I went through a fairly significant depression in my early thirties. I’m sure I could write a book describing the journey and the hell, like so many have. But two of the memories that stand out most significantly for me during that time are not painful ones.
For the first few months, I had a very hard time eating. Not only had I lost my appetite, which, believe me, was VERY unusual, but the idea of solid food actually made me sick. There were few foods my stomach could tolerate, so I survived on soup and toast, as much as I could, for at least a month. I lost over 10 lbs. in that first month, which was significant on my 5’ tall frame.
About 3 months after what I call “the initial meltdown,” I was back to eating normal foods, but my appetite hadn’t really returned. I was at my internship eating a salad I’d brought from home. I remember it so well – green leaf lettuce, crumbled gorgonzola cheese and honey Dijon salad dressing. I have this very clear memory of sitting at the table in the kitchen, it was dark and cold out, and I realized I was enjoying my salad. It tasted GOOD. Not just adequate and not just less than nausea inducing, but GOOD. I was ENJOYING it. It was literally the first time in those three months that I was aware of enjoying anything. I’d been hanging on by my fingernails, coping and functioning (minimally), but the realization that I could enjoy something again felt like a gift from God. I actually got tears in my eyes sitting in front of that salad. The gift of feeling positively about something was huge.
The second memory happened about 6 months into the depression. I’d started medication and the really difficult periods were fewer and farther apart, but I still felt fragile and rocky. I drove to work that morning after about a week of very rainy, gray weather. The clouds had parted and the sun was shining. The sunlight streamed through the trees as I drove down Euclid Avenue in Berkeley, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. I’d never paid much attention to the weather before, so the effect the sunlight had on me surprised me. I can still see in my mind the corner I was stopped at, the houses that shone in the light and the green leaves filtering the bright streams of light.
I would say these two events are two of the most profound in my life – and the reason is precisely because they were such ordinary events that, in spite of being so ordinary, produced euphoria. I expected my wedding day and the days my children were born to be important, and they were. I did not expect a salad and sunlight to become my symbols of rising out of darkness, and it’s the very ordinariness of their existence that make them so potent.
For me, depression was a transformative experience. Two small things, a salad and the morning sunlight, had such a profound effect on me that I never forgot them. Since then, I’ve been so very aware of daily blessings. The fact that the freshly washed sheets feel soft and clean when I get into bed is a blessing. The sound of the rain on the roof while I’m in my cozy bed is a blessing. Finding a Tikka Masala that isn’t too hot for my bland-Irish taste buds is a cause for celebration (FYI, Trader Joe’s is perfect).
For me, chronic emotional pain was the opening to happiness, because once I really let myself fall into the depression I’d been staving off for years, I was finally able to appreciate not being in pain – when it finally happened. I’m so grateful for every day I’m not depressed. I’m so grateful for all the gifts that my post-depression life has brought me. There are definitely times when I’m more tuned into the blessings of pleasure than others. But I try very hard to not forget how wonderful the ability to feel pleasure is, especially since I’ve experienced losing it.Depression actually made my life richer by letting me see the sacred in the everyday.