Now, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Tibetan Buddhist Monk and teacher) describes depression as just another form of energy. He sees it as the state of mind closest to enlightenment that we can experience: the abandonment of ambitions and (in the best of circumstances) just accepting what/where we are—embracing our state of mind purely for what it is. It is nice to consider depression this way, but I have to admit that this way of thinking feels like a stretch when everything seems to drag along as though I were walking through a bottle of cold honey while also trying hard not to feel like a watermelon that has been dropped from the Empire State Building (accurate--but sorry about the mixed metaphors).
Other people seem to think they understand what I mean when I talk about my depression. I have little doubt that there are some who do. But most people only understand that the economy is depressing or that the weather is depressing, or that dealing with the idiots at work is depressing, or some such. They do not understand the kind of depression that results in having to put every ounce of energy into not curling up in a ball in a corner.
Two and a half years ago, after more than 15 years on depression medications, I decided that I wanted to stop. After all, I postulated, if John Nash (Nobel Laureate and subject of the film “ A Beautiful Mind”) could do it with schizophrenia, for me, doing it with depression should be easy. Not quite. For a year or more I did fine but then a slow descent finished off by a couple of steep slides did me in. Back on the meds.
One thing I have learned through all this: depression is not who I am, it is something that happens to me. It is extremely physical for me, and no amount of talking, no kind of therapy--nothing but medication--will return me to an even keel. I will say, however, that I have talked openly about my depression for the first time, to anyone and everyone, and this has proven incredibly cathartic. I realize that in some sense, it is like having a chronic illness: something that I have that is correctible through medical intervention—it is most decidedly NOT an emotional state of mind that I can (should) be able to control through some kind of mental gymnastics.
Another thing I have learned is that no amount of spiritual conviction, spiritual practice, or faith is enough to forestall this kind of depression. When I weaned myself from my medications those two plus years ago, I was at a good place spiritually, meditating every day, chanting a lot, perhaps at a peak with my spiritual development that I have not seen before. Helpful? Yes. But only in so much as it probably held my depression a bay a bit longer than had I not been doing those things.
Please do not get me wrong. I do not in the least feel sorry for myself. Not that I don’t wish that I did not have to deal with this, but deal I must. Such is my life. And it is the life of many others, too. If it is not yours, understand that what we need is just your presence. We don’t need comments about stiff upper lip, or things will get better, or “Yeah, I’m depressed too. This political crap is really the pits.” For those of us who have depression, it is an illness, not a result of some life experience. So what we need from you is your presence, your patience and your love. That’s all.