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Patterns of Dark and Light

By Jennifer DeLapp Pocock

Much of our knowledge of the Life/Death/Life nature is contaminated by our fear of death. Therefore our abilities to move with the cycles of this nature are quite frail. –Clarissa P. Estes

At dusk I slip out alone, through the dunes to the shoreline. It’s spring, just a few weeks after an early Easter, so I share the beach only with crying gulls and plovers racing the surf. Here at the edge of land, where pulsing water meets sky, the cycles of life are tangible. As the sun sets above the ebbing water the light feels far away beyond the surf. Still, the sun is intimate, its heat fingering my cheeks and shoulders in the spring chill. After the sun sets there’s a new moon, only a sliver of light in the deep darkness.

***

After I was married there was a sink in the closet, a vanity area, which I never cleaned. Sprinkled with razor stubble and long stray hairs, a gummy bar of soap mocked the filth. Dust covered everything—counter, sink, and various bottles of goo. Toothpaste blobs were cemented to the porcelain that should have been shiny white. Using that sink every day, avoiding the mirror, I mocked myself. I was emotionally languishing; it wasn’t like a deep black, which has intensity, but like a mushy brown gray that resembles inexistence. I wanted to die then. Really, to be dead—to cease living, because somehow the ugly underlining of my skin was overwhelmingly irritating and loathsome. I would have preferred water torture, if it could drip all the way through the tepid grayness, past my unfeeling skin, beyond the guilt, through my hiding bones, and into my heart. Drip, drip, drip, in there, where I could feel something.

Thankfully, I had enough reason beyond myself to live: my daughter. I have a picture of her, bald headed and smiling, covered in dirt. As I lay on the couch she played in the dirt of a potted plant on the patio. I felt like a horrible mother, but I didn’t want to get up. I was stuck in the suffocating loneliness of the role of martyr mother. At that time I didn’t understand that loving my neighbor (my child) as myself first presumed a love of self. The things I sent bounding around my head were not the words of a loved one. I also didn’t look for anything in myself to love, seeing only fingernails bitten to the nub, piles of unwashed clothing, and money wasted on incomplete craft projects. My daughter looked over at me, with the sun lighting her pale head, grinning while lifting up handfuls of dirt to show me. She pulled me into life with her needs and wants.

I remember the night that I told my husband I wanted to die. It was dark in our bedroom. I think I had been crying in bed, but not letting him touch me. My therapist said I had to tell him that I wanted to die. It seemed cruel after all he was doing, caring for my daughter and me, that I would reward him with a death threat. But she said to do it, so I did.

I told him while facing away from him, talking to the wall and the window. Sitting on the white-sheeted bed illuminated by the moonlight, I told him that if it weren’t for my covenants with God I would have killed myself. I was past feeling; I truly could not feel—my love for anyone, or their love for me. I was wrapped in expanding spray insulation growing dirty, dull yellow. Growing into every crevice and beyond what seemed possible, shutting out all light and hope. When I told him, a light broke through the gray surrounding me. As if I broke off a piece of the dirty yellow insulation and placed it on his head. The result was a heaviness that he bore, going about his days with a weighted mind and helpless hands. I felt a measure of freedom, when as far as he knew the world had just fallen in. It pained me to see him carry that burden, but the bit of illumination I gained in return convinced me that greater light was possible.

***

This is my story of depression, a story that is both very similar and very different to stories of others. When a person shares their difficulties with me, their personal version of depression, I don’t know how to handle it. I take it from their hands like a skull, turning it over and over to see if it matches mine at all. Some of the contours are the same: I recognize the heaviness, as if it is a black hole. Looking at the skull, I know I have one in my own head, where my thoughts are spinning. It’s hard to hold onto the thought. I see my skull from the inside out; I can’t see it from their perspective, outside in. It is theirs; this is now, not my past. Even though they don’t ask me straight out, they share it with me because they’re looking for the One answer. There is no such thing, but to tell someone in the dark that it isn’t as simple as flipping on a light switch seems cruel.

