Hope is the thing with feathers
Emily Dickinson“Hope” is the thing with feathers –That perches in the soul –And sings the tune without the words –And never stops – at all –And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –And sore must be the storm –That could abash the little BirdThat kept so many warm –I’ve heard it in the chillest land –And on the strangest Sea –Yet – never – in Extremity,It asked a crumb – of me.
I am a firm believer in not hiding anything of myself, so some of my posts contain information that is usually not discussed in polite society. This is gonna be one of those posts.
I have suffered from depression since I was a child of about seven or eight. I came from a horribly abusive home and my depression and anger is what helped me survive. I have been suicidal numerous times in my life, been hospitalized and medicated and still struggle with things that you would not think a 30 year old would still find herself under. I have a great life right now, a full-time job I enjoy that pays well, a home, three cats, my own car, a loving fiance and an amazing step-daughter. And it is still a struggle every day to do anything other than sink my head beneath a pillow and drown out the sorrow.
Most of us can identify hope, even if we dont have the corresponding words for it. And most of us can identify despair, especially in these tough times when we find ourselves struggling. But how many of us, I wonder, have silently acquiesced to living side by side with despair and depression?
Hope is that which moves us forward. I firmly believe this. In our spiritual practices, hope is why we keep doing what we do. Its why I talk to the voices that answer. Its why people continue to become nuns and priests and pastors and ministers. We, as human creatures, are constantly moving towards hope. I think its part of what keeps us alive and evolving. We hope there is something better on the other side after death. We hope we aren’t alone in the Universe. We hope that the person we marry really means the vows that were said. We hope that the job we do every day is worthwhile, will still be there. We hope against everything, against any indication that we might be wrong. We hope for a future.
The flip side of this is despair, or depression, which has the ability to destroy the soul and destroy hope in the process. It drags us down and turns the days into a long, black line of sameness, where getting out of bed can be as much of a chore as visiting the in-laws. Depression isn’t something that is talked about very much. Sure, we see the commercials on TV and the representations of umbrellas and balloons with sad faces on them. But the push in western society is always to solve the problem and make people “normal” again. Your value and worth as a part of society is in how much you can work and buy, not in your inherent value as a human being.
I think we need to look at depression and melancholia in a different light. Did you know that many of our most famous artists, musicians and poets had some form of what we would now term mental illness? Lord Byron was bipolar. Blake was depressed. So were Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Michelangelo, Mozart, Newton and Nietzsche. And that’s just a few names. What would our modern world look like without these influential people? And the question you have to ask is: what would our world look like if these people had all been fully hopped up on modern medication?
Because what no one wants to admit is the fact that depression (and other forms of mental illness) and genius tend to go hand in hand. We live in a world where every little sniff, cough and sneeze are dowsed with pills. Nothing is allowed to run its course. And we are paying for this over-medication with drug-resistant bugs. I have a patient at work with an 8-inch hole in his leg and MRSA. Its not pretty. And we are also over-medicating every little mental bump. Look at the rise is diagnoses of ADD and ADHD. I am beginning to believe that we are medicating our children and the general population into a easily-controlled biomass who can’t think for themselves or fight back.
Depression brings us closer to death and the black. It forces us to contemplate our issues and failings. It demands that we DO something, anything, change our path, rethink our patterns, rework our lives. Yes, it can be a “black pit of despair” that leads to suicide, but it can also be a signpost along our road, one which points out what is not working and what needs fixing. I try to see my depression as a warning sign. It lets me know when I am too stressed, when I haven’t been taking care of myself, when I need to stop and change something. Its a stumbling block, yes, but its there to keep me from truly being pulled in by the undertow.
So what do we do as pagans if we aren’t willing to buy into big medication? We keep reaching for hope. We have a huge arsenal of things at our disposal as pagans, things which include prayer, meditation, homeopathy, crystals, and herbs. Mother Earth has placed a huge pharmacy at our fingertips. We just have to reach for it.