Starting to get somewhere

After I ran away from my university job, I spent a couple of years dealing with depression. I took a lot of long hikes, played a lot of music, took painting lessons, filled several journals with unhappy ramblings, and tried a number of other things to lift my spirits. I did slowly get better, but an unhappy veil seemed to follow me around like a big cloud. This frustrated me: I didn’t recall feeling that gunkiness surrounding me before graduate school, or even before I tried the tenure track nonsense, and I knew, somehow, that I could get back to a better happiness set point.

Maybe it just took time, but two books in particular gave me tools that I needed to start unwinding the strings that bound me: The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz; and Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron.
When I look back at these books now, they seem to contain a sort of universal wisdom, but at the time their insights were new to me. Pema Chodron’s book, in particular, gave me a road map for walking through my emotions. Her gentle words about having compassion for ourselves and others were what I so desperately needed. Not to blame myself or anyone else for all of the fear and anger I felt, or for the way I ran away from confrontation, but to just let emotions rise to the surface and then look at the thoughts behind them.

Pema Chödrön

Pema Chödrön

Both Pema Chodron and Don Miguel talk about the dream: the fact that we don’t see reality as is it, but through our own beliefs. I found this just so very powerful.

I melded their ideas into my own process. I did a lot of walking. As I wandered along, I would find myself thinking about some incident that had upset me. It might be something recent or something from long ago. I would think about whether my reaction was valid, and when I learned that behavior. I learned to recognize that response had served me as a child, to protect me, but now it no longer did. I would thank it, and then let it go.

Each time,  I suddenly remembered some fun thing that I had forgotten all about but that happened around the same time as the event that had seemed so awful. Once, I remembered going to the Smithsonian with my family. Another time, I remembered a camping trip. These lost memories brought joy and healing along with them. I gradually felt better: less depressed, less angry, and better able to cope with life.

However, one day it seemed like I had taken this process as far as I could. I can’t explain why, but it no longer worked, yet I hadn’t finished. It would take more keys to the locks inside me before I felt ready to open to my path.

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  1. #1 by Stephanie Saye on February 22, 2012 - 8:44 am

    Ann, it’s not easy putting into words a journey through depression, much less share it publicly with the world. I wish more people had the courage to speak out on this issue – and how they might have worked through it. I believe we all go through a period like this in our lives, whether we realize it or not. The older I get, the more I see depression as our mind’s way of telling us that something’s wrong, much like the way pain in our body alerts us to a physical ailment. And too many times we don’t heed that cry, mostly out of fear of what other’s might think – a societal view that unfortunately is deeply embedded in our culture and way of thinking.

    • #2 by annstanleywriting on February 22, 2012 - 9:47 am

      You put this into words so well, Stephanie. I think you are right. Some people call it a mid-life crisis, but it happens a lot earlier than forty-five for some people, and it did for me. So many people deal with this by taking medication, rather than facing their inner demons and figuring out the root causes of their unhappiness. I saw friends turn into emotional zombies when they took antidepresssants, and decided I had to stay away from those enticing pills. I had an inner knowing that I needed to be with myself and trust that I would come out the other side eventually.

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