Let’s Talk About the Darkness

Let's Talk About the Darkness. MomsicleBlog

What if joy and pain were different shades of the same, beautiful color—not sworn foes growling and frothing from opposite corners?

What if they completed each other? What if they were in love?

I just read Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, and he got me thinking about joy and pain.

When you come in from the snow and run your hands under cold water, your hands, they bite and burn just the same way as when you plunge them into a scalding bath.

Hold that thought. Let’s focus on the darkness for a moment.


K-Pants spent the night at my sister Hillary’s a while back. Hill woke up to see him standing right next to her bed, staring at her. “I’m afraid of the darkness,” he said.

Tell me about it.

I haven’t had a diagnosis of depression. But I don’t think that matters.

I know the darkness.

After kids, the darkness started to have bar fights with the light.

Specifically, after Baby Woww was born, K-Pants didn’t ease out of his my-brother-won’t-go-away adjustment phase. The emotional disregulation blows my mind and breaks me down. Sometimes I feel like my back is against the wall, but in ways that make my body shake and give me vertigo.

I just want to let you know that the darkness isn’t bad. It’s human. It doesn’t need a stigma.

And I’ve found that the darkness gives this gift that just keeps growing and growing: Empathy. The word that sparkles.

Empathy connects me to these friends I have who glow in the dark.

They are armed only with faith or a pocket light, and are often caught in the darkness with their eyes open, pressing the breath from their chests and watching it steam out of their mouths.

They’ve faced death and instability, infertility and isolation, chronic illness and chronic caretaking.

They know, after they’ve scratched the surface of the darkness, or taken a long, exhausting swim, they know how far down it can go.

When my own breath dissipates, I look around: there they are, glowing. Gentle and unguarded. When I reach out my hand, someone takes it. My gratitude for these friends is deeper than the darkness.


So joy and pain.

When the light comes now it’s lighter and brighter and more beautiful than before.

I know enough to see that the joy often comes in the middle of the pain. It makes the small beauties big. It pushes me back to the moment, this moment, even as I want to jump ahead screaming. The joy romances the pain, and together they let me know that others’ hearts beat with mine.

And because of the pain, I feel the joy with a touch of innocence, like the first time plunging in to a steaming bath.


If this post seeped into your soul, even a little bit, you might drink this or this.

And I would love to chat with you in 140 characters (@EvelynShoop)

88 responses to “Let’s Talk About the Darkness

  1. This is beautiful, Evelyn, and I’m right there with you:)

  2. Oh, the darkness. Sometimes one is in so deep and the pinpricks of light on the distance are so faint. What have you done then?

    • Pooja! You have a knack for asking the really important questions. I don’t have a magic sauce, but here’s what I’ve done: At the darkest moments, I find that sensory deprivation is helpful for me. I’m talking about when I need to get through a full-blown or possible panic attack. Deep breathing in the fetal position or simply being in a place in the house where I know I’m protected (i.e., the little gremlins are entertained by my husband). Then I go for a walk and call Lauren or Allison or Hannah. Lauren is excellent at talking one down from a panic attack. The key for me has not been one thing, but a million little things that can be thrown together depending on if it’s acute (i.e., I can’t get through this day) or ongoing. These things include: family support, babysitters, surprise evenings out with friends, hot baths, going to my therapist and my naturopath, writing and publishing a blog post, prayer, church, being open with people when they ask how I’m doing…. And then there are so many people in my life who are going through harrowing times right now that it’s been really wonderful to stay connected to them and look for opportunities to do kind things for them. The more I give them, the more I get back in return at surprising times that turn out to be just-the-right-time.

      OK–your turn. What helps you claw your way back to where you can see the stars more brightly?

  3. I had a particularly bad few days earlier this week — Mr. Pooja has been traveling and I’ve been holding down the fort on my own. I kind of lost it — the pinpricks of light were so faint. But a bit of self-care went a long way — a bowl of ice cream, a podcast, a visit to the library, a swim (I do live in the tropics!). But also — an appointment with a new and highly-recommended therapist. I’ve only recently started being open with people when they ask, “How are you?” (See here!)

    • Hey–I love your new openness! Way to go! Probably feels scary at first, right? 🙂 But then it gets liberating, and I’ve found that everything meaningful for me at this point is based on a very open authenticity. And it makes me able to replace judgement with empathy (not that I don’t judge–oh man!). When Mr. Evelyn (I’m going to start calling him that!) is out of town, it can be bad. It’s much, much better now that we’ve been through enough bad times that we know how to be proactive: I invite friends to come over for dinner and bed time. Friends or relatives will stay over night for slumber parties. The boys and I head out of town and visit other places. I don’t worry too much about meals or the house being neat. And I let everyone know that Mr. Evelyn is going to be away, and that I’ll be trying to scrape together my sanity, so anyone who can help out is welcome!

