On Surfacing, and Submerging

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In my dark days, there were times when I didn’t want to surface.

Depression came to me, as depression does, in the disguise of a truth teller. It capitalized on my insecurities and constructed whole narratives of what everyone in my life really thought of me, but were too polite to say. It directed my attention to all the sharp corners of the world. All the empty promises. The lies. Life stopped making sense. I didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t, who I was and who I wasn’t, and my depression kept beckoning me into the deep. Into the dark world, where things were simple. Where the truth was plain. Where at least I had an identity, a value, however low.

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Down I went.

Down I stayed.

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And the world was simpler down there. I saw myself as not enough, so I drank to make myself more. Every day brought about a promise of disappointments, so I wouldn’t get out of bed, I wouldn’t leave the house… save for late at night when the sun was gone, when I went to the beach to cry and drink beneath the moon.

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My therapist, a kind woman with cropped black hair, gave me all sorts of assignments that felt absolutely pointless. I wanted her to tell me how to dismantle my thoughts, and she told me to go biking. I wanted some breathtaking quote I could write on my bathroom mirror and she told me to practice breathing in for three seconds, then out for three seconds. She told me to stop judging myself for struggling

When, to my surprise, I started to surface, I wasn’t sure why. It felt unsettling.

I would forget I was depressed for an afternoon, while reading a good book or grabbing coffee with a friend, and once I remembered, I deliberately dove back down. I lost myself in the old thought patterns. Felt the welcome rush of warm tears. And it didn’t make sense, even to me, even then, why I was fighting my own recovery. I brought it up one morning to my therapist and she asked me if I missed it. If I missed the darkness.

There is grief in letting go of grief, she said.

The old, familiar patterns were falling. The script of self-loathing was being rewritten. Days became less daunting as I slowly started to survive them, and then live in them. The alcohol could still lift me, but not as abruptly, not as drastically, because I was so much higher than before.

Depression, as anyone who has had it knows, is never gone completely. It reappears, sometimes predictably, sometimes out of the blue, but you know it like an old friend that you used to believe was so for you. It told us the truth. It showed you the danger. And it felt honest enough to trust, so we trusted in it deeply.

What we didn’t know was how it would reshape our world. How it would selectively target the things that supported our health, like exercise and friendship and good food, and shut them down one by one. We couldn’t see the way it filled in all these gaping holes in our life and made us need it.

It gave us a world we could understand. It gave us thoughts to think about. A self we didn’t need to dress up.

And before we knew it, we had become ghost towns. We blacked out. Disappeared into the darkest depths.

 

And then something shifted. A tiny light turned on.

 

This is is what so amazes me about the mind: its’ grit. Its’ resolve, to reload and recover the landscape, to squeeze that still heart one more time.

Buoyed by the pills and the therapists, the breathing and then jogging and learned approaches to self-talk, we broke the surface. And we spent weeks dipping back down, coming back, dipping down again, because recovery is culture shock and it takes work to change. It takes time to adjust. It takes energy to commit to wellness, even when it feels like a far-away dream. But then the day came when lies gave way to truth. When the light shone strong, down into even the darkest depths, and we knew we were going to be okay.

  • Paul Miller

    Great article that really communicates the feeling of depression. I firmly believe that these can be growth periods – painful and bruising experiences: yes, but I have learned through them. Thank you for sharing

  • This is so good, Ben. It reminds me of my post-depression years when I had to form healthier behaviors and patterns because it was still so easy to slip into the groove of self-hatred.