By Deb Avery
Darkness, depression and isolation; I’ve dealt with these old friends many times.
Yet, I’m smiling as I write this and listening to Pandora as I sit here at my desk writing this piece. Some might think I’ve finally gone bonkers, but the truth is I’ve found a way to acceptance and gratitude even during the dark and difficult times.
It hasn’t been easy and the way has often been lonely and difficult. It occasionally still is.
It has taken many years for me to come to the understanding that it’s okay not to feel okay. Really, it’s no big deal. And the reason I say this is because I’ve found a way to smile during the darkness knowing that the light will return.
I’ve learned that it’s okay because even on the deepest, darkest days, I’ve know that there is always something to be grateful for. Always. It may only be the breath in my lungs that gently comes and goes, or it may be the memories of happier times, but there is always something.
Today it’s all of these and the beautiful, haunting soundtracks of Lord of the Rings and SKYRIM.
Society has trained us to think that happiness is the reward of those who are successful in life, but that simply isn’t the truth. Everyone, at one time or another will be touched by the deep, dark hand of depression. Such is life—every life.
Life brings all kinds of experiences our way. Some of these will be awesome and inspiring, even life changing. At other times we will hurt so deeply that we feel we cannot go on. But we do and we can, if we only do not give in to despair.
And how to we accomplish this?
For me, it took compassion, not for others, but for myself, and not pity—this is a whole different thing. Pity is what keeps up in the deep, dark hole of depression and despair. Whereas compassion for ourselves as a human being—one going through difficult times and emotions—will help us to not judge ourselves too harshly. We must learn to be gentle and loving with our thoughts about ourselves as we go through these intense emotions.
In other words, as I stated above, it’s okay not to be okay.
These days we know that the causes and degrees of depression are many and varied. Genetics, environment, and unsolved emotional and physical issues are only some of the many reasons for this darkness within our minds and hearts.
For years I floundered, confused and not knowing which way to turn. Depression was not talked about openly during my early years. And when it was it was always linked to weakness of character or some other such misconceptions and ignorance.
Seeing a counselor in my small rural community was unheard of. There wasn’t one for over a hundred miles, even if it had been acceptable at the time. So, I suffered through my teens and early adulthood as best I could, feeling shame and blaming myself for not being better equipped to deal with life or for not having enough faith to keep depression at bay. Faith in god, was a huge thing in my small, ultra-conservative, evangelical existence.
As I moved away from my childhood home and away from the narrow mindedness, I began to grow and learn.
The bookstores became my favorite haunts and I went through a ton of books in my quest for understanding not only about myself and depression, but also about life itself. A whole new world opened up. But inside I still carried the seeds of depression and the guilt and shame.
Looking back today I realize it’s been an amazing journey—a journey that has led me through both heaven and hell several times, and back again.
I also realize that it was only through the understanding of how depression works, through countless research, the acknowledgement and acceptance of emotional trauma, both from childhood and through adult relationships, along with the deep, healing of forgiveness—of others and myself—that sweet relief was found.
Depression still comes knocking.
The difference is that today I invite it in and don’t make a big fuss. We sit together, my depression and I, and we just are. I give it a chance to just be and it gives me the distance I need to just be myself.
If you’re looking for guidance on this issue I would highly recommend two wonderful books that helped me along the way.
The first is The Zen Path Through Depression by Philip Martin. It’s wonderful in its simplicity yet full of depth and good advice from someone who has walked this dark pathway.
Another is The Mindful Way Through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat Zinn. This is a more hands on book that discusses the many reasons of unhappiness as well as the deeper feelings of depression. Included is a CD of guided meditations by John Kabat-Zinn.
And of course I can not leave out the works of Thich Nhat Hahn. All of his writing can bring us out of our darkness and into the light. His books have been constant companions of mine throughout my own journey. One sits on my nightstand as I write this.
Last, but certainly not least, do not be afraid to reach out to others. Turn to someone or something you love. This can be nature, a pet/companion who shares a deep bond with you, a friend whom you trust, a counselor, or even a hotline if you are totally overwhelmed.
Treat yourself as you would a loved one. Be kind, be gentle and practice non-judgement with yourself. We can be our own worst enemy or we can turn to love and kindness and be our own best friend.
We’ve got this, you and I.
Editor: Dana Gornall