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  • Pat Johnson

Caramel Popcorn Balls



Recently, I had the opportunity to facilitate a group on depression and hope. As a carrier of the ”depression gene” myself, I wanted to create a safe space for others who also live with depression, giving those who attended a sense of hope. Mental illness has been stigmatized culturally for years upon years. It has also been ignored by some of its sufferers who could have gotten help but declined because they didn’t want to be burdened by the shame of their condition. Somehow, it was easier to make excuses for their behavior or withdraw completely from the scene until the symptoms passed or at least lightened.


Granted, things have gotten a bit better, but why do we not ever discuss depression or bipolar like we do a heart condition or high cholesterol? Why is the psychiatric unit one of anonymity, hidden from the eyes of most clinicians except those who need access to chart notes?


One of the first sessions of the group dealt with self-acceptance. If we cannot accept who we are and what we have, how can we expect others to do the same? Depression and hypomania may color our world, restrict or open our vision, but it gives us many opportunities to engage in self-care, support others with the same genetic makeup and see the world and ourselves differently.


There is more benefit from self-reflection. We grow to know ourselves more deeply. It has been said that those who experience the depths of life can also appreciate its joys more fully. (As an aside, I also want to acknowledge that depression can also move to suicide, and that is NOT something to be celebrated.) Some of us have had the opportunity to find a medication that “works” for us, and when we finally emerge from the darkness, the light is so much more appreciated. We live out the most exuberant joy.


If you have had cataract surgery, you may understand more profoundly what I am saying. Over time, your vision became dulled, filmed over. After the procedures were completed, everything regained its color, its edges. We see life as never before. And, if you were like me (terribly nearsighted), the new lenses implanted in my eyes gave me the ability to see beyond the hand in front of my face---without glasses! I often tell people that this was one of those life-changing events--being able to see without fogginess and without constant assistance.


Coming out of depression is something like this, but it is different in that most people who have depression will experience it again. It is not usually a once-and-for-all kind of experience. As our bodies change, as we age, our chemistry may change enough so that what once worked, no longer does. And then we go seeking another medication or mix of medications that will bring us back to equilibrium so that we can function in our daily lives and responsibilities.


As I sit and write this blog, I am in front of a sunroom window that opens up to our backyard. I see last season’s hydrangeas, brown and crisp, hovering above the boxwoods, twitching now and then with a southerly wind. There is a stark beauty that cannot be seen when the plant is in full bloom. The warm-colored, dried blooms remind me of caramel popcorn balls. The stems gracefully arch toward the frozen earth. I get to see the plant in its “underwear,” appreciating the simplicity of every stalk. Some have the brown balls at the top, others do not, but what I see can only be seen in the winter.


When spring and summer arrive on the scene, the stalks are covered in leaves, deeply rich green, serrated and large. The so-called “dead” blooms have been removed by pruning shears, and new blooms prepare to emerge when the sun moves to an overhead position. When summer arrives for certain, the blooms open and reveal themselves in colors that are almost beyond imagination, changing color over the months to shades of blue, purple, pink and green.


Unless I had seen the brown stalks and the beauty of the starkness, I would not appreciate the explosion of color that I experience in the summer.


So it is with those who live with depression. What is seen as a sorry state by many is really an opportunity to savor life in all of its seasons. If you are one of these fortunate ones, I encourage you to see your condition in a new light, loving what it has done to you to allow you to fully embrace the totality of you! Thanks be to God!

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