The Compassion Prescription
As I was updating one of my friends on my month of rest, she asked me a question I have asked myself many times through this experiment, “Were you depressed?”
Depression is one of my closest old companions-I have known her better than I know myself. Its worth noting this month of rest has been one of the few times in my adult life that I have not had to actively manage depression-either through therapy, writing or medication.
My friend’s curiosity, echoed my own thoughts. What made these extravagant three nap days and my insatiable need for alone time shift from symptoms of depression to the very best time of my life?
When I am feeling depressed, in addition to having sadness wash over me, like Linus’s cloud of dust, there is also a heaviness inside of me, like my heart has been replaced by a 30 lb. medicine ball. I cry a lot. I start to feel such big feelings that I stop feeling anything. It’s my soul’s zombie apocalypse.
According to everydayhealth.com, some of the questions doctors ask when screening for depression are:
- How many of the past two weeks have you been feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
- Have you had thoughts of suicide?
- Are you getting less than 3 hours of sleep a night?
- What is your energy level?
- Do you want to stay home or go out and do new things?
As I sit here on a sunny November day in a beautiful bookstore writing about depression, I am overcome with thankfulness that depression is not the demon I am dancing with today. At the same time, there is a warmth that fills up the space where that medicine ball used to be and extends to a glow outside of me-it’s compassion.
If I track this journey back, it was a dark day where bed was my only destination and Netflix my only solace. Friends, I was depressed. Most of my bouts of gloom have been overcome in the past with a lot of self-criticism and work. I acknowledge that I have a problem and I do what I can to get it fixed. Take the medication. Schedule the therapy. Get help. Come to terms, again, with my human limitations.
Something different happened this time. I kept asking myself, “Jenny, what do you need?” And I realized that my life was both too big and too small for me. It was so big that I couldn’t work hard enough, get smart enough or ever be enough for it. At the same time it was too small, I had all of these ideas, words, creative projects that were too big to fit into my already packed days.
Let me be clear, it was medication, therapy, and supportive relationships that paved the foundation for me to do something different this time. Until this time, the best and most courageous step I could take was going to the doctor, take my medicine, talk to my therapist, ask for help. Only you can know your next best step.
I was so tired.
I needed rest.
I needed simplicity.
I needed to go as slow as I needed to go until I felt like I could bring myself wherever I went.
While exhaustion is one symptom of depression, researchers are now acknowledging that prolonged exhaustion can lead to depression. “Prolonged periods of; a) physical stress, b) sleep deprivation, c) emotional stress, and d) intense overwork put together is a package that can cause exhaustion” (http://www.drkarenruskin.com).
“This is what I need.”
Are there any harder words for a woman to speak out loud, even to herself?
I need compassion. Gobs and gobs of compassion.
What do you need?
Let’s get it for you.
So, my month of rest, my days of naps, my abundance of alone time, my selfishly unscheduled hours, the space that has opened up big enough to hold my dreams…that’s what compassion gave me, exactly what I need.