Sunday, March 25, 2007

Melancholy, baby?

I found the following passage about transition periods in our lives on the website of Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD ...

In the midst of a winter solstice phase, help does come through relationships, but there is also a deep need for solitude to know what matters to the soul, and wonder if we have the faith and courage to do whatever we must do. To go outside the safe circle of supportive others, into the cold night and face the possibility of going through the fire. Major life transitions, especially when others do not understand us or want us to behave differently, call upon us to do this.

I first encountered the idea of depression as a gift in the book Circle of Stones by Judith Duerk. She suggests that we look at depression as a vehicle for transition and a time to stop putting out energy and recharge. If we listen to our depression, it may have something to tell us that we can't hear if we never stop and pay attention.

Transition times in our lives, especially as women, are typically those times when we go from one aspect of womanhood to another ... from maiden to mother ... from mother to crone ... from crone to death. At each of these stages it's not unusual to experience depression, and everywhere we turn we're told to fight it and beat it ... and we're handed pills with which to do that ... but no one ever suggests we sink into it and let it do its work.

Every winter, people experience a state of depression clinicians call Seasonal Affective Disorder. We're told to buy full-spectrum lights for our house, lie in tanning beds, take more anti-depressants ... but we're never invited to just lie fallow like the fields, or go to ground like the animals.

When I lived in a city of 10 million people my occasional bouts of depression seemed weak and made me feel guilty. Life goes on ... I should be able to keep going, too. Now that I live in a town of 5,000 people who actually live in harmony with the seasons, Judith Duerks makes a lot of sense.

This weekend our landlord came over and started measuring our rickety porch and getting ready to tear it down and rebuild it. I went out and polished my car inside and out. People are out on their mowers. The flowering trees are also blooming like crazy this week, and the crocuses and daffodils are springing up everywhere. It's as if we all emerged from underground all at once, full of energy and ready to burst into a flurry of activity.

Depression is like winter. It's the time when we can get quiet and not have a lot of expectations of ourselves. We can realize that our emotional weather is too inclement to do anything very demanding, and we're best served by sitting quietly with a good book, cocooned under the covers with our own thoughts, or enveloped in the relationships that support us. We can rest. The little seeds of happiness and hopefulness in us have a chance to germinate. Hothouse vegetables, forced to grow and produce year round, lose a percentage of their nutritional value in the process. Humans are even more complicated than tomatoes.

I suspect that when people lived more seasonally and did "natural work" like building and farming, instead of "manmade work" like banking and telemarketing, they experienced what we call depression, but they recognized it as a natural part of life that would lift when the sun came out and they didn't feel an unnatural urge to defeat it or any shame about feeling it.

So now it's Spring, and it's time to fold up the throw blankets, sweep out the cobwebs, Armor-All the dashboard, clean out the shed, rebuild the porch and go fishing.


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