Living Within the Unavoidable

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“I’ve had some dark nights of the soul, of course, but giving in to depression would be a sellout, a defeat,” says author and social critic, Christopher Hitchens. I’m not sure exactly what Hitchens means when he speaks of giving in to depression. I can only assume he refers to  not lying in bed all day and wasting away one’s life under a cloud of sadness, pessimism, negativity, etc. In many ways, I relate to his statement, having battled against depression for most, if not all, of my life. However, I’m beginning to wonder if giving in to depression might actually be the answer. I am a fighter, always have been and always will be. But in terms of depression, I’m not sure a fight is necessary, or even constructive. Maybe the secret is actually to give in to depression, to allow it to manifest, to reveal itself, in all of its ugliness and beauty. Maybe the secret is to give up what is essentially a futile battle in favor of something different, a possible long-term solution.

But “giving in,” surrendering, as it were, is a foreign concept, a kin to being French during both World Wars. Sure, the comparison is inaccurate and insensitive, but the thought of capitulation to depression, or anything for that matter, causes a reactionary response in most of us. I hate losing. I hate giving up. I hate everything that points to the idea that I have not overcome. All of this hating, however, has not led to a feeling of being at home in the world. No. Hating depression, failure, fear, and vulnerability has ironically led to depression, failure, fear, and vulnerability. Clinging to “healthy life,” or the idea of it, has left my metaphorical fingernails worn and bloody. It simply hasn’t worked. But the alternative, acceptance and surrender to what I ultimately knew was an unconquerable foe, was just too scary.

If you desire healing,
let yourself fall ill.
Let yourself fall ill.
~Rumi

Depression is as much a part of me as the color of my hair, maybe more so, as my depression has not changed color or receded over time. The depression I feel today as a forty-five year old husband and father, feels exactly like the depression I felt in my twenties. To deny it is useless. But that’s what we do, isn’t it? And not only with depression, with so many aspects of our lived experience, that we become strangers to the person in the mirror. Denying depression, anger, and our human limitations, ensures that we won’t see the clear road ahead. I’ve always looked at my limitations with a pejorative eye. My limitations, did just that, reduced the probability that life would be fulfilling, and increased the probability that I would lose in the competition I believed was all-encompassing. I refused to acknowledge my depression in any meaningful sense, denying its deep impact on my everyday existence. I know this sounds melodramatic, but it’s really not meant to. Owning one’s illness, whether it be physical or mental, takes the melodrama out of it. It just becomes reality. And when reality is accepted, the earth becomes firm beneath one’s feet and the way forward materializes.

So, let yourself fall ill. Let yourself fall ill. Choose to live within the natural confines of your life. I’m speaking to myself, of course. Depression is unavoidable, and when I refuse to give in to it, in a healthy sense, I distort reality and place a dark cloud between myself and the future. Think about it. If I’m lost in the desert, but deny this reality, then I won’t take the necessary steps to survive. If I refuse to give in to the undeniable, the fact that I’m walking in an unforgiving environment, then I’ll carry on blissfully into disaster. But if I live within the undeniable, the hot desert in this case, then I’ll take the necessary actions to survive. I may look for a cactus to obtain water, or build a shelter for protection from the sun. And if I really own the reality of the situation, my vision expands and I may even come enjoy, in some sense, life in the desert. I may come to appreciate my ability to survive in a harsh environment, and in this appreciation arises possibility. There may be others lost in the desert who I can help. And ultimately, through acceptance I may discover that living in the desert is preferable to a life in the city. Probably not…but maybe.

Letting oneself fall ill does not mean giving in to depression or any other ailment. It is not a capitulation, nor a shortcoming. Letting oneself fall ill is simply choosing to live within the unavoidable. And by doing so a new and potentially prosperous reality emerges. So while I agree with the sentiment of not “giving in” or “selling out” to depression, or any other difficult reality, I choose to accept and live within my depression. Letting myself fall ill, opening up to the life that comes when one’s feet are firmly on the ground, enmeshed in the wonderful life that is the unavoidable.

Stay the course.
Keep the faith.
You’re a hero.

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