“Hello Darkness my old friend, I’ve come to be with you again…”
So begins one of my favourite songs of all time, recently covered in an epic fashion by Disturbed. Yet despite the opening line referring to a small, echo filled place where Art Garfunkel would write most of his songs, it calls to me in a way that makes absolute sense. The darkness is where I have always felt comfortable, away from people who are often so noisy and full of opinions, free from distraction and grief, alone with only my own thoughts to comfort me. I have long been a believer in the comfort of one’s own space, of retreating from the world to recuperate and turn inwards in order to find one’s own strength.
As such I get annoyed when people mistake darkness for evil and in our classical, neo-christian society, anything dark or gothic or black is derided as being a thing of disgust, to be avoided at all costs. Even when viewing childrens’ TV or reading books with My Little Overlord in Training, I can feel my stomach turn as good is always represented as pure, holy and light whereas darkness is a thing of evil, as if the two existed in isolation from each other. I have always supported a balance, deriding the belief that one can ever eliminate the other regardless of what some media might say. As one of my favourite Magic: The Gathering cards once said, “Light banishes shadows, light creates shadows. Such is the duality of light.”
As a dark person, I adore the season of Winter, finding it a blessed relief from the blazing radiation of Summer. Once the Solstice is past, I yearn for the coolness of Autumn and Winter as a respite from the exhausting heat. During the summer sun, the cool embrace of night is a welcome comfort and in much the same way, I feel the need to retreat from the chaos and madness of people, hiding away in my home to avoid the constant glare of humanity. Yet as comforting as this may be, it holds its own danger and cannot be the entirety of my existence because there are other terrors lurking in the dark which can never be part of that recuperation process.
Winston Churchill referred to it as his ‘black dog’ and it’s a fitting description. For me, my depression is akin to a monster, a beast that yearns to see me dead and gets great joy in trying to talk me around to that possibility. Although that is highly unlikely these days, there was a time when it’s invitation to self-destruction rang loud in my ears and it’s still a beast that hides in the shadows and loves to strike whenever the opportunity arises. Unfortunately, it knows me as a reclusive person and finds its voice the loudest whenever I am alone or in the act of retreating from the world. I have wrestled with my monster on many occasions, fighting it with every tool I can muster from medication to various therapies designed to help me see the reality of a situation rather than the distorted version that my beast would rather I see. Such tools are available to anyone who calls out for help whether it’s to our friends and colleagues or the best option, going to see your local GP.
For me, my beast ultimately wants me removed from this world and by retreating from it to recuperate, I inadvertently give it an unfair advantage as it tries to convince me that retreating completely is the best way out. Although my mancave is a warm, cosy retreat, my beast would see it as a permanent residence or, better yet a place from which I can destroy myself internally. When I read about people who do take that final step, I shudder in fear as I realise that their monster won, it convinced them that the world did not need them and caused them to disappear from society, permanently and terminally. I fear in those moments that maybe one day, my beast will do the same to me.
Yet this is one of the many reasons that I have come to embrace the darkness of life. Not just to seek solace from the noise of the world but to be able to differentiate from the cool, dark of night and the empty blackness of the abyss. It’s important to recognise that just because you need to escape from the world for a brief while, it doesn’t mean that you want to leave it permanently. Spending time on your own is good, it’s healthy and, quite frankly, it’s needed. We are animals who instinctively recognise the qualities of night and day, who move in cycles consistent with the natural world, who are built to accommodate the shifting of the seasons and the highs and lows of Summer and Winter. Needing to escape is a natural, necessary quality but it is and never will be, a permanent situation. When the light departs our lands, it is time for the land to rest, to restore itself and prepare again to spring into life. A world of endless sunshine would not just be unrelenting, it would be disastrous. Without a respite from the sun, life would wither and die, turning even the most ardent forest into desert. This is why I never frown when rain comes because without it, life would be erased from our world within just a few short weeks. Sometimes in order to revel in the darkness, you have to recognise the life that exists within it. A laugh whenever I see swamps depicted as dark, gloomy and dead places because I know that within that cradle of decomposition and decay, new life is sparking into existence, a light brought forth from the shadows.
Likewise for many seeds to germinate, they must be placed underground, deep within the belly of the earth. But if they stay there, held in the hands of the soil, they atrophy and die. They must reach up and break through into the light if they have a chance of survival. Darkness is needed, it is vital and should not be shunned with disgust. But it is a world away from true darkness, the bleak finality of depression that can haunt some of us. That kind of darkness is not a rest, it is torment that steals hope, life and pleasure. It is a great blackness that takes away some of our most vital qualities: emotion, fun and joy. To fight with it is to take up arms on a daily basis and disallow it from sucking every pleasure from our world. If like me, you are one of those people, then you not only have my admiration but my respect also.
People are tiring, the world is demanding and we all need to retreat underground at some point, that’s natural. But we’re not meant to stay there permanently for nothing can endure there forever. Our roots must reach deep into the black for nourishment but they are nothing without the light of the sun to energize us. Depression will do its best to convince you to stay there, that there is little that you can offer the world up above. It’s why people do remove themselves from the world and why loneliness is becoming one of the biggest killers in the western world. Being separated from society and cut off from other people is a sure fire way for the black dog to sink its teeth into you and never let go. We’re social animals and even if you are a misanthropic curmudgeon like myself, interaction with other humans is a necessity. Embrace the darkness, enjoy the peace and stillness that it brings but remember that there is a big difference between the natural cycles of rest and recuperation and the permanent blackness that comes with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. If you’re currently in the dark, make plans to see someone, even if it’s just to stop for coffee and if you still feel truly lost, reach out for another hand in the dark. There are plenty of people out there, lost in the shadows but we don’t have to endure it alone.
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All images via Wikimedia Commons.