“Nobody can protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away our punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was build by your own desire to heal.”~Cheryl Strayed
We all run as far as we can from suffering. Feeling the pain is unbearable, so we do everything we can to run in the opposite direction. That’s natural, that’s human nature. After all, who likes pain and suffering?
Here is my secret : I want mental peace so so badly that sometimes I want to die to get there.
At times, I want the anguish, guilt, physical pain, anxiety to HALT in its tracks and take me out of this life.
I feel at times that I would break the hearts and crush the souls of loved ones to get what I’m after- for the pain to stop.
We all have our way out, often times that way is self-destructive. For some, it’s drugs and alcohol. For me, I eat and eat, mainly sugar and processed foods. I eat so much that I cry from stomachaches. I eat it when I’m happy because I want so desperately for the positive feeling to last, I want to chase the bliss. Also, I eat to numb my suffering. I head to the grocery store to get a cart full of cookies, pretzels, ice cream and doughnuts, when I sense that achey feeling in my body.
What is that achey feeling?
It’s the knowledge that this life will not last forever. It’s the realization that there is unspeakable suffering that takes place in this world.
Maybe depression is being unable to separate from that sense of suffering.
Everyone says “it’s okay to not be okay” or “feel the hard feelings,” but no one says how.
One day I was driving and I saw a dead deer on the side of the road. Chunks of its body was strewn around everywhere, but I could tell it was a deer because of its head. I felt deeply saddened and disturbed by this image, this dismemberment. For a few seconds I couldn’t help but imagine how much pain that deer endured. Tears erupted down my face.
Other times I feel blissed out by the world that we live in- babies growing inside mothers, seeds sprouting up into trees, examples of human compassion, like people helping other people out with nothing to gain for themselves. All of this reminds me that miracles do exist.
Normally I feel like I’m swimming around in this great big beautiful ocean. I pass dolphins and angel fish, I feel the sunshine on my back. Life feels utterly lovely. Then a storm comes and I get swept underwater. Pain seems to surge through every pore. Whether or not I thrash around or stay still, I’m held under the surface in the murky darkness. One thing I can count on is that the ocean will always spit me back out. Soon enough, I feel the sun on my back once again. I splash around again and everything goes back to normal.
But then a big storm comes and I’m swept away in the current, caught in the undertow. Moments pass, but I have faith that I’ll return to the sunny surface once again. Then hours and hours pass. I’m in the Depths of Despair. It feels unfamiliar…it feels unknown.
This time I go deeper and deeper. The water is so frigid that my skin turns blue. I see the monsters of the abyss feeding on lost hope down in the bottom. I begin to relate to them because I am losing hope that I will ever surface again. I’m deeper then I’ve ever been and I’ve been down here for way to long. I lose faith…
This is the new normal and it’s lonely and awful down here, in the Depths of Despair. Pure pain, total suffering.
And then seemingly out of nowhere, I surface. The goose bumps evaporate as the sun’s rays hit my skin again. I take a sigh of relief. No matter what I must never lose faith again.
But then another storm comes in…
It keeps happening over and over again, but each time those ominous, dark clouds roll in, I go under and this time for longer and longer. Attempting to surface feels like swimming through some gunky combination of molasses and glue. It’s too heavy, it’s too much, and it’s too hard. I’m sick of fighting. People say things like…
- “Don’t give up. Become a fighter. You can do this!”
- “Attitude is everything! Change your attitude and perspective and you can overcome anything.”
- “It’s really not so bad. Do all of the things you love and you’ll start to feel better.”
I believe all of these things. But the problem is, when I’m down here in the blackness of the ocean floor amongst the bottom-feeders and real-life nightmares I’ve lost all faith, all hope, my strength, my identity, my passion, my will to live.
I lay in bed, watching reality TV, guzzling coffee and munching on chips and cookies. I don’t move for hours and hours, glomming onto any fraction of an endorphin rush. When I was sad before, I released the emotion through tears or sweat, but now, it feels impossible. It’s as though a dam was built, blocking me from letting the pent up emotion and energy course through my body. Instead it stagnates into a cesspool of filth. It’s become a breeding ground for lost hope, apathy, numbness, self-loathing and hatred.
