“When you're lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you've just wandered off the path, that you'll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it's time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don't even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert
My first thought this morning was, depression sucks and can I get up out of bed? Or is my brain weighted down by fog and darkness?
Now a hot cup of coffee sits on my cluttered desk. My desk that no matter how much I try to put away the stacks of books, the random post it notes reminding me of thoughts I scribbled during a conference call, or pens (lots of those, for whatever reason I like to use a different type of pen for different journals and writing activities), is always a mess.
The door behind me is open to the back yard teeming with bird song and squirrels who run, no leap, through the wet grass in search of little morsels to nibble on. The air is thick and dampness from the thunderstorms last night permeates everything. It is warm, hot really. It seems that mild spring temperatures bypassed Detroit this year. Instead we literally went from snow one weekend in May to 85 degrees and sunny the next. And it has stayed in the 80’s for the last few weeks.
To which I say thank goodness. The warmer weather, the longer days, the sunshine has been a balm for my soul and mental health that I needed. The last 5 months have been a long, slogging drudge for me. Heavy depression snuck in around the holidays and settle in for a visit. I know depression well, and for the most part I am able to work through it, or more like with it. I know I don’t have to listen to it’s siren call to lay on the couch all day watching tv to numb out. I know I will be feel better if I stay in a routine— get up and write in my journal, sit on my meditation cushion, work out, go to work. I know I need to try to stay involved as much as I can with life. This is not always easy.
I know writing in my journal, meditating and working out are my most important and power medicine. For the past 20 years these have worked most of the time. I stay functioning. The darkness stays in the background. Expect this time (well okay also after D died, I fell into the dark vat of depression too but that was different, I could attribute it to the extreme grief that swallowed my life whole).
The last 5 months have been difficult. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the heaviness. I forced myself to rise each morning and write in my journal and sit on my meditation cushion. I often felt these were the only moments of reprieve, but when I had to leave the cocoon of my little office, the darkness still loomed. The loss of interest in anything creative took away my motivation and joy. It was like all my systems powered down and I only had energy for a few essentials and barley those.
I felt panic as I tried to figure out what to do, or how to feel like something matter, or how to feel vitality about something again. It was all I could do to get work (where I was barely productive and my mind a mushy soggy mess) and home to the couch so I could zone out. As I sat in the darkness each morning writing in my journal, I tried to figure out why I was so uninterested, unmotivated, and what I could do to change things. It took me a while to figure out it was depression. I of course blamed myself. In my mind, I was depressed because I didn’t do something right, or I wasn’t thinking something positive. In my mind, no matter what, I was to blame and I had to figure out how to fix it. Unfortunately, I am inclined to blame myself, as if there is something wrong with me, rather than I simply am dealing brain chemistry that is off and inclines me to feel darkness and hopelessness.
Despite my attempts to blame myself, I know that sometimes we are just powerless over this stuff—there is no one to blame. I just happen to have the perfect conditions for depression to rise up and take hold. I come from a seemingly endless line stretching back generations who grappled with depression. My mother, her mother, her father, my great-grandmother and father and I am sure there are more back there. So there's that. Also, according research, my chaotic childhood created neural pathways (I have an ACE score of 9) which predisposes me to depression and other fun stuff (hello anxiety and panic).
And finally, hormones. Can I say holy shit? My hormones are powerful little devils if you ask me. I am 45 years old and struggling as my hormones shift and wane towards menopause. For whatever reason I am abnormally sensitive to hormone fluctuations. Every micro movement feels more like a 8.9 earthquake in my moods and body. I have learned how to deal with the monthly fluxes of PMS but now things are different—way different. I feel like I am rag doll being tossed around harder and farther than ever before.
If I look back at other pivotal moments when my hormones were in extreme flux—puberty, pregnancy, and postpartum—I can see that I fell into deep depressions also. Only back then I didn’t have tools, wisdom or compassion I now have to deal with it. After these last 5 months I realize I am going to have to be extra mindful as I traverse the journey towards menopause and give myself extra support.
On top of all everything it was the anniversary of D’s death and I had to put my 18-year-old cat Lupe down (that was super hard) last March.
I am beginning to feel better (I am actually writing a blog post). The weather is finally nice and sunny so I am getting out and riding my bike in the woods. Fresh air and nature always help. I am still writing in my journal, mediating and working out most days. I am seeing my therapist to sort out false irrational beliefs and to untangle how I have my self-worth wrapped tight around my doing and busyness. I am going to acupuncture to balance my hormones and taking new herbs to help with the depression. All of this is helping.
I think more important, I am also painting in my studio again, which is really helping. When D died I stopped painting and drawing. Sure I had a few fits and starts over the last 4 years but nothing that stuck. I would start a painting and be stuck, anxiety and negative self-talk overpowering me. As I have been grappling with heavy darkness the last 5 months, I have also been evaluating how I am spending my time, what is it that I really want to be doing, how I am supporting my creative self.
My therapist challenged me to take the summer off. To not teach, to not have goals, to not have projects but rather rest and do nothing. To follow my inner desires. I ask myself, do I want to read a book? Take a nap? Ride my bike? Than go do what I want.
As uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I doing it. I am not teaching writing workshops this summer. I haven’t blogged in over 2 months. I am evaluating my side hustle. I am reading a lot of books, riding my bike and painting. I am learning how to untangle my creative work from proving I am good enough. I have a lot more to say about this but for now, I am adjusting to this slower pace. To not having everything single thing I do be about being helpful to others (another huge insight for me).
Depression does indeed suck and I am not to blame. I need not feel shame about something that I am utterly powerless over. I am doing what I can and there is a lot of support and love out there to help. One awesome thing about this bout of depression is that it is realigning my life. It is slowing me down and getting me back to what I really enjoy, to what my real zone of genius is, painting and drawing. Things are looking up for me and I am grateful.