…experience of my depression is on my mind as the season is about to change from Summer to Autumn. The Autumnal Equinox arrives on Monday, September 23, at 3:50 AM, EDT.
This used to be a time of darkness for me. Yes, the days get shorter and I used to find this to be a nearly unbearable experience. It is the season of my birth – my arrival on the planet – and it was not a favorite time in my life for most of my life. When I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, after having been in therapy for most of my adult life, I thought I had found the answer to why I felt as I did – for as long I had. What I realized at some point down the road, as I was told by a psychiatrist I respected, I would have to be medicated for the rest of my life. What was interesting as I reflect on it today, was the voice in my head that said after the pronouncement of life-time medication – “No, no. I am NOT going there.”
Little did I know that hearing a message inside my head – I believe it was the voice of my soul – would be my path to healing. Having heard that message, I can honestly say that I was not committed on a daily basis to doing anything except simply getting through the day. Did the medications help? I guess you could say that they did. I didn’t commit suicide. I use the term medications (plural) because I was taking more than one at the time. The drugs also took my emotions and made a straight line out of them (no up or down feelings), and took my tears completely away. Straight lines and tears just didn’t exist together in my world. Even in the midst of all of this, I managed my multiple roles quite well.
The Autumns and Winters were very difficult. The short days (of sunlight) and the long days of work were at times a rough slog – as if I were trudging through mud with concrete shoes. Januarys were the hardest. I used to drive to South Carolina in February/March because Spring blooming generally started then. I went for the main purpose of seeing and experience some early Spring as a way of taking in some hope that the long Winter season would be ending soon.
I found my tears again at a four-week residential executive leadership program. They came, unexpectedly, during a plenary session on wellness and the speaker read a quote on mindfulness. It was as if my heart cracked open to all that had been held back, behind an emotional dam for more than five years.
Four years later, I started down the road of weaning myself off of the medications.
Having found Parker J. Palmer, who writes so honestly and eloquently about his experience with his depression, I’ve found deeper healing, appreciation for the gift of depression and a full embrace of my life.
“Depression was, indeed, the hand of a friend trying to press me down to ground on which it was safe to stand—the ground of my own truth, my own nature, with its complex mix of limits and gifts, liabilities and assets, darkness and light.”
Because I have embraced the deeper and darker parts of myself – the ongoing journey into my healing – in a place where the seasons are fully expressed and visible in all of nature, I now look forward to the Autumn and Winter with the shorter days, longer nights and opportunities to go inward and be still. This is my true nature. Time for rest, reflection, meditation, writing, creating – all of these – could not occur in those years of busy “doingness”. That is not to say that serving others – my children as a parent and my co-workers as a partner and leader – were not rewarding or “soulful filling.” Indeed they were! What was missing was the essential balance of what I truly needed for me, from deep within me. I used to say that I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. I defined creativity so narrowly – reserved for those who painted, played instruments or wrote beautiful words in poetry, prose or song – as if what I did every day wasn’t creative. Today, I know differently, and most importantly, I feel differently about all of it.
I do regard my depression as sacred. Finding myself as close to darkness and an unknowable (at the time) end, I found my way to my light. I am clear today that my out of balance Libra nature contributed significantly to this condition of life. By allowing myself to have the time and space necessary to care for myself – all aspects of my life experience – without concern for what anyone else thought or said about it, I learned to create boundaries. My healing answers were there all of the time in the nature which surrounded me and in which I existed then and now.
“Our inward winters take many forms-failure, betrayal, depression, death. But every one of them, in my experience, yields to the same advice: “The winters will drive you crazy
until you learn to get out into them.” Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives. But when we walk directly into them-protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship or inner discipline or spiritual guidance-we can learn what they have to teach us. Then we discover once again that the cycle of the seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all.”
– Parker J. Palmer