This is the next part of my series on my healing journey. Go here for the backdrop of the story.
A common response to depression is isolation. But when I isolate it’s not the typical recluse reaction people think of. I am very involved in my church and serve on a regular basis. I often see people almost daily. In my most recent period of isolation… I was available to my friends but I wasn’t present. I was at church but was disengaged throughout the service. I was praying, but with hollowness. People who care surrounded me, but I felt alone and empty.
For so long I felt that I needed to push down the cynical, irritable, angry, depressed, insecure part of me. The part that becomes ever-present when I’m going through an episode of depression. I thought of it as more of an annoyance. I hid it, fearful no one would understand and afraid I would hurt those I love. As I look back now I realize I feared being wholly known.
When I tried to share my depression with others, when I tried to be vulnerable, I felt like I had done something wrong. I felt ashamed for placing those emotions in others lives. Therefore I decided for my friends what part of me they wanted to see. Only sharing things that appeared to be vulnerable to others, leaving out the most vulnerable thing: my constant state of depression. Giving the false impression that I was engaging in the relationship and going deeper. Yet in reality, not being completely honest about where I was at and what was going on.
I think this is one reason why I love the movie Frozen so much. I saw it at a time when I wasn’t able to identify the emptiness I was experiencing. As I related to Elsa and reflected on the emotions I felt during the movie I began to identify what was going on.
Elsa lived in fear of the powers she had and as a result numbed and isolated from those she loved as a way to prevent them from being hurt.
These two songs provide a good backdrop for what I’m talking about.
Elsa attempts to isolate herself from her sister in order to protect her from the storm that seems to be stirring inside her. When she isolates she thinks that if she escapes she will be free from the fear of hurting others. It’s when she is alone she feels safe to let go and feel again. Seeing the beauty within her gifts and in all of who she is. When Elsa’s sister, Ana, reaches out to help, Elsa pushes her away. Fear gripping her again, the storm becomes stronger as she attempts to hold everything in. It wasn’t until she allowed those in her life to love her, as she is, that the storm began to lift. She saw her giftings as a part of her, a part that was worthy of being loved. Seeing a beauty within them.
Like Elsa, I lived in fear of what would happen if I were to share the depressed and angry side of myself with others. I feared hurting others and feared rejection. I saw my depression as a curse rather than seeing the beauty that can result from the state of vulnerability it placed me in. A place where my relationships can be strengthened and can build trust.
What I discovered was I still have a deep wound of distrust that I carry around with me. I found that in order to heal and grow, I needed to invite others into my pain. Not only my friends but my God. I was hiding from God, ashamed and afraid of Him being disappointed in me. Disappointed that I couldn’t get my shit together and get past this eternal depression. I’ve struggled with this most of my life; I should have a handle on this by now, right?
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor has been pivotal on this journey. Her authenticity as she pours her deepest concerns and worries out to God showed me a side to relationship I hadn’t fully embraced. This book helped me to start a conversation with God that I have never felt free to have. I began opening up about how I truly feel and allowing Him to into darkest parts of my soul.
As I no longer lived in in silence, I found that I needed to accept depression as something I will always struggle with. There are going to be periods in my life when I struggle more than others. It doesn’t mean I am weak or lesser than anyone else. It does mean I have a chronic illness and like any illness it takes some time, maybe some help with medication, and self-care to feel better.
To accept a part of ourselves that tends to be misunderstood and thought to be “cured” by a few pills or “praying it away” is what I would call bravery. To share this part of our heart with others is to be courageous and vulnerable. I have discovered the people I want to share this experience with are those who have earned the right to. They have dedicated the time to our relationship and love me for all of me, not just certain parts of me. They love my imperfections because they know these imperfections have made me into the compassionate, sensitive, and caring person I am. But to discover these whole-hearted friends means I have to take a risk: a risk to be known, to love, and possibly be hurt in the end.
I have slowly come to find these friends in the most unlikely of places. They are helping me feel the love of Jesus Christ in ways I haven’t in a long time. Slowly softening my heart and helping me see the beauty in the darkness. I know this has been the answer to many of my prayers over the past several months. I am truly grateful for those who have delighted in me, even as I struggle through the pain.
God created us to be in relationship. As we open up to God and our friends/family, it opens us up to be fed through the connection we feel as a result of our vulnerability. To feel connection means we have to participate in relationship. As I have participated in relationship with both my community and my Father, they have slowly redeemed the word depression for me. They have shown me the beauty that can be found within it and within me.