One More, With Feeling

(c) Inanda Page Awaken

So I’ve decided to write another post on depression. Most of us are going through something right now. Looking at the current world affairs, I would dare say there is something wrong with you if you aren’t depressed, or at least discouraged. But I’ve come to tell you a different story this time.

If you’ve been ricocheting between severe absence and presence, between maddening thoughts and mere seconds of tranquility, then you must know how debilitating this imbalance can be. One minute you think you’ve had everything figured out and you even manage to discern something that looks like a gentle light. Then minutes or hours later you remember something, a harsh word, a loss, a mistake you’ve made or you think you’ve made, and you’re spiraling back downwards. And you know there’s no off switch for your mind, you can’t erase memories, and you certainly can’t escape this back and forth – the ultimate emotional uproar.

But between those moments of pure self-torture, behind the thoughts triggered by an inner world that is decomposing, there are a few instances of clearness. And those brief moments have brought me here.

No one denies that clinical depression is a disease much like cancer or diabetes. And I’m definitely not here to diminish its gravity. But what if it’s not always an illness? This doesn’t mean we can discard what we’re dealing with. It’s important to talk about it, look for support, ask for help. It’s equally important to make sure you go through your emotions and not past them.

So I observed and mind-wandered as well as wondered (it may sound painless – it’s not). And one day I was staring at my nephew’s toys and thought: why can’t I be like a kid again when receiving a toy I liked brought me so much joy? How come I have no idea what I want for Christmas when family asks? Why can’t I find pleasure and happiness in most things and activities that would once get me out of a bad mood? Why is nothing working anymore?

We know that one symptom of depression is losing interest in activities you once enjoyed. But what if – and this was an if which changed my relationship with depression entirely – this loss of interest is a symptom of something else, of a larger picture that I couldn’t previously access?

I’ve known for a while now that whatever is happening to me is changing who I am to the point where I can barely recognize myself. Perhaps what I identified as depression is nothing but straying from what no longer fulfills me at a deeper level. I have lost any interest in material possessions, entertainment, politics (this transformed into a more profound preoccupation with the world), in drinking-partying-and-dancing (that could also mean I’m just getting older), small talk irritates me even more than before, and many other such symptoms. I’ve always played the part of the outsider, but the feelings of not belonging and not fitting in are more enhanced now.

Last year I said I had lost any sense of direction and my ambition. But what if the success story we’ve been programmed to follow no longer fits my story? I don’t strive to achieve things and be successful simply because there is nothing to attain, there is no future instance where I can wake up and say ‘I have achieved success, now I’m happy’. It actually baffles me right now to think people still fall into this trap. They turn away from what really matters to them and turn towards something that they think it’s been promised to them. What I do strive for is to give as much of my attention to things that are meaningful to me. For every thing I’m drifting away from, I gravitate towards others such as psychology, consciousness, and how the human brain works, but I also return to childhood passions such as my fascination with space and astronomy. There must be at the convergence of these that I think I will find some answers, answers to what has been troubling me lately, answers to this existential and seemingly never-ending query.

If you are experiencing something similar, then you know you are walking away from trifles and the ordinary into what actually matters to you. And you may have also found that we’re nothing without human connection. You know now that in the midst of all chaos what truly makes you a little bit more hopeful about tomorrow is to have someone near you with whom you connect at a deeper level. It’s been said that isolation from family, friends, and peers only worsens depression and anxiety; at the same time it’s not mere social interaction that can relieve feelings of sadness, but connection. So I’ve learned – the very hard way – to listen to what that lack was telling me. We abound in internet connections, friends lists, we have instant access to entertainment which make it far easier nowadays to give in to the trivial, to developing addictions. But when you stop for a second and think about what you are actually looking for you become aware that above all else you want to feel.

Depression is in a sense the absence of feeling, a hollowness, an acute feeling of nothingness, of meaninglessness, hopelessness, helplessness – yes, all the less-es. My problem is that I feel too much, too intensely – that goes for the sadness as well. And no, not just mine (as if that weren’t enough), but the world’s, the people’s, the planet’s, the trees’. In my world, even the leaves are crying. And the poets, oh the crying poets… As cliché as this may sound, I understand now that to write poetry is to feel. You cannot experience poetry (whether you’re reading or writing it) without being at least partially in touch with your emotions. Poetry demands that you access the deeper layers of your being. There have been moments when I dreaded writing poetry for fear that I might have to go to that place. I refused.

But what I need above all else is to feel, and to feel connected. It’s rather ironic and very tragic that antidepressants often stifle and suppress feelings. Although I haven’t tried them myself, I’ve heard of many people experiencing numbness while on treatment. And numbness is the opposite of what could carry you beyond the realm of impossibilities and heartache. This is not to say that I haven’t had moments when I wanted to feel nothing.

But I believe that no matter the hardships you’ve experienced, no matter the severity of the hurting, and regardless of how broken and damaged you are, the triumph is in retaining your ability to feel, despite all the pain you’ve been through. The key lies in dealing with your every emotion, bit by bit, as excruciating as the process may be, without becoming cynical or bitter as these won’t get you anywhere. Disregarding the quietly deafening sound of your emotions only amplifies the very thing you are trying to escape from: pain. The healing is in the aching.

At the end of the day, just know that the very agony that is stretching its arms to asphyxiate you and grapple your last traces of joy is maybe the same agony that its stretching its arms to help you shed what is no longer needed in your life, the agony that you will befriend in order to get to the other side, beyond what is keeping you down and into a space of clarity and openness. In that sense, the downfall becomes your ascendancy.

The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight. Joseph Campbell