You Are Not Alone: Words of Experience & Hope for the Journey Through Depresion

You Are Not Alone: Words of Experience & Hope for the Journey Through Depresion

by Julia Thorne

Paperback(1st ed)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060969776
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/30/1993
Edition description: 1st ed
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,306,861
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.53(d)

Read an Excerpt


February 1980, five months after my 36th birthday, my mind ravaged by corroding voices, my body defeated by bone-rattling panics, I sat on the edge of my bed minutes from taking my life. For weeks I had silently prepared my death. I believed I was a failure. I could no longer pretend I was of use to my husband or my children. I was too tired. I needed to lie down, curled up, never to wake again. I knew that, once I was gone, my family and friends would be relieved of the burden of my incompetency.

I was emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausted by a life-destroying affliction--depression. . . . I was also alone--dying a lonely death in a vacuum of misunderstanding, ignorance, and shame.

To the uninformed observer I had no external reason to be depressed. I had everything supposedly essential for happiness and well-being. I had two beautiful, healthy, intelligent daughters; a handsome, successful husband; a sprawling house in an affluent suburb. I had had a privileged international upbringing with homes in America and Europe. A fairy tale come true? Hardly. Behind the enviable externals was a nightmare life defined by self-hate and self-doubt, a life sapped by the pain of depression from which, I had come to believe, death was the only escape.

I Was Not Alone

Although I did not know it in 1980, I was not alone. An estimated 21 million Americans experience some form of depression each year. Women, especially young mothers, suffer twice as frequently as men. One out of two Americans have family members afflicted by depression. Americans today are ten times more depressed than their grandparents were. Mostsobering, of the millions of depressed Americans, many will commit suicide if not treated appropriately. Suicide is now the second leading killer of children and adolescents.

I knew none of this in 1980. I found it out as I got well. Getting well was a process of educating myself about depression and discovering truths that allowed me to accept the despair I was periodically paralyzed by.

One of the ways I educated myself was to observe how people around me hid their depressions, afraid to speak out or get help, terrified of the stigma attached to emotional illness. I listened to their stories, denials, and loneliness and witnessed the self-destructive habits they had developed to distract themselves from their pain.

I began to talk with people who I knew suffered from depression. They appeared to have had common experiences somewhere in their lives, particularly as children: emotional deprivation, trauma, loss, abuse, addiction, abandonment, or other circumstances that damaged self-esteem and a sense of potential self. Depression clearly resulted from individual experiences and conditions.

Searching out professional support for two depressed members of my family, I soon learned that depression is frequently a family condition whose biology and behaviors are passed down as reliably as hair color. With the help of a therapist, I drew a family tree marking each relevant antecedent or contemporary with red ink. Without much effort, I had sketched boughs laden with the crimson fruits of my inheritance. I could trace depression and depressive behavior back to my great-grandparents.

I discovered--not surprisingly--that depression attracts depression. I and other members of my family had married individuals with histories of depression in their families, too. I might be the first person to admit it, but I was not the only one to suffer from it.

Redefining Depression

As I continued my healing, I learned depression was once the traditional path to "soul fitness," the way exercise is the path to body fitness today. For hundreds of years, melancholy was treasured as the characteristic of creative genius, the introspective quality that gave birth to great talent, leadership, and invention. I began to ask myself: If depression was once of use, could it not be converted into alliance again?

Was emotional pain a psychic signal the way physical pain warned of something amiss in my body? If it was, then I could listen to it. Perhaps I could stop using combative and domineering language--"beating depression," "overcoming depression." Maybe I was wasting my energy trying to eradicate depression; maybe I could refocus that energy on understanding what it had to teach me.

A memory nagged at me as well as the questions. It was a memory of passion: a full and committed participation in the experience of life, with all its melancholy and joy, pain and pleasure, fear and courage, anger and humor, grief and love. Passion had been the common denominator of my social experience as I grew up in Italy from the age of 8 to 24. I had happy and vital memories of how that social experience had helped me survive.

In Italy I had known happiness. Couldn't I know it again? I said to myself in Italian: I need to regain my anima and spirito. Anima is the Italian word for "soul," but it can also mean "feeling." (The verb animare means "to give life to" or "to enliven"; someone animato is lively.) The Italian spirito also has more than one meaning: "spirit" and "wit." (Someone spiritoso is not only witty but also amusing, fun to be with.) My memories of Italy--of well-being and freedom in a full emotional life--gave me the hope that I could want to live again.

If I needed to regain my spirit and find my soul, and if spirit and soul required a passionate or full emotional experience, then melancholy, pain, fear, anger, and grief were essential ingredients. Clearly, emotions were energy--fundamental resources of psychic nutrition. I should not be avoiding depression, I should be tending its garden, nourishing my spirit with the produce of its reality.

The Journey Through Depression

I drew hope from history and my memories of Italy. Others had survived the turmoils of depression. I had once known a way to live with darkness. Lashing myself to the raft of that hope, I set out on an emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual journey in search of healing.

Step-by-step, one question, one memory, one feeling, and one experience at a time, I made depression my ally. I let it highlight a slow rediscovery of myself, a line-by-line reprogramming of my habits and thought processes.

Today I describe myself as "free" of depression. The monsters of despair have been transformed into loyal companions, emotional guard dogs who protect me and warn of trouble. The slimy murk has dried up. The darkness has become a beacon for healing, peace of mind, and a sense of freedom.

All of this does not mean I am not visited by depression; I am. But depression no longer chains me, nor weighs me down, nor imprisons me. It has become a mentor and guide. Today I am free to be creative with the experience of depression, to work with its pain for an ever more fulfilling and passionate life.

It Takes Time

It took time to be free. It was a slow, frightening process that required descending repeatedly to the bottom of the emotional well where I had banished and "de-pressed" my unwanted emotions. I needed to retrieve the potential self I was born with. To retrieve that self I had to become intimate with who I wanted to be, which meant being intimate with my emotions, all my emotions, especially the abandoned ones like sadness and anger.

Twice at the bottom of the emotional well I lost the strength to climb back out. I wanted to give up and put an end to my pain. To survive those crises I used antidepressant medication for short periods of time. I could not have done the therapeutic work of understanding my pain without the support and relief it provided.

Healing the spirit requires surrendering to pain in much the same way the body, at the request of the immune system, surrenders to fever when wounded by infection. Medication and other therapeutic techniques can and should be used to ease the discomfort, but healing requires identifying both the properties of infection and the time to recover.

Surrendering to pain is frightening. There are no short cuts--no quick fixes. Living as we do today in a culture addicted to sensationalism, external gratification, and escapism, many of us feel spiritually weak, terrified of the dark side of life. Imprisoned by that terror, we feel adrift, without spiritual comfort, and unable to live full and passionate lives that include all our emotions and potential.

The Need for Support

Surrendering to pain requires courage. Some of the courage I needed was mine, but a great deal was on loan. I have never, nor will I ever, consciously explore the depths of depression without unconditional support. Even 13 years ago, when, alone and undiagnosed, I wanted to take my life, a little internal voice guided me to help. Today, when I arrive at dark and frightening stages in my journey, I have a gang--special friends, my women's support group, my therapist, a Zen master--with safety nets, ropes, flashlights, food and water, and encouraging words to accompany me to safety.

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