I don’t know why but yesterday I was feeling particularly depressed and anxious. Maybe it’s the whole not smoking thing. Maybe it’s because driving into work through a snow storm and seeing other cars off the road made me edgy. Maybe it’s the sounds of hammering, sanding and scraping over my shoulder from the contractors redoing our outer office. Maybe part of it is that I didn’t sleep very well the night before and was just more tired than usual. But I could feel my heart beating a little faster, I was shifting around in my chair, and nervously tapping my foot. And then I started feeling bad about feeling bad.
Sometimes the depression and the anxiety sneak up on me. I’ll go days or even a week or two feeling great, reveling in the signs of improvement, not realizing I’m being stalked, that the depression and anxiety haven’t gone anywhere, but have been laying low and biding their time.
Since yesterday was Groundhog Day it made me think about seeing shadows- images created by blocking out the light. Depression is a shadow- it blocks the light and creates a dark projection of how we see ourselves. It can be a distorted image, elongated or flattened, a warped version of ourselves. A shadow can be frightening, an unfamiliar or unexpected silhouette. Think of this famous image of the vampire in Nosferatu.
Depression and mental illness cast a dark shadow. But it’s important to remember that the shadow is just a space where light is being blocked by an object. The object is what we need to confront- not the shadow it projects. When you see depression’s shadow, turn around. Face it. Breathe.
I’ve found that I’m at my most miserable when I don’t face the depression. When I allow myself to dwell in the shadows of depression, I get lost. When I step into the light and face the depression it gets better. Stepping into the light means being open about how you’re feeling. It means asking for help from family and friends. Trying to understand that depression doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong or need to feel guilty for your low mood. Understanding that you’re facing something that can be treated. You can treat depression with medication, with therapy, with meditation. You can exercise, you can try and get some more sleep. There are steps to take that will make the depression and it’s shadow fade and shrink.
So yesterday I saw depression’s shadow, but today, I’m stepping out of it.