When contemplating light and darkness, nothing is simple. While considering suicide I saw death as a path out of pain—death was a good thing. At times I felt so opposed to life and light, unable to grasp it, that I wondered if I was innately dark. The gospel taught me to avoid darkness, yet here it was in me. How could I escape myself, escape the darkness? The gospel taught me to value life as a gift from a loving Heavenly Father, but modern culture tells me to avoid death, fear it, even to deny it by going to extreme lengths to convey youth. I thought I wanted death, but why did I grab the handrail when I tripped on the stairs?

Recently, after moving to another state, I had a minor relapse. I didn’t want to go into the darkness, but I didn’t want to get out of bed or get dressed, either. So I closed my eyes and prayed. Simply, my answer was, stay away from the darkness. Don’t get near it, don’t be tempted to look, entertain, or contemplate what is there. Leave it alone. It’s like my high school driver’s ed teacher told me, “Never look at the wheels of a big rig, you’ll drive towards whatever you’re looking at. Keep your eyes on the road in front of you.”

Then again, I want to recall the darkness—in order to contrast it with the light. In the dark we are left to ourselves because we can’t see beyond the ends of our toes. In the dark no one else is responsible for who we are. In the dark we find the reality of ourselves. In the light we add others, the wise and loving, to our fight. In the light we see things as they truly are. In the light life is beautiful with color and growth, in contrast to the dark. In the light you can see your way into the future with a ray of hope.

While I don’t actively seek the darkness, at the least I try not to be afraid of it. Fear of darkness leads to the denial of its existence and prolongs the coming of the light. Shrinking from my weaknesses out of fear would prevent my offering them to the Lord, where He can help me turn them into strengths. Denying my depression out of fear of admitting that I’ve considered suicide would delay healing therapy. Not being frankly honest with my psychologist about the embarrassing side effects of medication would lead to frustration and a delay in relief.

Gospel pieces fit together with the other pieces of treatment: therapy, medication, exercise, and healthy relationships. Many times, daily spiritual rituals saved my life—sometimes literally. When I’m reading the scriptures, loneliness is held off enough that I can take a cleansing breath. In Ether I read about weakness; as I open my heart to the words, they mingle in my vessels and veins, between unanswered questions and nonsensical grief. I realize that I am not meant to be entirely strong and whole, that even weakness has a purpose. The Holy Ghost fits the words into my life so that I am not alone in nonsense, reminding me that life is never a bright light of constant joy—it’s varying shades of gray punctuated with brilliant flashes of light to encourage hope, and wallowing times of darkness that squeeze.

Previously I saw personal cycles as vacillation, imperfections to be rooted out of my relationships and myself. Now I see that cycles permeate life and are a pattern of growth, not of failure. Even within our relationships we go through this cycle; sometimes we’re close to the ones we love and at other times distant. My husband and I came closer as I conquered depression, yet other struggles, like waking in the early hours with a newborn, can re-stretch that distance between us. It is my mother instinct to give my children only light and life, while knowing that darkness is inevitable and necessary for their learning and growth. I even wonder if some of the darkness is not really dark, but is a moment when what is real is revealed and we are shocked into a stupor by the revelation. I have a faithful hope that if I am devoted to completing the cycle, my relationships will be strong enough to withstand earthly vacillations and even death, my faith bright enough to conquer night, and my character deep enough to endure it all.

***

Gravedigger, when you dig my grave, will you make it shallow, so that I can feel the rain?—Dave Matthews

Today the sun is shining. I write this to remind myself of what I’ve learned, of what to do when the shadowy clouds encroach. To remind myself that I don’t want to leave this life; that even on the stormiest of days I want to stay and feel the rain. The important thing for me to remember is that the cycle of death always returns to life. No matter how dark, the night always brightens in the east, and the sun arrives triumphant in a blaze of color, pulling me from sleep into the endless possibilities of a new day.

About Jennifer DeLapp Pocock

Jen Pocock is an artist, but recently realized that her sketchbook has more words in it than sketches. She’s been blogging since 2008 and was a staff writer for mormonwoman.org. Soon she’ll complete her bachelor’s degree in psychology and should be ready for grad school when her oldest child starts college. Although she now lives in Iowa, her heart has spread across the US through many moves. Her addictions are chocolate-covered almonds and reading, usually together. Read more of her journey at jendoop.blogspot.com.

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