Last week, we re-released our show about depression. It’s been almost ten years since it has been broadcast, and, as always with rebroadcasts, we went in and refined and hopefully made it better. But this is essentially the show we created originally, and which people discover all the time online.
Some have told us it has helped keep them alive. This kind of effect of our work is humbling and amazing beyond words. But in every way this show is unusual. It is more personally revealing for me than anything else we’ve done. I feel vulnerable knowing it is out there in the ether again.
In the program, I “disclose” that when we first created this program I took the making of it as an occasion to walk with some trepidation back through the spiritual territory of despair. I have a bit of the same sense now, airing it again, because that dark place seems closer to me than I’m happy to admit.
As I prepared for and conducted those interviews years ago, I worried that peering down into that abyss again — even in memory, or vicariously through conversation with others — might send me into it. It did not. It was a clarifying, strengthening experience, one that made me grateful to be at a remove where I could in fact learn from depression rather than be enveloped by it. But I will stress here — as much for myself as for anyone reading — that we are not in a place to find spiritual enlightenment when we are in the throes of this illness.
Hearing this show again right now, I’m personally most held and strangely comforted by Andrew Solomon and especially Anita Barrows’ insistence that emerging from depression — “healing” if you will — doesn’t mean leaving darkness behind. It means being aware and whole enough to accept dark months and dark times as expressions of human vitality.
Those of us who have struggled with depression live imprinted with its reality — and the terrifying possibility of its recurrence — ever after. It is a gift, albeit an uncomfortable one, to live on this side of health where I can accept darkness as a companion, not a teacher when it is as close as this, yet an essential thread of the life that is mine.
This essay was originally published in February, 2009. We are re-airing the episode, “The Soul in Depression,” on the On Being podcast. You can listen here: