depression as a heavy coat

when writing about pain, emotional pain specifically, it can be especially challenging to articulate the experience without sounding trite, vague, or both.

as i sit with the experience of depression in my body today, the analogy of feeling weighed down by a heavy coat comes to mind.

as someone who’s lived with chronic “mild” depression, or melancholy as an old therapist referred to it, the feeling is both familiar and oppressive.

today, it began with sleeping a lot and not feeling rested. it was the sense, upon waking, that i could fall back asleep for another 10 to 12 hours.

it is the inexplicable fatigue that makes just moving my body from one place to another a challenge.

i was listening to Tarot for the End of Times with Sarah Cargill today as she discussed the Temperance card:

this is a card i hadn’t previously had much of a relationship with, so my assessment of it was quite shallow. the traditional concept of temperance, of refraining from indulgence, is not one that resonates with me as someone in recovery from toxic Christian views that encourage denial of the body.

but Sarah Cargill’s approach was much different from the conventional encouragement of moderation. instead, she approaches the card from a perspective of the healing.

she speaks to pain as a “symptom of dis-integration.” and she also speaks to her own healing journey with chronic pain and physical distress, and her resonance with “alternative” healing modalities, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

inspired by her story and analysis, i googled TCM’s view of depression and came across this assessment:

“According to TCM, depression is caused by stagnation, or blockages in the Qi (life force energy). It is usually related to stagnant energy in the liver, spleen, heart or kidneys. Liver Qi stagnation can cause strong feelings of frustration, stomach pain and digestive trouble, heartburn or tightness in the chest, and headaches. Heart or Spleen Deficiency patterns cause worrying, trouble sleeping, and poor appetite. Chronic cases of depression with anxiety are often related to Yin deficiency, which causes irritability, restlessness, poor sleep, and back pain. An acupuncturist looks at all of these symptoms and treats the appropriate pattern with acupuncture and herbs.” (source)

depression as blocked life force energy rings true to me, because that’s what it feels like — like something is standing in the way between me and experiencing my life fully.

i think about the experience of taking a walk earlier with a beloved, and how simply getting out into the world and moving my body seemed to work to move this stagnant energy.

but now that i’m back in a apartment, laying in bed, writing this post, it finds me again, that sense of deep tiredness residing in my muscles, blood, bones.

if i’m being completely honest, despite dealing with depression for as long as i can remember, it continues to scare me. i remain afraid of its potential to swallow me whole, for hours, days, weeks, months.

i’ve been practicing somatic mindfulness/embodiment, which involves getting still and sitting with what’s present in my body. and i’m consistently shocked by how often the experience sitting just below the surface is one of fear. often this fear is vague, not taking on any specific form. it seems as though merely existing in this world is fear-inducing.

i cried today, held by a beloved, and when asked what i was sad about, i couldn’t help but think, everything. “i cried today, held by a beloved, and when asked what i was sad about, i couldn’t help but think: “everything.”

the world is a scary place, being alive is hella intimidating, and grappling with the existential crisis of humans potentially going extinct sooner than later is freaking heavy.

i think about my craving for justice and healing, and through that lens, depression seems like a logical and valid response. that’s an aspect of depression that i find generally lacking from discussion of it — its validity.

there is always enough tragedy, whether personally or collectively, in this world to justify being debilitated by it. but on the other side of this equation is joy, which is equally valid. there are always reasons with which to be filled with a powerful sense of aliveness.

this reminds me of a story from Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning:

“The story of the young woman whose death I witnessed in a concentration camp. It is a simple story. There is little to tell and it may sound as if I had invented it; but to me it seems like a poem. This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.”

Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here-I am here-I am life, eternal life.” (source)

what gets lost in the experience of depression is a sense of wholeness. i wish i could go back in time and tell my younger self, “it is not that your depression is wrong, it is that it is incomplete.”

a sense of despair and hopelessness is as much as a part of this experience of being alive as hope and optimism. but when experienced in excess, it creates a confirmation bias loop, seeking out all that validates its beliefs and ignoring the rest.

my depression, for much of my life, has made feeling joy seemingly impossible at times. this is largely why i’ve self-medicated with substances as a desperate desire to know what it feels like to feel good.

so how do we move through the internal blocks of depression? i’m very much still learning the answer to this. the most coherent one i have is the need to disrupt the experience, to agitate it. to seek out experiences that remind me what it’s like to feel alive, such as going on a walk in a busy city on a nice fall day.

