I've battled depression for most of my adult life. I don't discuss it much but when I do, like now, it's to encourage someone suffering from depression. The response is usually one of surprise, like "You seem so energetic and positive!"
"That's my nature," I respond. "And I have to fight for it everyday."
My most debilitating bout with depression was in my 20s, but I've been managing the aftershocks of depression for 20 years. Intrusive thoughts, mental dullness, self-directed anger and days of sadness still pass through like unwanted freight trains at a crossing when you have somewhere to go.
The big "D" doesn't rule my life anymore, but it sits right under the surface like vermin watching the action above ground from a sewer drain. It lurks at street level in line with the lowest vantage point as I walk above, seeing the sun and breathing cleaner air, being very careful not to fall into a hole and meet up with it. Oddly, it has brought tremendous meaning to my life as I have learned how to be very conscious of my thoughts and choose them differently, if need be. If there is one thing I've learned, it is that just because I think it, doesn't mean I have to believe it. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that captured my motto: "Don't believe everything you think."
The Buddha said that all suffering is due to attachment. It is the mind that causes attachment. It is the mind that concocts an ironclad argument about how we are right or how we've been wronged or about how the world operates and it is such that creates the cell that isolates us. We have made up our mind or it has been made up for us. The good news is that we can change it. We can be re-minded. And to heal our perception is to give birth to freedom and meaning.
We are all faced with choices, whether we battle depression or not. Do we allow ourselves to be fear-minded, anxiety driven, scarcity-minded? Do we allow anger, hurt and resentment to rule our minds? It's not simple to make the choice, unfortunately -- there may be work needed in therapy to unravel the root beliefs -- but it is absolutely possible to free ourselves from fearful and angry thoughts to embrace thoughts that nurture love and connection. What's interesting is that some of the smartest people with the most developed minds suffer the most at the hand of their own high analytical ability when it comes to having happiness and meaning in their life. These often black-and-white thinkers who see very little that is grey or colorful, are highly and quickly decisive but can also easily miss joy in the way they process. Quick to decide what is good and what is bad, little room is left for mystery and discovery and some of the other elements that slow us down long enough to feel meaning.
When things do not go our way, it is easy to believe the mind's condemnations. By doing so, we put ourselves into a far deeper hell than the true event could possibly cause. To avoid that hell is to choose to be re-minded. It is a chance to question our disappointment or pain or resentment, and to stop assuming what we think is the truth.
We could all stand to be reminded of our true essence. We are love, in essence. We are goodness at our core. When we can download that truth into our minds, we can nurture a loving, forgiving mindset.
We could all use a little re-minding; we need to be reminded of who we really are. When we do, we stop reacting and have time to choose our responses. With the mind calm and the breath steady, we are opened like a geode. We can be ready to shine what is spectacular about us and receive what can help us show our brilliance. We'll have corrected our course and we can get back to the business of living.
Excerpted from The Little Book On Meaning by Laura Berman Fortgang, published by MJF Books in arrangement with Tarcher/Penguin Books
For more by Laura Berman Fortgang, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.