Is There Really Light in the Darkness?

I’m an over-thinker. Even as I write this, I am sitting here in my bedroom overthinking about how to stop overthinking. Sometimes I wish my brain would just stop.

For example, rather than wake up this morning and think about what I might like for breakfast (like a normal person would), I started thinking about everything that is wrong with our world – the hurt and brokenness, the conflict and confusion. I am intensely experiencing all these emotions on a personal level at the moment. And I know those emotions are filtering the way I am seeing the world. It’s dull and colourless, like a black-and-white Instagram filter! Thankfully, I’m not in the deepest depths of depression any more, but I am struggling to see the light in the darkness right now.

I know many other people face this same struggle. Here’s a little statistic for you: one in three people experience depression at some point in their life. So chances are, either you yourself or someone close to you will go through it – and they are both painful positions to be in. Or maybe you’re just going through a really tough time – it happens to us all. And those times are completely rubbish, aren’t they?

But, did you know? Although dark and difficult times feel like a curse, they can also be a blessing; an unwelcome blessing, but a blessing all the same. Let me try to explain this paradox…

I don’t like the dark (I had a nightlight in my bedroom for ages!). However, without the darkness, you cannot appreciate the light. I vividly remember the dark night I realised this. It was a sort of epiphany (great word, epiphany!). It was one evening in May a couple of years ago when I didn’t want to live anymore. My Dad took me out to Seasalter to help me try to clear my head. It was dark. To me, the world seemed empty. But Dad pointed to the stars in the sky and the lights whizzing past on a nearby train, trying to get me to appreciate these simple things. And I was overwhelmed. “Wow!” The stars and the lights of the train stood out so brightly against the backdrop of the night. If it wasn’t dark, I wouldn’t have been able to see and appreciate those lights. And on that night, those lights may have just saved my life.

Of course, at the end of that dark night, the sun rose – as it does every morning – and drove away the darkness which had terrified me so much.

A very wise man once said this:

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Albus Dumbledore

If you hadn’t picked up on this yet, I am using examples of physical light as a metaphor for positivity and goodness. I think Dumbledore was doing the same thing – great minds! Along with positivity and goodness, light is always present in our broken world and our broken lives. But sometimes finding it, seeing it and focusing on it is hard work – because it’s not a passive thing: it’s a choice. It’s our choice.

Another very wise man said this:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus

I don’t generally talk about my faith in my blog posts – and I promise I’m not going to start preaching at you now! – but I am open about the fact that I’m a Christian. Different people find their their ‘light’ in different places, and my faith is where I find mine. Jesus’ words are not just cosy words. They acknowledge that the world is a dark place and there is a need for light. Looking at the state our world is in today, I’m sure you’ll agree with that, whether you’re a Christian or not.

So, is there light in the darkness? Yes, there is. There really is.

When we experience emotional darkness in our personal lives, of course darkness will taint the way we see the world. But, if we manage to pull ourselves together for a moment (and, trust me, this is possible, even if you’re feeling like a complete and utter mess!), we can chose to see the light. And – perhaps more importantly – we can decide to be the light.

There is darkness in our world. But by being little lights, we can be positive and good people who help make the world a bit better – a bit brighter. In any and every situation we find ourselves in, we all have the power and potential to illuminate life’s little beauties. And that really is a wonderful thing.

So, do as wise old Professor Dumbledore said: turn on your light. Glow in the dark!

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Living in Limbo

Limbo: an uncertain situation that you cannot control and in which there is no progress or improvement.

We’ve all experienced periods of limbo in our lives, right? Waiting, hoping, willing for a situation to change or improve. Whether it’s being unemployed and trying to find a job, being trapped in a difficult relationship, waiting for exam results or waiting for treatment for an illness… limbo is not a nice place to be.

Living with depression and anxiety is like being in a perpetual state of limbo. For the last four years, I’ve felt like I’ve been trapped in limbo, waiting for this dark shadow that’s hung over my life to pass, longing for brighter days. It’s really frustrated me. Any hope that things might start to feel better at some point in the future are completely overshadowed by the fear that things will never improve.

“Everything in life can teach you a lesson, you just have to be willing to observe and learn.” Ritu Ghatourey

Last weekend, I learnt a huge lesson in how to deal with living in limbo. I went to visit ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. No one knows what it’s like to live in limbo quite like a refugee. They have lost their homes, their families, their jobs. They are trapped living in dirty, impractical and unpredictable conditions. As they wait to rebuild their lives and will to find somewhere to call home, there is little sign their situation is going to improve any time soon. They simultaneously hope and fear for the future. This is extreme limbo and it was a hard-hitting experience to see this first hand.

Meeting some of these refugees humbled me. They demonstrated to me an invaluable approach to life. I asked one refugee if he had hope that life would be better in the future. “We only live for today. We hope for tomorrow.” That was his reply. In other words, the only way to deal with life is to take it day by day, a bit at a time. What great words of wisdom! If, like me, you tend to get overwhelmed by life or feel like you’re struggling through a tough time, waiting for the resolution to a problem or situation, then the solution really is quite easy: simply focus on only ever needing to cope with now. If the refugees I spoke to can do this in their current situation, then so can I. Take each moment as it comes. Make each moment okay. Then before you know it, all your individual okay moments will add up and your whole life will be okay (simple maths!). In fact most of the time, with a bit of added positivity, life can be more than okay… it can be great!

“Life is a sequence of moments called ‘now’.”

Often, the reason(s) we feel we’re in limbo are external circumstances beyond our control. My depression and anxiety is not self-inflicted and the powerful negative feelings associated with it cannot just be shaken off. But rather than allowing these circumstances to determine whether or not I will be okay, I can decide to be okay now, regardless of how hard things seem. “Is everything going to be okay?” I repeatedly ask my Dad (often through choked tears) when the darkness in my life creeps in again and everything becomes unbearable once more. “Everything is okay,” he assures me. And he’s right. (He’s a pretty smart man, my Dad.)

“Confine yourself to the present.” Marcus Aurelius

You see, it’s easy to say, “Everything will be okay when [insert resolution to your problem here],” but in reality there will always be something in our lives which will drag us down and stop us living life to the full if we let it. Accept and appreciate what is happening in life and right now. Sometimes, now will be hard work; other times it will be brilliant. But we can choose to stand firm and make the best of that moment regardless.

It’s absolutely fine to hope for the future and look forward to tomorrow (hope is a wonderful emotion which often helps us to be okay in difficult moments). But actually, the future is promised to no one. If we’re always anticipating the next thing, waiting for something which may or may not happen, then we miss out on all the somethings happening now. By living in the present, we become fully alive, more engaged and more engaging – that’s the sort of person I want to be.

Of course, if I actually take a step out of my own head and compare my limbo situation to the lives of the thousands of homeless and jobless refugees in the world at the moment, I feel like a bit of a whining numpty. How can I really know what it’s like to live in limbo after seeing how the refugees are living? The refugee crisis has opened my eyes to some extreme struggles – situations much worse than anything I’ve ever had to (and probably never will) endure. It’s put some perspective on my own life and reminded me not to take anything for granted. Comparing situations and struggles doesn’t make my own instantly go away though (depression and anxiety don’t work like that). Our struggles in life are different. But our approach to life should be the same: live in the present.

Life is happening NOW!

What are you waiting for?

Unlovable

I once asked someone who had suffered with depression what it was that eventually pulled them out from under their dark cloud. “The love of a wonderful man,” they told me. Great, I thought. Negative thinking kicks in. I don’t have that. I’m not in a romantic relationship and don’t know when (or if) I will be. Clearly there’s no hope for me then.

 “Three main features of depression are feeling unlovable, feeling that you are worthless and feeling as though you have no control over relationships.” Dr Kevin Stark

In the midst of deep depression, the feeling of worthlessness is very strong. No one’s tells me I’m worthless. No one except the bully that is depression. “You’re pathetic, you’re pointless,” depression sneers at me. People around me tell me otherwise, but nothing they say is as loud and believable as the bully. This leads to a lack of self-esteem and self-belief; I think I’m a horrible person. And why would anyone want to have anything to do with a horrible person? Anxiety tells me all the people close to me will suddenly give up on me.

What about love? Well, depression tells me I’m not worthy of it. Anxiety tells me it will never happen. I came to the conclusion that depression and anxiety must be right. My lack of boyfriend confirmed my negative feelings; that I’m worthless and unlovable. My sisters have boyfriends. Lots of my friends are moving in with their partners, cementing their long-term relationships, getting engaged… Of course, I am delighted for them and love sharing their excitement. But at the same time, I’m very aware that I can’t start setting up a life with someone I love. Negative thinking kicks in. Why don’t I have a boyfriend? What’s wrong with me? I feel left out, left behind and lonely.

Experiencing romantic love is one of the deepest desires of my I heart. I long to find someone to love and someone who loves me in return. But it’s important to identify that there is no causal relationship between being single and having depression. I’m not single because I have depression, and I don’t have depression because I’m single. The absence of a boyfriend is not what got me into depression and finding a wonderful one won’t be the thing that gets me out of it. I know this because there are people with depression who are in wonderful, stable romantic relationships and still feel just us unlovable as I do.

