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June 28, 2017

How Depression became a Friend I only see a Few Times a Year.

 

Sadness is an emotion I know intimately.

I can intuit its presence gently drifting in and out of the peripheries of my mind. Sometimes, I feel frustration that it won’t move away, and other times it just feels comfortable and familiar.

It’s my “go-to” emotion. Some people have anger as their old friend, and others have judgment, jealousy, or self-hatred.

I have sadness. It’s a well-worn trail that my brain knows instinctively, and my thoughts have slid down that neural pathway too many times to count.

Sometimes sadness can seep into depression, as it did for me several years ago. What did depression feel like for me? It felt like despair. It felt like wanting to say, “Thanks life, but no thanks.” It felt like being too sensitive in a world of sharp edges. It felt like not understanding my place in this world. Why is there so much violence here? How did I even get here?

Depression also felt like a far-too-comfortable detachment from life. I was a balloon floating high in the clouds, barely tethered except by a thin, tenuous thread. I entertained that floating feeling a little too often, and I secretly hoped the thread would snap.

When I reflect on the most difficult times, it’s not that I wanted to die necessarily—it’s that I didn’t want to be here, but there was nowhere else to go. It also manifested as a yearning to sleep for a very long time and feel nothing at all, just warm darkness.

Where do you go when you need a break from waking up?

I’m not sure when my depression began. It came slowly and quietly, tiptoeing behind me. For a long time, I was in denial. I would tell myself things like, “All adults feel like this,” “This is what it’s like to grow older,” or “Every adult hates waking up and thinks about driving into a tree.”

It wasn’t until I started to heal my mind that I realized how deeply unnatural my thoughts really were.

With the help of yoga, I started planting different thought seeds in my brain without realizing what I was doing. I just knew that it was one of the only times that I really felt good, so I kept doing it. Yoga led to a consistent meditation practice, which led to a daily mindfulness practice.

At some point, I realized that I had gone a full day without contemplating death, and then a full week, and then a full month. Suddenly, I was going months at a time without a strong desire to escape this reality. I was content with experiencing life fully, as it was.

Now, it’s like I have a completely new brain.

The yin yang is one of my favorite symbols—there is always a spot of darkness in the light and a spot of light in the darkness. Can I fully dwell within the unimaginable bliss of joy while simultaneously observing the looming tentacle of sadness just around the corner? Perhaps.

This is my practice. I am here to learn how to fully embrace my sadness and how to fully immerse myself in the depths of my joy.

Can I be present with all my emotions? Can I sit with them?

Sometimes, I wonder whether the depression of my past will return. Not the sadness that is a natural part of the human experience, but the suffocating depression that looms across the sky and stifles everything. I fear that the line between sadness and depression is so blurred that I won’t see it coming. Will I dip below sadness a little too far one day? Will I have the strength to pull myself out?

The more time that passes and the greater care I take in cultivating my environment, the more the sadness begins to lessen. It still comes every now and then, but it no longer dwells. It seems lighter and passes more quickly.

Instead of a permanent roommate, it has become a friend I only see a few times a year.

It’s often said that if you can see the gift of your suffering, then you’ve found healing within it. I can honestly say that I am grateful for my years spent becoming deeply intimate with my sadness.

That time created a depth of spirit and emotion inside of me that wasn’t there before. It created greater compassion and patience for all beings. I can forgive easier and with less hesitation. Most importantly, healing my depression has planted me firmly on a spiritual path.

There is still a tiny seed inside of me that wishes I wasn’t here on earth, that I was on some other planet where things are softer, where life is more balanced, and where war is incomprehensible. Maybe this longing within me will heal and I’ll feel differently one day. Or maybe it’s just a natural part of my being.

Either way, the original thought patterns that created my depression are still within me. And they might always be there, nudging me toward greater growth.
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Author: Janice Pappas
Image: Naud/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Callie Rushton

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Janice Pappas