Friday, November 18, 2011

Undepressed

A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly realized that I am not depressed anymore.

It was an amazing realization.  I had been living with a chronic moderate-to-low level of depression for so long that, within it, I had lost a sense of what an undepressed life feels like.

But on this particular day, I was walking home after a busy day at work that ended with a long and intense meeting.  I was tired, in that way that people are tired after a long and intense day, but happy.

"Wait, happy?!" I asked myself.  "How can it be that I am happy?"

Then I noticed that there had been this sense of happiness at the background of my life that had been gradually increasing in strength over the past weeks or months.  And I remembered that this is how my life used to be.  There was a time in my life when my friends called me "Mellow Happiness."  With a jolt of surprise, I realized that this meant that I was no longer depressed!

Another way of describing the difference:  I no longer felt the sense that I was constantly swimming through mud.  Ordinary things were no longer extraordinarily difficult.  And a lot of things were actually becoming fun again.  My sense of enjoyment was coming alive again.

I am not sure exactly how this has happened.  I was in counseling with an excellent therapist for a time, and that certainly was helpful.  When he retired last spring, I did not feel ready for the loss of that support.  Even though I had been making great progress and was feeling a gradual sense of dealing better with my life, once he retired I felt I relapsed a bit for a time, but at least that relapse was understandable.  I was in mourning.  But I was also committed to proving how helpful he had been by taking to heart all I had learned and seeing if I could fly solo now.

As I started the academic year, I adopted two mantras.  One was "unfailing love."  The other was "solid gold."  Both indicated that I was resolved to live up to a way of being in the world where, in all my relationships with everyone, I would be noble and gracious, respectful and caring, no matter how I felt about how others treated me.  I knew the year was going to bring situations in which I would be taking bold but controversial stands, and I knew from past experience that this kind of leadership leaves you often feeling exposed and alone.  You may sense that there are those who support you, but what is most visible is the push-back.  You have to stand strong, and I was committed to maintaining the highest standards of respect towards those who disagreed with me or opposed me.

That day that I left the meeting happy was a day when I felt a strong sense that my efforts really were making a difference:  small but real.  We need to matter in each other's lives.  And maintaining respect in the face of difference and even opposition is a particularly strong version of "mattering."  If that struggle is held with integrity, something new can be born that is even better than what either party individually wanted.  It is a creative opportunity.

And we humans love connecting and creating.  These are two of the most fulfilling experiences of our lives.  In depression, you feel profoundly disconnected and discouraged, and too much discouragement dries up creativity.  Looking for connection, and finding ways to nurture creativity, can be helpful in coming back out of depression.  I know that this is easy to say but hard to do.  "This I know experimentally."  But what else is there to do but try?  For a long time you may not see/feel the results (which can be discouraging, and therefore which can reinforce the depression), but in my case, with patience and persistence, this really did eventually help.

So, anyone reading this who may still be swimming through the mud that is depression, please don't give up.  When the mud thins, the swimming eases, and the light starts to shine through, then you will find yourself "remembering" how beautiful life really is.  Until then, ride every inkling of joy that manages to burst through.  These are your lifelines.  These are what show you the way out of the mud and into the light of the fulfilling life you truly deserve.