Darkness Visible

candle-in-the-darknessI am used to issuing tips and advice for persons who suffer from depression. I haven’t really described my own lately, because I thought it would be too painful. But since I’ve had a few good days IN A ROW, let me try to describe it.

My biggest fear, at age 42, is that I may not be yet to the halfway mark of my life. This has terrified me off and on for my whole life, during depression’s visits, but almost constantly for the last year and a half. The last four weeks, especially, I have existed in a frightening cloud of darkness.

I’ve been looking at the world through a black screen. It’s if I’m in jail and can see everyone going about their activities. I wonder how they can muster up the strength to be alive, to go on as if they don’t suffer. I know they wish to perish, too, but they are stronger than I am, to pretend to be busy with stuff. To smile and laugh. I wonder how people can study, teach, read, give presentations, and be devastated at the same time. I know I can’t take my life, despite my urgency to exit, so I stand behind the screen suffocating.

I constrain my tears as best I can. Keeping my composure is like holding my breath—with practice it gets easier—but there are those moments I gasp for air. So I fake a restroom break, or put on sunglasses, or walk away to some secluded place where I won’t be found out. And I let my tears run down my face naturally. I am a secret crier. I have tried to be ever since my daughter told me my crying makes her want a new mom.

It takes all my energy to stay composed during the day, so I break down at night. My husband sees the worst of it but is kind and patient as ever. I am scared to go to sleep. I may wake up in a panic attack, my heart beating dangerously fast, and sit up in bed or wander around the house, praying and crying and meditating and shaking, wondering if I should take the sedative that will knock me out but make me more anxious the next morning, or if I should hold out and deal with the exhaustion of no sleep the next day. I practice resistance breathing, counting to five with each inhale and exhale, like I did in labor. I beg God for help. I pray Thomas Merton’s prayer, the Memorare, and the Prayer of St. Francis.

I’m afraid to wake up, because the anxiety is always strongest when I rise. I make myself swim laps. Even if I my tears fill up the goggles, I will finish my laps, because the hour after my swim is the best I’ll feel throughout the day. Then I try to put some words together, and mostly I fail, so I will use a piece I wrote previously that I have saved for a day like this, and I plug it in. I try to be productive. I try so hard. I bash myself for being unproductive. I think that I have no value as a human being if I can’t generate income or produce something of worth during a day. But my friend tells me that just being alive is of value to God, and that the only thing I have to do for that day is to stay alive. And so I take it fifteen minutes at a time, and tackle only what’s directly in front of me.

I talk to friends who have been there. They are God’s angels. They don’t judge. They simply check in. They try to make me laugh. They hear all the indictments I’ve charged myself with for the day—all the opportunities I give myself to feel shameful and bad and unworthy and horrible. They tell me to wait until I feel better to caste judgment. One by one, I list my anxieties and fixations of the moment. They tell me that’s ridiculous or they say to wait until I’m stable to tackle it.

I contemplate hospitalization. But I’m not sure what that would accomplish. I’m not suicidal. I’m not dangerous. I’m just severely depressed. I consider ECT because I have been through countless medication combinations. I wonder if there’s any hope of the latest cocktail to save me. I imagine me on a gurney to get shocked, but I don’t know if I have the guts to go through with it, or maybe I think if I can keep putting one foot in front of another, I won’t have to.

I return to William Styron’s paragraph of redemption, and I read it with conviction, as if he were telling it to me over a cup of coffee, and I have to believe it will get better. “If depression had no termination, then suicide would, indeed, be the only remedy. But one need not sound the false or inspirational note to stress the truth that depression is not the soul’s annihilation; men and women who have recovered from the disease–and they are countless–bear witness to what is probably its only saving grace: it is conquerable.”

I do believe it. I believe it because I got well before. I will get well again.

