I have a dear blog friend who is in a dark place right now. Having walked through the darkness before myself, having clung for dear life to the walls of The Pit – I feel for her. And I want her to know that no matter how dark and silent and separate and alone she feels, she is not alone. There is light, and there is hope, and there is beauty, and there is love, and we are here.
Meanwhile, there are some specific things I want to say to her, and I’m not sure they’ll flow well together, so I’m just going to start writing and see how it turns out.
First, you are right, friend, that you do not have a choice about the darkness circling about you; your choices are in how you respond to the darkness. Of course, the darkness makes those choices hard, and that really sucks. It’s so easy for someone who is not depressed or who has never tasted depression to say really thoughtless and unhelpful things – even harmful things. And sometimes they are saying exactly the things we need to hear, though we’d much rather plug our ears and sing Lalalala – I can’t hear you!!! Or we may just plug the ears of our heart, and refuse to listen, but those right things do lodge in our minds and hearts (just as the wrong ones do), and eventually, they find a place to surface.
That said, there is power in knowing that we have choices, in recognizing our choices, in taking ownership and authority and responsibility for our choices. I had a therapist who quoted once the line that goes something like, I can’t stop the seagulls from pooping on me, but I can keep them from building a nest in my hair! And this is true. Yeah, so some days you get pooped on, and it sucks. Some days, it feels like a truckload of manure gets dumped on you. And I’ll bet everyone who has read this far is nodding. But it’s your choice – my choice, everybody’s choice – whether to stand up and start cleaning it off, or to sit down and let the crap stay there and wallow in misery. Now I’ll admit that sometimes, I indulge in a good misery-wallow. Sometimes I want to scream and cry and pound things with my fists like a two-year-old having a temper tantrum. And this is okay… as long as I choose my temper tantrum, throw it deliberately and intentionally (and appropriately!), and then choose to stop: to pick myself back up off the floor, to smooth out my clothing, to say “Well, then!” and to find a constructive way to deal with my anger or frustration or sadness. It is in my power to choose to express my anger and sadness; it is in my power to choose how and when and where I am going to do this; it is in my power to pick up the pieces afterward and move on. And this is big stuff, especially when I feel weak and powerless and hopeless.
I am also familiar with that I can’t pray any more feeling. And I have come to learn that this feeling is complete and utter bullshit. (There! I said it!) Because the truth is, we are praying constantly, all through the day, and a person living in constant pain is reaching out far more than they think. The problem is, our prayers are probably not in an established form, and they are probably not pretty; they probably are not words or thoughts we would express in public (or for that matter, even in private in front of our mothers or grandmothers). But some of the deepest cries of our heart happen when we are in these places. And often they are single words, and they are powerful words, but we may feel ashamed of them. Please! is one. Another is Help! And I’m sure we’re all familiar with O God, why ME?!? These are all prayers. They are very authentic prayers. And I will tell you something that I believe to the deepest core of my being. I believe that God is far happier with an authentic and honest prayer – God, this SUCKS. Why is this happening to me? – than an insincere recitation of the Lord’s Prayer or the Daily Office. I imagine, as Jesus told in parables, a loving parent. Would you, as a mother or a father, want your child to come to you – obviously upset and in pain – and start addressing you with praise? Or would you prefer for your child to ask for help – help that you want very much to give, because you love her?
When I was in the hospital with severe depression, a rather remarkable priest came to see me. His advice on the darkness – especially the thoughts and fantasies of self-harm – was to give them to God. I know I made a face, and possibly even snorted at this. What use had God been to me through the depression?!? He smiled gently and continued, “It’s okay to have a bit of an attitude. It’s okay to express doubt. You can say, God, I don’t know what the hell you’re going to do with this, but take it, please. And God will.” I know I smiled at this, too, but I don’t think the doubtful expression left my face. But then I tried it. And it was very powerful for me. See, God wants to help us. God wants us to know how very precious we are, how unique and special and wonderful, how completely and extravagantly loved we are. But God does not force God upon us. God wants us to want God’s help. And when we ask, God’s help is there.
The problem is, in the darkness, we feel so separated and alone. We are under eight feet of water, and every thing we do, every word we speak, every thought we think is dampened and slowed and smothered by that weight and pressure. Every sight we see, every sound we hear, is distorted – it all looks and sounds like the water that is closing in over us and around us. This is true of the voices of the friends and family who care about us and want to see us whole and happy again. This is even true of the voice of God. What sucks is that we have to work harder to choose to hear these voices. It is so easy in the darkness to relax and let the negativity crush us, to let despair close in. Because light and good and positive things seem to take effort, and any effort at all wears us out. And we don’t recognize the effects that those light and good and positive things have on us – that we just smiled, for the first time in days; that we actually did have more energy, if only for a few hours; that for a brief time, we felt that maybe there is hope that we can emerge from the darkness again.
There is lots of advice I could give. There are many practical things that have worked for me, and many, many more that haven’t – and that made me feel worse for trying them and having them not work for me, like this was a failing on my part. I’m not going to go into those right now. I have some very basic thoughts for you, my dear friend, and I hope they help you keep going. I am expressing these from your voice, and I hope that, if you find yourself in a quiet room alone with the computer, maybe you can speak them out loud, hear them in your own voice, and know that they are true.
- I am worth something.
- There is hope.
- I am made in the image of God.
- I am unique and precious.
- I am wanted.
- I can pray.
- I can find the light.
- I want to find the light.
- I am lovable.
- I am loved.
Peace be with you, my friend. May the peace that passes all understanding be with you. May you feel the love of the Creator who shaped you and breathed life into you. May you see the light of Christ who saves you show you your path. And may the warm breezes of the Holy Spirit tickle your heart, lift you up, and guide you on the way.