Depression is Your Friend: How to Find Wisdom in the Darkest of Times

Every once and while the heavy feet of depression walk their way into my life. My soles become heavy, drawn with a fierce pull into the ground. My knees buckle, my heart drains and I begin to disappear without fight into the pit of sinking sand beneath me. It takes all the energy I have left to shed even a tear of sorrow before a deep emptiness envelops me and I go cold with indifference. Who cares? Why bother? Wouldn’t death be easier than this life draining hole?

These thoughts and feelings used to terrify me. So much so that I spent a good deal of my energy trying to avoid them. I worked so much and filled my schedule so full in the hopes that negativity would not catch me and steal me away into its clutches. This did not work, of course, and so I tried to manage the depressive thoughts and feelings with food and alcohol and other fixes to get me into a state of numbness. Which worked temporarily, but like a Band-Aid on a gun shot wound, not even an endless supply of chocolate and wine could do the trick.

And so a few years ago I started feeling my feelings, and I found out not only did I survive them, but that they were actually on my side. I found this with joy and with sadness, with rage and with contentment, with grief and even depression. And so, this time when depression came knocking I did not spend my time holding the door closed with one hand and stacking boxes up against it with the other. Instead I found myself slowly opening the door to an old friend and welcoming her in.  

I have learned through this process that the way you approach depression (or any emotion, or really anything in life) will to a large extent shape your experience of it and what you take away from that experience.

The way our culture often approaches depression is with an immense amount of resistance and fear. We shame ourselves and others for being depressed, and stigmatize depression as weak, “in the way of our fast-paced lives” and just generally as something that “shouldn’t be.” When depression shows up we are taught to ask questions like “What will make this go away so I can get on with my life?” and “How can I fix myself so this evil thing never happens to me again?”

But what if the only thing evil about depression is our demonizing of it, and if we would instead change the way we relate to depression and the questions we ask of it, it could be an ally, and friend?

This is exactly what I have found to be true.

Before I go further and offer a different way to relate to depression and some helpful questions you might ask when it comes barreling down your door, I want to note that in cases of chronic depression or more serious cases accompanied by suicidal urges, medication and other professionals may be necessary to assist for a while in rebalancing a long imbalanced psyche. Good friends and family support are never a bad thing either.

But for the most part I believe depression can be addressed by shifting how we address it. Neither medication (whether prescription or self-medicated numbness), nor your friends and family can get to the bottom of your battles with depression and transform them for good. Only you can do this. And it simply starts with the willingness to be open to a new perspective: one that says your depression might actually be helpful and good.

Karla McLaren writes in her book The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, that depression carries with it a vital life-preserving message: it tells you what you need to let go of so you can live. Depression, and even suicidal thoughts, she says, offer wisdom from your emotional and physical body about aspects of your life – people, environments, work, lifestyles, beliefs - that are literally draining you of life energy and must be let go of, or let to die. It is not your actual life that needs to end (as can be wrongly interpreted from suicidal thoughts by those that have them) but some part of your life that is already killing you.

The thing that needs to die may be as life-changing as an abusive relationship, an unhappy work environment, or a home or lifestyle that does not resonate with your soul. Or it may be a belief or habit you are holding onto that no longer serves you, or some social or work activities you need to cut out to make room for a creative project.

So instead of treating your depression with fear and hostility and asking how you might get rid of it, try instead treating it as a wise old friend that has come to visit you with some deep truths from your very soul. You might ask it: “What in my life is no longer serving me?”, “Is there a person, situation or belief system that is draining my life force?” or “What do I need to let go of here in order to live more fully?” If you are willing to be honest with yourself in your listening you will hear the answer from your wiser self in return: this person, that belief, that situation, etc.

This is the gift in depression that is missed out on by simply trying to avoid our depression every time it arrives: the opportunity to stop and check in with your truest self, and to re-recreate your life in a way that is more in alignment with your own unique truth.  

And how, you ask, are you to find the energy to right your life when you are caught in a sinkhole of depression?

I would say that once you have the awareness of what it is that needs to go, it is your depressed state itself, your deep and utter exhaustion that will give you the strength to be honest. You will simply have no energy for anything else. You will no longer have the energy it takes to pretend you are fine with whatever situation has been depleting you. You will no longer be able to hold up the façade. And so you will start being more honest.

Depression and the exhaustion that comes with it are powerful agents of truth. From that truth comes the energy for change.

If you lie in bed thinking your depression sucks and strategizing your way to a happier place you may succeed in temporarily pulling yourself back into a lighter state where you can again go about your life, but your “I’m fine nows” will not last, nor will you be truly peaceful or joyous, until you face your dark times as you face an old friend, and take the hard wisdom she offers.

If you do, you may find, as I have, that you will start to welcome your depression and your exhaustion a little more, and that it is in your darkest days you are closest to your own truth.  Though still unpleasant and challenging as all hell to be with, you will appreciate their presence in your life as much as their absence. You will relax a little more into the darkness and let these old teachers heal you and strengthen you until you find yourself midday in a burst of life-preserving energy getting out of bed with the courage you need to speak your own truth. You will set out with a mix of urgency and peaceful conviction and take the first step to end the things that need to end and to say the things that need to be said.

And when you wake the next morning you will likely find that your new friends have left and that you feel nourished somehow though you haven’t yet eaten. Give it an hour or two, or a day, or a week, and you will feel a certain tenderness of heart and the inklings of a fire deep in your loins. New life is being formed!

Sure as the cycles of life-death-life in nature your joy will return, tugging at your insides, bursting forth from a deeper place with new love, new creation, new life; and a deep sense of peace and gratitude for the gift in the darkest of times.