How Led Zeppelin Cured My Depression – A Mindful Approach to Despair
Sometimes sadness and despair arrive along with a tragic event. But other times these difficult emotions can spring up at a moments notice.
When this happens it’s hard to know what to do or where to turn. We may feel ambushed by our feelings and confused by their origin. At least that’s how I felt when it happened to me.
Rejection and Fear
The other day I was reading a blog called Strong Inside Out. It’s written by Amy Clover, a fitness professional, and suicide survivor.
Amy’s story is truly inspiring and I realized I’d love to share her story with my readers. So, I sent her an email telling her I enjoyed her blog and requested an interview.
She wrote me back and declined my offer. Her reply was pleasant and she thanked me for my kind words.
As soon as I read her reply, I felt depressed. Partly I felt rejected. But what really bothered me down was my mind’s instant comparison. I looked at her success, compared it to my own struggles and I got caught.
My thought process went down a familiar path:
Why did she turn me down?
She’s probably too busy.
I mean she’s doing an amazing cross-country event to raise money for an amazing cause.
I should understand and feel inspired.
But I don’t feel inspired.
I feel like a failure.
I wish I could do something like that.
But I’m not as attractive as she is.
Hell, I’ve never been especially photogenic.
I have no flipping idea what I’m doing.
It feels like my business is barely growing
Am I doing what I need to do?
Am I actually helping anyone or am I just kidding myself?
Man money is tight right now.
I feel like I work so much.
But I’m not even close to making that happen.
What’s the point?
It feels like there is no hope.
I’ve heard many stories of how thoughts like these have led people down the path of despair. When this happens it seems like nothing will help. All you see in front of you is an endless expanse of potential failure and impermanence. And we are left with the question of what to do when our mind tumbles into sadness.
1. Look Who’s Talking
As soon as I notice my thoughts sink into despair, I get curious. I realize that my mind has taken on one particular perspective or voice.
I know this voice very well. And I know from experience that this voice has a very limited view of the world.
This voice often arises at the end of long runs when I want to stop. It arises when I’m stuck with a lingering cold or flu. It arises after any break up or romantic rejection.
2. I am not despair.
In truth, there is nothing inherently wrong with this voice or perspective. It’s just one part of who I am.
The problem is when I identify with this voice. When I confuse this perspective with the truth I begin to believe there is no hope and I get stuck.
So, whenever this voice arises, I try to remember one thing. I am not any one voice or view. I am a complex, unique, and dynamic person. No singular perspective is in charge of my life.
One way I work with this is by asking a simple question: Have I always felt like this?
When I really think about it, I know that I haven’t always felt like this. I have days when I’m on fire. Days when I believe so strongly in what I’m doing, I won’t let anything stop me.
As I remember these moments I begin to see how limited my despairing, perspective is. I remember that this feeling won’t last forever. And that gives me the courage to maintain my hope.
3. Hear Another Voice
Once I’ve broken the spell just a little I realize I have a choice. I can listen to this sad voice or I can tune into a different channel. The process works something like this.
Imagine you are at a live performance like a rock festival or a symphony. Certain sounds naturally jump out such as the lead guitar, the trumpets, or the violins.
These lead instruments are like the dominant voice in your mind. They are obvious, clear, and powerful. But they aren’t the only sounds you hear.
If you listen closely, you can hear the other instruments. You can hear the drums, the bass, or the woodwinds. You can even hear other background noises, the noise of the crowd around you or the sound of your own breath.
You can try this out right now:
Click the video below and then follow these instructions.
(You can also do this with any song you like. Ideally one with multiple instruments and percussion of some kind. )
As the video starts, first focus on the lead instrument. This should be easy because it’s what we normally hear. What qualities does it have? How does it make you feel?
Then after 20 seconds switch your focus to the percussion.
How are the qualities of the percussion different?
Does it create a different feeling in you?
If you try hard enough you can hear the drums the whole time the song is playing.
And we can hear different parts of ourselves in the same way.
It Goes To Eleven
Despair, sadness, and grief may be playing a lead solo, but if you listen carefully, you begin to hear other feelings and thoughts.
Alongside the thoughts of despair may be mundane thoughts and thoughts of boredom. But there may also be thoughts of encouragement, feelings of compassion, and appreciation for others.
Focusing on these thoughts won’t make your painful feelings go away. But they will help you to see them in context.
4. Don’t push it away
As you work to focus on other thoughts, you have to remember one very important thing: Don’t push away the despairing voice. Why? Because resistance causes persistence.
In Portland, the mountains trap the clouds as the move in from the sea. If it weren’t for the mountains, our weather would be totally different. Resisting our feelings works the same way. When we put up barriers to feeling sadness, we only make it last longer.
When you accept your feelings, you create the space for something new. Just as the currents shift in summer and blow the clouds out to sea. Once you create space in your heart the clouds of despair will move on.
Being mindful means honoring every part of who we are. Even the parts that are hard to deal with.
5. Self Care
The final step in this process is to find a way to process your feelings.
Activities like exercise or meditation are a great way to work with difficult emotions. In addition seeking support, advice, and reassurance is highly recommended.
Accepting that the despair is part of you isn’t about throwing a pity party. It’s about accepting that sometimes you will feel sad and hopeless. And then working to create space for things to shift on their own.
Meditation is perhaps one of the most powerful ways to work with despair. Sitting down with ourselves is itself a powerful symbol of acceptance and compassion for our troubled hearts.
Ok so just to recap here are the steps I take to deal with despair or for that matter any powerful emotion.
- I notice that I’m stuck on one particular voice or perspective.
- I notice that this voice is limited and that I have access to other perspectives.
- I try to expand my perspective to include all the perspective I can hear. Especially the perspectives that counter act the one I’m caught in.
- I try not resist my feeling instead I accept that it’s a part of who I am. To be a whole person I must feel both hope and despair.
- I do something to help create space like meditating, exercising, talking to a good friend, or enjoying some time in nature. This space allows me to accept despair without resisting and to let it move through me.
A Final Thought – When to get help:
Everything I’ve said above is very true in my experience and for many people I have known. Having said that, these techniques only work well if you have a good base to start with.
If you have past trauma, a history of depression, and especially suicidal tendencies then I would strongly recommend you seek professional advice and help for dealing with your feelings of despair, sadness, or loneliness.
Working to discern and find space around certain voices can help, but for some people the lead guitar solo of despair and hopelessness is stuck on eleven. Mental health professionals, medication, and support groups along with many other things can help you find a way to balance the sound system in your head.
If you feel depressed most of the day nearly everyday, have greatly diminished interest in daily activities, insomnia, constant fatigue, persistent feelings of worthlessness, lack of ability to concentrate, or recurring thoughts of self harm, you should seek help early and often.
Asking for help is hard and it takes real courage to do so. So, be brave and ask for help again and again. It’s a great gift to share our vulnerabilities with others and allow them to support us.
National Alliance on Mental Illness Information Line