Share this:

25 thoughts on “Darkness Visible

  1. I could have written this…the effort it takes to appear normal, the failure of medications, the feeling like the odd woman out because I don’t understand or relate to people I see laughing, smiling, truly appearing as if they are enjoying life, feeling like the odd woman out because I have two college degrees, am in my mid-40’s and have little to show for it because depression and anxiety have come like thieves in the night for years and have slowly robbed me of confidence, clear thoughts, motivation and care but they have been “kind” enough to leave behind self loathing, shame, bitterness and anger. Like you, I have thought about ECT but like you, am afraid. Therapy would be nothing more than a whine session, complete with guilt (Catholic guilt on top of it) about not being able to just “focus on the positive”, “be grateful for what you have” and on and on the amateur guru’s around me go – not understanding that TRUE depression and anxiety aren’t a “couple of bad days” or “a case of the blues” but rather an ongoing chronic condition that seems to change and reinvent itself just when I think I’ve found the answer to beat it back into place. I fear living a long time as well..at least like I feel most days but I also am feeling the desperation and hopelessness at facing 50 and not having reached but a slight few of my goals/dreams and knowing time, ageism, is going to work against me. I think too much, try not to think at all then become so indecisive about what path to follow, if I can work, worrying about bills, you name it. What a cycle.
    I hope you get some relief soon. As you know, a few days without the dastardly duo of depression and anxiety are better than none. The good days are the links that can be chained together to rest on until another good day arises.

  2. Oh Therese, your story could have been mine. However I don’t feel that way any more. I’m well into recovery but reading your story it was all so familiar. There were so many years like that. I thought I couldn’t possibly hang on any more. But somehow I did. I did do ECT. Can’t say I’d recommend it.

  3. Oh, Therese. I’m so sorry you’re feeling like this. I can identify with much of what you’re going through and the recognition is especially raw at the moment as I’m experiencing similar feelings.

    Your writing is such an inspiration and help to me. I’ve been reading your posts for years and it continually amazes me how you can produce such thoughtful, well-written pieces when you’re feeling so low.

    Your honesty and courage help so many people. There’s no other writer who continues to comfort me the way you do. I wish I could make things better for you (and me) right now, but, because I can’t, I’ll do what you’re doing and keep William Styron’s words close at hand.

    Wishing you all the blessings on the planet. Please take care. xo

  4. Theresa, you helped me before with an encouraging email and with your books. I have had severe depressive episodes and anxiety over the past thirty years. I have been hospitalized and I have had ECT (which I would not recommend – it did not help me), and various anti-depressants. About 14 months ago, I decided to change psychiatrists. My former psychiatrist of nine years did not keep up with research, was lazy, disorganized, and kept telling me, “Tough it out!”, and “Your depression will lift with or without medications.” Finally, I made the decision to a find a new psychiatrist. A younger, female psychiatrist was recommended to me by my psychologist and by my wife’s therapist. I had to wait about 5 weeks to get an appointment. My new psychiatrist noticed immediately that my former psychiatrist kept trying me on anti-depressants from the same family. She told me there were many alternatives and she would try them with me. She seemed confident, although I was in a state of severe depression. Unlike you, I would remain in bed for hours before getting up. I looked forward to going to bed early to escape the pain for a while. My psychiatrist changed me to Effexor XR, changed some other medications, and tweaked one of my medications. Within 5 weeks, I started feeling better. I became more hopeful. Now 14 months later, I am getting up early (when I was not depressed, I was an early riser.) I look forward to each day and have more energy. I volunteer twice a week, walk, mow the lawn, and pursue different interests. I know that each day will present its particular challenges, but I embrace them rather than duck them. My OCD (perfectionism and symmetry) bother me less and I am able to get beyond them. I still have OCD episodes but I recognize them earlier more often and am able to better accept things that are not “perfect” and things that lack symmetry. I was ready to give up. I was not suicidal but felt worthless and prayed that God would take me. Please do not give up. Believe that “this too will pass.” Believe what you have written in your most helpful books. I will pray for you. You have been so helpful, are needed, and are an expert. This, too, will pass. Thank you for being so helpful to me.

  5. Therese,
    At the risk of repeating the words of others; please hold on! Your posts have kept me going countless times when I thought I couldn’t stand another minute of the pain. I am fortunate to have a small group of friends who watch out and pray for me but they can’t truly understand because they haven’t been through this. Although we’be never met, through your words and hunor i consider you my one friend who understands. I still refer to a post you wrote over a year ago about relapse. Your advice is always spot on and I continue to be amazed at how you can write so eloquently, while I struggle to string 5 words together coherently in a conversation.
    I too feel as if I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve been told by my psychiatrist that we may have exhausted the meds and I might should consider other options, including ECT. My marriage is falling apart before my eyes, yet I can’t find the strength to pretend any longer. I simply can’t do it. So I hide, cry, and feel as pathetic as I appear. But knowing that others have survived, like yourself, gives me hope to carry on another day.
    2Corinthians 9 “My grace is sufficient for you. My power works best in weakness”

  6. You break my heart. I know how you feel about counting the days to the end of your life. I pray that “This too shall pass” for you as it has for me.

