It can happen in just a second.
We are chatting happily about nothing in particular and the light suddenly shifts. Something I said either sparked a memory or struck an exposed wound that I didn’t see, and the darkness descends.
It’s always in the eyes first. I see the color shift slightly and then his gaze drops. Hoping it wasn’t noticed, eye contact is resumed. Yet the wrinkles on his forehead deepen and I can see the truth just under the surface bubbling.
His voice is his biggest betrayer. The tone, volume and speed all drop and I can actually hear the sadness seeping in. It’s subtle, but so noticeable once you pay attention. Like a siren broadcasting the approaching storm, it’s unmistakable.
Defenses shoot up fast, as only someone as experienced in living with pain knows how to do, and I prepare myself for the protective show.
Smiling way too big.
Telling a joke far too exuberantly.
Twisting the conversation away.
Diversionary tactics honed from years of experience.
He is a master at hiding.
He has perfected the art of subtly pushing friends away and protecting them from his demons. Thwarting real conversations with jokes meant to make you uncomfortable and to push your limits. If you’re off balance than you won’t look deeper at him.
I watch as he pours himself into his creative outlets. His music, writing and art are filled with darkness and light. They are brilliant and help keep him from descending deeper down.
All of this hiding, covering up and creativity do work…most of the time.
Yet after experiencing and battling the darkness myself, the terrible monster that is depression, those moments when I see it happen can’t be ignored. I can’t just let them go without notice.
Nobody should have to go it alone.
True darkness isn’t something you can wish away or just “get over.” It’s as personal as your fingerprint, yet universal in its ability to destroy you. Everyone has experience with it, yet not everyone is pulled completely down.
I know that I am lucky. I have support, love and therapy. I strive to stay in the light most of the time, yet I know the dark intimately and slip down more than I care to admit.
There is no fix for depression.
It makes you feel alone and isolated. Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to go there with you. It’s too uncomfortable and you have to be willing to expose your own darkness.
It is not for the faint of heart.
I want to be there for him, for my mother and for many others that I see struggle. All I can offer is an acknowledgement of the pain, my sincere love and a listening ear.
I can’t turn away from them.
For me, when I feel that heaviness start to take me over, I get busy. Super busy. I focus on each task throughout my day, making myself check lists and fretting over tiny details that have little real significance. I pour myself into my children and others and hope it’s enough.
But inevitably it happens.
Retreating into my hole with tears streaming down my face, I push everyone away and wallow in my feelings of inadequacy and fear.
There is something in the tonal change
subtle, barely perceptible
enough to pull the lever
Chain winds around and tightens
breath becomes harder, thoughts unclear
belt moves, screeches its familiar tune
Never enough, constantly trying and failing
can’t let go, things will break
turning, tightening, hurting
Unrelenting it whines and chugs
painful pitch vibrates deep inside
sweet relief, release forever inches away
Intensity, fear wrapped in network of pain
turn it up, always threatening to break
shuddering, pulsing, trembling within
Gears slip, yet won’t fully snap apart
unbalanced it eternally churns uneven song
never the same, lever won’t be pushed back
I can see this pattern, this machine, work itself on me and many others that I love. I see it wind us up and spit us out. I wish I could shake us all free of its grasp and live fully in the light. Yet, deep down I suspect that isn’t something that can happen. The dark is always there.
Yet I am trying.
And I am praying.
I’m a tiny baby Christian just barely blooming. I read the Bible as a teenager, but never really embraced it. I was cynical, questioning and goal focused. There was no time to ponder my soul; I had papers to write, bills to pay and expectations to fulfill.
A few nights ago I read this:
1 John 2:6-7: If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
The darkness has been such a big part of my adult life; it’s hard to imagine fully letting it go. Yet I want to. I wonder what it would be like to let go of all the pain that I hold tight to my chest? I wonder what it would feel like to live each day embracing the light and never fearing the dark?
I take another stumbling step forward, but I am no longer alone.