Ending Depression’s Dreams

Depression takes away of lot of life. There were times I’ve been so lost I felt no strength to stop it and no method to uncover a buried self. Everything vital was invisible. All I could see were all my failings and uselessness. The only way out was in fantasies and dreams. And that was the worst trap of all. Down with dreams – at least, depression’s dreams.

I’ve had a phony dream of becoming myself again, of recovering the whole person I once was. But what does that mean? My golden age? I never had one. Depression is my heritage. I grew up with it. I’ve always lived with it. Sure, I’ve had my years when I outran it for a while – thank God for those years! But it’s always caught up again. I’ve never been completely free of it, so who’s this great person I think I can recover? That’s one kind of dream – imagining my future will resemble a past that never was.

But there’s another one, worse because it pushed my misery onto everyone else. That was the dream of filling up this emptiness by becoming someone I never was, trying a career I didn’t really want because it would justify my staying alive. I’d fix everything by showing the world what I could do – and I did. I worked hard and did pretty well – for a while. But I was still the hollow man, all feeling blunted, convinced I had only pulled off a trick, a successful illusion that everyone found so believable. I knew better. Depression never went away.

So that dream led to another – dreaming inside a dream. That was escape – from work, from every person I had ever loved because they were all trapping me in the wrong life – to a new one in a new place with new people, new family, new work. I’d finally get better. That would be the answer. But it’s the most destructive dream of all.

At some point the reality sinks in that no dream will work, not the one about who you used to be, not the one you’re trying to live, not the one that will give you a healing future. The hard, maybe impossible thing is to separate yourself from the dreams of what you wanted to become.

Someday, you’ll know that none of this is real, that none of it will ever happen. After clinging to this private vision of yourself for years, maybe most of your life, clinging to what you’ve imagined is the real you, you can so quickly feel there’s nothing left without them. When the dreaming stops, you might feel terror or despair, no matter. You have to make a choice.

I have seen people pass this point, realize they just aren’t going to do anything any better than before and get aggressive about it, maybe confirming themselves in their vices, like drinking, and accepting the fact that they’re just going to die with alcohol rather than face anything else about themselves. They decide to run themselves out, finish whatever course they’re on, taking it for the good it has, even if that good looks to others like a slow suicide.

I’ve seen people do this, and they’re on their way to what I think is their own demise but they feel it’s the best they can do and they’re certain it’s all they deserve. Springsteen’s line keeps coming back to me when I think of these lost friends: And in one last breath they built the roads they’d ride to their death.

I’ve also seen a lot of people drop the dream and survive. It’s a crisis, sure – it changes everything. I’ve not only seen that, I’ve felt it, and that’s what I’m trying to get around to. I have felt that, I have been that. I have tried all the dreams and feel now I know who I am, and I can live with that.

The slogan, – and I think it’s become one, the short-hand secret for ending emptiness – Live your dream, doesn’t get it right. It’s no dream to recover who you are. All along the dream has been the belief that you could justify yourself by living a life you didn’t really want to live. It’s the end of dreaming and the beginning of real life.

And that’s the reawakening, the moment when regaining life becomes possible. There’s regret, there’s grief and, yes, a lot of crying for the loss of so much that might have been. But recovery means you take at last a real you and start over. You open up to what’s right in front of you, not a dream of becoming more, of filling in an empty self. That self isn’t empty anymore. And you know it never was.

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16 Responses to “Ending Depression’s Dreams”

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  1. Jeff says:

    I found this site a couple days ago. The night I decided that I am going to take a break from my wife of 15 years. Thursday I move into my apartment. I have trouble feeling anything. I read this post with awe and find myself at the crossroads of trying to let go of my unrealistic dreams or just letting myself sink into oblivion through whatever means available. I plan on using this site to help me navigate through my depression and OCD. I am terrified to begin this journey not knowing where I will wind up. I just know that I have caused enough pain to the people I care about and I am done sitting still. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Your writing is insightful and gifted. I look forward to reading the rest of this site.

