The Gift of Darkness (the bright side of depression)

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (Photo by Jeff Watkins Photography)

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (Photo by Jeff Watkins Photography)

I recently (in the last four years or so) went through the darkest and most painful depression I’ve experienced. I knew a lot about why, but not much about how to stop it. Since very little of the advice helped from friends or from articles and books they suggested, the best I could do was ride the lows until they passed.

I hoped the experience would somehow prove worth it, that I would learn and change and grow, and I did. What I didn’t expect, though, was to feel gratitude except that I was through the worst of it. It wasn’t until I said it out loud to a friend last week that I realized how thankful I am for those dark moments.

My friend talked about her family’s circumstances. She said, “I broke my number one rule. I talked with a family member about a problem that wasn’t mine to discuss.”

Next thing I knew, I was admitting my thankfulness, “That’s one of the reasons I’m grateful for the depression I went through. For the most part, it kept me out of others’ lives and out of their business.”

Since I said “… one of the reasons,” I’m guessing I have more, but, for now, I’m happy to identify one. Who knew darkness would be a backdrop for gratitude?

My third grade teacher may have known a thing or two about it when she showed us how to melt crayon shavings in between wax paper. The most memorable artwork for me was when we melted black crayons on top of the colored ones and then etched scenes with our pencils – memorable because we made sense out of what had been abstract and dark. I etched a sidewalk up to a bright house and a colorful tree.

Have you found gratitude, or at least a bit of brightness, in your darkest moments? I’d like to hear your stories.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Dear God, I’m sure it saddens you when we live in dark and painful places, even though darkness and pain serve a purpose. Help us etch paths toward gratitude and brightness.

On the side: During this season of family, holiday meals and a gift buying frenzy or two, I’m practicing renewed faith, the faith stated in I Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks …”

Click here for more photography by Jeff Watkins.


22 responses »

  1. Oh, Yes…I’ve had dark moments…a son suffering and after many years diagnosed with Bi-polar/Schizoaffective Disorder…Not knowing what was happening…feeling alone with your own suffering for your child…seeing him so miserable…so disconnected…
    I can now say I am grateful for all of the things I learned…the good and the bad…and how far we have come now that he accepts that he needs medication…and my husbamd and I have come to terms in our own way of handling the life we were given…Yes…I understand!

    • That had to be so hard, Marilyn. No one knows how much parents feel the pain of their children until you have your own and they go through their trials. It’s like feeling it times two. I’m happy for your happy ending. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Yup I can relate to this also. I am bipolar and depressive and my lowest low came 3 years ago. Medication and therapy and a very loving and understanding husband got me through it….that’s the only light that shone through that blackness…having his hand holding mine, pulling me out of that hole by force because god knows I couldn’t do it myself. It’s the most miserable, debilitating, hurtful, painful illness to have, this depression. It hurts YOU and everyone close to you. I even lost a few “friends” who gave up on me. But my husband never did. He is my shining beacon, my lighthouse in the sea of darkness when it comes. Hang in there my friend, this too shall pass. 🙂 xx

    • What a beautiful testimony to your marriage. Unfortunately, my husband was lost when it came to helping. He wanted to ignore the whole thing, which, as you know, makes it worse. I’m grateful we made it through anyway and we both improved when it came to sharing our feelings and dealing with the depression and more.

      I appreciate your honesty and your husband’s courage to stand by you. I know readers also scan this section so hopefully others will be encouraged (as I am) and helped by your comment. Thank you!

  3. Funny you should ask…

    Today, actually, was physically the hardest day I have had in a long time. It’s either very severe chronic pancreatitis, or pancreatic cancer. Can’t afford to see a doctor at present to update the diagnosis, and I really don’t care to. They’ve had their fun with me, and I’m done with that approach. God wants me to live, I’ll live. He wants me dead, I’ll die. Next topic?

    The pain is like a bullet wound, and I can say this from experience. As I type this, it’s a bit of a challenge remaining upright.

    Thankful for it? Yes. It’s helped me to develop compassion for people who are far worse off than I. And it’s helped develop perspective. A lost book, or a spilled drink on a white sofa…these are not tragedies.

    Odd thing is, when I have told people about appreciating some things, it really torques them. It’s almost as if I am SUPPOSED to be angry and miserable, I’m supposed to be banging my head against a wall, and wailing, “Why me?”

    I’d rather be happy. Yes, each day is an exercise in pain, and I’m exhausted at the end of it, but give back all I’ve learned? No way!

    • Andrew, I hope the pain is from the lesser of the two evils. Readers (and us bloggers who you help) need you to live and need your wisdom, for sure.

      I appreciate and relate to your last two sentences – “… give back all I’ve learned? No way!” I’m with you on that. I wouldn’t go back to the person I was even though I thought I was doing okay as far as compassion and perspective. What a difference is made by a bout with pain.

  4. Its funny you should mention it. Not too long ago I found myself on my knees (not a regular prayer posture for me) thanking God for how wisely He has loved me over the last several dark years. I didn’t do it because I ought to. I was suddenly overcome and the words just fell out. It was my grateful acknowledgment to God for loving the hell out me through darkness.

    By the way, there must be a hole in the roof of your blog site because it’s snowing in here.

