Can We Just Ride the Ride?

Taking all the story out of depression, and just being with it.

Photo by Albin Berlin from Pexels

Depression isn’t fun, but it is impermanent. And just like being on a rollercoaster, wishing you weren’t on it, making it mean something that you’re on it, trying to get off before the ride is over, or trying to make it stop — all those efforts are wasted energy. Just ride the ride.

For the past few months, I’ve gone down some black holes that are familiar territory for me. I was thinking things like: This medication makes me feel like a zombie. But when I don’t take it, I just want to Go Away. Which is worse? I’m done with this pain. I can’t carry any more pain. I can’t. All my life, I’ve tried to eradicate, extract, heal from, deal with, do something about depression. As though it were the obstacle, the challenge, the issue. But what if it’s not? What if this is just the rollercoaster ride I happen to be on right now? At amusement parks, we ride rollercoasters because they’re exciting. We want to feel that sense of I’mGonnaDie!I’mGonnaDie! followed by the rush of not dying. Also, because once that security bar comes down over our lap there’s no going back, no matter how scared we are, we just go with it. We have to. The cars are clunking up that scary incline and we can’t do a thing about it. It might sound a little counter intuitive, but could we use this as a template for being with depression? What would it look like to walk with it as a rollercoaster ride? I sat still and felt into this idea. First, notice the fall. I know the warning signs when I’m getting into trouble. For me, it’s like the gravitational pull of the earth is about seven times stronger on my body than anyone else’s. I have a boulder of pain in my heart. And I don’t want to do anything. Those are my red flags. So how do I hold those signs as the rollercoaster car pulling out of the starting gate, clunking up that steep climb? I can consider this approach: “I’m probably going to feel a bunch of shitty stuff. I’m tired, dark, hopeless. Don’t make it mean anything about Me or The World, it’s just the ride I’m on for those feelings. Just ride, don’t try to control it.” Some might argue that it’s all fine and good for people that only sometimes get depressed. But what about the rest of us? The ones who have fought depression for years? Being one of those people, I can say that if we really pay attention, it’s not just an uninterrupted decade of depression. The good days do exist. A lot of them. We just don’t give them as much play. Which brings me to the second part of this exercise. While we’re on the ride, stay open to the moments that (maybe illogically) feel good. Last month, when I was at my lowest, I went into my back yard and lay down on the grass. I noticed that the earth held me unconditionally. The trees watched over me. I was exhausted — too exhausted to resist anything — so I surrendered to the sweetness of it. And then I let that sweetness count, at least as much as climate change, Covid 19 and the trafficking of children. Just for a moment there in the grass, I sniffed the breeze and it had that buzzing summer warmth and I was happy for a second. I’m saying let that moment be important. Give joy a microphone, a spotlight, a front row seat, and a backstage pass. When you do that, maybe that’s when the tight, fast curve on the ride leans you, giggling, into whoever’s next to you. Hear me clearly. I’m not saying, pretend it’s a rollercoaster ride and be happy. I’m saying, know that all our feelings are as impermanent as a rollercoaster ride. And if when we ride the ride consciously, it’s helpful to stay open — right in the heart of the worst of it — to nanoseconds of joy, of relief, of okayness. Stop fighting it. Stop trying to make it something it’s not. We’re human, and we’re born with emotions. But we’re also born with the capacity for awareness, and an imagination, and a desire for peace. Let’s use those elements to lean into life, to use all the colors on our palette, to be unafraid of feeling as good or as bad as we actually feel. Let’s buckle up and ride the ride.