    • john says:

      Thank you, Jeff –

      I’m sorry this is such a difficult time for you, but your commitment to finding a way through is great. That was a big turning point for me as well. I’m honored that you would use the writing here as a guide, but I hope you’ll also look for professional counseling. I can only speak from my experience, and everyone needs help with this that’s responsive to your particular history and issues.

      I wish you the very best – and feel free to ask questions here. Others often answer as well from their different perspectives.

  2. Dear John,
    I just wanted to say, that I read this and… well… have been a little bit blown away by your words…
    Sometimes you write things that on some level, I knw to be true, but on another, I try to look away from.
    It’s hard to accept and most of my instincts tell me to put my fingers in my ears and hum loudly.
    I fear letting go of everything because I am terrified, that underneath it all, all the dreams and the secret hopes and fantasies, there is nothing. Nothing but a huge, black void surrounded by a despair s unbearable that it will drive me to put an end to it.
    You seem to suggest that it is in letting go of all tht could have/should have been, there is some freedom… and I can believe this on some level… At least, from a very objective standpoint.
    For me though, the reality is that I need to have reasons to live right now.
    Thanks for such a brilliant piece of writing.
    I hope to get to whre you are one day.

    x

    • john says:

      Hi, Wondering Soul –

      This seems to have been a hard post for several people to read, and perhaps, in beating this drum for me to get real, it may have sounded too harsh. Sometimes the difference between a dream and a realistic prospect for change is the way you go about bringing it to life. The fake dreams for me are the ones I never do much to follow through on. They remain distant, unattainable so that I can always use them to contrast with the present. That’s a way of ensuring I don’t change at all. On the other hand, I’ve always had the dream of writing but only recently did I work in a practical way to make it happen – and here I am. Following through on a dream is hard and fearful business.

      I would add that fantasies can also be dark ones – like the huge void you think might be all that remains after the fake dreams are gone.

      All my best to you. Keep on writing.

      John

  3. susan says:

    John you are right about dreams that are fantasies- I might dream about Brad Pitt or George Clooney, or driving down the Pac Coast Highway in a Jag convertible, with one of those men in the passenger seat, but those are fantasies..

    But today when my therapist told me to scrap/ditch the dreams of having a family of my own, that I will never find someone who will love me- other than my own parents and my cat- I am too messed up from the meds, and the only thing I have to look forward to is writing a blog that no one ever visits- I have to wonder, why keep on going? Am I nuts to keep on going with broken dreams now? Or should I just bury all my dreams and try to start anew with , I don’t know something, anything- a goal of getting 300 hits a day- and a proper mention on Psych Central?

    • john says:

      Hey, Susan –

      This therapist is supposed to be helping you?? In my experience, those are the messages of depression, especially the parts about never finding love and nothing to look forward to but writing an unread blog. I can understand a therapist wanting you to be realistic but this calls for a rebellion. I suppose positive action feels difficult – but relying on a therapist’s bleakness doesn’t help. How about trying somebody else?

      Hang in there!

      John

  4. Melinda says:

    John,

    As always, this was an amazing piece–so full of thought and thought provoking to others. I know what it is like to be in the abyss–and I also know what it’s like to crawl out. After crawling out, I tihnk most of us want to understand why we were dropped into the abyss to begin with–perhaps out of fear that we might just land there again. And that’s always a possibility for any of us who have lived through deep depression (which I have).

    I realized only recently that I had been depressed for my entire youth–I didn’t even realize it. My drug abuse was nothing more than self-medicating. Today, I am less concerned with why my life was the way it was to land me in the abyss and simply trying to enjoy life on the outside of it.

    Thanks for sharing so much of your inner being, John–

    Melinda

    • john says:

      Hi, Melinda –

      Thank you! It’s so true that we keep trying to understand how or why we disappeared for so long. It’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to explain the past and dreaming about the future while forgetting to let life happen right now. For the first time, I really don’t have that fear of losing myself all over again, and that’s one of the reasons I can function so well now. I used to assume when I was feeling better that it was just a matter of time before I’d be at the bottom all over again. It’s such a relief to be done with that.

