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.