Have you ever spent any time in the abyss? If you have, then you know the place that I’m referring to…the one that makes you feel like the weight of the world is so overwhelming that you just don’t want to experience another day. The cloak of darkness in this place strangles out any hope or joy. You can’t possibly see a reason for anything and want nothing more than to crawl up into a little ball under the covers so that you can be left alone…forever.
I recently spent some time there and it was just horrific. When I step back and think of each event that led up to my residency there—and every new occurrence that kept me there another day longer—none of it is really earth shattering or life altering. Nobody died or was diagnosed with a terminal illness; I wasn’t the victim of an attack or even the subject of ridicule. Neither of my children had anything major happen to them. So why was I feeling so down? Sometimes when a lot of troubles happen within a short time frame, it just feels like it is all too much to bear; and because of all of it, I spiraled into my first ever depressive state.
It started about a month ago; I tore a ligament in my foot. Prior to that, I was in pain from plantar fasciitis and a heel spur, but the pain level tripled after the tear and I haven’t had much relief since then. That pain coupled with a schedule that is non-stop eventually produced an unpleasant person…and in some ways, an unrecognizable version of myself.
Three weeks ago, I drove to Target on a Sunday afternoon. It was just starting to get dark and the weather was crummy—humid and drizzling. I really didn’t feel like going to the store, but I was out of just about everything and needed to just do it. As I pulled up to the stop sign, I spotted an open parking spot near the entrance, just around the corner from where I sat. What a relief that I wouldn’t have to walk too far to get in the store. My foot has slowed me down considerably and with every step I take, my mind says, Ouch, step, ouch, step, ouch… My weekly Sunday chore turned into a monumental task filled with pain and I was dreading it. As I turned the corner to pull into the parking spot, I stopped because there was a woman driving an SUV a few feet away. She was facing me head on and her turn signal was blinking. In driving language, that was her way of claiming the empty spot. I got the “Don’t you dare; I got here first glare,” as well. Ordinarily, I would’ve kept on driving past the space. I’m very respectful of parking lot etiquette. I didn’t have my blinker on so I must not have seen it first. The unwritten rule is that she had the signal; therefore, she gets the spot. No big deal. There’s bound to be another one nearby.
BUT, that day was different. On that day, I was in a self-absorbed pit and my only concerns were my own needs. I quickly turned my wheel without thinking it through and pulled into the space as if I had not seen her. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her throw her hands up, obviously aggravated at me, and she backed up to the next nearest parking spot. I sat in my car for a moment and in my mind I had to justify what I had just done. With the way I am moving and feeling, I should have a temporary handicapped tag, I thought. I’m sure once she sees me hobbling to the store, she’ll realize why I did what I did. And then fear washed over me because I knew what I did was wrong. Maybe she’s going to go psycho on me when I get out of the car. What if she waits till I go in and vandalizes my car? And then, the self-loathing, You’d deserve it. I can’t believe you just did that! Who do you think you are? So now you are the type of person who takes people’s parking spots? Wow.
I didn’t see her pass by my car, but figured by that point she must’ve gone into the store. I limped my way around Target and bought only what I absolutely needed. I really wanted to get out of there as fast as possible so that I could go home and ice my foot. I paid for my stuff and went to my car. I closed my trunk; backed out of my spot, and guess who was backing out of her spot at precisely the same time? Once again, we were stopped face to face. This time, as she started to drive past me, I motioned for her to open her window. The expression on her face killed me. I was a jerk and we both knew it. I started to cry. I apologized profusely for taking her spot. I told her that I was mortified that I did something like that. I explained that I was in so much pain and used it to try to justify my actions since that was the only thing that I could think about in the moment. I felt so badly and apologized again and again. She said that it was okay again and again, but she confessed that she too was suffering with a migraine. She did not want to leave the house but just had to get a few necessities. Sound familiar? Without saying too much, it was obvious that she was right there with me in the pit.
Instead of reassessing my situation and putting a halt to it right then and there, I drove off and I sobbed. I was so embarrassed and at the same time I felt so sorry for her. Nobody could see her pain either and I only exacerbated her situation by putting myself ahead of her. How low can you go? Before long I sank deeper into my despair.
The next day rolled around and I got to work. I hobbled my way in the door and walked down the hall on the way to my room. Step, ouch, step, ouch, step… Just as I got to my door handle, I heard a voice behind me, “Good morning, ToniAnn.” I turned. “Good morning,” I replied. “I thought you were going to hold the door open for me,” my co-worker said as she struggled to get her key out of the door. And with that, my heart sank. You did it again. Selfish much? The apology and explanation that I gave to her was similar to the one I stated the night before. However, this time, I was concerned about what was happening to me. Who was this person who didn’t look out for other people? What was happening to me?
Over the next few days one thing after the other transpired: car troubles on three separate days and the cost grew with each problem; my birthday was a bust for various reasons; there were doctor’s appointments; church obligations; family stressors; work situations; smoke detectors going off in the middle of the night (of course!); and to top it all off, my refrigerator died. Every time I thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, they did. I didn’t have the money, the time, the resources, or the strength to deal with it anymore. I was done.
Now those of you who know how faithful I am must be thinking, What about God? Were you praying? Were you reading your Bible? Were you checking off the list of what “good” Christians do in times of crisis? In short, my answers to those questions are Yup. Yeah. And Yes. But sometimes, and thankfully these are rare times, when you’re at your lowest of lows, you can’t see the Light no matter what you do. So how did I break out?
