far that I would not look for others in the pit, to show them how to get out.
I did recover from that Major Depression with the help of good therapists and appropriate medication. I have had ups and downs, but never as severe as my time in the pit, not even during two bouts with cancer. My recent dip into depression was painful and immobilizing, but short-lived, largely because I have learned how to read the signs and take action quickly.