A Certain Sadness: My Relationship with Depression
I know the holidays bring up a lot for some people.
How about you? Are you depressed?
(I feel like I am about to write copy for an anti-depressant commercial. Are you depressed? Trouble sleeping? Find you can’t focus? Find you’re feeling down when you have no viable reason to, and, in fact, anyone would think you insane for admitting it?)
I have been struggling lately.
It’s like I am carrying a bunch of plastic (yes, plastic) shopping bags, and they are digging into my arm and cutting off the circulation, and then they all start to get twisted up. Has that ever happened to you? (I know, most of you don’t use plastic, but you can imagine, right?) There are a lot of heavy things in the plastic bags and finding a way to carry them all with the skinny handles is nearly impossible—and more than a little frustrating.
It’s like, at once I am carrying the plastic bags and I am the plastic bag hanging onto an arm for dear life.
So put them down for a moment. Here in the parking lot. Since I am the plastic bag and am also the one carrying it (stay with me on this metaphor for a moment), I am at once free and, yet, utterly alone, here in a parking lot.
And it’s a little overwhelming.
That’s what I have done. Or what I want to do. Try to put down some of my load: in a parking lot, in a blog post. Anywhere really.
I suffer from depression. Or I have suffered. Which is it? Past tense? Present?
Let me be frank: I am slipping a little lately. So is it present tense? Maybe. Do I acknowledge it and then shift my thoughts, creating new mantras, such as “I am happy! I am free of depression!” or do I sit quietly and contemplate it?
What does that even mean—depressed? Is it something I have been told (yes!) or something I know deep in the labyrinth of my body, in my DNA (also yes)?
1. A complicated, irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s way; a maze.
2. An intricate and confusing arrangement.
Sounds like the human mind, no?
As far back as I can remember, I have felt a certain sadness that I could never explain to anyone: a dead part inside of me that made me pretend I was sick and stay home from school (even in kindergarten) so I could eat cream-cheese-and-olive sandwiches and watch TV with my mom. During college, I would leave NYU during the weekends to go home to Cherry Hill, NJ, an hour-and-a-half ride on the Peter Pan Bus, so I could be at home, safe from the slick world of New York City and all the food choices and from feeling anything except hunger. Perhaps that is how I fell in love with anorexia; it allowed me to stop feeling such nothingness. I replaced nothingness with anxiety and hunger, but I no longer felt depressed, per se.
The point is: my life is great. I have nothing to complain about. I am happily married. I am successful. I am healthy. So, what is it?
What is this demon?
This is what happens. I sit down, and I can’t get up. I am super-glued to my chair, and I cannot go anywhere. I cannot do anything until the minutes turn into days and the days into years. As far back as I can remember, I have had various forms of the very cliché "tidal wave" dream. So I sit in my chair, super-glued there, and the tidal wave swallows me.
Thirteen years of my life passed in this salt water, until I was spit back onto the shore and discovered my calling, to which I responded as if it was literally calling me on my iPhone. “Yes, I hear you, my dharma! I’m here. I’ve emerged from the depths of hell, and I am here to inspire and write and teach yoga and travel and be happy.”
Except, the thing is, sometimes I feel like a liar.
Sometimes it’s like the anatomy of the impossible, and I find myself on a chair, super-glued there, glassy eyes, a deep nothingness setting in like it has missed me and had to be close to my heart again.
What it feels like is that my insides are collapsing upon themselves, boneless as wool. The outside of me is pushing its way in. The outside of everything is pushing its way in. The noise, the cars, the people, the fears, the future, the past.
“What do you have to be blue about?” a friend asked me on the phone a couple weeks ago.
Not a damn thing. My life is amazing.
So what is wrong with my mind? Is it broken? Is there a hole somewhere? Can I fix it with yoga or prayer or rewiring my thoughts or wine or laughter or sleep or sex?
I try it all. Trust me. I sleep like a dog in the summer. I drink wine. I do yoga. I teach yoga! I am mindful of my thoughts (most days).
It’s not enough. I must dig deeper.
What is triggering me? What situations am I putting myself in? Whom am I surrounding myself with? What am I allowing myself to think and say after the words “I am?”
I must get a hammer and chisel away at the bone until I find the piece I am looking for. It is that part of me that sometimes goes missing. The stray piece that feels like smiling isn’t a chore, that wants to answer the phone and talk, that gets up off the chair and does things out in the world, things with other people even.
I am not saying it will ever go away 100 percent or that I even want it to. Claire Danes' character on Homeland (my obsession) got her brain zapped. She literally received electric shock so she could deal with being bipolar. (No, I would never do that, and no, I am not bi-polar.)
This rogue part of me is where art is born and where I write. But enough is enough. I am driving the boat. Me! Not my so-called depression. Not my sadness. Not my mood. Not my apathy. Not my ego.
Aphrodite and the other Greek gods were not the only ones who had split personalities. We all do! (Or at least I do.)
Here is the truth: There are two of me. (Possibly three or four.) As it was with others before us.
The battle in me looms like an uncertain diagnosis. Luckily, I am armored with my bow and quiver. Some days I sway, these passions of the heart, so fickle, so tenuous. These feelings of sadness and emptiness will be taken down by me and my bow and arrow.
Until then, I will leave you with this:
Today, I feel good. Right now, I feel good. My life is amazing, and I am happy.
Right now, in this moment, there is no missing part of me.
There is nothing missing.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the creator of Karaoke Yoga, Manifestation Yoga, and a contributor to MindBodyGreen.com and PositivelyPositive.com. She was recently featured on ABC’s Good Morning America. Follow her via her Facebook page, Twitter, and read more of her writing on her blog.