Joy and Depression

It seems a little bashert that I decided to study Rebbe Nachman zt"l in this new year because a lot of themes that run through his teachings have to do with joy.  Since experiencing the surprise uprising and ultimate destruction of my marriage, I have battled what I can only assume is depression - a dark feeling, a hopeless feeling, a lack of motivation. In the last year, I have done a great job of digging myself out of that semi-permanent state, but I still have occasional days that overwhelm me. And I have days where I feel lonely. Extremely lonely.

Rebbe Nachman says that one has to fight depression with joy. That sounds like a tall order when one is feeling down. However, he puts all of this into a perspective, or chunks, so that is it easier to draw a line from one to the other.

First, Rebbe Nachman says that to get closer to Hashem, one needs a settled mind. Why? Because when one's mind is not settled, we make bad decisions. Decisions should only be made when happy. "...depression makes it impossible to direct your mind."  He even goes so far as to say that first you should be happy, and then you should be religious. He tells us that we have to fight - the mind will naturally go to what is wrong. The fight is in having a growth mindset, one which is open to moving from an ego state to a soul state.

Heard "fake it till you make it"?  Yes...there is a little if that in this whole thing.  Rebbe says that three things we can work on changing - (1) FOCUS, when depressed, we focus on what is wrong; the change is to focus on what is going right.  (2) PHYSIOLOGY, when depressed, we slump and diminish ourselves; the change is to sit up straight, move around, be known.  (3) LANGUAGE, when depressed, we mumble, we don't ask for what we need, we suffer; the change is to speak up, put energy behind what we say.

The ego state is one in which we focus on our needs and wants. It is a fixed view. "This is what my life is."  The soul state is open, focusing on what is right and good, and able to tap into joy no matter what the circumstances. The Rebbe said if you cannot find happiness, borrow it. If you think, I will laugh about this later. Laugh now. Just do it.

In Lesson 24, the Rebbe said that depression is the result of "fail[ing] to focus on the purpose of this world."  Instead, we do three things that destroy the heart. We focus on MONEY, we do not control our EATING, and we engage in LUST. When we focus on obtaining these things, or when our expectations are such that we do not meet a perceived result, we are solidly in the ego state.

Money is the biggest part of what drives my dark days. I worry about meeting bills, something I have never had to do before. I work too many hours and then burn out. I don't curtail spending in the worst of times. The Rebbe ssays that chasing after money and things will never bring joy that is lasting. The Rebbe also discusses eating in terms of control, meaning that what we put into our bodies determines how we feel. When we don't "leave bread on the table" after eating, then we are basically letting Hashem know that Hashem did not give us enough. Being conscious of what we put in our bodies and how much we put into our bodies is one of the first steps to reducing unhappiness.  Lastly lust, chasing after a feeling of pleasure, strongly puts one in the ego state. Eliminating these three ego-states moves us to the soul-state, and re-focuses us to the purpose of the world.

What does all this mean practically?  Here is my way of incorporating what I have learned into something I can use in my life. I'm open to feedback, of course.

When my mind goes to financial disaster, I can focus on what I need to do immediately (if anything) to resolve the current issue, and then focus on the fact that we have food, a home, clothes, a car, and that at this moment, we are okay.

When I encounter a trigger that entices me to eat unhealthy, or to drink to excess, or disregard my health, I will tackle it head-on by remembering to "leave some behind on the table" for Hashem, and willfully divert myself to healthier options.

When I encounter raw needs, I am able to recognize that what I am really seeking is closeness - I am able to reach out to others to address loneliness without turning it into desire. And when I feel I cannot reach out, or I am sad that I reach and reach, and it feels like no one is reaching back, I will study.

Fight depression with joy. I'm going to try my hardest!