About a year ago I went off my medicine. I was just feeling so goodish and normalish, I decided it was time to try life again without meds. Sometimes medicine can be used as a life boat to get you from drowning to solid ground. I thought I was on solid ground. So anyway, I went off and had some good months. But then, well, I kind of went downward from there.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like when I slide back into anxiety and depression, but I’ll try. You know how when something scary or really hard is about to happen you feel fluttery, wired and nervous until it’s over? Anxiety is a little bit like that, except “the thing” is never over. The thing is life. And the constant fear, jitters or whatever it is makes it impossible for me to enter the moment. This is the best way for me to describe it — I’m never grounded. Never relaxed. Never present. On stage in front of thousands or in my kitchen talking to my daughter about her day — I am not there. You can look at me and see me, but I’m not there. All my energy/thought/emotion goes into calming my nerves and soothing myself. Anxiety is like a shaky hovering.
And depression is like putting a heavy, itchy blanket on top of anxiety. It’s like pouring spilt pea soup all over fear. It’s like a sucking out of the soul. It’s a disappearing act, really. It takes all the colors that a person is and bashes them all together until no color is left at all. All the person is or feels or reflects is gray, gray, gray. There’s not life anymore, just existing.
And I know this. I know this. But it doesn’t matter.
When anxiety and depression first set in, I assumed I was tired. That lasted a week or so. I got extra rest. Then when I didn’t feel better, I switched up my diet. Less sugar usually helps me feel better. I committed to yoga and exercise. I was very tender with myself. I spent a lot of time in bed just babying myself. I read my comfort books. I upped my therapy. I spent a lot of time snuggling my people. Curling up in a ball on my husband’s lap. I reminded myself there are gifts inside these times.
And then after a couple of months, sitting on the couch after snapping at my husband and the kids for the millionth time, I realized I was just gone. I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t remember why I loved life or what was special or good about me. And something about “what’s the point?” made me remember something.
Sometimes I have my “down-self” write notes to my “up-self” to help me with therapy. I also write notes from my up-self to my down-self to remind myself who I am.
So I ran to find my note. This is the one I found.
Don’t be afraid. Remember.
So I called my doctor and got back on my meds.
A few weeks later I was sitting back on that same couch, folding my kids’ laundry and watching some stupid Bravo show I felt a wave of joy. I love this life, I thought. I love the smell of that incense and I love making these teeny piles of clothes. I love trash TV and I love being alone in this house. And, oh my gosh! Wait, what? Joy? Is that joy I’m feeling? I’m back, baby! I’m back. So I called my husband and then I called my sister and then my parents and said I’m sorry I was gone for so long. I’m back. I’m back now.
So now I’m in the returning part, which has its own challenges. I feel so grateful. But I also feel fresh — new, baby-like — vulnerable, exposed, skinless. Like a soft shell crab that has outgrown its previous shell but hasn’t quite found a new one to wear yet.
For me, these depression times are exactly like an eraser. They come and stay and when they leave, they take everything with them. The only way I can describe it is that I feel totally new — like I’ve forgotten all the wisdom I learned before. Like I’m starting over. It’s a little distressing for a writer. I don’t know anything again. It’s like spiritual amnesia. I’m Dory from “Finding Nemo”: Wait! Where are we? Hold on: Here I am and I swear I knew some things yesterday! What were those things! Oh, who cares! Look! A whale!
I hate it a little bit. I feel untethered. But when I talk to God about it, when I say to God: What’s the deal with all the erasing? God says: Honey, take heart. I’m doing a new thing.
And when I say: But I worked so hard to know all those things, God. And it’s my job to know things. People line up to hear me say things I know…
God says: Silly. You know nothing. You don’t teach by knowing, you teach by loving. You can do that. They don’t come to hear what you know, they come to hear your awe. And awe comes from having childlike eyes. Fresh. Post-erased eyes.
Beginners mind, they call it. Depression leaves us no choice but to begin again and again and again with beginners’ minds and eyes and ears and hands. Depression leaves no room for pride. What a beautiful thing.
This piece was originally featured on Momastery.