I was driving home on a road I’ve taken countless times before. It curves and crests and reveals a spectacular view of the Tramuntana mountains, the Mediterranean, and the gorgeous city of Palma de Mallorca – all in one fantastic display. It always makes my heart open like a flower.
Well, almost always.
That day was different. That day the magnificent view landed with a dull thud.
I was headed home for a call with my spiritual counselor and trusted friend. I talked with her about the experience of being in the presence of great beauty and feeling nothing at all. She pointed out that I had been reporting these kinds of experiences for a while. She reminded me that failing to feel joy in the presence of joy-giving events could be a sign of depression.*
I have danced with mild depression for most of my adult life. More often I have had extended encounters with anxiety. Depression, though, is anxiety’s kissing cousin, so she, too, has made frequent appearances in my life.
As with most of my depressive cycles, this one snuck up on me – like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot. I didn’t know I was in it until things were too hot to handle. And, in fact, I couldn’t see for myself what was happening. I needed someone else to point it out to me.
I couldn’t detect it because, when I enter the realm of mild depression, my focus narrows. I simply cannot see the truth of what’s happening. My sense for options and possibilities diminishes. I tend to get very, very busy doing just about nothing.
As John O’Donohue so beautifully says, I needed “those who looked for [me] / And found [me], their kind hands / Urgent to open a blue window / In the grey wall formed around [me].” **
My counselor’s astute observation that this ennui was not just a matter of my mood or mindset or whether I’d gotten enough exercise that day was a revelation to me. She also invited me to slow down. To allow space for what was happening. To let this particular cocktail of emotions – yes, despair, but also anger and confusion – to rush toward me and to ebb back.
I doubt I would have done so if not for her presence, her willingness to support me and walk with me wherever the wave took me. She gave me stable ground, and I gave myself to the murky gloom. I asked it what I needed, and I let it speak to me.
The need was, as it always is, connection. Deep, meaningful, empathetic, compassionate connection. Authentic connection. Me being totally me – magnificent and messy – connection.
If you were to look at my life, you would be forgiven for wondering that this connection was missing for me. I’m graced with a sunny disposition and a generally healthy life. And, after all, my business is called Authentic Communication.
But – like lots of other people – I have been known to make choices geared to not making waves rather than to expressing myself fully. I have been known to people-please to minimize the external disruptions in life. I have been known to attempt to control outcomes to prevent my own discomfort.
Unfortunately, when these actions become patterns, the inevitable consequence is that I shut down. My internal infrastructure fails, and I collapse in on myself. I may be in a room filled with people (or a social media site filled with “friends”), but I am dissociated and very much alone. The isolation of depression is devastating
Although some part of me believes that it’s up to me to do everything myself, my wiser self knows that this is an absolute impossibility. That story of self-sufficiency is defeatist and a lie and a fabulous way to erode any foundation of resilience that I may have established.
One of the most important elements of resilience is relationships. I simply cannot do my life alone. I need you.
Not you that’s a name on a screen, a “like,” or a heart emoji. I need the you that says, “Hey, are you OK? Do you want to talk about it?” I need the you that’s willing and able to hold my messy magnificence and share yours with me. And bring the Kleenex, my friend. Bring the Kleenex.
About 10 years ago, a former boss and wonderful human being received my Vesuvian release from one of these disconnection-depression bouts. We were having an ordinary one-on-one, and something in me just broke. Before I knew it, he left me sobbing in the meeting room, only to return seconds later with his pockets full of paper towels. That was an act of pure love.
To receive that love, to have these real and meaningful connections, I need to make myself available for them. I might even have to ask for that love. I certainly have to offer it.
My work is all about interpersonal communication. It’s about relationships. It’s about love.
You might look at my CV and ask what I know about this stuff. It’s a fair question. I will tell you that I have walked through the fire of trying to do it all alone, and I know that there is a better way. For me, it’s a pattern for living, communicating and connecting with authenticity.
To lift the veil of despair that had settled over me, I had to talk to people who could sit with me in this morass. Who could listen without a need to fix or correct anything. I needed honest and authentic communication with others who could hang in there with me and my mess.
I started with that conversation with my spiritual sponsor. Then I talked to my beloved, to my dearest friends, to my Mom. I wept and shouted and got messy. There were plenty of Kleenexes in the bin by the end. Step by step, the connection to myself was restored by reconnecting with others.
A day or two later, I found myself at the flower stall in the local market. I was hovering over a brilliant bouquet of locally grown zinnias. I couldn’t stop staring at them, mesmerized by their colors and form. I felt my heart opening over and over and over again.
“They give joy,” the florist said.
“Yes. Yes. Yes, they do,” I thought, and for the first time in many weeks, I could feel it.
Relationships are vital to our resilience, and communication is the lifeblood of our relationships. Communicating with deep authenticity makes those relationships nourishing and life-giving. And that’s what ultimately shattered the grip of this sadness for me – connecting to the great gift of life by connecting with others.
* Depression is a very serious mental health condition. My experience is not exemplary, and my ideas are definitely not clinical solutions. My aim with this post is to share my experience of walking through mild-grade depressive episodes and my hope for how we can support each other to come through them healthier and more joyful.
** from “For Your Birthday,” in the book To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue.
Here you'll find some of my thoughts about communication, contemplation, yoga, life and various other topics. Thanks for giving them a read.