For most of my adult life and really for most of my teen years, I have suffered from cyclical depression. Most of that time I thought of it as my fault, something wrong with me, something bad. And most of that time I was taken away with it, like an empty bottle floating on a tumultuous sea. For the first time, I am able to observe it with some clarity. It’s not any easier. In fact, this bout of depression feels even more frustrating than ever before because I thought I’d “beaten” it. But it’s here.
Depression is a very physical phenomenon for me. It’s like my body is suddenly filled with sand and I’m swimming through molasses. Everything is more exhausting. Everything is louder. Everyone is more difficult. The smallest things become great obstacles. I sleep a lot and never feel fully awake or alert or clear. I’m sluggish and tired and dread doing things I usually love - like socializing or talking. I stop looking forward to things.
At least I know, at this point in my life, that it’s not permanent. I know it will cycle. Just a couple weeks ago I was telling my friend how great life is, how happy I am. Work has been great and rewarding. I know that in my head. But right now it feels incredibly difficult. I can’t concentrate. I lose track of things. I’m exhausted by the process. I forget what I’m working on. It’s frustrating. I still have the same amount of things to do, but doing them takes more energy, takes longer and doesn’t feel as satisfying. It’s all in my head. Yet, I’m doing all the same things. And I’m keeping up with all the things I do to get myself out of the funk. I’m exercising, staying on my routine, trying to eat healthy, not have too much caffeine, etc., etc., etc.. But the dark heavy mind cloud is still there. I wake with a sense of dread.
I am trying not to be too hard on myself and others. I am trying to remember that everyone else didn’t change and become more annoying. It feels like they have. And I know my mood affects everyone, so they probably are reacting to me. But it’s me who has changed. Deep breath.
Perhaps because I expected to feel great now that it’s Spring, it feels even more depressing that I don’t. Perhaps because I keep thinking, “It’ll be better when...” and then it keeps being hard. Things keep coming up that make it hard. The winter with all the snow and snow days and struggling to keep up while kids are home and cooped up. And now Maya’s injury. And next it will be something else. No one has been sick for awhile. And allergy season is coming. We’re never in the clear for smooth sailing. That’s NORMAL. So why do I keep thinking that circumstances will change to make me better??
I read this today:
“There was an empirical study that found that people who have the tendency to use more self-referential terms (I, me, myself) tend to have more health problems and earlier deaths. These people have more involvement with the self. Being self-absorbed has an immense effect of narrowing one’s focus and blurring one’s vision. It is like being pressed down by a heavy load. If, on the other hand, you think more about others’ well-being, it immediately makes you feel more expansive, liberated and free. Problems which before may have seemed enormous would then seem more manageable.” - His Holiness The Dalai Lama
That made me remember the practice of tonglen. It is a method of connecting with suffering and for overcoming fear by awakening compassion for others. It is turning the tables on what we want to do (feel bad for ourselves) and instead take on the suffering of others. We think of everyone in the world who feels the same way and hope that they find freedom and peace.
“So on the spot you can do tonglen for all the people who are just like you, for everyone who wishes to be compassionate but instead is afraid, for everyone who wishes to be brave but instead is a coward.
Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us.
Use what seems like poison as medicine. Use your personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.” - Pema Chodron
Here is a short meditation I just did to help open this up. You may want to try it.
And for you, my friends, may you, today, find more space and light within. And may you be freed from suffering through compassion.
“You are the sky. Everything else - it’s just the weather.”- Pema Chodron