Depression is heavy. It doesn’t negotiate with you. It drags you down steadily. As I spent the past week in training as a Peer Support Specialist, we grappled with our own interpretations of the meaning of “Recovery.” When I was a “Recovery Counselor,” I remember a client of mine requested that she list me as a reference and asked kindly if there is any way I could change the title of my job on her application so she didn’t give her employers the impression she was “recovering” from substance abuse issues, which is one natural and steady impression of the word “recovery.” Aside from small interactions like that, I never really thought much about the word “recovery” before. When we were asked to pin it down, I really had to think about what made me so qualified to be a Peer Support Specialist and if I even felt comfortable saying I recovered. Collaboratively, many things were suggested in order to define recovery – things like sobriety, developing tools, finding personal supports, and being a support to others. It widened my own perfectionist view of “Recovery” which criticized me of not being fully recovered, as I am still symptomatic and deal with undercurrents of depression from time to time and don’t necessarily have an immaculate set of coping tools.
When I was able to widen my viewpoint of my own personal recovery through the viewpoints of others, I was able to soften a little and reconsider my beliefs. It hit me at an important time primarily because I was beginning to slide into a depression, and I was quite aware of it. My first instinct, like many people’s first instincts, was to fight it. To fight the depression for all it was worth. I told myself to turn to the positive. I told myself to be resilient. I told myself to be grateful. I reminded myself of how bad I got when I was depressed.
And my depression likes to remind me of how bad I have been when I’ve been depressed. My depression likes to remind me of all my personal and professional failures. My depression likes to also take my current life and compare it to all the glorious moments in my life when things went well and I was excelling at everything. My depression washes me in comparisons to unrealistic highs and sinks me in reminders of the moments I felt I lost everything and fell apart. It drags me through a timeline of truths, beating me down with “how I should be better” and how “depression/Victoria, when depressed, is bad.” Depression felt like an additional punishment on top of a series of bad circumstances.
But in the midst of this depressive episode, I remembered several things. My current bad depression is not as bad as it used to be – while I still do get depressed and fall apart and am admittedly not perfect, the picture of my current depression overall looks different. Old depression would have resulted in destructive habits like cutting, popping pills, drinking, or spending lots of money. New depression is a bit smarter – it mediates with me. I have one or two drinks instead of bottles. I buy a cheap little gift to myself instead of spending copious amounts of money. I remind myself of how hard I have worked to get myself towards better physical health this past year, and ergo how much it would actually make me physically sick to start cutting or smoking again (and is my momentary depression worth that?). I watch Netflix. I clean the house. Current depression maybe gives me one day where I don’t get out of bed, am lazy with responding to emails or responding to phone calls, or don’t leave the house. And this is the depression that’s so bad? That I’m afraid of? That I push aside and fight against?
That’s silly! Realistically, this is a depression that’s in recovery. What’s worse is, after realizing that, I also remembered the thing that helped me most when I was truly depressed – even, and especially, at worst. My former depression was demanding – it demanded bottles of wine, cutting, emotionally blackmailing friends, popping pills, listening to sad songs, almost failing classes, dragging me down to the ground (sometimes literally). My depression put a stop sign on my life for however long it wanted and slammed me down – it made me pay attention, it would not be ignored. So, I gave my depression everything. I did what it wanted to do, and I didn’t care – it was an entitlement thing, it seemed like an emotional human right. If I wanted to tear my life apart and destroy myself, why shouldn’t I? Ignoring it wasn’t going to do me any good because my depression was too strong.
The lesson I learned in reflecting upon these times is mirrored in a recent quote posted on the HONY page from an anonymous photographed woman:
“If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”
“When a wave comes, go deep.”
“I think I’m going to need an explanation for that one.”
“There’s three things you can do when life sends a wave at you. You can run from it, but then it’s going to catch up and knock you down. You can also fall back on your ego and try to stand your ground, but then it’s still going to clobber you. Or you can use it as an opportunity to go deep, and transform yourself to match the circumstances. And that’s how you get through the wave.”
The best part of my worst depressions was that in letting myself feel them through, I got them out of my system. I said: Okay! Hit me with it! I let it knock me down, and run its course, and then I got back up in anywhere from a day to a few weeks later, and recomposed myself and rediscovered all the things I loved in life.
There is a tattoo I got on my back of this snake called the ouroboros. Traditional pictures of the ouroboros show a snake in a circle, eating its own tail. The one I got was in an omega sign, pictured here:
What the ouroboros means is that for every thing created, some thing else must be destroyed. Normally when we think of the word “create,” we think of positive things. When people create things, they add innovation, imagination, and intellect into our universe. On the opposite end, we imagine destruction as something negative. We associate destruction with something that takes away from, demolishes, rids. We think highly of creative people. And we try to rid ourselves of destructive people and relationships. But destruction can be very positive. I destroyed my old habits of cutting and pill popping, and in their place, I created more positive friendships, for instance. It was a very positive thing that I destroyed those habits, and it was very bad of me to create them in the first place. But, in creating them, I destroyed feelings of vulnerability, helplessness, and silence. For every habit you engage in, you’re inherently creating something and destroying something else. Sometimes it’s for the better, and sometimes it’s for the worst.
By creating the opportunity to actually let myself feel my depression and engage in the self-acclaimed negative, destructive habits, I let myself “go deep into the wave” and emerge with a transformative sense of peace. By destroying myself additionally over the fact I have depression, I create negative energy and get myself stuck between depression and being depressed about my depression. By accepting it, fully accepting it and letting it run its course and give it is concessions, I am able to walk away feeling a little more whole and reunite myself with the things I love. By letting the stigma surrounding depression dominate our way of coping with it (i.e. avoiding it or fighting against it), we ultimately let ourselves get stuck in it. By ridding ourselves of that internal stigma and creating a space in ourselves to let ourselves feel it, we can move through it all the better.
What habits have you created that are ultimately negative? What things have you destroyed actually brought you to a better place in life?
Love, Health, and Prosperity,