The Black Dog
Last Friday I posted a rough draft of this newsletter on instagram.
After taking some time away from work in January I was excited to write about my process of stepping back. I had plans to write over the weekend and send this out on Monday. I'd been feeling a little flat and grey around the edges for a few days, but that's pretty normal for me in the home-stretch of winter so I wasn't worried. I generally stay afloat if I get enough sleep and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Fast forward to later that afternoon... Unexpectedly, at mudslide speed, I tanked. I felt inexplicably tired, disoriented and close to tears. It's not so much a mood as a full body experience, complete with a small truck parked on my chest.
The black dog has decided to come for a visit.
I wasn't sure what to do about writing this letter.
It's a couple of days later, I'm still navigating this bout of depression and anything else I try to write about feels kind of fake and irrelevant. Obviously, I could just wait until I start feeling better, but it seemed like this might be worth sharing, despite my habitual tendency to hide out when I'm feeling down.
In part, my hesitation to be open stems from a concern about online emotional disclosure. I don't see this newsletter (or really any online platform) as a forum to work out my personal issues in real time, nor as a place to ask for and receive the sort of support and connection I need when I'm in pain. I do, however, see it as a place to cultivate honesty and share aspects of my own experience that might ring true for others.
As I write this I'm being cared for, and finding real-life ways to meet my needs.
What I'm saying is that I'm not writing this as a cry for help,
but I AM writing to say it's OK to need help.
I need it... We all do. Not just (but especially) when we've tanked. To feel whole and healthy we need love, support, empathy and understanding in frequent, reliable doses. The study of neurobiology is starting to reveal the complexity and intensity of our need for connection. We're wired to need each other and we're slowly rewriting the cultural story that positions this as a weakness or liability rather than a defining part of our humanity. Our need for one another is something to cultivate and celebrate.
The black dog and I used to hang out a lot, but over the years our visits have gotten shorter, further apart and less overwhelming. I generally remember that it will pass, which is huge. I depend so much on the love of my friends and family (particularly ones who send videos like this).
I'm also grateful that I tend to orient myself towards the love and warmth that surrounds me, even if I've come temporarily unmoored from them. I don't take it for granted that my brain chemistry works this way. My relationship with depression, while debilitating at times, has been relatively manageable... Some people experience a much stronger pull towards the self-destructive aspects of this illness. I ache for those who don't have the support and respite they need, who are taken under by the pain.
Here are a few questions I've been asking, as I make my way through this wave of melancholy.
What if sometimes "staying afloat" isn't what we need?
What if sometimes we need to go under for a while, as scary as that may seem?
What if we all learned the skills to hold space for each other when we're "under"? To not overdramatize the situation on one hand, but to call in more help as needed, on the other.
My occasional dips below the surface are hard and scary, but not without meaning. I'm not sure I would be able to experience their value without the lifeline provided by my close people. Their love doesn't prevent me from touching the darkness, but it's the main reason I don't get lost in there.
I'm not suggesting that love is all we need.
Nope... Sometimes we need years of therapy, medication and other clinical interventions too. It's just that none of that can be completely effective if the fundamental human need for connection is missing.
Love may not be all we need, but I think it's safe to say we all need it.
May all beings be healthy
May all beings be happy
May all beings be loved
May all beings be safe and free from harm
With an extra-tender heart, and with much gratitude,
P.S. To be superheroes, all we need to do is keep taking care of one another.