What are the dimensions of the boxes which define us?
A journey of mindfulness, melancholy and me
Dean Weller – ‘The Melancholy Manager’ - January 2014
For most of the last 37 years I’ve carefully constructed a box which has defined me. It’s been shaped by my parents, by cultural and social expectation, by employers but – most of all – by me. It’s provided a familiar structure within which I can operate. It’s well formed, well behaved and responsible. The last time I can recall being without my box I was 4 years old.
And yet there’s been a shadow slowly growing inside me which, for the last 5 years, has dominated my life, my relationships, my work and most of my waking hours. The shadow I call “melancholy” and my doctor calls it chronic depression.
The strong box struggled to hold form following a couple of major events in 2008 when I contracted pneumonia and spent a week in hospital and then, during my convalescence, I lost my job. For the next 5 years the outer shell of the box remained for the most part intact; the world could see the strong, capable and reliable (let’s not forget responsible) man I’d always been. Yet inside, as the shadow grew, it hid the vitality, humour, joy and creativity of the character of someone I once knew.
The speed of my melancholy’s growth was gradual, stealthy and largely invisible. My experience within therapy has taught me that – just because I think or feel something – it doesn’t necessarily make it true. Yet these internalised beliefs felt as true to me as anything I’d ever experienced. I’ve often struggled to find the vocabulary to describe the pointless, painful and persistent nature of depression. The best metaphor I’ve come across describes a man standing in the rain and wishing it to would just stop. Depression is my rain. If I could have thought my way out of it I would have. It might not rain tomorrow and it might stop in an hour, but right now it’s raining and no amount of wishing will make it stop.
So what has this got to do with boxes? For me, the box represents the powerful elements of my life best described by the word ‘should’: the work I should do; the behaviour I should demonstrate; the responsibilities I should own; the tasks I should be doing. There’s an ego and expectation at work here too. However, the box also has an empty space inside which represents the fuller part of me; the creative, child-like and emotional self which has been overshadowed by the functional me controlled by ‘should’.
There is a whole which exists outside of the box. A self which has been hidden for 37 years and has his hand up wanting to re-join life. A self which is all of me – natural, authentic and complete. I can vaguely remember this person, the person I last remember aged 4. The real me who has been glimpsed from my box.
In 2014, my hope is that I will learn to destroy the box without guilt, loss or fear – to transfer the glimpses from the flashes in my mind to the reality of my life.
My journey over the last three months with mindfulness, journal writing and my continued study of positive psychology has provided a glimpse of a future which has been hidden from view from within my box. Mindfulness has shown me the temporary nature of thoughts, feelings and situations.
Applied positive psychology has given me the tools, language, support and time to challenge the structure of my box. From a Naomi Wolf article, ‘My father’s lessons for a better life,’ which inspired me, to a lecture by Dr Andrew Machon which articulated the nature of my depression so clearly. The last three months of 2013 have informed me and at times stressed and worried me, but overall the experience has been of new knowledge which I hope to turn into wisdom with your help.
What will future journal entries say about this stage in my life? Who knows?
Let’s turn the page.
I remember a poem I wrote some time ago but which demonstrates the contrast of the darkness of my depression and the enlightened transcended glimpses I’ve experienced in recent weeks:
Sat with a latte watching the world go by,
No one observes the man who wants to cry
Busy mums and workers too,
Everyone focused on what next to do
Here I sit, quiet and alone,
This cafe today is me under my stone
Can I reflect and think things out?
I’m being very quiet but on the inside I shout
The crowds are growing and my window fills,
Writing provides comfort, more than my pills
The lives which are passing me by,
No one observes the man who has begun to cry
This article is the first time I have talked openly in my writing about my life with depression. However, it is part of me and has shaped the direction my life has taken. I now wish to reduce the amount of moderation my “You shouldn’t be doing that” side takes in my life, and I therefore set this article free to the world without fear, judgement or expectation.
Thank you for reading part of my story.
Dean Weller - ‘The Melancholy Manager’
Cantopher, T (2003) Depressive Illness, the curse of the strong. Sheldon Press
Wolf, N (2007) “My father’s lessons for a better life” from ‘The Treehouse: Eccentric Wisdom from my Father on How to Live, Love, and See’. Virago
Machon, A – LinkedIn Page
MSc – Positive Psychology, New Buckinghamshire University - MAPP