Instead of depression,
try calling it hibernation.
Imagine the darkness is a cave
in which you will be nurtured
by doing absolutely nothing.
Hibernating animals don’t even dream.
It’s okay if you can’t imagine
Spring. Sleep through the alarm
of the world. Name your hopelessness
a quiet hollow, a place you go
to heal, a den you dug,
of a grave.
~Andrea Gibson “Instead of Depression” from You Better Be Lightning
We didn’t say fireflies
but lightning bugs.
We didn’t say carousel
We didn’t say pasta, but
spaghetti, macaroni, noodles:
the three kinds.
We didn’t get angry:
we got mad.
And we never felt depressed
disillusioned or anything,
~Sally Fisher “Where I Come From” from Good Question.
…if you could distinguish finer meanings within “Awesome” (happy, content, thrilled, relaxed, joyful, hopeful, inspired, prideful, adoring, grateful, blissful.. .), and fifty shades of “Crappy” (angry, aggravated, alarmed, spiteful, grumpy, remorseful, gloomy, mortified, uneasy, dread-ridden, resentful, afraid, envious, woeful, melancholy.. .), your brain would have many more options for predicting, categorizing, and perceiving emotion, providing you with the tools for more flexible and functional responses.
~Lisa Feldman Barrett from How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
Our own experience with loneliness, depression, and fear can become a gift for others, especially when we have received good care. As long as our wounds are open and bleeding, we scare others away. But after someone has carefully tended to our wounds, they no longer frighten us or others….
We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole being. That is healing.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread for the Journey
If there is anything I came to understand over the decades I served as a primary care physician, it is that every person experiences painful emotions that make them miserable, making it even more difficult to share with others. Sometimes those feelings build up such pressure that they leak out of our cells as physical symptoms: headaches, muscle tightness, stomach upset, hypertension. Other times they are so overwhelming we can no longer function in a day to day way – described clinically as rage, panic, mood disorder, depression, self-destructive, suicidal.
Somehow we’ve lost permission to be sad.
Just sad. Sometimes unbearably, hopelessly sad.
Sadness happens to us all, some longer than others, some worse than others, some deeper than others. What makes sadness more real and more manageable is if we can say it out loud — whatever ‘sad’ means to us on a given day and if we describe our feelings in detail, explaining to others who can understand because they’ve been there too, then they can listen and help.
Painful emotions don’t always need a “fix” in the short term, particularly chemical, but that is why I was usually consulted. Alcohol, marijuana and other self-administered drugs tend to be the temporary anesthesia that people seek to stop feeling anything at all but it can erupt even stronger later.
Sometimes an overwhelming feeling just needs an outlet so it no longer is locked up, unspoken and silent, threatening to leak out in ways that tear us up and pull us apart.
Sometimes we need a healing respite/hibernation, with permission to sleep through the world’s alarms for a time. At times, medical management with antidepressants can be incredibly helpful along with talk therapy.
It helps to find words to express how things felt before this sadness, where you are now in the midst of it and where you wish you could be rather than being swallowed by sorrow. Healing takes time and like anything else that is broken, it hurts as it repairs. Armed with that self-knowledge and some gentle compassion, tomorrow and the next day and the next might feel a little less hopeless and overwhelming.
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5 thoughts on “Naming Your Hopelessness”
Emily, this is an interesting correspondence. Here’s the poem I wrote this morning.
I have known
a monstrous anaconda
it coiled my body
throttled my breath
for its own
drowning for air
I tore at the thing
wore myself out
it would take me
I turned to
the dark, drank it in
moved through it
tuned my ear
was that a note?
finally the faintest
gossamer of chant
the coils writhed
and fell away
I gulped air, fled
toward the song
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Amrita, this is so vivid and visceral – exactly the choking-the-breath-out-of-you feeling that happens and that experience of finding air and light again. Thank you for writing and sharing this! blessings, Emily
Thank you, Emily, for sharing your wisdom after caring for so many people. Today, I am taking time to be sad. There is no timeline for grief. Instead of fighting it, today I allow myself to be a sad, lonely widow of 11 months, hiding myself in my Saviour’s arms.
Dear Kat, you have said what others often don’t understand – there is no timeline for grief and sadness, it will always win if we fight it and we rest best when held tight by Jesus. Lonely but never alone, your sadness is a measure of the depth of your love. blessings, Emily