So…I’ve been thinking. Maybe depression is just as simple as how we react when the handy man comes to our house to fix an appliance and he accidentally knocks all the lights out. All the lights. Maybe depression is just as simple as how we feel as we’re sitting there in the dark, contemplating what it means that there is no light. And in case you’re not with me here, I’ll be direct—maybe losing the lights in the house is just a fancy metaphor for when all the parts of your life seem to go dark—which looks a little different for everyone.
A light might go out because your friend died, your cat’s sick, your grades are suffering, your therapy is difficult, your spouse is unfaithful, your job is suffocating, your Raisnets are all gone, your family is having money troubles, your anxiety has you stuck in the house, your hamster died, your friends forgot your birthday, your kid only placed second in the track meet, your Xbox froze during level sixteen (again), your car broke down, your house caught fire, your friend received a crushing diagnosis…
No matter how little or big our troubles, no matter how few or many, it may not matter all—
Because when the lights go out (all the lights) and you’re sitting there in that momentary, fading, electrical hum that takes place as your world powers down into darkness…maybe it only matters how you react.
And if you think I’m about to say that you should control that reaction with grace and confidence and joy, you misunderstand me because that’s not what I mean at all (next time I react to a bout of depression with grace and confidence and joy, I’ll be just as shocked as you). I just mean that maybe it is easiest to define depression as the particular way we react when the lights go out—for sometimes people do react with grace and confidence and joy.
Sometimes a person gets up, goes to the fridge, and grabs all the beer and hot dogs. That person throws an impromptu barbecue outside, in the blazing light of day. Sometimes a person sits quietly, taking a little time to reflect. Sometimes a person thinks, “The lights will be back on soon.”
But for me, personally (and I’m thinking maybe for a lot of people who struggle with depression), the reaction is one of hopelessness. The reaction is, “These lights will never come back on. There will never be light again.” So whether it really is just that the handy man has knocked out the power or if our friend just died or if our car broke down or if our Raisnets are gone or if we simply feel like not one more thing can go wrong in our lives—no matter what it is, we sit there in the dark and face the realization that there will never be light again.
And we believe it.
Describing depression to others is difficult. Describing depression to people who don’t suffer from depression is near-impossible. So maybe we just look those people in the eyes and we explain that depression is our particular reaction when the lights go out. And it is not the same as theirs. Our reaction does not include hot dogs or meditation. Our reaction includes sitting in the dark struggling to breathe.
And yes, it matters that we keep trying to help people understand. If we stop talking, if we stop trying to describe depression, if we stop being open with others, then when the lights go out, no one around knows how to be there for us. They don’t know that to us, in that moment (whether an hour or day or week or month) the light is gone forever. And if they don’t know, they can’t hold us until the light comes back.