Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.
– Theodore Roethke
Just a week ago, I was feeling lower than I’ve felt in quite a while. I didn’t end up there all at once. It was a slow and steady build, leading up to the moment I finally decided to give in and let the depression take over.
It started with a few off-days where an occasional gloomy thought would show up, and because I felt a little off I let myself entertain it for a moment.
Thoughts like “These people would probably be having more fun if you hadn’t come” or “You’re such a mess sometimes” floated through my mind, inviting me to dwell on them.
The more I let myself entertain those thoughts, the more often they came. Until eventually a few off-days turned into a series of very off-days, which brought with them fun things like insomnia and short-fuses and panic attacks.
I went on like this for several weeks. It wasn’t until a little over a week ago that I finally stopped fighting the bad feelings. It wasn’t entirely a conscious decision. I think I was just exhausted. The battle had defeated me and I couldn’t fight anymore.
I’d been holding the negative emotions back for so long that now they came rushing in like a tsunami. I spent a few days in pure hell, wondering what the point of my existence even was and feeling pretty damn convinced that I was a waste of space.
Depression has something to teach you.
I’m fully aware of how annoying and hippied-out that might sound to you right now. Trust me, I would have rolled my eyes at those words a week ago. But as someone who just clawed her way out of the hell you’re currently in, I ask you to hear me out.
That’s all. You have full permission to roll your eyes and picture me as a new age weirdo surrounded by crystals and rainbows. Do what you’ve got to do. But I really do believe the darkness is here to teach you something. It’s here to bring you to a more elevated perspective of yourself, of others, and of life in general.
The last night of my depression I cried myself to sleep. The last thing I remember feeling before I slept was this sense of hopelessness, pure and all-consuming. I felt like I was nothing. Like my presence in this world made no impact and had no point to it.
And then I woke up. The day was new, and my little dog was sitting on my stomach looking at me sweetly, waiting for me to open my eyes. It made me smile. Right away I felt relieved and thankful to be able to truly smile for the first time in days. That small moment planted a seed in my mind. I began to feel what I can only describe as a primal determination rising up in me. That tiny seed had taken root and was quickly sprouting.
I was not going to give up. I was not going to believe that my life wasn’t worth fighting for. I got up and put all of my energy into cleaning my home, creating a space of peace and order for myself. Because I was worth it. Because I loved myself and it was my job to make sure that I saw the evidence of that.
Depression is a familiar character in my life.
It kind of feels like an old friend who decides every once in a while to stop in for a visit. He’s not my favorite friend, but he’s taught me a lot in my life so I haven’t written him off completely. His visits are never fun. He’s a real downer, and very good convincing me that my glass is half empty. But he also likes to point out all the things I’m avoiding that I should probably be addressing. Like my habit of using my inner monologue to treat myself like garbage when I don’t live up to my own extremely high standards. …and the fact that my standards for myself are way too high and definitely unrealistic.
I don’t ever call him up and ask him to stop by. But when he shows up (unannounced as usual), I eventually let him in. Sometimes I’ll tell him I’m busy and ask him to leave, but this only makes him more determined to stay. The more I fight him, the longer he stays and the more damage he does. The sooner I let him in, the sooner he can leave.
I think depression is a great example of the Trickster archetype found in mythology and religion. The Trickster is a character who refuses to obey principles of social and natural order, disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis. Hermes in Greek Mythology, Loki in Norse Mythology, Kali in Hinduism, Jesus and the devil both are great examples in Christianity (to the religious leaders at the time, Jesus was definitely a menace)…even our beloved Bugs Bunny from the cartoons we watched growing up. All of these are examples of the Trickster Archetype.
Depression forces his way into your life and turns everything on its head. Anything you even remotely gave a shit about he expertly renders dull and meaningless. Love to paint? Art is now boring and lifeless. Love to workout? Yeah… that’s far too much work right now, and what’s the point anyway? We’re all going to die one day… why even bother? Depression is like putting on whatever the opposite of rose colored glasses would be. Nothing looks good, nothing tastes good. Nothing feels worth the effort. Nothing is interesting. Life just becomes…monotonous.
But as with most Trickster archetypes, this isn’t the only role depression plays. This disruption to normal life can become a much needed catalyst, helping the person experiencing the depression to re-enter their life in a new way, usually from a more healthy and meaningful perspective. There are many gems hidden in the depression experience. Like the way it can instill deeply important human qualities, such as compassion and humility.
When you’ve been to the darkest depths of yourself and known what it is to feel that pain, that isolation… you’re able to recognize that pain in others. You’re able to know them on a level you may never have understood if you hadn’t been to the same place as them. In this way, the Trickster archetype of depression can be seen as a sacred and powerful visitor in our lives. He taps us into what it is to be a human and helps us to connect with each other in a profoundly significant way.
Even the bad emotions have a purpose
I like to think that every emotion we experience plays an essential role in our development as people. Each emotion prompts us to further growth, perpetuating this never ending cycle of self-actualization we call being human.
We’re like seeds. Forever dropping into the ground, consumed by our darkest emotions, never realizing they are nourishing our growth until we’re emerging once again through the soil and into the light as brand new versions of our former selves.
It’s nearly impossible to see our depression in a positive light when we’re being consumed by it. This isn’t at all the article I was planning to write a few days ago, when I was at the lowest point of my depression. I don’t even know if I would have wanted to read the things I’m writing right now. It’s pretty much impossible to see anything in a positive light when all we can see is darkness.
And you know what? That’s fine. Yeah, a lot of people will try to tell you to “Look at the bright side” (which is basically what I’m doing right now…oops.) but right now, where you’re at, that’s not necessary. You are where you are for a reason.
