Depression is perhaps one of the only things in this world you can go through and still not understand why or how. Most illnesses have a medical or logical explanation, but depression strikes you without reason. It strikes you whether your life is perfect or imperfect.
It is indiscriminate; it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, you can still suffer from depression. You can have a lot of friends or none at all and still suffer from depression. You can have a phenomenal love life, spouse or partner, but still suffer from depression. There are no common traits on the outside that lead to depression. Two people can live the exact same life; one can suffer from depression while the other is perfectly happy. Why is that? I don’t know.
The initial difficulty of depression is first recognizing what it is and admitting it. For a martial artist who prides him or herself on discipline, grit, and overcoming challenges, how can such a strong person suffer from depression? Why can’t you beat it like an opponent in the ring? Maybe you’re not depressed, but just sad sometimes, and these sometimes turn into many times. Yet, as a martial artist, you are familiar with suffering; you endure suffering in your training, but this kind of suffering is different.
You hate to admit it, but the feeling is so strong. You try to ignore it and maybe that works for a while. You bury yourself into your hobbies whether they are constructive or destructive doesn’t matter. You think back over your life and try to remember the times you were happy and who you were with. You realize those moments are too few and far away. It hurts like a dull pain, numb to any treatment you attempt to apply. You fight it in your workouts…no pain, no gain… hoping that the more pain you feel physically, the less you will feel emotionally.
“But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly, now that, my friend, is very hard to do. And you have to train.” This is a quote from Bruce Lee. Why is self-expression so hard to do? It should be easy right? Just say what you feel! What does he mean by “not lying to oneself?” That’s nonsense, right? How can you lie to yourself?
If I could define depression, I would say, “Depression is what results from the inability to honestly express yourself.” You force yourself to be who and what others want you to be. Eventually, you begin to believe this is who you are. When you realize the lie, it feels too late to do anything about it. You’ve built everything in your life around what others wanted for you and what you thought you wanted for yourself. It’s a depressing thought to tear it all down. Or perhaps you feel you can’t which leads to feelings of despair and being stuck. You think, “How did I get here?” You’ve always been able to correct mistakes in your life, but this one seems impossible.
I write about depression because often during depression, you can feel like you’re trapped. It’s a feeling of despair. Sometimes it feels like nothing at all. Sometimes, you feel like you can’t feel anything. The things that used to make you happy, no longer do. Your hobbies no longer bring you happiness regardless of how much you engage in them. In fact, you may attempt to increase the time you spend with your hobbies, hoping to find the same meaning in them that you previously did. Perhaps your hobbies have been taken away from you due to injury or some other reason. Regardless, nothing in your life feels meaningful or makes you feel fulfilled. Perhaps you have family and friends in your life who love you, but yet, you feel they don’t understand you, so how can they love the real you?
“People think being alone makes you lonely, but I don’t think that’s true. Being surrounded by the wrong people is the loneliest thing in the world.” A quote from Kim Culbertson; truer words have never been spoken. Often these “wrong people” are very well intentioned. Perhaps, they want to understand you. Perhaps, they think they understand you. You smile back at them. You try to make your smile real. You want to believe that it’s real. You want to have friends, relationships, and meaning in your life. You try to give meaning to the meaningless. Then sometimes, the harder you try, the harder you fail. You don’t want to believe that it’ll never happen the way you imagine. So, you keep trying. Years go by and bye.
Eventually, you learn to live with depression. It is the battle that never ends; the battle with yourself and your thoughts. Maybe it will get better, but you accept what it is right now. You learn to cope with your depression, to abide with it. You enjoy the little comforts in your life that bring brief moments of joy. You realize these moments will be brief, but you enjoy them.
Indeed there is wisdom in the words of Solomon, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”
Regardless of our religious beliefs, the point is life has dealt us the cards we have. We can’t change that. All we can do is play the cards we’ve been dealt, whether we do that with joy or sadness.
Even flowers need mud to grow. Sometimes, in your depression, you find relief through art, whether music, fine arts, performing arts, cooking, writing, or martial arts. For a brief moment in time, as you’re engaged in your art, the world stops. Art, the most amazing drug. Depression doesn’t go away, but it’s almost as if it takes a commercial break. You can’t change the channel, but you look for those breaks between the regularly scheduled program of depression.
Art, where you can be you. Your art is where you can express yourself. It is your language. While you’re at work, you have to speak their language. While you’re at school, you have to speak their language. When you’re with people, you have to speak their language. When you engage in art, it responds back. It connects you to someone who understands you inside and out. It connects you to yourself, your true self. You’re at peace.
Bruce's art was called Jeet Kune Do; I pray you find yours as well.
Wishing you peace and contentment.