“Winter is a great time for depression,” I joked at a Breathwork group last month. I was met with some very nervous giggles. As with most things, it’s only funny because it’s uncomfortably true.
All humor aside, I got really depressed last winter.
It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling. The first time I remember feeling depressed was when I was about 14 years old. It felt like being trapped in a glass, banging on the walls with no one listening, fatigue and a vague sense of loss and hazy unmet needs.
When I started to sink down and enter that deep gray landscape, I just felt tired and defeated. You again? After all this work?
I was involved in a group-coaching program at the time. I was honest with everyone about the despair I was feeling. They came full force with the positivity. You got this! You just need a spa day! Self care! Find your gratitude!
“Seriously?” I thought. I was surprised by how fiercely irritated I was with their advice.
It hit me. I did not want to be cheerleaded out of this. I wanted to go down into the dungeon of my psyche and find some f*cking answers.
My response to feeling depressed in the past was to wait until it was over. Back pedal out of the icky feelings. Utilize the usual anesthetics. Self-medication. Self-isolation. Online shopping. Staying Busy. Hitting the crack pipe rabbit hole of social media.
This time needed to be different. I’m not a confused teenage girl anymore. I’ve been waking up for a long time and I have an arsenal of tools in my bag, perfect for this emotional renovation.
I made a decision to commit to going down and in and not coming back out until I found what I was looking for.
So what did that look like in real life? I turned my phone off. I sat in my favorite spot in my apartment, this little nook with a bunch of plants, great light, and a big window and I checked in. I sat with myself. I did some writing. I asked many times and in as many ways as I could, “what is underneath all of this pain?”
I was really gentle with myself. This line of inquiry did not involve self-criticism, curse words, belittling myself or my process or any feeling of needing to hurry up and get back to “normal” life. I did not take time off but I did give myself all of the time that I had and needed.
Depression is often framed as something that just happens to us like getting a cold or a bummer draw of a genetic card. While environment, brain chemistry and family lineage can be part of long standing major depression; many of us experience it as a response to our lives.
We sell ourselves short by saying, “I’m just depressed.” As if it has nothing to do with the emotional pain that we have endured, the countless hours spent confused and alone or in groups of people who fail to see or help our hurt. The real life existential crisis that is “I was told this would make me happy and I’m not. That must mean something is wrong with me. “
Very few of us have been taught any kind of practical way to channel and work with emotional pain. Most likely the instruction we covertly receive is to tuck away the unlovable, messy parts of ourselves. Shove them way way way into the back of the closet so we never have to look at the shame or hurt or confusion we feel. Or let anyone else see it!
There is a single seed of discontent within you that is begging to be acknowledged.
It could be:
Only you know. THIS is Constructive Depression. It will require your participation. It will require fierce internal responsibility. It is your job and your job alone. No one else can connect to your deepest parts but you. Your inner authority is the most important.
The longer you’ve been feeling this way, the more wildly uncomfortable you may be with the truth that is banging on the door of your heart, begging for bread and water. How honest are you willing to be with yourself when your wellbeing is on the line?
So how to you do this?
You can think of Constructive Depression as a soul expedition. What do you need for an internal journey? Nutritious snacks, great music, paints, journals, talismans, crystals, instruments, quiet, something to burn away the energy. Gather all of your supportive resources.
This is not an intellectual exercise. This is a reckoning. You with you.
This is a slow immersive dip into your soul. Psychic cleansing. Mental decongestion. Moving toward rather than away.
Your resistance to this idea is equal to your commitment that all of this is due to outside rather than inside forces.
You are up to the task.
We have the full range of human emotions for a reason. We feel sad because something is breaking our heart. We feel angry because something isn’t right and it needs to change. We feel fear because we are threatened or being asked to expand.
Depression is an opportunity for internal exploration. You are not depressed because you are a bad person or you skipped too many days of yoga or gratitude journaling.
Something is not working for you. There is a yearning. An emotional chasm. Something that is crying out to be witnessed and seen like it’s never been seen before. Our wounds are rarely greeted with the exact kind of care and response that we are craving. When you accumulate a lifetime of hurts that have gone unnoticed or unattended to by others, the responsibility falls back to us to determine what we need.
Meet yourself with all of the tenderness, all of the sweetness, the hugs, the love, and the acceptance that you hold within you. Go inside, find your golden nugget of truth, and come back out when you are ready-holding your treasure high.
*Mental health can be very tenuous. If you feel like this is something you can safely undertake, please do. If it feels like too much, please seek professional support for this internal exploration.