When Darkness Rears Its Ugly Head

Author’s Note: We usually make it a habit to keep uncomfortable and (especially dark) things about us in the closet, for fear of how we appear in front of others. We are so busy pretending to be whole and keeping up a facade, that it’s really no surprise we struggle to get up again after a stumble. After all we’re determined not to show that there’s anything wrong with us at all and when you’re busy keeping up an appearance, pulling yourself together during a mental burnout can do more harm than good. I have decided to be brave and speak up, I have decided to share a little bit of the darkness that sometimes pulls me under. To some it may come as a surprise, especially those who only know me as the cheery-go-lucky kind of girl, others may have had an inkling for some time, but haven’t been brave enough to confront me about. I’ve finally decided that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes.

Not many people understand what it feels like to suddenly find yourself engulfed by complete darkness while having every ounce of your willpower to live zapped out of you like blood oozing from an open cut. Trying to explain it all in a manner that makes sense is as much of a challenge as trying to understand it all yourself. 

But picture this: For whatever inexplicable reason you were foolish enough to descent into the dark dungeons of an old ruin when quite unexpectedly the door falls closed... Cliché, I know. The start of any bad horror movie / ghost story, but for the sake of setting the mood, just humour me on this one. Before the door fell shut, you did manage to catch a glimpse of your surroundings and you know that you’re inside a tunnel. You can either go left or right but whichever way you choose, there is no light. Everything is pitch black and you have no idea if there are any holes in the ground or hidden traps or God knows what might lurk around the dark, wet dungeons of an centuries-old castle... If that isn’t enough to frighten the living daylights out of you, picture some strange noises in the distance and as the panic seeps in you’re struggling to get enough air into your lungs, which doesn’t help the situation at all...

You should now have an inkling of what it feels like to find yourself surrounded by complete and utter darkness, yet my explanation isn’t anywhere close. There is so much more to it. There’s the despair, the utter lack of self-control, the unquenchable sadness, the weariness... It’s a nightmare of the worst kind, one I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I want to say that it feels like a dementor’s kiss in Harry Potter but then again I’ve never been kissed by a dementor so I wouldn’t know if it adequately describes what it feels like to hopelessly grasp at whatever happiness you have left, only to feel it slip through your fingers like sand on a beach.

When darkness rears its ugly head for the first time, it can be quite a shocker. I remember my first time. It hit me right out of the blue sometime in my mid-teens. I was home alone, content with listening to some music and working on a piece of fiction on the computer when I felt this oppressing weight on my chest, making it difficult to breathe. I had no idea what was going on with me but I was scared and I panicked. I’d had trouble at school for a couple of weeks already, grades were slipping, dad was sick, mum and I weren’t talking yet again and to make matters worse I was stuck on my fiction. My friends had no idea what was going on in my life so I was alone with my problems and that moment it all came crashing down on top of me. It felt like someone had pulled the ground from under me and I found myself tumbling down a dark whole, no end inside. That pressure on my chest grew stronger and stronger and for a moment I thought I might just die, then the flood gates opened and tears streamed down my face. I wailed for hours, my chest hurt and it felt like my heart was breaking over and over and over again. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t stop the tears, I couldn’t stop the pain. I felt so utterly lost, hopeless, out of control. I couldn’t see a way out of my misery and the harder I fought it, the more my emotions played havoc, pushing and holding me down. Eventually I gave in and let it all consume me, the tears, the pain, all of it... I just let it all happen and I think I eventually fell asleep and probably slept for hours.

After that I felt shocked, I didn’t really understand the concept of “depression” back then and while I knew what it was, sort of anyway, I didn’t connect the dots until quite a few years later. I simply put it down to that song I’d been listening to. I blamed the mush on the flood gates opening and for years I refused to listen to that particular song, though one day I did, it was more and utterly curiosity, a devilish kind of way of playing with fire, and surprisingly it filled me with happiness and I had this big smile plastered on my face. By that time I’d already become fairly well acquainted with the darkness and it slowly started to dawn on my that maybe, just maybe, I had a problem with depression, but as soon as that thought crept in, I denied it, and unable to admit to myself that I had a problem, I swept it all under the carpet and continued to do so. I told myself that there was no way that I was crazy and that I was completely in control of myself. I was also unaware that my persistent denial would one day lead to the mother of all breakdowns. I’d heard about those breakdowns, of course, and in the name of “research for my latest fiction” I’d done some reading on depression but I still decided that my coping mechanisms e.g. denying anything was wrong, worked well. I’d also managed to figure out that sometimes I could control the beast, I’d feed it a little and it would disappear back into its dark cave, or I’d deliberately force myself to do something the beast utterly despised and so sometimes it stayed away for long enough that it allowed me to get comfortable with my dangerous little cat-and-mouse-game.

