Putting Pen to Paper: Writers on Depression

That terrible mood of depression, whether it’s any good or not, is what is known as The Artist’s Reward. Ernest Hemmingway

Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know, and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding, and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t. Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast

That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.  Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America

In depression . . . faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come – – not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute . . . It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

They flank me-Depression on my left, loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show their badges. I know these guys very well. …then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there. Depression even confiscates my identity; but he always does that. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Depression is nourished by a lifetime of ungrieved and unforgiven hurts. Penelope Sweet

Stepping Over Depression

The currents of depression run fast and deep, indeed.  The water isn’t crystal blue, but a muddy green.  We can’t see the jagged stones, the severe topography that lay beneath.

We wake at the beginning of our days, knowing we must wade through our despair.  We must cross the river of depression, feel its force against our bodies.  We pray that we get to the other side; hope that we finish the day with some semblance of having felt productive, of having lived a “normal day.” 

Back in the days of my deepest depression — what seems like another lifetime ago — I would look in the mirror in my bathroom late at night when I couldn’t sleep.  My face ashen, my eyes lifeless, I felt I just couldn’t do it again – I just couldn’t face another day battling depression.  It wore me out.  I was tired.  I had had enough. Often, for comfort, I would turn to the faith which had sustained me and my ancestors in times of great trouble.  My grandmother, long since passed away, would read me this short prayer as a child:

May God support us all the day long

till the shadows lengthen

and the busy world is hushed

and the fever of life is done.

Then, in God’s mercy,

may God grant us a safe lodging,

and a holy rest

and peace at last.

I’d take peace, I thought.  A few crumbs would do.  I didn’t need happiness at those dark moments.  Merciful peace, yes, I could take solace in that.   The moon shone through the bathroom window one starry cold night.  I felt some peace, the memory of my grandmother’s sweet hands on my round face.

We don’t always have to fight the river.  We just have to find a way to get across.  We can’t step over the expanse of water all at one time. We need some steeping stones, pieces of rock that can take us over one step at a time.

One such stone of wisdom is to not look down at the water as we walk.  We can get mesmerized or paralyzed by depression’s swirling rapids.  It sucks us in to a garbled dialogue with our melancholy and we become paralyzed.

In his new book, Beat the Blues before They Beat You, Robert Leahy, Ph.D., writes:

Depression has a mind of its own.  When you are depressed, you think in generalizations (nothing works out), you don’t give yourself credit (I can’t do anything right), and you label yourself in the most negative terms (loser, ashamed, humiliated).  You set demanding standards that you will never live up to.  You may think you need to get everyone’s approval, or excel at everything you do, or know for sure something will work out before you try it. Your thinking keeps you trapped in self-criticism, indecisiveness, and inertia.

Yup, that pretty much captures depression . . . .

But it doesn’t always have to be this way.  Author Henri Nouwen, who suffered many bouts of depression in his life, in a piece called “Stepping over Our Wounds” from his book, Bread for the Journey, wrote:

Sometimes we have to ‘step over’ our anger, our jealousy, or our feelings of rejection and move on.  The temptation is to get stuck in our negative emotions, poking around in them as if we belong there.  Then we become the ‘offended one,’ ‘the forgotten one’,’ or the ‘discarded one.” Yes, we can get attached to these negative identities and even take morbid pleasure in them.  It might be good to have a look at these dark feelings and explore where they come from, but there comes a moment to step over them, leave them behind and travel on.

If we’re not careful, we can get stuck in our identities as depressed people.  We don’t so much experience depression – – we become depression. 

Sometimes, yes sometimes, we just need to let go of it.  We need to let go of the darker emotions that often fuel depression’s fury.  We can’t do this all the time, I know; but this way of dealing with it, of not getting drawn into a an exploration of our depressive thoughts and feelings –“Why can’t I do anything right, Why doesn’t anybody care about me, when will this pain end?” – is a healthy alternative to the same old, same old approach.  For years, I would get sucked in by depression. Before I knew it, I had been depressed for weeks.  Depression, and surviving it, consumed me. 

Now, after years of hard work, I know I can often — allright, sometimes — just let it go. 

And travel on.

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