Sarah Cargill refers to tears as the salt that’s needed to bring out the full flavor of our souls. so i’d say the release of crying is also a part of it.

i remind myself that hope is a practice (or a “discipline,” as Mariame Kaba puts it). and when i’m depressed, practicing hope can feel like trying to lift a car off the ground. so many times it is an exerting of effort that seemingly has little impact. which is where trust comes in — a belief that it’s all valuable, that progress is happening even when we cannot yet see it.

i’m reminded that external manifestation is often the final stage of healing and change, which helps me to nurture patience.

there is nothing easy about healing, or the irony that things often get worse before they get better. all i can do is trust, believe, practice. and when all else fails, i dig deep inside myself to find compassion for the hardship of this lived experience.

❤ ❤ ❤

softening to myself | day 4 of depression

i’m writing because i’m committed to the practice. my fingers are cold from a chilly walk to the grocery store for lemon pound cake.

i no longer know what i want from a writing practice — it’s embarrassing how seemingly quickly i can lose the vision. or maybe more so taste the reality of it and then question if i actually want it.

James Clear was the one who said, if you want to write a novel, focus on the qualities of a writer — consistent and reliable.

the more i sit with this, the more i question the ableism behind the concept of “consistency“.. because the ability to be consistent is not something that’s granted to us all equally..

i came back from new orleans saturday night (remember my grand declaration about writing while there, lol) — the first few days back were mostly defined by exhaustion and transition. and then the past few days, maybe since tuesday, i’ve been experiencing depression.

it feels like day 4 of depression, when it just starts to get old – the apathy, the inexplicable exhaustion, the lackluster attitude towards life..

plus, i started getting vertigo yesterday, which continued into today. and let me tell you, what the actual fuck — i almost threw up from standing up.. so yaaaa, that’s why i didn’t write this morning. but i’m writing now, so brownie points for me!

i’ve been noticing a pattern of irritability paired with my depression, which for whatever reason i don’t remember noting so clearly before. i mean, it makes sense that if i’m not in a good mood it’d make me crabby, but it’s still interesting to observe.. because i’m generally low energy when i’m depressed. so mustering the energy to be annoyed surprises me.

i think maybe this is because when i feel bad i become more controlling and therefore annoyed when people don’t seem to be falling into suit

so ya, my depression makes it hard to be consistent. and ya, i know that routine is good for depression. but look, forcing myself to do shit when i’m depressed is just not the vibe.. i’m tired of guilting and shaming myself when i already feel like shit..

i guess my point is that our bodies are unpredictable. and genuine kudos to those who can show up no matter their condition, i’m sure they exist. but i’m trying to practice honoring the signals my body is sending, such as wanting rest, or hell, craving spontaneity.

i feel like there’s a social narrative around victim blaming people for what their bodies do, as though if we simply tweaked our lifestyles, everything would be fixed.. i’ve been one of those people. i’m often that person to myself..

these days, i mostly think life is just hard a lot of the time.. and some of us get off easier than others.. and the idea of “better” just doesn’t feel very productive..

i’ve been brought back to a principle i learned in a somatics course i took — that the role of the therapist is to be with, not to fix. yes, we can support, we can provide tools and skills, but we’re not here to fix. i remind myself that about myself — i am here to bear witness, to offer myself compassion, to move with intention.

so blaming myself for something i’ve been experiencing since i can remember is just not it. yes, sometimes tough love is called for. but when i feel like this, often what i need is to soften to myself.

❤ ❤ ❤

sending y’all love

what is joy and how the heck do you practice it?

depression is a state i’m all too familiar with. despair, dejection, melancholy.. all of these are familiar mates who have sat with me more days than i’d like to admit.

they visit often, seemingly out of the blue and with no notice. and they sit on my chest, heavy, weighing me down and suffocating my sense of hope and wonder.

as i come to terms with the cyclical nature of my depression (after 25+ years of experiencing it), i’m realizing more and more that hope and joy are a practice as much as an organic state one lands in.

i’m sure there are people out there for who joy comes naturally and levity visits with regularity, but so far, i am not one of them.

and much of my adult life has revolved around self-medicating with various substances in order to connect with these states. which unfortunately and inevitably tends to result in a come-down that brings me deeper into that space i was originally avoiding.

