The Depression Diaries: Anything can happen if you let it

After an evening of sofa numbing with The Big Bang Theory, I awoke with regret and sadness for the wishes I have, the plans for my life that have gone awry, the people who I’ve hurt and disappointed, and desires for a future that felt rational and possible in my head, yet failed to launch in reality. I felt guilty for telling the truth recently, which was the right thing to do, though doing so caused the demise of a loving relationship. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, but hey–I got a blog post out of it. Today, I am afraid. Sitting with fear is a bitch, unless you like herding cats.

I am afraid of the contents of my head while feeling simultaneously seduced by thoughts and stuck there. Either in fantasies of longing for something that’s lost or missing, or judgments about sitting in fantasy and longing. Like toys at Christmas, the newness tends to wear off by Valentine’s Day. What and who I thought I wanted isn’t what or who I wanted. And what I need? Really difficult to say.

So, here’s reality. My name is Kevin and I am an addict living with bipolar 2 disorder and HIV. I have mood swings. Medication helps, but it’s not a cure-all. I sometimes lie to avoid hurting people, and hurt people because I lied, or tell the truth and get rejected or abandoned for doing so. I promise to do better and sometimes I actually do. I believe that even falling on my face is movement in a forward direction. I am slow to trust others and sometimes I don’t trust myself. I am afraid of failure, of letting go and letting God, and afraid of change. I’m also afraid of “Daily Sameness”,  a perpetual Sisyphean Groundhog Day, especially now. (Sisyphean: See Dante’s Inferno and the poor wretch who is doomed to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down again… for eternity.)

Here and Now, the only thing I am sure of is that I am here, now. Today carries a lot of Sameness, because focusing on what’s missing and what’s been lost during this pandemic is a lot. If I expand that view, allowing it to open like the bottom of an hour glass–I can find moments of gratitude like birds landing on a branch. Sure, they fly away, but they’re pretty to look at while they’re here, now.

Depression, whether caused by real-world experiences or from the sudden, inexplicable loss of serotonin and dopamine, brings defeat, despair, and hopeless sameness in its knapsack. It slides into bed next to me and wraps its clammy arms around my middle, while Hope, Gratitude and Motivation get the hell out of Dodge, fleeing the profound sadness and loss all around me. (Just FYI, according to this article from Healthline, Dopamine system dysfunction is linked to certain symptoms of depression, such as low motivation. Serotonin is involved in how you process your emotions, which can affect your overall mood.)

This current depression cycle of despair is one I’ve brought on myself, without assistance. I chose this, no matter how manic or depressed I was. Anger, shame, fear, grief and restlessness scratch at my skin like a tight wool sweater.

I’d take off the sweater, but there is no sweater. It’s all in my head. Author and speaker Rob Bell gave one of the most compelling definitions of despair I’ve ever read:

“Despair is a spiritual condition. It is the false, limiting belief that tomorrow will be the same as today, though logical mind tells us that’s not true. Tomorrow–in fact the next moment–will be different, if we’re aware.”

Also by Rob Bell:

“Boredom, cynicism, and despair are spiritual diseases because they disconnect us from the most primal truth about ourselves – that we are here.”

The days seem the same, except for the numbers. It’s been a never ending slog of “100 bottles of beer on the wall, one hundred bottles of beer…take one down, pass it around, 99 bottles of beer on the wall…”

Awareness of the “Difference” that lifts me from the despair of “Sameness” arises from finding some daily comfort in my morning coffee, morning meditation practice, my clients, my sister, my mom, my friends who continue to connect with me and check in “just because”; the occasional hummingbird, the big trees, and the crisp Autumn air.

Yes, the relationship failed to launch, and feelings were hurt on both sides. Yes, telling the truth and then hearing that I am broken beyond repair and incapable of lasting change is a punch in the gut, even though logical mind tells me this is not true. I try to find empathy: When We the People are hurting, sometimes we say things and do things we regret. When I feel overwhelmed by the itchy sweater of depression, when I am numb and sad for what I wish I had, grieving for what my deepest heart most wants and can’t hold onto, and afraid of the unknown, I face the internal fear, sadness, anger and shame, and find some breathing space in the always present, always changing external world around me.

For a few minutes, I am whole, blessed, and grateful.

I know that I am loved even though I don’t feel understood. I feel connected even though I am afraid I don’t belong. I feel lonely here, but not alone. I remember that everything, including this moment, including me, is temporary.

If you should become stuck in the swamp of depression, whether it’s facing an impossibly large boulder, or feeling trapped and itchy in a tight woolen sweater, or whatever your metaphor of choice happens to be…please find gratitude for those with whom you already share your life. One of my teachers taught me, “When you wish or long for what’s missing, remind yourself of what’s here. Look at your hand. Feel the aliveness in your finger tips. Be astonished, and tell about it.”

Remember what Mary Poppins said, ” Anything can happen if you let it.”

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