Life is unpredictable! Every living organism operates with a certain amount of unpredictability and uncertainty. The uncertainty of life creates in us a desire for predictability. If we did not believe in the possibility of change, we would all be hopelessly lost and forever bored. Hope would be lost.
Potential for a better life would never exist. When there is hope, change is possible. The experience of depression is much the same. Depression is so predictable and unchanging that we lose hope for the pain of our isolation ever coming to an end.
WHAT IT WAS LIKE BEFORE DEPRESSED ANONYMOUS
More than ten years ago, I began to notice that something was very wrong with the way I was feeling. I can tell you exactly the place and the time when a terrible sadness began to swallow me up. I felt myself, without warning, sliding down and into the dark pit from which I was not able to climb out for a year of painful months. Feelings of inner pain and numbness descended upon me and began to rule my life.
A t the time, I thought this descent into hell came from “out of the blue” but, like all feelings we experience, I knew that because of situations in my personal past, my emotional reservoir was overdrawn. M y reactions to these situations had allowed thoughts and feelings to accumulate a wealth of debt whose note had come due.
I gradually found it more difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I began to experience a feeling of hollowness of spirit gnawing at me from the inside — much like an out of control cancer. This black mood was eating away all that once interested me and I began to feel helpless and out of control. I felt that I was no longer able to retain mastery over my own life.
This painful sadness which began to grow gradually from a small-unnoticed seed was unconsciously nurtured to full and frightening heights by my own life choices. It overwhelmed my mind and spirit. M y life had become unmanageable. Finally, I had to admit that I was powerless over that something which began to have a life of its own. Looking back over my life and experiences I discovered that my thoughts produced the feelings, the feelings produced moods and the moods produced my behaviors. The mind-body connection is never as much in evidence as it is in this human experience that we label depression.
My depression, with its concomitant restlessness and despair, had been developing gradually over a period of a few months as one loss after another began to accumulate: the loss of a relationship with a woman friend; the fact that my dad was dying; leaving a career of twenty years; having to say good-bye to hundreds of friends; struggling inwardly with having to move back in with my parents at middle age and depending on them for help. A t the time I moved back home my dad was recuperating from a massive heart attack and his health was failing fast. This was a great personal
loss to me.
Within a month of returning home I entered a local university and started work on a Master’s degree in counseling psychology. The studies did not come easy. A few months after I started my degree I found employment in an entry-level position, assisting minority persons who were unemployed. Because of political infighting this position came to be burdensome. I earned my degree, left my job and moved into private practice. Shortly after that I began to feel like I was walking into a fog. My mind was blank and my feelings were continually on edge. I felt as if a large hole with jagged edges was located between my gut and my throat. The pain that this produced became a daily reminder that something was not right. The anxiety and jitteriness was enhanced when I began having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I also had this strong desire to go to bed as soon as I got off work. I could hardly wait to sleep off whatever had me by the throat. I had lost interest in everything and everybody and just wanted to medicate myself with sleep.
The fact that I quit smoking a few months after my dad died was also a large contributing factor in depressing myself. Over the years the cigarette had become a great friend. This friend was there when I was happy, or when I was nervous, or when I had just finished a meal or had a cup of coffee. It was like an alcoholic who craves just one more drink. Whatever we humans do must have meaning. I lost my dad; my relationship with my woman friend was over; my role and identity as Christian minister with a ministry of 20 years. Friends of many years were out of my life and, most important of all, I felt that I had lost myself. I felt alone and worthless. If I saw someone laughing or having a good time it irritated me. How dare anyone smile while I felt so miserable? The feeling made me think that my brain was made of cotton. I couldn’t shove another thought into my head. It was as if the cells of my brain had died.
There was nothing I could do to shake these horrible and painful feelings. M y mind was unable to focus on or to concentrate on anything. M y memory was affected and it was impossible to retain anything I tried to read. With each new day I felt my strength ebbing away. I was physically and emotionally drained. I knew that something was wrong — but what was it?