      A couple crucial things have worked for us: 1) I expect the house to look worse, rather than better, when he gets back; 2) I try to plan a babysitter for the day after he gets back, because we get trapped in expectations otherwise (Me: He’s back! He can help! I can get a break! Him: I’m exhausted from travel! I need to rest, and now I can rest back at home!). These two visions collide, and we both get grumpy, so we call in a third party to take the pressure off. 🙂

  4. I love contrasts. Alright, maybe not love, but maybe am increasingly aware of and intrigued by contrasts. I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering over the last few months and wondering, what the heck? Why should we suffer? Why do we have to suffer, and suffering is supposed to be good for us?
    Thank you sir, may I have another? I’m maybe not convinced.
    I do feel like we’ve done our fair share of suffering in the years since my wife’s stroke, so like a connoisseur of fine wines, I’ve begun to realize there are many flavors of suffering. There’s the oh-look-at-me-isn’t-this-awful-attention-must-be-paid kind of suffering, which has its uses. There’s the angry – what again! – suffering that feeds on the fuel of unfairness and injustice – Why do those people over there get to dress in tennis whites, drive a nice car, and be thin, while I’m doing none of those things – much to my chagrin. There’s the bone-cracking, edge of the abyss suffering which doesn’t even bear contemplation. And then there’s what I guess you could call Productive Suffering. The realization that yes, this particular state of mine sucks right now, it hurts, it’s scary or embarrassing. But combined with the little smart voice inside your head which says, “Pay Attention!” When this particular bout is over, you’re going to want to remember what this felt like so that you can recognize it in others, and you got it — show compassion. What sufferers need the most.
    You’d think that people who’ve been through a lot would be mighty cranky, and miserable unhappy people, but I’ve met a lot of people who are going through such hard times, and have achieved a state of grace – thanks mainly to their ordeals. And my suffering – which is really pretty minor compared to most – has taught me to really look at people and try to understand what cross they’re bearing before rushing to judgement.
    So yes the light is more sparkling when you’ve been in the dark – and thank god for that. Here’s a little poem from Ursula K. LeGuin from the beginning of the earthsea trilogy:

    Only in silence the word,
    Only in darkness light,
    Only in dying life.
    Bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.

    So hang in there E. I’m thinking about you.

    • Wow, Scott. It’s taken me a few days to fully savor this. Bone cracking edge if the abyss–that is stunning. There are so many types of suffering and we lump them all together.

      I’m so glad you wrote, because I was thinking of you when writing this piece, my glow-in-the-dark pal.

      And that poem. Stunning. I’m going to share it.

  5. Pingback: My Writing on Believe Out Loud | momsicle

  6. Oh the darkness. In our last study at church we read about the “dark night of the soul” as spiritual darkness from which we emerge closer to God. It’s a marked time in spiritual growth. For some reason, this makes the darkness seem less dark, when I think of it as a necessity for growth. What makes it easier too, for me, is to think of amazing people who live in darkness or who have lived in darkness. Sometimes it’s people I know, and sometimes it’s people like Mother Teresa who lived for almost 50 years in a state spiritual darkness, accomplishing great things all the while. Thank you for being so open about the truth–harsh, difficult, growth-inducing, and raw. Many prayers for peace and more days and times of light.

  7. Beautiful. I agree with the empathy sentiment – I believe the darkness I experience gives me the gift of empathy, and that’s why I keep talking and writing about depression. I am trying to turn this curse that I deal with into something positive and that’s how Honest Mom and my private FB support group for moms came to be. 🙂 xoxo

  8. My sons are grown but I recently dealt with this in helping to resolve a conflict one son had with his older brother. Even though the boys are grown, there are times I still find myself coming to their rescue and having to take some time to myself while things calm down. There is one constant that will never change, even when the kids grow up and that is that there are times when Mommy has to come to the rescue to keep peace between the kiddos. My nest might be “empty” but sometimes they call mama to this day when they are upset or in a jam! 😉

  9. I was raised to believe that depression is a sign of being weak. Not in a crass way, I just grew up in a no nonsense, snap out of it household. Then I got older, lost my Dad and life got a whole lot more complicated. I’ve never been diagnosed but I understand the darkness now. The relentless weight on your chest.It had made me face up to things and accept that it’s okay not to be strong all of the time. There is nothing weak about facing the darkness and endlessly struggling to pull yourself towards the light. that’s strength, and understanding that has given me so much more empathy. Great and brave post.

