This is one of those topics I love to talk about but it still feels a little edgy and vulnerable. It’s a post about the naturalness of depression after loss & the gift of space and fresh vitality depression can bring when you slow down and stop carrying the weight of unfelt emotions.
In Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s book on Death and Dying she highlights certain stages that are common in grieving – although they’ve been used as a bit of a gospel of what grieving should look like I’m keen to say I believe grief is a fluid cyclical process that continues throughout our lifetime rather than a neat tidy 5 steps and you’re all done kinda thing.
And I’ve definitely felt myself journey through all of the 5 stages she writes about following the end of a relationship I treasured dearly (Anger, Denial, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance).
The layer that has been grabbing my attention lately is Depression.
“Depression is a commonly accepted form of grief. In fact, most people associate depression immediately with grief – as it is a “present” emotion. It represents the emptiness we feel when we are living in reality and realize the person or situation is gone or over. In this stage, you might withdraw from life, feel numb, live in a fog, and not want to get out of bed. The world might seem too much and too overwhelming for you to face. You don’t want to be around others, don’t feel like talking, and experience feelings of hopelessness. You might even experience suicidal thoughts – thinking “what’s the point of going on?”
The slowness that came with depression has had me stay close to my feelings, to lean into them, to reparent the little one inside of me running lots of stories about abandonment and rejection. To practice what I preach and listen to my own gentle voice to create an inner sanctuary only possible if I’m truly listening.
And just for clarity here it’s my opinion that the over medicalisation of depression and grief is creating a culture of numbed hearts and emotional disassociation that see our natural response to loss a problem to be fixed rather than a great gift of our inner emotional wisdom to be witnessed and digested.
I do honour at times depression is an imbalance in brain chemistry and medical support is wise and super helpful. And to be clear that’s not what this blog is about. This piece is about grief (and depression) as a perfectly normal experience of being human, loving and experiencing loss. If you’re in the thick of it now and receiving medical support I honour the courage you’ve taken to reach out for help and I’m in no way suggesting it’s wrong, just offering another perspective that may help our hearts also digest and integrate the hurt and wisdom of loss so that our hearts remain open to life and love.
I think of situational depression as a beautiful thing, a stop sign of the soul as author Karla McLaren would call it. A call to stop and notice what in our life is too heavy to carry …to notice where has our vitality gone.
My whole body of professional work Deep Rest has been inspired in part by a beautiful video Jeff Foster has on Depression and Deep-Rest. He speaks about life pressing down on you – of life having become a burden, it being exhausting, almost impossible. What’s the burden he asks? The burden of me. Trying to hold up some kind of story of yourself, your imagined future, your successes, failures, hopes and dreams.
“We can view depression on a deeper level, as a profound, and very misunderstood, state of deep rest, entered into when we are completely exhausted by the weight of our own false story of ourselves.” Jeff Foster
And oh man that rings so true for me. A year ago my ex and I began this cafe and community project together and dove into the merging of our worlds. I moved in with him and his young son diving into the world of step parenting and he dove in to help me set up what we hoped would become a beautiful nurturing space for us to together run mens and womens circles. So many dreams, hopes and promises…and looking back probably not a lot of space for the reality of the challenges we were facing.
Amidst the ordinary challenges of parenting a small child add in some family court proceedings, a couple of lockdowns, a miscarriage and a new business that naturally needed a lot of attention…and our still new relationship didn’t get much time to bathe in the luxury of the honeymoon phase.
It’s not been an easy year but I was deeply in love with this man and his little boy and committed to our growth and the life we were creating so when he chose to end our relationship last month I lost my footing. I was shocked and hurt by the way it ended, the unmet promises and the life I was left sitting in seemed to stop making sense without them. I still find myself cycling through shock, denial and anger at times (natural parts of big loss) but gradually depression settled in, forcing me to slow down and leave big open spaces. I see people every day at my beautiful community space and I’m still connected to my family and friends…I haven’t disappeared under a rock (although at times I wish I could and fondly remember times in my past where this was an option) but I also haven’t had much juice for new adventures. So I’ve been spending time at home or in nature reading, writing and resting and hearing my inner dialogue and nourishing her as best I can.
As a facilitator, someone who shows up for others and holds space while you unravel and reconnect to your emotional wisdom, it’s also deeply uncomfortable for me to admit I haven’t been able to meet the unrealistic expectation I still sometimes have of how the perfect human works through their emotions – the one that can just pick herself back up and move on grateful for the past and in perfect acceptance just at the click of a finger. But one of the gifts of depression is I give so many less fucks about carrying the extra burden of the perfect shiny (not) human right now. That weight isn’t one I’m willing or able to carry…nor do I think it’s helpful to any of my sweet hearted community to pretend that I never have challenges or that this is an easy transition for me. In fact showing up as I am is the way I embody what I teach. Real humans with real feelings that are sometimes messy and painful and full of rich learning and loving.
I like the way Jim Carey describes the inner dialogue in the Depression to Deep Rest connection as something like: “Fuck you I don’t want to be this character anymore, I don’t want to be this Avatar that you’ve held up to the world anymore. Deep Rest – your body needs to be depressed, it needs deep rest from the character you’ve been trying to play.”
So in an ironic little twist life has spun me back on the work that I so deeply adore – Deep Rest. And it’s my time now to drop the stories and let depression clear out what isn’t working. I don’t have the perfect little family unit nor do I have a loving committed partner to grow & navigate life or business with. But I also don’t have the weight of the story that my sense of worth & loveability is wrapped up in those things. And I do have my own commitment to loving and showing up for all of me, depression included and a knowing that even in the ending of something beautiful I’m giving it the honouring that I believe it deserves.
I’m not out the other side yet (if that’s even a thing) nor do I know what the other side might look like on a practical level, but the willingness to let go the burden of the story of me has created a little breathing room. Room for smiles and a giggle, visits to the Forrest and the ocean, some sweet chats with girlfriends and a return to womb-heart practices, writing and singing that nourish my soul. And a return to feeling at home within myself in both dark and light.
So if you’ve read up until here, thanks for journeying with me, and if depression has come to knock on your door too I’m holding you tenderly in my heart excited for the extra space you might feel when it comes time for you to put down the burden of you. May the inbreath be a little sweeter once you’ve felt the great letting go of your outbreath.
With Love Lani