I’m going to level with you guys this week. There’s a dark numbness that has taken over my chest cavity, pressing firmly against my organs with the insidiousness of cold iron. Simple tasks like tying my shoelaces or making a cup of tea feel like an extraordinary effort. I feel as though a giant has seized my ribcage between his fingers and is slowly watching the life drain out of me for his own amusement. I feel claustrophobic and confused, enraged and heartbroken all at once. I have been fighting a lingering depression.
The worst part is that I’m fully aware that I have no right to be depressed. I have a well-paying day job, more friends than I can see regularly, and a boyfriend who is sweeter and more supportive than any who came before him. I have carefully curated my life into the picture of what I wanted it to look like, and yet my old brain creatures keep coming back, pummeling me with sticks and threatening to pull me under. I feel incredibly guilty at this realization: that I can be at once perfectly fine and still selfishly eat myself with thoughts.
My inner monologue has been out of control for the past three days. “What if I get fired for being slow? What if my friends stop calling? What if my boyfriend doesn’t think I’m fun anymore and leaves? What if I’m a fucking phony? What if I only ever self-sabotage and this is the final piece in a long string of self-inflicted failures? What if? What if?! What if?!?!?!??!”
This parade of self-flagellation is exhausting. I can barely hold a conversation, and my memory is shit right now. I keep feeling like my mind is floating away from my body, dissociating from the source.
Perhaps what is most striking about this list of terrifying “what ifs” is the fact that, if you look closely, the root of many of them is the belief that other people’s love is conditional on my good behavior. It’s quite clear that on some level, I associate love as something that has to be earned, rather than freely given.
(This is the gift of the overachieving child that keeps on giving. The constant desire to prove that I am worthy of love.)
“You need to locate the source.” A girlfriend told me today over the phone. I stopped and thought for a moment, straining through my self-loathing and dull, cloudy brainwaves to try to focus on what hidden trauma might be the anti-pearl hiding deep within my shell.
“I’m angry?” I said with the assurance of a 13-year-old girl who wasn’t certain if she was going to get in trouble or not.
“No, actually, I’m really fucking angry,” I said a second time, more sure of myself than the first.
“And, I don’t think that I’ve ever considered myself worthy of feeling the emotion of anger.” The words came out more quickly now, as if I had uncovered some immortal truth that lays in the heart of every woman.
“Because it’s so fucking unfair!” I was on a roll now, throwing words into the atmosphere for the sheer joy of never feeling allowed to say them in the first place. I blasphemed my job, my upbringing, the role of women in society, my previous relationships, the gender pay gap, and anything else I could think of that I had pretended to ignore or politely commented on instead of giving myself permission to have an opinion.
An hour later, I ran to my keyboard and began free-writing furiously, combining lists of my grievances and insecurities with reasons I had to be justifiably upset. It was the first step I had ever made towards shaking hands with my rage, and the energy it released sent chills up my spine.
Now, befriending your anger doesn’t mean lashing out wildly at the nearest person every time something offends or upsets you. It’s a mindfulness practice unlike any other. It forces us to look deeply into the root of our upset so that we can set healthy boundaries and create actionable items. It’s a crucial piece of shadow work, and when we channel anger carefully, it can be a great motivating tool.
What if, instead of stuffing our less charming emotions so far down that we become depressed, we gave ourselves permission to express them in a safe way?
What if we allowed for the worthiness of our unsavory parts and loved them anyway?
What if I gave up feeling unworthy of love and instead accepted every single brutal and beautiful emotion that graced my presence? Because that’s what life is. It’s a barrage of the abrasive and the sublime, the sick and the magical, the vomit and the glitter.
I know I still have a ways to go before my depression is tamed, but acknowledging the worthiness of my darkest emotions unlocked a door inside my heart, and I can feel the slightest bit of wiggle room between me and that giant’s fingertips.
Some days, I am brazen because I scale the backs of huge mountains.
Others, because I scale myself out of the pit of my own despair,
And I think the latter is a far more important conversation to have.