Anna was drowning. She crumbled into the couch before me in a familiar wash of tears, “I got fired… again… I just couldn’t get out of bed. They finally fired me. And I don’t blame them. Why would anyone not fire me?” Her despair was slowly engulfing every living inch of her existence. I listened, week after week, to the progressive tale of a world being subsumed. First her pleasures and pastimes, then her friendships, her sense of self, her livelihood, her hope. The water levels rose until they simply swallowed that last remaining stronghold, her will to live.
This is depression. A deluge that washes away your entire world. If you have experienced it, you are not alone. It affects an estimated one in 15 adults per year. One in six people will experience it at some point in their life. On top of that, women are more likely than men to suffer from depression. Some studies even show that one-third of women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime.
Remember Noah’s Ark? That adorable biblical kids’ story. It’s actually a shocking tale of global genocide. But it is also a powerful metaphor for the frightfully-common experience of depression. More importantly, it is a story that offers a formula for how to survive life’s floods.
The 5 Stages of the Deluge:
1. Tunnel Focus on the Bad
The Noah story opens: “God saw the evil of man; the thoughts of man’s heart were only evil, all day long.” (Genesis 6:5) The text immediately describes the overwhelming focus on the negative that is the hallmark of depression. Not only is God noticing the bad, the very thoughts of man are described emphatically as being ONLY BAD – ALL DAY LONG.
2. Regret, Grief and Destruction
After seeing all of this overwhelming bad, God feels regret, then has a saddened heart and then turns downright destructive. Interestingly, the Divine process is radically similar to our own. When we see all negatives, we feel regret, our hearts turn sad… and then the destructiveness sets in. How common is it from the midst of depression to wail, ‘My whole existence is so unbearably bad, it would be better if I simply did not exist.’ In the bowels of depression, the only good option seems to be destructive nullification — whether that nullification is via actual suicide or simply the slow dulling of one’s appetite, pleasures, interests, hopes and sense of self. A world is being destroyed.
3. The Rains Multiply
The text emphasizes repeatedly, “The waters strengthened and multiplied.” Negativity, by its nature, multiplies with compounding interest. Anna was so depressed about ‘being a failure’ that she couldn’t get out of bed and so, she lost her job, thus securing another ‘fail’ that sunk her deeper into bed. As this negative cycle builds, the deluge covers the face of the earth, overtaking all life – and all of your life. This is not destruction by fire, mind you, but destruction by water. Water is emotional, ponderous, drowning. It weighs us down. Although water is usually positive in the Jewish tradition, in depression, even life-giving waters become life-threatening waters. Unlike the fiery emotions of anger, depression is expressed in heavy, slowed movement, fatigue, and, of course, tears. The ceaseless seemingly endless rain of tears.
4. Building Noah’s “Arc”
And yet, in the midst of all of this sopping negativity, humanity is given Divine instructions for building a small buoyant cell of hope. God creates an escape vessel via Noah and his ark. That ship carries all the necessary materials to reseed a new world. Built into the depressive cycle itself is a kernel of hope.
We see this idea expressed beautifully in the Hebrew words used in the story. Remarkably, the core verb that activated the flood in the first place is the word yenachem – God ‘regretted’. The term for regret – nacham נ – ח – ם – holds within it its very antidote, נ – ח – Noach. Noach is not only the name of the hero of this story, Noach also explicitly means comfort.
Thus the Hebrew language encodes for us a deep almost-hidden truth: there is a root of comfort implanted within the regret itself. For what is at the real cause of depression? Actually – and ironically – it is a resolute vision of hope. The very reason we get so terribly upset about the negative state of things is because we have implanted within us a deeply buried sense that things should be better. Fueling the depression is a very stubborn clinging to an idea of how the world SHOULD be, for what life really COULD be. If we can only unearth that comforting kernel and nourish it, then we can survive the flood. The goal is to find that Noach of comfort buried within the regret. The goal is to build a Noah’s “Arc,” – an arc of comfort.
5. Enter the “Arc”.
These rains are not forever. They are a cleanse, a clearing out. A rebirth is on the other side of those paradigmatic 40 days and 40 nights. It is possible to bear the storm if you build an arc to sustain you through the process.
Here is the formula for how to enter a sustaining ”Arc Of Comfort – ARC:
A – Appreciation
First of all, radical self-appreciation. Without the essential ingredient of self-love, you are in fact lost. One of the reasons for this flood of depression is to force you to finally, once and for all, actually accept and appreciate yourself. The depressive mind is negative-prone. The antidote is thus positivity. That positivity starts with how you view yourself and even more so, how you talk to yourself. The Hebrew word for arc is ‘teyva,’ which also means, ‘word’. Every time you notice a negative inner voice, simply create a sustaining WORD of positive TALK-BACK. Create an automatic response in your brain to any negative thinking. It can be as simple as saying the exact opposite.
Remember Anna? She started therapy speaking only one language – the language of insult. She put herself down constantly, using every insult in the book. Our first order of business was to notice each time she spoke badly about herself and simply flip it. If the inner critic said, “I’m useless,” she responded with the opposite, “I am valuable”.
Enter the ARC of words of acceptance and appreciation for yourself.
A – Acceptance and Appreciation
Practice repeating statements like: “I accept that I am depressed.” “I accept that my life is not perfect.” “I appreciate that I am working on myself.” Just as God focused on all the negatives all day long….. work on focusing on all the positives all day long. Simple positives like the warmth of the sun on your face, the softness of the blanket, the fact that you have eyes to read. You don’t just have ears, you have earrings too!Start writing an Appreciation Journal where you force yourself to articulate gratitude.“Think good and it will be good.” It is cliché for a reason. Because it works…
R – Responsibility
Once you have thoroughly soaked in positivity, you then take the next paradoxical step – taking responsibility. Just like the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (Acceptance!). The courage to change the things I can (Responsibility). And the wisdom to know the difference.”
You are not a victim. What can you change here?
First off, depression is actually treatable. Here are methods that have been proven to work: Talk-therapy. Psychiatric medication. Exercise. Healthy eating. Sunshine. Quality sleep. Reading spiritual self-help articles like this!
C – Care
This last step involves Acts of Care – towards yourself and others.
Splurge on the spa and the mani-pedi and the girls’ night-out. Be vigilant in spoiling yourself, even – and especially – if your inner critic insists you don’t deserve it.
Care for others: You all know the Patch Adams story. (The movie version poignantly starring Robin Williams.) Patch’s story began when he was hospitalized for depression. He found that the most effective medicine was helping others. He pioneered the field of medical clowning and utterly cured himself by making others laugh. The Midrash says that Noah and his family didn’t sleep the entire time they were in the ark. They worked constantly to care for the animals on board. Most serendipitously, caring for another is a wonderful form of caring for ourselves.
Post-script on Anna. She has become a gainfully employed self-love advocate. The waters rage from time to time but she cruises through them in her well-built ARC.
I hope that whenever you notice your waters starting to rise, you will remember the Noah formula and build an ARC for yourself, finding the hidden visions of comfort at the core of your regrets… and knowing that the waters have come to create cleansing renewal.
“Rise & Shine!”
Quick survey – Are you depressed? Are you or someone you love experiencing three or more of these symptoms? If so, it is time to reach out for help. Build your arc.
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite, weight loss or gain
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand wringing, pacing) or slowed movements and speech
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Fifth edition. 2013.
National Institute of Mental Health. (Data from 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.) www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml
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