What can be more vexing to a depressed person than being encouraged to “look on the bright side”? Sometimes we have a compelling reason to feel depressed, and those urgings by loved ones can seem disrespectful or out of touch. They have good intentions, tell us jokes, and they get on our nerves.
Nobody chooses depression, and yet leaving it behind is a journey. Sometimes we hesitate to abandon our depression because the world itself seems harsh, and it has seemed that way for a long time. It’s true: friendships sometimes let us down. Partners leave. Wonderful people die much too young, sometimes in violent ways. Good deeds go unnoticed. The planet is in trouble. Depression becomes the wallpaper of the universe, our sense that the world is not as it should be, and nothing else is possible. A cheery mood seems frivolous, under the circumstances. Hope, paradoxically, must find us before the work of healing from depression makes sense.
A crack in the depression is confusing. It might offer a hint that the universe contains more than what depression allows, but it does not prepare us with a reliable map. The sadness of a life lived in depression, at least, had its own logic. The world beyond it is a foreign land. It is a brave, life changing choice, for someone who has been wounded by life, to go beyond the map, and wait for clarity. As we go through the process of edging out of depression, we come to notice new things about ourselves, and this can be a scary prospect. Do demons have a sense of humor? What did our sad self image leave out, and will an updated version still like bagpipes? Surely we won’t turn into naïve optimists and silly people who tell others to “look on the bright side,” right? We cannot know beforehand, that we will find ourselves as interesting without our depression, and yet it seems to happen that way.
The willingness to go beyond the landscape of depression involves a spiritual transformation. It involves letting go of a secure, if miserable, sense of self, before a new one emerges. Hope is not a warm fuzzy feeling of childlike delight; if you know depression, then hope is more like a courageous stand on a lookout rock with a good cup of coffee. When you begin to wonder what else might be possible, healing has begun.