Even though it sometimes feels like it, I am not the only single person in the world. So, without romantic love at this point in my life, what’s left? Well, quite a lot actually. There are different types of love. When I tell depression and anxiety to shut up, I can see that I am surrounded by friends and family who love me unconditionally. They show this on a regular basis, in all sorts of wonderful ways.

But, there’s another type of love, and I think it’s this love which is at the heart of overcoming depression: self-love. This is not loving yourself in an egocentric way, arrogantly thinking you’re better than everyone else, but assuring yourself that you’re every bit as good as them. This is realising your self-worth. After listening to the lies of depression and anxiety for so long, this is something I need to do before I’m ready to love someone else and let them love me in return.

So my next step in trying to beat depression and anxiety is to learn to love myself. Yes, I still long for a romantic relationship but I shouldn’t be waiting around for a boyfriend to validate my self-worth. ‘Single’ is not a synonym for ‘unlovable’. I’m going to make being single in my early 20s an exciting time of self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-love.

 “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” Oscar Wilde

 

Rock Bottom

To blog or not to blog? That is the question. The reason I’ve been so undecided about blogging is because the subject matter is very personal. It’s something I’ve been ashamed to talk about. It’s something I have taken a long time to come to terms with. But now, I have finally decided to write about it. Well, I say ‘now’, but I have had this post saved as a draft for a while and just haven’t been able to bring myself to publish it (and I expect I’ll tentatively hover my mouse over the ‘publish’ button for ages before I eventually click it). But *deep breath* here it goes…

I suffer from depression and anxiety. I have done for several years now. Contrary to the name of this blog, I am not out of the darkness. In fact, at this point in my life, I have never felt more surrounded by the dark. I’ve hit rock bottom. Perhaps this is what has prompted me to start writing about it.

“Rock bottom has been the solid foundation from which I rebuilt my life.”  J.K Rowling

I recently came across this quote from J.K Rowling. And it made me think… What if hitting rock bottom is a good thing? Rock bottom means I can’t get any lower. Rock bottom means the only way is up. Maybe it can become the solid foundation from which I rebuild my life. Right now, I feel surrounded by suffocating sadness. The best way to describe it is that I feel like I’m trapped on my own at the bottom of a deep, dark pit and I don’t feel positive, motivated or energised enough to climb out. Whenever I do exert enough energy to try and climb out, I make a little bit of progress… I get a little bit higher… but it’s not long before I start to get tired and fall back down to the bottom. It’s relentless. It’s lonely. However, although rock bottom is a pretty rubbish place to be, maybe there is just a small glimmer of hope here: I know that there is a way out. And at the top, there is light.

People tend to think that I’ve got my life together; that I’m a strong, independent person who can cope with life. (I know my posts on social media often give this impression.) But the truth is, most of the time, I struggle to cope, I’m scared of the world and I feel anything but strong and independent. I’ve struggled to be honest about this in the past because I worry that my struggles are a sign of weakness. I’m wary of labelling myself because I don’t want people to treat me differently. I’ve also found it hard to come to terms with this because I don’t understand it. I know that I have a good life – a very good life – and I consciously try to remind myself of the exciting life I am blessed to have. I have a job which I love and is perfectly suited to me. I run Khushi Feet: a thriving charity for street children in Kolakta which I care about with all my heart and am incredibly passionate about. I have a loving and supportive family. I have the most brilliant friends anyone could ever wish for. I have nothing to complain about. So why do I feel so low so much of the time? I get frustrated because I can’t justify these negative feelings.

I find writing to be the best way to express my thoughts and think through my feelings. So I am primarily writing about my fight (and believe me, it is a fight – I’m in the middle of a raging emotional battle) to overcome depression and anxiety to help myself reflect and move forward. I want to learn to take each moment as it comes and to not get overwhelmed by life. I don’t know how often I will blog, but I think writing about this will be a much better use of my time than crying about it (that’s not to say I won’t still have my weepy moments though!). In sharing some very real and honest experiences, I hope that this blog may also encourage others going through a similar thing. I’ve come to realise that everyone struggles with something to some extent; depression and anxiety is surprisingly common (so no sympathy please, as I am not the first and certainly won’t be the last to go through this).

I know there is no quick fix. Things won’t suddenly get better. But this could well be the start of something very positive in my life. So onwards and hopefully upwards as I begin the long old climb out of my dark, rocky pit and into the light.