July 30, 2008

Dark Nights of the Soul

If you asked me before what depression was, I would have given you a long list of symptoms. I would have given you some highphaluting explanation of what it was all about and what are possible reasons for it happening. At the back of my head, however, in the deepest creases of my heart, I would have been saying it was a ridiculous construct, a poor excuse for a weak individual who was not making sense. I would have thought to myself that people who were depressed were not trying hard enough to feel better.

It was not until I went met Depression did I actually understand what it was all about.

Depression is not just a state of mind. Unlike my initial assumptions (grossly unfair assumptions I might add, especially given that I am a psychologist), I now know that it is not simply a matter of perspective. When a depressed person says "I can't get out of bed", I know it's true. The emptiness, the loneliness, the irrational thoughts: they are all real to the one experiencing it.

It is a painful and often debilitating illness. When left untreated, it can eat away at the very core of one's being. It tears away at the foundations of one's reality, it beats down the strength and power one has for herself, and it shatters all sense of normalcy one holds on to. Worst of all, it takes away one's ability to believe. To hope. To love.

If you ask me now to describe depression, I can say it is truly like, borrowing Thomas Moore's description of sadness, depression and troubles that come into our lives, a dark night of the soul. It felt to me like one day I woke up and the sun was gone. In it's place was a dark shadow, hanging heavily and ominously over every waking hour. Every day in that period of my life was a long, dark, starless night.

If I were to give you a picture of what my depression was like, I would tell you to imagine a dark, heavy cloud in the sky, just like those sudden rain clouds that come out of nowhere on a bright day sky. It suddenly covers the brightness around and casts a greyness on everything. In the core of the cloud is a dense darkness where not even a sliver of light can pass through. The rest of the cloud is also dark, but of varying shades of gray.

During that dark night of my soul, I could not think or see straight. I stopped being who I was. In the midst of it, it was like standing in the eye of a storm. There was an eerie calmness while everything around spun like mad. The thing is, that calmness was only around when I was curled up in bed, pulled away from the world around me. Then, I finally understood what people with depression were saying. I started to realize it really was more than just mindset, or attitude.

In the beginning, when that darkness first crept in, I tried desperately to make it go away. I rationalized with it. I denied it. I tried to recreate it. But it did not let me win the fight. Once I stopped fighting so hard, and once I listened to it, it let up. It started to let the sun in again. By giving up, I allowed myself to live again.

This 'giving up' was different from the dejected surrender I had felt at the peak of my depression, where I just gave in to the sadness and pain. I began not to struggle against it, but I didn't just sit in passive surrender. I guess it's not really giving up the battle. In essence, I stopped thrashing around in rebellion or frustration. Rather, I sat still and let it happen. I guess by not struggling so desperately I don't get myself tangled up too much. By letting it have some slack, I'm able to remove the knots and unmesh the ball of confusion I ended up with. By letting it hang, so to speak, I allow it space. And with that little bit of space, there is a way out.

It was a long journey back to daylight, but at the end of the day, I cannot say it was not worth the trip. It took a long time for me to realize it, but that dark night of the soul was an important part of my self-development. While it may not be something I'd wish to go through again, I realize that it was an essential part in my soul making.

During that dark night, I said I stopped being who I was. And I never went back to being her. Instead, bestowed with the gifts of my dark night, I began to become a better me. I stopped being who I used to be, or more succinctly, who I thought I was. Now I am a more authentic and real person, not to anyone else, but to myself.

The darkness, while it has dissipated, still comes every now and then. What I realize now is that fearing this darkness, or facing it head-on in battle, is not the solution. Rather, sitting quietly with it, honoring and respecting it's purpose in my life, allows it to be a source of beauty and strength. to continue reading...

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