A strange thing happened recently in the midst of confusion over multiple recovery strategies. I suddenly realized that something had changed deep down – at the level of basic belief about myself. But before I can explain, I need to back up for a moment.
I’ve been searching for some time to find the right combination of therapies, medication, spiritual practice, physical activity – anything and everything I could work with. My goal has been to develop a new adaptation to depression – adaptation, not cure, because after decades of living with the illness I have come to assume there would be no permanent getaway, no final flag-waving victory.
What I hoped for was that I could believe, once and for all, that depression and I were not the same, that it was simply an illness that would strike from time to time but then pull back. I would no longer feel its presence everywhere poisoning my life. I would come to change the deep belief, that has never fully gone away, that the voice of depression is right, that I’m not worth much at all.
But I’ve been having trouble finding the right combination of actions to stabilize progress toward that kind of recovery. As I say, I’ve been trying many things – writing this blog, meditating, nutrition, therapy, and on and on. True to one of the worst aspects of depression, however, my mind often drifts and loses focus, motivation lags, and I lose track of what I’m doing, fail to sustain any strategy for long. I had begun to believe that I would never experience recovery in a meaningful way. – And then this strange thing happened.
I started to feel better – much, much better. Now this is a relative state for me – it’s not like springing out of bed for my morning Superman flight around the neighborhood nor even like Might Mouse flashing to the rescue in song. No, it’s a lot simpler than heroic leaps to a powerhouse life. It’s about taking steps in recovery. Usually, these are halting, stumbling, and I’ve had little faith that they would lead to permanent change – but there is something different about this. It’s not like the reprieves I’ve had in the past – even those that lasted a very long time.
This feels like the real thing. It’s not so spectacular that I can raise a shout of triumph. In fact, it’s hard to put a name to the feeling. In one sense, it’s as clear as can be. I feel like myself, I am full of purpose and have the energy and humor to do what I want to do. I also have the awareness and the presence to be a part of my family again, instead of the hidden husband and dad who might as well be away on a trip, for all the closeness I can have with those nearest to me. But the deeper part of this goes beyond even those most precious gifts. I’ve had that sense of myself restored before, I’ve returned to family life, I’ve excelled in what I wanted to do – only to lose it all over again to depression – and again and again.
I’m reminded of the stories of friends who are recovering alcoholics. They’ve told me of returning to rehab for 30 or 40 or 70 times until that 71st or 53rd or whatever visit (there is almost always a precise number) when they realized that something had changed, something was different, something had shifted. It might take them a while to confirm, or it might suddenly be clear as bright light that this was the turning point. After that, recovery took the lead, though they never lost the knowledge of the danger they were in, or the need to keep working at recovery every single day.
Similarly, I feel that shift going on in a deep place, and I know that I can build on that with new confidence. I don’t know why it’s happening – and I’m the sort who keeps trying to understand the why’s of everything that comes my way. Thinking hard about the why’s in this case seems meaningless. After all, there has not been a why for depression for decades. Sure, I can point to traumas of youth as the likely precipitating causes, but after many years the condition stopped being a reaction to any event – to anything at all. It was a background condition I lived with. At times it would take me over. At times it would recede. No cause, no provocation – it was just there.
So does there have to be an explanation when something much brighter and happier is taking the place of depression? No, not at all. I’ve learned through writing this blog that this inner shift had to happen before any permanent change could happen.
I had to believe – madly, truly, deeply – that I simply had the right to be alive – the right to take up space in the world, to love, to find happiness, to succeed. That belief may not have anything to do with the biochemistry of depression or genetic inheritance or family history or trauma or anything else. I didn’t have it before; I have it now. How it arrived is a mystery. Perhaps it results from the totality of efforts to date – but I have done all those things for years, so why now?
Perhaps it is simply a gift that can’t be questioned – a gift that may have been there all along. Now it’s part of me.
Can you share a story about a change of inner belief that started you in a new direction?