So, for quite a while now, I have hated the term mental health. I’m not sure if I ever liked it or appreciated its value, as I always see it bandied about as a label to slap on people with difficulties. Oftentimes the people who are apparently “well” are also profoundly dysfunctional. So for this reason, I prefer the term mindful. I prefer the understanding that I am taking care of my mind and that sometimes that is a messy process, that there have been years of bad and foolish behaviour to look at and understand and make sense of. There is also so much emotional pollution on the planet and I feel that sensitive individuals are the ones who bear the brunt in its transformation.
So, to backtrack, when I was fourteen I experienced what could be termed the dark night of the soul, in spiritual circles. Having done extensive reading in years since it seems to be a relatively common phenomenon among the spiritually minded. It is the complete absence of meaning and the arising of profound darkness that happens when you truly allow the world to be plunged into reality. In reading some of the writings of Mother Teresa, it is clear she also experienced this. She wrote of the feeling of absence, as though God had left her, yet she was powerfully impelled to continue the work she was doing as if some unseen force was moving her. She concluded that God had forced her into this state as some sort of a test and she prayed for the day the light would come again. Also, in reading the work of Adyashanti, he talks about a spiritual winter, where all your leaves are stripped bare, leaving only the starkness of your bare branches behind. This description certainly resonates with me. However, as someone growing up in the mid 00’s in rural Ireland, these were not concepts or terms I was familiar with. The only description that seemed analogous was the one of depression, which was spoken about in hushed terms and with a sense of reproof. God, that couldn’t be me. I have written the word in my diary around that time but I remember studiously avoiding it whenever I would see it written, in a newspaper, a class project or a musician talking about his experience. I couldn’t come face to face with the idea for a long time because it horrified me.
And yet the most horrifying part was that I loved, loved, loved the way it felt. It was dark and dismal and utterly profound, like an infinity of time and space in every direction and I felt imbued with great power. I remember a photograph I took shortly after my fifteenth birthday. It was the sky over my house, it was dark and thunderous looking. I remember being in awe when I looked at the image because I saw my own self reflected and the experience was one of incredible depth and devastation. And I found it wondrous. I watched as my old identity was crumbled away and I willed on every step, even as my family wondered what in the hell had happened to their once happy go lucky child. I, however, couldn’t have been more at peace. I recognised this crumbling as the crumbling of illusion, the death of a dream, the pulling apart of the veil of life, so that a greater understanding of life could emerge. Sometimes when I look into someone’s eyes I can tell they are experiencing a similar phenomenon, only to them, it may not be so wondrous but rather a threatening experience that may take all they have, even their life.
And the truth is the price is your life. You cannot truly live until you have relinquished your life. You cannot truly be free until you are willing to die for that freedom. “Come death and welcome, Juliet wills it so.”
So I opened arms to the great expanse and gave what it asked of me and the rest has been left behind, as shattered glass that melts back into the fire that made it. But for anyone still struggling with this all I can say is to trust yourself, trust in that inner voice that speaks when all else goes quiet, or that is still when everything else is screaming loud. Trust it and trust yourself, because I do. x
*** Also a note to anyone reading this::: Do not be afraid to reach out to a trusted individual, an anonymous helpline or someone who is experienced in dealing with the emotional impact of depression if you feel you need to. Despite my disavowal of the term mental health, in the absence of anyone to guide me in a spiritual sense, I took a lot of strength and comfort from people who engaged with me on this level. There came a time for me to let go of it but the value of having someone to talk to cannot be underestimated.
If this is not your thing then I feel that writing down your experience helps to externalise the feelings. Note: the feelings. Feelings are not personal, they are visitors, they come to go, if you are able to meet them. They are like children and once you turn your focus on them they stop crying. The power of your attention is atomic. I feel that the teacher Byron Katie speaks very powerfully on this and a quick YouTube or Google will give you hours of her to listen to on loop. I love the woman. But again, don’t be afraid to seek out support when needed. This is just my take. You be the guide of your own life and build back up a world that is worthy of you. xxx All of my love, Laura. xxx