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Out at Sea: On Depression

Out at Sea: On Depression

I spent most of November and a good chunk of December out at sea. “Out at sea” is a metaphor for depression. The idea was passed on to me by a dear friend as a lifeline for understanding my hardship. Depression, in my very personal experience, is indeed akin to feeling lost at sea: bobbing up and down at the mercy of a greater force. An uneven undulation that spans both harsh movement and eerie stillness. I am alive, but there isn’t a helping hand or a scrap of land in sight to offer me refuge, and so permanence and hopelessness become the only logical branches of thinking. I am cast out into the depths of sameness and numbness, and my connection with my life and greater humanity is severed.  

I want to expose my relationship with depression for a few reasons:

  1. Normalization: Depression is unfortunately not unique to me. The more it is publicly named, discussed, debated, and questioned, the more it becomes widely understood and recognized.  Normalizing dissolves stigma.
  2. Build Community: I want to offer a space for anyone experiencing or questioning or connected to depression (and anxiety) to feel seen, heard, and supported.
  3. My Own Benefit: I, like many, am on an interminable journey to understanding me and how I operate. The more I can process, both publicly and privately, the more I can wrap my head around how my brain and body function. This work results in greater empathizing skills, stronger grace, and trust in the process at large.
  4. Speak My Truth: A significant factor of embracing vulnerability and daring greatly  is to push myself to be real about all facets of my human experience: both my pockets of joy and my dark corners.

The origins of, experience with, and nature of depression at large is often widely misunderstood. Depression is (stemming from my experience, accounts from others I love and follow, and resources I find helpful):

  • “A mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.” (Mayo Clinic)
  • An invisible illness: Because it is not an outwardly obvious limitation, there is often skepticism or doubt regarding its existence or the depth of one’s struggle, which can make it more difficult for those afflicted to navigate. Fortunately, the internet is producing more and more articles, testimonials, and graphic simulations to illustrate invisible illness and public acknowledgement of physical distress vs. the lack of public acknowledgement of mental distress (like this one). There is certainly always room for the advancement of ideas, however.
  •  Different for every being it lives in. While there are certainly universal components of depression, like every condition, in manifests itself differently in different people, making it all the more important to offer grace, a willingness to combat assumptions, and a commitment to truly seeing and hearing. As someone who speaks openly about my depression, it also matters to me that those in my circles accept that it is my experience and mine alone: No matter how well-intentioned, no one can solve it, get to the bottom of it, or even truly understand it in its entirety, making patience all the more critical.

Depression is not:

  • A temporary emotional state that one can “positive think” their way out of
  • A false reality. Though depression does place those inflicted in somewhat of an altered state of being, it is nevertheless a very real experience.

This video from TED-Ed, in my opinion, does a lovely job of pictorially, scientifically, and emotionally representing what depression is, what it is not, and what it can look/feel like. 

I’ve been living with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. The journey to awareness, diagnosis, and proper treatment, however, has been long and slow-progressing. Only in the past year or so have I felt somewhat equipped, seen and heard, and like I had an arsenal of management techniques. I am fortunate to have a strong group of fellow confidants with similar experiences and allies: the term I use for those who are open and willing to understanding mental illness but do not experience it themselves.

My depression is a recalcitrant way of being that involves a chemical imbalance in my brain. When it is present, the color is drained from my reality. What once felt like freeways of vitality running through my body now turn to lead pipes. A black, inky substance seems to drape itself over my mind, staining everything in sight. It is an all-encompassing occupation of my brain and my body. My freewill and my sense that I am the captain of my ship are swiftly depleted. The physical manifestations are very real, and because I have a fairly fragile body due to a few health conditions, it starts to get pretty serious pretty quickly. I am literally out at sea, and there is a growing fear of scarcity and permanence.

My most recent depressive period was my darkest yet. It was darkened further by happening to coincide with the election and the death of a loved one. Despite its darkness, however, it was also the only time I can remember having a handful of strong coping resources at my disposal:

  1. RuPaul’s Drag Race: a dear friend (Moorea Seal: author of The 52 Lists Project and 52 Lists for Happiness) has been pushing me to watch Drag Race for quite some time. She advertised it as being more than just engaging entertainment; it was an opportunity to watch RuPaul (a sage, in my opinion) coach, support, uplift, and bestow incredibly applicable life wisdom to a brave and openly vulnerable community: drag queens. Sean and I watched season after season while I was out at sea; it was one of the only activities I could bring myself to do, and it offered me pockets of hope and wisdom that I know I will continue leaning into even (and especially) now that I am well again. The Atlantic eloquently describes the magic of the show.
  2. Dog Therapy: I have never owned an animal, but I’ve always been drawn to them, and thanks to the generous hearts of a few dear friends, I was able to experience dogs as a form of therapy. Sean and I are now considering acquiring our own therapy animal friend. 
  3. Therapy and Medication: I’ve been in and out of therapy since high school. More recently, I’ve been seeing the same therapist (an art therapist, at that: YAS) for two years now, and she has been monumental in the support and treatment of not only my depression and anxiety, but in navigating humanity as a whole. I went off antidepressants in April, and she helped me recognize in my recent bout that what I was experiencing was indeed a chemical imbalance: one that could be righted with appropriate medication. It hit me like a ton of bricks when she made the suggestion: I had been here many times before, and I knew medication would help me feel like I was at the wheel again. Medication is certainly not for everyone, and many have strong opinions: to each her own.
  4. Space and Acceptance: Once I was able to grasp that I was in fact in a depression period, I was able to use some mental energy so take ownership of my experience and ask for what I needed. I emailed my parents, letting them know what to expect from me regarding communication. I was honest with friends who seemed confused about my change in disposition. I leaned into my fellow confidants and allies, including my incredibly patient and intuitive husband.

I am pleased with my current handle on depression and the tools I have in my company, but it has taken quite the expedition to get here, and I know that there is plenty more to be navigated.  

Trust and grace, trust and grace. 

Lately: Mt. Baker

Lately: Mt. Baker

Setting Intentions: Family Videos

Setting Intentions: Family Videos