Sometimes it just takes a smack on top of the head.
Curing depression, I mean. Or perhaps I mean, restoring the spirit.
I’ve suffered greatly from depression throughout much of my life. I began seeing a therapist when I was only 18, fearful that I was succumbing to suicidal tendencies. Therapy and antidepressant drugs would eventually consume many hours of my life over the succeeding decades, as I struggled to escape the depression that imbued my every waking moment, robbing the world of color, leaving me deadened and numbed and drained.
Eventually I concluded that using the antidepressant drugs long-term did me more harm than good, and that the benefit I derived from talk therapy was directly proportional to the wisdom (not the training) of the therapist. Slowly I discovered that journaling, meditation, and exercise, combined with careful diet and nutrition, did me considerably more good than any drug, and sometimes even more than the guidance provided me by a counselor. I learned that loneliness was infinitely less terrifying than being in a bad relationship. I discovered that by sheer force of will I could step out of my self-defined limitations and be more than my childhood trauma had made me. And finally I discovered that investigating the wealth of information hidden in my own dreams was endlessly more valuable to curing my mental state than any medicine could ever be.
But it took me years to learn these lessons and to finally (as one of my own dreams so clearly displayed) claw my way, hand over hand, out of that deep, black well into a night sky – a sky perhaps just as black, but lit here and there with the sparkle of stars and moonlight.
Life, I have finally learned, is not always about feeling the sun on one’s face. Some depression and certainly a lot of sadness is normal. Pain, in the guise of loss and death, quarrels and deception and betrayal and cruelty, is always just around the most sunlit of corners. Life itself is often a struggle down an unknown path in the darkness, illuminated only by hope and trust. It is, as I once wrote in a poem, to “….believe the cry of morning’s bird who knows the sun will rise”.
And all of this knowledge became the most clear to me on the day the Universe smacked me atop the head.
I was, perhaps, not at my lowest ebb, but in pretty bad condition – so bad that the smallest and silliest of things were magnified a thousand fold. And so I found myself running the vacuum one Saturday afternoon, all the while sobbing because I realized that my teenage daughter had specifically asked me to make chili for dinner that night, and I had forgotten. I hadn’t even bought the ingredients. She was due home any minute, and I hadn’t begun cooking. I was, I said to myself in self-pitying despair, a completely rotten mother. My daughter hardly ever asked me for anything, and I’d totally forgotten her simple request.
It was ridiculous, of course, but depressive despair does not recognize ridiculous. My thought processes seemed, at that moment, quite logical.
And it was at this point in my defeatist maunderings that the belt on the vacuum came loose and it lost power. I unplugged it and plunked myself down on the floor to fix the machine just as my daughter came in from work.
She saw that I was crying and knelt down beside me to ask what was wrong. So as I replaced the vacuum belt I tried to describe my miserable mental state, telling her that I could not see why I, the most useless person on the face of the planet, was still alive, when overseas so many brave young men and women were dying in yet another horrific war. As I pushed the sweeper back into its upright position, I put my hands over my face and wept.
And the arm of the upright vacuum, never steady, fell down and thunked me on the head.
I would pay good money, now, to have a video of my daughter’s face at that moment. Eyes rounding, lips pursed in an effort not to laugh out loud, she grabbed the sweeper arm, and said, “Oh, that’s…terrible!” — but her voice betrayed her intense effort not to burst into roaring laughter. And I started to weep harder, only to break down into chuckles myself.
And somehow, at that moment, my final healing from lifelong depression began. Not, of course, that I experienced some miraculous transformation; rather, I came to a recognition of the fact that my feelings were not logical, not coherent, and that the real problem was my habitual thought processes. That, I realized, was something I could work on.
All it took to bring me to that recognition was a good, hard smack on the head.
As a therapeutic principle, I do not recommend it.
But for me, it worked.