Phoenix Rising: Thriving With Depression

She always asks how I am doing. I rattle off a few tidbits, mainly professional milestones or interesting people who I crossed paths with over the past week, simultaneously picking at fluff that does not exist on her couch.

She probes again “How are you doing?”  

I always reply “I told you how am doing, it’s been a great week.” And so it goes, week in and week out when I’m on my therapist’s couch. I’ve been a regular cushion warmer since last September. I thought that I had my shit together.

Dark clouds started rolling in, a storm without warning. They gathered together, forming black thunderheads that have obscured my view. My senses abandoned me one by one, falling away without ceremony.  I lost my faculty of smell and taste. My ability to discern my emotions vanished seemingly overnight.

Back to the couch.

By the way, the couch is located just off Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. California, sunny days, mountains that meet the sea, and 57 flavors of tacky. I love it. I walked in and greeted my therapist dressed in my usual undercover garb. Disheveled, crazy hair, and bulging eyes. I fidgeted, divulged my dark suicidal thoughts, cried, screamed and begged for medication. She was not having it.

She asked: How are you DOING?

“I just told you how I am doing. My life sucks, and I want out.” From her green swivel armchair (they are always green and swiveling) she proclaimed that my life did not suck. It just happens to be the circumstantial crazy-making happening around me that is driving me mad. That and the fact that I have severe self-esteem issues and my self-worth is hiding somewhere underneath the cat shit in the litter box of my mind.

“Look at you. You are a beautiful woman, even like you are right now. Your sweater is on inside out and your hair isn’t combed. You have black circles under your eyes that concealer doesn’t cover. But you are gorgeous.”

“So fucking what,” was my reply. I hate that for too many years I have been judged by my looks and not by brains. Her point was not lost that I am lucky for this, and it’s high time I take ownership of my package and thrive.

She persisted, “How are you DOING?

“I don’t know. I don’t know how I am. I can’t feel anything.”

My problem is that I have lost touch with myself. I was a person who had definitive likes and dislikes. I used to be the wild one. I used to be spontaneous. I used to feel electrified. Now, the only thing I know for certain is that I can’t stand judgment. Period. Every week, with her, the script plays out this way. I must be driving her crazy. She is patient. She is warm. She checks in with me after hours.

I hate my mind.

I don’t remember when—if ever—I have lived without some form of something. Melancholy, depression, restless anxiety, physical ailments, whose rendezvous come unannounced. A miscreant troupe of blah. Most of my life, most of the time, if I am left alone, I am fine. The chinks start to appear when I am confronted with strife. This makes me sick to my stomach. I hate that I am weak. I hate that I am so sensitive. I hate my mind.

I finally said fuck it and found a therapist, I had too. The temptation to join the “call me crazy” club was getting out of hand.

Have I told you that I loathe therapy? Have I told you how much I hate being medicated? Have I told you how much I despise depression? Probably not. That conversation is reserved for a small group. Husband, kids, parents, siblings and in-laws. I hide my demons well.

My therapist has superpowers. She believes in me. She refuses to give me a label or medication. She steadfastly sticks to her belief that I can conquer my self-imposed prison of depression.

The last time I saw her face-to-face I was nearly manic with excitement. The culmination of a professional dream being fulfilled was just about to be feted.

She asked me, “How are you DOING?”

I reached into my bag and pulled out the fruits of miraculously combined efforts. The book, the one that was just celebrated. Turning to her, with a smile on my face, I presented my gift, like promised. Taken aback, she stroked the book’s cover. She flipped the pages, checked that it was a signed copy (of course). She read the back and then she put the book down in her lap.

She asked, “How are you DOING?

This time instead of grasping at straws, I asked her why she kept asking me that annoying question. Her response intrigued me. She told me that she firmly believes that I can come back to life. A real life, not just a pretend one. She believes that I can enjoy my life completely, not just through professional accomplishments.

She told me there were other things that I could be proud of. Good things. Things that I forgot how to see. Things that I don’t give myself credit for. Things that I deny instead of owning.

She asked me to list my qualities. I would rather have my fingernails pulled out than talk about myself. Seriously, that makes me uncomfortable.

 “I can’t think right now, I am wiped out. Let’s talk about …”

Nope. She refused.

“I have noticed a pattern,” she told me. “Whenever I ask you a question that involves acknowledging your worth, you shut down. I have also noticed this pattern when we talk about conflicts in your life. You shut down. It is a reaction or byproduct of the life you have lived. Your life has been one that seems to be dominated by codependent tendencies. Maybe you have been surrounded by emotionally abusive individuals. Certainly the sexual abuse you endured did not do you any favors. You will never, ever, be able to escape the pattern of shutting down unless you learn how to protect yourself from the triggers that go off in your subconscious. I want you to think of a safe word. A word you can use when you are being confronted. A word you can use when you think you are worthless. A word that will give you strength. Your talisman. What is your word?”

Rivulets of salty tears ran for their lives down my cheeks.


“My word is Phoenix. When I lived in Paris, about four years ago, before I started working on Feminine Collective, I was at a breaking point. Another breakdown was approaching, I could feel it. I was walking in the rain, disconnected, depressed, just another shitty day like all the rest, then the Phoenix popped into my mind’s eye. The book, that book in your lap. It’s here because of the Phoenix.”

