Hold Your Happiness Close. Hold Your Depression Even Closer.

I just heard a story on the radio about a woman who travels alone in places like Sudan and the Phillipines in areas where rebels of all different kinds live. She told a couple of stories of how she handled herself when faced by a group of teenage men with guns. She would march up to them and say, "I am so glad to see you!"

It utterly confused and disarmed them. The gang in Washington ushered her to the subway, all the while warning her against walking alone in the area she was in. In the Philippines she ransacked every house in the village for sugar and coffee, and when they arrived she said, "I am so glad you finally came." She served them coffee, and they went away without damaging anything.

It reminds me of a story Grace Paley, the author, once told at some gathering or another. She said she came home to her house to find a young man with a gun standing in her kitchen. "You look hungry," she said. "Can I get you something to eat?" And that's what she did and then he left, taking whatever it was he found, but leaving her alone.

What does this have to do with depression? I am thinking about the negative thoughts we terrorize ourselves with. Sometimes, I think, it does no good to fight them. They want you to fight them, and if you try, they win. But you can really confuse them if you say, "What took you so long to get here?" Invite your terrorists in and give them coffee, and they will be so confused, they'll leave without hurting you nearly so much.

For me, this is a mindfulness technique. I learned it the hard way. I fought and fought and fought. I had been trying to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques and I lost, and the more I lost, the more I blamed myself for losing, and the worse it got. Finally, I had to give up. And when I did; when I no longer devoted all my energy to fighting my depression, it didn't have as much to hold onto, and much of it slipped past without grabbing me. 

Now my attitude is that my depression is a wonderful thing. Not because it doesn't hurt. It hurts like hell. But it is wonderful because it teaches me so much. But the funny thing is that now, when I embrace my guest and offer it a beer, it isn't so interested in hanging around. I guess it's not the touchy-feely type.

wundayatta wundayatta 56-60, M 19 Responses May 19, 2010

Your Response


I love this story! It is very empowering! And the idea of embracing your depression instead of fighting it is brilliant-when we fight something, it only strengthens that which we are fighting.

I liked your story :) Very interesting.
I tried just letting it be, I didn't bother fighting it but instead I met up with Insomnia. :

It is also bullshit.

Loved your post, inspiring and entertaining! I will keep that in mind cause I am currently battling depression and I don't think I am winning. lol

what a wonderful story. i agree with you completely. and am often trying to explain this to others...which is why i don't like the 'battle' in the title of this group...

My depressions scare the **** out of my wife. I tend to take them out on her, mostly, I think, because I feel like I don't deserve her when I'm depressed. Part of it, to be honest, is because I don't want her, either. I keep thinking that if I were alone, I could either find someone else who wants to **** as much as I do (which is the only thing I can imagine saving me at that time), or I'll fail, and just fail out of life -- a thought that doesn't seem to bother me much. Sort of.

TOCIC it takes constant work to let that sit in my house. It's never far from my mind, as you can see by my other stories about it. It infuses just about everything with its darkening presence. And yet I play with it. I don't exactly know what that means -- the image that comes to mind is one of milking a cow. A rather recalcitrant cow. Yet, there are times when we go out in the field, and it is contented from the grass it has eaten, and it'll even let my try to get up on it's back.

It doesn't like that, of course, so it spins around and tries to throw me, but since I've never gotten on it, I can't really fall off it. And it's just a cow. At least, at the moment it is. I suppose it could change gender. Then it would be dangerous.

But it's a house cow, right now. And it even gives me milk. For that, I am very grateful.

Thank you for sharing that story. It helps so much to read it. I have found myself these past 3 weeks embracing my depression as it rears its ugly head. I even told myself as these episodes arise I would feel them as fully as if they were a good day. And it has worked for me very well. I too have used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques in the past. But this time I felt different going into this. Its almost as though I instinctively knew it would just be easier on me to feel it and deal with those feelings as the most effective way to positive healing. It makes more since to me, to not fight the feeling; so to speak. This bout of depression comes from a break up of a 17 year long relationship. I know I am better off without him in the long run it is just something I have to deal with. So now I have more time to take care of me for a change.

