I Have No Right?

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D_CLAIRE

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.

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Claire De Boer
Hi, I’m Claire and though you may only see my words here once a month I’m part of the wonderful sisterhood of women who edit, upload and brainstorm behind the scenes of SheLoves. I was born and raised in England but pretty much see myself as a fully fledged Canadian. I spend just about all of my spare time blogging, editing and creating stories. I’ve also ventured into the world of teaching and mentor students in using writing as a tool for personal growth. My passion is to help others find the value and beauty in their stories and to find healing or self-awareness via journaling, memoir, or just "soul writing", as I like to call it. To learn more about my journey and the work I'm doing visit The Gift of Writing
Claire De Boer
Claire De Boer

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  • fiona lynne

    Oh Claire, your bravery shines through here. This is such an important message to receive today. How many times I try to stifle my emotions because I don’t think I have a right to feel that way, but it just make it worse. I feel it as a new mother too, that thought that I shouldn’t be struggling because I have an “easy” baby compared to many others. But there’s healing in allowing the light in to those places we struggle. I’m so glad you’re coming out the other side this time. Love to you x

    • cjdeboer

      Thank you, Fiona! I think that comparison happens so often and keeps us silent, which is why I wanted to write on this topic. I hope it helps others to ease up on some of that self judgment. Thanks for reading!

  • Claire, your message is so beautifully expressed here. I think this is one of the most important lessons I’m still learning – to be kind to myself and a good friend by not comparing pain. You are so right. Pain cannot be measured or weighed or compared or ignored. It just exists in its various forms and empathy is the salve that helps. I often feel if my own pain doesn’t rise to the level of other’s experiences it doesn’t deserve expression or care. But, it does. Thank you for the reminder. So glad to hear you are on the side of breathing and smiling again.

    • cjdeboer

      Thank you, Jenny! Yes, empathy is the salve that helps, in addition to self kindness.

  • Anne-Marie

    Claire, yes. I’ve been here a lot. After a grueling night in the ER with Justin, we are facing a long haul ahead, and I’m so far beyond tired. Grace to you, and thank you for this life-line, this morning: Self-kindness and grace are two of the hardest things a person with depression can give herself, but they are the most necessary. Thank you so much for continuing honesty. I am so glad you have emerged and that some new hope and ideas came with you out of the fog.

    • pastordt

      Oh, Anne-Marie! I am so, so sorry. Praying for you this morning – for self-kindness and for REST in the midst of it all.

    • Thank you Anne-Marie. So sorry to hear what you are going through with Justin. Love, prayers and hugs to you. xo

    • cjdeboer

      Thank you Anne-Marie. So sorry to hear what you are going through with Justin. Love, prayers and hugs to you. xo

  • DJ Brown

    Well written, Claire, and welcome to the club that no one wants to join! I try to see my angst as a gift that makes me empathetic to others in their pain. I’m never tempted to tell anyone to cheer up, or to look on the bright side, or to think about how much worse it could be. As every psychologist advises, any pain or sadness that we feel is legitimate, as are all emotions. The hope is that when we are unable to choose happy thoughts or take action to feel better, we can at least be as kind to ourselves in the moment as we are to our friends when they suffer. I’m surprised that there isn’t a resounding chorus of Amens to your post today, but maybe it’s because of Christmas busy-ness – or maybe the other members of the Depression Club are too depressed by the jolly season to get out of bed 😉

    • Haha – thanks Donna! Yes I think there may be some Christmas craziness going on. I too see my depression as a gift in many ways – I’m so much more empathetic to others because of it. It’s not a club I mind being in if it helps other people 🙂

    • cjdeboer

      Haha – thanks Donna! Yes I think there may be some Christmas craziness going on. I too see my depression as a gift in many ways – I’m so much more empathetic to others because of it. It’s not a club I mind being in if it helps other people

  • pastordt

    This is powerful, Claire. And SO TRUE. We cannot ‘measure’ pain. It’s just pain and when we’re experiencing it, it’s the realest thing we know. Your friend is a gift and I’m so glad she pushed back a little. Thank you for this vulnerability and for writing this out so beautifully. What a gift.

  • Bethany Olsen

    i’m so glad you wrote this out. thank you for the reminder that we need to give ourselves kindness and grace. i can never hear that enough. Love you Claire.

    • cjdeboer

      Thanks Bethany! Love you too!!!

  • Thank you for standing here so bravely and owning your pain. I honor that and I applaud how you show up … and show up … and keep showing up. Love you. xo

    • cjdeboer

      Thanks my friend – especially for all your support this year. xo

  • Megan Gahan

    I second Bethany in saying how thrilled I am that you wrote this out, because every woman needs to hear this message. So proud of you for stepping out and saying what desperately needs to be heard, even though it meant offering up your own vulnerabilities. So sooo many women are now reading this and saying “Me too. I thought I was the only one.” And offering themselves more grace as a result. Love this so so much. And the imagery at the beginning is exquisite. Gorgeous – and important – piece.

    • cjdeboer

      Thank you, Meg 🙂 I hope this piece does give more people permission to their pain. xo

  • Sarah Joslyn

    Claire, thank you for being so honest. This is brave and beautifully written. I am so grateful for you.

    • cjdeboer

      And I you – thanks Sars. xo

  • Nicole A. Joshua

    You are so brave, Claire. Brave in sharing your struggles and being so vulnerable. Thank you for giving me, and so many others who struggle to be in their pain without shame, permission to be fully present in those space and love yourself through it. Beautiful post.

    • cjdeboer

      Thanks so much my friend – love you! xo

  • Thank you for being brave enough to remind us that everyone is allowed their pain.

    • cjdeboer

      Thank you Nicole 🙂

  • Rachel

    Just wanted to say thanks for this article. Also you are not alone in these feelings of being not deserving. I have spent around 9 years of my life in hospital for self-harm and related things and I too always felt like this. I have had a fabulous life – loving, Christian parents, not rich but not wanting for anything. I was told by teachers at school that I shouldn’t feel this way or hurt myself because I hadn’t had a bad life like so and so. Or in hospital girls would say it made them angry that I was there because I had no traumatic experiences in my past. I am not depressed but have enough experience of being in hospital with people who are that I know that it doesn’t differentiate. It is a mental illness that you can’t help having. Much like cancer or any physical disease. No-one’s pain is lesser than anyone else’s – you can’t compare. No-one should judge you or question why you are in pain or even if your pain is valid. It just is. When you accept it for what it is, that is when you truly have a chance to work on it or fight it. Even if that takes therapy or medication or whatever.

    Something I did learn in hospital: you can never outrun your pain – “Wherever you go, there you are”.

    Ugh…hope this makes sense!

    • cjdeboer

      Hi Rachel – thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I think we are taught comparison from a young age – I even do it with my own kids when I tell them to look at how much more they have compared to other kids. It’s human nature to compare, but at some point I think we all just have to stop comparing and learn how to empathize and validate one another’s experiences. And you are so right about not being able to outrun your pain — it’s impossible.

  • You’re inspiring, Claire. Always. With your help, the Holy Spirit has finally nudged me over the edge – of resistance – to journal about the tender, damaged, broken spaces in my heart. So, yes … your story does matter. And not only to me! Thank you.

    • cjdeboer

      Thank you Ziva – that’s so good to hear. xo

  • Love this, Claire – glad you were able to share your pain with your friend with her terrible loss. Her grief expanded her compassion for your pain. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • cjdeboer

      Thank you Cindy – so grateful to have your voice join the many here. xo

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