Then, one day, the wall I’d build around me crumbled and the monsters crept inside, not one after the other, but all at the same time, scrambling to get to me, dying to get their hands on me after years and years of neglect. I found myself standing in the kitchen, holding a knife to my wrist, telling myself to cut, to end it all, to give them what they were dying to get their hands on: my life. I’d been on the edge once before, back then I’d almost swallowed a colourful assortment of pills after raiding the family medicine cabinet in the bathroom. I’d sat in front of them for the longest time, crying my eyes out and cursing the fact that we didn’t have any alcohol at home... In movies it was always a combination of drugs and alcohol and convinced that water wouldn’t do the trick, I tossed all the pills and pretended nothing had happened. Except that something had and that something I locked securely away with the beast, or so I thought.

That nasty monster was now laughing, egging me on, telling me not to be a pussy and just slice my wrist open because I deserved it, because it would end all the pain, because everything would be okay then, because I’d finally be free, because the world would be a better place. I could feel the burn of the blade against my bare skin and the tears streaming down my face made it almost impossible to see properly. I was determined to go through with it this time when my phone rang. I have no idea what it was but something inside of me made me toss the knife, just like I’d tossed the pills some ten years before, and answer the phone. That call quite literally saved my life and to this day my friend insists that he could tell something wasn’t right, which is why he called at precisely that moment. I never told him exactly what he stopped me from doing but I think he knows... It’s our secret.

Naturally, the beast continued to wreck havoc, and now completely out of control, I found myself completely at its mercy. I couldn’t sleep, barely ate, stayed in bed most days and nights and cried and cried and cried. No matter what I did, i just couldn’t and wouldn’t stop crying. I didn’t see the point of anything and soon enough I found myself in a doctor’s office, spilling my deepest, darkest secrets, while my friend sat outside, blissfully unaware of what was going on behind closed doors. The doctor listened to my weeping and wailing for ninety minutes and she didn’t stop me once. At the end of those ninety minutes, she prescribed some badass sleeping pills and told me to go home to sleep it off. I queried why she wasn’t prescribing anti-depressants but she said I needed sleep more than I needed to be numbed. In hindsight, her wanting me to feel was probably a smart decision, except it took me two years to come to that conclusion myself. 

I’d never taken sleeping pills before but these were heaven. That night, exhausted from visiting the doctor, I took two pills, as prescribed, and shortly after I slipped into a dreamless, painless, deep and healing sleep. I slept and slept and slept and after close to two weeks of insomnia, this was heaven. The next day my friend forced me out of the house and at night I would take two pills and sleep and sleep and sleep. My friend insisted on that treatment for about two weeks, during the day he would find all sorts of ways to distract me and at night I got my dreamless, healing sleep. I slipped into a comfortable pattern of distraction and dreamless sleep and the beast disappeared. From that day on, whenever darkness reared its ugly head I would force it down with distraction, pushing myself to indulge in things I loved and cared about most in life. Along the way I learnt trust, I learnt to love again but two more years passed before I finally sought out the help of a professional to deal with all my messes once and for all. He peeled me like an onion, stripping away layer after layer, leaving me vulnerable and exhausted but ultimately stronger and more knowledgable. He was merciless in the gentlest of ways and taught me a few valuable life lessons along the way. We made wonderful progress and I changed, becoming a better person, becoming someone more in control and less likely to find myself torn apart at the seams.

That said, darkness still rears its ugly head from time to time and some times I cope better than other times. Recently I’ve been going through a rough patch, unable to work out or work through what’s pulling me down. I had a minor breakdown but I saw a doctor and I will make damn sure that darkness doesn’t get the better of me. While the beast still has the power to nearly drown me, I have the skills to get out from underneath, to get back on top, it’s just a question of time. Sometimes it takes me a little longer than other times but I’m determined to get through it. Giving up isn’t an option for me, so whenever I find myself in that dark tunnel, I just march on (or crawl, depending on how much energy I can spare), knowing that somewhere, somehow I’ll find the light. When it seems like there’s nothing good left to live for, I must remind myself of all the wonderful things in life. These days, with the weather changing, I’m finding it harder to adjust, but I’m trying really hard to get back to a good place. All I ask for is a little bit of patience, time and understanding because I will make it. There aren’t many things I’m sure of, but I’m sure of that.

Darkness can rear its ugly head all it likes, I’m not afraid, I won’t succumb to it. I might stumble, I might fall but I will always have the will to get back on my feet.