Twenty Lights That Shine Through the Darkness

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” ― Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)

I’ve just read Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive (2015. Canongate Books), and it’s my opinion that everyone – not just those who have lived/are living with depression/anxiety (or both, of course!) should read it. It’s a real, raw, and honest account of his struggles through these horrible illnesses. But it’s also an account of what helped pierce the darkness of his mind, and which continues to help him get through difficult days. Inspired by this, I thought I’d make a list of my lights. It’s helped me to realise that the sky is bright, just behind the clouds (Andy Puddicombe, who runs the Headspace meditation and mindfulness programme, talks about the ‘blue sky’ of our minds, that it’s always there, and we shouldn’t forget that). That it’s always there, despite how dark the day or night might become. I’m very aware that some of these things may be privileges others don’t have. I’m grateful for those too! So, in no particular order, and not a definitive list:

  1. My amazing children, who have saved my life when there didn’t seem to be anything else to go on for. They continue to be my shining lights. Thank you, and I love you xxx
  2. My amazing partner, who has recently seen me at my most despairing, and who has been a constant and strong supportive presence, just loving me quietly and unflinchingly. I love you too xxx
  3. My friends, who’ve stuck by me when I didn’t feel worthy of your friendship. You know who you are xxx
  4. Being aware of the natural world, marveling in its absolute beauty, and allowing it to fill me. This is especially true of being by the coast, watching the sea, its inexorable movement, tidal ebbing and flowing, and the sunlight and cloud playing on the water in unending motion. I want to live somewhere that can give me that.
  5. Continuing with the theme of nature, watching birds, listening to their songs and calls, is an utter joy to me. One of my favourite things to do is to go to an RSPB reserve and watching in silence from a hide. Getting a thrill at just being in their presence, feeling the privilege of that moment.
  6. Foxes and bats (the same as birds, really, except the thrill and privilege is almost stronger, because I don’t see them often, especially bats).
  7. I love their independence, and yes, their – what we perceive as – silliness. Animals aren’t here to entertain us, but they do anyway. One of my favourite words is kitten.
  8. Meditating and feeling the peace that goes with it (in good sessions anyway!).
  9. Singing at the top of my voice to songs I love.
  10. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels have – if not saved my life – then at least helped me manage to get through some dark days when I could do nothing else but read them. I miss his wit. RIP Sir Pterry.
  11. Reading generally. My salvation and escape – and yet a touchstone to reality, when reality is too difficult to deal with: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons (2011).
  12. Writing – finally learning to love it again. It’s catharsis, it’s exploration, it’s learning about yourself, and your own view of the world (even through fiction).
  13. Good cheese, good red wine, and bread. Taken together, or separately.
  14. Good food and wine in general (I have only once lost my appetite during depressive episodes!).
  15. I don’t care if it’s noisy, dirty, confusing, manic. It’s my home town, and a source of never-ending fascination and joy for me, even at its most annoying (Northern Line and Piccadilly Line, I’m looking at you!).
  16. Teaching my students and feeling like maybe I’ve made a tiny bit of difference to their lives.
  17. Watching YouTube videos (especially on makeup and skincare!). These have also been a form of salvation, in that I’ve discovered that actually, despite the pressure on older women to just disappear and fade away, I’m not too old to care about how I look, or what makeup I choose to wear. Appearances of course, aren’t everything, but for me, looking as good as I can helps my self-esteem. I’m being me and that’s freeing.
  18. Another of my favourite words is chiaroscuro, because the concept of light and dark represents my mood swings. Plus, it’s just a cool word.
  19. David Bowie.
  20. Hope.