How the warm rays of hope and healing enter the dark inner chamber of leaden loneliness through the unexpected cracks of kindness.
By Maria Popova
“Sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands,” the poet May Sarton wrote as she contemplated the cure for despair amid a dark season of the spirit. But what does it take to perch that precarious if in the direction of the light? When we are in that dark and hollow place, that place of leaden loneliness and isolation, when “the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain,” as William Styron wrote in his classic account of the malady — an indiscriminate malady that savaged Keats and savaged Nietzsche and savaged Hansberry — what does it take to live through the horror and the hollowness to the other side, to look back and gasp disbelievingly, with the poet Jane Kenyon: “What hurt me so terribly… until this moment?”
During a recent dark season of the spirit, a dear friend buoyed me with the most wonderful, hope-giving, rehumanizing story: Some years earlier, when a colleague of hers was going through such a season of his own, she gave him an amaryllis bulb in a small pot; the effect it had on him was unexpected and profound, as the effect of uncalculated kindnesses always is — so profound that it inspired him to create a touching animated short film titled Bloom, drawing from the small personal gesture a universal metaphor for how we survive our densest private darknesses, consonant with Neil Gaiman’s insistence that “sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place… to make us warm in the coldest season.”
Complement with Tim Ferriss on how he survived suicidal depression and Tchaikovsky on depression and finding beauty amid the wreckage of the soul, then revisit “Having It Out with Melancholy” — Jane Kenyon’s stunning poem about life with and after depression.