“The world is indeed full of peril. And in it there are many dark places: but still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
It is, apart from anything else, a thought-provoking place to come to, the depths of despair.
I’m not saying it’s a nice place necessarily, or even a place that I plan on spending air points credits to visit for the odd holiday. How many of us look around with beaming satisfaction, having finally made it to the bottom of the dung heap?
And yet, despite my protests and wishes and fiercely flung prayers, it is a place that I have come to know rather personally.
It a place of gut-wrenching sorrow, mind-blowing pain, and endless waves of hurt. It is a place where darkness dictates and tears are the only rain, and isolation wraps its suffocating fingers around an already quivering throat. It is a realm of broken dreams and lost wishes and the relentlessly throbbing loneliness of walking a path no one fully understands.
And yet it is a place where I have laid my head to rest because, quite honestly, there was no place else to rest. Or at least to pretend to rest.
I discovered a few things at the end of the line.
Most obviously, the conclusion that I really don’t like being there (surprise, surprise!).
But even when one begins to see light at the end of the tunnel, it doesn’t necessarily mean that darkness is swept away and sorrow is forgotten and laughing suns shine forth for a thousand days.
Sometimes that is indeed the experience of one rising from the ashes. But not for everyone – at least, not right away. Some of us only just make it out of the darkness at a crawl, counting ourselves lucky to be alive while bearing horrific scars and often permanent fears.
You see, another pithy realization is that life actually can hurt more than you thought it would. More unfairly, more personally, more destructively… just more. Any supposed pain threshold falls through the floor when literally all you can do is curl up and blank out and ache.
Pain? I eat pain for breakfast…
It takes time to let go of the shadows which were once our only friends. It takes time to slowly allow ourselves to be held once again in the initially harsh glow of light.
But the hardest part about finding one’s feet is not the wobbly feeling in legs that have been tied down for too long. It is not even the awkwardly slow reintegration into the world of the living; where people have changed and places have evolved and life has moved on without us.
No, the hardest pill to swallow is the assumption – both from others and from ourselves – that we are in this unenviable situation because, once upon a time, we were simply too feeble, too pathetic, too weak to hold our shots.
In fact, the opposite is true.
Mental afflictions – depression, anxiety, PTSD, grief – are not dirty plagues that float around the globe waiting to latch onto the next weak link (that would be you or me) in a human chain of perceived toughness.
Strictly speaking, they aren’t even illnesses. Often they are injuries.
Something or someone inflicted trauma upon a person. Sometimes it was on purpose, sometimes it is prolonged. And now the darkness you see enveloping that sufferer is merely a normal symptom that arises within one who has been too strong for too long.
Because the pain does not mean that I was weak.
The pain means I was indescribably brave.
I have walked hand in hand with fear, and that is what makes me brave.
It was so important to tell myself this that I plastered the wall around my mirror with all the statements I wanted to believe. Every morning I woke to desperately press these mantras onto my skin, into my soul:
I am brave.
I know who I am.
This does not define me.
I am kind.
I will rise again.
Was it working? I wasn’t sure. Inwardly I still knew agony and fear far too personally for comfort. Then three different people in three different situations used the same word to describe me:
I had no job, no set residence, no plan, and no idea of how or where to take the next step. All I had was a bad case of PTSD with some extra complications and a couple of health issues thrown in.
And yet, it was true. I suddenly knew without a doubt that I was tired and bruised and PTSD’d and…
It was time for me to no longer be surprised by this.
In the midst of the darkness, I had been braver than anyone could understand. In the midst of the hurt, I believed in myself when others did not. At the height of physical pain and mental anguish and excruciating emotions, I had discovered the true grit of my inner core.
And the best part was realising that I didn’t have to be fearless in order to be brave.
So say it aloud with me: “I am resilient.”
I hope that every day I will choose to speak my resilience aloud.
I hope that every day I will be bold enough to speak strength and courage into my life. Gentle enough to speak kindness and grace. Generous enough to speak these truths into you also.
So that even when the shadows fall and the sadness lingers, these words are close beside us, glowing softly in the dark:
I am brave.
I am strong.
I am courage.
I am grace.
I will rise again.
I will always rise again.
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport and an international heart. She spent years running a puppet ministry and directing student choirs, before going on to serve with Mission Aviation Fellowship in New Zealand (7 years) and Papua New Guinea (3 years). Currently a nomad living between various countries and towns as she ponders the future, Emma's deep joy is in writing, music, hearing people’s stories and finding God in unexpected places.
Emma McGeorge’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html