The answer to this question seemed to lie within all the losses that I had accumulated over the past months. I had slipped down into the slippery and dark world known only to someone who has been depressed. I had to do something besides talking to break out of depression. I had to change the way that I lived my life. First I had to admit that my life was out of control. I was powerless to overcome my symptoms of depression by will power alone. I needed to believe in a power greater than myself. I had to have a spiritual experience. Having been in ministry for many years, I thought I had had a deep spiritual experience but I seemed to have lost it along the way.
I began to walk five miles a day inside a mall near my home to shake this awful feeling of emptiness that had taken over my very life. I set myself this goal to force myself to walk ’til I started to feel better. This was about a year following that day in August when I felt myself slipping into the abyss. After doing this exercise of walking day after day for a week I began to feel a little better. But then the old message came back and said, “yes, but this good feeling won’t last.” Of course it didn’t last. Then I knew that since I had good days before the depression, I could have a good day again. I kept on walking and within time; I walked through the fog that had imprisoned me.
But I had to do the work! Did my symptoms have me imprisoned or did the meaning that I had created in my mind about my life have me imprisoned? I believe it was the meaning that I had given to those losses in my life that gradually threw me to the ground; hog tied me, and wouldn’t let me go. I had to believe that somehow my walking gave meaning to the belief that I wasn’t going to let these feelings of helplessness beat me down. I just believed that I was going to beat this thing! I learned a great lesson here in that “motivation follows action.” Previous to my own depression I had worked one on one with a client named Jane. Jane was depressed and confined to her home following quadruple by-pass surgery just weeks before I met with her in her home. I was learning hands-on counseling and my supervisor gave permission for me to practice my counseling skills with Jane. After seeing Jane for ten weeks I saw that she was beginning to improve and began to regain interest in cartooning and poetry writing, things that had given her pleasure before her heart attack. I started thinking — if Jane could connect with others who were depressed and participate in a 12-step group she might get better. She might find the same help that other hurting folks who utilize the suggested spiritual principles of a 12-step program of recovery have found.
In May of 1985 I started a 12-step group known as Depressed Anonymous. I had the conviction that a person depressed could find the same strength and serenity, as did those who, sick and tired of being sick and tired, had found when they stumbled into their first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It began as a pilot project at the university where depressed people gathered as a mutual aid group. I discovered that people of all ages, beliefs, and occupations could gradually get out of the prison of depression if they were part of a supportive group, especially if the group followed the suggested 12-steps of the group now known as Depressed Anonymous. I saw that a 12-step program centered specifically on the subject of depression could help people escape isolation and the painful sense of hopelessness. They would no longer feel alone.
WHAT IT’S LIKE TODAY AFTER DEPRESSED ANONYMOUS
All members of the pilot group got better after a number of months of meeting together and applying the 12 steps to their lives. Others started to come, and this was the beginning of a group that is now slowly spreading from place to place and from community to community. Those of us who have lived with depression on a daily basis know despair. For those who have depended principally on drugs and therapy and have found no relief –then this program is a good place for you. For those who have the courage to stay and are willing to go to any lengths to have what we have found, then this personal faith and persistence of yours will begin to pay off. That’s a promise from us to you! Once I finally admitted I was powerless and began to act out of a belief that I wasn’t God it was quite a relief to surrender my trust to a Higher Power! (Steps 1, 2, 3.) Many of us have suffered for so long that we want a quick fix now. It doesn’t work that way. You will hear the success stories of those who have returned week after week and ‘worked’ the 12 steps to recovery. You can read personal stories of hope and renewal in this book. We now have a solution to offer those who want to reach out and grasp onto this new way of life. A life that is now focused on recovery and a feeling of hope. With this offer and solution daily before our eyes we are beginning to see that the depressed have to depend on that spiritual experience in order to really be free from that debilitating scourge of depression. It is this spiritual experience, coupled with the power of the fellowship of those like ourselves where we neither need to explain or excuse ourselves or apologize for being depressed, that is the basis for our recovery.
You must want to begin this journey seriously enough to actually take those beginning steps. Someday I hope to know you as a kindred spirit in recovery.
Source: Depressed Anonymous. Harmony House Publishers, 1998.