Well, I have an amazing group of girlfriends from high school. The eight of us communicate via group texts several times a day, just about every day and we’ve been doing this for years. Despite our distance both in miles and between visits, we always know what is going on in each other’s lives. I sent them a text one day during my trial pleading for their prayers. I explained how I was feeling and they offered their support and love, but one of their texts changed everything for me.
My sweet friend, Diane is a school counselor. In addition to her always uplifting presence, she is gifted in her choice of words when it comes to matters of advice. Diane said that she recently had a student who referred to the dark place in her life as her own personal “abyss.” Diane told the girl, that it is okay to go to the abyss once in awhile. “But be careful,” she said. “You don’t want to stay there for too long.” She then told me that whenever I was ready to leave my abyss that she would be there, ready to fish me out.
As I thought of that imagery, it got to me. With every small thing that occurred, I dug my feet in deeper and stayed in the abyss longer…and longer. Diane’s words echoed in my head, “You don’t want to stay there for too long.” It was so true. The longer that I stayed there, the more difficult it would be for me to get out.
Over the same week that all of the tough stuff was happening, there was a lot of good stuff happening too: my Bible study group gathered around me and prayed that I would feel better; my friends took turns bringing me meals so that I wouldn’t have to spend more time on my foot; my co-workers helped me out so that I wouldn’t have to walk back and forth in my building to get my students; I received a retroactive paycheck that paid for the majority of my car problems; my mother called me daily to check on me to provide assistance and to help me be somewhat reasonable in my thinking; my son didn’t require surgery for an injury that we thought would surely result in him going under the knife; and my doctor decided that I wouldn’t require surgery either, at least for now. I received texts, and calls, and emails, checking on me, asking if I needed help, and there were people praying for me over and over again.
During the toughest points in this trial, I was also praying and crying out to God. I was expecting that He would change things. I was assuming that He would help me. I thought that if He was helping me that I would see a difference—that the troubles would cease instantly. When they didn’t, I got discouraged. But what I didn’t recognize was that He WAS there. He was helping me. He was answering my prayers. He was putting my name on my friends’ hearts so that they would reach out to me. He was putting people and gifts in my path to lighten my load. I was just so blinded by the darkness that I CHOSE to dismiss the Light. Despite all the ropes that were being offered to me, I did not hold on to any of them. I always tell my son, every day we have a choice to focus on the good stuff or focus on the bad stuff. Usually, I look for the silver linings, but I couldn’t see them because I was too focused on the bad stuff.
So when my friend brought me a meal, instead of gratefully inviting her in or offering her a drink, I barely picked my head up from under the pillow to thank her. On the day that the check arrived in my bank account, the same day that I got the bill for my car, instead of being elated that I wouldn’t have to go into debt over the expense, I was aggravated that I had to spend the money on my car. Although my fridge was able to be fixed and I didn’t need to get a new one, I was sickened by the amount of food that I had to throw out. (Even though a bunch of it was expired and my fridge needed a good clean out!) And when my mother’s precious words of encouragement fell on deaf ears, it was obvious that I had hit rock bottom. I couldn’t see the good in any of my situations. I couldn’t see God. I had obviously stayed in the abyss for way too long and I was FINALLY ready to be “fished out.”
I texted Diane the next morning and thanked her for helping me to see. I grabbed onto my life line. I thanked God for the precious people that He chose to surround me with. I also thanked Him for this whole experience because as difficult as it was, it has brought me so much awareness. It is truly amazing how a person’s mindset can alter their behavior. I can assure you, that I will NEVER steal a person’s parking space again! And if you are one of my co-workers, now you understand why I’ve been holding doors open behind me and I’m willing to wait for you to come down the hall—no matter how long it takes. Most importantly, I plan to be more cognizant of those who live in pain. My heart goes out to them and I will be watching just in case anyone needs me to send down the ropes.
I was going to hold off on sharing this story because I felt like it was too soon after all of these events to talk about it, but then I decided it might be best to share it this week due to it being Thanksgiving. This week people will be traveling here and there to be with family and friends to celebrate the holiday. Of those people, there will be some who are hurting—physically or mentally, or both. Keep in mind that their pain can be physical, but not necessarily visible, like the woman at Target. Either way, let’s try to be mindful of our family and friends who are suffering in silence. Maybe they don’t like to complain, or maybe they complain every chance that they get! Oh boy! Regardless of how much they voice it, if you know that they’ve had a recent illness or injury or chronic ailment, please give them a little extra help, attention, and love this week. I’m certain that they would appreciate it—sometimes way more than they would ever admit it.
This post also serves as a reminder about those who spend the holidays depressed and/or alone. Think about the people in your life. What about your co-workers? Are any of them going home to an empty house? How about your neighbors? Where are they going for Thanksgiving? Can you fit one more at your table? If so, why not extend an invite or stop by for a quick visit? If they are homebound, maybe a plate of leftovers would be well received.
Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”
I am a work in progress. This verse speaks to the kind of person that I strive to be.
If this episode has taught me anything, it is that you just never know who is praying for God to send them someone to help them get out of their own personal abyss. Maybe the person that God has chosen to fish that person out is YOU.
Have a happy, safe, and blessed Thanksgiving!