So I heard that you were depressed, a friend of mine told me at a party last year.
She had heard from a mutual friend of ours. I froze at first in response, catatonic with shock that she would say that out loud. Then I nodded stiffly with glazed eyes, hoping she would change topics tout de suite, before anyone else at the party heard what she said.
But my friend did not stop there; she went on to say that she hoped I would feel better soon, looking at me so very kindly, in the way that only someone who has experienced what you have, can. I did not see any judgment in her eyes, only compassion and concern. But I desperately hoped she would pipe down—my reputation was at stake here. What if that man next to her hears what she said and judges me?
I mean I’m a life coach, I should be managing my emotions better, be happier—I’m not supposed to be depressed.
Anyway, I thought to myself, I’m not really depressed. I mean I feel apathetic…and I have lost my sense of meaning and motivation in my work. Hmmm…in fact now that I think about it, on some days, it’s pretty tough just to get out of bed and get some food down me. Then the penny dropped.
Oh. I am depressed.
Karla Mclaren (my go-to woman for wisdom on the emotions) says that depression is often a ‘perfectly reasonable response to trouble in your life’. She differentiates between situational depression and more serious forms.
Situational depression, according to Mclaren, arises out of inner conflict and life situations that crush you and cause emotional pain. More serious forms of depression however, need medical attention or professional therapeutic help.
Last year, I was dealing with situational depression. I was struggling to let go of someone (let’s call him John) that I felt deeply connected to, but who was consistently inconsiderate, manipulative and deceitful towards me.
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”
I think Steven Winterburn is on to something.
I try to see the best in everyone—maybe it’s a job hazard of being a life coach. Love is all we need right? Wrong. Love also requires discernment and mindfulness. We can and should aspire to love and respect people, but we also need to love ourselves and be mindful not to confuse love with attachment and co-dependency.
We should not settle for companionship at the expense of our worth. Yes, it’s a wonderful thing to feel connected and communion with someone, to enjoy his or her company, to have chemistry, that indefinable zing. I had all this with John in the truckloads.
But it wasn’t enough.
I bent over backwards to be kind, generous and attentive toward John, hoping he would treat me better, be on time, stop seeing or sleeping with other women. Of course this did not happen. The more I gave and the harder I tried to make a relationship work, the colder, more detached and cruel he became. He lost interest as soon as it got real and the thrill of the chase wore off and he snagged me.
I knew I could not carry on hoping he would someday come back to me, waiting forever in the wings for the mere morsels of his time and attention he deigned to bestow upon me. I knew if I hung on for much longer, I would lose myself completely. I knew something had to give
“I think that we are like stars. Something happens to burst us open; but when we burst open and think we are dying; we’re actually turning into a supernova. And then when we look at ourselves again, we see that we’re suddenly more beautiful than we ever were before!”
~ C. JoyBell C.
So I made the decision to pull away. It was a painful and heart wrenching back-and-forth process. My ego and pride could not accept how easily and quickly he discarded me, without so much as a by your leave, as he moved on to other women. I traversed a long and winding road through the hell worlds that were my inner conflict, confusion, longing for him and feelings of victimization, rejection and powerlessness. It was all more than I could bear or even care to recall right now.
But eventually, something happened and I got my groove back.
It was when I decided to go to a Theravada Buddhist forest monastery I had heard of in Taiping, Malaysia. I shuffled my way across the causeway to the hills of the monastery, barely able to place one foot in front of the other. I did not know how I would make it there, or even afford to, but somehow I did. I spent two weeks meditating, fasting, listening to dharma talks and walking in the forest.
From within my noble silence, I began to see how it was my judgment of my experiences with John that caused me pain; and if I didn’t judge the past, or the actions of John and myself, everything would be just pure experience—the pure experience of life that is complex, bittersweet, surprising, miraculous and organic all at once.
I saw it was my ego that told me that John should not have treated me the way that he did or that I should have known better or handled the situation better. I realized however, that whether or not I accepted how things were between John and me, I could not change them, so instead I changed myself.
One of the four noble truths of Buddhism is that ‘Life is suffering’. I used to think that this was very negative and fatalistic, but I now think that it’s profoundly true. The hard lessons in life bring us face to face with this suffering and our attachment to life. At times like these, we can become cynical, bitter and blame others, lamenting the fatalistic aspects of our lives or we can let go and expand in our understanding of life on its own terms, beyond ego-based naïve, immature perceptions and the hereditary hopes.
And if we do allow ourselves to widen and accept the disappointments of life, we mature into wise elders. We see how life wounds us all, how we often don’t achieve all that we wish, or are not recognized for all that we think we should, but that when we can allow ourselves to live the lengths, depths and breadths of human experience and learn from them, accepting reality as we find it, we can weather the ups and downs of life in a more resilient and meaningful way.
We can enjoy the journey that life is and not take it too seriously, while also being mindful of our choices and where they may take us.
As I sat in the meditation hall hour after hour, day after day, for two weeks, I found a groove within the storm of my emotions in a moment. In that moment, I saw how life is just one single moment after another and all I have to do is to be present; and when I am able to be present, I at one with the innate peace and completion of that moment.
But all things are impermanent, and change or die, in order to be born again, anew.
My break up was the catalyst for a total revolution of my life, germinated in my silent retreat and the ancient teachings of the Buddha. In those moments of silence and self-reflection, I started to make some fundamental resolutions and they freed me.
I resolved to give myself room to breathe once more in my life and stop packing my days full of activity and working 24/7.
I resolved to listen to my body better; to stop eating when I was full and chew more, to fully taste the food I was eating
I resolved to rest when I was tired and have more foot massages.
I resolved to go to the beach to cycle with my friends.
I resolved to love myself in a better way, and only allow a man into my life who could do so too.
And as I drank in the dulcet tones of the dawn on my final morning at the monastery, I started to feel my heart healing, and a sense of connection to my life once again. I felt hope for my future. And my future looked bright.
So bright, I better wear shades.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise