It’s been two weeks of reading through brave posts about the experience of others in the darkness in the Night Driving Synchroblog, and I am so challenged, encouraged and moved. I hope that you are too.
As always, please welcome these brave and lovely guests into this space with lots of love and comments.
Grabbing Hold of Beauty in the Waves of Depression
I think the best metaphor I’ve found for my depression is ocean waves. I get bowled over by a big one and I’m crushed, drowning, thrashing, but out of my own control. Eventually the wave subsides, and I can trudge along again.
My therapist wants me to find another metaphor – to “paradigm shift” to a scenario where I have some control over my head/depression/life and where the implied eventual result of the depression isn’t quite so dire as drowning. I’ve thought of other metaphors involving seasons or weather. Maybe it will always be there, but choosing a cyclical metaphor at this point seems like resigning myself to the perennial return of bad days.
One thing I’ve been trying to do to get out of my head is to look out at the world, trying to see beauty and God in the birds and trees and sky.
One afternoon, I was walking from the bus stop, and I saw a vine of milkweed seed pods and pulled out a few seeds. The wind whisked them ahead of me, the glimmering gossamer puffballs carrying their seeds ahead of me like a will-o’-the-wisp. It was such a magical moment. I took the pod with me, and proceeded to light my path with milkweed seeds. I praise and thank God for these moments of hope and light, and pray that they come more often. Perhaps they are brighter for happening in the dark.
The Darkness That Has No Boundaries
My darkness comes and goes at times of it’s own choosing. The darkness can descend in a rush out of nowhere. It can come in the middle of the day or under the darkness of night. It can push itself into a conversation or slip in under the stealth of silence. My darkness has very poorly defined boundaries. This darkness defies all of those logics. This darkness makes and breaks its own rules and I don’t even know what those rules are most of the time.
I know that medication can slow down and occasionally push back the darkness. I know that counselling does little to nothing to ease the darkness. Self care helps. Music helps. Reading helps. Rest helps, but not too much thinking because that can lead to a state of apathy and that is a bad place to be in the darkness. Solitude helps more that company. Creativity helps: writing, playing music, building wood projects, colouring, plastic model building. Distraction helps, don’t focus on the darkness.
Does God push away the darkness? No. Not for me. In fact dwelling too much on theology can create a despair and cause the darkness to fold over me. There are moments however when I feel closer to God and that emotional connection can lift a corner of the darkness and let some light in. I then have a choice, do I move towards the light or continue to dwell in the darkness?
Some days I feel that I do not even have that option. There are days when I can see the light, I know the direction I need to move but I can’t. It feels like my feet are planted in cement and no amount of willpower will move me towards the light or lift the darkness from over me. I have to wait for the darkness to lift, willpower or wishful thinking does not lift it. Self-care and medication are steps in the right direction and add a healthy dose of patience (time) and the darkness will lift. Sometimes as suddenly as it sets in, sometimes by degrees.
Bright Light Jesus
My kid was taken away by ambulance one day after I walked quietly into and back out of church. The day before that, we grieved with a tiny teenager whose anorexia, she was convinced, didn’t seem to be killing her fast enough. There’s no small amount of darkness lurking in the not-crazy corners of our world right now and, just for good measure, there’s All Of The Cancer filling in the cracks and holding the whole mess together. Hovering over everything is the spring that is nearly here and the summer that will soon follow. And it was during the summer when it all happened. When it all fell apart. When the sun shone all the time and I lost the little that was left of my shit completely.
Bright Light Jesus didn’t help, either. “They loved the darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil,” was handed down as something of a threat in the faith circles where I grew up. We wanted the story to end well and it does. But in our impatience for imminent redemption we used as a weapon the very thing that breathes life into us. The anxiety nearly killed me. Because the truth is: I love the dark. The dark whispers back what I already know. That Jesus came looking for us even though he was fully aware that who he would find are newly-freed convicts still carrying their state-issued bedding. He came looking even when we didn’t know we were lost. In the dark I don’t feel isolated or betrayed by what I’m supposed to be. I feel found.
And so I am starting to walk out of the dark and into the night. Dark is the thing I overcompensate for, illuminating things that I shouldn’t and using colors too jarring for natural daylight. But night is the thing that just is. It comes and goes, and it comes and goes again.
And when the spotlights cause the colors to fall flat, I go outside where the night is barren. Where it’s bleak but I can breathe. Where I can feel the wind that blew in the storm. And where I am hoping to learn to live well in this place where Jesus sits with our cancer and poverty and depression and addiction and teenagers with bandages all the way to their elbows. I am hoping that as my eyes adjust slowly to the changes in days and seasons I will see everything that’s been growing underground expectant of the sun that is coming back. There’s the risk that someone might not see me right away, but it’s ok. I’m ok. Waiting out the night, I won’t miss the moment grace starts to crack open the sky.
Sundays in the Dark
Church used to be the highlight of my week. When I was fourteen, my family started attending the big brick Baptist church that would become my church. I instantly gravitated toward one of the leaders—I’ll call her Alice—who was everything a shy teenage girl like me could want in a youth leader. She was unabashedly transparent and opinionated. She laughed often, especially at herself. She would do anything for her girls. She took us to the movies and to concerts and music festivals. Then, she left. She didn’t just stop teaching; she left that big brick Baptist church completely. And she stopped talking regularly to most of her girls. I didn’t understand. I still don’t, not completely.
It was the start of a long period of feeling alone and left behind at church. I never thought I’d be one of them: a millennial who grew up evangelical but (mostly) stopped going to church when she reached a certain age. But this is where I am right now.
I don’t know if I’m doing this right. I don’t know if I’m expecting too much or looking for the right things. But I do know that on the Sundays when I stay home or meet up with my mom and sister or go to my parents’ house instead of going to that big brick Baptist church or trying somewhere new, I (mostly) don’t feel guilty.
And the thing is, I know God is still with me when I’m fidgeting in a pew at my husband’s church and trying to think about anything and everything except the service (Story ideas! Song lyrics I actually like! What to fix for dinner!)—when I’m driving past the big brick Baptist church on my way to my parents’ house on a Sunday morning—when I’m playing an Audrey Assad CD for the fourth straight day in a row on my way to work because even though I don’t need to feel God, sometimes I want to. So I turn up the volume and sing along. “In the beginning . . . You spoke light into darkness and there was light.”
The Darkness, The Washing, and the God that is Here
I can’t tell you how The Dark arrived, but I can tell you what The Dark was like. It was like The Washing.
I knelt in front of the washing machine saying out loud “Just put one piece of clothing in the washing machine”, over and over until one by one the clothes were not all over the floor any more. “Just put the powder in.” “Just press the button.” And, as the hiss of the water pouring into the machine told me that I had made it, I had finished the marathon, the hot tears came pouring from my eyes and I lay sobbing on the kitchen floor mouthing “I can’t I can’t,” partly because I felt so useless and partly because I was afraid of how I was ever going to unload the machine when it had finished.
Sometimes The Dark puts in an appearance and usually I can’t tell its on its way until it has arrived. Here’s what I do then. I acknowledge its presence cordially, and look it in the eye, and say to The Dark, I’m watching you I can see you even though you are The Dark. There are lots of things I can do about you, and I might just do them if you don’t go away soon. I tell my people to watch The Dark too.
The harder part is something I’ve not figured out yet. It’s the ever underlying feeling that it Might Get Dark Soon, that this Light, this Energy, this Current Burst of Productivity, is never going to last. There, I’ve said it: Fear of The Dark. What do you do about that?
Yes. The Light doesn’t last forever, but if The Dark comes again for a while, perhaps it’s just time to rest and sleep. When it’s nighttime, go to sleep. When it’s daytime ride on that Beam of Light. When I have energy, do things. When I don’t, stop.
Why would I spend an afternoon writing about something horrible, for someone I’ve never met, when I never usually do this sort of thing? I’m writing this for Addie, because she introduced me to two things that have helped me with fear:
Breathe in your Belovedness.
God is here. God is here. God is here.
As you can see, I’ve not mentioned faith at all before, because for me, like for Addie, and for all her readers no doubt, and ultimately for everyone, It’s Complicated. I have no answers, but I am loved. I have no answers, but God is Here.