What can you do in the depths of depression? Nothing. That really is the point. You may be able to keep functioning for years, keeping the lid on the echo chamber of your heart, but if you fall through, your reason and senses, your energy and willpower, your connection with other people, everything that normally sustains you will be gone.
This is a terrifying experience and, while it’s still horribly fresh in my mind, I’d like to say a bit about what helped me, in case it happens to you.
When you fall:
- be kind to yourself. Be aware that negative thoughts, especially about yourself, will rise like scum. Let them bubble over and be gone. Don’t drink them in.
- explain to others what you need – they may not understand that detaching yourself feels frightening for you, and doesn’t even slightly mean you love or need them less. You need them more, but you need them to allow that distance, and hold the space.
- bear it. Have faith that it will pass, because everything does; that’s the nature of life. It might come back, but then it will pass again.
- believe and be alert. Look for treasure in the darkness, and be ready to embrace the opportunities it brings for balance and transformation.
After the crisis, as you begin to feel life stirring again:
- try to connect with other people, especially in ways that may be helpful to them. At first, connecting with people you don’t know well could be easier, because you may still feel too fragile to cope with the powerful emotions you feel for your nearest and dearest.
- surround yourself with beauty. This doesn’t mean you have to seek out beautiful things, but simply to notice the beauty in every single thing around you.
- feel part of the natural world. In wild places, parks or your own back garden, feel the bare earth beneath you and the boundless sky above.
- give yourself time. Don’t try to get back to normal as quickly as you possibly can, because a deep bout of depression changes you, and ‘normal’ might not be the same. In my experience, it will be better.
When I was able to get up again from my bed of tears, these were the things that helped and soothed me back to myself.
I couldn’t write books, but I could create new workshops, because I thought of them like gifts to other people. And as with every gift, I got back much more than I gave, in warmth and positive regard. I couldn’t walk far, but I spent hours on the beach or outside in the garden, just being.
Nobody wants a visit from the black dog of depression, but if he’s part of your nature, as he is for many creative people, trying to keep him out is fighting yourself. This is only my view, I should add. I know that other people prefer to hold the black dog at bay with drugs or therapy.
I would never suggest you shouldn’t seek medical or psychological help if you suffer from depression. I tried every therapy going throughout my teens and twenties, and beyond, and if anything had worked for me, I probably would never have taken the hard choice to stop trying to keep the black dog out, and learn to live with him. (I’ve blogged about ‘How I Tamed My Black Dog’ here)
But I’m glad I had to in the end, because through disrupting my known and normal life, he opens me up to change.
How do you respond when the black dog comes calling? Have you got any tips of your own to share?