Depression, Greek Mythology, and Andromeda
At a particularly low point in my life I remember having a vivid dream that was so rich with details that I was passionate about writing it down upon awakening. One of the details of this dream was that I was walking barefoot into a building which had a large sign above its huge glass doors. The sign read “ANDROMEDA” in all capital letters, big and bold. It was literally a sign I could not miss.
In the dream as I passed through the Andromeda doors I remember feeling fear. When I woke up I felt unsettled but determined to find out what this dream meant for me. I was sure it was some sort of key to understanding why I was feeling depressed. I do believe that our subconscious mind gives us clues to understand our fears if we just listen. I was listening but I struggled to find the hidden meaning.
It was a long time ago that I had learned about Greek mythology in some college undergraduate class. It had been many years, decades in fact that I had thought about the story of Andromeda. I had to look up the story to refresh my conscious memory.
A short version of the Andromeda myth:
Andromeda was the daughter of the Ethiopian King Cepheus and his wife, Cassiopeia. Andromeda’s mother was boastful and proclaimed that she and her daughter were more beautiful than the sea-nymph daughters of the sea god Nereus. The queen is punished by Poseidon, god of the sea, by sending a flood and a sea monster to destroy the coast of Ethiopia. King Cepheus consults the Oracle of Apollo who tells him that the only way to avert this pending disaster is to sacrifice his virgin daughter, Andromeda to the sea serpent. So poor Andromeda surely gets the worst of this deal, as she is chained naked to a rock on the shore. There she awaits her fate as a sea serpent appetizer. But not to fear as Perseus, the slayer of the Gorgon Medusa, comes to Andromeda’s rescue and destroys the sea serpent with his talents and heroic skills.
Basically this story has been told a thousand times. It is the story line for most fairy tales, video games, and romantic movies. The movie, Shrek, did a good job of approaching this story in a humorous and original way. I thought about what this story meant to me and I resented that my subconscious mind was seemingly telling me that I was some sort of damsel in distress.
Depression can make anyone feel that they need rescued from despair. But I didn’t want someone to rescue me. I wanted to slay the dragon myself and unleash my own chains. How would Andromeda help me?
After I had my Andromeda dream a curious thing happened. It was as though Andromeda was invading my reality by forcing herself into my waking life so that I would take notice. I saw her in the children’s book section in the public library. There was a big book of Greek myths. I opened a page by happenstance and there she was. She was there again in the magazine rack at the nearby bookstore. I opened up a journal called Parabola: The Seeker, and there she was again. An author by the name of Natalie Baan had written a story called, Andromeda, Perseus, and the Process of Liberation. I was not actively seeking Andromeda but it seemed as though she were seeking me as if to say, “Here I am. Learn from me.”
I wrote a diary from that time period. It was the fall of 2004. Here is what I did learn from my Andromeda awareness:
For a Greek myth that I was initially unaware of in my conscious state...I sure am being bombarded with it, ensuring it made a grand entrance into my reality. Perhaps there is nothing truly mystical about coincidence. Maybe what is more important than the source of these random happenings is what meaning I attribute to them.
Moving my mind towards that which I do not understand...I do the obvious. I examine what I do know. I now know the story of Andromeda...her imagery emblazoned in my mind....the maiden chained to a rock in the sea...unable to move...so still that the only noticeable movement comes from her tears...while a sea monster lingers near...ready to devour her. Not a pretty picture.
It is an unsettling and downright disturbing portrait of my inner landscape. I feel her chains. I feel her fears. I feel her sadness. And I also feel her inability to move. Being "still" in this interpretation implies entrapment. But what if the message to be still could be re-framed into a way to break free from the chains?
On my travels around my mental spiral staircase I have made the assumption that being still is a bad thing. I have deemed movement as a sign of growth. In other words you stop moving...you stop growing. I have felt stuck. I have felt trapped. I have felt the weight of those chains. There are very real boundaries and parameters in my life. I cannot deny reality. But maybe the sadness...the angst...the torment...are the real chains.
I try to imagine Andromeda without the chains...without the rock...without the pounding sea...without the threat of the sea serpent. And I see her...just standing...and still. She has choice and freedom that maybe she can't yet see.
While I beat myself daily with the “should”...and the “what ifs”...and the expectations that I must move...not just move... but in the "right" direction...I am missing out on what is.
Take away the elements of her background...and just leave Andromeda...and you have a woman poised for growth.
To be still can mean being centered. It can mean being open to the world...inviting opportunity and possibility. It can mean...seeing the world as it really is...not how I want it to be. It can mean...not fearing a sea serpent is around every corner. It can mean....understanding that the chain can be broken. It can mean knowing that the rock can crumble.
Being still means that I can accept myself as I am, including my rocks, chains and sea monsters.
If I could tell Andromeda something it would be...let go...let go of the chain.
And just be.
For all those people out there who feel like Andromeda, chained by your depression, I hope my story brings some solace. You don’t need to be rescued although I know the allure is great. You also don’t need to be in constant motion in order to grow. In the stillness you are able to hear your inner voice of wisdom and clarity. In the silence you can gain strength so when it is the right time to move, you will do so with purpose and meaning. It is possible to be free. And you don’t need to wait for Perseus to do it.