When I was in my early 20’s, I went through a season of very severe depression.
At age 22, I moved by myself into a tiny, rundown apartment in a sketchy area of Dallas. It cost me $450 a month to rent. There were stains on the carpet, it smelled a little like cat and the dryer had to fit on the patio.
I remember the first night I moved in. I laid on my mattress, which was on the floor surrounded by boxes making it impossible to move around in my tiny bedroom, and just sobbed and sobbed while curled in the fetal position.
That deep kind of aching cry that feels as if it will never end and there is no way to be soothed.
I’d never felt more alone in my entire life.
A little context … I had just moved out of the second apartment Ash and I lived together in, and we had had our first falling out. It was brutal and we weren’t talking and I felt as if I’d lost my only friend in the world.
I was also dealing with a massive crisis of faith and felt utterly lost and confused about who I was. And I felt like the church would judge me if I brought my questions to them.
In a sense, I felt like … God had abandoned me. And I felt like I would be alone and lost my whole life. Friendless, loveless, purposeless.
Sometimes I forget just how dark that season was. Most people remember their early 20s fondly, as a time of partying and rioting, but it was not that way with me. I often tell people, with a slight chuckle, that there’s no way you could pay me to be in my early 20s again because I just barely survived the first time … but honestly, it’s not a joke.
And I forget that sometimes.
But as I reflect back now, in my mid 30’s, I realize that season in that shitty, lonely apartment is probably one of the greatest and most special times in my life. And certainly one of the most important.
Why? Because darkness teaches us so much more about ourselves (and life in general) than lightness ever could.
A season of darkness
Like I said when I moved in to that apartment I was at an all time low.
Ash and I weren’t talking and I couldn’t see the possibility of us ever talking again (spoiler alert: we’re now best friends). I was incredibly poor. I felt ugly, undesirable and completely forgettable. I felt so unbearably lonely … and depression followed me everywhere like a dark cloud. I felt like I had lost the church, my faith and all my hope all at once.
I felt like a monster.
But I had made a promise to myself that no matter how bad it got, I would never attempt to end things … again.
So, a little more context … Before I had moved out of the apartment I shared with Ash, I had a really dark night of the soul. And I took almost a full bottle of sleeping pills.
My mindset that night was to make the pain stop. I couldn’t stop crying, aching and I couldn’t fall asleep, so I just kept taking pills. Over and over again until the bottle was nearly empty.
To be fair, the bottle wasn’t full to begin with so I often make the joke that it was kind of a half-assed attempt. And it was … but the truth is I got lucky. I had been playing Russian roulette with my life. I remember getting up that night needing to pee and barely being able to stand. Everything was fuzzy and I stumbled to the bathroom. My heart had slowed … I could feel it thudding heavily in my chest, at an irregular pace.
In that moment, something clicked for me. And I realized, no matter how heavy this life was, I wasn’t ready to give up on it yet.
And so after I moved into my new, very solitary home, I vowed to fight depression every moment, trying like hell to just make it another day.
There was no money to distract me from the pain. No other human to soften the blow. I was alone and it was solely up to me to make it through this dark time.
But what I discovered is that even in darkness, even when you’re completely alone, there is joy to be found. And those small joys were the key to my survival.
The light in the darkness … or how I learned to survive today
I remember renting movies from Hollywood Video on the weekends and folding laundry with Charlie, my first dog and only companion at the time, in my lap. I remember how I took time to really be present with him. He was all I had and his little self gave me so much love, that I felt like I could make it.
One of my fondest memories is of me sitting in this hand-me-down green, lazy boy chair with Charlie sandwiched beside me as I read all of the Harry Potter novels. This was our Saturday routine for a long time. And to this day, that delicate memory trumps pretty much all of the rest — all of my travels, all of my nights of karaoke, every job promotion, even my magic nights filled with romance and love — Charlie, Harry Potter and that green, lazy boy take home the prize.
I write all this to say … when I was in that season, I could not fathom how I would ever make it through. And I could not envision a future where I wouldn’t be utterly depressed. So instead of focusing on that future, that couldn’t seem real to me even if I tried, I focused my attention on each day … and the little things giving me joy in that exact moment. Like having just enough money to splurge on a latte or letting myself run late to work so I could have a morning nap with Charlie.
And when I did that — focused just on the simple joys I could find in that rundown apartment when I was broke as fuck — slowly but surely my disposition improved. I didn’t fall asleep every night weeping. I was alone and this season was hard, but somehow … somehow I felt stronger knowing that I could survive just one more day.
Everything can and will change … but sometimes it’s slowly
Finding the joy in the small things and in the small moments was my way forward. But moving forward was a painstakingly slow process.
There was no a-ha moment for me. There was no magical rescue from my pit. It was simply day in and day out, it was keeping my head above water in whatever way I could manage for that day.
One thing that helped me was allowing me to be exactly where I was. This came when I finally wore myself out and realized I had no other choice. I was in the dark pit and God or no God, there was no way out but to climb.
And so I finally allowed myself the freedom to “leave” the faith I had before and start exploring those questions that were once overwhelming to me. Is there a God? If so, do I want to follow him/her/it? Do I even like men? Do I actually think waiting to have sex is a good thing for me? Is Harry Potter really from the devil? (Yep, the church did a number on me for sure.)
I was in this pit and I knew I might be here a while — maybe even forever — so I decided to make the most of the time I had there. And I explored the darkness within me … or at least what my limited mind had deemed as darkness till that point. I accepted my state … and gave myself room (and eventually grace) to just be.
