6.07.2010

In the moment: the Big Sad

Perhaps one of the most common words in our vernacular these days is
Depression
Boo.  I don't even like the word.  Let me define it as Webster sees it:

Main Entry: de·pres·sion
Pronunciation: \di-ˈpre-shən, dē-\
Function: noun
Date: 14th century
1 a : the angular distance of a celestial object below the horizon b : the size of an angle of depression
2 : an act of depressing or a state of being depressed: as a : a pressing down : lowering b (1) : a state of feeling sad : dejection (2) : a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies c (1) : a reduction in activity, amount, quality, or force (2) : a lowering of vitality or functional activity
3 : a depressed place or part : hollow
4 : low 1b
5 : a period of low general economic activity marked especially by rising levels of unemployment

So, even the definitions a bit of a downer.  But the truth is, sadness is real, especially when our life feels like we're in quicksand holding on to a branch that happens to talk and keeps saying like in Princess Bride, "Life is pain, princess".  
Does any of this sound familiar?  Circumstances can cause the quicksand feeling.  Chronic pain can cause the quicksand.  Financial scary-ness can cause quicksand.  Loss of people, job, sanity, home, stability, can all cause the quicksand feeling. 
So lets officially decide here and now, not to avoid the fact that sadness is not a label on us nor defines us.  Sadness or depression doesn't make us second class citizens or outcasts of a 'happy world' (we are all in the same boat, just paddling and resting at different points).  Sadness or depression won't last forever unless we give into it, isolate, and give up.  Sadness or depression can in fact become a pivotal moment in our life- helping open us up to more joy (ironically), closer relationships,  "Aha!" moments, health, and freedom.  

