I sat on our balcony, the one that was ours for a week. The ocean glistened for miles around me, seemingly endless in its expanse. Jagged rows of peach and yellow rooftops wove their way up the west coast of Italy, like multi-coloured dominoes.
My glass sweat in the 100-degree heat, fruit flies hovered around its sweet rim, where the pink outline of my lips formed a perfect imprint. The same mouth had kissed with passion, tasted with pleasure and quivered with pain. That same mouth was now moist with the taste of sweat and tears.
The accusation that hung over me? I have no right.
No right to my pain, no right to feel depressed, no right to the gift of life if I couldn’t live it well.
I thought I would be okay on the trip, away from the usual demands of life; all the demands I put on myself. I thought I could outrun my depression. But it had found me, while my feet burned on ceramic tiles painted with lemon groves, hair coiled thick with the coarse fragments of the ocean. It found me there, and once again I felt defeated.
The whispers surrounded me: Who feels depressed in a place like this? Why can’t you just be happy?
We were on a month-long vacation in Europe: the UK, Spain and Italy. We’d planned and saved for months. But sitting on that balcony, instead of taking delight in the beauty around me, I wished the ocean would swallow me whole.
The depression had lasted six months this time around. Six long drawn out months of forcing myself to brush my teeth, put on make-up, pick up my kids from school and continue to work on my business. Six months of feeling so overwhelmed, as I focused on making it through the day. The hour. The minute.
Six months of wondering if I would ever see myself again.
Those months ended just a few weeks ago. I’m back on the other side now. I can breathe again, smile, sing and do all the things that bring me joy. I can hug my children without reminding myself that I need to; I can kiss my husband with genuine affection. I can be present without being crushed under the weight of daily living. I can look in the mirror and recognize the woman staring back at me.
I still struggle to reconcile the shame. To shake the thinking of, I have no right.
You see, I have friends who do have a right. One friend is struggling with a terminal illness after having just lost her five-year-old daughter to meningitis. Another is dealing with self-harm and spends more days in hospital than out; another is savouring the days she has left with her child who has an incurable illness; and another is facing the battle of her life as cancer takes hold of multiple organs.
They have a right to their pain.
Then there’s me. What do I have to shed tears over? A month in Europe?
When I returned from my vacation I visited with the friend who had lost her five-year-old. The one I’d told myself I’d never discuss my depression with, because compared to her, my pain was nothing.
But, then she asked me how I was doing.
I don’t know what changed my mind in that moment, but I removed my mask. Perhaps I was exhausted from the hiding. Or perhaps it was the fact that I don’t lie very well when looking into someone’s eyes. Or maybe I just wanted to explain why I hadn’t been very sociable.
I haven’t been doing well, I told her.
I expected judgment. I received grace.
I expected dismissal. I received love.
My friend was neither judgmental nor dismissive. When it’s come to my own pain, I have been both. I have dismissed my needs and kept myself in the dark, believing I needed to do better, be better and “get a grip on myself.” I’ve felt that pain was reserved for those who carry the weight of agonizing life circumstances.
Self-kindness and grace are two of the hardest things a person with depression can give herself, but they are the most necessary.
Each time I face a season of depression I learn something new about myself. This time a friend asked me if I knew why I kept coming back to this wall of depression.
Whenever I have faced this wall, I have resisted it, running as hard as I could from the emotions that pull me down. I have felt shame, anger, and a desperate desire to just get through it and get back to “normal.”
But this time I learned that to allow myself to be fully in my pain, to sit with it and ask questions, is to begin chipping away at the wall.
I also learned that there are no measurements of pain. My grief is not someone else’s grief and hiding behind a wall of shame prevents me from connecting with those around me on a deeper level.
Earlier this month Idelette talked about the Shadow Self. I see my depression as my shadow self—it consumes and condemns me. I’m realizing if I hold this Shadow Self up to the Light, both through my willingness to know more and in talking about it with others, it loses its power to stifle me.