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2021 was a difficult year.
As I look back at my year and acknowledge my emotions, I realize that I have been depressed for quite a few months now.
This word feels foreign in my mouth. I have always been an optimist by nature. I’ve been able to push through challenges and come out pretty solid. I also possess a clear understanding of how privileged my life is. To allow myself to sink into what I now acknowledge as depression seems self-indulgent.
I’m aware of how many others are in need, are lonely, are struggling with life. And yet, I dare to be depressed.
While living under the umbrella of a global pandemic, a terrifying climate crisis, and the social and political atrocities we witness in the daily news, I suspect we are all riding an emotional roller coaster. We’ve had to face our fear and anger, grief and frustration like never before. The loneliness of isolation has created a barren landscape in our psyche and a feeling of impotence when we try to search for a sense of well-being.
It’s a wonder we’re not all clinically depressed. Maybe we are and, like me, we’re all just good at pushing through it. We hold tight to hope with one hand as we take out the garbage with the other.
As I said earlier, 2021 was a difficult year for me. While living through our collective experiences, I faced significant personal losses. Two of my dear friends died. One in late spring, one in late summer.
I want to say their names. Judi, one of the most inspirational women I’ve ever known, died after a long struggle with thyroid cancer, and David—gentle, inspiring, and wise, made his transition unexpectedly, in his sleep, as his tender heart simply stopped beating.
Later, in September, I learned that my dear nephew’s home burned to the ground in the Northern California fires. An artist and chef, everything he had burned in that fire, including his art, his art supplies, and all his carefully crafted kitchen tools and recipes.
Barely three months later, his son, my dear, sweet grand-nephew, just 33 years old, died in his sleep. We don’t yet know what caused his death. My family sits in shock and disbelief at this loss.
In late December, my yoga community lost our beloved Sura Das, the epitome of service and devotion. Sura was one of the kirtan greats here in Southern California. He introduced me to devotional chanting. He gave me my first harmonium, the one he had played for 30-plus years.
As I experienced each of these losses, my emotional light dimmed a little more, and then a little more. I realize now that I hadn’t grieved each loss very well. I didn’t take the time I needed to sink into my feelings and acknowledge my pain. I just did what I usually do—I pushed through.
Our culture encourages us to ignore difficult emotions. Fully feeling sadness, pain, grief, fear—this is a hard thing to do. It hurts. It interrupts our forward momentum. It presses the pause button on “normal,” and throws us into uncharted territory.
The failure to acknowledge our difficult emotions does something else—it causes us to put up walls in our relationships. These walls go up because we’re not being honest with ourselves or the people we’re close to.
As we hide behind our walls, we tend to spin stories in our head. We think and worry, think and worry. We alternately fear the future and anchor ourselves to the past. We let our minds take control of our lives, but we leave our hearts out in the cold.
As life presents us with difficult emotions, that’s the time to stop thinking and start feeling. That’s the time to embrace what the heart has to tell us. It’s important to process our loss in order to feel whole again. And this is where I failed myself.
I tried to think my way out of my feelings of grief and loss. I rationalized that my loss wasn’t nearly as great as the loss others are experiencing. I told myself to just buck up, move on, be there for others who may be hurting.
But here’s the thing: emotional pain is individual. One person’s pain can’t be measured against another’s. My pain is not invalidated because another person’s loss might be greater than mine.
Here’s something else I’ve learned—when I retreat without processing, when I wall myself off, I become numb to myself and others. And, the distance I create might cause them to become numb to me. This happened with my beloved. We were each living so much in our own pain, and in our own head, that our life together became bifurcated. Independence within a relationship is a good thing, but when it overtakes the sense of love and support for one another, it’s a bad thing. For me, it created a loneliness that was almost unbearable.
Just last week I was finally brave enough to recognize and name all of this. I named my grief. I named my depression. I named the loneliness I was feeling in my own home. I finally felt ready to talk about what I had been experiencing.
I created one of those, “I need to talk with you” moments with my husband and shared all of my bottled-up pain. My heart burst open, the tears began to flow, and my true process of grieving started. As we sat with my grief, my husband was able to address his own fear and sense of loss. Within the depth of our shared sorrow, we both began to feel better. Our closeness, our trust in one another, our deep loving bond seemed magically restored.
There is still loss in my life. My friends, my nephew—they’re still gone. The emotional upheaval brought on by the zeitgeist of this moment in time—it’s still acutely present. But my ability to live an emotionally whole and hopeful life feels reborn.
Why have I chosen to share my story with you? It’s because I want you to know about the catharsis that comes from speaking the truth of our grief.
If you are feeling mired in challenging emotion; if you are experiencing pain, either collectively or personally, please recognize and honor your loss. Find a friend, a loved one, a trusted therapist, and take this journey.
Give yourself the time, and the grace, to be present for yourself and grieve your losses.
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