Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

 And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you

But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

 And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said,

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence

 Ah, the Sounds of Silence.

Simon & Garfunkel’s haunting ode to the darkness & the light is ghostly & beautiful. Throughout the song, two seemingly opposing forces that work together to build deep foundations in the heart of a busy, urban loneliness. Every time I hear this song I get chills.

Every.
Damn.
Time.

I can remember the first time I heard this song. The way goose-bumps crawled down my neck & into my soul. These lyrics weren’t jaunty, twangy or trite. Pop music this was not. The words that threaded together to build a world in my mind seemed to be holding onto the remnants of deep-longing & hurt. That, with a dash of sweetness found in soft voices, helped to cut the bitter taste of it all.

Deep in my little girl’s soul, after hearing this song, I understood completely that becoming life-long friends with darkness would be a beautiful, sometimes wild, ride. So, I did what any buckled up.

And, though I could never put my finger on it, from a young age I dove into finding & exploring the yin & the yang of my being. Through this searching, I learned inner-strength that allowed me to smile through times that usually called for rage or sadness. I also learned to relish in the different ways in which one human could interpret silence.

Diving into language, melodies, & dreams of darkness became an escape for me. A meditative one (though I didn’t have the words to explain it as such until recently.)  For my entire life, I’ve chased the promise of stillness & silence. This chase, unlike others I purposefully lace-up for, is one I’ve always known to be futile – but worthwhile, & beautiful.

Finding Beauty in Uncertainty

Bliss. Living near the edges of doubt & change means that you can see the perfection in the imperfect. You’re able to taste the bitter & the sweet. And, you’re able to accept yourself as whole – even when you’re at your most broken.

All of the elements of personal-fulfilment I’ve chased during 37 trips around the sun have been imperfect. Much like me. Darkness, stillness, sunshine, rainbows. They all coexist in me as a fairly well functioning community. They all have the power to both heal & destroy me in equal measure. Sometimes they do both at the same time. Fulfilment has always been a tug-o-war between healing & destruction. A roll of the dice, even. All taking place in the here and now.

Call it what you will but the two sides of the same coin that I flip to wish upon are really more like vacation destinations that I’ve been to a million times before. When I call “heads!” or “tails!” I’m choosing from two different realities that look the same. They’re both home. And, they’re as familiar as anything. But, they feel completely different.

These are my retreats.

Retreats of the soul.

One of these retreats is a place where I find rest & calm. A place where the morning hustle to get kids to school (only to dive headlong into traffic) is okay. The rush is do-able. Nothing’s really a hassle. My thoughts don’t act as weights that pull me down or scream out at me “BUT YOU COULD BE DOING SO MUCH MORE THAN THIS!” In this place, I can handle anything life throws at me.

This first retreat is where I spend the majority of my time. There’s no laundry pile too tall to break me, no responsibilities too overwhelming to steal my smile, no anger, no doubts, no Mom-guilt, & no rush. This place is basically a forever spa treatment. In this place, the idea & fear of being busy all of the time doesn’t exist. Worries drop away as the sounds of gentle, flowing streams fill my head.

I stretch out on a massage table. Muscles, mind, & soul relax. I can smell special oils. Ah, special oils! Along with the flowing water, I hear the gentle gongs of spiritual music. I breathe in the inviting warmth of glowing candles, drink in the sweetness of human touch, & relish in a pleasurable pain as all of my muscles are worked over.

I love this place. This place heals me. This place empowers & lifts me. Rooms filled with kindness, forgiveness, self-confidence, others willing & able to give freely. If I could, I’d spend quite a lot of time here. Heck, I might just stay on forever. I mean, who wouldn’t, right?

Unfortunately, there’s only ever limited time in the first retreat.

The Dark Side of Retreat

Another place, similar – yet very different to the first – exists in me too. This is a place where I need to steel myself upon entering.  Instead of feeling welcomed or relaxed, I tense up as I open the door to step across a shadowy threshold. The silence, darkness, & stillness work to haunt instead of welcome me. My feelings of inadequacy chase me here, running circles around my most tempered thoughts. The end goal of the ghosts that live here? To exhaust me – or even break me – completely. Sometimes, I think they might.

The calming relaxation of my first retreat shifts into a literal low-gear here. Gears grinding, hearts breaking, time standing still. In this place, I cannot focus. I’m unable to see or feel anything other than fear, brokenness, & hopelessness. My vulnerabilities become Kryptonite injected directly into my bloodstream. I am lost, confused, & frightened here.

