Two remarkable men in history are my heroes. They are beyond being my heroes. To me they had such breadth of vision, such soundness of mind, such sagacity and shrewdness that to think of what the world would have become without them at the helm is difficult to fathom. And yet, they both suffered at times from acute depression. Winston Churchill used to call them the black dogs. Abraham Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon said of him “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.” Joshua Wolf Shenk relates in his book Lincoln’s Melancholy that Lincoln’s symptoms, including mood swings and at least two major breakdowns and offers compelling evidence of the evolution of his disease from “major depressions” in his twenties and thirties to “chronic depression” and later on Shenk reveals the treatments Lincoln endured and his efforts to come to terms with his melancholy, including a poem he published on suicide and his private note on the value of personal – and national – suffering. By consciously shifting his goal away from personal contentment (which he realized he could not attain) and toward universal Justice, Lincoln gained the strength and insight that he, and America, required to transcend profound darkness.
Comprehending human nature is a complex and at times unattainable journey to explore. Some are born with unbelievable hardships; some live in a world that is so dark and fearful that one trembles, one is tormented by the slightest challenge that requires enormous amounts of courage. And yet they make it through. Others succumb to childhood traumas that they were never able to overcome. We all walk on a precarious path and choosing the right way to go requires a depth of wisdom that is almost inborn and unexplainable.
I had great hardships in my life, cried enough tears to drown myself in, suffered through failed suicide attempts and their aftermath, waking up in psychiatric wards and not knowing how I got there, endured physical and sexual violence, mental and emotional torment, experienced the worst betrayal anyone should have to suffer and then, after five years of working through my own recovery program, called REPAIR, I emerged on the other side the happiest person I knew.
Despite all of this and my joy at finding a life that I not only loved but I cherished as I never thought I could I too, have times when I fall into what I call “the black hole”. I have four of the world’s greatest children, a kind and stable husband, friends I’ve known for decades that love me dearly. I am financially stable, live in a beautiful 3 story, 15 room home on five picturesque acres in Northern Arizona. I have numerous enjoyable interests and I know what my purpose in life is and am working towards it. And most of all I have the cutest little ShiTzu puppy named Rocky who adores me and hangs on my every word, follows my every movement. What could go wrong with all of that? I am so blessed.
Last week I fell in one of those black holes and when my husband asked me what was wrong all I could say was, “I fell into the black hole and am having a hard time finding my way out”. I knew from experience that I would not be there forever. He knew I could do it and waited patiently for it to pass. I remembered Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired (HALT), one of the tools I learned in recovery and knew that none of them was responsible. There were no dark and fearful times in my life that I had not already explored, that I had not already REPAIRED. I was not a pity pot sort of person and considered myself one of the most fortunate persons. And yet here I was in that damn black hole. Like a child who pulls herself into a fetal position I lay there numb with terror, waiting only for it to pass. I staggered through my day with wooden movements, my mind acute and yet frozen. Reading didn’t help, watching Netflix was of no avail. There was no one I could talk to not even my children, my husband or my closest friend. My love for my Creator was great and I trusted in His goodness and His guidance and yet how could I not even turn it over to Him? How could I explain to another that one minute I was happy and focused and looking forward to my day and the next I was laying at the bottom of this hole?
It took me almost a day to move through this, to find my way out of my black hole. The only truth I arrive at whenever this happens is that sometimes life gives you a bad turn. It isn’t personal. It doesn’t mean I am not strong or not a happy human. I don’t need a therapist; I don’t need a priest. I don’t even need to know why this is happening. I need only to move through it and repeat over and over one of the few things my mother taught me that I retained, this too shall pass. And it does.
To be human means we are vulnerable. It means we are not always strong and stable. It means that we cannot always make lemonade out of lemons. But it also means we have the capacity to find our way out of any black hole that we fall in to and sooner or later we all do. Some have bigger holes than others but no matter the size it is up to us and our own person sagacity to find our way out.