(Re-blogged from August 19, 2015)
I am currently in the midst of a fairly intense bout of major depression. And so, I’m going to do something really scary. I’m going to talk about it. (Now, it’s important for me to clarify that when I talk about my depression, I’m talking about MY depression. I’m not a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst or trained psychologist. My undergraduate degree in psychology, while helpful, does not a medical professional make.) It’s always my fear that acknowledging the monster in the corner will make me look weak or whiny, or that it will make other people uncomfortable. But here’s the deal – I’m okay. I don’t feel great, and I’d much rather be napping than writing this essay, but I really am okay.
It took me a long time to realize that I was experiencing cyclical clinical depression. My ideas about depression centered on crying jags, suicidal thoughts and a complete collapse. That’s just not what depression looks like in my life. Instead, I feel crushing fatigue, vague but powerful overwhelm and a flat-lining of emotion. I don’t usually cry, unless it’s due to feeling so overwhelmed with having to DO things. It feels more like a deep lack of interest in doing all the things that make my life special. WHY would I want to write a song or volunteer for a church event or spend time with a friend when I could cuddle up with my favorite blanket and stare at the TV? Why should I struggle through my philosophy homework when my goal, becoming a minister, suddenly feels pointless and empty?
Looking back, I can see the checkerboard pattern of “normal Lezli” and “depressed Lezli” as far back as junior high. I see it in the episodes where I, despite being labeled as intellectually gifted and admittedly obsessed with perfection, just stopped doing all my school work for weeks. When the teachers finally called my parents and the issue came to light, I never had a reason. I couldn’t explain, even to myself, why I stopped completing my school work. And then, within a few weeks, I would be better. I would once again turn in work of the caliber that was expected of me. It makes perfect sense that no one suspected depression. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t thinking about hurting myself. I simply stopped doing life in the only area I had control.
I see the pattern in high school, where I loved being involved with everything. I was a cheerleader, active in music, dance and drama. I founded a chapter of the Optimist Club in my school, and served as the state governor during my senior year. But every January, like clockwork, I would have a near-hysterical breakdown, sobbing that I was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t possibly handle all this responsibility. In a few weeks, this feeling of smothering overwhelm would lift, and I could handle the workload just fine. The problem wasn’t over-scheduling. The problem was a sudden and temporary inability to do – or care about doing – almost anything. At this age, though, I recognized that people were counting on me to keep going. I couldn’t just skip play practice. They couldn’t rehearse the scene without me. So, I’d force myself to show up and function, and then sob every night when I got home. Eventually the fog would clear, and I would be just fine. The episode would be forgotten until the next time. But there was always a next time.
My first husband used to say to me, “This is just your semi-annual meltdown. It will pass. It always passes.” And he was right. But, in an unhappy marriage there was always something “wrong” to blame the upset on. He didn’t listen to me, or he didn’t value me or he didn’t care about me. While that may or may not have been true, I’ve come to understand that those periods of soul crushing depression were never about the state of the relationship. They would have happened no matter what, as a function of biology and brain chemistry.
As a spiritual mentor and ministerial student, I sometimes feel that experiencing depression is cheating on my Science of Mind beliefs. Espousing the virtues of positive attitude and anchored spiritual practice, I feel like a fraud when my energy drops. It is my instinct to hide the depression, to do everything in my power to disguise my vulnerability and pretend everything is normal. I’m slowly learning that standing in my authenticity is the healthiest, sanest way forward. People close to me can tell when I’m not entirely okay, and they are usually relieved to hear that my weird energy isn’t about them. Honestly, I think it’s a bit of a relief to hear that deeply spiritual people have stuff in their lives, too – that when things get messy, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It doesn’t make you less one with the One.
What I’ve learned, through experience and introspection, is that my episodes of depression come and go independent of the quality of my experiences or relationships. An accident of chemistry, they are best handled with a calm acceptance. I have to actively resist looking for a “why” in the events of my life. The truth is that nothing is wrong, and that it will pass. It always passes. I’ve learned that my inability to care about my responsibilities, goals and relationships is temporary, and I am best served by keeping it together to the best of my ability – even when it’s really hard. I will still want those people and activities in my life when I feel better. But I also realize now that I can be gentle with myself through these periods, and that anyone worth having in my life will understand. I have learned through my spiritual studies that my truth is wholeness, even when I can’t see it. When depression has obliterated my ability to sense the Presence, It is still there. I am still loved. My life is still good. As a messy, exhausted, overwhelmed expression of the Divine, I am perfect, just as I am.