by Kara-Leah Grant
On Sunday afternoon, lying on the grass outside under fluffy white clouds and a lazy blue sky, I felt the snaky tendrils of depression slither into my heart and settle in my being.
One moment, everything was as it was.
The next, I felt a heaviness of being, a reluctance to move or act or even be, a dragging at my insides, a rising of emotion.
Usually the arrival of depression is not so noticeable. It sneaks up on me and I’m not aware until it’s taken me down and I’m struggling to get out of bed.
This time though, it was like wrenching closed the curtains of my life.
There is a pattern here though, and thanks to the nature of my life over the last eighteen months, I’ve had an opportunity to notice this pattern in action. Depression has descended a week or so after every time I’ve moved. Last January I moved to Napier, in July I moved to Wellington and two weeks ago I moved to Tauranga.
Moving, arriving, getting settled – this is the trigger. And each time so far, it seems to be deeper layers of grief that underlies the depression. Each time is a letting go. Each time I come out clearer and lighter. I’m finding my way home again.
Depression and I are hardly comfortable bedfellows though. Despite the gifts that always remain after Depression departs I would prefer not to be visited at all.
Yet over time, I’ve come to know what depression needs and wants and I have learned that turning in to fully accept his arrival in my life lessens my suffering.
Once upon a time, a visit could last months. Now, it rarely extends to a week.
So on Sunday afternoon, when the day turned dark under the shining sun, I turned toward Depression and – no, I did not welcome him, but I acknowledged him.
Here you are again.
That night, I took a bath accompanied by the dulcet sounds of Deva Primal. Immersing myself in water makes me feel safe, nourished, held and warm. Feeling safe, nourished, held and warm encourages my heart to crack open in the midst of the depression and emotion to arise.
As the Sanskrit words washed over me, so too did the silent sobs, released into the soundscape and into the water. Sometimes, this is all it takes and depression is gone.
The releasing, feeling and being with strong emotion clears him out again, as if as soon as I stop – truly stop – and go deep inside his job is done.
Not this time though. Monday morning, 5:27am, a slight tugging at my being as I slipped out of bed.
I don’t want to be here
Where don’t I want to be? Here. Inside me. In this world. Anywhere. I don’t want to be.
I boil the kettle, swallow a spoonful of apple cider vinegar, drink a cup of warm water, make a cup of Inca. This is my routine, every morning. Want or don’t want does come into it. It simply is. And the is-ness of my morning routine holds me safe and strong even as depression grips me tight.
I sit. I chant. I meditate.
No debate about whether or not to do this, or whether I want to, or how it will make me feel. It is simply what I do.
This is why I practice yoga every day.
Not for the good days, when it’s easy to practice.
But for the difficult days when a weaker commitment and more haphazard practice would make it easy for depression to steal from me that which I need most.
It’s not that the practice even makes me feel better. Although it might. I’m not sure that’s the point.
When Depression comes, I’ve learned to trying to feel better is a fool’s strategy. Better to sit in how it actually feels and see what is needed.
This way, I discover gifts. I uncover buried emotions. I discover thoughts I didn’t know I was having. Thoughts that have been circling in my unconscious, creating feelings, behaviours, actions, and results all unbidden and often unwanted.
Better to stay with the Depression, to nestle up tight, for these are the gifts he brings – the gift of seeing into the darkness, of being able to take my own light down into the shadows and see what lies beneath and within.
This is not necessarily the right way or the only way or the best way to deal with Depression. It is only my way. A way that has developed over a decade or two of visits. Some longer, most shorter now. It is a way that works for me.
Tuesday morning, the tugging was stronger, as was the desire to hide away, to not be, to cease to exist. Oh yes, stronger. 5:27am. Again. I note the feeling and still I get up. I boil the jug. I do my morning. I do it even though I don’t want to because I know that if I don’t I will feel worse.
And I have learned from depression, through trial and error and abject failure, that feeling bad now is always preferable to feeling worse later.
Yesterday afternoon I didn’t even need a bath to access layers of feeling. All it took was a phone call to a family member. I could feel the tears threatening to crack through the surface as I spoke and was aware of my own vulnerability.
I’ve had a pattern in my family of hiding my vulnerability, of withdrawing and projecting a strong front.
How are you? What’s going on? How’s life?
I took a chance. Instead of the usual list of successes I parade in front of me as protection, I revealed the truth.
I’m struggling a bit right now. Finding it hard – single parenting, running my own business.
Oh well – lots of people do it.
I’m being scolded. Told off. Its subtle, but it’s there and I feel ashamed.
Like there’s something wrong with me because I can’t hold it together when everyone else is and I know lots of people are in far worse situations than me and the tears crack through the surface and my eyes brim and I focus on keeping my voice strong and clear and wait until I can make the earliest possible excuse to get off the phone immediately so I can sit on the couch and sob.
