the Dark Clouds of Depression
By Terri Johnson
[Excerpted from the World Tribune, Feb. 9, 2001]
I remember being depressed and afraid of life as early as age 3. At 17, I attempted suicide. Psychotherapy just confirmed that I had chronic depression.
I went to college and received a fine arts degree in fashion design. Even though I graduated with honors, I could not find a job in my field. My first job was in the garment district, as a secretary.
Around 1974, I was introduced to Buddhism and began to chant. Within the first week, I lost my job and came down with laryngitis. But I continued because I was encouraged by many members who told me that I could become happy if I continued. I learned that obstacles are sources of growth and must be challenged.
I chanted and participated in SGI activities. I took responsibility in the organization, shared Buddhism with others, and danced and sewed costumes for SGI culture festivals.
There were times when I couldn't chant at all. There were long periods when I wouldn't answer the phone or leave the house. During these times I was too depressed to do Gongyo, so I would chant Daimoku a few times. Eventually I would come out of the depression enough to get back to work.
In 1981, I began working as a fashion designer, but once again I became consumed by depression.
I started therapy again, chanting the whole time to overcome this chronic depression. But my life fell completely apart, and I ended up in a psychiatric ward.
When the hospital released me, they referred me to a new doctor. My first question to her was "Why, of all the times I struggled with depression, has this bout been so serious that I ended up in the hospital."
Her reply sounded very Buddhist: "Because no one ever found the true cause of your illness."
At that moment, I knew that my Buddhist practice had brought this us together.
After I was released from the hospital, I lost my job. For the next few years I worked as a temporary secretary, though I hated the work. My life seemed like an endless cycle of chanting for design jobs, punctuated by going in and out of the hospital. My parents and many doctors believed that the reason that I was depressed was because I was reaching for the impossible.
The point of my Buddhist practice is to achieve the impossible.
I was in and out of the hospital 10 times. Each stay was shorter. My last stay was five days. Upon my release, I vowed never to return and I haven't. That was more than 15 years ago.
As I chanted about my feelings, I experienced a turning point. I realized that I equated my self-worth with the work I did. My challenge was to value my life no matter what work I did.
The following quote from Nichiren Daishonin helped me understand the value of my life:
"When deluded, one is called an ordinary being, but when enlightened, one is called a Buddha. This is similar to a tarnished mirror that will shine like a jewel when polished. A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality." (Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 4)Finally, the right combination of medications was found, so my condition was stabilized.
In 1985, I got work as a designer for a line of clothing that was sold nationwide.
Four-and-a-half years ago, I got a break and landed a great job designing sweaters for a company that produces an exclusive line sold nationwide through Home Shoppers Network. I am also in the process of finalizing the details of a line of sweaters with my own label. In addition, my paintings have been shown and sold in galleries in New York City and Washington DC.
I still have an occasional day when I get depressed. I can feel the depression coming on the same way you might feel a cold coming on. I now know how to manage my condition and I know that it is not going to last forever. I give myself 24 hours to feel down as a way to acknowledge rather than suppress my feelings. Then I get in front of the Gohonzon and chant for the wisdom to know if I need additional support.
Since I began this practice 26 years ago, the biggest benefit is that I wake up every day happy to be me and alive.
When I chant, I overflow with appreciation.
to create a life that will encourage others to achieve their impossible