  7. Thank you so much for your honesty, your openness. Your words echo in my heart and life. The daily, hourly, moment by moment battle. A new job and some new medications provided some hopeful progress for me. My wife even commented how much better I seemed to be doing. Then a major car wreck and a concussion seems to have thrown me backwards months or maybe years. It’s so reassuring to hear you remind me of that there is a healing, recovery, victory. Thank you Therese.

  8. Therese,
    I have always said that the only true healer is a wounded healer.
    Your humanity in your hour of need is gut-wrenching, sad and painful to hear
    Your courage to say your struggle for all to hear is powerful and I am
    honored to have say I got to witness it, at whatever level I can.
    Thank you, dear friend.
    Your courage gives me hope.
    Love
    Jim

  9. Dear Therese,

    I hope these genuine and heartfelt comments from your readers persuades you of the power of your own story — helping all of us who suffer with you to keep hope alive— as you surely will yourself. You know that is true. You are a very special counselor!

    I would like to remind you again that ECT has twice saved my life, and if your intuitive sense guides you to try it yourself, then I hope you will seriously consider it. May God help you in that decision.

    So glad that you have had several good days in a row.

    Much love,

    Jim

  10. I am so sorry you are having such a rough time.

    You’re in my prayers.

    Just remember, YOU are an angel to many, including me.

  11. Therese I hope you feel better soon. You have helped me so much over the last two years. Your writings make such a difference to so many people. I will keep you in my prayers.

  12. Therese,
    You are an amazing and gifted writer…please know that you have helped so many people through writing about your struggles. You are a blessing to all of us who struggle with afflictions of the mind.

  13. This post was painful to read – I saw myself in it. I am fine now, but I fear (know) that someday, the “black dog”, as Churchill called it, will come again. Thank you Therese, you are a blessing to me. I pray that you will feel a little more normal soon.

  14. Terese,

    Like so many others, I identify with your experiences – waking up anxious, wandering around the house, crying, meditating, praying and begging God for help, watching other people and wondering how they can work, play, and seem to enjoy what they are doing. How do they do it? Where do they find the energy? Where do they find hope?

    Fortunately, I have found some relief with medication (finally found one that works – on the fourth attempt) and counseling.

    You are in my prayers on a daily basis. You are also an inspiration. Even though you are a self-described “whack job,” I am amazed at how you are able to exercise, raise children, and have a successful career – all while trying to manage depression, anxiety, and all the other challenges you have described in your books, blogs, and articles. I don’t know how you do it.

    Hang in there. Scripture tells us there will come a day and a place where there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more sorrow ….

  15. Oh My! I have never meet someone before that so closely understands what each and every day of my life looks until I read this article. Depression and anxiety have always been with me since fifth grade. I hate how I struggle to intensely each day, go to counseling, do to homework, taking my meds, use my coping skills and still this awful depression and anxiety stay with me. I want to be cured I want it to go away but I learning that this what GOD has chosen for me to grow with. My family and friends don’t understand why I can’t just be happy. I’m coming to accept that some people have heart conditions, some diabetes, etc, mine is depression and anxiety. You have found a purpose to help others to inspire others with your journey in life. I hope To find my purpose my passion as I continue to work to accept my self, all the parts of myself including my depression and anxiety. As i read this article, i looked up and read many more by you. After reading and visiting your page i feel less alone in the darkness. I hope you know how much you help me (probably others). Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being brave enough to share!

    Blessings and light to you, Rebecca

    Sent from my iPad

  16. Therese,
    I have not been diagnosed with bipolar, but have had anxiety and depression since the age of 6. Nothing horrible happened to me as a child that was just the year I started first grade. I have had episodes of extreme anxiety and debilitating depression off and on since then. I am 52 years old and like you when I am in a depressed mode I fear the rest of my life. I am having an anxiety/depression session right now. I have struggled all my life with whether you can be a Christian and suffer depression. A lot of harm has been done to me by pastors who say things like lay it at the cross, or list how many times the Bible says do not be anxious. It is exactly 365 times. I pray that you will come through this latest bout with depression and believe that it is possible. God bless.
    Shirley