She replied, “Finally. You have found yourself. You are the Phoenix.

Photo Credit: MattysFlicks Flickr via Compfight cc

  1. Ana-
    This was the edited version! If I really let loose the white coats would be after me in a flash!
    I am grateful that you read it and thank you for your comment.

  2. Kathy-
    Thank you! I am glad my thoughts made sense – sometimes they race so fast, twist and get knotted up. Depression is a bittersweet illness. Because of it we see things that other’s miss. Because of it we feel things so deeply it hurts. Just hang on. That is all that we can do.
    Be well-
    x J

  3. Claudia,
    I am a work in progress. Seriously. Every day is another battle, but working on “self” is the greatest adventure I know.
    Thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. Elaine-
    Thank you for your compliment. I don’t know yet if I am truly honoring my words yet. I fight with my mind every other second every day.
    Please tell me more about your dreams! I have had a few interesting past life regressions, where pieces of dreams finally fit the puzzle. Our minds, our souls, our hearts never ever cease to amaze me.
    Your word: Angel

  5. That’s a word to live by. Reading this, As I read your pieces, I feel you honoring your inner worlds.

    Six months before my husband died, I dreamed that I had to save a starving dark-skinned girl child about a year old. I didn’t know how, but it was clear that girl was me. I tried a few therapists who specialize in grief, but they weren’t dream workers. I found a woman who is Jungian (my psychological language) and loves dreams. “I’ll come for two hour sessions,” I said, “because I need to tell you how I am (there’s that question) and I need to talk about my dreams. We’ve been meeting every other week for over 8 years now.

    I’m watching for my word. I could use one.

  6. I think you’re an amazing writer. I know how tough depression can be as well. I’ve battled with it myself and I have many friends that have too. I love how inspiring your post is as well.

  7. Sometimes people are just simply annoying. It happens everywhere. Sometimes, I am quiet because I’m busy, for some reason people around think that there’s something wrong with me.

  8. Good thing that you have found a therapist that really helps you. You are truly a Phoenix, keep it up!

  9. I related so so damn much to this post. Having struggled all my life with Bipolar disorder. This is brilliantly written and very deep.
    Thank you for making me feel just little less alone today. You’re awesome.

  10. What a touching story. I guess it’s our nature to judge people by their looks and not by their brains or hearts. I hate to admit that I can be judgmental at times and I am working hard on changing this.

  11. What a thought provoking article. We all have therapy in different forms. Mine, sounds daft but works for me….Really really load music through headphones while laying down on a couch or bed.

  12. I feel you, people should be sensitive to what they say. In the future, I will not let this happen to my children.

  13. It’s not easy to fight with depression but it’s important not to do this alone. A therapist is there to help and not judge and even if she pushes you to your limits, it’s for your own good. 🙂

  14. Beautifully written. We all have struggles, but those with depression have it a little harder than those who do not, and that’s what makes them stronger once they realize that they have risen from the ashes of their pain. I love that you chose the phoenix and what it stands for. Very touching.

  15. Thought provoking as always and I can see a lot of similarities between me and you, when asked if I am ok I avoid the question because I don’t want people to know how I am really feeling. Like she said on your bad days its like you are immune to anything and incapable of showing emotion. Depression is hard.

  16. I have suffered with depression since I was about 14. I remember my therapist would almost always start out asking how I was doing too. Guess it is there way of seeing how honest we are with ourselves, and others. Depression can be overwhelming!

  17. Wow so beautiful and yet haunting in a way. I know i don’t have depression but as a MS survivor adn other medical issues i contented with this. Thank you.

  18. This was really a great read. I often get frustrated when people always comment to me how beautiful my one daughter is. How do they think it makes my other daughters feel? I feel all my children are beautiful and the one they keep commenting about I always remind them that she is more beautiful on the inside. SIGH.

  19. This was so touching and intense to read. Depression can be one of the most dangerous things there are, people can reach a point of no return and lose themselves. It’s great that you found the strength in you to overcome your mind, you are inspirational

  20. “So fucking what,” was my reply. I hate that for too many years I have been judged by my looks and not by brains. – JA

    Exactly! We are more than looks, size, race, sex. We are the total sum that encompasses everything that we are. Looks should not add into that equation. (I know…I’m ranting..I have a whole column here on The FC basically dedicated to it. I just drives me crazy that society tries to determine our worth, by what we look like on the outside. It’s really just a cover and society needs to realize that the good stuff, the stuff that matters and really makes us beautiful, is found on the inside of us all.)

    Love the article. I always enjoy your writing.

  21. Thank you Rachael.

    I will gladly take a hug! Don’t worry, I am ok. It is what it is. My art is this site. My art is writing. My art is taking photos. My masterpiece – is staying sane! LOL

    xx J

  22. “Rivulets of salty tears ran for their lives down my cheeks.”

    I love your writing, I just want to hug you when I read your sadness.

    PS….unless I am working and obligated to dress up for stage, my Mom uniform is usually my paint covered pyjama bottoms and occassionally features an inside out sweater (which I only notice is inside out either while I am out doing errands or after I get home).

    Do you ever paint?
    Art is very good therapy.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *