Depression is not for the faint of heart. Only the strong can conquer this disease. And for all the trouble it brings, it makes us more robust and tenacious. For whether we like it or not, revel in it or abhor it, our darkness and the depths of our passions are what make us who we are.
My story is not one of only past experience. I didn’t say ‘how I survived.‘ My life is a continuous struggle, and this is the story of how I’m surviving.
As I said, tender hearts can’t wade these waters. If I show you the color of my blood, you will find it blacken by depression’s full potency.
As you know, my story began with a sociologically violent past. I was raised in a cult, psychologically abused by older peers, and used as the mock sacrifice in a lot of bizarre ritualistic practices, many of which included the forced viewing of pornography. The abuse and depravity of my history was the catalyst of my depression. Perhaps, I’m one of few people who can trace the cause of their illness to its roots. I suppose I’m fortunate in that regard.
My depression stems from that deep feeling that love is poison. A youth soul, blinded by confusion; by indoctrination which took many years to dig out of and, when I became free of the immediate dangers, my mind’s illness became compounded.
Social isolation should be considered a disease in itself. Like an autoimmune deficiency, social isolation generates a sort of paranoia that infects all realms of thought. I broke away from the cult I was raised in only to be ostracized by the small-town community that fostered it all.
With that shunning came the hairline fissure of paranoia straight through my skull. Much like schizophrenia, I began to experience delusions and hallucinations of people I loved, or thought I loved.
There are complete days that go by when I don’t see another living soul. Only my reflection, my work, the busy street corners and the silence of a dim library study room. Rooms with clocks that seem to move backward, imploding time on their futile gears. That’s where the third tier of my illness stems.
There’s clinical depression, there’s chronic depression, there’s major depressive disorder and many combinations and layers above, below, and in between on the spectrum. In my experience, there’s a flavor of mental illness that steps out of all bounds and becomes depression’s monstrous descendant.
I call it oblivion.
Oblivion is like despair, but with a floor that opens to greater depths that weigh in on nothingness with added pressure. In that same crushing nothingness, you also experience heightened awareness. I can feel the air cling to my skin in that lonely, uncaring place.
I can hear a moth’s wings chatter at the edge of my ears if one flies around a lamp. My breakfast colors blend to form the shades of torment. Ah, poor red strawberry! Red with inflammation, spotted with seeds which are like the boils of my affliction. Sweetness lost in the cold, white milk. Like my heart in this moment of tempered reality.
With oblivion came another level of depression I was not able to actualize until recently: amnesia.
It isn’t like in the movies. Amnesia isn’t a total inability to remember who you are. The kind that my depression spurs is more akin to a sudden disorientation. I wonder the woods of my local bike trail in directionless, desperate circles although the path is clearly marked. I seem to forget which side of the street my bank is on.
My depression is sometimes so forceful, shadowy, and unrelenting that yes, I even forget the basics about myself. I can’t remember my loves and losses. I forget the cause and effect of what drove me to this challenging, meandering life that seems to have no point or purpose the vast majority of the time.
I told you earlier there is a hope to all of this pain, a faint but present silver lining that wraps around the cloud.
It took being inside this cloud and looking out to see that iridescent shining on the edge of my storm. My friends, depression is not just an illness, it is a change in perspective.
With my depression sinking to a level of absolute madness, I’m able to find a new sense of wonder. I realize I’m the sea and this ocean floor is mine.
Who am I or what is my privilege? I am, in fact, made whole by all the wonder that floods my shattered pieces.
I have an exercise that reverses my more profound episodes of depression. In the light of all I have mentioned previously, I will find the beautiful things that contrast the dullness. Frost on a graveyard is just as beautiful as sunshine on a flower bed, just in a different way.
Finding these meaningful albeit dark personifications of my illness became a scavenger hunt of sorts. I play this game on my hardest days. I find these symbols of depression as an embodiment of some metaphorical lesson, and I study their signs to see what they will teach me.
As I look to find the colors of my illness, I list the anomalies I find in depression’s strange virtue. It’s not all black, and it’s not all white. It isn’t even a solid sheet of gray. Under the thorns of this struggle, are colorful, vibrant roses.
There’s power in these experiences but only if I choose to follow after it. My daily struggle becomes the adventure of a photographer, exploring an uncharted jungle. I’m looking for the wildlife in my own everyday experience. I’m hunting the tiger in my mind. My depression is that tiger. My camera is my eyes. The beauty is in the viewpoint I choose to behold.
I want you to find hope in your darkness. To find methods to the madness that is depression. Feeling broken as you do, you believe there is no point. That everything is ugly, brash and vain. You’re standing at the extreme edge of your thought pattern potential. Step to the fulcrum and focus on the rational balance of all that is wonderful and all that is obscure.
Coming back into balance may seem like an impossible thing to do. But, I promise you that you can. I did. If any life was out of bounds, it was mine. I opened my eyes under the roaring waters of this (my) ocean, and I’m surviving the madness.
Use this exercise, before it eludes you. Get out of bed today, as hard as that may appear. What’s the sky doing today? What shade of gray or red or gold is it? Maybe it’s all of the above.
Like hope, there’s always beauty. Polar shift your thinking. After all, the treasures visible in the light are most enjoyable to those who are well acquainted with maneuvering through the dark.
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