Photo Credit: Sydney Sims, Unsplash.com

Written by Yossef Sagi
June 7, 2019

The Wake-Up Call

I was a particularly deep and curious child. The thing about being born with an “old soul” is that you often miss out on being a kid.

Born to a young mother who struggled with her own depression, it was instinctive for me to be a sounding board and support system through many of her challenges. I was highly empathetic and took on many of her emotions as my own , attempting to relieve her of her burden.

From a young age, I struggled with depression. Though, at the time, I didn’t have a name for it—I just felt frustrated, lonely, miserable, and misunderstood.

This continued through high school. I wasn’t like the other kids—I thought differently and cared about different things. I was extremely shy and insecure; I grew my hair out to cover my face and wore oversized clothes that let me hide in plain view. I became a recluse (think Ally Sheedy from The Breakfast Club).

As dark and brooding as I looked on the outside, I felt much worse. I hated myself for being how I was and felt powerless to do anything to change it. It was painful for me to be in a body that I hated, living a life that I loathed, in a world I found repugnant. I wanted it all to end.

I often had suicidal ideations and on one occasion tried to take action on them. At 15 or 16, I snuck into the medicine cabinet to find the strongest painkillers that we had. After swallowing the better part of a bottle, the worst damage they could inflict was a headache, fever, and stomach pain. That was the first and last time I attempted to take my life but far from the last time I considered it.

As high school came to an end, so did the self-loathing identity I’d chosen for myself. I skipped graduation and instead got my long locks shorn. I repeated affirmations of my greatness in the mirror. The Secret wouldn’t be published for another six years, nor did I have the word ‘affirmation’ in my vocabulary—I just intuitively felt that these mantras would help.

They did. I slowly started coming out of my shell, made new friends, and learned to enjoy my life.

Perfectly Hidden Depression

Then I moved to Los Angeles where nobody knew me or expected anything of me. I could be whoever I wanted. I took the opportunity to reinvent myself and assume a new identity. The blue skies and palm trees were an effective remedy to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Throwing myself into job after job gave my life purpose and meaning. This was particularly true when I got involved in children’s education. Teaching life skills to at-risk children felt like doing God’s work.

When I moved to Miami and got promoted to Executive Director, it was as if the responsibility of my job—more than the inspiration  I got from it—gave me a reason to live. One time, during a severe asthma attack that I was sure would kill me, the thought that kept me alive was that I was responsible for an important fundraising event the following Sunday.

I had something to wake up for—a purpose that was bigger than myself. I couldn’t stop to think about my misery because I was lost in service of others.

During those years, I’d forgotten that I ever struggled with depression. My sad days were few and far between. I had the occasional hardships, breakups, and losses, but they didn’t result in a deep depression. At worst, I’d feel dull numbness.

Then I stumbled across an online article titled “How to Know if You Experience Perfectly Hidden Depression” by Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Everything that the author wrote about Perfectly Hidden Depression (PHD) resonated with me on a deep level. I thought the depression was long gone, but as the author wrote:

“Perfectly Hidden Depression is depression all right. It’s simply hidden beneath a lifetime of acting as if everything was and is fine.”

This new perspective helped me recognize that I hadn’t ever dealt with issues I carried from my childhood; but rather, repressed them.

Regardless, I allowed myself to exist in this space as repression was probably the best I could do at the time and having an unhealthy sense of duty was certainly preferable to constant misery.

Yet, the very same mindset that liberated me from the suffering of depression also imprisoned me in an existence of tolerating a life without true introspection and self-realization. Eventually, something had to give . . .

I’ve spoken about my process of shedding identities and roles as a spiritual teacher and coach, and recognizing the deeper “I” within. It’s not easy dumping an identity that was all that I knew for most of my life and frightening to face what I might find beneath all those layers.

Integrating this journey has been my focus in the last couple of years. Yet, despite my best efforts, I would often show up as the expert—an identity I thought I needed for my services as a coach.

It was who I thought I needed to be in order to achieve my purpose and gain financial success. I played this roll well enough and delivered on promises to my clients.

Each success story only brought me a taste of accomplishment and fulfillment . It was never enough. There was always more work to be done: more people to help, another mission I had to accomplish.

The constant cycle of proving my value so that I could help others so I could—for a moment—feel meaningful, and then start over again was taking its toll.

The Deep Rest

I’ve had challenges and failures along the way, but I always forced myself back up to fight the good fight. I became masterful over my negative thoughts and found the feedback in every failure, the opportunity in every challenge.

When I’d notice feelings and thoughts of depression creeping up to slow me down, I worked through them because there was shit to get done. When anxiety crept up, I looked at it optimistically. I reframed it that I must be on the verge of a breakthrough.

Like a neglected wound, my heavy thoughts and feelings festered and drew reinforcements from my childhood trauma and the repressed years with PHD. They overpowered every tool and technique I could throw at them. My tool bag may have been deep and diverse, but it was no match for their relentlessness.

In mid-December of 2018, they threw the knockout punch.

Jim Carrey, who has publicly shared his own experience with depression, says, “Depression is your avatar telling you it’s tired of being the character you’re trying to play.” My avatar must have been exhausted because I had no energy to leave my bed. He continues,

“You should think of the word ‘depressed’ as ‘deep rest.’ Your body needs to be depressed. It needs deep rest from the character that you’ve been trying to play.”

I’d already known that I was playing a character that wasn’t me, but allowed myself to continue acting since it served me. Yet my soul knew I would never be happy living a life that wasn’t in alignment with my values of authenticity, integrity, and impeccability. And so I wouldn’t allow the deep rest.

 

Continued in Part Two of this article, “How I Redefined My Experience of Depression,” we’ll explore what unfolded as I gave my body its much needed deep rest . . .

Photo Credit: Sydney Sims, Unsplash.com