      Thanks for putting that so well – and thank you for your kind words.

      John

  5. susan says:

    John,

    You really are one of my favorite bloggers- but I think I am in the opposite way right now…. I am trying to rediscover my life but not ending dreams bt finding dreams- finding a raison d’etre. So far the only one I have is my blog, which doesn’t seem to be a very good reason at first glance, but it’s my entire life and my entire life. Writing. I know I need to be a bit more multi-dimentional, so right now….. it’s finding another dream….

    I loved this piece. Thank you.

    • john says:

      Thank you, Susan –

      You help me see a difference. A dream that’s a reason to be is one thing, a dream that’s a fantasy is another. And it’s the fantasy part I’m gunning for in this piece – reminding myself to shut down my own inclination to imagine I can live a fantasy. I think finding a purpose, a meaning is essential for everyone, especially as a guide through hell, something to aim for. My problem has been confusing purpose and fantasy – biggy! So yes, the purpose sort of dream is fine. But if writing is your entire life, that’s a great raison d’etre. Who says you have to be more multi-dimensional? I get so much from your writing – as do your other readers – just keep doing it! You’re a wonderful writer!

      Hang in there –

      John

  6. Margaret says:

    A few weeks ago I discovered your blog and have found it very helpful. Yes, a “heritage of depression” hits me hard. I grew up with a mentally ill mother, began feeling sad at age 11, and developed suicidal thoughts by age 15. I am now 50. My life has been dominated by sadness and depression. Yet I am a well-liked, kind, “successful” physician.

    I have been in remission for over 6 yrs, feeling “normal” and a bit “smug” that perhaps I had become depression-resistant after years of cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication. Silly me. I relapsed 3 months ago and this Black Monster is really slamming me down. The suicidal thoughts are so frightening.

    I often reflect on how much of my life has been “lost” to depression–productivity, social life, etc. I also acknowledge that I am who I am BECAUSE of my experiences with depression + dysthymia. I am compassionate and appreciate the joys and blessings of life very acutely.

    So, keep writing. I appreciate your words.

  7. Wendy Love says:

    Once again you have expressed something I needed to hear and the way you do it is absolutely amazing. Your words have helped me today. I can relate to everything you are saying. Thanks for saying it though, because I don’t say this to myself enough! The ME I once was wasn’t all that perfect even though I imagine in my mind that I want to go back there. What a wonderful reminder! Thanks!

    • john says:

      Thanks, Wendy –

      One of the reasons I write these posts is to keep reminding myself and repeating these insights. Otherwise, it is so easy to forget what you’ve learned and have to wake up again.

      My very best to you. Thanks for your kind comment – I’m glad this was good timing for you.

      John

  8. Carla says:

    Hi John,

    A heritage of depression… that’s a powerful description. It was surprising for me to discover that I didn’t have a “happy” childhood and to realize that I had probably been depressed my whole life- depressed in the sense that I wasn’t free to be truly alive, as myself. I can really relate to desperately trying to live out an illusionary “life” in order to feel like I am worthy and have a place in this world, and to try and escape. Near the end of your post you describe what sounds like “rock bottom” to me (?) I have recently decided that rock bottom is the best place to start, because you have something strong and firm to build something new on. I sincerely wish you all the best in pursuing your true life.

    • john says:

      Thank you, Carla –

      I’m sure that was a hard realization to come to about having been depressed from so early an age. Rock bottom is truly the worst, but it is that point where you’d better wake up and begin to take charge of getting well.

      I hope you’re well into recovery now.

      Thank you for commenting.

      John

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  1. […] of my favourite blogs is Storied Mind where John writes about his journey to overcome depression. This post is about the ending of the dreams that is involved with the end of depression. Here is a sample of […]



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