Embracing Your Shadow
When I was thirty-three years old, I had my first serious tango with suicidal ideation. I had experienced depression before that, but nothing like what I went through this time. I felt lost in the world. I felt deeply fatigued and depleted. I had no motivation. I slept a lot. Life seemed pointless. I remember thinking, “I go to work to make money to buy food, which turns to poop. Then I go to the bathroom, flush it down the toilet, and do it all again. What is the point of being here?“ That’s how grim it was.
Even to write about this is no fun. Sitting down to write this, I watched my mind get distracted. I wrote the first paragraph and promptly went to the kitchen to cook something. Then I went over to the neighbor’s house for a quick visit. My mind does not like to revisit uncomfortable experiences, hence the distraction. As much as my mind would rather write about anything but this, my heart has a deep desire to share this because it may be helpful to someone, which is mostly the impetus for everything I write.
It is now twenty-two years later, and my last bout with depression was four years ago. I can’t say how I know, but I am certain that I will never again experience the kind of depression I dealt with off and on for the better part of my adult life. I am also confident that suicidal ideation will never return. I guess I could say I have transmuted or exhausted, healed, or transformed that pattern within me.
I wish I could tell you exactly how I did it. I wish I had a formula that would work for everyone reading this. The truth is, I don’t. The one thing that saved me is that I truly believed (and still do) that taking my life would not solve anything. I see life as a journey of evolution of the soul. I believed that taking my life would be a digression, leaving my soul with more homework, and I did not want that. I had a strong desire to face whatever was underlying this depression and transform it.
Self-Love And Determination
It took years and a lot of determination. I had more bouts of depression after that one and more encounters with suicidal ideation. I was not depressed every day. I could experience long periods completely free from depression. I would dance with the devil four more times before our dance was done. One time was because of extreme frustration and dissatisfaction in a relationship, another time, it was due to an existential crisis and deeply buried pain. Twice, it was brought to the surface on the coattails of heartbreak.
The roots of my depression were deep. They were in my blood, in my DNA, and in my cellular memory. I do not believe the events in my life caused the depression, and I believe the events pushed an already existing pattern or predisposition to the surface. Looking back, I marvel at my soul, spirit, heart, and highest self, pushing this pain pattern to the surface for me to transform. It was so heavy, deeply buried, and embedded that it took a tsunami of emotion to bring it to the surface.
Both my Mother and Father were labeled as bipolar. After suffering a decade of deep mental anguish, pain, and confusion, my Mother, unable to find a solution, decided to end her life. At the time, she was forty, and I was nineteen. I have never determined what brought my Mother’s imbalance to the surface, but I do know that she had an epigenetic predisposition to suicide and depression in her paternal bloodline. In the case of my Father, it is my understanding that it was a deeply buried childhood trauma that threw him off balance. It was an inaccessible wound that festered over time.
Looking back at my depression, I would say the depression itself was not the root problem. I see depression as a signal calling my attention to something deep within. It was the pain itself (my pain and the pain in my bloodlines) asking to be seen, felt, honored, and acknowledged. It was sitting on my self-love, squeezing all the air out of me until I cried, uncle. At the same time, I was being asked to recognize this pattern; I was being asked to surrender. Not surrender as in giving up, but surrender as in giving myself to love.
The very thing that was seeking my attention was also sitting right on the remedy - self-love. Does this make sense? We tend to think of the shadow or our unfavored patterns and aspects as wrong, bad, or evil. The truth is, they are calling forth our attention. It may be dramatic sometimes, but sometimes we are so shut down or unaware that without the dramatic display, we would not see it. It’s akin to tough love from our unconscious, attempting to make our conscious aware of something.
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It’s like we have a built-in scuba diver that dives deep into the waters of our unconscious and brings us buried treasure disguised as shit. We see it and say, “I don’t want to look at that shit; it stinks, “or “ That shit is too painful to look at. “ Maybe we say, “ I don’t want to look at that shit, it just makes me sad, “or “ That shit makes me angry! “ The scuba diver doesn’t tell you that inside the shit is pure gold.
