The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

I have seen darkness in people which defies comprehension. We’ve talked about this before. There is a time in many journeys when our lives completely break. Type “swerve” into my search bar to find out more. or “The Event”.

Most of us grew up believing our lives would somehow turn out just fine. The weight of the truth can be devastating, at first. We are shocked when the ugly truths sink in.

Not many people walk through my door because they want to. Reality has punched us in the face and it stings. Few of us imagined we would have a lifelong battle with anxiety or depression or the fact that your Uncle Tom was the tomcat people said he was. A divorce or a death or the death of a dream can take you places your World of Warcraft account never could. Dark places. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

People kill themselves in this place, and call it what you want, but I could make a good argument against the notion that only a coward would take their own life. They aren’t selfish people and they are not necessarily even weak. Every rope has an end.

How could someone let it get so bad? Why would anyone kill themselves over a situation? I’ll tell you how. Come down and play at the other end of the pool for a while and watch your life and everything you value taken from you. Witness your finances and family and friends abandon you, and then tell me how bad things can get. Wait until they take your children. Sane people don’t kill themselves; and that leads invariably to the conclusion that on that day when you tried to jump into the river or overdose or whatever private version of hell you sought to inflict upon yourself, you were kind of batcrap crazy. We don’t call it that anymore but Wikipedia still does:

Insanitycraziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including a person becoming a danger to themselves or others, though not all such acts are considered insanity. In modern usage, insanity is most commonly encountered as an informal unscientific term denoting mental instability.

Any chance that sounds like someone you know? I was almost expecting my picture to show up beside the definition. Sometimes things get so absolutely beyond our capacity to cope that we crack, just a little bit. I have been to the valley, and anyone who has been there knows what I am talking about. You can take all the psychology you want but that doesn’t mean you will be prepared for the death of a child or the end of a dream. I have stated on multiple occasions that, in my book, if you lose a kid you get a free pass… forever. I don’t know if I could endure that. There are a few things that no bible verse or medication or drunken binge can heal. Some people do move on but they weren’t using any tools I can teach. That stuff is called grace.

I’m not saying you are crazy, I’m saying some of us have undoubtedly camped on Insane Island at least once, and it changes you. I want to validate that. You have learned lessons and endured pain that could and does cripple people for life. When I was in darkness no amount of therapy or Patron could touch me. What did matter was knowing that I was not somehow “less” and it was ok to drownproof in the deep end until I was able to sort shit out.

Don’t believe anyone who diminishes the gravity of the emotional battles you may face. I preach this all the time – this stuff takes years, not months, to flush out and sometimes absolutely nothing changes for a LONG time. I’ve written about his often. If you are bored check out other articles hereherehere, and here.

Fast change is usually bogus change. I cannot tell you the numbers of people who have informed me they quit smoking, drugs, yelling, medicating, and have joined a gym, all in one week. I generally label such radical intentionality a probable failure. You should probably start getting up earlier as well and stop drinking coffee and soft drinks. Throw in a few more broken hopes and live your life damaging your self-esteem as you invariably fail. Loser.

Doing a bunch of crap I didn’t want to do, with little or no motivation, didn’t really work for me. It began, slowly, when I allowed myself to do things I once loved and things I needed to do in order to get better, regardless of how I felt. I’m not even talking about therapy stuff, I’m admitting it can get so bad you can’t even get up to do the things you love. Every day sucked. I wish I could tell you it worked magnificently, but most change came unnoticed and for most of us there was not epiphany or religious experience. I’m not suggesting this isn’t possible, it just didn’t happen to me.

11541183_10204345272140927_242916198_nHere’s the thing – what do you do when you don’t even feel like getting better? It’s too much work. Change is exhausting. It’s like writing a book; great in theory. In reality, writing is often a grind with the added bonus of English 101 and days of editing. All for free.

So how do you get motivated when you aren’t motivated to be more motivated? I ate more candy and less parsnips. No parsnips. I started going to movies and laid in the sunshine and began to read. I listened to hundreds of books, many of them useless, until I cared about something enough to read on purpose. I have publicly stated, on multiple occasions, that I earnestly believe audiobooks saved my life, once a long time ago. I stopped lying to people about being too busy to hang out or talk. It took love and help and self-acceptance, and the capacity to hope once more. Like all of us, I am a work in progress, screwing up and muddling though this. I hope you are as well.

I salute the survivors, the ne’er-do-well and the battered warriors. I know some of you win just by getting up in the morning. You may never get a trophy for endurance but know that you are doing the best you can, right now. I believe the goal is for all of us, on both sides of the desk, to figure out how this life thing is done, before it’s too late. Hang in there, or as my old buddy Chris Anthony used to mock, “keep on truckin’.

