Written by Regina Gee of Wellspring Coaching

Pieces of my vocation include expanding the story of mental illness, for words make worlds and the stories we tell about human distress impact how we feel it. This series is a 3-part publication, and this first installment speaks to my lived experience of depression. My intention is to share my particular point of view and how I came to my way of seeing.

My Lived Experience

We are both puzzles & puzzle pieces. For me, my growth has been stepwise. As I walk through my life, I uncover pieces – I collect them and see where they fit and how they interact with the other pieces under my care.

My intention with this piece is to show you the pieces of my puzzle that I have found in regards to questions of meaning, purpose, and wellness in my life and to create space for complexity in the conversation of mental health and depression.

We make sense of worlds & experiences through stories. Brene Brown writes, “Story stewardship means honoring the sacred nature of story – the ones we share and the ones we hear – and knowing that we’ve been entrusted with something valuable or that we have something valuable that we should treat with respect and care.”

Sharing my point of view and how I have developed this particular way of seeing the world is one way I practice story stewardship. I am fascinated with questions like what it means to be human, what wellbeing looks like, what it means to be healthy. what it means to thrive, what it means to chase your potential. All questions that require being able to navigate different worlds. How I learned to do that is a story that starts in Cody, WY.

Living in Wyoming

My story exploring inner and outer worlds began in Cody, WY, moved through Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and clicked in Mussoorie in Uttarakhand, India.

I started searching my edges in the twelve years of my life I spent in the embrace of Heart, Rattlesnake, Cedar, and Carter Mountains. Growing up in Cody, I was absorbed in questions of worthiness – striving and striving to know I was enough (and even more so) to make sure everyone knew it. I was convinced that I would prove my worth by achieving everything I could on the outside.

I was the team captain of my volleyball team, I earned the highest GPA in my grade, was the president of the National Honors Society, and scored well on the ACT. I had my sights set on valedictorian. I applied to Ivy League schools, was confident that I would be offered scholarships, and to some extent was already wondering what my graduation speech was going to be. I was going places, and I wanted to be able to point to my college plans and accomplishments to prove it. That was how I was going to show my worth.

And when it didn’t happen like that, I was devastated. I slammed face first into what I thought meant I was worthless. Not getting valedictorian was a huge reality check for me. This experience started to crack my glass ceiling. It began the discovery of capacity and potential that was characterized by an inward focus. When my external measures of value failed, I began to engage in a new level of introspection. I began to connect and realize my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences at a new level.

Moving to Pittsburgh

After high school, I moved to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. I knew that one of my strengths was connecting different paradigms, and so coming to the city of bridges for college made sense on an intuitive level.

I was trying to make sense of what was happening in my inner world and navigating the outer world, so it also made sense to me to study things that look very different on the outside but also connect in really interesting ways. I studied neuroscience, anthropology, religious studies, and chemistry.

I was intrigued by the notion that neuroscience was attending to the interconnectedness of the mind, that this was the next frontier for understanding consciousness, and that it was able to show our experiences reflected in our physiology.

Anthropology is where my hearts at. I love the ways its methodology allows for us to look at humans as a dynamic and complex phenomenon. I love how data collection is the process of collecting stories. My professor Martha Terry once told me, “stories are data with soul.”

Soulful data is something I resonate with and having the opportunity to identify this skillset and worldview within the practice of anthropology has been important in my life and work.

The minor in chemistry came with the neuroscience degree, and the choice to dive into religious studies was an effort to make sense of my own mystical bent and to understand where my beliefs fit into the world around me.

I believe the world needs people to connect the realms of the hard sciences with the soft, that we need people to bridge the gap. I believe the solutions to future and current problems require a transdisciplinary approach and that we need people who can maximize both qualitative and quantitative methodology in synchrony.

Studying Abroad in India

As part of fulfilling the requirements of my anthropology degree, I was able to participate in the Pitt in the Himalayas Study Abroad Program.

After growing up in the Rockies and finding myself in the Himalayas, it was clear that mountains mean something to me. I woke up in a world that once again felt like home while also being on the other side of the world.

An alternate name for the Himalayas is “The Land of Folded Earth.” Living in the land of folded earth reworked of the folds of my brain and my insight into myself and the world.

What is Sacred & How Have You Experienced It

Coming to India gave me the gift of time and space. In one of my classes, our final project was to answer the question: What is sacred to you and how have you experienced it while in India?

My reflection on this question led me to this answer:

My sacred landscaping has largely been an introspective pursuit. The recognition of sacred spaces occurs internally – the experiences and emotions and relationships that serve as linchpins, as keystones, as conduits that connect my inner reality to the world around me is what I believe fully realizes the sacred.

It is the moments and interactions where my heart beats faster, that take my breath away, that bring me to tears; I recognize the sacred through the how my body reacts to the situation – the sacred is what sparks this beautiful, grand, alive feeling within me.

My experiences in India taught me that sacredness is precisely the connection between my inner and outer worlds. I learned more about myself and self-love. I learned what it might mean to belong to myself. By finding the sacred within me, I was able to connect with the world around me, to become part of a whole.

In my last week in Mussoorie, I listened to a podcast with Sue Monk Kidd and Oprah called, “The Life of the Soul.” Sue talked about how life is a process of waking up, and then waking up some more. In India I found my faith in the process of growth, of becoming, of being okay and learning from the contractions and expansions of life. My life there was the manifestation of this glorious expansion – I was so alive, so capable, so big! The world has burst wide open for me.

This semester was a pilgrimage for me – a continuous coming home, especially coming home to my true self. My internal landscape grew immensely being held in India, and coming home, also proved to connect me to depth, but in a way I didn’t expect or have enough stories to understand.

Awakenings, Deaths, Depression

Awakenings are little deaths and rebirths. The grand expansion I experienced in India came with its equal and opposite contraction. Coupled with this great eye lifting, shoulder opening, arm outstretching expansion was a sharp fetal curling, deep shattering, and pointed contraction into myself upon my return. Coming back from such a grand adventure was a collapse. The question that punctuated my days this spring was: how does an expanded self return?

I knew I was a different person coming back from India. I also knew that the same spaces from before my trip existed in my apartment, in my relationship, in my obligations. I was aware that reintegration was going to challenge me – but I wasn’t prepared to feel as though the rug had been pulled from under me.

What caught me by surprise was the exceptional disconnection I now felt to my world. I did not feel held by my environment. My job was a means to an end. My network of fellow journeyers scattered around the globe, and my family was across the country. It took me months to understand that I wasn’t in the midst of reintegration so much as just integration.

When I think about it now, the image I feel is a visceral gasp for air. I think of the noise made at the edge of a sob where you are desperate for air and the release of emotion. Inside of my lungs was a vacuum, a space of deep grief, a need for air, and a continuous longing for the life I was able to build on the other side of the world. At the time, the only language I had to identify my experience was depression.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why do you think it is scary to talk about your lived experience?
  • What stories have you heard about depression?
  • What is depression? How have you experienced it?
  • What is sacred and how have you experienced it in your life?