Most people have triggers and issues that pull them into spiritual unconsciousness over and over again. For me it is depression. I have made the decision to mention it here because it’s something I need to write out so that it doesn’t fester in my mind. As I’m sure others with depression are aware, when those feelings are stuck inside you, they hold more power to suck you in deeper and deeper.
I am a very self-aware individual due to my long-term meditation practice and dedication to self-development. For that reason I have been able to study my mind and body, if not during a period of depression (although recently I have been able to do this) but after the darkness has lifted a little bit. From these inner explorations I have found that, perhaps inevitably, my depression is multifaceted. It is biological, mental, emotional and spiritual. Quite often it coincides with a significant worsening of my physical health, since I also suffer with a debilitating chronic illness. This may happen overnight and the root cause does not appear to be triggered by negative thinking or difficult emotions. I believe the link may be inflammation, as is the case for other chronic illnesses that are associated with depression. But I am not a doctor; all I know is how I experience the link.
Once the depression takes over (as that is how it feels, like I have been taken over) I have to remain exceptionally mindful in order not to let the negative thinking take over and pull me further the black hole that is depression. During a typical episode, I wake up and experience the usual heaviness, fatigue and pain that is part and parcel of my physical problems, however, with depression in the mix it’s as if a thick grey curtain has been pulled over me so that I no longer sense any light. I have no desire or motivation to start the day, even though I force myself to get up and walk my dog who thankfully gives me that incentive to move. My body has slowed down, I have no appetite, I couldn’t care less about doing the things that I enjoy despite my ill-health, such as playing the piano and reading. When I close my eyes (as I always feel exhausted) my mind pulls me back into various memories of the past, nothing difficult or substantial since I have spent years working through issues with a lot of success, but snippets of people or places, good and bad, as if to convince me my life is over now and all I have is the past, as hard as it often was. Other times it pulls me into the future, convincing me that I am doomed as every terrible thing that could happen, will, or reminding me that everything is temporary and there is no security to be found. Sometimes I end up crying (often a difficult thing to do when really depressed, actually) when I picture life without my dog, or without any material security at all.
If I remain unaware at this point, a running commentary starts to accompany my bodily misery, such as ‘I don’t matter’ or ‘no one cares’ or ‘I’m so lonely’. If my mind really deteriorates which to be honest it has done a lot lately, I start to reinforce those painful thoughts by looking up quotes and images of depressed and lonely people. I may listen to sad music that reinforces my depression and before I know it I’m questioning the point of my life, of all life despite my spiritual experiences, and feel profoundly separate and disconnected. Meditation feels pointless even if I could focus which I can’t, I can’t resonate with spiritual quotes or texts, can’t talk to anyone as they wouldn’t understand, and I feel the deep pain of inner emptiness. I have not gone as far as thinking about suicide, but I have found myself hoping that my life is not going to be a long one because I simply can’t bear this any longer.
How do I deal with this? Well as yet, I have no easy answers, but most often what happens is that a trickle of self-awareness seeps in and I’m able to step back, usually just for a few seconds, and realise I’ve spiralled into spiritual unawareness. Sometimes it takes me a few weeks before I have this moment of awareness, other times it can be just a day. But regardless of how long it takes, there comes a time where I catch myself and witness what I’m doing. By witnessing, I don’t mean I can always pull myself out. I’m not talking about solutions or cures. Depression is an extremely complex illness and I have come to believe that it may not leave me completely, especially if there is a biological association with my existing problems. But there is freedom to be found in stepping back, remembering that I don’t always feel like this. Once I embrace this knowing, it becomes far easier to resist being pulled back into the darkness.
Just as the mind is enticing and addictive, so is depression. I find myself taking an almost masochistic pleasure in my painful feelings, needing to indulge them for all they’re worth. As I surrender into the misery, there’s a weird kind of relief that I don’t have to do anything more. No more effort, no more fight, no more craving, just nothingless. I can find others with depression and share how horrible it is. I can assume the identity of a depressed person; it’s a suit that is well-worn and understood. I will belong there in the hellpit. I can go back to sleep for ever and ever…
Only I can’t. I have awakened, and as many spiritual teachers say, once you’ve awakened you never really go back to sleep. You may try, but you never really can. This is absolutely true of my experience. This is also why I see a spiritual side to my depression, or what is called a dark night. There is a biological root to it, but like with many depressions, from my personal understanding, there takes many triggers and environmental issues to reinforce their role in someone’s life, which are unique to everyone. For me, depression is a recurring issue, and perhaps there is a message there in learning to understand how to deal with it and accept why it is in my life. After all, it is part of me, and born from a series of wounds that demand attention. There may come a time when I no longer need my depression, or I can hope.
In the meantime, I am meditating regularly, watching my thoughts and emotions, and reminding myself that everything is transient, including a depressive state, and I am aware of it all flowing before me like a river down to the sea of life which encompasses every thing and rejects no thing.