A question about depression, and a song

May 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Very Long Blogs | 5 Comments
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A question came up in conversation this week, and I have been pondering it ever since. It is around a subject that has been synchronistically (is that a word yet?) showing up on several fronts lately, so I decided to explore it here. I have found writing to be so helpful these last few months! So thank you in advance for “listening”.

First, a little history.

On August 8, 1989, out of what seemed like nowhere, I plummeted into a depression. Dan and I had recently moved and had been in our new house for just over a month. It was a beautiful place, our dream home, on a few acres outside of town. I had come into the city that morning for a haircut. To stretch the self-indulgence out a little longer, I bought myself a picnic lunch to eat in contemplative solitude near the gardens in the park, next to the lake where the ducks and geese hang out. I spread a blanket in the shade of a tree, laid my delicacies on it and invited myself to sit down and allow all my senses to enjoy the feast.

As my freshly coiffed self sat on the blanket under the tree and ate the lunch, admiring the flowers, set to a soundtrack of children in the nearby playground and other such summer music, I felt it begin to descend upon me. It was a little like darkness, though duller. Like a coverlet, but one devoid of comfort. Heavy and grey. I could sense myself going down, though it is probably more accurate to say that I was being dragged inward. There seemed to be a growing distance between me and the rest of the world, one that seemed too hard to reach across. And it was accelerating, a train carrying one sole passenger.

That night I had a date with a friend and her two kids to attend an outdoor concert. I was sinking lower by the hour, but I went anyway. I didn’t tell my friend what was happening to me until later. This was a fellow musician whose husband had left her a few months earlier, just weeks before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She spent most of the summer in chemo and all of us did the best we could to support her through the hell of side effects as well as the hell of sudden loneliness and abandonment. The concert was probably wonderful – the performers we went to see ARE wonderful, but I couldn’t take much of it in. (Years later I found out that a member of the band has suffered for decades with depression himself, which in retrospect added a strange irony to the evening.)

I won’t go into detail here, though I intend to write more about it in the future. To bring myself (and you) back to the intended topic, suffice it to say that I suffered through a few months and then began to find my way back into the world again. I was helped by the lovingkindness of friends and my kind and patient husband, by a smart therapist, by a massage therapist who not only helped me come back into my body but also served as a model to me in how to tell myself the truth, and others as well. Once walking on higher ground, I navigated my way through a miscarriage, a pregnancy and the resulting Chloe, carrying on the doings of a music career throughout. (Actually, the music career had never stopped – it was a constant even through the depths.) And then we had Rachel and we moved back into town and I sank again, not as deep perhaps, but with a greater edge of desperation. By this time I had left my career (permanently, or so I believed) and had some newly-found friends to hold my hands, as all my music comrades were busy in the world from which I had divorced myself. Also I had not only Dan but my two wonderful kids in my corner. Once more I rose, even higher this time. It has now been several years since that last dip, and I am hopeful that I will not have to walk that lowland ground again.

Hence, (finally), the question: what brought me out of it? And the corollary: why was I able to come out of it while some people struggle with it for most of their lives?

Rachel and I just finished listening to a book on CD called Izzy and Lenore by Jon Katz. It is a beautifully told memoire of Katz’ decline into a very dark time and how his beloved and amazing dogs helped him to find his way back out (hence the title). As we listened, I found myself nodding my head in agreement with many of the steps he took to provide himself with what he needed. Rachel, who has only a ghost of a memory of my low times, commented meaningfully as we were driving and listening, “He’s doing a good job.” It is both a tender and affirming testimony of finding one’s inner softness and strength, and we both recommend it.

Today I looked up “depression” in Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body. From page 28:

Problem: Depression. Probable Cause: Anger you feel you do not have a right to have. Hopelessness. New Thought Pattern: I now go beyond other people’s fears and limitations. I create my life.”