  17. Oh man….I’ve been wondering where you’ve been. I’m so sorry you’ve been really down. Like many of the comments previous, I could’ve written that too. I thought I was the only one scared that I’m only at the halfway mark at 44. That’s why I keep smoking, because I don’t give a shit about the consequences. The height of selfishness, that’s me. I’ve been unemployed since April and keep getting knock-backs every week. I’m reliant on my mother to pay the rent. BUT I haven’t fallen in a hole. I thank my cocktail of medication for that and my psychiatrist, but especially my Outreach Nurse, Jess. When I was discharged from the nuthouse, Jess started visiting me at home (no charge as my insurance covers it). These visits have been VITAL for my well-being. Jess was chief Nurse Ratchett at the hospital when I had my holiday there a year ago. I will never ever ever forget your messages of support during such a scary time. In turn, I will always be here for you no matter what. Middle of the night in the U.S? Lunchtime here in Oz. Always know you can shoot off a rant or anything at all and I’ll be here for you. As I always say, if you keep going, so shall I.

  18. Dear Therese,

    As you have said so wisely before, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, as you are doing. You WILL get there, you WILL get better. As you have before. So sorry you are having such a hard time. But know that those of us who have taken so much from your courage and your strength are pulling for you. And believing in you, and in the mercy of recovery, for however long it lasts between sieges. May you know peace, and soon, and for a long, long while.

    ~ Mary

  19. My heart breaks to think of you suffering so. I know how the darkness of depression hurts down to your cells and each minute feels like an excruciating torture. And the constant wondering if it’ll ever relent. It is a cruelty not one of us should have to endure. You certainly don’t deserve it. You have given so much of yourself, you now only have to receive. I’m so glad you have a loving family. There’s nothing for you to do but let them love you right now. Don’t even try to feel their love just know it’s there supporting you. I’m loving you right now too. Be gentle and kind with yourself right now. That’s a very big job but it’s the most important job you have at the moment. Rest, rest, rest.

  20. Hey Theresa,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles. But I’m so glad you decided to share it with your followers. I’m going to try and respond in a way that is validated by my own story but does not make you feel worse.

    I was where you were for years. I remember that at age forty or so was the worst. I felt like life was passing me by, that I was trapped my all the roles I had to fulfill every day.I tried medication, therapy. I was never hospitlized but that was probably due more to my pride and the fact that I had a wonderful, totally supportive husband who stayed with me till I came out at the other side.

    For no particular reason (only God knows and he hasn’t told me), I got to a place where I said, “This is enough. I refuse to live like this another minute”. I slowly went off the medication and started seriously looking at what I was doing to contribute to my own depression. There was a lot. It took some time and I was scared to death I would suddengly fall back into that horrible pit. I had some bad days when the panic would just rise and I would be afraid to breathe. But I kept telling myself I was not going back there. This was over ten years ago. I’ve had some bad days, a few bad weeks at a time, but never the same depression.

    I don’t want to preach but I do have to say that my faith made all the difference. I finally came to a place where I believed God hated my depression as much as I did. It was through God’s guidance and my hard work I am where I am today. I still get scared now and then but I remind myself that if I could do it once, I could do it again.

    Hang in there, Theresa. You WILL get through this. You obviously know all the right things to do because you’ve been sharing them with others. Just work the plan and don’t be afraid. We are all behind them.

    1. I haven’t much to add to your quite moving post above but your comment on your fear of not yet being at the half-way point of your life resonated with me. Age 42 commenced a quite challenging period in my life. I began to work under my own “black cloud of darkness” until about two years later I realized I was going to need to leave a job I thought I would have into retirement. I did not get well in my next job (interesting work but not sort of career detour I was comfortable with), but through God’s grace and a competent, caring therapist, I did recover while working in the job after that. I enjoyed, and that is the word, “enjoyed” –a long run of generally stable moods and manageable anxiety until about three years ago when the nervousness and depression returned. And I have found myself at times since then, now almost 61 years of age, counting my remaining days in much the same way as you are.

      The difference may be that I am well past the half-way point of my life and, like you, having faith that I will recover I very much want do not want it to end — I want to be here to see what happens with my children, now grown, and to give back to my wife all that she gave to me and to our children during those years blighted by depression and anxiety. I won’t offer platitudes like “it gets easier” as in my case it did for a while and now it is hard again, but I want to be fully here for the rest of the journey. Even in my darkest moments I knew that – on those nights when I was up pacing and shaking and sweating and crying I would look into my daughter’s room and watch her sleeping and somehow through the tears knew that I wanted to be there to see how she would turn out. I still do, and she’s now 25.

      Thank you for giving so much of yourself in these posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *