It is a subject that we don’t like to talk about.
It has many faces and wears many masks. Sometimes we think it is anger but if we have to decorate it or manage it, perhaps it needs something else.
In a life changing moment for me many years ago, my mentor said to me,
You seem to be running from a deep sadness. Your activity seems to be driven by more than desire. What would happen if you turned around and asked the sadness what it had to say?
I was listening to a Bill Moyer’s interview with author Parker Palmer. You can listen to it at this link. I pasted some of the transcript below. Thank you Parker for talking about it and the advise you give.
PALMER: I’ve written about and spoken about the three times I have faced clinical depression– most recently when I was 65 years old. I think it’s a very important thing to talk about partly because it remains a subject of shame in this culture. And I think those of us who have come through to the other side and have a new appreciation for life and its realities need to talk about it on behalf of those that suffer and those who are standing with them.
I got tremendous help from a therapist at one point, in one of my depressions, who said to me, “Parker, you seem to keep treating this experience as if depression were the hand of an enemy trying to crush you. Would it be possible to re-image depression as the hand of a friend trying to press you down to ground on which it’s safe to stand?”
Well, those words didn’t mean much to me immediately because when you’re there you can’t hear that kind of counsel. But they grew on me, those words did. And I started to understand that in my case this very situational depression that I had fallen into, not the result of bad genetics or brain chemistry gone awry, but the result of getting crosswise with some of my own truth had resulted from my living at altitude.
I was living in my intellect. I was living in my ego. I was living in a kind of up, up, and away spirituality. And I was living in a set of ethics that didn’t really have anything to do with what my, how I intersected with the world-
BILL MOYERS: I don’t understand that.
PARKER PALMER: -rightfully and properly. Well-
BILL MOYERS: You mean you’re a hypocrite?
PARKER PALMER: Yeah. I was living by oughts that weren’t mine to act out. I mean, there are a million oughts in the world. There’s a million ways in which I ought to be serving the world. But the ways I’m gifted to serve and the opportunities that come to me to serve are not a million. They’re more like one, two, three, four dozen over the course of a 70-year journey. And so when you live at elevation and you trip and fall, as most of us do every day, you have a long way to fall. And it might kill you.
BILL MOYERS: What do you do when you hit bottom? PARKER PALMER: Well, nothing for quite a while. And people sometimes say depression is like being lost in the dark. My experience is it’s more like becoming the dark. You don’t have a sense of self any longer with which you can stand back and say, “Oh, I have this disease and it, too, will pass.”
The voice of depression takes over. And all you can hear is the darkness which is you. And I think what you learn at that point is a couple things. One is there’s huge virtue in simply getting out of bed in the morning, by which I mean learning to value the fact that you can take one step at a time.
The second thing you learn is that you need other people. You don’t need their advice. You don’t need their fixes and saves. But you need their presence. I sometimes liken standing by someone who is in depression as being like the experience of sitting at the bedside of a dying person because depression is a kind of death, as is addiction and other serious forms of mental illness.
You have to be with that person in an unafraid way. Not invading them with your fixes, not hooking them up to wires or whatever the non-medical equivalent of that is, giving them advice, but simply saying to them with your very presence, your physical presence, your psychological presence, your spiritual presence, I am not afraid of being with you on this journey of the — at the end of this road.
There’s a lot of darkness out there. And there’s a lot of lost-ness. And there’s a lot of people feeling that their lives are over. We need to learn to be present to one another in listening ways, in compassionate ways