New Tattoo #2.

I used to have clinical depression.

I was not “having a case of the Mondays” or “feeling down.” I was depressed. A lot of this was in high school, a naturally depressing time, and it infiltrated itself into my college experience, which felt sort of like a continuation of high school. This depression manifested itself as extreme isolation, crying, eating disorders, cutting, and being borderline suicidal–a lot of “I wish I could just go to sleep and not wake up.”

I didn’t want to end my life so much as I wanted the pain to end, though I did not have words for it at that time. I bounced around on a bunch of different anti-depressants before deciding that for me, they just did not work.

I look back now and think that much of my depression centered around feeling powerless. I felt stuck. I was in a lot of places where I didn’t want to be, I had all of this creative energy, I couldn’t seem to find my right people, I felt misunderstood.

It was when I started being where I wanted to be, using my creative energy, putting effort forth to find my right people, and then trusting that I would be understood that something shifted. The process was slow, and I went through big chunks of it without guidance. (This last, I do not recommend.)

The power thing is so important. It seems to me that depression is, at its essence, a feeling of being pressed down, unable to get up, unable to effect change in one’s life. In my case, stuff kept happening and I just didn’t know how to react, except for getting angry, which cost me friends and my health. So then I would get depressed because I didn’t have any other tools in my toolbox. I knew I wanted to shift something, wanted that connection, yet didn’t know how to go about getting it.

The sad place is often the seemingly powerless place.

The powerless part is the illusion, though, because within the sadness we do have a choice: choosing compassion.

One of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject is Cheri Huber’s The Depression Book. It’s all about being with what we feel, acknowledging it without shaming ourselves out of feeling it, courageously navigating those waters, learning what it has to tell us.

What would your sadness tell you, if you gave it a voice?

I know that mine all those years would have sad how lonely she felt, how isolated it was to be a Do-er (someone who does lots of stuff). How the thrill of finishing a project did not even remotely compare to the stress and sadness and exhaustion of doing more and more, and how disappointing it was that recognition did not translate into connection.

So, then. Again: What would your sadness tell you, if you gave it a voice?

We’re often afraid to go into our sadness because it can seem like this bottomless hole that we won’t get out of. This is something that I talk about in The Courageous Living Guide–how do we bravely step into something that blocks us (not releasing emotions is a block), while simultaneously feeling like there is no way around the block?

It takes getting help, getting support for what you face. Acknowledging that you deserve to live life bigger. Willingness to navigate some scary spaces.

It also takes compassion. Compassion for the sadness (rather than shoulds or guilt). Compassion for yourself if you realize that you’re just not ready to go there, yet. That’s okay. It’s okay to not be ready.

HOW DO I GET STARTED? This is a good question to ask. How does one get started when they’re feeling this down at the bottom of something? Here’s my personal answer, which you can extrapolate to yourself as needed:

Move.

Move one thing.

Move a paperweight or a book, then a pencil and then a piece of paper. There’s something about movement that either brings on the feelings or expels them.

Here’s another thought: Don’t move.

Sit with it. Sometimes I sit on my zafu and stare at a wall and resolve not to move until something has shifted. Sometimes I’ll bring with me a clarifying question, a question like “What does my sadness want to tell me?” and then maybe the answer will reveal itself and some tender place in my heart will unlock and I’ll bow my body and cry into my knees a bit, but that’s real and when I’m done crying, I blow my nose and have that nice, cleaned-out feeling.

Those are just two options that I choose.

There’s such a huge range to explore with the topic of sadness. One area that is difficult is knowing when it’s “serious” versus when it’s not. I think people tend to err more on the side of “Oh, it’s not serious” and then they don’t get help. And if that’s you, I encourage you to reach out, professionally or otherwise, and start talking to people. Own your sadness. Claim it. Give it a voice. It might transform from there. Simply having permission to be what it is without the admonishment to “Get happy!” is a powerful thing.

What does your sadness tell you?