by David Gilmour
My dad has told me my entire life that I have “a heart of gold.” I think, in part, what he meant was I have a heart that truly feels.
But it seems to me the ability to feel joy is balanced out conversely with the ability to feel pain. From a young age, I remember having feelings of elation that would quickly give way to a deep melancholy, with no time frame as to when I would receive solace. But at least I could still feel.
Then, last summer, after a bright day of teaching surfing to kids and laughing with my students, I drifted into a dark abyss such as I had never before experienced. At first I felt sorrow, then painful, heart-wrenching anguish… then nothing.
I felt nothing. Sadness was gone, happiness was gone. I felt nothing. It was as if my humanity and everything I understood about myself was stripped from me. I felt subhuman. I was breathing, but life as I knew it was not in me. My soul, my essence, had shut off, leaving me am empty shell, a flickering hologram of who I was. It was terrifying. The only thing I actually felt was fear, and it was convincing me I had never felt anything but emptiness and would never regain the ability to feel, to exist as the David Gilmour the people around me knew. It was crushing me like a gargantuan stone dropped on my shoulders.
In my anguish and sensory amnesia, I made a decision to call a friend who I knew struggled deeply with depression. I had no hope I would ever get out of my current state, but he told me I would again see light and feel happiness. And I believed him. Even though I could not convince myself, I knew he spoke the truth: that I would make it out alright. That small glimmer of faith he instilled put a crack in the huge stone of fear that was crushing me.
The light did eventually begin to shine for me again, and I learned a powerful truth—when we gain solace from our struggles, we have a unique ability to share that solace with others, as my friend did with me. Since then, I have been able to share my experience and try to give hope to those who could find none with a long embrace or a simple, “You’ll be alright. You will see light again.”
I’m amazed by how many people suffer from depression, many far more seriously than I. I have friends who immerse themselves in the composure of music, or write, or run for hours to reverse depression’s power. For me, when I know I’m on the verge, I get into the ocean, my “happy place.” Surfing and freediving, holding my breath, comforts me. I feel comfortable deep under water on a breath of air. A long paddle, a surf alone or with a buddy… they help me to get outside of the oncoming fog of depression, often keeping it at bay until it dissipates.
Above all, knowing I am not the only person who struggles with this, but that I have friends and mentors who are trucking along with me gives me hope. So hold strong. People love you and need you. You will see light again.