OK, I’ll let you know right up front that this is a post about depression, but hopefully not a depressing one. Maybe I should tell a little story to lighten the mood: My wife had this ceramic piggy bank as a kid; it was a foot tall, a half inch thick and weighed about ten pounds empty. It really was a big plaster pig, now painted black. These days we think of it as a large, chipped, seedy and rather ugly looking relic. She didn’t want it later in life but her parents kept it around and kept feeding it coins.
So we were doing some cleanup work over at my mother-in-law’s condo last weekend and my wife had brought back the piggy bank, recently emptied of some twenty pounds of coins. I left it near the trash bag in the garage. As we drove away, my wife and daughter-in-law were discussing the pig and agreeing that “someone” should throw it out; then the car went silent and I knew who that someone was. “OK.” I said. “I’ve put down two dogs in my life; I guess I can put down a ceramic pig.” An explosion of laughter ensued, including mine, and at that moment I knew something else, I was coming out of the dark.
I read a great story in Guideposts the other day by Gloria Estefan, about her own experiences after a horrible traffic accident while on tour that could have left her unable to walk and possibly destroyed her career. And now she’s a joyful Grandmother of a ten month old and still enjoying a great singing career. She didn’t let the accident and her circumstances defeat her; she leaned on her determination and the love of her family and eventually she came out of the dark, and wrote the song.
I feel a little like that song title today, after nearly five years of living in the dark, of living in a tough place personally. I’ve always let what other people say about me influence how I feel about myself; I think we all do that to some degree because we feel good about compliments we receive, and most of us take to heart constructive criticism and improve ourselves by applying what we’ve heard. The problem comes when we let ill-intentioned words and misguided perceptions influence our self-esteem, self-image, and self-confidence. I had fallen into that trap.
After a series of events over the past five years, and a recent flaming and judgmental email in which I was tried, convicted and sentenced before being given the opportunity to explain myself, and last week’s follow up letter, I found myself in a cave, one I’d already been in for a long time, only deeper than before. I suspect that is exactly where the person wanted me to be – ill-intentioned words and misguided perceptions had the desired effect and I let them push me into the darkest place I had ever been in my life. An unlit cave can be extremely uncomfortable, scary even. I know because I’ve actually been in one. A total absence of light, you can’t see your finger touching your nose.
That person challenged, no, taunted me to respond, and asserted that I probably wouldn’t because I just didn’t have the guts. How did I respond? I didn’t. I just stewed about it. But then, after a couple of wasted days, I took up the challenge. I sat down at the keyboard, shed my humility for a brief while (sorry, I know that sounds a bit egotistical), and in a draft letter unloaded on the person who had put me there. I told him about all the disappointing behaviors he exhibited that I never before had mentioned because I thought I shouldn’t judge the man. I told him how spiteful, vindictive, and vengeful he was. I told him how abusive, self-righteous, and judgmental he appeared, and not just to me. I told him he was the only person I’d ever known who was able to turn honesty into a club and brutally beat someone with it.
And then, in the midst of that tirade, I found a path, I saw a bit of light. I told him that I would always listen to and apply constructive criticism, but that I would never let ill-intentioned words and misguided perceptions define me. I told him that I had never wanted to judge him because I believe everyone deserves forgiveness and a second chance. I told him that because of him I was a better man. I told him that I knew there was a good man in there somewhere; and reminded him that I had even seen him in tears from a situation that had deeply hurt him, and that I couldn’t believe all of my perceptions were so diametrically opposed to the flashes of good that I had seen in him. And in that moment I stopped dead in my tracks. I got it; the light finally dawned on me.
My own depression had kept me withdrawn and fearful for a long time. He felt so badly hurt that I hadn’t been forthcoming, that I hadn’t shared my comments or any constructive criticism or recent activities with him that he was lashing out at me out of his own pain. And when I realized that the situation suddenly rotated 180 degrees. I apologized for how, even though unintentionally, I had hurt him, and I forgave him for how he had hurt me. And finally, after these several long years I walked out of that cave and into the sun.
Did I ever send that letter? No. Will his personality ever change? Probably not. Will the rift between us ever be closed? Unlikely. Will we both learn from the experience and move on? I fervently hope so. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll see this post and understand more about what I’ve been going through.
The darkness of depression is uncomfortable, scary, and incapacitating. It can envelop you and become a prison. It can cause you to exhibit behaviors your loved ones, friends, and business partners find unexpected and even hurtful. Sometimes you find your own way out, sometimes you need love to light the way, and sometimes you need professional help.
If you’re experiencing the darkness of depression, talk about it. Talking about it, or writing as I did is cathartic; it starts you on the path toward the light. Start with yourself. If that doesn’t work talk about it with someone you love and trust. And if that doesn’t work, get the support of your loved one in seeking out a professional to talk with. There is light out there folks. It may take some stumbling around and just going through the motions, but keep the faith, and don’t give up. You’ll find it.
For me it took Gloria Estefan, a very non-humble retort, and a ceramic pig, but I’m finally coming out of the dark … Pops