Robin Williams, our beloved cultural jester, gone by his own hand. How could this be?
For those of us who have struggled with the mighty darkness of depression, hearing about Williams’ suicide is shocking but not surprising. We know about inner monsters, about how full of toxicity the stream of the inner voice can be.
I have no idea what Williams’ journey was like. It sounds tortuously unending, in how the promise of new tomorrows appeared to be interrupted by the reality of how he experienced each moment. As a psychologist and a recovered depressed person, however, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about facing into the darkness. I use the below list as rules for living, ladders that I know now I can climb when I fall back into the pit.
#1: DEPRESSING YOUR FEELINGS CREATES DEPRESSION
I first read this revolutionary idea in Cheri Huber’s The Depression Book (later re-released as Being Present in the Darkness). I had no idea that my emotions had anything to do with my depression, which now seems quite bizarre in the face of having had years of therapy and having been to graduate school in clinical psychology. Now I can see how my flatness of being has everything to do with the anger, fear, sadness–and joy, and sexuality–that I hadn’t been willing to actually experience in my body.
#2: FEELING YOUR FEELINGS IS THE ANTIDOTE TO DEPRESSION
The corollary to #1, being willing to fully experience the complete cycle of your feelings in your body allows your inner experience to flow on through.
#3: ANYBODY GETS TO FEEL ANYTHING, ANY TIME, FOR ANY REASON
There is no emotion that is valid or invalid. What is happening in your body–the clench of anger in the jaw, the tightness of fear in the belly, the pain in the heart of sorrow, the sizzle of life energy of sexuality and joy–all of these are your birthright. You get to feel them. Any time. For any reason.
#4: SOMETIMES GETTING DEPRESSED IS A SIGNAL THAT YOU NEED REST
Depression is reliable for its impulse to stay inside, to isolate and just stop. If I notice any signs of depression now, I take them seriously as signals that my body needs to sleep more, to stop relating to the outside, and to look within for what my body is trying to tell me.
#5: DON’T BELIEVE YOUR MIND
I have said many times that my real job is to help people lose their minds. “The mind does not wish the best for you”, said Gail Kali, a dear teacher. Our thoughts only reflect our emotional state. Believing them is like listening to a drunk on the street. Some of it might be useful; all of it is to be questioned.
#6: IF YOUR THOUGHTS AREN’T LOVING AND KIND, FOCUS ONLY ON SHIFTING YOUR EMOTIONS
Since thoughts reflect emotions that are stuck in the body, if you want to change your thoughts, focus on moving the emotions through. Shift moves like breathing, moving, appreciating, wondering, and playing will support this flow.
This rule is particularly important if your thoughts are self-destructive. If you want to hurt yourself in any way (including through addictions, over-exercise, eating poorly, not resting, overworking, or any other way of treating yourself that is not kind and compassionate), your work is in simply allowing the energy of emotions to move through your body.
We have lost a beloved man. Let us honor his life, and his death, by learning what we can about how to be with our own darkness and to fully embrace what it has to offer us–in life.
Watch for my new book, The Relationship Skills Workbook: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to a Thriving Relationship, due to be coming out October 1st! (Click here for pre-order information.)