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Waxing Existential: Dark Nights of the Season and Soul

Posted on 28 Nov | 0 comments
Winter Solstice. Photo by David Wright.
Winter Solstice. Photo by David Wright.

The encroaching darkness this time of year is a stark reminder of my existential predicament. When I finally realized that the light was severely lacking, I was forced to accept that I was again in a shallow relationship with the sun. I prefer deep relationships, so this always disappoints me. No, it depresses me. Because I am no stranger to depression and anxiety, the dark days remind me of my past affairs with each. These bedfellows used to sweep in when the sun decided to break up with me, and I remember the agony of their company like it was yesterday. One particularly bad year, anxiety vied for my affection more than depression, and I was in an adrenalin-infused state for days. I thought I would die, because I certainly couldn’t live like that. It came upon me so suddenly, but I realized later that I just hadn’t seen the warning signs. I started disliking driving over bridges, my breath would become shallow in stores, and I would feel like I was going to faint for no reason at all. When I was in the throes of the anxiety, I became agoraphobic. I could only go out for a doctor’s appointment—because I had to, or walk down the driveway to collect the mail. At home, I would talk to my therapist on the phone and pace back and forth in the back yard. I was able to do the laundry and plan for my son to get picked up from pre-school. I couldn’t eat. I had to force myself to drink protein shakes. I stayed in bed a lot. I was frightened. My husband was supportive, but didn’t really understand what was going on. Neither did I. I just wanted it to end. One day, I saw a terrifying image of a distorted face in my mind and thought I was going crazy. In the evening, I would try to act normal for my son. I lay down on his bed with him, like I had done every night of his life, and read to him. Inside, I was trembling. The discomfort in my body was excruciating, let alone my mind. All I wanted was to feel normal again. All I yearned for was to be able to read my son a story again without feeling like I was in the grips of some hellish force I could not control. The days were cold, people’s lives went on, but all I noticed was the terror in my heart, and the deep abiding fear that I would never be able to live my life again. This was not a relationship I wanted. It was not one I asked for, but here it was. And the anxiety was begging to be known—to be understood in a way that I couldn’t possibly have comprehended in that intense state of being. I was getting help, and I was assured that I would get better. The fact was that my physical being needed to calm down before I would be able to do the real work of understanding why that kind of anxiety knocked on my door that winter. I did start to feel better after several days, the acute anxiety lessening, turning into days with more of a sense of peace and faith that I could live again. I was outside on one of these more peaceful days and noticed the tiny, early buds of crocuses that grace our Pacific Northwest yard come February, and I remember thinking, “When the crocus blooms, everything will be fine again.” Internally, it took a great deal of time to sort out what was what, and understand the anxiety the way it needed to be—one layer at a time. But I did, and for that I am grateful. And the crocuses bloomed their pale violets and springy whites, and I was living again. I could again read to my son with joy. That was the most vividly beautiful spring I had ever experienced, and I took nothing for granted. With the denouement of the year upon us, I am called to these recollections. Perhaps, it is anxiety knocking upon my door once again, just to say hello and make sure I am doing my work. I think re-visiting thoughts of the agony of that time are useful, in that they help me to hold onto the givens of life’s complexities. There will always be the dark days, even when we are not literally experiencing darkness. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said in The Crack-Up, “in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” Yes, I understand. And every time the bell tolls 3 AM, it is my opportunity to greet the darkness and deepen this relationship. I must again find meaning, so that I may better welcome the light of dawn, and the return of my beloved.

-- Sibel Golden

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