In Smashing Pumpkins’ iconic song Zero, Billy Corgan sings, “I’m in love with my sadness.”
When I first heard that lyric, all I could think was — Same. I was an angsty teenager, after all, and I had determined that my sadness made me interesting and deep.
I convinced myself I was blessed with agony.
Suffering through it would inevitably lead to creating something magnificent. As we know, all good art is born in pain. In this way, my sadness was alluring. It defined the unique thing about me that made me who I was – profound and miserable.
But I wasn’t just sad. I was then, and am still, a person who struggles with depression. It took me a long time to understand what that means. Even after I was diagnosed as an adult, I still considered depression to simply be the clinical term for sadness. I’ve come to realize that isn’t true.
The boundary between the emotional states of Sad and Not Sad is permeable. Certainly it requires effort to shift from one to the other, but even when I am immersed in Sad, I still have a sense that I could at some point be Not Sad. This fluidity – feeling the undulations of a range of emotions – is an essential part of the human experience. But depression doesn’t work this way.
Depression distorts my entire perception of myself and the world. When I am Depressed, it is unimaginable that I will ever be Not Depressed. The longer I am Depressed, the harder it is for me to extricate myself from that Depression. The harder it is for me to distinguish between who I am and what Depression traps me into being. I always feel like I am covered in thick, heavy mud and that mud is drying quickly. I know it will eventually imprison me. I know one day I will be completely and permanently transformed into a monstrous golem of petrified melancholy. And I feel powerless to stop it.
In the fall of 2020, I found myself immersed in a particularly brutal period of depression. One Friday night I dragged myself to virtual Shabbat services desperate for even a short respite from the relentless effort of existing. When we arrived at the pinnacle poem of Kabbalat Shabbat, Lekha Dodi, something utterly remarkable happened.
Throughout Lekha Dodi, we urge the Queen Bride to awaken, shake off the dust, and rise up singing. We say, “Rav lakh shevet b’emek ha’bakha — You have dwelt too long in the Valley of Tears.” I had said that line countless times, but that shabbat I had a realization. In my distorted reality, I had convinced myself that I was destined to languish in dusty darkness forever. Because on a deep level I believed I was the valley of despair. I was a barren wasteland of misery and no happiness could ever take root in my inhospitable landscape. Escaping the Valley of Tears wasn’t possible for me anymore than it is possible for sand to escape the desert.
In that precious moment of insight, I saw a different possibility. Perhaps, I wasn’t the Valley of Tears. Perhaps, I wondered ever so timidly, someone was calling out to me reminding me that, maybe, just maybe, it was totally within my power to wake up, shake off the dust, climb out of this pit, and (please, God) even sing again. If the poem is addressed to a queen, and if I felt like the poem was talking to me, maybe I wasn’t the embodiment of despair… Maybe I was a queen. That glimpse of possibility gave me the permission to hope.
Shortly after that Shabbat, while that small amount of hope still lingered, my best friend did something for which I will be eternally grateful. She researched and interviewed therapists until she found one that she knew I would like. She saw that I was unable to do that work on my own and rightfully felt a growing concern that I needed help beyond the support she could offer as a friend. I don’t know if I would have been capable of making that first appointment if it hadn’t been for that.
I needed this combination of things. I needed my soul to awaken to the possibility that I was more than my distorted perception allowed me to be. I could only emerge from the caked on layers of despair, when I saw someone else reaching out to help me. And then, with my family and friends and a lot of really hard, necessary work with amazing mental health professionals, I could rise out of that valley. And yes, thankfully, even sing.
If this at all sounds familiar to you, let me reassure you that you are not alone. Whether or not you can sense it, trust me, you are loved. You are worthy of emerging from the Valley of Tears. We are beckoning you.
Lekha Dodi – Come, Beloved.
Hitor’ri – It is time to wake up.
Lo Teivoshi – Don’t be ashamed of the struggle to hope.
Hitna’ari – Shake off the burdens that have been weighing you down.
Rav lakh shevet b’emek ha’bakha – You are not destined to languish in the Valley of Tears.
Kumi – Grab my hand and rise up.
V’nism’hah v’nagilah – Together, I promise, we will sing.
Shabbat shalom, Queen,