If you haven’t guessed, this is what depression looks like.
When you’re down in the Depths of Despair for too long, your brain gets used to it. You begin to wonder, “Is this the new normal?” All of the surfacing and drowning again feels like too much to bear all alone.
I’ll tell you my story:
I’ve had some hardships in life- my father lost custody of my sister and I when I was ten or eleven due to his drug use and then died of a drug overdose when I was twelve. I had panic attacks as a teenager and went to a therapeutic boarding school my senior year.
Still, I’ve also had an overwhelming amount of support from my amazing mother, doting grandparents, sister, and my mother’s partner. I feel eternally thankful for their unconditional warmth and love.
I’ve seen the magic of life when riding my pony, hugging my mom, skipping through wildflowers, and catching glimpses of the twinkle of lighting bugs. But I’ve also grieved an immense loss and felt unspeakable pain. When my dad died, my heart changed for a long, long time. It went from a solid and sturdy organ that reverberated trust and lightness in the world into a heavy one that sank and pulsed with absence and grief.
Things seem to be going so well, but then I begin to have strange thoughts: I imagine myself at my own funeral, when I walk outside I imagine my body hanging from trees. I obsess about it all of the time and I begin to feel heaviness, I go under. First it’s for hours, then days, and then weeks.
When this happens, I tell my mom that I’m feeling unstable and then I go home and seek therapy and medication, which always helps.
One time I let it go on for over a year. I told myself, “This time will be different.” This time you’re in sunny California where the waves of the ocean evoke feelings of bliss and joy, where the Redwood trees bring a sense of tranquility, peace, and calmness. I remind myself that back when I was 23 I went a whole year without these weird thoughts, without feeling low and unstable. I hula hooped at festivals and hung out with my best friend everyday. Life felt simple and easy.
Here I was in California once again, paradise, heaven on earth. And still, it came. I felt the clammy hands of Despair beginning to pull me back down. I kept oscillating between feeling happy, social, receptive to the beauty of the world and then feeling true gnaw-at-your-skin deep depression that slams into you and hits you in your core. I told myself that I would be okay, I could handle these shifts.
But really, I wasn’t okay.
I wanted to jump off a bridge so the pain would end. That’s my dirty little secret that I’ve never told anyone.
I felt like a fool. Here I was without a problem in the world in California, living in a cottage beneath the gorgeous Redwoods for crying out loud with my boyfriend that I love to the moon and back, with a writing job that allows me to be creative, and still, still I feel this pain. What the hell is the matter with me? Why can’t I snap out of it?
Here is the thing-
Sometimes you can be beneath the surface for so so long that it rocks your world. It nearly shatters you.
But then, you surface again, and you feel the warmth of the sunshine. Oh, and look, there’s a pod of dolphins that makes your heart leap. All of a sudden, you hear a faint sound. It’s the chorus of loved ones at the island nearby cheering you on.
Moments like these make all of the unbearable darkness worth it.
If you’ve ever felt like me, get help. This is your depression, not your identity. There is help for you- be it therapy, medication, a shoulder’s friend to cry on, a beloved pet, or what have you.
But let’s get back to that Cheryl Strayed quote about suffering. There will be hardship and pain. You will suffer because of it. These are just the facts of this unpredictable life. Unfortunately, that gnawing achey feeling will return and you will be swept under the surface again.
If you let the years roll by, life teaches you how to live it. It’s about maintaining hope and faith. It’s not about turning blindly from suffering, but is instead about your journey.
Your journey and your life is meaningful, even if you may not think so right now.
When you get the help you need to get off your bed for a second and move through your emotions, maybe you’ll be able to express them. Maybe even share them.
Trust me, someone will benefit from your story. You’re not alone in this. That’s the fatal flaw: depression makes us think that we’re all alone. We’re not.
When the storm comes in, you’ll suffer, then you won’t, then you’ll be happy, then you’ll thrive, then you’ll go under once again, then you’ll come up once again- that’s life.
Don’t let your brain trick you into believing that you’re stuck- that’s depression. It’s all a trick. You’ll never ever be down there forever.
I can promise you this, that glowing morning sun will continue to rise each morning.