    • I can totally relate, Lily. There’s stigma associated with admitting what your struggles or problems are. I like what you say about facing up to things and accepting that it’s okay not to be strong all the time. Amen!

  10. Wow. Your writing just feels so refreshing and golden… And that’s a compliment coming from a (rather macho) guy… (Lol).

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading; I myself having pondered several times in the past what potential virtues there are of pain, sadness, ‘darkness’. I think there’s so much to take away from this write-up

  11. Thank you for a lovely thoughtfully worded piece. We all have darkness in our lives but remember without it how would we know when the light was shining brightly. 🙂

  12. Reblogged this on emb1993 and commented:
    I like that

  13. This was beautiful. It is amazing how going through stuff really helps you delight in the little good things and makes the little stuff so big. As we all go through our own darkness with its own unique layers and favors it is almost life saving to know that there are others out there. The thing that have helped me the most has been knowing I am not alone. The really tricky part is calling out for help, begging for someone, anyone to turn on the light or at least show me where the matches are.

    • Calling out for help IS often the hardest part. It’s hard to know who to go to at first. I know with experience we find a way–sounds like you have? 🙂

      • Sometimes I do better with that and other times I drown in the darkness till someone finds me. I am grateful that at least so far, there has always been someone to help (sometimes it can even be someone’s blog and they may never know).

  14. In spite of the dualists’ claim, light & dark/good & evil aren’t mutually exclusive. Dark & evil have no ontological existence of their own. Dark is a privation of light in the same sense as evil is a privation of good

  15. I don’t think I’ve read anything that describes depression as eloquently as you have. I have dealt with the darkness post baby (and many winters) and have walked alongside other moms who suffer. You don’t describe, you don’t show, you somehow make us feel the confusion and pain of the darkness. Beautifully written!

    I especially love: “I just want to let you know that the darkness isn’t bad. It’s human. It doesn’t need a stigma.
    And I’ve found that the darkness gives this gift that just keeps growing and growing: Empathy. The word that sparkles.”

    The Psalms are rife with King David’s darkness of the soul and our ancestors suffered from “melancholy.” It is a part of life. Without it we may not be able to recognize joy.

    • Thanks for the wonderful compliment, Kathryn! And I love your reference to the Psalms. The connectedness of joy and pain are one of the things I feel like I’ll be in dialogue with God on for the rest of my life! Hug to you!

  16. So true, Evelyn. The deeper the darkness, when the the light appears, it seems brighter and we treasure it more. The light has become an imperative. It doesn’t just shine upon us so we can see the world we live in more clearly, but it also becomes an end in itself, a beauty that we want to move towards.

    • Yes, thank you Han. The light does become a different lens. I always think of a wonderful book (must remember name!) that had the description that the light is when we open our eyes incredibly wide and don’t blink. It’s almost… painful. 🙂

  17. Thank you for this post.

  18. Its really dark when your alone…Happens to me alot.

  19. Reblogged this on mani152.

  20. That was absolutely brilliant

  21. I love how you stated that maybe joy and pain are different shades of the same beautiful color. I’ve always thought of the two this way: just as darkness is the absence of light, pain is the absence of joy. However, I have never considered how they may be entangled to the point of completing each other. Very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  22. Maybe you’d want to check out my blog post, where I’ve written about pain.
    The way you deal with pain is perhaps head-on, while I prefer to whine about it! Someday I’ll be wiser and see the situation differently, hopefully

  23. Your writing always moves me; so honest and insightful! I have had my share of darkness, and know that it will come again. Darkness: another annoying opportunity for personal growth.

  24. Very eloquently put.

  25. beautifully written.. 🙂 the darkness had been my enemy and i had days feeling like a zombie, clueless in the ‘dark’. Was diagnosed having a BPD and else, but true that without the darkness, you’ll never appreciate “light” 🙂 . Thank you for the post 🙂

  26. Have you read the noonday demons by A. Solomon? Its brilliant if you`re interested in depression:)
    Thanks for sharing!


  27. Excellent read. I think joy and pain help to define each other, for you don’t know what joy is until you’ve experienced pain and you don’t know pain unless you’ve had joy. That’s why ‘tragedy’ can be a beautiful thing.


  28. Very well written. I read a few of your other posts as well. You have a very nice way or writing. You make the other person a bit wiser than before.

    As soon as I finished reading, I remembered reading one of the interactions Einstein supposedly had with his teacher. You may have read it. He talks about cold and “cold is the absence of heat”, “dark is the absence of light” etc. I think we can put a lot of such things in this perspective.

