Colorful cognitive dioramas.

Looking for a job while experiencing depression illuminates how thick a slice of self-confidence gets hacked off. Just like that. I’m not talking about the run-of-the-mill insecurity, the “normal” kind that reminds us we’re human. The kind that well-meaning friends, family, lovers point to in an effort to bring you some calm, to help you feel not so alone because, “Everyone feels insecure at some point. You’re not the only one who feels this way.” But you feel so desperately alone.

  • Items on bullet-pointed lists of job postings that interest you sum up requirements that seem improbable for you to fulfill.
  • Colleagues you imagine you would work with already dislike you and wonder why you were offered the position.
  • You’ve fallen behind on your task list for a project that you’ve not yet been hired to manage.
  • Your resume is a sheet of neatly organized words spelling out accomplishments and trainings you somehow completed.

Depression is a creative jerk. It creates colorful cognitive dioramas, falsely foreboding failures and fissures. It’s fucked up fantasy. Paralyzing bullshit serum. It’s a snake with three heads. A tiger with tentacled talons. A shade of black too dark for the human eye to see.

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Besides feeling that way sometimes — fearful, hesitant, twittered, jittery — I also do the things I enjoy (like record silly raps for potential employers and Vanilla Ice covers) and have meaningful interactions with people. I’m not always depressed or anxious but sometimes I am. Sometimes my mind feels like a cognitive stew with a side salad. Sometimes my mood rides out pretty smooth an entire day; sometimes my body and mind course through multiple moods by noon.

Do you have days when you wake up feeling irritated? Does your mind go blank and your limbs buzz with adrenaline when you hear a loud noise? Do you remember how your stomach felt in the moments just before your first kiss when your lips met hers/theirs/his lips?

We all are affected by our environment. Some peoples’ responses are standard, expected, predictable. Behaviors are conditioned, but for people with mood disorders (e.g. Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder/rapid cycling, Schizophrenia), their internal and external experiences can be 10x as intense as yours (persons who don’t experience a mood disorder first-hand.) Can you imagine that? I know some people are more “sensitive” or empathic than I am, and their experiences can be 50x as intense. I can only imagine.

 

Sometimes silence.

A recent discovery: Being the linguistic minority is a meditative experience. When I was visiting family with my mom (Ina) in the Philippines, I spent much of my time listening. I have acquired tidbits of my Ina’s dialect since childhood so I can pick up words every now and then, but for the most part, the consonant-heavy percussive conversation sails through one ear and out the other. When I was younger, this experience was annoying. Trying. Bordering on insufferable.

         I don’t know what anyone is saying. I feel left out.

        (Again), I would think.

But this recent visit was different. The experience. It was meditative. Calm. Rife with lessons to be learned – if I listened.    

Engaging in contemplative thought in class and reading the Epstein book constructed a contemplative vessel for the journey. I engaged by listening. I responded to others with looks and smiles. Gestures. Or, sometimes I stepped away to take pictures of pots in kitchens; the ceaseless afternoon rain from the second-story balcony. Silence. Not speaking while in the presence of others engaged with one another in speech, or not speaking while in another room snapping shots – those silences felt similar. It was OK to disengage. It was OK not to know what conversation was unfolding. It was OK to not interject with a comment here-and-there. It was OK. To be where I was. in each and every moment.

While on the trip, I stole 15 min here, 30 min there. To sit – meditate. At some point I made the connection between the two (sitting meditation and meditation while listening to conversation in a foreign language). I watched and listened but allowed the amorphous words to float by as they came and went – as I aim to do with my thoughts when they swirl and bubble up during sittings. Or not during sittings; in the grocery store. While engaged in conversation with an acquaintance. Hearing a song for the first time – the way it digs its hooks into my heart and wins me over before it ends.

 Once a thought clutches our brains, our hearts. Sometimes we feel we have to arm-wrestle them away. Sometimes our natural response is to attack. Push. Assume evil or malfeasance. Sometimes silence can elicit these responses. Because silence is foreign, strange, uncommon, boring, uncomfortable, vacuous. This is what we know. But it’s not true.

“We must learn how to be with our feelings of emptiness without rushing to change them.”

“The problem with the Western experience of emptiness [is] that it [is] mixed with so much fear.”
(Epstein, 1999)