“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” —Albert Camus
On the days when I feel empty and lost, when I can’t find a reason to put one foot in front of the other, or raise the colorless food that sits on the end of my fork to my mouth, I want to close my eyes to the world.
I have never wished for death. Somewhere inside me there always seems to exist a quiet flickering flame of hope. There is a love for life that comes from an unknown part of me, yet in dark times it is such a small bead of light, I can barely touch it. It is the flame I cling to in desperation when tears are falling and no amount of goodwill or kind words will make them stop.
I have struggled with depression since childhood and tried ever since to unravel its causes. The neglected child? The child caught in the middle of an ugly divorce? The abandoned child? Or simply the unlucky one with the unbalanced brain chemicals?
Whatever the reasons, which I suspect cannot be disentangled, it is my cross to bear. And for years the weight of that cross has caused me to live in fear, hide and push others away.
Until recently my depression was the wall I kept running from—the one I would bump up against time and time again, never doing anything differently and never seeming to find my way through. I would see the wall and run, as though it had the ability to swallow me whole.
But a few months ago a friend asked me this question: “Why do you keep bumping up against this same wall? What are you running from?”
I sat with the question for weeks as I endured day after listless day, willing the wall to appear and show me an answer, as if the answer could appear like graffiti.
But the wall is not a tangible object with all the answers.
It’s very uncomfortable for me to sit in my depression and accept its presence. I feel shame, and have this nasty tendency to compare my pain to others’, telling myself I have no right to feel the way I do, that I should just be happy with the blessed life I live.
The shame and comparison is the wall for me—the block that stops me from being able to be curious about my illness.
During my last bout of depression, which lasted a long, drawn-out six months, I made myself enter into that state of curiosity. As a writer I do this by emptying my thoughts onto the page, by asking questions and waiting for answers. I personified my depression. I gave it color, shape, voice and will. And I asked it about its purpose in my life. In effect, I was accessing my subconscious mind, because I had no idea the answers that came to me were available.
A huge revelation for me was the role I play in my depression. Though I fear and despise it, I also welcome it home like a long lost friend. My depression allows me to be introspective; to become quiet and still—something I seem to desperately need.
It also acts as a lighthouse beam, illuminating those things that aren’t working in my life, if I will only open my eyes and allow myself to follow that light.
But the biggest thing I have learned from my depression is compassion. No longer do I look at people whose faces are forlorn and judge them as “miserable” or “moody.” And when someone flares at me in anger for no apparent reason, I try to take a step back and consider what pain may have brought them to that place.
I’m learning that truth is rarely quite so bold as to paint itself across the walls of our lives. Rather, it waits for us to seek it, to remain curious and keep pressing forward.
As I brace myself for another possible descent into darkness, I hope to become a student of it, to break down the wall that sits between me and healing—and, above all, the truth about myself and why this happens.
And any opportunity to explore who I am, what my heart says, and what God is trying to teach me about the way I live my life, is a blessing; something I always hope to be grateful for.
Image credit: D.C.Atty