If I look back carefully, this year was actually really good to me. I was strong and I did a lot of things. I got a new lease on my work life. I read heaps of books and rested. I became an International Dark-Sky Delegate at the beginning of the year and by the end of the year had started London’s first dark-sky group. I wrote some great stuff. I reconnected with people, and more deeply connected with others. I got to visit a couple of places in the UK when it was safe. I learned how resilient I am. I learned to cook more things. I healed a relationship with an old lover. I learned to be happy and peaceful in the moment. I developed a gratitude practice to be a constant reminder of the simple things. 2020 was, in fact, a year of deep and positive growth.
But when you’re in the throes of depression, these things are tough to see. They can be impossible to see. I imagine there are people out there who did not experience depression at some point this year, but they must be rare birds indeed. Being fucking knackered, feeling like you can’t muster any strength for a new year, being overwhelmed by a gentle and unwavering sadness, or just plain numb…I don’t know about you, but this is the New Year I am experiencing.
I write here as therapy. It’s purely for myself, and if anyone that reads it and finds something of themselves in it, well that’s a bonus. But this is a space I have created for myself to write whatever the fuck I want to write and not worry about commissioning editors or tone of voice or word count or angles. It’s just me, unfiltered.
When someone talks openly about their feelings of depression, sadness, overwhelm or despair, the first response seems to always be to try to help ‘manage’ them. Make them feel better. Fix it. Even those of us who have experienced profound and sometimes lasting depression can fall into this response when confronted with a loved one who expresses a struggle.
I have thought about this a lot. Partly because I know when I receive a pitied or fixer response to my own openness, how revolting that feels. And partly because when confronted with my closest people expressing their sad-end-of-the-spectrum emotions, my knee-jerk reaction can sometimes be to offer solutions too. It is a real skill learning to hold space for someone else…to witness their pain or their joy without trying to change it or feel sorry for it. I have failed at this many times for those closest to me, despite my best efforts and intentions to be a true space-holder.
Being depressed and sad and angry and feeling broken beyond repair is okay. I’ve learned it’s really rather normal and I daresay even a necessary part of the cycle of life and healing. How can we possibly make a difference if we do not experience the full range of human emotions?
Society would tell you that these emotions are “negative” and need to be fixed. Managed with medication even. Made ‘healthy’ or shut down and put away for an ‘appropriate time’ (aka not in front of others or out in public). Fuck alllllllll of that. All human emotions, from wild joy to cavernous, aching, gut-wrenching sorrow, need and deserve to be seen and felt.
Openly and fearlessly.
If you are worried about being beyond repair, believe me you aren’t. I am not, and I am about the most ravaged person I know. Whatever coping mechanisms you’ve engaged in to keep showing up to life, that’s cool and fine and good. Keep showing up is the point.
Mainly, express the emotions. The MOMENT they arrive if at all possible. Emotions left unfelt will be stored in the body and turn to physical malfunctions. Our bodies offer us all sorts of clues to what we might be experiencing emotionally but not expressing. Sit still for awhile and you will begin to hear those cues. With more intense emotions, we have to find ways to do this safely. Rage and anger most of all need to come out, but in ways that are not causing physical harm to self or others. I like to scream into pillows or sometimes just stand up and shake my whole body like a child having a temper tantrum. I rage cry a LOT. Like a lot, a lot.
If you are managing to celebrate your wins this year, great job, you deserve to. We all deserve a goddamn medal for just getting out of bed in 2020. If you’re celebrating wins today, you’re much stronger than I am.
And if, like me, you are ugly crying in your kitchen to Jonatha Brooke, that’s fine, too. Let ‘er rip.
Better out than in.