Last year I read Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess and became interested in the descent of Inanna as a way of exploring the processes of depression. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the journey downwards, and the triggers for that downward journey. It’s taken me until now to properly grasp that while Jane Meredith’s book is as much concerned with ascent as descent, I’ve not looked at how I come back at all until recently.
Inanna is stripped of everything as she descends. Physical items that are symbols of power and self are taken from her. Then, after her time on the meat hook, she comes back up, and the things taken are returned just as systematically. This is the point at which the story ceases to work as a metaphor for depression. Many of us go down due to external factors – losses, setbacks, dealing with shitty people. We are not automatically given back what was taken. We either have to do without it, make it, or find it elsewhere.
I crash every six to eight weeks, to some degree. I’ve been in a cycle of collapse and return like this for many years. Paying close attention to the triggers of falling into depression, and the process of depression once in it, has not stopped me continually burning out. I know more than I did, and I’ve been able to reduce the magnitude a bit, much of the time, but that’s all. So it’s been time to look at ascent. When I’m so tired I can’t think or move, when everything hurts and there seems to be no point even trying, how do I get going again?
The answer is rage. What gets me up, every time, is fury with myself over how stupid, useless and unreasonable I’m being. The people around me deserve better. There are things that have to be done and I’m not doing them because I’m huddled in a corner, whimpering. I’ll call myself lazy, selfish, self-indulgent, a good for nothing waste of space, and I’ll batter myself with this language until the rage against myself is powerful enough to get me moving again.
I suspect there’s a direct relationship between this process, and the next round of falling over. It’s taken until now to question it, because until this month, the self-hatred that keeps me moving had seemed like a perfectly natural and reasonable thing. Feeling like my only point is my utility, and having internalised a sense of worthlessness a long time ago, I’ve had no way of being kind to myself in times of burnout. I haven’t felt I deserved being kind to, and I’ve had no way of fixing that alone.
When all you can change in response to a problem outside of you, is something inside of you, the options are limited. Depression is treated as an internal problem to be solved internally, but if it’s being caused by external issues, there’s a limit to what can be done. Problems that eat away at sense of self, self esteem, hope, and energy are not fixed by taking a positive attitude to them, especially if you have no means for being positive. Rewiring the longstanding thought patterns in a brain is not a quick or easy process. They aren’t fixed by anger, either. Sometimes, the change really has to come from other people. Sometimes, I need to ask for help, or to feel safe explaining the problem. Sometimes I need looking after.
I’ve made a few tentative forays into talking about what I need to have be different. I’ve sought a few changes from other people. I’ve worked out what, externally, is knocking me down and I’m trying to minimise contact with situations that take me apart. I am not a goddess in a mythical descent, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have the things taken given back to me.
Currently I’m working on how to get up gently. I’m ever more convinced that treating depression as individual and internal is part of the problem. The more time we spend collectively knocking each other back (or letting our politicians knock us back) the worse it gets. I think we can help each other to do something totally different.