At the end of the new Justice League movie, Lois Lane does a voice over of the article she’s writing, in which she says, “The truest darkness is not the absence of light, but the fear that the light will never return.” This had me in tears, because it’s such a perfect description of depression. The hard part isn’t the sadness or the mourning or the pain, it’s the point at which all of those feelings stop, and you’re cut off emotionally from yourself and everyone around you. That’s when light and hope die.
But Lois Lane’s next words are equally true, “But the light always returns…Hope is real.”
It doesn’t feel like that at the time. Trust me, I know. A few years ago, drawing on personal experience, I wrote a book of my heart about a girl named Lisa who didn’t believe that things would get better, and about what her death did to those left behind. Her best friend, Vanessa, tries to make sense of things by reconstructing the last months of Lisa’s life. Someone takes a much more vengeful tack, taking on revenge against those who might have wronged Lisa. One death may very well beget others. This is fiction, of course, but it’s based on the real pain, loss and helplessness of those left behind when someone fails to hold onto the light.
When you’re at your worst, it can feel like you don’t matter and the world will be better off without you or that the pain is so great there’s no way to live with it. But you do matter to somebody. Very likely multiple somebodies. You touch more people than you know, and it does get better. It really does. It can be a long process, but that kind of darkness is no more sustainable than the blaring light.
I don’t have any magic formula. I wish I did, but I can tell you what I do to keep myself from falling into that abyss, after years of struggling with anxiety and depression.
-I give myself something to look forward to all the time. I love live music, theatre, costuming, and travel, not necessarily in that order. So whether it’s a concert, a festival, a play, or a gathering with friends, I make sure there’s always something on the calendar in the not too distant future that I look forward to, that I can’t bear to miss.
-I reach out to people. My inclination when I’m depressed is to go quiet, not to burden anyone with what I’m going through. This is dangerous. This is how you go down that rabbit hole of disconnect. I know that the best thing for me is to go out and do something. To distract myself and change my location to change my feelings. It doesn’t always work, and sometimes picking up the phone and going out are the hardest things in the world, but they’re important. And you don’t necessarily have to go out. You can talk by phone, you can have a friend or family member come to you, but DO NOT GO IT ALONE.
-Therapy. I never believed in therapy, probably because my first experience with it after a childhood trauma was so awful. But a good therapist, especially one versed in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is a kind of cognitive reprogramming to help take down trauma, is priceless.
-Meds, I’ll admit it. I know that some people don’t want to be medicated, and I get that. I really do. But a very wise friend of mine once said to me, “If you had diabetes, you’d take insulin, right? How is this different?” That’s what changed my mind on the matter, and it’s changed so much else for me as well.
-Focus on the areas of your life not causing you pain. Sometimes you have to cut out some things or people who are sheer poison. It’s difficult, and there are people who will judge you for it, but you can’t live your life for how other people will perceive you. That’s a clear path to unhappiness. Do not let anyone convince you that it’s selfish to stand up for yourself or do what’s right for you.
-Self-care is crucial. Back in college, I trained to participate in a big brothers/big sisters program. Unfortunately, they had more need of big brothers than big sisters, and I never did get matched with someone, but I learned a lot. One story particularly stayed with me. It’s the story of a woman with a barrel of apples. She reaches into it every time there’s someone in need, someone who’s hungry. After a while, she scrapes the bottom and there are no more apples, because she was so busy helping others, she never took time to refill it. We’re like that. We need to refill our apple barrels so that we continuously have something of ourselves to give. When you look at it that way, self-care is anything but selfish.
The holidays are often especially hard for people. I get that too. All I can say is that I care. And that’s magnified a million quadrillion times for anyone close to you. Please, please, please, #HoldOnToTheLight. I promise, no matter how it feels, you are loved and valued. Taking yourself out of world turns over everyone’s apple barrels.