Depression, that powerful amalgamation of hopelessness and fear, is a reality that touches us all. One may bear the weight more than another, but none are above its thrall. None live beyond its reach. None escape its metered approach. At some unknowable time, at some unpredictably crucial juncture, it arises within each one of us, creating an existential ache that makes every moment harder to face than the last.
Too human to be avoided, too personal to be transcended, the pain of depression highlights the fragility of life, the all-too real-specter of death and loss. In depression’s wake, perceived lack rears its head: lack of time, ability, good fortune, resources of any kind, worth, love, hope, possibility. Lack becomes the villain of peace in our inevitable march toward death. Suddenly, the only real thing becomes the history of our pain, once accumulated in a sack and held in reserve, now uprooted from the caverns of the heart and deposited into conscious experience, stopping us in our tracks for as long as it must.
Depression seems to ascend, as if from the center of the earth. It grasps the ankles with thin, branch-like hands, and pulls the spirit down with it to the middle of nothing and everything at once. The emptiness it invokes becomes personified, it envelopes the You, the I, the being that heretofore had walked and talked and slept and ate. Utterly in its thrall, that once vibrant being, the You, the I, is held captive by dictates so demanding that, for some, life no longer seems viable to live. Life no longer seems viable to live at all.
Depression is the realization of extreme limitation. It is the unbearable fact that there is only this moment and nothing more, and, in this moment, nothing that we expect is possible or even plausible. Failure is the word. The pain of depression is like a cannon ball of ice, aimed directly at the solar plexus, melting upon impact and replacing the blood that once flowed through the veins with the treacherous metal of suffering.
Depression is all-consuming. It is impossibly lonely and impossibly claustrophobic. It shows us the perfection of every single other person on earth, their happiness and freedom unattainable, taunting us with our own ineptitude. Depression feeds on flesh and bone, and, once fed, is a second skin, a layer over the first, “happy” layer, the new absolute. Once here, it is unshakable, undeniable. Once here, it seems as though it will never depart, never lift, never free the self from the self.
Escape becomes a fantasy that we turn to in the moments of relative calm, those moments when the depth of sorrow and regret are not overshadowing the ability to think. To escape the sadness, the loneliness, the rage. To escape life in entirety if that’s what it takes to find peace. To escape.
And so, escape is what we seek. We fight to stay alive. Survival instinct revives, we scratch and claw our way to the surface of the earth in a bid to rise up out of the soil and become who we were before the talons of depression began to cling to the skin of our lives.
We reject the pain, and the pain pulses stronger, the soil becomes loose, we sink deeper into suffering. And yet we still try, we find ways to run, to hide. We ignore the obvious in an effort to protect ourselves from the horror we have faced. We keep moving, thrashing, kicking, making more space into which we sink, defeated, destitute, feeling so very alone. Refusing to open our eyes, refusing to open to the dreaded suffering because we erroneously believe that the suffering proves our own innate badness, not understanding that the suffering may harbor something else, something deeper, truer, more open and free. Not understanding that, if we just became still, and allowed the pain to take us where it may, we will not die. We will hurt, but we will not die. We will just stay put for a while.
What if we just stayed put?
What if we embraced the cyclone of pain? What if we didn’t try to run, but rather closed our eyes in the midst of the chaos and asked depression to tell us the truth of who we are? What if we cried, yelled, thrashed with each wave of agony, and then, in the silence of the brief, calm sadness that follows, we learned to say thank you to our hearts for showing us the way?
What if depression, rather than being the assumed enemy, is actually an ally, a clearing in the woods of life? What if, rather than squelching possibility, depression is the eradicator of expectation, of some long-held misunderstanding, some secret belief about who we are and what we’re here to do? What if that secret belief is the true illness, and depression is the hero that saves us from the lies we’ve told ourselves, lies that originated with denial and fear? What if the nothing and everything of depression mirrors the nothing and everything of life and, what if, in the midst of deep depression, the nothing and everything of life begins to reveal itself, to expose the humility within that allows us to face the chasm that exists between desire and reality?
What if depression is really humility, cloaked in suffering?
What if, by allowing ourselves to become still with depression, for as long as we must, we heal our shame, unlock our vulnerability, and find the courage to cry out in our suffering? What if depression, when allowed, becomes the liberator of negative self-recrimination? What if it has the power to shatter all beliefs about what should be, so that we become open to what is and what shall be?
It requires enormous courage to face the pain of depression, to exist day in and day out, never knowing whether an end is in sight. It requires a leap of faith, a decision to believe that our pain may also hold the answers to our greatest questions, if we explore it and examine it. Most importantly, it requires surrender, and the willingness to accept the cross we’ve been asked to bear, to walk with the pain, to recognize that we have been chosen to do so because we, above all, have the strength to do so. To recognize that, by doing so, we open the path of evolution to both the self and the world.