What I mean by that is that if you are willing to have a look at your shadow when it is brought to your attention, there are many gifts there. In some cases, you may find complete and utter resolve. In other cases, you may find a way to live a full life even though your sorrow stays with you. I have a friend whose daughter ended her life less than a decade ago. I cannot speak for her, but I see she has not stopped living. She travels, plays music, creates art, and writes, dances, and sings. She connects with her friends and family. Does that mean that her wound is completely healed? No, it doesn’t, but it means that she carries her wound with grace and takes the lead in her dance of life. She has been brave enough to allow her grief to have a voice and a place without it swallowing her whole.
Grit And Grace
We are not here to be perfect. We are here to thrive, love, learn, feel, and experience all that life offers and teaches us. We do not consciously conjure up suffering to gain wisdom, but surely we see how some of our most challenging experiences have wrought the most wisdom. I often talk about spinning our challenges and experiences into gold. Through our patience, dedication, resilience, allowance, grace, willingness to be real about what is, and to face our suffering head-on, we give ourselves innumerable gifts. We become our own beacon of light, an alchemist, and a beacon of light for others.
I am so grateful that I never gave up. I am grateful that my suicidal ideations never became actions. I have deep gratitude for the gift of life. I have had many, many trials and tribulations in life. I don’t carry them as burdens; I don’t wear them as badges of honor. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I have immeasurable wisdom, even if it only serves me. What little wisdom I do have that can be shared, I share. I am not yelling from mountain tops to be recognized for my wisdom. Instead, I am writing a simple blog post and setting my intention that this message finds just the right person at just the right time.
I am combining my passion for writing with my love for humanity and infusing it with humility and grace. I am sending out a prayer on the wings of love that the gold I have spun from my life be the spark that lights the flame in the heart of another in their darkest hour. If you are someone who has experienced depression or if you are dealing with depression right now, my prayer for you is that the wings of love and grace lift you. I pray that no matter what you have experienced that has you all twisted up inside, you are brought to the light and embraced by a deep love for yourself.
Innumerable people have been so profoundly traumatized that they have blocked it out of their minds as a survival response. Because of that, they never directly face their trauma, directing the course of their life from behind the scenes. This is why Carl Jung said,
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.”
In other cases, a person may be fully aware of their trauma yet unable to face it. This leads to various forms of addiction (to cover the pain), unhealthy relationships (with self and others), and many problems that complicate life.
Instead of putting energy toward their transformation, the same energy is diverted into a continual pattern of the struggle for survival, putting out fires, and avoiding pain. It takes courage and bravery to face yourself and your trauma, wounds, and pain. It’s an infestation buried in our fascia, tissues, and cellular memory. We store it both in our physical and emotional bodies, and it keeps getting repeatedly activated, sending us a call for help.
Stigma, Shame, And Judgement
Depression comes with a stigma. The stigma can come from society, friends, family, and even yourself. People with depression often experience shame. Not only do they have to deal with their shame, but sometimes the shame their family members might project onto them. I found out long after my Mother passed that she had been committed for a brief stay at a care facility and my Grandmother ( then her caretaker) never told anyone. When I found out, I was livid. I was livid because I could not imagine my mother's pain when no friends or family came to visit her and how isolated and unloved she must have felt.
I do not blame my Grandmother. I know she was affected by society’s misperceptions, and her shame resulted from that. She also carried guilt, having felt that my Mother’s predicament was her fault. She said that she knew that her husband’s bloodline (my Grandfather) had a history of suicide and mental illness, and she believed that knowing this, she should not have had children. What a heavy burden she placed on herself. I can not imagine all she must have suffered; her shame, her guilt, watching her daughter suffer for years on end and then eventually losing her when she jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.
My point here is mainly to convey that if you suffer from depression, there is nothing wrong with you. You may not like how you feel, but that does not mean something is inherently wrong with you. It means you are in pain. I have not met a human yet who has lived life 100% free from suffering. Have you? And for family members of depressed people who may be reading this, please unburden yourself and your depressed loved one of any shame or guilt; it only serves to compound an already existing challenge.