Cheryl Strayed (my all time favorite writer, who Ash and I lovingly refer to as lady Jesus) wrote that “Acceptance is a small, quiet room”.
For me, acceptance was a cat smelling, carpet-stained shithole of an apartment that is honestly … my all-time favorite place I’ve ever lived.
Another thing I learned during that season was how to shift my perspective on things that caused me grief. For starters, I felt like a failure moving into that apartment — I was alone and heartbroken that I’d lost what seemed like my only friend. But I reminded myself this was my choice, because it was. I forced myself to remember that every time I started to fall deep into the pit of ‘woe is me’. I forced myself to say ‘no, I choose to be alone. This is my house and this is all on my terms with no one else’s help.’ It wasn’t much, but it was mine.
It took day in, day out work. And really that work was just allowing me to exist in whatever state I needed to be in to get through that day. Slowly, but surely things did change. I started reading books that lifted my spirits. I started hanging out with new friends. Ash and I started talking again. I started working freelance as a graphic designer and became fairly successful. And I met the man who would become my first boyfriend and first relationship.
And then one day, nearly a full year later, I watched a boot-leg version of the movie “The Secret”. It seems silly now, but that movie, while not incredibly deep, was also a positive perspective shifter at the time. It introduced me to the concept of visualization and manifestation which became an integral part of a new foundation for my burgeoning hybrid faith.
Somehow .. I’d made it out of the pit. Not magically, not with some immediate transformative experience. But slowly … believing if I just held on one more day … maybe it would get better.
And it did.
In the wise words of our lady Jesus, Cheryl Strayed: “You let time pass. That’s the cure. You survive the days. You float like a rabid ghost through the weeks. You cry and wallow and lament and scratch your way back up through the months. And then one day you find yourself alone on a bench in the sun and you close your eyes and lean your head back and you realize you’re okay.”
Let there be dark
I’d love to say my battle with depression was kicked after that dark season in my 20s. And in many ways, it was.
I’ve become a firm believer in the power of manifestation and our ability to change our circumstances. I am a generally happy, positive person and I enjoy life thoroughly. I’m braver, more confident and stronger emotionally than ever. And this is the emotional space I typically write from — the person on the other side of my dark seasons, who truly does believe we can change our lives and wants to compel others to rise up and do the same.
But while I believe this and I am all these things, I am also a person who occasionally has to battle depression and darkness. The key is I no longer see darkness as an enemy. And I no longer believe it’s trying to harm me.
Far from it.
Darkness is a key part of growth. Darkness can be brutal and sometimes seem cruel, but it’s intentions are true.
Darkness … is the good shit.
One of my favorite quotes from research professor Brené Brown is, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
If we’re brave enough to walk through that darkness and not let it completely consume us, the gift is the light we find on the other side … and often times the light we find within us.
Darkness is a friend. A hard friend, sometimes seemingly cold friend. But ultimately a true friend who is trying to push us to be stronger, to ask deeper questions and to not be afraid of the answers.
I was having a deep crisis of faith in my 20s … and because of that dark season, I was able to come out on the other side with a new, work-in-progress faith that was mine.
Isn’t it ironic that Paul wrote in a letter to the people of Philipi to continue to “work out” their salvation/faith with “fear and trembling” (which I really think means reverence, not actual fear)?
I’ve always loved that verse … but for the first time I felt free to really do just that. WORK out my beliefs. Test them. Ask the questions I was afraid to ask. Try new things I had been fearful of.
Fear and trembling and sinning and loving and working out my own salvation.
Darkness forced me to seek out new light and a new, more loving, more all-encompassing belief system. Darkness showed me my strength and resilience. It taught me to be patient and to hold on to the truth that ‘this too shall pass’.
Since that time, I’ve had a few other really dark seasons. And each one has taught me something I likely wouldn’t have even understood had I not been forced through them.
When I was kicked off the team I wanted to be on at work (which I recently wrote about), I went through a dark time — but on the other side of that darkness was true freedom, deep confidence in my work and quite frankly the best season of creativity I’ve ever had.
When my heart was broken two years ago, I went through a dark season that I have only recently come out of. And on the other side of it I am so much stronger in my own love for myself, in my boundaries with others and my confidence in my future.
Dark teachers, as Cheryl Strayed calls them, can be all different kinds of things. People, painful memories, physical ailments, personal failings. But each one of them, while a bitch to go through, truly is for our good. We wouldn’t choose these things and that’s why they are often forced upon us. Not because we effed up and therefore deserve them .. but because if we want to get to the best, most powerful, most creative and resilient versions of ourselves, we have to be forged.
The darkness isn’t a punishment, it’s a gift from a benevolent universe. It’s a calling on our souls to see what we can survive … to discover what we truly believe … to do the work and be patient with the process … and to come out on the other side changed for the better.
So I say let there be dark.
And let us find our way to the light again and again. Let us continue to work out our lives, our faith, our loves, our passions with fear and trembling.
“We rough, unrefined rocks have been tossed into the fire of life.
Those who cling to outdated ideals, who don’t honor the evidence they’re shown, who cling to comfort and simplicity when called upon to rise, will slowly and predictably be burned with suffering, then melted down into meaningless slag.
But those of who continually refine ourselves, who cut away the dull ore and polish what is left, we are neither burned nor melted.
We are forged.”
From Musings, Kent Wayne