Darkness is uncreated light
The last few weeks have been a hard time for me; physical health issues following an operation a week before Christmas became compounded with my cycle of spiralling through periods of low and high mood, and came to a head on Christmas Eve. For days I sat and read through tweets and Facebook status posts about how excited everyone was and all they were doing and felt dislocated and isolated. It had been a close run thing that I was able to be at home for Christmas; the post operative infection was near to sending me back to hospital to be tied to an IV drip of antibiotics. But the collective excitement and frenetic happiness that the outside world seemed to be presenting to me did not cheer me. In fact it just brought home to me quite how false most human celebrations actually are. What is at the core of them may not be false but not that many get to the core. The tinsel and the cake are just external manifestations of that core and mean nothing in themselves(except perhaps calories and expense.)
On Christmas Eve, it started to coalesce into a painfully clear-eyed understanding of the whole concept of depression. The essay I wrote at that time may be posted at some stage; a few people have read it in its current form but since the overall theme was written from a place of immense pain, I am not certain it would benefit many to read it as is.
The nub of the essay was that depression is a product of the removal(whether willing or not) of the usually unseen barrier between true objective external reality and the reality that lives inside our minds. This is something that happens at times of great grief or disappointment in particular. When someone dies, we cannot pretend(at least, not for long) that they are still with us; when we fail to get the job we were sure was ours we cannot carry on as if we did. Other triggers are common; how we look, our talents and skills, our relationships and so on, often do not match what we have in our heads. Clinical depression is often described as being a result of chemical imbalances in the brain but even this is not being backed up by conclusive research. Not to mention the whole chicken and egg conundrum: which came first, the imbalance or the depression?
I spent much of Christmas Eve either crying or fighting tears. This isn’t that unusual; when I have been in this space before, for the same reasons of the veil between the realities being suddenly absent, it usually takes going through the pain to come out on the other side. The fact that it was Christmas, the time when everyone is meant to be happy smiling bunnies, was at once a major contributing trigger to the epsiode in the first place and at the same time, something that just added continuous fuel to the pain. I know I was ill, feverish and in pain, and anxious, and that this was probably why it happened then and not at some stage in the future when I cannot hold the dark matter of reality apart from the marshmallow world of sweetness inside my head.
But there were things to be done and I did them. My husband put up the Christmas tree and the decorations and as I looked around the house, transformed from its workaday look, a tiny feeling of release began. OK, so the two realities didn’t match; but for a while, it simply didn’t matter as much. Christmas Eve picked up slowly. I managed to eat a little. I felt a tiny bit better. And when Christmas Day dawned, I was weary but all right, and the day had a quiet holiness about it and as a family we had a good day. Boxing Day we went to visit my family, about two hours drive away, and stayed there till yesterday afternoon. It was fine, pleasant and good to be with people I loved.
Last night, as I was trying to settle to go to bed, I picked up the prayer book that sits by my bed. I do not have a regular discipline concerning either prayer or prayerful reading; I sabotage myself every time I have tried for the last 30 or more years. I figure that I need to follow the flow of my life, not something dictated by another person. The book is the Celtic Daily Prayer, a book from the Northumbria community in the north of England. Look them up if it interests you. I probably dip into this book a couple of times a week, and usually find that the words move me. The words for Christmas Day sprang off the page for me:
Do not be afraid to walk in darkness for I am uncreated light. I will cause you to look on darkness and not be afraid.
It speaks of several kinds of darkness but the last lines of the passage carried most power for me:
The darkness of despair and unanswered questions may require that we reach out and hold His hand in the darkness, even by faith, and just keep on walking.
In the end, surviving depressive episodes for me have to be about keeping on walking, holding a hand that is unseen and unfelt and having faith that however alone I feel in it, there truly is One who is there when nobody else can be.