There have been a handful of times in my life when the forces of anger, bitterness, resentment, numbness, and apathy all collided into one terrifying and ugly moment of pure, unadulterated despair. The death knell would prepare to toll its string of cold, dismal clashes. The crossroad would be reached, and somehow, some way, I would always end up giving myself one more chance. One more day. One more opportunity for something in me or around me to change. Thank God.
Depression is a black hole. There is no better way to describe it. Pay close attention to NASA’s definition. If you battle depression you will immediately recognize the parallels of the analogy.
“A black hole is a region in space where the pulling force of gravity is so strong that light is not able to escape. The strong gravity occurs because matter has been pressed into a tiny space. This compression can take place at the end of a star’s life. Some black holes are a result of dying stars. Because no light can escape, black holes are invisible. However, space telescopes with special instruments can help find black holes. They can observe the behavior of material and stars that are very close to black holes.” (NASA.gov)
Some of you are vigorously nodding right about now, maybe muttering a string of “yes’s” out loud. Others of you may be scratching your heads a bit. Let me explain.
“A black hole is a region in space where the pulling force of gravity is so strong that light is not able to escape.”
Gravity is the unseen force that holds planets together in one piece and keeps them rotating in orbit. It keeps us walking on the ground instead of floating through the air. Cars stay on the road. When a ball bounces you know it will eventually come back down because our law of gravity dictates that certainty. The intensity of gravitational pull varies from planet to planet, star to star, galaxy to galaxy.
Now imagine a hole in space where the gravitational pull is SO strong that not even light can escape it (sort of akin to that nightmarish dream where you are trying to run away from something but are frozen in one place, unable to move). The light is stuck deep inside the hole, unable to filter its rays into space. So instead of the glow of light revealing the black hole in space to the human eye, it becomes invisible to us- impossible to see due to the absence of all light. Does that mean that the light doesn’t exist? Well, no.
Depression works the same way. The force of our mind’s gravitational pull can hold us captive, even if our desire is to be free. We can battle against the darkness, but the pull of despair’s magnetic grip keeps us a prisoner to it. Does that mean we are hopeless beings with nothing left to offer? No. Our light is still there, waiting, burning. But the power of our mind’s gravity keeps it hidden from sight- even from ourselves! So that it can appear we are a lost cause, hopeless. But we are NOT.
“The strong gravity occurs because matter has been pressed into a tiny space.”
One reason for this force in our minds could best be explained as a result of the “stuff” of life – experiences, thoughts, feelings, knowledge- being squished into one tiny space inside of us. As humans we are designed to adapt and survive. Some of us are better at managing all of the “stuff” than others. So as I considered this analogy I decided on three general categories. (I realize people don’t necessarily fit into one particular box. I am using very general terms here.)
- The “high functioning” depressed people are very skilled in compartmentalizing their struggles and often present themselves as normal, healthy individuals. The black hole of their despair is invisible to the eyes of others because the light of their true selves cannot filter through and reveal the darkness. They have created a complex facade to “protect” themselves and the people around them when they are seen. The doors to those compartments usually spring open only in the safety of aloneness.
- People who are obvious in their struggle with depression are unable, or don’t want, to contain their story. The facade is an unbearable lie that they are unwilling or incapable of maintaining. Their black hole is a belief in a falsehood that the darkness is their only truth; that light doesn’t, or can’t ever, possibly exist for them. Their internal and external worlds feel fragmented. They have not developed coping mechanisms or strategies to manage their intense feelings. Their only outlet is to allow themselves to fully feel, and often express, their misery, which can end up being physically debilitating.
- Those who do not battle depression have discovered alternative outlets to deal with their stronger feelings. They have developed coping mechanisms to channel the negative, which in turn allow them to process their experiences and emotions in a way that makes sense to them. Their internal filters are functioning. These people may have other issues or bad habits, but they recognize, whether consciously or subconsciously, that light exists within themselves, which propels them forward into life and allows them to actually live into it with some sense of purpose.
“Because no light can escape, black holes are invisible. However, space telescopes with special instruments can help find black holes. They can observe the behavior of material and stars that are very close to black holes.”
Although you may not immediately recognize depression in someone, there will always be telltale signs if you pay attention to the details and take the time to observe their behavior. What do they do with their extra time? Do they have hobbies they maintain? In conversation, what is their general tone and body language? You can get a glimpse into their soul by way of their eyes. So look. Really look. Do they seem overly tired all the time? Moody? Irrational? Do they appear unsettled or apathetic? Depression can become visible when we observe the interactions of an individual with what’s closest to them.
The similarities in the analogy end here. This is where the workings of the solar system separate from our human reality. In space, black holes never release their captive light and matter. Ever. They are forever trapped by the continuum of the powerful gravitational pull. We, however, are not resigned to that same fate.
Planets don’t get to choose their orbit or the intensity of their gravity. They were designed by a Creator to function in a very specific way. We were also designed by that same Creator, but our humanity allows us to choose our way.
Within all types of depression there is at least one common denominator: fear. It’s a controlling and dominating presence central to the suffering. A first step towards healing starts with recognizing and identifying those fears. But this can’t be done alone. We were created to be relational creatures, to live in community with one another. It may be that a person needs to be carried through the first steps of recognition and identification. Then, as they gain strength from the constant presence and support of those around them, begin to learn about and develop coping mechanisms to manage their own story in a healthier way.
Guys, I can’t emphasize enough the weighty role of community in the success of an individual’s healing process. It requires patience, perseverance, and prayer. So much prayer. And here’s why:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his might power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” –Ephesians 6:10-12
The war being waged is not of this world. The light of Jesus and the darkness of evil cannot coexist. One must take the other’s place. For someone who is battling depression, this otherworldly influence can be an overwhelming, oppressive force fed by loneliness and isolation. The lies gain strength as the person grows weaker. Standing hand-in-hand with someone, offering consistent, authentic expressions of friendship, love, and support no matter what, and taking the time to pray through the veil of lies while speaking truth to counter them- this is the way. This is the battlefield. Your willingness to act when called upon to join the fight is key.
The journey out of the black hole is a process, often a long one. And everyone’s road looks different. Some require medicine or supplements, a change in nutrition or activity, moving to someplace new, months or years of therapy and counseling… and it’s all good. But the glue that makes it all stick? Each other. Having and being present with each other. Forming a wall of support around that person so they can’t run away and hide. Recognizing their attempts to slip into isolation and sitting down next to them instead.
We all need the life that Jesus offers. And we all need a community- our tribe- to live into that life of love. To know grace and to be known. To be drawn out of the company of darkness and into the beautiful, glorious light.
Peace & Love, Amy