Fifteen years ago I came very close to killing myself, because I believed at the time that I would never be happy again. This is the story of my decent into my own darkness.
Mum said that looking back she could see the signs of depression, but she didn't realise what it was. I saw her and dad and my friends on the weekends. I was sleeping poorly and weeping easily at the slightest painful story I heard. During the week I was away at university studying a degree I had little interest in. I had been at uni for two years when the first panic attack one morning blew my brain apart. At least that's what it felt like.
I was studying in an agricultural area where aerial spraying was a regular occurrence. I hardly slept during the night. I had alcohol and marijuana running through my system from a big party a couple of nights before. I was struggling to learn what I needed to know to pass a financial accounting exam that was looming in the coming days. I was sweating profusely and everything in the bedroom looked odd and out of place.
The thought of driving my car up the highway to uni was terrifying. My heart was pounding to catch up with the thoughts racing through my head. I felt like I was disappearing into a frightening tunnel and the only sense I could make of it was that I must be dying. It wasn't a comforting thought!
Under the layer of my surface fears was the unexpressed grief of breaking from a four year relationship with a lover who was my best friend, the loss of my grandfathers and two close friends to death in the five years preceding; and under that still was the muffled cry from my own truth screaming out to leave the suffocating institution of studies where I felt very much alone. I was nineteen years old.
After days of panic my parents brought me home where my body and mind slumped into depression. For the first three months I could barely get out of bed. I tried because I loved my parents dearly and it was painful to see them so worried.
I was numb, unable to feel joy, disconnected from life, feeling like a failure and frightened to leave my room. I had nightmares every night, and I awoke to a nightmare every morning. The sound of my voice when I did speak echoed through my head and my capacity to hold my attention on someone speaking to me was about five seconds. I didn't know how to make a simple decision like do I want a cup of tea? I hid in my room from any visitors who came to my house and was too frightened to talk to anyone on the phone. No one really understood what was happening to me. I believed I had gone crazy and that life like this, where I could not be the bubbly, happy friend that everyone depended on, was not worth living. The only comforting thought was planning my ultimate escape.
In that first three months I refused to take any medication three doctors prescribed. After many weeks we found a psychiatrist who not only respected my need to recover without drugs, but reassured me that I was not crazy. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder and depression. She asked me to build my strength by avoiding anything stimulating, like TV, newspapers and drama novels. She asked me to practise shifting my attention to the details of my outer environment when I felt scared. I saw the psychiatrist weekly and mum organised for me to have regular massage. The massage was grounding and healing. I rested and slept. My mother fed me wholesome food and read to me funny stories from James Herriot's 'All Creatures Great and Small'. Mum insisted I say the affirmation daily 'every day in every way I am getting better and better and better'. At first I reluctantly mumbled it, but by the end of that year I was singing it.
On a physical level my nervous system and brain chemistry was sick and needed healing, and that's what I received in that year with the care of loved ones. On a spiritual level I descended into a horror inside myself that does have a bottom, where it can get no worse. I would have passed on that horror to my family by killing myself, but a thread of faith saved me.
Metaphorically speaking, at the bottom of my descent was a dry, rocky well where I lay naked on my back. All my grief, anger, shame, guilt and fear - exposed. It is a frightening, desolate place. Yet beyond this lonely place I found courage, strength and love. I found a truth that I am dark as well as light.
It took three years to assimilate the trauma of that time. It has taken years since of maturity and growth to really accept and trust the darkness within me, but with this acceptance I am blessed with understanding of my shadow's purpose and value in my life. I am blessed with understanding the importance of following my own path guided by my heart.