It’s not pleasant, but who decided everything needed to be pleasant? I’m pretty sure we’re just biased towards things that feel good (understandably). Have you ever read about the Ayahuasca Shamanism practiced by some of the indigenous people of Peru? It’s pretty fascinating.
Basically these people willingly drink a psychoactive herbal concoction that is commonly described as “one of the worst things you’ll ever taste”, and as “tasting like rancid jungle rot”. As if that wasn’t bad enough on it’s own, this herbal concoction they reverently refer to as a soul medicine brings them into an intensely self-reflective headspace where they usually end up being forced to look at all the worst possible parts of themselves.
They’re faced with the most vile aspects of their character, made to remember every careless or hurtful thing they’ve done in their lives… and then, as if all of these things were physically living inside their bodies, they become violently ill and literally puke it all up.
They call this La Purga (The Purge). Yeah I know, it’s pretty gross. But what happens after The Purge is nothing short of a miracle. Only after purging can they enter into the indescribably beautiful and healing experiences this plant medicine has to offer.
In recent years it’s become popular in the West for people to journey all the way to Peru to partake in this ancient tradition. The people who have undergone these Ayahuasca ceremonies all have their own miracles to report. Being freed from lifelong addictions, literally being healed from physical or mental ailments, the ability to forgive people who have done unspeakably horrific things to them…
All of these people seem to agree on one thing: The extreme unpleasantness of the medicine was an integral part of the overall experience that freed them from whatever they were bound by.
There’s something to be said for facing your demons head on. Even Jesus in the Bible went out to the desert and came face to face with the devil. Depression doesn’t feel good. Our first inclination is to close all the doors and windows and not let it in. We feel the need to defend ourselves because instinctively we don’t want to die. And depression can feel a whole lot like a death of sorts. It’s parts of ourselves that no longer serve our best interest dying away and making room for new and better parts.
Truly the only way out of depression, is through it.
The best thing we can do is to accept that it’s here, to remember that it will leave, and know that it’s not here to destroy us. It’s here to push us into an even better version of ourselves. We need to allow ourselves to slow down, take a break from our normal life, and let the emotion that’s building up inside us come to the surface. It will come to the surface either way. It’s up to us to decide how smooth that process will be.
If we push it down and stick band-aids on it over and over, it’ll eventually force it’s way up and will take longer to leave. But if we welcome it in, letting ourselves feel it in a healthy way, it will be more gentle with us. Not pleasant (like I said, it doesn’t feel good), but gentler. It will be easier for you to acknowledge the lessons it has to teach, which means it won’t have to visit you as often. And it will leave you much sooner.
You’re allowed to give in. You’re allowed to feel like shit. It’s okay that you feel this way. Let yourself be in the dark for a while, but know that this is not your norm. This Trickster friend of yours is only here for a visit. It’s your house and he knows that. He’s got his own house and he’ll be going back there when his visit is over.
Letting yourself feel uncomfortable emotions is healthy. If someone tells you otherwise, just ignore them. They either haven’t experienced it themselves or they understand it differently from their own experience. And that’s okay too. Not everybody will see it the same way. That doesn’t make them right or wrong. You don’t even have to see it this way.
Everyone has their own things to understand in life, and there are things we share an understanding of with some people while we differ in what we understand with other people. That’s just the way it is. If this seems like a viewpoint that you can relate to, I’m glad you’re here reading it. If not, that’s cool and I hope you find exactly the advice you need from someone else’s way of seeing it.
I do want to be very clear on one thing though.
It’s important to recognize that giving in to the depression does not mean that it’s okay to harm yourself physically OR emotionally. That is where a line should be drawn.
I know it can be tempting sometimes to say horrible things to yourself, to beat yourself up for not washing the dishes for the fifth day in a row or not getting out of bed until 3pm… I have a problem with speaking to myself in abusive ways when I’m sad, and that’s something I’m actively trying to work on. But that’s probably a whole other article I’ll get to at another time.
It can also be tempting for some people to physically hurt themselves when they’re depressed. People do this for any number of reasons… to punish themselves, to feel a release, maybe even as a cry for their situation to be taken seriously… I’ve been there, and I know how you can rationalize hurting yourself when you’re in that state of mind or how you might not even care about whether it’s rational or not.
Believe me when I tell you that it’s not worth it. It will only create more negative momentum and will quickly turn a thunderstorm into a hurricane. That’s a much bigger demon to grapple with.
If you feel like you might hurt yourself, please find someone you trust and let them know. Ask them if they can assist you in finding the help you need. You can ask them to be discreet about it if that’s important to you. But you should absolutely never try to deal with a hurricane on your own.
You can also call one of these hotlines for help if you’d rather that. There’s hotlines for self-harm, and for suicidal thoughts listed there.
However you go about it, I wish you luck in finding your way out of the darkness, and I hope you find the nuggets of wisdom that were hidden for you in that place. I know it might be hard to see the darkness as anything but a hell right now, and that’s okay. I just wanted to shine some light down there for you now that I’ve finally made it back up to the surface. I may not know who you are or what your story is, but as a fellow student of depression I’d like to tell you that I love you, random stranger, from the bottom of my heart. I believe in you, and I believe that this world is so much better with you in it.
Until Next Time,
Keep Calm and Grow On
What about you?
- Can you remember a time when depression taught you something important?
- Or a time it helped to push you towards a better place within yourself or in your life?
- If you could go back to a time you were depressed and say one thing to yourself, or to someone else who is depressed, what would you say?
(Let me know in the comments)