    • God’s done the same for me, Dave … loved the hell out of me. My husband and I, just in the last three or four months, have started getting on our knees almost every evening and praying together. it’s weird how some nights I don’t feel like being that humble and other nights I can’t wait to get down there and ask for help, so I know that feeling of being overcome, at least sometimes.

      Yeah, I turned the snow feature on last year and it’s back again this year by popular demand, or maybe because I don’t remember how to make it stop. Hope it’s just flurries. I can’t take a blogging blizzard.

  5. Amazing stuff Kim. From your post right on down through each comment and response. And the spirit of each commenter. 2013 had some challenges for us. While recovering from a knee replacement I was diagnosed with breast cancer, we lost Steve’s dad in February and one of his brothers a couple of months later and I’m headed back in to have the other knee replaced on Tuesday. But the blessings, the lessons, and the benefits take much longer to list. There’s just not enough room here!

    I can relate to several of Andrew’s comments. The compassion byproduct as well as dealing with other’s assumptions about how I’m doing. In an effort to be understanding several have said things like: “You must be feeling so [fill in the blank with something I was definitely not feeling]” and were surprised when I was surprised by their assumptions. People are fascinating.

    LOVE the snow. I thought it was the stars shining in your perfect Emerson quote!

    • Shel, I’m not sure how we found each other, but I’m so happy we did. I know what you mean … “the blessings, lessons and benefits take much longer to list.” Yes. Here too.

      And you and Andrew are spot on about compassion. If I could give back all the pain, but also had to return the compassion – no way! I’m so much softer these days than I was even a year ago. I used to hate crying in front of people, but that changed when a friend told me he loved to see me cry – it meant I was melting. I’m blessed with wise friends. Thanks for being one of them.

      I turned the snow on last year and forgot all about it. When it started again this December, I just sat and watched it … magical.

      • I, too, value the friendship we have developed, Kim – still looking forward to a future cup of coffee/hot chocolate! And I know what you mean about the crying in front of people – some of those tears seemed to wash away the pride that was holding them back.

  6. My darkest times? I call them “The Wilderness Wanderings.” And I tell people — not everyone, just some people — that I went into the wilderness believing in God … and came out on the other side KNOWING without a doubt that there was a God. He was the only reason I made it out of the wilderness alive — and I’m not exaggerating.
    It’s one thing to believe about God. It’s one thing to despair to the depths of your soul … and discover God in a deep, never doubt Him again way.

    • Beth, this is the most significant “You too?” moment so far. I get the “… and I’m not exaggerating” part. In fact, I get every single word except “never doubt Him again way.” I’m not there yet, but I will be. I love calling those times “The Wilderness Wanderings.”

  7. From the Facebook page of Christy Young (thanks for sharing, Christy) –

    Kim Henson Thanks so much for sharing, Christy Young.
    December 2 at 11:00pm · Like · 1

    Christy Young I like sharing good things Kim Henson.
    December 3 at 8:29am · Unlike · 1

    Patti Simon I have gone through that darkness more than once in my life. The first time was when I was younger and did not trust in God. The second time I was in a realationship with the Lord and that darkness led me to trust in Him fully. Can’t get better than that!
    December 3 at 9:46am · Like · 1

    Kim Henson Patti, thanks for reading and sharing here on Christy’s page. You’re right … it doesn’t get any better than a deeper relationship with Him. I just wish I remembered when I’m in the darkness that it’s leading to something that good.
    a few seconds ago · Like

  8. From Facebook –

    Kristen Molder, Meg Perrino, Christy Young and 2 others like this.

    Anjana C. Duff Sometimes it takes a while to see the blessings of seemingly negative circumstances. It is a blessing to be able to discover the blessing! I’m glad you did.
    December 2 at 9:32pm · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson Thanks, Anjana C. Duff. Me too.
    December 2 at 9:39pm · Like

    Kristen Molder This is wonderful, and you are so right! Grateful.
    December 2 at 9:53pm · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson Thanks so much, Kristen Molder. I appreciate your comment.
    December 2 at 11:01pm · Like

  9. From the Facebook page of Elizabeth Haas Morris (thanks for sharing, Elizabeth) –

    December 3

    Kim, perfectly divine! I just read this. LOL I don’t know how I missed it yesterday but I’m sure it had something to do with God wanting me to see it today. Thank you. XOXO

    The Gift of Darkness (the bright side of depression)
    I recently (in the last four years or so) went through the darkest and most painful depression I’ve experienced. I knew a lot about why, but not much about how to stop it. Since very little of the …
    Unlike · · Share
    You and Sara Bradley Zimmerman like this.

    Kim Henson That’s funny, Elizabeth Haas Morris. I already had it written even thought not posted when we were messaging, but I wasn’t sure it fit. Happy it did.
    December 3 at 9:06pm · Like · 1

  10. Thank you for sharing these thoughts — I can really relate to this idea of finding some bright spots in the dark, and I liked the crayon etching analogy a lot! Hoping you’re finding that I Thessalonians boost. 🙂

    • NIcole, I love the colorful square by your comment. It actually reminds me of the art project I mentioned.

      I’m practicing gratitude daily and bright spots are even brighter … what a difference a thankful attitude makes! I like “I Thessalonians boost” … sounds like my mental protein drink for the day. I’m addicted to protein drinks, by the way. I’ll think of that often thanks to you.

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