It’s easy to describe certain parts of yourself to another person.
Your spontaneity. Your curiosity. Your degree in economics, or your knowledge of three languages.
What’s harder is describing parts of your nature that are inherent to your being but that are also vastly secret. Your tendency to snap. Your sensitivity.
I’m athletic – I climb, I run, I just started doing yoga and I commit to a number of other activities. I’ll tell people that. I love that about myself.
It’s almost been exactly a year since the waves of depression have swept over my mind’s shore, and that’s significant. Depression is a consuming, sinking experience. And like the fly in your room that buzzes, buzzes, buzzes around on a hot summer day, you know it’s there, but you can’t seem to do anything about it. It swallows you.
I had a psychologist once who told me, when I was depressed, to own my depression. Accept it. “It’s a part of you,” he said, smiling despite my raised eyebrows. “That won’t change.”
It’s a hard thing to hear. But like every part of me – my athleticism, my support of women’s rights, my drive – I listened to him and looked at my depression as just one more of those things. But instead of being swaddled by it, I sewed it into a pair of shoe laces, slapped it into a bag of climbing chalk, smiled it into my friendships.
Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell just recently became the coolest climbers in the world, and with it, brought climbing front and center in society. They became the first to free climb the daunting “Dawn Wall” on the 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. To non-climbers: this is a big deal.
As I watched this feat, hands sweating and probably freaking out my coworkers, I thought about the achievement. Climbing 32 pitches (32 lengths of rope – imagine a very, very, very tall rock) on the (arguably) hardest route in the world is absolutely astounding.
And it’s that 32nd pitch that I’ve thought about the most. The final step – the equally hardest and most relieving time. Muscles shaking and skin ripped, these men were likely in the wildest mental state at that point. And they kept going. Jorgeson told admirers to “find their own secret Dawn Wall.”
What’s my 32nd pitch? It is doing something active every day? Is it climbing that route I have worked on, or running that extra mile? Or being positive when I don’t want to be? Letting loose when I want to?
I am active because I need to be. As runner Emil Zatopek said, “It’s simply that I have to.”
“The opposite of depression is not happiness,” Andrew Solomon describes in his TED talk about his own experience with depression. “But vitality.”
I’ve learned to own my depression, and I’m happy to say it’s been a year since I haven’t been affected by it. I’m living a vital life. And by the looks of it, there will be many years to come that will be the same. I’ll climb when I’m tired and I’ll run even when nothing feels better than my bed sheets. I’ll eat my Brussels sprouts and I’ll also eat chocolate if I feel like it. Depression might be a part of me, and that’s fine, but it will never consume me as much as my love for the vitality I’ve found in life.
Because I’ll be too busy finding my own pitch 32.