Living with depression is about making different choices about how you deal with your sadness.
Feelings used to be where I lived. I was a feeling person. An empath. A highly-sensitive person. And I suffered from depression, due to my intense focus on the feelings. I still feel my feelings, today. But, I’m aware, in a new way, that my feelings just are. They are not right or wrong. But one thing that is very different in my approach to feelings, today, is… My feelings are not my reality. They are just feelings. I can pull them out, look at them, decide if I want to go along with the flow of them (happy or sad) and then return my focus/consciousness to the reality of my life.
- Do you feel deeply?
- Do you get overwhelmed by feelings from time to time?
- Do your feelings occasionally feel like all that matters?
I could’ve answered yes to these questions many times in my past. Today, I have a slightly more calculated approach to my feeling self. I listen. I feel. And then I decide if I want to go along for the feeling-ride, or if I want to do something else. My choice is to focus on the feelings, wash my soul in them, and then move on, OR, say, “hello feeling, I see you are sad today, okay, I’m not going there with you, but I recognize your power and message today.”
When we take charge of our experience of feelings, we take back the power of our intention, the power of our mind to direct our actions and even our thoughts.
At some times in my life, this exercise is easier than others. When I am severely depressed I am often not able to “get meta” on the feelings, as I call this judo move of using the power and messages of feelings while not being controlled or waylaid by them. But these days, even when I’m leaning towards depression, or some “depressed feelings” I can make a firm choice not to go along with the feelings I’m having.
Here’s an example. My brother died a few weeks ago, after a year-long protracted battle with lung cancer. I was not happy about this part of my life. I was feeling sadness a good bit of the time. I felt extreme sadness when I was with my brother and I could see his struggle first hand. And, I could choose to visit daily. Or, I could choose to come once a week, or less. I did not need to see my brother every day to experience his pain and sadness. The pain and sadness of losing someone is always inside of us. I had lost several key people in my life before my brother. And, I can make the choice at certain moments to go with memories and reflections of them, or now my brother, at any time. The difference is, my feelings are not much different from my visits to my brother’s bedside. I can choose to go visit them, listen to them, and empathize with them. Or, I can recognize them, the feelings, and politely move along with other aspects of my life.
And it’s not as if I’ve put my feelings in a box. I am just as “feeling” as I was before. Today, what’s different, is I can choose to follow the feeling, or I can choose to follow something else.
Struggling with depression is a disease of feelings. A problem with containment of the negative and overwhelming feelings. As a depressed person, I a wallow in the feelings, unable to climb up out of the blackness, even when I am aware of what is going on. I can see “wow, I’m depressed.” I can feel the pain and lack of hope. And, when I’m depressed, I stay there. I cannot lift up, or “get meta” and rise above my depressed self and gain a more holistic perspective. I get sunk and stuck in the feelings.
I am learning that my indulgence in those heavy feelings are (when I’m healthy) a choice. These past few months, as my brother expressed his own hopelessness at the prospects for his recovery, I was able to observe “his feelings” and separate them from “my feelings.” I was with him. I was empathetic to his journey. And I was separate and independently able to guide my own feelings around the experience. In seeing his feelings, I began to observe my own feelings in the same way. I could choose to spend time with my feelings, chatting, delving deeper into the experience of them, or I could observe them, like my brother, as separate from my own reality.
I chose over the last few months to limit my time in my brother’s sick room. I didn’t need closure. We had spoken all the words we needed to speak to one another. I didn’t need to support him on his journey, he had a team of caregivers who were doing a wonderful job. My responsibility, in being with my brother during his dying days, was to be a light of joy and hope. I brought my own journey alongside his, I shined my own happiness into his world and the world of my family as we traveled down this dark road of loss and release.
I am not my feelings. My feelings are here to teach, guide, and influence me. My feelings are part of what makes me human. And my feelings are just part of my experience of life. My mindfulness is also part of my life. Stopping, focusing my breath and energy on pure awareness, free of feelings, is also part of my life experience. Over the course of the last few months, I experienced highs and lows in abundance. The choice, often, was mine as to which type of experience I wanted to bask in and which type of experience were not serving my intentions and responsibilities to others.
Choosing to feel my feelings, at my brother’s memorial service, for example, is also a healthy and human experience. And when the memorial service and reception were over, it was my choice and intention to move along with my life. I still feel sadness around my brother’s transformation back into spirit. I miss his jovial personality. The boisterous brother that got so many of us in trouble, in uncontrollable laughter, and in our sad hearts as he left our lives.
Feel the feelings. Then rise above them and observe what you are as part of your feelings and what else you might be wanting to focus on in this moment, or in this day. Yesterday, I was helping my sister do some estate work on my brother’s business. It was joyful and focused for a few hours and then we both experienced a let down as the loss of my brother, the feeling of loss, became the tone of our togetherness. It was time to move along. I left with my brother’s iPhone X and a promise to help my sister again soon, with whatever was needed to be done.
I am leaving my feelings alone by choice. I am seeing them as separate from who I am. My feelings are just a part of me. There are many other parts. When I am healthy, I can see the other parts of my life and focus my attention on something other than the feelings.
Just because you feel it, doesn’t mean it’s there. – Radiohead
More from The Whole Parent
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- Displacement: A Single-Parenting Love Story
- Grief is Underneath: A Divorce Fable
- Life of Dad – Talks to John About Single-Parenting and Dating Again
- Divorce Lessons: Thanks for the Jetpack, Where’s the Fuel?
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