Permission to be human

As I wrote in my earlier blog post, I’ve been struggling with depression for the past two years. It’s been a difficult time not only because of daily physical and emotional exhaustion but also because of a loss of identity. I always prided myself on being a die-hard optimist. For years, I overcame my temporary blues with “Come on, you can do it!” or “Put your big-girl pants on!” or “If this doesn’t work, try something else and it will!” Whatever worked but feeling sad, lost, drained was not an option in my vocabulary. And while I felt compassion toward people who suffered from depression, I couldn’t fully relate to or understand them. So my advice was generally the same I gave to myself: “Be (or pretend you’re) a superhuman and you shall move the world. You just have to try a little harder, ok?”

That “a little bit harder” didn’t work this time around. For months I felt that I was chasing a tornado that held the key to my puzzle. The twirling thoughts created by my overheated mind sucked me inside, then spitted me out empty-handed. What a deadly, hopeless hobby! But here I was again asking for another round. At last, I got what I was looking for, though not what I expected. I dreamed of a bird:

I was walking in a garden on a beautiful early summer day when I saw a large cage that hung on a branch of a tree. The sunrays streamed through the Victorian-style cage made out of brass wire. I admired the intricate, artful design of the cage walls woven by a skilled hand. At first, I even missed a bright yellow canary inside. I walked around the cage to see the bird up-close. The little canary sat motionlessly on the perch staring into the space. I realized two things: First, there was no door in that cage, or a chain that kept the bird in. And second, I was that bird.

To my horror, I also realized that the bird stayed inside because it forgot how to fly—it forgot what makes the bird bird. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I sobbed hard feeling pity for both of us. My first reaction was to reach inside, take the bird out, lift my hand up to the blue sky and say, “Here, birdy, fly away, nothing holds you there.” Instead, I stepped aside and said with as much compassion and kindness that I could muster in my shaky voice, “It’s ok, little bird. You don’t have to go anywhere. You’re safe where you are. Sit here for a while, watch the sunrise and the sunset. Eat a seed. Drink some water. Take the time you need.” 

Moments have passed. At last, the bird twitched and blinked for the first time. She took a long deep breath inhaling the promise of a summer day: the scent of wild flowers, the buzz of insects, the warmth of the gentle breeze. I expected no lurching forward or happy chirping to follow. And they haven’t happen. Yet I felt the peace that eluded me for a long time.

As the dream was fading away, the bird was still inside, but I knew that one day she’ll remember who she is. As to me, I no longer needed to be a super-me. I have finally given myself permission to be human.

Thank you for reading my story and please tell me if my experiences resonated with you in some way.


Photo credit: Roberto Composto.

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