When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

When depression sets in

It’s been well over 10 years since I first saw what real life cutting scars looked like.

I hadn’t known her all that long, but the one thing I did know was my friend, like me, was smart, thoughtful, mature and had a lot going on inside – it’s what drew me to her. I remember being shocked and feeling completely at a loss for the right thing to say.

They say that self-harm is usually about control. Taking back, or regaining a sense of power. I imagine the same is probably true of most other destructive behaviours, from domestic abuse to workplace bullying.

It’s something I’ve never been able to fully grasp. One of those things I got the concept of, on an intellectual level, but didn’t understand on a human level.

And then one day, not so long ago, I found myself sobbing in the car as storm winds outside buffeted the car. Gazing out from the marina over the harbour, where the sea changed from green to blue, as vehicles whizzed over the bridge to the right. As the gusts agitated the choppy waters, I thought about what it might be like to float away. As I gasped for breath, I felt unbearably hollow inside, like there was an empty, endless well of blackness where a beating heart should have been. With nothing there to anchor me in that moment, I suddenly got it. Feeling so utterly helpless and so overwhelmed by emotion, it dawned on me that this was what the kind of thing that would drive a person to turn those feelings inward.

It’s not an epiphany I ever counted on having. Not one I can say I am especially glad I reached, either. It scared the hell out of me.

This is probably where I pause to reiterate that no, I did not seriously contemplate hurting myself. I’m a wuss, I’m squeamish, and I’m vain. I cried like a baby the other day when I slipped and hurt my knee (which was one enormous mass of bruises for at least a week). I find all bodily fluids pretty revolting. I’m still bummed that my legs never fully recovered from all those bug bites in Asia.

The other realisation I had was that maybe I’m not as emotionally resilient as I thought. Oh, I hold it together all right. I’m a hell of a lot better at being an adult than I am at anything else. I have my grownup shit together and I can maintain it pretty easily. But when things are turning to custard, if you crack my surface, you are tapping into an endless pit of tears and despair. It’s hard to judge, of course, but I feel a well-adjusted person would probably be a fair bit more … stable.

It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself over the years. Thinking back to other hard times, I was similarly able to cope day-to-day by withdrawing into myself, but when things really got to be too much, I crumbled like sandcastles. Today, those months are a blur – really, there’s nothing to redeem them, and so I prefer not to revisit those times. There’s no point. I survived, and moved on.

We tend to view the past with rose-tinted glasses. Who wants to look back on a long list of sad or horrifying memories? It’s a sanity mechanism, really; otherwise we’d probably never have more than one child by birth or go on to other relationships after a first heartbreak.

I don’t really think there is a way for me to not feel so acutely. It’s just how I’m wired. For this reason, I try not to dwell. It’s a tricky thing, giving yourself the space to acknowledge and just feel those big, heavy things – without letting them take over and succumbing to them. Generally they don’t tend to respect office hours – metaphorically speaking – so it’s about keeping them on a tight leash. Tucking them away into a little corner and ignoring them, for the most part. Occasionally it all bubbles to the top, and a proper meltdown is then required, but as a rule, fencing them off is what works for me. If I let them fly free all the time, I simply wouldn’t be able to function properly.

When it feels like you’ve hitched your wagon to a losing proposition and everything is coming up tails, there simply isn’t the time to roll over and be swallowed by the darkness.

Going through this in my 20s: hard enough. I simply can’t imagine dealing with this kind of thing at 11, 12, 13, like my friend must have. And my personal darkness is purely situational. The sources of my misery are beyond my control, but shouldn’t last forever. I know the same is not true for everyone else.

The one thing I do know is hurting yourself is not the best way to deal.  When the chips are down, I write. Maybe for you, it’s talking to someone. Whatever your outlet is, find it.

13 thoughts on “When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

  • Reply Melanie @ Dear Debt October 30, 2014 at 09:23

    This is so beautiful! I have done some destructive things in my past and it was a way to feel anything but what I was feeling in that moment. It was a well of blackness as you say. I am sorry you had to experience that — it’s so important to recognize it and find a different outlet.

