I spent some time last night browsing though some notebooks and study notes from my time in the mental hospital. It was an interesting couple of hours. Tomorrow, I may get out my “Eat, Pray, Love” book that I read while there. It almost looks like a college text book in that I took notes in the margins throughout the entire book. I remember being amazed as I read it because so much of the book went right along with how I was feeling at the time. Anyway, here are some thoughts on some of the things we had covered in group therapy and our daily classes at the hospital.
Dr. Brene Brown stated, “Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” This sounds easy to some. But those of us who battle depression know that telling the story of who we are is hard. We can tell pieces of it, but not to all. We can tell other pieces of it, but only because we have to. We are certainly not courageous enough to tell it all. And we have programmed ourselves to never, ever reach into our hearts to tell our stories. We keep our hearts walled off from others. We even keep our hearts walled off from ourselves. If we never let anyone reach our hearts, then we can’t be hurt and that is our purpose in life – to not be hurt. Ever again.
At some point in our lives we may begin to feel like a loser in a world that prefers superheroes. We see others living their lives in a state of happiness, fulfillment, and success. And we know that is not us. We know we are not smart enough or pretty enough, or tough enough, or athletic enough, or popular enough. No matter what we do, we know that we are just “not enough.” So we learn to make our own superhero capes. We develop the art of pretending, sometimes take up some type of addiction, perfectionism, overworking, sarcasm, or perhaps even apathy. These traits become our capes. We learn to wrap these things around ourselves tightly so that our real selves are not seen and cannot be hurt. These superhero capes are what keep us from having to feel at all because every good and bad thing is deflected by our capes. We become safe in our superhero capes. While wearing our superhero capes, we also discover a treasure trove of masks that can be worn so that others cannot see the real us. Our masks and capes become our protection from the world.
In high school, we were told that we had to care about Algebra when what we really wanted was to learn how to make and keep a real friend. We were told that we must care about Shakespeare when our hearts were breaking because our boyfriend or girlfriend had just broken up with us and we didn’t know how to handle the feelings that were rushing through our heads and hearts. We were told that we must care about Biology, but we were trying to figure out why no one would sit with us in the lunchroom or in the gym. So, we wrapped our superhero capes a little bit tighter and we pretended. We pretended that we cared about Algebra, or Shakespeare, or Biology. We pretended that we didn’t need friends, or we found another boyfriend or girlfriend. and started over. We pretended that we were happy, that we were living. Pretending became our method of survival.
As we get older, we are guided by our perception of the world and our place in it. Depression has a tendency to constrict that perception in a way that limits us so that we cannot see the real world out there. We can only “feel”. Again, we tell ourselves that we are not good enough or smart enough. Sometimes though, it doesn’t matter how smart you are or what you know because your feelings just take over. They rule our perception of the world. We can reach a point where we feel that “Nobody will even notice it if I am no longer here.” At that point, suicide becomes an option. As we dive deeper and deeper into the pits of depression, our options become limited and we may reach the point where we believe that there is no option other than to end our lives. But, even at that point, in most people there is still that tiny little sliver of hope that makes us ask ourselves, “What if I just stay here one more day?” To those who do not recognize the signs of depression, we may still seem like just a normal person. To those people, it would be shocking to learn that we have those feelings of emptiness and uselessness.
While in the hospital, I learned a lot about feelings. In classes, we learned how to express how we really felt through speaking, music, art, and sometimes writing. We learned how to be a good listener and how to be brave enough to begin to tell our own story. In group therapy, nobody was ever allowed to be left out and everyone was worthy merely because they existed. By learning these things, I became brave enough to begin removing my superhero capes and my masks and to share. I learned that it’s ok to tell the truth about who I am (although it has taken me a long time to put this knowledge to use) and it’s ok to forgive myself for being human. I learned to admit that life is hard but that I am capable of doing hard things. I learned that it’s ok to say, “Today, I’m not fine. I need help.” I learned that feelings may still overcome me at times, but that those feelings won’t kill me. I learned that my feelings can be used as guides in my life. My loneliness can be used to help me connect with others. My jealously can be used to show me what I need to do next. My pain acts as a guide to allow me to help other people and my feelings of being overwhelmed can guide me to ask for help. It is no longer necessary to numb my feelings and hide; I can now feel my feelings and share.
THOUGHTS ABOUT MY THOUGHTS: Last night, as I looked though some of my notebooks, I was reminded of the superhero capes and masks that I wore for years. As we had learned about these capes, I don’t think that I truly understood the meaning behind those then and how very important they had been in my life. As I remembered my high school years, I realized what a vast closet of capes and masks that I had owned even at that age and it’s been interesting to think about them again. Writing about them today has reminded me of how terribly long I have lived in a world of depression.
TODAY’S FEELING BAROMETER: Today has begun as a good day so far. I had a good night’s sleep with no nightmares. I had been a bit overwhelmed as I went through my notebooks last night so was really worried about being able to sleep, but I felt uplifted to see how very far I have come in these six years since hospitalization and through therapy. I met a friend from Milledgeville for supper last night and enjoyed our time together. It is nice to go out without that feeling of fear of having to be with people. I also realized this morning as I sat at my computer that I am avoiding writing about my life. Writing about Mom on Sunday was rough. I need some time before I delve back into the personal story.