Have you been guilty of letting something or somebody take away your joy?
Lucinda Williams has something to say about that:
Don’t you ever do that again, ok? Grab on to joy and hang on to it for dear life. Don’t be giving that shit away.
Last fall I went to the mother of all flea markets around these parts of Texas–Canton. I bought some Christmas decorations, one of which was a metal sign that simply says “Joy.” I also bought this door mat at Target: After the holidays, as I gathered up my decorations to store for next year, I hesitated as I begin taking down the sign on my fence and thought that joy was probably a good thing to be reminded of all year long, not just at Christmas. So I left it, and the doormat. It pleases me to look at them. They are my own personal shrines.
I like the word “Joy” because, unlike “Happiness,” joy seems point to something a little different. Maybe something more profound? Joy springs from within, and the feeling refuses to be contained. Like you have to jump up and down you can’t stand still–jumping for joy, or bubbles that rise to the top of a ice cold coke, or a big bear hug from someone you love, and oh, have missed so! I tend to burst out in song when I cannot contain myself. It’s a joyful noise. Another favorite is to dance, which is why I love my Jazzercise classes so. Pure joy…You could argue the same thing about happiness, I guess, but you go and ahead and knock yourself out if you’d like to do that. I’m sticking with joy.
These days I have a lot of joy down deep in my heart. When I look at that sign on the back fence, or I step across the doormat in my garage, I am reminded how very grateful I am for the source of that joy: A beautiful, rich life filled with people whom I love and that love me. Because, you see, not so very long ago I didn’t want to go on with this beautiful life. I had lost the ability to see my life for what it is; a gift, a miracle. I was so depressed, and had been for so long, that I had run out of steam. Hope was gone. I had given away my joy.
Prolonged clinical depression will do that to a soul. It wears you out, beats you down, exhausts any emotional reserves. You have nothing left to give, no fuel to keep your motor running. I do not even like writing about depression because it causes me to go places in my head to which I prefer not to travel. It makes my heart heavy. So, when I am not dealing with a bout of depression I prefer to ignore that this disease/disorder is my experience. It’s shameful, I hate myself for it.
I realize I risk judgement by those who read my admission, but it no longer matters so much to me. I want to be of help to someone who may suffer as I do. To borrow the phrase from my gay brothers and sisters, I am here to tell you that it does get better. You just have to hang on until it does.
If you have ever experienced deep clinical depression or love someone who has, you may have been guilty of saying one of the things listed below. Or you may have said these things to yourself. It is out of your love and concern for your depressed loved one that this stuff comes out of your mouth, I know. You want them to feel better, be better.
So, here is a short list of what people would say to me to “cheer me up,” as well as internal responses to their “encouragement.”
- Count your blessings; name them one-by-one.
- You have so much to be grateful for! (I have so much to be grateful for. What is wrong with me?)
- What did you think life was going to be like? You are so spoiled. * (I am so spoiled. Look how lucky I am.)
- Grow up, deal with it.*
- Snap out of it!* (Snap out of it! Get over yourself!)
- You are no fun when you get like this. * (I am not coming out of my room/apartment/house until I feel better because I am no fun when I am depressed.)
- Everyone gets the blues. You’ll be ok.
- If you had enough faith you would… (I am the worst Christian ever.)
(I am the piece of shit the world revolves around.**)
I would like to offer a word of advice to you loved ones of the depressed person: Just be there and witness the pain. Hold his hand, look at her in the face and nod your head. Hand him tissues. Keep listening, and practice loving her. Be present. It’s incredibly powerful for the one who is suffering to be heard and loved in the midst of a most unloveable time in his or her life. When a loved one says she doesn’t think she can keep going because it’s so painful, hold her close and say, “I know, I know. That is how you’re feeling right now. I love you. I am here. I am not going away.” Resist the urge to say any of the above listed things.
And then stay there.
There has been much written lately about clinical depression and the brain. Neuroscience is a growing, exciting niche in the medical field. New technologies allow for brain scans and for scientists to be able to study the brain in a way that’s never been possible before. We can see what happens in the brain of a depressed person. We can scientifically prove what had previously been theoretical. This is great news for us depression-prone folks. “See, I am not making this up–here’s proof!” I can tell you that this has taken some of the guilt out of suffering from depression (see #8).
Over the years I have read everything I could get my hands on about depression. An entire shelf in my library is full of books on the subject. Thomas Moore wrote some beautiful words on the subject. Kay Redfield Jamison wrote eloquently and bravely about living with bi-polar disorder. I have learned about anger and rage and hate and all that rot, and how they relate to depression. I’ve been in therapy for 20 odd years on and off. I exercise daily, I maintain a reasonably healthy diet, I limit my wine intake (ouch), and keep a regular sleeping pattern. I reach out instead of withdrawing. I take my meds even though I hate that I need them. I “think positive.”
And still, still…sometimes no matter what I do, the depression creeps up on me, and, bam! I find myself in the midst of a depressive episode. Oh, it is just so awful and dreadfully familiar. It seems to get harder and harder to climb out of the deep, dark well the older I get. Luckily, so far I have managed to scratch and claw my way up. Thank you, God. It gets better.
Over the last several years my therapist has told me many times that I “give away my power.” What the hell does she mean? I would ask myself. I struggled to understand. But when I heard this song, the truth of what Lucinda Williams was trying to say began to dawn on me.
“You took away my joy and I want it back,” Lucinda growls. She, like me, realizes that it belongs to her. She defiantly reclaims it.
I am not looking for my joy/power in West Memphis or Slidell, and, I suspect, neither is Lucinda. It is inside and it is mine. I am hanging on to that shit for dear life.
*Not everyone was so nice about it. She shall remain nameless.
**Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year