(photo props to Brain Pickings)

12 thoughts on “The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death

  1. Pingback: My Depression
  2. Five years ago, I was in a major depression that lasted a year and took so much of my life from me. Hard work in therapy and a refusal to give up has helped me create a life that was satisfying and meaningful. Three months ago, anxiety came calling in the form of a very public panic attack. I am doing everything I can do to survive, but the relentless anxiety has left me wondering if i will.

    This gives me hope.

  3. Reblogged this on Ladywithatruck's Blog and commented:
    Scott once again hits the nail on the head and talks about the other “thing” no one wants to talk about. Suicide. Tell people you can’t go on and they will tell you “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”, “this too shall pass” , “look at the bright side” or worse they tell you that you “shouldn’t feel that way”.
    There is nothing “wrong” with feeling suicidal, it is “normal” for someone who has been through what many of you have.
    I attempted suicide about 6 months out of the relationship with James because I was in such a financial hole, with NO support and he was telling me I should kill myself because “no man would ever want me, I had made his life hell for 10 years.”
    I failed obviously, nothing ,makes you feel like a failure more than failing at suicide. It has to be the downest of the down times.
    But it was when I decided to start the blog, to declare to the world I was going to survive this, make myself accountable to someone.
    If you know someone is suicidal, make them accountable to you, make them sign an agreement that if they decide to do something they have to talk to you first. A person is less likely to do harm to themselves if they have to be accountable to someone.
    About a year after I failed in my attempt my brother said something about it being a permanent solution yada yada yada and not knowing what the future holds.
    My reply to him was; “So far there has not been one moment in my life since where I said to myself, “Boy am I ever glad I didn’t miss this!!”
    He said, “Fair enough.”
    I am on the other side of suicide and it never crosses my mind as a solution any more. I love living. Even at my worst times, I know that life is worth living.
    What has changed? not too much, my finances have gotten worse, I have had dreams shattered since, had two heart attacks, been stalked and slandered by my ex, buried two dogs. To look at my life I have less reason to live than ever and less reason to hope for a better life in the future; but I do! I want to stick around and see how the story ends, I want more time, not less.
    The only thing that has changed is time; I have had time to heal and get strong again, I found myself and I love who I am and I don’t believe that having a man or not should determine whether I live or not. My worth was never determined by the man in my life, if anything, James devalued my life.
    So if you are feeling like life isn’t worth living; give it time, you are worth waiting for.
    I can’t count how many times I have thought; “Boy, I am sure glad I didn’t miss this!!” in the past 3+ years.
    You don’t know how the movie ends and too leave the theater too soon you could miss an unexpected plot twist. You are the star of this show.

  4. So true. I was reading an article (Brainpickings, of course) this morning by Oliver Sacks. He says, ‘We see with the eyes, but we see with the brain as well.’ He calls this place of brain-seeing, ‘landscapes of imagination’ or ‘inscapes’. My inscapes sometimes don’t reflect the real world. They feel more real than real, sharply sculpted by emotion and repetition. I’ve found it’s very important to escape my inscapes, and see with my eyes, rather than with my brain. I don’t think this is necessarily the point Sacks was making in his quote, but I liked the visual picture and how it relates to this post. Great reminder. Thanks!

  5. Your opening statement “There always comes that day, that horrible day, when you ask, “how long can this last?” is the absolute truth as I have been there recently (divorce just finalized). There are many things in your post that resonate, including the thought that I could never be happy again. Luckily, I am coming out of that phase now and things are starting to again look up. You have reminded me that I am not crazy, just going through a “crazy time”. Excellent post. Thanks.

  6. Wow Scott! This is probably one of the most significant and POWERFUL posts I think I have ever read! I’m sitting here stunned! Never have I seen this subject discussed with such bravado and honesty in my life! Thank you!

  7. “This Too Shall Pass” is anagrAms ALWAYS told me when I was feeling all of my fucked-upness-anger, confusion, fear, hate, Depression, mania, sadness. And sometimes, that’s just the one thing I need to hear when I’m on Whack-a-Mole island. Because sometimes, it’s the little Ray of sunshine that breaks through the darkness. Thanks, Lovely, for this. 💖

  8. I learned I can do anything for 5 minutes. I lived a lot of years 5 minutes at a time. I also allowed myself to rest for 5 minutes then get up and go again for another 5 minutes. On really tough days, 1 minute is doable.

    Sadly I faked it so long I thought that was the real me…..then my reality check bounced. Authentic living is time consuming and challenging. I am thankful for a counselor that coached me back to reality.

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