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the forces of dark and light

For 38 years I have lived with a depressive disorder. It’s never been bad enough for institutional admission or attempts at suicide, but severe enough to cause deep misery for days on end. No hope, no light, no desire to go on … certainly more than “being down” and “having a bad day” (as well-meaning voices suggest), nor something to “snap out off” or “get over with.” During such bouts, I’m not easy company and, on occasion and with impatience, people close-by have called me “moody” and “self-absorbed;’ others have given me a wide berth (fearing contamination?).

Over time I’ve tried every therapeutic approach under the sun (short of a lobotomy), driven by the belief that it was either my fault or something fixable if only I’d tried hard enough. I gained some valuable insights into my emotional make-up along the way, even took a degree in counselling without wanting to practice it on others, but depression continued to keep a tight lid on my joie de vivre.

I resisted medication for years until my GP persuaded me with the argument that patients with chronic illnesses (such as diabetes) take theirs as a matter of course–without having to hide the fact. As a result of a steady low-dose I can now experience, for the first time in memory, a sense of well-being and wholeness. Mood storms have become waves, with only occasional flare-ups; side effects of a lowered libido and weight gain are part of the deal. A sustained spiritual practice, including meditation and being of service, contributes to calmer seas within. It makes sense to live alone.

In this context, one of the shining lights has been Parker J. Palmer, a man of Quaker sensibilities and a pioneer in bringing spirituality into the mainstream of education. During an interview he was asked: How does depression affect the way you are today?

What I learned during depression is that the faculties I had usually depended upon were useless. My intellect was useless—this was not something you can think your way out of. My emotions were dead. Depression is not feeling really, really bad; it’s really feeling nothing at all. That’s what’s frightening about it: it’s a void, an emptiness. My ego was shattered, so there’s no ego strength to pull you through. And my will was nonexistent, except for putting one foot in front of the other very slowly to try to start walking into a day. Intellect, emotions, ego and will are the things we normally count on, but I couldn’t count on them when I was in deep depression.  . . .

In terms of the larger impact or additional impact of depression, you learn that you have in yourself not only the forces of light and life, but also the forces of darkness and death, and that’s an important thing to know. Each of us contains multitudes. And if we walk around thinking “I am only light and life, and it’s those [other] folks who are creating the darkness and death,” we start engaging in enemy-making, and are drawn inevitably, I think, towards some form of violence. Which is really about our refusal to embrace and acknowledge those forces in ourselves. . . .

To read the interview in full, click here. images: (top): “On the threshold of eternity,” oil on canvas, painted by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) in the last year of his life; (bottom):


9 responses »

  1. peter –
    you have very great strength to talk about his private area of your life…by having to struggle with these demons, it has brought a greater depth to your life.

    • you’re so right, dawne. the greater the obstacle, the deeper the reach for inner resources. even if it takes weeks or years or a couple of lifetimes. thank you for your kindess.

  2. Thank you. This comes at a precious time when a dear friend with a diagnosis of bipolar condition is presently hospitalized in a psychiatric unit with a very serious psychotic/catatonic condition. This helps me giving a context to his tragedy.

    • If there’s one thing I value above all (from others) is to not be ignored. even if they can’t fix my condition, much less understand what’s going on, just “being there” without judgement and too many questions is their precious gift.

  3. Dear Peter
    It never stops to amaze me the people that come into my life and I feel so blessed to have met you.

  4. Your honesty about your struggle is so refreshing when so many people try to cover up anything they suspect cause others to look down on them.

    I too have had to make a medical choice to treat depression magnified by a crisis with my child. I then realized that I had depression in my life many times before, but it took the crisis to be overwhelming.

    So many people will not acknowledge treatment for a condition that prevents them from becoming the best person they can be, looking at it as a weakness.

    I am glad that we are not in that group. We are willing to say, we are not perfect, only God is. Namaste

    • and yet, and yet … we ARE perfect just as we are. whether it be the will of god or cirumstances of body chemistry and personal history: all we can be (at any given moment) as what we are. fortunately, such “being” is not static, we’re changing constantly.

      Speaking up, and being heard as we are in this forum, helps shrinks the barriers that keep us separate from each other … and our own True Nature.

  5. the more that people share and speak up about depression, as you have, the less it will be a taboo subject. so many of us have been affected directly or indirectly by it.


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