Coping with Depression – One Writer’s Description


As a therapist working with depression, I hear many descriptions of depression, and many stories of coping.  It plays out uniquely in each person’s life.  I’d like to share with you one writer’s description for a couple of reasons.

First, those with depression sometimes feel better knowing that there are others out there who can relate to what they’re going through, are encouraged to see a story of recovery, and can get ideas from each other on how to cope.  Second, family and friends of those with depression can get a glimpse of how difficult it can be, and thus be more empathetic.

And who better to describe this experience than a writer?  The following excerpt is from “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert:

…during the last few years of my life, there was no question that I was in grave trouble and that this trouble was not lifting quickly.  As my marriage dissolved and my drama with David evolved, I’d come to have all the symptoms of a major depression – loss of sleep, appetite and libido, uncontrollable weeping, chronic backaches and stomachaches, alienation and despair, trouble concentrating at work… it went on and on.

When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost.  For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wondered a few feet off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now.  Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises any more…

…I tried so hard to fight the endless sobbing.  I remember asking myself one night, while I was curled up in the same old corner of my same old couch in tears yet again over the same old repetition of sorrowful thoughts, “Is there anything about this scene you can change, Liz?“…

…The last thing I tried after about two years of fighting this sorrow, was medication… For me the decision to go the route of “Vitamin P” happened after a night when I’d sat on the floor of my bedroom for many hours, trying very hard to talk myself out of cutting into my arm with a kitchen knife.  I won the argument against the knife that night, but barely…

…And I will never forget Susan’s face when she rushed into my apartment about an hour after my emergency phone call and saw me in a heap on the couch.  The image of my pain mirrored back at me through her visible fear for my life is still one of the scariest memories for me out of all those scary years.  I huddled in a ball while Susan made the phone calls…

…When I went to see the psychiatrist that afternoon, he asked me what had taken me so long to get help… “If you had a kidney disease, you wouldn’t hesitate to take medication for it – why are you hesitating with this?“… He put me on a few different drugs… in less than a week, I could feel an extra inch of daylight opening in my mind.  Also, I could finally sleep…

…Still, I never relaxed into taking those drugs… I always felt conflicted about it.  Those drugs were part of my bridge to the other side, there’s no question about it, but I wanted to be off of them as soon as possible… Those pills might have saved my life, but they did so only in conjunction with about twenty other efforts I was making simultaneously during that same period to rescue myself, and I hope to never have to take such drugs again…

…But… here I am.  I am in Rome, and I am in trouble.  The goons of Depression and Loneliness have barged into my life again… I don’t know what to do, and I’m spiraling in a panic, like I always spiral when I don’t know what to do.  So what I do for tonight is reach for my most private notebook, which I keep next to my bed in case I’m ever in emergency trouble.  I open it up.  I find the first blank page.  I write:

I need your help.”  Then I wait.  After a little while, a response comes, in my own handwriting:

I’m right here.  What can I do for you?

And here recommences my strangest and most secret conversation.  Here, in this most private notebook, is where I talk to myself.  I talk to that same voice I met that night on my bathroom floor when I first prayed to God in tears for help, when something (or somebody) had said, “Go back to bed, Liz.”  In the years since the, I’ve found that voice again in times of code-orange distress, and have learned that the best way for me to reach it is written conversation.  I’ve been surprised to find that I can almost always access that voice, too, no matter how black my anguish may be.  Even during the worst suffering, that calm, compassionate, affectionate and infinitely wise voice (who is maybe me, or maybe not exactly me) is always available for a conversation on paper at any time of day or night…

…So tonight I reach for that voice again… What I write in my journal tonight is that I am weak and full of fear.  I explain that Depression and Loneliness have shown up, and I’m scared they will never leave.  I say that I don’t want to take the drugs any more, but I’m frightened I will have to.  I’m terrified that I will never really pull my life together.

In response, somewhere from within me, rises a now-familiar presence, offering me all the certainties I have always wished another person would say to me when I was troubled.  This is what I find myself writing to myself on the page:

“I’m here.  I love you.  I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you.  If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it – I will love you through that, as well.  If you don’t need the medication, I will love you too.  There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love.  I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you.  I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me…”

…I fall asleep holding my notebook pressed against my chest, open to this most recent assurance.

Ms. Gilbert has crafted a beautiful, often funny book in “Eat Pray Love,” and goes on to describe many other challenges as well as successes, joys, and unique experiences in her one year of travels that this book tells about.  She has a wonderful receptiveness and openness to the various people and cultures she encounters along the way, and an honesty about herself that is clearly informed by much self-reflection and contemplation.

As you can tell, the excerpts above leave a lot out.  Her book isn’t just about depression, but rather about her journey to recover after a particularly difficult transition in her life, and not just about traveling, but also about her spiritual journey and discoveries.  I for one enjoyed the book, and I hope that you find the above sections not only illustrative but heartening.

Categories : Depression


  1. Melinda Mutti says:

    I am reading this book now, and it is great! Uplifting and life-affirming!


  2. Anda Jines says:

    Glad you are enjoying it. Sometimes it is nice to see a less clinical and more personal approach to the topic of depression. Of course her book talks about a great deal more than depression. I agree that it is uplifting and life-affirming.

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