Some call it a dark night of the soul. I remember the last time I had one of those nights. It was the night before Thanksgiving and I was mourning the loss of my dad. It had been 49 days since my dad had died and the pain that I was feeling was coming from a place deep inside of my body, deeper than my chest or my gut. It felt like it was coming from an elemental place in my soul. It was formidable and all-encompassing. I didn’t feel the pain, I was the pain. It was physically tangible and in my exhausted state, it felt stronger than I was. I was fighting the pain and trying to stay alive, because the only thought that was clear in my mind was that it would be better to end it. Through the fog of sadness, doubt, loss, regret, loneliness, and desperation there was a single solid thought. Do it. Do it now and it will all be better.
I knew that ending my life would cause my friends and family agonizing pain, but in those moments the pain wasn’t simply psychological, it was in my skin, my bones. Everything hurt and the demon in my brain was working overtime – I was in agony and my brain kept telling me that the only way it would end would be to end my life.
I have anxiety and depression. I am medicated, on an extremely high dose, and I go to counseling. It helps. It’s not perfect, but it gives me enough space that those dark nights are far less frequent than they were when I wasn’t medicated.
My grandfather committed suicide when I was 12. They found him the day that my brother was born. He wasn’t part of my life, and truthfully, he wasn’t a particularly good person. He had been through his own personal hell but he had also unleashed hell on the people around him. He wasn’t beloved – but his death cast a permanent shadow over the rest of my life.
I fear that one day I will lose this battle. I fear that I will have a dark night of the soul from which I cannot recover. I work diligently to combat the parts of my brain that work against me. I practice gratitude every morning. I thank the universe that I have woken up and that I have something to live for. But I fear that monster that shares my brain. Because depression is insidious, it’s hateful. It’s a demon that lives in your mind and makes sadness feel insurmountable.
But there are rays of light that pierce the shadows. There are moments in which the joy of living can chase out those dark thoughts. I crave those moments and I cling to them. I store them in my heart and take them out when I need a boost. I dust them off and remind myself that there is something here that is infinitely more powerful than the part of my brain that works against me.
When I saw what Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote this morning it brought tears to my eyes. It was so genuine, so deeply resonant, that it silenced the demon in my brain for a time. It was unexpected and therefore more powerful. I don’t think many people realize what they are capable of, the power they have to shine light into someone else’s darkness. A smile, holding a door open, a gentle touch on the arm, simply being patient with the person in line in front of you. These small efforts can change someone’s day, and who knows, it could save their life.
Kindness is powerful. Loving a stranger for a moment, honoring their humanity, simply being conscious that other people aren’t simply bit players in one’s personal movie. These actions have the power to show people who struggle to love themselves that they are worthy.
If you try, you might silence someone’s demon, for the briefest moment. Giving them the space to remember who they really are, and give them the opportunity to breathe again.
To you, the person who wants to help. Thank you.
To you, the person who struggles. You are not alone and you are loved.