  29. Thank you for this wonderful and, for me, timely post! New hope and a new perspective for this bipolar in Spring. Sometimes, that is enough to see the pin-holes of light clearly.

  30. Beautifully written; its something i try to remind myself everyday, also there is an old ancient alchemist saying that goes ” everything has its opposite.

  31. Your writing is hauntingly beautiful! I love this post, thank you for your words! In ever upward light, Justine

  32. Pain and Joy in love..Hmmm reminds me of the story of how Love; who dint leave the island cause Hate was alone on it. Does make sense.

  33. “What if joy and pain were different shades of the same, beautiful color—not sworn foes growling and frothing from opposite corners?”
    For some reason this rang out to me. I’ve only played rugby for a few seasons and this sums up my experience perfectly. Joy and pain are a similar shade, especially after 80 minutes of mud and blood.

  34. Beautiful. You may enjoy the pretty Italian word “chiaroscuro” which has “light-dark” rolled in one.

  35. Darkness is actually prediction of sunlight because we know the fresh air and movements will appear after darkness. We just want to enjoy the pleasures of life. We do not care that how painful time we have bore. We just want to enjoy our Happy mornings. So we are able to say that darkness is actually happy news of coming time.

  36. Great
    Good luck,Evelyn

  37. Dreeming Demon

    You’ve literally Typed my mind Evelyn 🙂 absolutely love it. Keep it up. Cheers !!

  38. Wonderful stuff about a topic often too dryly discussed or altogether avoided. You have a wonderful ability to blend the poetic and the palpable. Thanks.:)

  39. What can I say? You express the feelings vividly. Thanks.

  40. What a compelling title: ‘Let’s talk about the Darkness’
    Good to have it balanced with Spiritual light. I’m a fan of Henri J.M.

  41. Following!

    What a wonderful command of the written word. And here I am using smiley faces. 🙂

  42. Beautifully written….. 🙂

  43. This is now my favorite thing now! You like put everything about depression into words. And not only into to words you put them into context and really explained things that people can understand. I love this! And i hope to read more from you :3

  44. Reblogged this on miranda2point0's Blog and commented:
    Erie. But love.

  45. Loved this part.
    The joy romances the pain, and together they let me know that others’ hearts beat with mine.

    And because of the pain, I feel the joy with a touch of innocence, like the first time plunging in to a steaming bath.

    I haven’t read anything like this before and put so beautifully

  46. Beautiful! Darkness is where I found my greatest strength. And it made me a more grateful and thankful when I finally saw the light!

  47. I have dealt with the “darkness” as far back as 6 or 7… for years (40 of them at this point) I have been reading books and websites and listening to therapists and patients in groups. I have to say that your post is the first that I have read that when I finished I actually had to ask myself if this was someone who actually “suffers”? I mean that very sincerely. I start posts and then erase over and over because it seems that everything I have to say is so dark. Who wants dark all of the time? Sure they give me seconds/minutes of relief, but really??? Again, I mean all of this as a complete compliment – I hope it’s coming off that way. It seems sick in its self to say that it was a complete surprise to say that you struggle. How unfair is that… but at the same time it gives me hope that I won’t always have such darkness to spread.

  48. I like your perspective on this. A book you might enjoy based on this is – When Fall Apart by Pema Chodrin

  49. Reblogged this on Abundant Life Tucson and commented:
    This is a beautiful post about depression. Very honest.

  50. Reblogged this on shakra meriam and commented:
    Absolutely loved this piece.. Completely relate to it.. And its inspiring.. Kind of probes you to search for the light in the darkness..

  51. Joy and pain are two parts of the same beautiful who you are. Without one you would not need the other and as things progressed from happiness and sadness eliminating each other we would all become pale bland nothingnesses. But you said all that but more beautifully

  52. I am new to blogging. Hoping it may be a gateway to self healing not only for myself but hopefully others as well. Your post held me from the start. Empathy …so true. I am currently in a place of joy & pain. I have never experienced such opposites before. Never thought they existed together . I have so much to think about this place and the possibilities it may bring. Thank you!

  53. Reblogged this on peacehuntress and commented:
    These are not my words…but felt so relevant ..darkness…joy…pain…light

  54. Hope n Motion

    Love your post! My post, The Moment, speaks to darkness and light and the journey in between as well.

  55. Pingback: Let’s Talk About Postpartum Depression, Six Years Down the Road | momsicle

  56. Pingback: Let’s Be Here Together in the Na’au | momsicle

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