And as I sob, allowing the emotion to come through, an insight arises.
There is no space for me.
I reflect on that insight.
I’ve moved up to Tauranga to be closer to family, something I have never done since I left home at 19 to get away. Then, I felt claustrophobic and hemmed in and craved adventure and freedom. Part of the reason I’ve moved to Tauranga to be closer to family is for increasing support.
Ironically, I’ve left a nurturing, nourishing and deeply emotionally supportive flatting situation to do so. My current flatting situation doesn’t meet this need.
And, my brother’s family is going through a difficult time right now and have no capacity for support at all – I’m doing what I can to support them, as is my mother. She too is almost at capacity and I’m wary of asking for too much from her – she’s retired and needs to be enjoying her time as well as being with family. A people pleaser with a heart of gold, it’s too easy for my mother to over extend herself, she’ll be there in a heart beat if I need her.
I reflect on the courage it took to reveal my vulnerability to a family member on the phone. I was consciously breaking a pattern – one that I’d used for decades to keep myself safe.
In the breaking of the pattern, it helped trigger emotion I hadn’t been able to feel as a child.
I note the parallels between now and then. A family situation where the adults were stressed and at capacity and there was no emotional support for me as a child or teenager.
The sobbing continues as does the reflection.
As I sob I am mindful not to create a drama or story around the family member I’d been speaking too. Her response was perfect as it gave me a gift – the ability to see and understand how I operate and how that way of operating no longer serves me.
As a child and teenager, I may have been unable to get my emotional needs meet. As an adult, there are many ways I can now do this, regardless of family situations.
I feel deeper into the emotion, allowing it to come in great waves, moving about the kitchen and cleaning to ground myself, allowing myself to sit and shake with sobs as necessary.
The insight arises again.
There’s no space for me.
I sit with it. Ceasing to reflect, ceasing to attempt to understand, staying with the feeling.
My son comes in. Actually, he yells at me from his bedroom at the far end of the hall.
Mum! Mum! Muuuuuuum!
I don’t reply and he appears, a five year old huff of self-importance stomping into the lounge.
But he stops short and sees my tears.
Mum, why are you crying? Adults don’t cry.
I laugh through the tears and explain to him that sometimes adults do cry, and that I’m feeling upset right now and am just allowing myself to feel it.
But why Mum?
This is the sticking point.
The moment when we can break with the drama and the story.
Why am I crying? Because this is what the script of life calls for right now. Because everything that has happened so far to this point in my life brings me here. Because waves of emotion are cascading through my body causing water to fall from my eyes.
Why am I crying? No reason and every reason. What to say to a five year old boy who wants to understand?
He suggests we make pancakes for dinner because that will make us feel happy. I laugh again through my tears and we do. Beautiful, light, fluffy pancakes with melting moments of banana hidden among their folds.
Samuel asks to flip the pancakes. I hesitate, but what’s the risk? A ruined pancake? Can there be any such thing? So we pull a chair over to the stove, figure out how hot the pan is, watch the pancakes as the edges begin to harden and the bubbles rise and pop and determine the perfect moment to execute a flip.
Samuel handles the skillet with aplomb. He slides it all the way under the pancake and lifts it like a forkdriver hefting a box, pauses and then flicks his wrist. The pancake lands with a plop face down.
It’s the perfect flip and I’m astounding.
He shrugs, and flips the rest.
In these moments I don’t feel depression. I feel the sweetness of parenting, of new experiences, of skills gained, of trust and freedom.
So the following morning when I awoke to a drag of depression was stronger yet, I was surprised. Often, once an insight has arisen and I’ve connected dots that help me make sense of the narrative of my life, the depression recedes. Yet depression or no, my day is the same.
Light on. Out of bed. Dressing gown. Toilet. Jug boiling. Apple Cider. Warm Water. Inka. Meditation. 45 minutes of work time before my son arises. The scaffolding of my life supports and nourishes me and as I sit at the computer I begin to write.
This is what I write.
As I write, I delight in the play of words. The creation of a moment on screen, on paper. A way of taking you to where I am, to where I’ve been. A portal from my life into yours.
The very act of creation shifts my state of being and cracks appear in the weighty clouds of depression.
A shaft of hope streaks through my body. What a miracle it is to be alive.
Small things continue to happen.
My son sleeps slightly longer than normal, meaning I’m able to conduct a 7am business call without interruption. He’s in a great mood and elects to clean his room while I’m in the shower. I come out and discover he’s placed my ugh boots just so by the bathroom door.
I stare down at the boots.
There they are. An insight arises.
There is space for me.
I’ve made space for me.
My space has made me.