I’ve been a little depressed lately.
Wait…did I say that out loud?
Doesn’t matter. It’s true either way. That’s right. I’m a therapist, and I’ve been depressed lately. It’s actually remarkable how predictable this sort of thing is for me.
A primary role I played in my family of origin was to carry a great deal of the family pain. Like a lightning rod, I attempted to act as a conduit for all of our collective distress, and to ground it within myself. But of course, I had no deep reservoir of life experience and no centeredness of soul to accomplish all this, and frankly, just nowhere to go with all that pain. Most of the time, I ended up internalizing it and organizing it under the heading, “Proof I’m not worth too much.”
Something broke in me around October of 1995, when I was about 15-16 years old. All that family pain I was carrying became overwhelming, and I lost the will to live with it. Rather than turning directly suicidal, I began to act out, and to find ways to medicate the pain. The depression I feel around this time of year is my body’s way of honoring all of that, and helping me to remember the journey that I’ve been on.
Here are three things I’ve learned dealing with depression each year for roughly the past twenty:
- Befriend Your Pain: Once upon a time I think I tried to fight all of this off, mostly for fear that it would consume me. Indeed, the origin of my struggle is precisely that – feeling overwhelmed by my pain and desiring to get rid of it. These days, however, I see my pain as a friend – the kind of friend who isn’t always easy to hear from, but who always has something worthwhile to say. I’m not being morbid or saying that I like to wallow – I’m just saying that this part of me that is wounded is worth taking the effort to sit with, and isn’t something I should compulsively avoid. It is, after all, part of me.
- Look for Support: Invariably, I pass through this season of depression each year and out the other side. It does not swallow me up and I do not fold or lose my mind. Though I think this would be true anyhow, the pain is so much easier to tolerate with the support of others. I have friends, colleagues, mentees, mentors, and more. But I can’t go crashing into a depressive period and then expect myself to be able to forge all of this support right then and there. It has greatly helped me to actively pursue supportive relationships when I am not depressed (i.e., the rest of the year).
- It Gets Easier: As a result of befriending my pain and building in support, I can honestly say that my depressive streaks are shorter and more tolerable with each passing year. I was on anti-depressants in my mid-twenties for depressive streaks that lasted for months at a time, and now, as I approach forty, I’m able to withstand what is typically less than a week’s worth of depression simply by talking with my therapist, my friends, and engaging in worthwhile spiritual and meditative practice. I don’t know if it is ever “easy,” but it can…get…easier.
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Ryan Thomas Neace, MA, LPC, NCC, CCMHC, is the founder of Change, Inc., the premier counseling and wellness center of South City, St. Louis, MO. Contact him for counseling at 314-669-6242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.