A quick note: This week, I share details of my struggle with clinical depression ten years ago in college. I can now look back almost as if the experience happened to someone else. If you (for any reason) don't feel like reading about depression, please stop reading. Feel free to delete and move on. Namaste. xo.
My sophomore year of college, I hit what Fall Out Boy would label a "Sophomore Slump." I never thought I'd reference a FOB song title in a letter, but, hey, they were huge in my college days (though I'll always be more of a Dashboard Confessional girl, personally). I suppose "slump" is a drastic understatement, though. I entered a period of all-consuming suicidal depression.
There are some linear "events" I could site as triggers for this depressive state—my high school boyfriend dumped me, my best friend from freshman year abruptly transferred—but, really, those are just things I say when people want "reasons."
I had no reason, not really, for how bad I felt each day. I'd spend hours in my dorm room in my lofted twin bed crying into my mascara-stained lime green pillowcase asking God: Why? Why? Why? Why?
It was like I had a song stuck in my head that said: "Everyone hates me. Everyone would be better off without me." It fluctuated in volume, but was always there.
I can now see that song for what it was: Bullshit. But back then, I believed it. It felt so true. Please always remember, friend: Depression lies.
There were also visions—gruesome images of my dead body (after the act) that my mind would regularly land on. By "regularly land on" I mean I thought about this constantly. Hundreds of times a day, all while "Everyone hates me" played as background music. It was almost like I was addicted to these disturbing images. Obsessed with my own pain.
Suffice it to say: during essentially my entire sophomore year: I was very, very, very down.
I ended up going to Psych Services when a basketball teammate forced me to (I'd cry in the locker room constantly, too). She threatened to "tell Coach" if I didn't go. Yes, the brain of 19 year-old me ostensibly didn't care about my own life but desperately cared about what my Coach thought of me.
[Aside: NCAA athletics are weird.]
At Psych Services, I saw a kind woman named Linda an hour a week for about a year. There's one message Linda repeated at our sessions I still remember:
"You are a human being, not a human doing."
We live in a "Just Do It!" results-obsessed society. My letter on striving touched on how I tended to validate my worth through external metrics, always wanting more, more, more—but I think the power of being versus doing is deeper than simply letting go of the striving mentality.
It's also about realizing at a deep level that, as the great Walt Whitman said:
"I exist as I am, that is enough."
I don't just mean a mental acknowledgement like, "Yeah, that sounds true," and then diving back into to endless checklists of doing, doing, doing. And beating yourself up before you go to sleep in bed each night because, God, you just didn't get anything done today. That's not what I mean by "realizing" that you are a human being not a human doing, for that’s not a realization at all.
The truth is: our pervasive societal obsession with productivity effectively reduces glorious human beings into stressed-out production-obsessed machines. So much so that I would posit the real reason you feel so bad at night is not because you didn’t do enough during the day but because you are living with the false belief that your self worth is tied to your productivity. That is not so; your self worth is tied to your being.
You exist as you are. That is enough.
Because even though Linda (for whom I'm eternally grateful) helped 19 year-old me turn off the bullshit song and horrible images in my head, and though she told me over and over and over: "You are a human being, not a human doing" and, though, as a college sophomore, I resonated with the sentiment intellectually, I didn't really start feeling the truth of it until this year—at twenty-nine, a decade later.
It's like a full-body realization of an ontological truth—one of the greatest perspective shifts I’ve ever made. The shift from human doing > human being.
The difference between thinking something's true and feeling something's true is immense. It's akin to the difference between thinking about food and actually eating food. Or, to put it another way:
Question: What’s the difference between intellectually knowing what sex is and experientially having sex?
So it is with this. You can think: "I am enough" all you want. In fact, I recommend thinking it. It’s far better than thinking total lies about how fat, dumb, or useless you are. (Those thoughts aren’t serving you; they are false; let them go.)
Still, thinking, “I am enough” will only get you so far. You must move toward feeling it.
Recently, I was out to eat with a new friend telling her how most people seem baffled with my current situation—no job, no kids. They seem almost perturbed as to how I’m spending my time, extremely curious as to what exactly I’m doing.
She asked, jokingly: “So, what do you do all day?”
To which I responded, with a smile: “I am.”
I only wish I could go back to 19 year-old me, crying in bed, and hold her in my arms. I would tell her, “Don’t ask why, darling. Ask, who.’”
Because the answer to: Who?
Is always: I am.
I exist as I am. That is enough.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. A Rumi quote that surmises my experience with depression: "I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I've been knocking from the inside."
p.p.s. If you were in my life during my sophomore year of college, know that you treated me exactly perfectly.
p.p.p.s. Former Brooklyn-dweller Walt Whitman wrote the beautifully spiritual Leaves of Grass which I recommend dipping (or diving) into. Here's the quote above expanded, from Leaves of Grass, stanza 20 of Song of Myself:
"I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait."