I wrote these thoughts in my notebook yesterday, not sure if I would post them. A Tweet about the inappropriateness of asking a depressed person to “get over it”, and another blog post today led me to the decision to go right ahead and share, since we are a community of people who hurt, and it’s important to share our stories after this week’s tragic loss.
When I was 23, my mother died of heart disease. We had three years to say goodbye, and were so busy in the taking care of her that there was no time for darkness beyond what she was enduring.
My own darkness came later, when I was back at school. The cocoon we’d built to protect ourselves during her illness was no longer a facet of everyday life, and the expectation was that I would “get over it” and return to “normal.” What’s normal for a young woman teetering on the brink of adulthood, who loses her mother? There were friends who opened their arms and doors to me and my darkness. It’s because they did that I never succumbed to the fleeting impulses to blot out that empty space forever. I had those impulses, though. Don’t forget that. Never forget that. I won’t.
I needed to make sense of it all, of what we’d done for and with my mother, so I started writing what would become my first book. The Best of It was published twenty-six years later, because I wanted to help people. Writing helped me climb out of that darkness. But therapy helped me begin that writing. I was able to ask for help, though it was cloaked in a sort of shame and secrecy I still don’t quite understand.
Fast forward six years or so, into the marriage and motherhood my mother never got to see. A growth twisted somewhere in my guts when our daughter was two, causing chronic pain, hormonal imbalance, and ultimately chronic anxiety and depression.
I had a toddler and a busy life, with a husband at work and in school. I was isolated by location, and then by despair and a terrible darkness. It was an episode of Oprah that led me to make the call. Don’t forget that, either. Never forget the importance of making the call. I won’t.
I wasn’t weak. I wasn’t bad. I hadn’t done anything shameful. But when I was able to begin my climb out of that darkness, with therapy, medication, amazing friends and the most loving and supportive husband ever, I shared about depression one Sunday in church, from the pulpit.
Yes, folks, it is still a stigma in our society. I was shocked at the responses I got, and at how courageous I had to be after sharing. I thought that speaking it would be the hardest part. I teetered on the edge of that darkness once again. I was courageous. I used my support system and got through that part, too. I still think it was valuable for others, which is why I shared in the first place. But here is the real lesson, and the one I try to focus on.
Once you have been in that particular dark, the return of the light brings such joy as you will never know unless you’ve been there. And that was my point in sharing as I did, that it’s dark and it’s bad, but if you can come to believe that it’s not you that is bad and dark, maybe, just maybe, the bad stuff can come to be the counterpoint that makes the joy. And you have to fight like mad sometimes to keep the dark at bay, but the fight is worth it.
I learned the care that I needed. My hormonal imbalances and my darkness have abated over the last twenty years. I know how very fortunate I am that the help I reached out for worked, and that when I’ve needed help, I’ve been able to reach out for it. And I know that not everyone is that fortunate. Because the darkness is more paralyzing than you can know, either, unless you’ve been in it. Fighting that dark is exhausting and discouraging and terrifying. Some of us are wired to be in it. Some of us aren’t.
Today, I’m reminded not only of the brilliant lights we all knew, though. I am remembering those only a few of us knew, in the big world picture. Beloved friend Jer. Funny, sweet student Blazen. Dear friend’s partner David. These lights shone. And then, the darkness took them.
So what can I do? Sharing gratitude for tiny gifts of joy, of light after the darkness, is the only way I know to honor them.