Why invite depression for a chat when not depressed?

After a very happy time (during which I usually don’t bother to write 🙂 ) followed by a short, sudden, abrupt, and fairly visceral episode of depression that lasted just a few days, I came up with the project of writing about depression while my head is above the water – to write an article about my dance with depression when I’m not actually in the middle of having to hold the boat steady in a huge storm between scylla, charybdis, and a bunch of rocks.

I thought, this is over now; it came suddenly, was intense and crazy, I didn’t even understand what it was or why it came. Thank God it’s over for now, I can feel little flickers of the aliveness of my soul again, I can feel my body again, there are tasted, the colours are fresh, the sounds are pleasant, touch is pleasant and there is love.

My reflex in the past has been to shut off that foregoing experience of anguish and terror as soon as I’m out of it even with one foot. God, to talk and think about anything else just not that – there are a free precious moments when I’m free of that thing, who knows when the next such precious moments will come, so I’m going to definitely spend them on something that’s different from … reflecting on depression.

And now (or actually, about two weeks ago) … I decided to try an experiment and do otherwise.

I’m only doing it now because in the meantime I lost some of my electronics while traveling, couldn’t write, perhaps lost the freshest inspiration but still wanting to write on this topic.

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Why write about depression when you’re momentarily happy?

The idea was … I think it derived from the flicker of an insight that part of what keeps me in depression longer once I slip into it (or something throws me in full-bodied, tho really this time I have no idea what it was) is my dread of the thing.

As soon as I feel a slight shadow of it creeping up, there is a secret tinge of panic creeping up my spine; well, understatement, more of a fist of dread gripping me tight with the thoughts “holy shit it’s starting, what if it doesn’t stop?”.

In the pasts I probably spent years in that state, numbed out and dissociated. Then I started getting out for short windows of time at a time. Hours. A day. Which I’d usually pay for with a stronger crackdown the next day. A few days in a row – that was what I got used to over the years. At one point, I think in 2010, there was a full week of feeling OK – I remember thinking how incredible that was. After that week some minor incident happened and things went back to normal.

In the last years, I also had a few days in a row; a week would be very special. This summer I even had a few weeks … two, three? Not something I’d deemed possible.

Perhaps I feel I’ve gained enough strength just to spite and provoke fate a bit and yes, to write about these painful states during the precious moments when I’m not in them, just to signal them that – perhaps I’m no longer that afraid of them.

Perhaps I just dare to touch them out of my own free will, out of choice, because I want to meet, encounter, explore and understand them.

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Yes, you can still come over me and suffocate me like a giant black boa – that’s fine. If I’ve survived it for decades, I probably will again. But maybe you are like fear, and you are like (involuntary, half-shamanic) visions. Or the majority of emotions and states of being?

You become weird when I fight you, when I’m so scared of you that I shut down my awareness and best judgment, when I freeze up my entire body just because your shadow hushed by the doorway.

You get confused. You don’t understand.

After all, you are just you.

You bring me a gift, and messages … and your face. I act like I’m crazy.

What can you do for being you?

Yes, admittedly, I would start acting strange too – if I were you, and saw me freaking out like that whenever I merely perceive your existence.

If I were you … 

I wouldn’t know what to do.

After all, what can I do about being here, about being me. The mere fact that I breathe and exist seems to freak you out … but I’m here, I have to talk to you, bring you the news from time to time, bring you a gift from time to time, I don’t understand why you don’t like it. What makes you so sick of me. All I do is be … is my being and my function really that ugly?

And I’m sorry, I’m bewildered by your running away, panicking or fighting, but I came here for a reason, so I have to get your attention somehow. I know that just makes it worse. But what am I to do? I am just here, I am me, I fulfil my natural function, for what else am I to do?

… is that how you feel and think, unknown shadow that strikes me down into a wrestle on the sidewalk from time to time?

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Another image

This image came to me intuitively, but it reminds me of Parker Palmer‘s account of his encounters with depression – the type that is like that, that is like a being wanting your attention (there may be other types, including some which are more biologically-based; although I personally think it’s interlinked).

Looking for the source, found a quote instead:

“You seem to look upon depression as the hand of an enemy trying to crush you…Do you think you could see it instead as the hand of a friend, pressing you down to the ground on which it is safe to stand?”

Parker Palmer

I’m not sure if that’s the function of my depressions too … it may be. I won’t know if I keep freaking out every time I encounter this old friend.

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The second arrow

Regardless what you want, how often and for how long you are planning on coming back – I can skip that nonsense of being afraid of you. It makes as much sense as being afraid of the rain, or of the monthly cycle, or of the periodic change of star constellations.

Of the ripening and falling of fruit, or of winter. (I actually love winter.)

It doesn’t make sense.

As the Buddhists say, pull out the second arrow – the [avoidable] suffering stacked on top the natural, unavoidable flow of naked, raw, simple pain and pleasure in life.

I also have the feeling, if I start treating you better – I will have to face it that you are actually a highly intelligent and caring companion. Perhaps with relief.

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Emotion-action feedback loops

Being stuck somewhere without a functional laptop also forced me to touch books (like, paper books).

I bumped into Joanna Macy’s work on feeling the pain of the world and having the capacity to mentally-emotionally withstand that and do something productive with it.

Macy being a systems scientist, she applies the concept of feedback loops to the arena of emotion and action (which my other hero in that arena, Karla McLaren, is actually also doing implicitly).

The gist of this idea is that there’s (or should be, in a system that self-regulates) a cyclical flow of information and energy:

Perception leads to emotion, whose skilful processing naturally leads to action which leads to changes in the external world, which again lead back to perception and so forth. The unobstructed flow of information and energy through this loop ensures that the system self-corrects: current actions are corrected by perceiving and feeling the outcomes of previous actions.

Macy applies to the world at large: blocking the flow of information (perception) and emotion (the motivator for action) leads to a lack of corrective action, which leads to a worse ecological and social situation in our physical world. We don’t correct it because we cut off the feedback loop (out of fear, fear of despair, mental and emotional discomfort, fear of powerlessness, etc.).

It strikes me that this concept seems to apply on the individual as well as collective level. I have much less experience (none?) with the collective level. On the individual level – that of treating one person and their immediate environment as the system that is to regulate to flexible stability, homeostasis – panicking and putting up barricades when depression (or whatever the feeling is that we’re most afraid of) knocks gently with its gift of knowledge, is cutting out the feedback loop –

– it’s probably losing the information that would be needed to take action in the situation that evoked the feeling. At least that’s what some say emotions are for.

Just another reason to be kinder to you, apart from simply being fatigued out of running and fighting the fairly inevitable, aspects of life itself.

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*Note: This is mostly about situation and existential depression, brought on by personal traumas and empathy with collective traumas of this world. Part of my depression was also entwined with biology (inflammation, allergy) and responded to dietary treatment – but for me that’s just another way of seeing that it was responding to the state of the world, a major part of which is that we don’t honour nature in / through food and all the substances we take into our bodies and touch anymore.

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Things quoted:

Parker Palmer’s work and books

Joanna Macy’s latest work

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