Thanks Again.


Oh God, what to do? TOCIC, thank you for saying that. As uncomfortable as it makes me (and the desire to deny it is very strong). But I am truly grateful you feel that way.

Although I do not feel as secure about this embracing of my depression as you seem to perceive me. It is and always will be an uncomfortable dance on an icy dance floor with sudden dips or heights. I don't love my depression, but at times I embrace it because I can't fight it. And it does teach me a lot (even if I'd rather learn those lessons some other way). I know now that there are things I can't control or even fight. I have to acknowledge that it is counter-productive to try to fight it (because other people say I should) when I can't.

In a way, that, too gives me strength. I am accepting my difference from many others, and accepting that I have a different way and that it is ok to have a different way. Or that *I* am ok with having a different way. Both of those things are signs of building self-esteem.

Still, I'm glad you find it a helpful idea. I do very much want to be helpful to others -- part of my own building self-esteem process.

Thank you so much, midnightmuse!

wundayatta, thankyou... your thoughts are so very elegant and are extremely powerful.

What else to say to you...? :)

warmest wishes

Lol, you make me feel so shallow and the positive attitude you take on and the acceptance you have of yourself is just infectious. Sweet story =p

Great post. Depression can't even come close to such a good writer. :)

Wow, PersepolisLost! What an interesting question. Can I reproduce my self-talk now that I'm at such a remove from it?

I'll try. So I'm feeling like ****. There is a heavy hollowness in my stomach and some other kind of weight on my chest. Wherever I look, it seems like there is some kind of darkness lurking. 'What is wrong with me? Why do I feel this way? There must be something wrong with me. There is something wrong with me. I'm a worthless piece of ****.

Whoa there, wundy, remember your techniques. Ok, so I'm not really a worthless piece of ****. But why do I feel this way? Isn't reminding myself that I'm not really worthless supposed to help? But it isn't. Why isn't it? Why can't I make this work? I'm an even more worthless piece of **** than I thought.

I should just make everything fall apart. It's all I deserve. I don't deserve my wife and my kids and my house and a good job. There's something wrong with this. A person with that much good fortune does not feel this way. But I do feel this way. Why? Why can't my wife understand? Why can't she love me more? Because I'm not lovable, that's why? And why aren't I a published writer? Because my writing stinks is why. I'm just deluding myself when I think I'm any good, at anything.

This is all a fraud and a fake. Why doesn't anyone see that? ....


So the next time my wife is around, I might pick a fight:

Saying: Do you love me? Do you really love me? No, you don't love me. How could you love me. You'd be better off without me.

Thinking: if she kicked me out, I could fall apart. I'd have to find an apartment. Get a car. But I'd stop taking my meds. I'm sick of my meds and if I can handle it fine and if not, fine. Let me stop going to work, and let me have no money and lose my apartment, and let me go homeless. You know (speaking to myself), there's that granite curb in the Bowery, the one with all the fish guts in it, just waiting for you to lie in it. And besides, if you are on your own, maybe you'll meet someone online. Maybe you'll find someone who likes sex who knows how to love you and who will make you feel better, who will knock away the self-hatred and make me feel ok about myself.

Oh you're dreaming. You know you can't write. And if you don't have a wife, no one else will love you, and you're old and fat and they say they like brains but who are they kidding? Six-pack abs. That's the ticket.


So this kind of obsessive, circular thinking is making me feel worse and worse. I create deadends wherever I look.


I realized, one day, that I must like depression. I liked how it felt like I was part of a band of special people who could not run from their minds. Being bipolar, I also liked the idea that we're supposed to be smarter than most people. Bipolar is the intelligent people's disorder. But the specialness had a drama to it. It made me feel like things mattered.

