Depression: Reflections From the Abyss

There is an engaging gnostic legend about the young Sophia (symbol of wisdom), the youngest daughter of the Fullness. Because she is the youngest, she is also the furthest away of all the emanations, which radiate from, and are the children of, the Godhead, and she therefore struggles to stay within the light of her Father/Mother. Confused, and perhaps curious, she turns from the Fullness – perhaps she is simply disoriented – and espies a glint within the abyss far, far below.

Transfixed, she travels towards it, seeking its love and warmth, only to find that as she crosses the barrier that separates the Fullness from the realms below, she herself begins to split in two. The part of her that remains in the underworld, our world, is the part of her that is human. It is the divine aspect of Sophia that remains within the reaches of the Fullness, and finally understands she has made a terrible mistake. The light within the abyss was merely a reflection of the true light, which belongs solely to the Fullness and to all its emanations (the indwelling divinity in all of us).

The split-off facet of Sophia, trapped in the outer reaches of the abyss, agonizes over her folly, which was born of illusion, and longs to be joined again with the Fullness and with the divine-twin aspect of herself. Her isolation, aloneness, disenfranchisement and sense of utter loss are unbearable. Thus, in her travail, she gives birth to a false god, who sets himself up as the One True God for all humankind to worship and obey.

Here I will leave the myth, perhaps to continue it in a later post, for at this stage, I feel it carries a poignant analogy to today’s topic; the unique and seemingly hopeless agony of depression.

A good friend of mine has suffered this particular agony his entire adult life, and almost certainly during his earlier years, before his diagnosis. His unique and painful journey has been, and continues to be, along the path of Bipolar Disorder; so that at times he is enveloped in deep, uncontrollable sadness, and at other times overtaken by a mania that may feel energetic and positive at the time but carries with it added burdens. Without going into this aspect of his illness, I think I can safely say that manic periods can leave considerable damage in their wake.

Most of us, myself included, have been on the receiving end of some perfectly normal ‘reactive’ depression. I say ‘normal’ because to feel brought low by life’s difficulties and sorrows from time to time is a normal reaction, and will generally respond to time, common sense and behavioural activation. The other kind of depression, the ‘endogenous’ kind, is anything but normal. It results from alterations in brain chemistry that are quite beyond the control of the person within its grips. While some cognitive therapy and medication can help, for the most part endogenous depression must simply be ridden out. The difficulty is in knowing when it will end, and trying to keep the faith that it will end.

For the past few months I’ve been in a deep depression myself and while it seems that it might be largely reactive and due to circumstances that don’t have a short-term fix, I worry that it might be something deeper, perhaps brought on by the onset of menopause; or perhaps, and more worrying, that it might become a more permanent state as my own brain chemicals slowly change and new neural connections develop despite their being unwanted.

So I called upon my friend, Bruce Hare, with his decades of experience wrestling the ‘black dog’ and asked him for some tips on riding the troughs. His response has helped me enormously, and even though the words may seem simple, there is a depth of wisdom there (remember Sophia?) and a true empathy that is healing.  My plea to him ended with these words. ‘I just want to sleep and cry…sometimes both at the same time. This too, shall pass.’

I will simply quote his answer, believing that if his words have helped me, they will most certainly help others.

‘Yes, it will pass. Sometimes it can take a bloody long time. Don’t expect a lot of yourself either intellectually or socially. Don’t retreat into solitude though. I find talking to friends is better than talking to family. Generally family seems to get insecure.  It’s probably the only illness where you are still expected to perform your usual tasks and responsibilities – most people do not get how emotionally painful and devastating to your personality it is. Sleep is the only way you can put a stop to awful feelings. If it lasts a couple of weeks and the black dog is still mauling you go to a GP. If it is endogenous, stemming from menopause, then you have to make the decision about temporary medication. I got to the point 30 years ago when I would have been willing to shove anything down to get relief. Still, if you have been free of depression most of your life it’s more likely to be reactive. They recommend exercise but a lot of the time you feel as though your legs are lead. Still, try a little walking and when you feel better keep it up. Do things in little steps – it helps you beat the feeling that everything is just overwhelming. The only good thing about depression is it is temporary and when you’re out of it you realise how good life is and what a worthy person you are. You will be glad to know I have bought a bike and I’m riding everywhere. I find it calms my mind and helps to keep me in the present. Love and light (stole this from you).’  Bruce

So, for now I look forward to remembering how good life is, and hold onto the belief that I am still a worthy person. Thank you, Bruce. Love and light.

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