The Beautiful Dark

Note: I’ve been struggling with some depression and worry recently. I’ve been dealing with this a lot of ways, but reading is one of the most noteable. I’ve also been thinking about just why I’ve been dealing with so much of this through reading, and this essay/mental vomit is what I came up with. There seems to be a belief in society that depression isn’t something we actually should talk about, that it makes people weak or something. I beg to differ. I think darkness is just as much of a part of the human experience as light. It’s not bad to intensely feel, and to realize that sometimes things suck. Sometimes silence hurts. I’m hoping that maybe through writing this, someone else will feel a little less alone with their own journey.

This is probably the most personal, absolutely terrifying thing I have ever written on my website. Ever. I’m writing it because I need to. I need to express, to share, to examine in a way only words let me. I’m also writing this as a sort of twisted “thank you” to authors. Your art has helped me more than you’ll ever know. Sometimes it’s nice to let people know that their gift and their time is appreciated.

Please be gentle with this small bit of my exposed soul.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all of all of the people who were alive, or had ever been alive. – James Baldwin

There are a lot of reasons why I read. I enjoy it. I like the feel of paper and promise. I like experiencing life in someone else’s skin for a while. I enjoy letting my imagination go free. Recently, however, I’ve been reading a lot because I’m a bit depressed due to my unending health drama. I won’t get into it here, but I’ve been struggling. The more I struggle, the more I read.

The quote above has been circling in my mind for a while. Books don’t just get me out of my own skin, but they help me understand that regardless of whatever I’m dealing with, I’m not doing it alone. The future is rather terrifying to me right now, and the present is exhausting (but beautiful). I will deal with this, and I will bounce back. I always do, but until then, it’s books that I’m turning to.

It’s not that Jorg Ancrath understands what it’s like to face, and emotionally deal with a degenerative disorder, or cancer, but Jorg Ancrath has his own demons, and there is wisdom that I have gleaned through reading his story. He’s dark and tortured, and right now I relate to that, but there’s also something more to it. Sometimes simple truths are gleaned through reading. It’s the kind of truths that we don’t really get anywhere but books, and it hits the reader hard because we are discovering these truths along with the character we have become.

My own mind is a scary place, and occasionally the echoes of my thoughts are loud, overwhelming and frightening. It’s hard to see past my fears and anxiety, past the dark troubled worries, and the silent nagging anger and depression that my woes have created inside of me. My mind is a wild torment of what-could-have-beens and what-might-bes. It’s hard for me, during these periods, to realize that there is a world beyond myself where my grief and torment doesn’t exist, where the sun still shines and life is beautiful, a place that cancer and degenerative disabilities haven’t claimed.

I’ll tell you now. That silence almost beat me. It’s the silence that scares me. It’s the blank page on which I can write my own fears. – Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence

Books are a refuge to those who need it. Therapists are good, and family and friends are wonderful, but sometimes the art of a wordsmith is what centers a person. There are some journeys that family, friends, and therapists just don’t understand, because they are fundamentally ours. There are roads only we can walk, and we walk them alone. There is something about reading a story about a life that is just as messed up (if not more messed up) as mine, and realizing that if that character could do it, I can too, can be more helpful than anything else. It’s not a band-aid for a wound, and it doesn’t heal, but it’s commiseration, and sometimes it can even be like a sigh of relief – a fantastic release of pressure. It doesn’t matter if that character or world doesn’t really exist. For the few moments I am reading that book, I can sigh with relief. Believe it or not, I’m not alone out here with my emotional upheavals and dark times.

Tragedy is unavoidable, but in this country, it doesn’t usually come in the way one dies but rather in the way one lives. – Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig

Books remind me that tragedy doesn’t have to define me. It’s not wrong to feel one way or another, to feel intensely and to swim through the dark, trepid waters. But I don’t have to let my life become defined by the tragedy my health issues have heaped upon me. I don’t have to let my cancer or my disabling condition bend my back. I don’t need to let it reshape my life, or make happiness and hope a foreign country that I don’t have permission to visit.

The truth is, I’m angry. Cancer has stolen a lot from me. It has irreversibly changed my life. My joint condition is degenerative, and dealing with a future filled with surgery, physical therapy, and pain isn’t fun or easy, and sometimes the fear of the unknown overwhelms me. I am starting to feel locked in by what I can’t do, and I’m realizing (sometimes bitterly) how much people don’t appreciate the simple things they can do with their own bodies, that I will never be able to do with mine. I am limited, and I don’t really like those limitations. That right there is what I’m emotionally grappling with. I don’t like my health situation, and I don’t like that it will get worse and never better, and I’m trying to be okay with that. I’m not okay with that yet, and that cognitive dissonance, the fact that I will never be able to change the way things are, is hard.

Making people change because you can’t deal with who they are isn’t how it’s supposed to be done. What needs to be done is for people to pull their heads out of their asses. You say ‘cure.’ I hear ‘you’re not human enough. – Lock In, John Scalzi

Lock In, by John Scalzi, was probably one of the most profound discussions and examinations of disability I have ever come across in my reading. And it was doubly profound because, in so many ways, I’m feeling very locked in. It was helpful to see these topics examined in plain black and white type. It was delightful to see them examined with compassion and depth. It was helpful to see that, while the situations are very different, many of the concerns that circle in my mind are concerns that the characters in Lock In, and the people who reach out to me through Special Needs in Strange Worlds share.

I am not alone.

Everyone has a story, and we all move through the stories of our lives differently. Authors have given me a profound gift with their books, through the musings and emotional light and dark that they express when they put pen to paper and words to thought. Books have helped me get out of my own body, to realize that my pain and heartbreak, my dark and light don’t define me. We all have the ability to be defined or define. It’s okay to intensely feel (And I think it’s necessary. Dark/light emotions aren’t always bad.). And while books won’t fix me, and there are some emotional journeys that I have to take on my own, they prove that I’m not alone, regardless of how dark and confused I feel inside, I am not an island.

Forgetting… is a beautiful thing. When you forget, you remake yourself… For a caterpillar to become a butterfly, it must forget it was a caterpillar at all. Then it will be as if the caterpillar never was & there was only ever a butterfly. – City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett

Perhaps that is the best gift I could ever receive – this will end. I will move through this. I don’t know if I will ever be completely okay with the way things are for me and my health, but at least I know that these troubled times are not eternal, but temporary. There is beauty out there still. I see it, read it, and experience it every day. My child smiles, and her laughter is like music. The mountains are covered in snow and the peaceful slumber of winter. The stars shine and night, and when I drive to work while the world is sleeping, the moon is out, lighting my way with silver making be believe in magic again. And words, these beautiful words, these profound stories and deep emotions illuminate my soul and brighten my journey through these darker times.

Because they prove that I’m not alone.

And sometimes deep, dark, intense feelings can be as beautiful as they are frightening.

2 Responses

  • You are not alone. Those four words are so powerful. I completely understand finding this in the stories we read and dealing with life issues through the mirror fiction provides. Thanks for sharing this Sarah. As someone who has wandered the paths of depression and still needs GPS to avoid them, this essay touched me deeply. And remember, if anything, you are never alone.

  • Adam Strank

    I thoroughly enjoyed your depth and insight. I especially loved the statement about loving reading books because of the feel of the paper and promise. Breathtaking sentiment. In regards to the topic suppression of dark feelings or depression is not the way. I whole heartedly concur with you on your thoughts on the issue. I read a book Gene Keys that made a life changing comparison for me that our joys and our shadows are essential. By accepting our dark days they morph into something beneficial. Also a noted evolutionary Geneticist I read recently said. “Failures give you focus.” So perspective is paramount.

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