‘Tween the Dark Night and Depression

What is the difference between depression and “dark night of the soul”?

I could post academically minded words about St. John of the Cross (a Carmelite mystic of the 16th century) and his writing, “Dark Night of the Soul” and compare/contrast that with a clinical definition of depression, but that would not suffice.  No, I dare to share the imagery from my own mind as means to express the spiritual dimensions of depression and the dark night of the soul.  I have experienced both.

This is a blog of a spiritual director, a wandering woman in search of self and home.  Then so be it that deeper spaces be publicly explored.  Besides, St. John of the Cross’ feast day is soon: December 14th.  Happy feast of St. John of the Cross…

You see, for me, December—even amidst all the beauty it beholds in wintertime festivities, the contemplative nature of Advent, and the tradition of Christmas time—sometimes brings with it transition, dark days, and depression.  Three times in my life has it been so intense that I have written the visions that have come through meditation, prayer, and during my waking hours.

Continue reading “‘Tween the Dark Night and Depression”

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Mist and Shadow

If I were to put an image to my life in this moment, it would be a misty mountain scene.  This photo was taken in British Columbia this summer.  After the ferry ride from Skagway, AK we docked in Prince Rupert, BC and began the long drive down to Seattle.  What cannot be seen, are the beautiful peaks of mountains, hidden behind the mist.  They are there, and what a sight to behold when they are not shrouded by clouds!  This too, is a sight to behold in its mystery of dark and light.

Misty Mountain

Yesterday, Resurrection seemed an empty word.  I know this is not true, but a mind sunk beneath shadows senses not what good may be out there.  It is instead lost and fixated on gloomy predictions forecast under pessimistic conditions held tightly by a clouded and cluttered mind.  Unseen joy is shrouded by some part of me that would rather shiver in the rain without a coat, and slowly sulk through puddles than to stretch my arms out and breathe in the cool air.  Why is this so?  What part of me has the warped desire to remain in sad shadows and depressed depths?

Today I have experienced joy, though with night-time, anxiety and fear return as the knots tighten around my throat.  The times when I am joyful seem fleeting these days.  Again, I know what gives me joy and that there is much to rejoice about now.  On occasion, I am drawn out of the muck and dreariness into sun-splashed daylight.  I recognize the journey to be lived is marked with perils, uncertainty, loss, joy, love, hope…

I imagine myself walking through the mist and shadows.  And I can imagine this being a time of renewal.  The mist wets my face as I walk on wet earth.  This is a time for exploration, adventure (oh, there is adventure ahead of me.  Where have I been, that I have forgotten!).  The fog that surrounds is mysterious and mystical.  Now is the time to be filled with wonder and let go of anxious thoughts and the desire to forget all that is good.  Let it go. Let it go.

I am reminded of a song from J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  The words were written by Bilbo and sung early in the journey of Frodo with the ring.  Walking on a path after dusk, the hobbits sang to lift their spirits.  The song appears in the movie, though much abbreviated, and that is what I quote now:

Home is behind, the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night
until the stars are all alight.
Mist and shadow, cloud and shade
all shall fade, all shall fade.

Mist and shadow, indeed.  May my wandering in the mist be transforming, and may the shadows not overcome me.  There is still hope left to find, there is reason to sing.  God is bigger than my hurts and the hurts I cause to others.  God is bigger than darkness, for light shines in the darkness.

I am on a journey through mist and shadow.  And I shall see the goodness and glory of what lies beyond the shadows.  I am on a journey…

Wandering in Anxiety

There have been so many thoughts running through my head and emotions welling up in my body in the past week….or two. Thursday morning I woke up depressed and numb. A quote from A. A. Milne’s charachter Eeyore comes to mind: “Good morning, Eeyore,” said Pooh. “Good morning Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning, which I doubt,” said he. That, is almost exactly what I said to my roommate in the morning. Sheesh.

Lately my mornings have been numb and sullen, and while happiness may come with the daylight, I lie in bed at night anxious, lonely and without much sleep. I nearly missed a colorful sunrise on Thursday, only to briefly wake up from my numbness, I saw something. A small sliver of color. Slumping back on the couch for another ten minutes I asked myself what was going on. What’s going on inside me that is so sullen? I had a choice–to remain in this state, or to go on with life and cross some things (big things) off my to-do list. I chose the latter.

The latter choice was one of life, and a huge step–I finished my resume and sent it out to three places. Now I wait.

But it isn’t easy waiting. I am already busy enough. The intense week of hearing about campus ministry jobs, then updating resume and sending it off has left me tired and drained.

And then there’s reading for school. What am I reading about this week? Hmmm. Dorothee Soelle’s Suffering…in addition, articles about spirituality relating to grief, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the experience of God in suffering and dying.

Yeah. I’m anxious…about job searching, about leaving Seattle. I’m self-doubting about my ability to be responsible, and doubting…well, when I let my mind wander, everything. It’s really been a battle to tell my mind to shut the hell up and stop being so paranoid. But I have to go on with life.

So here I am. Bouncing hourly between being depressed, OK, happy, anxious, numb, proud…

As Thursday began depressed, it passed into the need to get out. So I ran. I ran a long way. My first idea was to run to wear my body out, to help these loneliness birds fly away and to be so tired at the end of the day, I’d sleep well. It worked. I originally set the plan for 10 miles–but that wasn’t enough. I went for almost 13.5 miles at a good clip, too. Yes, 13.5 miles and I still had energy left.

Now today the anxiety returns. So I’m going to do something else therapeutic. I’m going out with my cameras. However, I wish I had a companion for the day. I’m introverted. But I’m alone for the rest of the day. And it sucks to be alone sometimes, even though I need the time to recharge. I guess today the camera is my friend. I hope to forget about reading the spirituality of suffering.  I hope to get lost in the city, strolling and snapping photos to draw my over-active mind away from myself and the hole I’m digging. I hope to find beauty and grasp onto it, see it, and love it.

So here is a public output to my inner spirituality. Spiritual directors are not super-human and are prone to depression all the same. By journeying through my own pain, grief, and depression I hope to be able to be more present with others in their own suffering.