But the other thing was that being depressed was the only time in my life that I felt like I could let myself off the hook. And I was tired. Not that I have a difficult life -- far from it. But I never let myself have a break. I was always after myself for my failings.

Depression gave me an excuse. Oh. This is why I feel like a failure. Oh. This is why I can't do this or do that. Ah. I don't have to beat myself up so much for failing on accountta I can't control my brain chemistry. I mean, I could, but that takes so much work, and I haven't even begun, and anyway, most people can't handle it.

So it's ok to not do the taxes. Ok to let my son not do his practice. Ok to order out instead of cooking, ok to ask my wife to let me pass on her agenda.


Well, that's what I'd think. I wouldn't do that. But just for a moment, I could let go.


Eventually, though, the pain got to be too much. I could no longer fight. I was overwhelmed.

So, after talking to some people in my group, I let go. I *was* depressed. I felt it all -- all the overwhelmingness of it. And I didn't try to stop the suicidal thoughts. Every time there was a chance to feel bad, I took it. I no longer felt I had to fight it, nor could I fight it. It was really scary. It's still scary to think about. Every cell in my body screams to me that I should fight. But I couldn't fight. It didn't work. And I fell over the waterfall.

To be honest, I don't know what happened then, and I hesitate to try to make it up. All I know is that some time later I could look up, and realize my chest wasn't weighed down so much. I had a tiny bit of forgiveness for myself -- for my failings. I could accept that being the one who had to save the world was a truly crazy idea, but even more importantly, I didn't feel like that was the test of my life any more.

And many other things are going on throughout all this. Therapy sessions, real life, music, dance, exercise. So it's not as if that's the only thing I did. And I wasn't even aware of the lightening of my load at the time. It was just later that I had this realization that that moment where I gave in was a turning point.

You know that idea from Buddhist philosophy where they say the way to find something is to give up looking for it? Usually we think this in conjunction with finding a mate, but in the dance with depression, it seems similar. The tricky thing is that you can't fake giving up. You really have to give up. You have to totally believe you are incapable and it's not going to happen.

Actually, I'm not sure about that. That's how it was for me. I truly gave up. I'm not sure if I can practice giving up, although it does seem like it's a little easier now. I take a deep breath and remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, this doesn't matter. Then I let the breath go after holding it for a bit.

I'm sure in proper practice you breathe in steadily and out steadily, but I do it in a whoosh, because it gets me to loosen my shoulders, and when I loosen my shoulders, it's harder to feel that weight that is always there. And even the emptiness in my stomach gets unsettled. Maybe some of it empties out (empty the emptiness and there's less emptiness!)


So that's a small part of it. What's it like for you?

Thank you, aproudwoman! :-)

Of course, I am taking off the Sun-Tzu quote, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." He meant to know your enemies even better than your friends, because you would be better able to defend yourself from the enemies if you knew them well. I think he was talking about knowledge, not physical proximity.

Insofar as depression is an enemy, I think we would do well to know it as best we can. It affects all of us slightly differently, but perhaps more to the point, because of differences in all our personalities, we have different relationships to depression.

For some, a little dose of reality helps diffuse depression's power. They learn how to think thoughts that counter the false thoughts of depression. It works for some. It didn't work for me.

I always knew what reality was, and I knew that my thinking and feeling had nothing to do with reality, but that knowledge did not help me feel any less moved by my depression. My efforts at countering depression's reality were doomed from the start. But since I believed I was supposed to be able to move it through thought alone, I thought there was something wrong with me that I couldn't do that. That made me angry at my own incompetence and failure, which made me feel even less worthy, which made the depression that much stronger.

I got my first true depression late in life -- I was 51. But I had experienced a smaller measure when I was in college. At that time, I was able to think, 'hmmmm. This is interesting. Let me just "enjoy" it for now. I know it will go away." God knows how I knew that then. But I did sit back and "enjoy" my depression, as if it were a story happening to someone else. It lost a lot of its power that way, I think.