If someone had shown this to me when I was in the depths of it, I would probably have gotten defensive. I felt myself to be a victim of depression. How could my own feelings and thoughts have caused it? Yet now, with the wisdom of hindsight, I can see it is an apt directive. I felt hopeless, all right. And I was carrying around a truckload of anger and then making sure I hid it, even from myself. On those occasions when I was able to admit to being upset with someone, while sitting in a therapy session, or when my massage therapist helped me feel it in my body, I was so frightened by it – scared that it made me seem like a bad person and repelled by the power of it – I would shut down, just adding more layers to my own muck. The fear of looking bad and/or causing “badness” kept me sick even longer than the original offenses.

So many things have changed for me since those years, I look back on that time almost like it was a past life, rather than merely an earlier chapter in my adulthood. I could go through a litany of befores and afters, but that’s not where I want to go right now. (I will undoubtedly dwell on said litany in detail when I am ready to really write the whole “book”.)

Excuse me while I take the time for this teeny little conversation with myself, set aside in parentheses: (Okay, yes, a “book”. But since it’s mildly terrifying to contemplate the magnitude of that, I’ll qualify it by putting the word in quotes for now. It’s pretty much the same as saying, “I’m planning to, like, write a, like, book?”)

Thanks for indulging me. Now, back to the original stream:

…But – or maybe I should say “and” – maybe that (in case you’re lost, “that” = “the before and afters”) is the point. I had to change. A lot.

And the gritty truth is people don’t like to change. People? Hey, even Bella the dog doesn’t want to change. She likes to check out your crotch, and she’s the right height to do it, too. And you and I have plenty that we like, too. (Which is hopefully less obnoxious and more socially appropriate than the canine version.) But back in the day, a lot of what I liked, or at least what I was used to doing and thinking and believing, wasn’t working for me. So I had to drag it all out on the table and take an honest look at it. Then, with a lot of loving guidance, I began the process of choosing what to throw out, what to put aside to look at later, and what was worth keeping. It was a long and arduous task (not done yet, by the way), though ultimately it not only saved my life, it gave me a life. And I can assure you it’s a life I couldn’t have pictured when I first began that rough part of the journey, nor before it.

Dan and I celebrated our 27th anniversary a few days ago. (William and Kate missed our special day by just a few hours.) Two years ago, on the morning of our 25th, I remember how we lay in bed and listed out loud to each other all the things we could think of about our present day lives that are miles, seeming chasms, apart from where we started. We still shake our heads in wonder sometimes and try to imagine where we would be, what we would be doing, and how it would all feel, had we not made each individual choice along the way that lead us up to the here and now. As I look back on that routing with the perspective of hindsight, I can see how it is all lit up with miracles and billboards, but at the time I felt like we were groping through the dark.

And after all is said and done, isn’t it the hard-won milestones that we value the most? The things that come so easily that you hardly notice what it took – those can feel good, but they do not shine as radiantly as the ones that make you sweat and toil. It must the extra perspiration that gives them the added luster. Or maybe the tears. Or some combination of the two.

In January of 1992, three months before Chloe was born, I wrote the following song about my journey up to that point. In truth, it went well beyond that point. As is typical of many of the songs that have been birthed by channeling themselves through me, I continue to learn its meaning even now. In less than three weeks, I will be performing it again – for the first time in God-knows-how-many years – with some of the afore-mentioned musician friends who helped me through that first storm. I am so grateful to them and to my other guides, along with whatever grace delivered me to this place along my path. May you see – and feel – the evidence of your angels too.

(Listen to the song here. It will take a few seconds.)

Awakening (copyright 1994 Salonica Publishing Company/BMI)

I feel a shifting in my soul, I have no strength to defy it
A river out of control and I tumble inside it
It’s like an earthquake within
The earth tilts as it spins
I curse as I swim
This shifting in my soul, it’s called awakening

I had been walking in my sleep although I did not know it
For denial ran deep while the cannons were loaded
The battle stole away my rest
Depression held me to her breast
Oh what a bitter caress!
No more walking in my sleep, I was awakening

I cannot say that I am glad for all the pain and the anguish
But I am grateful for the path that gave my heart a new language
I learned the power of friends
And in a chain of many hands
I can dance my own dance
As I follow this path of awakening

I used to live life in my head, proud of intellect and judgment
But now I turn my trust instead to my heart and my conscience
Oh change is frightening!
But as I raise my voice to sing
I feel a marvelous thing:
I am joining humankind, I am awakening

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