Observing Depression

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 6.21.41 AMOver the course of my life, when depression has spoken, I’ve listened. I believed every word depression spoke to me. Words such as, “You’re stupid,” “There’s no point in…well, anything,” “Everything is falling apart,” “They don’t like you,” and on and on. I took these words to be truth and played my part in the world based upon them. I feared depression as a child fears the monster under the bed, waiting anxiously for it to rear its ugly head. And when depression came, I was defeated, listless in the face of a foe that was infinitely more powerful than I. Not to imply that I didn’t battle. I did. I argued with depression and at times fought a physical battle. Those who have experienced true depression will know exactly what I mean. Depression is a total-mind and total-body experience. I spoke positive words out-loud to myself to counter the negative ones that were coursing though my mind. I was comically similar to that Saturday Night Live skit…”and dog gonnit people like me.” Yes, I battled. And battled. And battled. And sometimes even won. But depression is a patient, cunning and  ruthless adversary, seeping back into consciousness, like water through the tiny cracks of an old dam. If left unchecked, like the dam, one reaches a breaking point. Some break slowly, over the course of many years. Others crash hard and go up in a blaze of un-glory. For years, I was the former. More recently, the latter.

But there is a silver lining of sorts. Suffering, if we allow it, can plant seeds of revelation. I now believe that I may have been confronting my depression in the wrong way. Rather than war, the key is observation. A personal example from my life as a high school administrator may serve as a guide. I had a parent in my office, furious over a well-earned consequence I had assigned his son. This father stood in front of my desk screaming and yelling in a very threatening manner. While I’ve been known to have a temper, I somehow found the wherewithal to just sit quietly and observe. This time, as he became increasingly obnoxious, I calmly sat back and just observed. There was no point in saying much. I knew the consequence I had assigned was a just one, and I knew that no matter what I said, he would continue to scream, yell, and posture (As a father, I completely understood his fear and frustration. I just didn’t agree with his means of expressing that fear and frustration). Finally, he walked toward the door, but then turned around and directed one last expletive at me. I simply observed and said “Okay.” “Is that all you got?” he challenged. “That’s it,” I replied. And with that he slammed the door and was gone.

I was glad I had not reacted, that I had maintained a sense of composure in the midst of an ugly situation. I was glad that I didn’t let my anger get the best of me, and if I’m honest, my fear as well. Because I simply observed, I was able to go about my day in a calm and focused manner. In retrospect, I view this father with a great sense of empathy and compassion. As my own children have become teenagers, I understand how they really do have lives of their own, and sometimes make a poor decision in spite of their upbringing (or maybe because of it). I still wouldn’t change what I did, but as a father, I understand the man’s pain. I hope and pray that he and his son are well today.

Since depression will come, as an uninvited guest with absolutely no shame, and being too large, heavy, and mean to simply push out the door, it seems the most powerful tool I have is observation. I will watch my depression to see what it might teach me. Is my depression trying to tell me something, and maybe I’m just not listening? Or maybe I’ll just observe it without any objective in mind. Just let it be and observe. And if I can remain calm and steadfast in the face of the big bad wolf of depression, maybe it will simply huff and puff, huff and puff, and walk away…for a while.

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