You know the Euphoria of Completion? The incredible headrush you get from finishing a huge project, completing an exam you’ve studied for for so long, getting done the program you’ve been working so hard on for the last several years? I certainly do. However, there is also another side to that coin. Sometimes, when you’ve completed a REALLY major project, something that matters to you enormously – then sometimes, you fall off the cliff.
It didn’t happen to me this time, thankfully – at least not yet. I finished my Master’s, and published my first book, and (thank God) my head’s still above water. But there’ve been times in the past when I went under just after I had a major triumph. One of them was ten years ago when I finished painting a big mural on my son’s bedroom wall. I’d been wanting to do that for a long time, paint a mural, I mean. I pushed myself to absolute exhaustion doing it, and I was extremely pleased with it when it was finished. And then the waters closed in over my head. I remember driving down the road one day a few weeks later, and thinking the whole world looked like it was behind smoked glass. It wasn’t – visually, it was perfectly clear – but it’s like all the colours were dimmed, sort of greyed out.
I don’t know what your opinion is on religious matters, but whether you do or don’t take them as literal truth, you can still get the benefit of the stories (says the embryonic folklorist). There is one story in the Bible which I really love in this context. It’s the tale of the Prophet Elijah, who spent most of his life fighting with the corrupt king and the worshippers of Baal.
One day, he had a massive victory over them; the biggest success of his career. You’d think he’d be out partying and slaying more monsters, wouldn’t you? But no. He goes into the desert, lies down under a bush, and says “God, I just want to die. Please take my soul.” And what does God do? Does He send an angel with a can of Red Bull and tell Elijah to buck up, pull up his boot straps and his jogging shorts, and quit being such a whiner? Does He dispatch a psychologist to give Elijah some cognitive-restructuring therapy so he can get out of his streak of negativity and start doing some positive thinking? Does He commission His heavenly nutrionists and personal trainers to tell Elijah to stop eating wheat and start a program of daily exercise to purge his body of all this toxicity and get the endorphins flowing? Nope. He does dispatch an angel, it’s true. And what does that angel do? He feeds Elijah. The poor prophet is so exhausted emotionally, his body has just knocked him over; he’s sleeping. The angel wakes him up with a gentle touch on his shoulder, and says, “Eat, man.” He’s got a fresh-baked cake, and a jug of water. Elijah, probably only half-awake (I made that up; it doesn’t say that in the text), eats, drinks, and keels over again. The angel lets him sleep, then he wakes him up again: “Eat, man.”
The story carries on from there with one of the most amazing revelations (it’s in 1 Kings 19, if you want to read it), but that’s not the point I’m after here. My point is that right after Elijah had the biggest victory of his life, he ended up suicidally depressed. And God just let him sleep, and gave him food. He let him sleep.
I don’t think I need to spell it out for you. Somewhere I read that depression is our body’s way of saying “Enough already!”, of making us sit still so we stop doing these things that wear it down to a nub, just like fever is the body’s way of killing bacteria so it can heal. Post-success depression, in addition, is the rebound from all the adrenalin we’ve sent coursing through our body so it could keep doing what we wanted it to do to reach our great big goal. There is a point to all this. And we need to be as kind to ourselves as the angel was to Elijah. Sleep, a fresh cake baken over the coals, and a cruse of water.
Life, the Universe, and Post-Success Depression. Look after yourself, my dear.