All of the strength I’ve built up over a lifetime of wins & losses & learning disappears, dissipates in every waking moment. Who needs contentment built through adversity & joy when there’s a place inside of yourself that works quickly & without warning to undo all of the good stuff?

How is it that these two places offer such similar experiences – yet cause such disparate emotions in me? One is my place of healing. The other silently tears me to shreds one negative thought at a time.

Depression is a real shitter.

Call it what you will, the darkness of depression is a real shitter. It’s hard to put into words how one moment you feel fine – good even – & the next you’re not sure you feel anything at all. You teleport without reason or warning from your first retreat to the second. You’re off balance & off course. And, you know it, too. You just don’t know how to fix it.

It’s hard. It’s so, so hard to explain what’s happening inside yourself when you don’t understand it. Speaking to loved ones can be frustrating & feel counterintuitive. I get embarrassed when I can’t find words with ample enough impact to explain the inexplicable emotions that sometimes render me powerless. I feel even dumber not being able to simply share the numbness, the powerlessness, the empty spaces.

So, when we step it up a notch & try to talk to strangers about what we’re feeling (when we still can’t find words good enough to say to those we love most), it’s no wonder so many mental health issues go unspoken about or illnesses left untreated a lot of the time.

There’s this kind of a tug-o-war that happens in my mind sometimes where I know for a fact that I’m not in a space that will allow me to be my best self. Most of the time, I can even say to myself “Self, you’re down & you’re anxious. Don’t make decisions now. Be present. Be kind.” My inner-dialogue whispers “Cass, ride this wave out.”

Unfortunately, these kind internal whispers are quite often drowned out by the din of my even louder inner voice that shouts things like “You’re useless!” over  & over until I start to believe it. And thus, the struggle goes on.

Finding Peace & Riding Waves

I used to think I could weather every storm alone. Blame it on ego, on self-reliance kicked into over-drive, or on a simple overshooting of my own abilities – but what I know beyond the shadow of a doubt now is this: we all need other people at some point to help us get better.

Most of the time, our loved ones will stand steadfast in our corners – ready to fight our demons for us. But they can’t fight our demons for us, can they? That’s not how it works. We all have to suit up, hop in the water, & learn to ride the waves that break near shore. For me, hopping in the water meant seeing my GP & talking to a therapist regularly. Learning how to manage my own negative self-talk & building foundations on which to move forward have been instrumental in me kicking depression.

What I have found helpful over time too is recognising that some of the people we love most jump right in next to us – paddling in tandem to ride the wave together, differently. At the same time, others will stand on the pier next to you cheering you on & pointing out the best waves to ride. Others still will realize that they don’t know much about the surfing you’re doing, so they wait on shore with a warm, dry towel to comfort you once your back on terra firma.

These people are legends. And, they’re doing their best to help.

In opening up & being as genuinely truthful as we can be, our beloveds are armed with the knowledge of how to best coax us out of stormy seas & into calmer waters. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them to listen to us as we fumble to find ways to explain how we feel. Other times, it’s just sitting with us while we whimper in a corner. 

Ask & You Shall Receive

As I get older, I find that the easiest way to make peace with darkness has always been to light a fire of honesty. To speak simply & to be heard without needing to be fixed. Opening up is scary. Admitting you need help but that you’re not sure exactly why is scary, too. But, it’s necessary.

If you or someone you know is struggling with getting lost in the vortex that is the second retreat, please ask for help. Asking is scary, but necessary to build your crew around you to see you through the rougher seas that we’ll all be faced with in life. Finding beauty in silence & darkness is like retraining your brain to love what you’re supposed to shun.

Depression? It sucks.
But, there’s more to life than the darkness.

Hold on & hold out.
And, bring your surf board along with you.
You’ll catch that next wave to shore.

Where to get help 

The below resources are some that I found on an article from The Spinoff looking to #endthestigma around talking about depression & suicide here in Aotearoa. Please, if you need help, reach out. It’s scary & brave at the same time – facing the unknown. But there are so many people who are here to help. 24/7/365.

As with many folks, I am here to talk should you ever need to reach out. It is okay to not be okay. Each day is a new start, & I’m positive we can get through it together.

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland.

Outline –  0800 688 5463 (10am – 9pm weekdays, 6pm – 9pm weekends)

Samaritans – 0800 726 666.

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). Open 24/7

Depression Helpline  – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202. This service is staffed 24/7 by trained counsellors

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Counselling for children and young people

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat. Open 24/7.

thelowdown.co.nz – or email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626

What’s Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email info@mentalhealth.org.nz

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