Thirty some odd years later, I was completely unprepared for what I felt. Nothing had even come close to in in my life experience. It grabbed me like an avalanche and tumbled me over and over down the mountain and when I came to rest, I was buried under tons of heavy, compacted snow, and I had precious little air. Like most of us, I came far closer to dying than I ever imagined I would.

PersepolisLost, I wouldn't use the term "deal with it." Perhaps it means something different to you than it does to me. For me, it's just too powerful. I can't fight it, because that makes it more powerful. I can't deal with it at all because all that just makes me believe I'm supposed to be able to deal with it, and when I fail, I am so much worse off.

When I give up the fight, I relax. All those expectations are off my shoulders. I no longer expect to be able to do anything about it. But see? I am relaxing. Which means my anxiety is being reduced and anxiety, of course, fuels depression big time. It's a mental jujitsu trick, I guess. Giving up gives depression less to work with, weakening it. It's just a little weaker, but that can be enough, because it allows you to see that relief is possible, and when you see that, your spirit improves, and thus you are setting up a kind self-reinforcing cyclotron that spins you slowly up through the packed snow that buried you. At least, that's my analysis of it after it happened. I thought none of this while it it. I was just being -- for as long as I could stand being.

Mindfulness techniques probably do pretty much the same thing. They are more formalized and you can get training in them, so they might be easier to put to use that trying to figure it out yourself. I'm one of those stubborn fools who insists on believing no one else can tell me anything that will work for me on its own. I have to work it out for myself. I refused to go to classes. Well, not refused. I just didn't make enough of an effort to actually find a place I could go. I still might take those classes, but not in the context of desperation.

I don't deal with things that are too big for me to deal with. I try to ride them. Like on a surfboard. I keep my eyes out -- trying to see what I can see and learn what I can learn -- and depression was a really informative experience. So much so, that when I am starting to go down, I will think that I'm not going to try to fight (the lesson I learned and forgot), because part of me wants to be depressed. It, perversely, makes me feel alive. Like everything matters. It's life and death, now, and I can't be sure life will win. I'm going down with the ship. It's heroic -- which, in a way, was why I got depressed in the first place. I felt like I was no one's hero. Not even my own. Especially not my own.

I even knew that I mattered to other people. I actually was a "hero" (in the Campbellian sense) for others -- especially my wife and children. But inside I was completely denying any kind of heroism at all. I wasn't even anti-hero. I was merely unhero. Irrelevant.

But depression gave me some measure of relevance. I could be heroically (to mix a metaphor) drowning in the midst of a tornado. I will punish myself suitably for all the harm I caused. I didn't even realize that I was seeing the harm in a microscope. I thought it was really that big.

So a tornado in the ocean is a whirlpool. There I was on the deck of the ship, swirling slowly and grandly and inevitably into the center, where I would be dragged under, never to surface again. The ship is breaking around me; the giant timbers that frame it cracking explosively under the pressure. The sky looms green and heavy, gravid with hail.

I surrender to my fate.

And the whirlpool stops whirling so fast. It flattens out. My ship, broken as it is, is still floating, but on a different course. It seems that somehow, I was the engine powering the whirlpool. I was making it powerful with the power of my efforts to stop it. Drained of that energy, it could no longer .... *I* could no longer pull myself down.

Or rather, it felt like *I* had been doing that. I don't think that's really the case. My depression isn't me. But that's another discussion for another time.

looks like Ep does have some interesting posts after all.

What a wonderful way of looking at things. What a great metaphor for facing depression and negative thoughts.

I do think what you say is true, that you have to accept and acknowledge your negative feelings, before you can begin to "fix the problem". Ignoring your negativity, or denying its presence won't change anything. If anything it will simply start shouting louder and louder.

If you can shed some light on it, see it for what it is, you can start to work on fixing things.

Great story.


I simply adore!