so, as i move further and further away from substances, i’m grappling with the gap left in their absence. the gap between depression and joy, despair and hope, heaviness and levity.

which brings me to the question: what is joy and how do i connect with it?

to answer this question, i’m sure i could take many approaches. a more Buddhist-centric answer would describe joy as a state vs an externally-induce experience. which i don’t disagree with. but for me, it makes the most sense to view joy as a practice.

and honestly y’all, i struggle to name what that practice entails. so bear with me as i parse this out in real time.

today, i felt myself slipping into an all-too-familiar state of despair and sadness. and so, despite my current illness and the 40 degree weather outside, i slipped on some pants, shoes, and a sweater, and i took myself for a walk.

at first, all i felt was the desire to cry. but then i reminded myself to open up to the world around me, to the barren trees and rustling birds and humans fluttering about me. and i began to feel it: that lift, that vibrational pull, that ability to access something in myself that felt hopeful and even pleasant.

and briefly, i was able to sing. which brings me to the next item on the list: singing. i stopped singing as a kid when my sister informed me that my voice sucked, and since then, i’ve been hesitant to open up to my own voice. but over the past year, as i’ve navigated being quite isolated, i’ve found my voice time and time again, often just to keep me company.

and the more i allow myself to sing, the more i believe in the vibrational power of it.

music in general seems like an integral part of my joy practice, because it can connect me with a different mood quicker than almost anything else. and as i try to open up more and more, i try to find dance. but i’m going to be honest, when i’m deep in despair, dancing can feel like an almost impossible task. maybe because connecting with my body on that level feels so inaccessible.

i’d like to list a good conversation as joy-inducing, but i recognize there are caveats around this. i struggle with small talk, and i tend to be more sensitive when i’m in a funk, so conversations can sometimes be counter-productive to a joy practice. BUT when the iron strikes just right, and i find myself in a deep, luscious conversation that allows me to process the nature of being human, my spirit can be lifted unlike anything else.

visiting my family over the past couple of weeks, i found joy in the smile and laughter of my 10 month old niece.

and depending on the day and my perspective, i can find a deep sense of fulfillment in cooking a nutritious meal. (but on the wrong day, cooking can be a recipe for resentment).

beyond that, i’m not really sure. maybe connecting with nature, but oftentimes that experience more so brings me peace than joy.

at the end of my walk today, i considered the trend of people rollerblading during the pandemic and thought maybe that could be another joy practice for me.

i used to practice yoga with much more frequency, along with biking, and i’d like to be optimistic about the potential of these activities, but i also don’t want to force it.

it’s strange grappling with questions like this at my age (30). it feels like i should know the answer to what brings me joy, and yet, the older i get, the more i wonder to what extent i actually know myself and what pleases me.

it’s an odd experience to feel like a stranger to oneself. but like they say, it all begins with acknowledgement.

and so, i remain hopeful that i will be able to come into deeper understanding around what pleases and excites me, what lights my soul on fire.

and until i find clarity, my wish for myself is that i continue to engage with my curiosity.

prayer: may i find pleasure in getting to know myself. may i remember that this is a process. may i let go of criticism and judgement long enough to allow what is true and nurturing to emerge. may i trust that when i open up to joy, it will find me. may i let my soul be the guide.

my depression is boring

depression (well mine at least) is boring. it is the same scene playing over and over in a different shade of grey.

it is the same story you’ve been hearing for years that wasn’t good the first time.

it is a heavy blanket wrapped around you that is both oddly comforting and totally suffocating.

it’s that friend that you call despite the fact that you never really enjoy talking to them. but hey, it’s something to do, it passes the time.

it is not exotic or exciting. it does not give you stories or offer you points of intrigue.

it is the object floating in the river that at first you think is an otter or a bird, maybe. but instead you realize it is a piece of wood, bobbing along with a mundanity that is almost embarrassing.

it is the same mediocre sex over and over (and over) again.

it is pleasure turned on its head with its insides ripped out.

it is painful and it is eerie.

it is where nothing and everything stop for a burnt, stale cup of coffee.

it is a place i know well. i have built a house here, planted a garden, met my neighbors.
and as the static shifts, as the land beneath my feet starts to give way, there is a mix of sadness and delight.
at what could be.
at what could come after this long season of in between.