  • Reply Tonya@Budget and the Beach October 30, 2014 at 09:35

    Great post, and thank you for being candid. I find comfort not that you’re temporarily suffering, but that feeling down or going through something is just a human emotion. It’s totally OK to not always have your shit together. I think the ones who can talk about it and are open about it deal with it better. But despite all that, I’m sorry you’re going through “something” right now. I’m not going to blow sunshine up your ass and tell you “oh it will get better” because on an intellectual level you probably already know that, but more than that, I hate when people tell me that personally. 🙂 So I’m just going to say that I’m here for you in whatever way you may need me!

  • Reply Manda | musicalpoem October 30, 2014 at 12:47

    Much love. Not sure what to say, nor am I sure that anything I say will be the right thing? You know where to find me if you need someone to listen <3

  • Reply Revanche October 30, 2014 at 17:48


    I finally understood depression in that very visceral way a few years ago too, only by having gone through it, and I’m very glad that you’re still able to see that the things that fuel this feeling will pass. It may not be real comfort but it’s something to hold onto if you’re able.

    Not sure that anyone really has a handle on coping in any kind of together way, we just tend not to see the uglier parts of it, I suspect.

  • Reply Sense October 31, 2014 at 00:00

    One day at a time. I’m glad you let this out–keep doing that for as long and as much as you need to. We are here. If my opinion as an outsider looking in counts, I think you are doing great in that you are able to keep perspective despite feeling so awful. That is the real test of your emotional resilience: you’re able to pull yourself up and away from self-destructive habits.

    It’ll all be OK–it really will be. If it is any consolation, I definitely feel like I was in a similar boat as you in my 20’s, and my 30’s have become pretty effing awesome in terms of stability (ie, internal stability despite crazy external chaos), knowing myself, managing feelings, and general happiness. I reckon the older us A-personality/introspective blogger types get, the better we become. So–something to look forward to. 😉 You’re learning a ton about yourself right now. Just keep hanging in there, and try to take as good care of yourself as you would a friend going through this situation.

  • Reply Sense October 31, 2014 at 00:03

    *I’m sorry, this would bug me all night if I didn’t correct it!: “WE A-personality/introspective blogger types get…”

    Case in point. 🙂

  • Reply Pauline October 31, 2014 at 14:55

    big hug. I am sorry you are going through this. Like Sense said, one day at a time. There is little time can’t cure, if you work through it. The worst is keeping it inside and becoming a ticking time bomb.

  • Reply Michelle November 1, 2014 at 12:24

    I am keeping you in my thoughts and sending you support! You are NOT alone and have a community of people supporting you. Try to go for walks/meditate/exercise/ anything to help you decompress.

  • Reply Lily Lau November 1, 2014 at 14:06

    I send you a super huge hug from here, I wish we didn’t live in different places cause then it has to be a virtual one. We support you, and will always do, never doubt about it 🙂

  • Reply Allison @InsomniacLabRat November 1, 2014 at 17:25

    Sending hugs and lots of good vibes!

  • Reply Amber November 2, 2014 at 07:40

    Sending hugs your way. I too have gone through situational “depression” or grief. Where it is completely determined by what is happening in my life. It’s so so hard at the time but I think it has made me more grateful and joyful now that I’ve been through it. Hope the tough times are behind you soon!

  • Reply Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank November 3, 2014 at 22:51

    I appreciate you being so candid! When everything seems to be falling into pieces, just be brave and focused. Never break down. Cheer up!

  • Reply Sally November 6, 2014 at 09:04

    It is hard to deal with indeed, and the crazy thing is that often as soon as you are out of the darkness, all you want to do is never think about it again and just be grateful that you feel whole again. So it’s good to talk about it with whoever you again or work it out however you can, like writing. One year ago, you guys were chilling with us in Cali! Hopefully we can make that a tradition. I’m here if writing an email helps at all 🙂

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