“If you think of depression as something that’s kind of like the ocean, that comes up in waves. Sometimes you can float on top of it, and it’s okay. Sometimes it’ll try and drown you…. When the depression wave started to come up, I didn’t have my little floaties on.”

Let’s talk about depression. Let’s talk about depression as what it is, which is an illness. For many, a chronic illness. With remissions and relapses and flares. Now let’s talk about how to make room for spaciousness, rest, grace, compassion, flexibility. Let’s talk about how to help everyone have the exact things that they need to heal.

Ani DiFranco- Buildings & Bridges:


Transcript and Show Notes:



Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning in.

So I did an episode recently on intensive stop. And in it, I mentioned briefly that I have been dealing with a depressive flare. So let me talk a little bit about my language about this. And then I'll talk a little bit about depression itself. So when I talk about depression, I talk about it using language that's very similar to other chronic illnesses. I talk about having it in remission, I talk about relapse, I talk about flare. And the reason that I do that is that it is, for most of us, a chronic illness. It doesn't actually go away. It kind of lies in the patterns of our brains, if nowhere else. And we can get it into remission for long periods of time.

Mine was in remission, this time for, I don't know, 5...6...7 years? Longer. Seven years. Something like that. It was substantially in remission. And I'm having a very bad, very sudden flare right now. But I don't talk about it as being cured. And don't talk about it as being permanent. Because I don't think either of those things is really true. I think it becomes kind of etched in as a pattern that's available. And for me anyway, the combination of burnout, and depression... Well, so that's what I've noticed.

Let me start at the beginning, I moved to Portland, Oregon. And suddenly, I was awash in a level of depression that I haven't encountered, as since, let's see, 2014, 2015. Something like that. And that was really shocking. It was really shocking. I had gotten really used to not living with active, persistent depression. At least not in this acute form. But I always knew it was a possibility. And I have some tools, I have a lot of tools. Moving is a lot of change. Moving cities, especially, is a lot of change. Moving states. Moving climates, from a relatively sunny climate in California to a relatively not sunny climate in the middle of winter, in Oregon.

And you know, there's a lot- Being in Portland is complicated. It's my history with the city is complicated. But it's also very joyful. There are good reasons why I chose to come here. There are good reasons why I decided to do this enormously complicated project of moving here. And I don't want to discount that. Because we always have to weigh the pros and cons. And so indeed, I weighed the pros and cons. And I decided that this was the best, the best possible mix. But I knew coming here, I was nervous about the clouds. I knew coming here that it might be hard. I didn't realize all the ways it might be hard. But I knew it could be hard.

And I think it's important for us to talk publicly about depression, because when we treat it with shame, or pretty much anything we treat with shame, like it should be hidden like it shouldn't be publicized turns into a festering wound. And I think mental health issues and depression specifically have turned into a massive festering wound in our culture, and it's not helping. So I have historically, and I continue to, make it a point to talk about it. Obviously, I don't have it all figured out.

I am significantly less productive. I am relying heavily heavily on people who can offer me support various kinds in order to get through this. Community. Community, as I said on Facebook recently, will save you. And I am very lucky to have community and community is one of the reasons I moved here specifically. Community was something that I had not had in the last couple of places I lived, in any significant way. I'd had one person or two people, a handful of people. But not a community. Not a net. Not an interdependent web, to use the language of my faith tradition. And I think that those interdependent webs are becoming more and more important. And I think that a lot of people are recognizing that in this pandemic moment. So that's good.

But moving here, coming here, taking the risk, taking the upheaval, taking the kind of energetic hit, left me very depleted. It left me in a state of burnout which I was not anticipating. I didn't- I don't know why I didn't predict it, but I didn't. And as a result, when the depression wave started to come up, I didn't have my little floaties on.

If you think of depression as something that's kind of like the ocean, you know, it comes up in waves, sometimes you can float on top of it. And it's okay. Sometimes it'll try and drown you. Think of me as a beginning, not even a surfer, like I've got a bodyboard. Right, but my ability to hold on to the body board got ripped away by the amount of energy that I put into the move. And as a result, the next time that wave came up, I couldn't stay on top of it. And it took me down.

Today was not so bad, yesterday was actually fairly good. I am hopeful that having built new neuronal pathways over the last six or seven years, that I have some alternative to the old ones. But the old ones are huge, and powerful, and seductive, and easy. When I'm tired, they're the easiest ones. And I simply do not have the capacity that I need to stay on top of the waves. I just don't have it. I can't. I'm at that point where I'm too tired to swim.

And so I'm relying on other people. I'm relying on external supports to stay on top. And I'm not telling you this story because I'm looking for sympathy. I'm not really looking for advice either. I've been doing this since I was about thirteen. So I know my- probably before that- I know my way around it. But I am saying that this is how depression works. And that it is insidious. And it is much more common than people let on, because there is so much shame.

And there is so much stigma. And I know we say that a lot. But we have to keep saying it. Until it's not true anymore. We have to start saying it's a medical condition. It's a medical condition. It's like having a cold, or pneumonia, or COVID. Like there are different levels of respiratory and other kinds of physiological distress. But we all know that when you have a cold or pneumonia or COVID, you have to rest. You can't just get out of bed. You can't just make it happen. And sometimes it takes a long time. You do need the exact things that you need to heal.

Sometimes what drugs or methods worked for one person won't work for someone else. Sometimes two things that look very similar are actually very different. All of that is true of depression as well. And we have to find ways to have grace. We have to find ways to make space. We have to find ways to live in less rigid community. Before we had trains, we didn't have this absolutely precision based watch time keeping thing. And in a lot of countries where I've lived time is a much more flexible thing.

In India, in Portugal, in a lot of rural communities, eh, you get there five minutes late, five minutes early. Eh? Today, tomorrow? At least it'll happen. You'll get there sometime, maybe. And we need more grace, we need more grace, not just because mental health issues are insidious and terrible and exhausting. And interfere with this very rigid timekeeping model. But also, because we are in the third year of an ongoing pandemic. It has not stopped. It is not stopping anytime soon. It's gonna keep coming until we come up with a more collective way of addressing it. And more and more people are getting tired, are getting sick, are getting post-viral syndromes, are getting comorbidities.

And we just need a culture that's more human. That's more human and less mechanized. We need a culture that's more relationship-oriented. And in order to have that we have to allow ourselves to care again. Allow ourselves to access that compassion. Allow ourselves to find out what happens to our energy when we really key into the grief.

I haven't said anything about the latest police killing because I don't feel like there's much more to say. We're collectively choosing violence. Partially because we are forcing ourselves not to engage the grief at a level that would allow us to change it collectively. And that is a thing that we do when we're faced with trauma. As animals. As humans. But it is not necessarily serving us.

So what are we going to do? How are we going to make space in our culture so that people can be sick, tired, anxious, depressed? So that we can feel compassion. So that we can feel connection. So that we can be interdependent with each other. Which means that when the system isn't working for someone, that means it's not working for anyone. And we need to figure out how to change it.

What are we going to do? How are we going to do it? To me: Spaciousness. Rest. Grace. Compassion. Flexibility. If you feel you can't be flexible, find out why. Ani DiFranco sang a song a long time ago. "Buildings and bridges are made to bend in the wind; to withstand this world, that's what it takes. All that steel and stone is no match for the air, my friend; what doesn't bend breaks."

It's time for us to bend. Ideally, it's time for us to bend toward justice. But first we have to just figure out how not to fracture.

Thanks for tuning in.