In the past year I’ve discovered something about myself. I’m not sure if it applies to other people, but if it DOES, I hope this post will help them.
Yesterday when I was driving home, I was listening to an eAudiobook checked out from my local library (shout out Norman Public Library!) when I felt this overwhelming sense of dread and depression. The feeling center on the book coming through the speakers and I promptly shut it off, opting instead to listen to one of my music playlists. I won’t give the title of the book because I don’t want to give anyone a bad impression of the book or the author. The writing in this book is deliriously beautiful and the author has a wonderful grasp of plotting and characterization. But it was a very, very, very grim story. Totally to be expected in much of high fantasy today. But as I sat listening to it, I kept thinking, “Is this all there is too life? Endless strife, death, violence, sadness, and failure?” While lovely, the story was unleavened with humor or tenderness. None of the characters cracked jokes or engaged in frivolous, witty banter. No one held another character’s hand or spoke sweetly. I’m not talking about romance. I’m talking about human interaction not based on surviving or gaining the upper hand. And so, I shut the book off and had to take a deep steadying breath.
This sort of thing has happened before. I’m going to name the next two titles and their authors since they already enjoy tremendous success and strong reputation (my puny words aren’t going to hurt them a wit, plus one recently passed away). When I tried to read The Exorcist by William Blatty, I had to stop at the point where Reagan interrupted her mother’s dinner party by peeing on the carpet. In the days I attempted to read that novel, I felt enclosed in dark cloud, the rest of the world was muffled and far away.
The other time I noticed something like this happening was when I attempted Stephen King’s It. Anyone who has even seen this book on a library/bookstore shelf knows that it is MAMMOTH. And, while there is some humor and human tenderness in It, the horrible things endured by the characters just snowballed in my mind until I felt like I was drowning in sorrow and negativity. I got about half-way through before I had to put it away with a shuddering sigh.
It’s difficult for me to say exactly why I had such visceral reactions to the above books. I know I have a hyperactive imagination – just listening to someone describe the plot of The Grudge left me with terrible nightmares the following night! As a child, I would suffer night terrors that caused me to clamber into bed with my sister for protection almost every night. I’ve scared myself into insomnia imagining terrible things happening to my family or myself. So, as you can imagine, I usually avoid the vast majority of the horror genre.
Too, I suffer from depression, which often distorts reality in unexpected and destructive ways. Throw in some mind-bending reading material and we’re talking event horizon here.
But the recent incidents I described above did more than frighten me. They opened a pit inside of me on the edge of which I teetered with arms flailing. Physically, I felt my shoulders bowed, an increase in exhaustion, coupled with an overwhelming anxiety.
Mentally, I was unable to see anything clearly. All interactions with others were filmed in a dark screen that caused me to interpret minor disagreements into irrevocable breaks. My view of the world was steeped in hysteria.
What I’ve learned from these experiences is that, as someone with a sensitive and tenacious imagination (once I see something I can never UNSEE it, for good or ill), one that will hold on to a powerful image and shake it like a dog with a sock toy, I need to be careful and consume material that speaks to my hope. My depression and anxiety already has a stranglehold on much of my life – it’s ended friendships, damaged familial ties, caused financial fallout, and impaired my physical health. If I feed it, it only grows hungrier. But if I surround myself with experiences that speak to my hope, I’m better able to internalize hope.
Now, this is not to say that I want to deny the darkness in the world – only delusionals attempt that. What it means is that I cannot combat that darkness by drowning myself in imaginary darkness.
I, like many people, carry a natural shadow inside myself and introducing more darkness into my mind only deepens, strengthens that shadow. While making sure I get daily doses of figurative (and literal) sunlight ensures the shadow, while not dispelled, is kept to a minimum. This allows me to look on the bad things of the world with an eye toward fixing them – not giving in to them.
Again, I’m not sure anyone else will understand what I’m trying to say here. And I’m not even completely sure what the real point was. But it felt like something I needed to share. Speak to your hope and it will, in turn, speak to you.