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Can depression be a door to personal growth?

enlightenmentA major storm hit Northern Colorado last night. Forecasters predict two days of heavy snow and near blizzard conditions. In Loveland, 10 to 16 inches of snow are forecast.

I look out my window and see this heavy gray pall hanging over everything, and snow falling continuously. It reminds me of what happens when a person becomes depressed. They may have been happy, successful people from all appearances – and then a storm rips through their life and everything becomes clouded over.

From all accounts, there are quite a lot of depressed people in the US at this time, perhaps elsewhere too.

What is depression? I've been thinking about this, perhaps inspired by the sudden change in the weather -- no sign at all of the bright blue sky I have become so accustomed to since moving here 12 years ago from BC.

About a year ago, when I was in the grip of a severe depression, a local acupuncturist told me he thought that what was going on was not so much a "depression" -- in the way that term is usually interpreted -- as a "spiritual crisis." It was a blessing to me when he said that. It brought to focus something I had been thinking about, but hadn't fully clarified.

In any event, what brought me through that very painful and debilitating experience, I believe, was this. Worn down, and filled with despair though I was, I never entirely lost trust in the innate wisdom and meaning and purpose of Life -- my Life.

It was a wrenching time. A time I hope will never be repeated. And yet I emerged out of it stronger and happier than I had been before. Why? How could that be?

It may seem far-fetched. But I believe that in some mysterious, magical way, God, or Love, wanted to accomplish a little bit of transformation. It wished to heal a piece of myself that was not complete, not whole -- traumatized, perhaps, by earlier life experiences.

It is never comfortable when a major storm of some kind rips through our life -- despair, depression, tragedy, or whatever. But if there is the potential in that painful experience to grow -- to become more whole -- more conscious of the truth of our existence -- why, is it not a blessing?

As usual, I showed this post to JoAnn before I published it. She liked it. There wasn't anything she would change. But she did point out that while I'm using our current storm to illustrate a particular theme, no doubt some people will look at the snow and think, "Oh goody. I can make a snowman. I can go tobogganing. There will be some good skiing, etc, etc."


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Corinne Rodrigues October 29, 2009 at 11:31 am

Hi Christopher
Thanks for this. It brought to mind the poem ‘The Man Watching’ by Rainer Maria Rilke. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it here:

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.


Dontarrious July 2, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Ya learn something new everyday. It’s true I guess!


Christopher Foster October 29, 2009 at 2:48 pm

A pleasure to hear from you Corinne. Many thanks for sending along the remarkable poem by Rilke. I wasn’t familiar with it: it’s quite a statement. It is my experience that the Being that I am in truth, if I may put it that way, the Angel, absolutely has its own intentions, its own time-table, etc etc– and best by far to applaud and listen to that wisom within. Good to be in touch with you in this way, and I hope others will enjoy the poem also. Chris


Corinne Rodrigues November 7, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Hi Chris – I’m glad you liked the poem. I hope you got my mail. I passed on the link to your blog to my husband and he was truly impressed by your wonderful writing. Thank you for being an inspiration.
Warm regards to you and JoAnn from both of us.


christmas decorations October 20, 2010 at 7:35 am

I have never had depression so I can’t say for sure what it can lead to. I know that it is deeply serious and some people come out of it differently to others, while some people don’t come out of it at all. I can see how it can be a door to personal growth though, as some people will realise their own strength when they overcome something like depression.


Christopher Foster October 20, 2010 at 9:53 am

Thanks Lynn — yes, it’s exactly as you say. Hard to explain or understand all the factors involved. Depression is a terrible thing just as you say — then there’s this paradox in my experience that it can open a door to a new experience of one’s own true Self. In which case it was worth it…I do appreciate your stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Take care.


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