Why would you cut yourself off from the rest of the world for any length of time if you didn’t have to? What might compel you to turn away from fellow humans and sit with yourself? Before the obvious answer was a pandemic, my brain did something unexpected I’m only beginning to understand now.
Through happenstance, I ended up sitting with the physical manifestation of chronic depression for a while. For background, it is the illness that erased five years of my life so I’ve had ample time to get to know how it manifests and operates. And I’ve developed coping mechanisms to deflect suicidal ideation and keep myself safe. It was that or die as I lived in the US then and was too cash-strapped to get help despite having insurance.
Although depression is impenetrable to those who have never experienced it, there are innumerable metaphors to explain the force field holding us hostage in our own heads and they all revolve around darkness. I had just come home on a blustery day that made for stormy canals and folks pedaling against the wind because the Dutch are a resolute people. Since exhaustion tends to make mess up my balance and turn me into a public danger if I’m on my bike, I was on foot.
Walking against the wind did wake me up from the torpor I had been in before I reluctantly set foot outside; I hadn’t eaten for over 24 hours and the cupboards were bare. And so I ventured out to get supplies, a little wobbly, a little dazed but otherwise resigned.
Coming home felt like a hug and I unexpectedly found myself sitting on the closed toilet lid long after I had answered a call of nature.
And washed my hands.
The bathroom is tiny and the apartment’s inner sanctum, the towel warmer is always on, and there are no windows.
On a whim, I switch off the light and everything is pitch black.
I wait for my eyes to get used to the darkness and start distinguishing shapes but when I close my eyes and open them again, there’s no difference.
It’s as dark within as it is without so together we sit, darkness and I, and attempt to get to know each other through observation. I can hear the wind howling outside and it sounds calming to me, perhaps because it mirrors my inner turmoil. But when the wind stops, the only sound left is my breath.
Anxiety gets hold of it and my thoughts start racing. Time stretches into infinity but I will myself to stay put, out of curiosity; I sit up straight, uncross my legs, cross them, let my shoulders slump, lower my head.
And then I start the process all over again, at random and absolutely nothing feels right or natural.
Not even this darkness.
This darkness is quite unlike anything I’ve encountered before. Unlike the molasses-like depressive fog that sends uncontrollable shivers down my spine even on the hottest summer days, this darkness is warm and this detail stuns me. Immediately, I can feel every muscle relax as my body begins to release the tension it has been carrying for far too long.
I choose to embrace the darkness because I know that, sooner or later, I or someone else will open the door.
There’s nothing I want more than to surrender and rest a while but I’m also conditioned not to because darkness isn’t supposed to feel welcoming. This is one of reasons I struggle with insomnia whenever my mind gets restless.
Darkness isn’t supposed to feel good and it’s the first time it does, pure witchery I cannot comprehend and do not have the mental bandwidth to fight.
So I don’t.
Depression would like us to believe it is immutable so this new inconsistency thrills me. This darkness is warm and restful and as unthreatening as a pile of fluffy kittens so something must have changed.
But what happened and why am I sitting in the dark in a Dutch bathroom where the mirror keeps expecting people much taller than me? Am I randomly experiencing comfort through accidental sensory deprivation and is that even a thing?
I’m still going through the process of getting back on my feet and this was a new development that points to a level of resilience I didn’t have before: I’ve finally accepted things take far longer than we ever think they will. Birthing a new self through the aftershocks of depression makes for tentative and shaky labor. This bizarre bathroom episode was one more contraction, as in the pandemic now revealing us to ourselves and one another.
Or as the vernacular goes, shit just got weird, no one knows how to parse it so we could do much worse than take the hopeful approach and treat it as a chance to regroup. Fighting against that which you have no control over is the quickest way to compound the frustration we’re all experiencing in the face of the unknown. And if there’s one thing chronic depression teaches you, it’s the moment always passes, however long it lasts.
Lest we forget, that’s what the pandemic is, too, a moment in human evolution. The world won’t be cooped up indoors forever but while we are, maybe we can use this time to reflect and get to know ourselves a little better.
The darkest hour is before dawn.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.