On death and land: thoughts on Chayei Sarah
These are things which have no limit

Maintaining hope in the face of depression

Depression-loss_of_loved_oneSomeone asked me recently how to maintain hope when depression is dogging one's heels.

The first thing I want to say is: no matter how isolating depression feels, you are not alone. Others have been where you are. We recognize the terrain and we recognize the tricks that depression plays on you -- the ways it makes you feel existentially solitary, disconnected, broken. We recognize, too, the way that depression tries to preserve itself. How it murmurs into your ear that nothing will ever be different -- that this is what life is and you will never feel any other way. It is lying to you.

There is help, and I urge you to take it. If you are in therapy, call your therapist. (If you're not in therapy and want a referral, ask someone local to you -- your rabbi or someone you trust.) If you are in spiritual direction, call your spiritual director. (If you're not in spiritual direction but want to explore that possibility, here's one way of finding a spiritual director; you might also reach out to one of my teachers for a referral.) Consider antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication; know that there is no "weakness" in not being able to bootstrap yourself out of depression.

Extend kindness to yourself in whatever ways you can. Try to eat well. Try to get enough sleep. For me, a hot shower and a cup of good tea are always restorative. (So is good hand lotion. I know, it sounds silly, but it really does help.) Walking outside in the fresh air sometimes helps too. Take advantage of whatever small things you can do to make yourself feel better, even if the feeling-better is only temporary. Lather, rinse, repeat. Our sages famously listed things which "have no limit" -- and though self-care isn't on their classical list, it's definitely on mine.

Recognize that depression may at times be disabling, and give yourself ample credit for any goal you set which you are able to achieve. Sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning may feel like you're trying to climb Everest from inside an iron lung. And -- this seems extra-unfair -- bear in mind that sometimes depression brings with it a kind of emotional paralysis which makes asking for help almost impossible. The depression may whisper to you that no one wants to hear from you when you're "like this" or that there's no point in seeking help. Let me say again: it is lying to you.

I heard Rabbi Jeff Roth teach years ago that if one reaches the hour for reciting the modah ani prayer for gratitude in the morning, but finds oneself unable to access the gratitude with which one wishes to invest the prayer, one can say the prayer with the intention of someday being able to feel gratitude again. I know that there are days when gratitude feels impossible to reach. I know that there are days when it feels implausible to even hope for better. On those days, know that people who love you are willing and able to hold on to that hope for you even if you can't reach it yourself.

You who are struggling with this right now: I am holding you in my prayers. If you can't believe that you will ever feel better, don't beat yourself up for that. That's not a failing on your part: it's something the depression has stripped from you. But I believe that this isn't all there is, and I believe that you will reach a better place again. If you can't believe that right now, it's okay -- I'll hold on to that belief for you until you're able to hold it for yourself again. You are loved by an unending love: not only when you are healthy, but also when you are sick; not only when you are optimistic, but also when you feel the way you feel now.

May you find comfort, speedily and soon.


Image source: wikimedia commons.