It’s been a grueling ride lately, through some rough territory. Dry deserts by day. Lonely plains at night. Scaling steep mountains. Standing at the edges of the world on a precipice or two, trying to catch my breath at the heights where the air is thinner than I like. Slogging through the valleys where the air is thick and soggy and hard to pull into my lungs. Sometimes the ride is like this, though. Breathless. Relentless. Even as the scenery changes around me, and summer turns to fall, and there’s a chill on my skin urging me to wrap up tight. This is what it is right now to navigate my wonky brain and try to move forward at the same time.
I’ve been in the dark lately. And I’m tired from both the journey and the uncertainty, not knowing when it will end. But I’m also not as afraid of the dark as I once was. I’ve seen the sun rise too many times to fear the night wholeheartedly. And I’ve sat around too many campfires, listening to the crickets and the wind, relishing the delicious contrast of bright heat and biting cold, turning myself around from time to time like I’m on a rotisserie, configuring my own temperature balance where there really isn’t one to be had.
On the fall equinox, shortly after my brain failed so spectacularly, I gathered a few friends in the dark on purpose. It felt important to mark the moment in time when the nights would overtake the days; when the darkness would gain a foothold over the light; when we’d sink, finally, into the slide we’ve been on since solstice, with the light gradually waning and the dark carefully waxing, gently coaxing day to sleep so night might take its turn. It felt important to be awake on the equinox while the darkness stole over the mountains where we perched at our farm. It felt important to light our own fire and to watch the infinite stars and add more logs — the biggest ones with crackling sap and dry moss as tinder — to send our own tiny flame as high as she could go, knowing she wouldn’t outlast the night but was making a stand, anyway, like hope always does.
It felt important, on the fall equinox, to welcome the dark, too. To acknowledge our need for light and heat and sight and sparks that crackle and pop and dance and fly… but also to pet the darkness and soothe her and thank her for reminding us to rest and urging us toward slumber. It felt important to treat the dark, for once, like a welcome guest — a refugee in need of solace and succor — instead of an intruder bent on harm and mayhem. It felt important, this time, to let the darkness in through the front door, intentionally, instead of forcing her to slink and seep through the cracks and crevices, and, when she arrived, to offer her a quiet place to linger. Maybe a blanket and a pillow. A hot apple cider, spiked with whisky. And soft, kind words, instead of blind panic and flailing, as is my custom.
I don’t know; maybe this makes sense to no one but me, but I’ve treated the dark like an enemy for the whole of my existence. The actual dark of night. And the figurative darkness of mental mayhem as I wrestle my wonky brain for control of the ship. And, in my defense, the dark is a wild creature with enormous strength and ferocious teeth and shaggy fur who makes no apology for the space or time she inhabits. She has the capacity to cause damage, you know? But I also go at her, always, with sharpened sticks, poking and prodding, hoping to strike hard enough that she’ll leave with alacrity. And it occurred to me, I might be exacerbating the problem. The darkness comes and goes — as surely as the light — and my capacity ebbs and flows with it. But what if, instead of spoiling for a fight as soon as I see her lumbering my way, I accept that she’s part of the cycle? Part of the circle. Part of the circadian rhythm of both the physical world and my mental space.
What if I acknowledge, on a soulful level — in the deepest places breath goes — that night follows day follows night follows day? What if I acknowledge in the soft center of my bones that light doesn’t exist without the contrast of darkness? What if I admit this is the dance of time immemorial? What if I note that the darkness is coming — that the darkness is upon us — and work to beckon the dawn while also letting darkness work her own, slow magic? The magic of quiet. The magic of peace. The magic of stillness and whispers and rest and sleep?
What if darkness comes for a reason to teach her own lessons and cast her own spells?
What if darkness is here to protect me for a little while from the speed and rush and blinding fury of the light?
What if darkness has her place? And what if I let her have it?
On the fall equinox, shortly after my brain failed so spectacularly, I gathered a few friends in the dark on purpose, and we sat around a fire of our own making, built of wood and dried flowers, telling quiet truths while the witching hour came and went without our intervention. We sat in the dark, together, unafraid. We sat in the dark, in our own small circle, watching the clouds and fog roll in and out, blanketing and revealing the sky and the valley by turns. We sat in the dark, together, until the equinox came and went and the wee hours of the morning arrived to release us to head home.
And somehow, it felt right.
Like we’d done right by ourselves and each other, and we’d done right by the seasons, too. Like we’d maybe broken a little of the spell that keeps us alone and afraid. And like the darkness helped us along.
I am, as always, friends, waving in the dark. And I may be here a while this time, sitting through the season with the darkness wrapped around me. But it feels OK for now. Not so lonely or afraid. Like maybe this is just part of it. And we can stoke the fire together while we wait.
With love, sweet ones,
P.S. I realize this post may be super weird. Cryptic? Melancholy? I don’t mean it that way. I mean it hopefully, if that makes sense. Peacefully. Patiently. But I’m not sure I’m in Sense-Making mode right now, so who knows? I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope this isn’t too bizarre or murky to parse.
P.P.S. I’m still not better, mental health wise. This one’s been a real puzzle. The last medication I tried was a bust. Then, last week, I had Really Awful side effects that made me feel like my brain was literally short circuiting. So I was on different medications on Tuesday, Saturday, and Monday during the past week, and now we’re just crossing fingers and saying all the Hail Mary’s that yesterday’s medication works according to plan. Long story short, this has been going on for just about a month now, and that’s not my very favorite situation. But I’m beginning to realize that this episode is going to take a while to fix. That I’ll be in the dark longer than I like. That I’m going to accomplish less than I’d hoped — less work at our farm, less social events, less of everything other than a laser focus on recovery. And I’m starting to see this time for what it is — a reminder to rest. An invitation to Do Less. An opportunity to scale back to just the essentials. A chance to be quiet and to read and to drink tea and to light a candle just because I like to see the flame dance. It’s the invitation of equinox, really. And I’m starting to see why I needed to welcome the dark.
P.P.P.S. You’re invited to the darkness, too, you know. Especially if you’re smarter than me and don’t wait for a crisis to scale back All the Things. You’re invited to sit by the fire and listen to the quiet and wave to the rest of us in this space. And I know, I know; there are still Things You Have to Do — like work and eat and run kids to All the Places. I’m doing those things, too. It’s not all Peace and Rest around here. It’s Peace and Rest and Orthodontist Appointments and Cleaning Up Puppy Pee. It’s just that I’m crossing off a lot of the stuff I had firmly in the Must Do bucket. I’m ruthlessly cutting back on activities. I’ve put “NO” on all the days on the calendar as a friendly neighborhood reminder that my mental health is more important than adding items. I’ve texted “NO” (I hope kindly) to All the People who issue invitations. And I’ve decided that’s all fine. That I’M fine. That it’s OK to go dark like plays do when their performers needs nights off. It’s the cycle. It’s the circle. It’s the season for rest.