Updated: Mar 9
I painted this in 1996, one of the years that I was most depressed. I sat in the corner of the park across from where I lived, Tudor City, NYC. I could see the greenness of the undergrowth and the trees, but surrounding it (on a clear day full of sunshine) was only darkness as far as my mind and heart could see. Smothering and encroaching blackness. I felt trapped and confused as to why this seemed to be part of my path, my fate?...the type of suffering which only people with clinical depression can really understand.
The truth is, I have suffered from depression on and off for 30 years.
That episode waned after another week or so; for no apparent reason the clouds lifted and I could breathe. I visualized myself in the ocean with my head finally above water, but the waves were unpredictable and I was afraid I would sink down again. But I tried to let hope gather and grow as it had in the past when these episodes passed. I just wanted some peace again.
This next drawing (not done by me) is another good representation of how I felt. I could sit, do something that I enjoyed, swing on the swing under the tree and be present. Yet the crows sat on the branches and I had no idea when they would descend again. I tried to ignore it and just do my best to enjoy where I was internally.
One of the most challenging and sad things for me about dealing with depression is having to wear the mask. I have to wear it so much of the time in my life. My professional life demands it. What patient wants to come to a psychologist who they know has or is dealing with depression when they themselves are depressed?
You might think that a depressed patient could benefit from knowing that their doctor is depressed. Well, maybe a few might, but since I tend to be psychodynamically oriented in my treatment philosophy much of the time, I need to be more of a blank slate. In order for me to learn about my patient and for them to learn about themselves and to heal, I need to leave my darkness at the door. Sometimes it is easier to do than others. When my mother died, I was already going through a depressed phase. The grief only intensified it. Somehow, I carried on and saw my patients, and, as people say, "kept it together." Of course, they did not know that between sessions I would go out to my car and cry.
It's an inner battle at times. Just writing this blog entry is something that I've been debating whether to do for years. But at some point I've come to the realization that perhaps I've been internalizing the sense of shame about not sharing my own struggle. I encourage my patients to be their own advocates for their mental health, and that may include sharing knowledge about their symptoms with others. There is no doubt that there is fear that goes along with that disclosure. Absolutely no doubt.
Eventually, on another day, when I was feeling a special oneness with the world and a sense of peace that seemed to continue to grow after coming out of the tunnel (as it does to this day), I made this artwork below. Depression gives you pain and it can give you gifts. Like being able to appreciate art, writing, and music with the greatness of piercing sensitivity and depth of feeling. You can also appreciate the preciousness of life when you have emerged from the depths of the dark and tumultuous seas.
Artwork by Lynn Schechter