I go to these meetings every once in a while that include a whole lot of coffee, a lot of random people who would otherwise be strangers, and introductions that go something like this: My name is Ali and I'm an alcoholic.
These meeting consist of business dudes, out of work peeps, millionaires, mothers, mentally sick, mentally stable, brilliant, not-so-brilliant, all shades of skin, teeny bopper who's into Biebur, aged wise observant elder, conservative, liberal, and everything in between.  But one thing we all happen to have in common is the fact that at one point we were so sad we drank to be happy, drugged to be happy, loved to be happy, but couldn't get happy with any of those things- we just got sadder.  Life became un-liveable because it was simply too hard to get un-depressed.  We couldn't do it any more alone, we couldn't try to save face or fake happy or pretend anymore.  I couldn't do those things anymore so i came into these meetings to try to stay alive inside after I gave up my pacifier- the bottle of whatever alcohol or pill of whatever whatnot- before it killed me and my family.  
My sadness grew, somehow, as if when i wasn't looking, from the time i was 11 until I was 30.  These were the depressed years.  I defined myself as a depressed person because i didn't have the tools to think of myself as anything other than.  
When i was 11, my closest childhood friend was killed in a fluke gun accident.  When i was 11, I didn't know that rage and anger should be expressed and dealt to avoid depression.  When i was 11, I didn't know how to talk about feelings with the men in my life- my brothers and dad- but desperately needed them to envelop me with their big arms and closeness.  When i was 11, i'd already lost 2 grandparents and seen my parents very sad from losing parents.  So as it would go, at 11 i knew i was 'supposed' to be happy, but everything freaking seemed so sad.  So i buried the rage about the boy who let the gun go off and barrel into Amy's brain, and i buried the sadness about my heroes (mom and dad) losing their heroes and then having to still go on and bury their sadness.  Ah, the cycle ensued at a young age.  I didn't want to make anyone else sad with my sadness...
This lasted until a little after my 30th birthday when i decided i just could not do this anymore.  This feeling i had felt for too long, that was too much my identity, had grown too strong to hold down or suppress.  Even alcohol failed me as my medication for 'the big sad'.  For years, a drink would fix the pain, fix the feeling.  For years, when i had a few drinks in me, or a few more than a few, i felt like i could join the 'happy' world and be a part of something other than what was nesting inside my brain for 2 decades.  
I had become the mother who faked happiness for others but went home to drink to an oblivion.  Become the wife who acted connected but raged inside.  The woman who said she was independent and strong but was scared and desperately codependent.  The human who professed to believe in Jesus but resolutely internally doubted the message of hope and peace and joy and UNCONDITIONAL love.  The duplicitous life i had led for such a long long time buried any hope of my deserving anything remotely lovely or unconditional.  But i yearned for all the above, yearned. So i sought it wherever and whenever i could.
I felt ugly inside and out.  Detached from who I was meant to be YET
at the same time having responsibilities as a mother of 2 amazing, incredible, (not enough similes), boys that required me to stay in the game somehow. 
To deal with the Big Sad (alternative way of saying depression) I used self-medicating methods that only increased the feeling, once worn off or once i'd try to 'dry out' to prove i could live without a drink or a this or a that.  
Obviously these methods would have driven me quickly straight into the ground versus into happy.  These methods almost did.  
But one day i woke up with the strongest hangover/ drug-induced anxiety and shakes i'd experienced yet but i also woke up with the strongest "I can't live this way anymore or i will die" thought i'd ever thought before.  I knew my next binge would take me away from my precious toddler sons- i'd lose them because i could not keep being their caretaker in the state of mind or i'd lose my life.  
The fog created by chemicals run riot in my brain ironically became my saving grace the day i was too hungover, shaky, and weak to fight going to treatment- to get clean and sober and finally deal with the Big Sad.  
So i stopped fighting feeling and learned (with the help of some amazing counselors and ragtag group of other addicts) how to embrace all the rainbow of feelings that come from being humans living on planet earth.  
Don't get me wrong, some of the feelings on the rainbow scale still totally suck to feel.  But actually feeling them rather than hate or drink at them can create a needed jolt of life synergy and the feelings can somehow, often mysteriously, morph into other entities- some tangible like creating piece of artwork, or a chapter in a book, or getting outside my head and helping someone else in a practical way, or taking a nap and allowing rest to quiet the storm for a few minutes (a novel concept in our world), or play on the playground with the boys for the specific purpose of... playing, or simply laying in a bunch of cozy covers with favorite music in earphones and letting the tears fall if they want to wash out the eyes.  
Some experience, strength, and hope I've found in moments of the Big Sad:
Be ever so gentle and graceful with yourself
Let others hug you or ask for hugs if you need one
Ask for space if you need space, but stay open for comfort along the way
find a way to express your feelings
             -start an art journal (we'll dedicate a whole Monday to the therapy of art in everyday life)
             -listen to your favorite music with earphones laying on a blanket in the back yard or comfy 
              couch
             -write, write, write, free~flowing words of any and all kinds, without censorship, just write
             -do what feeds your soul, with permission to turn off your phone for a day or break from the
              computer screen
             -play on the floor with your kids or tape paper all over your floor and get out markers and  
              crayons and just freaking go for it- draw pictures or write words or color...
There are many other ways, many other ways that i would LOVE to hear-from your own stories when the Big Sad knocked on your door and you let it in or tried to keep it out or whatever your response was or is.  
We'll revisit this moment and how to not just deal, but live in and out of the moment of depression or sadness, knowing that even at the lowest, there's hope, there's a way to feel without getting utterly consumed.  There's a way to get help if the feeling won't go away.  There's a way to laugh even in the middle of the pain.  There's hope for rest and release even in a fast-forward culture that swarms around us.  
We can find places of rest, expression, hope, peace no matter what's going on around us.  
Know that you are not alone, and if you are watching someone you know or love fighting (possibly losing) the battle against the Big Sad, 
be gentle with them, be patient, be simple with your approach in relating to them.  Hug or sit in silence or take coffee or a meal.  Lower your expectations of them and also you- you can't rescue someone, but you can love and pray, you can live your own life well and care for them by not getting engulfed by the Big Sad, take care of yourself, and don't deny or despise the Big Sad either.  Remember it's part of life, being human, each having our own response and language of how we feel sadness (and all the other feelings too).  
Be gentle to yourself and others today.  Who knows what we or someone else is dealing with today.  But we do know that a smile, a hug, a kindness can go a long way.  These things certainly have in my life. 
As does giving these things away.  
"Reduce the Big Sad.  Reuse Kindness. Recycle Hope."  


 

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