Wednesday, December 21, 2016
The Winter of My Discontent
As I’m writing this it is 7:01 pm on December 21, 2016. It is the Winter Solstice. And it is the longest night of the entire year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere (and the shortest for those in the Southern Hemisphere). There is so much that is analogous to this day. On the one hand, it’s the start of a new season; a new beginning. On the other, for at least for those of north of the equator, it can be the darkness before the dawn.
As for myself, all of the mania-related bipolar episodes I’ve had have been in the winter. I guess it’s just my time of year. My mood is typically pretty good overall in this season and I do not suffer from any of the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (which can result from a lack of sunlight and produce depression and fatigue, among other conditions). But that doesn’t mean that I don’t experience any negative effects.
For me, this time of year brings back lots of bad memories. Like the time I was in a psychiatric hospital during Christmastime and was given a day pass to be with my family on the holiday, only to have to return that evening to the confines of a place where I did not want to be.
But that was then and this is now. Many years have passed since that ill-fated time. I have gotten healthier. And while I recognize that I have to continue to work on my recovery (every day) I have come to realize that the darkness really can come before the dawn.
There is an old expression: The Dark Night of the Soul. Yes, I know what that is like. It is like when you feel utterly hopeless, devoid of feeling and energy. You are in a hole so deep that there appears to be no way out. Yes, I know what that is like. I have been there. The depressive crash that follows a manic episode can be crushing. Despair is present as is the fear that life will always be that way.
When I experienced my virtually annual bipolar episodes I was then plunged into a pit. How I got through it I sometimes do not know. But what I do know is that at these times I would pray to God to be relieved of the pain I was experiencing. It was brutal. Imagine yourself being unable to get out of bed simply to take a shower or even eat. These instances were not uncommon.
If you’ve read my blog before, you may know how much I love music. It was the one thing that sustained me during all those dark times. One particular song that truly spoke to me was Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street,” which was based on the life of poet Anne Sexton who completed suicide at the age of 46. The true emotion and lyrical beauty of this song served as a counterpoint to the emotions I felt.
But throughout all this time God was present. God (I only use this term as an identifier – I believe that it is impossible to put a name on something so infinite and powerful) felt my pain. God felt my hopelessness. God listened. God heard my cry for help. And God responded.
God’s response came in the form of people and situations that I sometimes cannot explain. You know, the kind of things that go beyond coincidence. Of course, it’s easy to look backwards and connect the dots. Like the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” But it’s more than that. I have had many experiences that I can look back on and see the divinity that was present. Like the time I was first hospitalized in 1981 at the Buffalo General Hospial Community Mental Health Center. There was one aid in particular named Ganim who was infinitely patient with me and helped me to work through the trauma of my first psychotic experience. I don’t know what ever happened to him but I consider people like Ganim to be “angels in the flesh”.
I have many more situations I could point to that would support my thesis. In the end, I have come to realize that the more I believe in the mercy of God’s grace and the concept of “co-creating” with God, the more I am able to realize more of what my life can truly become. It is more of an intuitive feeling than a logical thought. By tapping into the infinite source of the God within I am able to create the life I have agreed to live. What I mean by that is that I am here to learn my many life lessons to prepare me for what comes next.
So despite this time of year being so dark and gloomy I don’t have to carry this feeling in my heart. Yes, it takes work, and even at times medical treatments tor one to get through these dark days but the key is that it is possible. By surrendering to the true knowledge of what God wants for me I am able to deal with whatever comes my way.
Be well in this Holiday Season. The beauty of the Winter Solstice is that we can all celebrate it, no matter what faith tradition we follow (or not).