While you may feel you are isolated and alone in your depression, you are not. Millions of people all over the world experience depression. Let’s face it; we live in a complex world full of all sorts of things that are downright depressing. It can make you feel absolutely hopeless. It is necessary and useful to focus on what is going right in the world, and once you set your sights in that direction, you will find it's endless.
It is important not to distract yourself with things that offer you superficial and temporary joy but to find something that you can tune into that gives you profound meaning while bringing joy to the surface. Nature is a big one for me. Its healing properties are tangible and undeniable. For those who love science, it is scientifically proven that connection to nature improves mental and physical health.
When someone is deeply depressed, the last thing they want to do is be with people. We don’t want to be a downer or dampen the joy of others. We also do not want others to see us in a state of dark depression. I have isolated myself for long periods of time in the past. I spent days in bed, weeks alone, and months without socializing at all. I get it. I will say though, that the times when I opened up to those I felt safe with, they absolutely stepped up with their love and support. I can think of a couple of times when my friends literally saved my life.
My friends have repeatedly stepped up to offer their love and support in many ways. It has been their kindness and caring that have carried me through the darkness. They were also there on the other side when it was time to play and have fun. I have never felt their judgment, only their capacity for compassion, generosity, and grace.
Vulnerability Is Healing
The remedy for many things is often their opposite. For example, it’s helpful to open up if you feel closed up. Being vulnerable and honest about how you feel relieves a lot of pressure, and it helps you not feel alone and isolated. It allows others to step in and support you. Throughout my life, I have had the honor of being there for many people during very dark times.
Knowing that someone trusts you enough to be vulnerable with you in the face of mental anguish and heartache is truly a gift. The people who trust you with their lives will never forget your love and support. You will never forget their trust and the courage in their vulnerability.
The Silver Lining
Depression and all its facets can not fully be addressed in a blog post. My approach here was not to pretend to have solutions; I intend to create a safe place to open the door to your compassion and vulnerability gently. Whether you are suffering from depression or connected to someone who is, it is your love and compassion that will unlock the doors that lead to the path of self-discovery. Life is full of mystery, pain, heartache, and also full of beauty, joy, and, dare I say, magic!
What I feel is important as I walk down the road of life is to honor myself, love myself, be patient and gentle with myself, and not be so judgemental. The things I have discovered within myself while living with depression are beautiful and profound. I have been able to take what I have learned and utilize it in my life, not only for my benefit but for the benefit of others.
Never take for granted whom or how your hard-earned wisdom may benefit another at some point. It’s not about having all the answers; it is about allowing life to unfold and teach you. Though you may want to push suffering to the ground and hide it away, she can be a great teacher with the right lens and an open heart.
She asks, not that you wallow with her in a pit of gloom and doom, but that you take her hand, so she can show you the way to trust, to your beauty, and ultimately to love. We cloak suffering in a cape of tattered, scratchy, unbearable material. It merely takes a shift of perspective to see that her cloak is lined in silver, and hidden within are gifts that can transport you to beautiful places you never thought you would discover.
A Place For Reflection
If you have been engaging with the creative activations in previous blogs and wish to do so this time, below are some questions you can reflect on or write about. I like to call these questions “Creative Activations.”
Is depression part of your life either personally or for someone you care about?
What is your attitude toward depression?
Do you isolate yourself, and if so, why?
Do you judge yourself or someone dealing with depression, and why?
Do you wish to cultivate more profound compassion for yourself or someone you care about, and how might you go about this?
Are you covering your depression with any of the following: distraction, addiction, co-dependent relationships, or something else? Is it helping?
How might you reframe your view about depression, and what would that look, like, feel like?
Do you feel depression makes you unworthy of love (including your own)? Why? Do you think that your belief is true? How does your belief serve you?
How might you begin to take steps to be more honest with yourself and others about your depression? What would make you feel safe enough to do that?
Do you feel it is shameful to reach out? Why? Do you think your belief is true? Why or why not?
Last but not least, if for any reason, you wish to reach out to discuss/explore your depression, you can reach me. You have all my respect and compassion. Be gentle with yourself.