“Moreover, to be happy takes a complete lifetime; for one swallow does not make spring, nor does one fine day; and similarly one day or a brief period of happiness does not make a man supremely blessed and happy.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, 1098
Spells of darkness last a lifetime.
Time becomes our tormentor, crawling from second to second, minute to minute. We watch time as if waiting for the exact moment we will be freed from the agony. Ever the mocker, time appears to stand still, leaving us suspended in our anguish. These kinds of lows, where time itself is an enemy, have the capacity to reduce our mind, body and soul to ashes. When we reach these depths, it takes a lot of work to resume a reasonable state of mind. We fight and struggle in order to get out of the black hole and pull ourselves back to the surface; back among the living. It requires every ounce of effort and determination we can muster to climb out of that hole. And although the surface gives us air we couldn’t possibly have drawn down below, it is still not without its difficulties.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seamed with scars…”
Edwin Hubbell Chapin (1814-1880), Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers, Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, (1895)
Experiencing that level of destructive mental anguish has a habit of sticking in our minds.
The memories are enough for us to fear ever returning to that state. The hellish moments themselves, the exhaustive effort it took to come back, all that time it took to heal. It all leaves a scar and it’s difficult to say when, if ever, that disappears. Baring such a wound can make us very sensitive to feeling negative emotion. When we experience traces of those old familiar feelings, our mind does a recount of our past experiences, serving us with faithful reproductions of previous horrors. We fear that the old black dog is knocking on our door again.
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear… It is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”
C. S. Lewis, 1940, The Problem of Pain
We must realise that even here, on the surface, we are going to experience negative emotions.
It does not mean that we are falling, or being dragged back into the depths that we experienced before. None of us, however, are granted immunity from life’s challenges, no matter what we have been through. Life is a series of both good and bad times, continually coming to meet us as we journey through life. We must recognise our sensitivity and see that not every challenge is a detrimental threat to our hard-earned peace. If we could just alter how we see our experience. If we think we are more vulnerable to falling because of our past, it is just as true that we are more capable of getting ourselves back out. Do not be frightened.
“Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a soul?”
John Keats, 1819, ‘The Letters of John Keats’, 1814-1821, edited by Hyder Edward Rollins (Harvard U.P., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958).