I'm afraid I might have been dismissive of someone else's experience recently. Trampled all over it, even. A new insight appeared to me, which I didn't entirely recognise at the time, and it is now, at half past midnight, when I have stayed up watching more episodes of a favourite tv series than was good for me to do, that I start to understand what I was discovering.
This someone was talking about the lack of self-worth that some people feel with experiences or episodes of depression. And it felt to me, in that moment, that lack of self-worth wasn't part of my experience. I did at times lose confidence, but on reflection, I don't think I doubted that I was worthy.
I had a profound sense of uncertainty about who I was, about where my place was in the world. When I felt ill-equipped to recommend myself it was, I now think, because I did not know who I was recommending, had not found my place in the world, named the gifts I had received and could offer to my community. It was not because I doubted I was worth recommending.
I was also, and perhaps had always been, uncertain when it came to human relationships, especially the partnering, romantic kind. Perhaps that was also tied to not knowing who I was. Perhaps it was heightened in those years after high school when, as happens for many, friendships were lost for myriad reasons, different choices, different directions, all having to find our place in the world. When I think back on the beginning of my experiences of depression, there is always this sense of profound loss, gaping holes where friends had suddenly disappeared, a feeling of having been abandoned. Being abandoned is one of my triggers. Abandoned, unseen. Perhaps I am being naive now, and this is actually about self-worth. But I don't think so. I don't think I felt unworthy of being loved, chosen, befriended: I did then, and still sometimes do now, not quite understand why others would choose me, though. Am I so solitary that people seeing me as a person with whom they want to connect is such a surprise?
What I muse on now, in the small hours when my neighbours have forgotten the neighbourly courtesy of turning that music down after midnight, is that I may not have been sure of who I was, not confident of where I might stand, not certain about what others see in me, but I did not doubt I was worthy of a place, of love.
I may have experienced profound sadness, the vacuum of isolation, the deafening silence of despair; I may have wanted to stop living so as to stop that dreadful pain tearing me from inside, but I did not doubt that I was worthy of the gift of life.
Perhaps that is what kept me alive.
Where did that self worth come from, that source of resilience and life for when I needed it most?
Family. Parents who give of themselves again and again so that I might have fulness of life. Sisters who see and come running, even when they don't understand what the hurt is. The wider web of extended family always affirming each one of its members. The friends who become the family you choose; the church, family of faith friends. Last week's biblical stories were of the great commandments to love God and love each other.
Well, you have loved, and you have kept me alive, all you who are my family.
Where did that self worth come from, that love of self and love of life?
Sacred, Divine, Holy One: a Presence I have known all along, the one I did not exclude when I shut everyone else out of my darkness. I chose always to speak to, sing with, listen for God. I always knew I was worthy of a resting place within that Presence.
It gave me hope. It kept me alive.
And it has taken 20 years of living with this illness to stumble on that insight. This illness always surprises me with something new to learn about life, about Love.