Until a couple of days ago, in fact, for the last few months, depression has been a constant companion. Albeit, an unwanted one, it whispered in my ear and harped in my brain that the world was a large and lonely place, that no one cared, that I was of no use. Unfriendly chemicals in my brain were doing a not so happy dance and there were many days when I barely dragged myself out of bed. Always tired, always doing battle with myself, each day was like a dark and lonely night. The depressed eyes I was looking through saw a depressed world.
Most people know me as a friendly, kind, compassionate soul and to some degree I have been able to maintain that facade through these dark days. Mostly I isolate so others don’t have to witness this side. And I isolate as many do not know how to respond to this kind of illness that can’t be shown on x-rays or blood tests.
Unknown to many the depression side of me was not so kind or compassion to myself. There was always this sense of hopeless helplessness, victimized by genetics, by environments, by who the heck knows what. Just as firmly as that depression set hold, its tentacles are now loosening.
This morning I woke up, refreshed, the birds yet to migrate sang songs lingering from the last days of summer sweet and melodic. The fresh air coming through my open window was revitalizing. Some pink roses are blooming in my garden, one fully open and two pink buds opening up to the world. Sparky and I walked up to the Moss Street Market this morning and I bought the beautiful extra large farm fresh eggs that I am fond of but have not purchased all season. A basket of organic garlic called to me and some lovely jewel yams. As the season changes and I wake up life is good and love is abundant. Sparky and I walked home and we stopped and chatted with fellow market goers and Saturday morning dog walkers. I feel alive, vigorous and deserving of this beautiful life as I write this.
The lesson realized today though is that not if, but when a depression returns, I must remember that the small little sorrowful me also needs compassion and kindness. I must learn to listen to that wisdom that knows for itself.
It is in this realization that I must speak out about how we closet mental illness;I prefer to call it emotional illness. Depression is the number one illness in this world. Yet there is shame, a denial, a shiny face that those who suffer must show to the world. We cloak it in the words, “I’m fine.” To be ashamed of an illness that is not only so debilitating emotionally, socially, financially is the shame. Many folks struggle with anxiety, depression, mania labelled with fancy psychological terms such as borderline personality disorder, bi-polar and others. Every one of us is in relationship with at least one someone who is suffering. We may not “know” but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
I really believe that what exacerbates emotional illness is the denial, the minimizing and the patronizing of it. To recognize, acknowledge it, accept that it exists and like everything in this world is transitory is the much needed attitude change. Everything changes.
How can you be of help? Don’t counsel, don’t offer just be happy platitudes, listen. Gently ask the friend or loved one if they’ve sought medical advice and kindly suggest that you would support their decision to see a family doctor, a counsellor, a psychiatrist. Empathize but above all do not take on their suffering, do not blame yourself, understand that if they blame you it is the mental illness talking. It is neither good for you nor your friend to become mired in the confusion and sorrow mental angst can bring. This is disempowering. All you need to do is be there, make space for what is happening not because it should or shouldn’t but because it is. Seek out resources for those like you who are supporting friends or loved ones with emotional illness.
Above all be ever vigilant, not fearful, but aware that you too may at some time experience a depression that feels never-ending, a lonely space to be. If this happens, speak up and seek support. Remember this and always, always be kind and compassionate to you.
Today, I look through fresh eyes.