In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
–3rd stanza, Dark Night of the Soul, Saint John of the Cross
A couple of days ago I fell into the abyss. I’d say in the measurement of my depressive episodes, it was in the top 5.
I have been affected by depression since I was a child, although I was not properly diagnosed until I was in my early 30s. Until almost that age, I just thought how I felt was how life was. In my pre- and early teen years, before acts like cutting became widely known, I used to do things like stick myself with safety pins and jump off things to try and break something. I think much of my depression at this age was due to the fact I was physically and verbally abused in junior high school. It got so bad with one group of girls that they actually had a high school sister (biological, not a sistah) come and join the beating after she found out I split her sister’s lip open. (My tormentors had convinced our PE substitute that we were in a unit on boxing and it was time for the bout between us. Really.)
It took me over 30 years to completely heal from that abuse. Thirty years. It was not until I attended a high school graduation reunion for that school district (not the one I graduated from) after reconnecting with some junior high friends and asked them why they didn’t help me that I finally healed. I was terrified that any of those “girls” would be at the reunion because I fantasized how I would deal with them, and frankly, those fantasies scared me. I was so relieved none of them attended. Since my healing, I seldom think about it and if I see them at a future reunion, it won’t bother me one bit. (My friends said they had no idea what I was going through. This inability to tell anyone is typical of this type of bullying because if you tell anyone, you know it will only get worse.)
My worst depressive episode came in 1988. I had left my husband the year before after finally accepting the fact I was gay. (I had known all my life I was different but didn’t start getting a clue what it was until in college.) I was in grad school and working full-time, living in a new area where I did not know anyone. I had started drinking when I was 12 (see above), stopped when I was almost 14, and started again at 17 when I went to college.
On this particular night in 1988 (July 2 into July 3), I was driving very drunk back to Philly from a lesbian bar in NJ after yet another night of hardly talking to anyone, not being asked to dance, etc. As I approached one of the Dead Philadelphian Bridges, all I could think about was driving off the bridge into the cold water below. While still married, I had tried to OD on pills, but my dog woke me up and saved me.
When I got home, the fact I had wanted to do this scared me, and I called information asking for the location of the nearest hospital. I was fortunate to get an astute operator who called 911 and sent an ambulance to my apartment to take me to the nearest mental health ward. I agreed to a minimum 10-day stay. I called my parents to come get my dog and put him in a kennel. In retrospect, I still cannot imagine how difficult this call was for them.
I was misdiagnosed in the hospital as manic-depressive, but there are no accidents. The meds for this required I stop drinking. I was willing to do this to get better. In the first few days, I balked at “stupid” activities like art and music therapy. By the time I left, I felt so very much better. My employer was very understanding and sessions with my therapist became much more helpful.
I was properly diagnosed in 1990 with major depressive disorder and put on more appropriate meds. I am still on a maintenance dose of those type of meds, and still see a therapist on occasion. I have not had a drink since that July night in 1988. Two days ago I thought that might change but knew the pain would still be there when I sobered up.
Before I considered myself a Christian but believed in the Holy Spirit and a Higher Power that I called God, I received a call to ministry. During a sermon on using your gifts, in a flash, I realized the reason I was sick of my profession was because all I was doing was helping middle-aged white men buy bigger boats, and I knew there must be a more valuable contribution I could make to the world. I went to seminary; it took 7.5 years to get my degree because I continued working full-time. A couple of years ago I quit a job because of that “you should be doing something more beneficial” call, but then changed my mind. The job and my morals collided not soon after, and I finally did leave.
Tuesday I received approval for a loan to buy a retirement home in Delaware because my spouse can retire in a few years and I believe the area is ripe for a church plant. That night I went into the abyss. “You are not doing what you are called to do!” “But I have to have SOME kind of income.” “Have faith.” “I am afraid.” All I could do is weep, weep, weep.
Wednesday things at work came to the point of no return – 2 weeks ago I received a bad review (meaning no raise) from the worst boss I’ve ever had. I refused to falsify corporate records. I was told I must. I called my spouse in a panic. I told her if I didn’t quit my job I might seriously put a gun to my head. (This was metaphorical; I don’t own a gun and I was not actively suicidal.) She said quit. So, I did. I immediately felt the lightness return. My boss called and said “good thing you did because I was going to put you on a performance improvement plan.” (What a jerk; it reminds me of junior high – “You can’t break up with me because I’m breaking up with you.”)
I have no idea what is intended for me, but the secular world is NOT it. As you can tell, I was a VERY slow learner on this.
I would say I took a leap of faith, but I was pushed.