I received Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert as a present from 2 of my PR Committee members last semester. You may have heard of this book as there is a film adaptation on it starring Julia Roberts. The story is about Elizabeth Gilbert, who seems to have everything a woman would ever want in life. She has a husband, friends, a house, and a great career as a writer. However she is not satisfied and feels a sense of confusion as to why she is not happy. The book follows Elizabeth’s journey as she leaves everything behind and travels to Italy, India, and Bali. In these 3 places she slowly finds her balance and fulfillment.
I wanted to share an excerpt from her 16th “bead” (Elizabeth refers to each moment/chapter as a bead representing the japa malas). This is during a moment where she is suffering from depression and loneliness. As someone who has also suffered from a very similar experience, I found her writing and expression hit right into a sore spot in my heart. She refers to depression and loneliness as 2 police officers. It’s kind of funny in a way because I think depression and loneliness comes hand-in-hand. They are both negative feelings that amplify each others’ strengths.
Then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there. Depression even confiscates my identity; but he always does that. Then Loneliness starts interrogating me, which I dread because it always goes on for hours. He’s polite but relentless, and he always trips me up eventually. He asks if I have any reason to be happy that I know of. He asks why I am all by myself tonight, yet again. He asks… why I can’t keep a relationship going, why I ruined my marriage, why I messed things up with David, why I messed things up with every man I’ve ever been with. He asks me where I was the night I turned thirty, and why things have gone so sour since then. He asks why I can’t get my act together, and why I’m not at home living in a nice house and raising nice children like any respectable woman my age should be. He asks why, exactly, I think I deserve a vacation in Rome when I’ve made such a rubble of my life. He asks me why I think that running away to Italy like a college kid will make me happy. He asks where I think I’ll end up in my old age, if I keep living this way.
I walk back home, hoping to shake them, but they keep following me, these two goons. Depression has a firm hand on my shoulder and Loneliness harangues me with his interrogation. I don’t even bother eating dinner; I don’t want them watching me. I don’t want to let them up the stairs to my apartment, either, but I know Depression, and he’s got a billy club, so there’s no stopping him from coming in if he decides that he wants to.
“It’s not fair for you to come here,” I tell Depression. “I paid you off already. I served my time back in New York.”
But he just gives me that dark smile, settles into my favorite chair, puts his feet on my table and lights a cigar, filling the place with his awful smoke. Loneliness watches and sighs, then climbs into my bed and pulls the covers over himself, fully dressed, shoes and all. He’s going to make me sleep with him again tonight, I just know it. (p. 47-48)
I think Elizabeth does a magnificent job of capturing the encounter with depression and loneliness after you think you have beaten them. People think that depression is like a hurdle or an obstacle. You just need to push yourself and jump over it. But the thing with depression is that it never really feels like you’ve overcome it. It’s more like a never-ending marathon instead of a relay race. It feels like depression will always come back and find you. And you, in your weak or emotional state, will fall back into its deadly abyss. They really are like 2 police officers. You can end up just submitting to them so easily without even knowing. It’s not like you can really talk back to them either. The only thing you can really do is endure and know in your mind that there are joys in your pockets that cannot be emptied, cannot be taken away or given. There are joys that you have the power to make for yourself.
On her 18th bead, Elizabeth writes to herself:
I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it – I will love you through that, as well. If you don’t need the medication, I will love you, too. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me. (p. 54)
I found this message to be especially touching. I believe it is true that friends and family can help you out of depression, but a large part of it needs to come from yourself. The people around you who love you can pour their hearts out to you, but you can never fully accept it until you are able to receive love from yourself. It’s hard to pull yourself out from depression by relying on the love you receive from others because there will always be Loneliness who questions you: What if they leave you? What if they don’t love you anymore? What is there to love about you?
I think winning depression really requires a sort of inner strength from your soul. It is just so easy to lie there and feel bad. It is so easy to just be sad and let it seep out of your pores and into the air around you, hoping it will infiltrate the skin of those around you so everybody can just be miserable and drown together. But at some point you need to start pushing yourself up from the bottom of the hole, and you need to pull away from that eerily comfortable sadness. And above all, you need a sort of inner bravery to win loneliness. It is easy to reject. It is easy to reject the people you don’t like and the things you don’t like. Acceptance is much harder. To be able to accept the ugly parts of yourself and to love anyone – including yourself- takes a lot more courage than it seems. Ultimately, you are the one who fights depression and loneliness. There isn’t really anybody who can save you from them other than yourself. And there isn’t really any specific method to save yourself other than to just love yourself… continuously and relentlessly.