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When Depression Finds You in the Darkness of the 'Witching Hour'

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For me, one of the (few) benefits of the fatigue that Lyme disease causes has been a temporary reprieve from my chronic insomnia. For the past two months, I have been falling into my bed in an exhaustion-induced stupor, asleep before my cheek even makes contact with the pillow, and then staying that way all night. In the same position. Like, you could make one of those chalk outlines around me that the police use to mark where the dead body was, and in the morning, I would still be nestled neatly within the lines. I don’t even wake up to pee — which considering the state my bladder is in after four babies is nothing short of a miracle in and of itself.

Anyway, I tell you this not so that all my fellow insomniacs will run out and stick ticks to themselves — but so I can lay the groundwork for just how devastating it was last night when the streak finally broke and I couldn’t sleep.


Here we go again.

Maybe if I was a “better” person, I could look at insomnia as a gift, or at least a passive aggressive “FU” from the universe in response to my incessant complaining about how there just isn’t enough time in the day. If I was an even better person than that, perhaps I could actually use those hours to accomplish things, like toilet cleaning and meal prepping (although not necessarily in that order). Except I’m not a “better” person, and I’m pretty much the worst version of my already crappy self at 3 a.m. So instead, I usually decide to spend the time staring at the ceiling, fighting an ever-increasing sense of panic, and reflecting on every poor decision I have ever made in my life — like that time when I was 8 and I cut my eyebrows off with my mother’s manicure scissors, or how I sat my kid down much more recently and told him how society frowns on him walking around with big boogers in his nose, and now he walks around with his finger in his nose, which I’m pretty sure means I made it worse.

So last night, I lay there feeling the brownie ripple ice cream I had bought “for the kids” and then eaten right out of the carton after they went to bed roll around in my belly and wondering how one could live in a house so filled to its brim with people and still feel so incredibly alone.

Because that’s what the dark does, isn’t it?

It takes us when we are at our worst — the makeup long removed and our hair a little bird’s-nest-esque from hours spent tossing and turning, and maybe I shouldn’t even call your attention to the granny panties that are a little floppy since they lost their elastic a few hundred washes ago — and it tosses us deep into the scariest parts of our minds with nary a hand to pull us out because everyone else is sleeping.

This is the witching hour.

Not only is it dark out there, but it’s the inky kind of dark that can make us doubt the certainty of the sun ever actually rising again. And our families are in the enviable phase of sleep where their breathing has slowed enough to compel us — in our vulnerable state — to put our hands on their chests to make sure they are not dead. It may be silly, but that is exactly what I’m talking about, you guys: Who does that sh*t in the normal light of day? Could you imagine sitting in a meeting at work next to a guy who has been quiet for so long you convince yourself he might actually be dead? I spent a lot of years working in the public sector, and people actually did sleep, and I still never felt compelled to put my hand on their chests. This is the kind of stuff that only makes sense when it’s the witching hour.

It’s in the witching hour, too, that we are most vulnerable to the stories the darkness tells. “You’re not good enough,” it says, and we nod our bedraggled heads along agreeably, because what kind of decent person cuts off their eyebrows with manicure scissors, anyway? Who teaches their kid they should pick their nose?

“You will never have enough,” is another common witching hour refrain I’ve heard, whatever “it” may be: money, love, romance, ice cream, pain relief, forgiveness, time, or just plain old sleep. It’s easy then in the dark to forget how everything we need is right inside of us anyway, and as far as ice cream and some of the other ones go, maybe it’s true we can never have enough of the things we don’t actually need.

The witching hour is like those terrible sunglasses they make you wear after you have a procedure done on your eyes — the ones that dim the lights and block out everything but what’s right in front of your face, so you can’t see all of the people walking alongside of you. It’s easy to look out the window through the dim lenses and into that inky black and think about how everyone else is doing it better than you. For sure they are sleeping, and even if they are not, they are at least scrubbing something and certainly not making a mental list of all the terrible things they said to their mother when they were angry that it’s now too late to ever take back.

And then last night, lying there in the dark, I remembered something very important. I remembered how two months ago, when I was deep in the Lyme and feverish and lying alone in the darkness of the witching hour, I rolled over and saw out my window and into my neighbor’s window across from mine. And there was a light.

I remember thinking it was odd, since it was late summer and still hot out, and it was the middle of the night besides, but there, up against the window was the unmistakable flickering of a candle. If I pulled the curtain back and laid still and put my head just right on the pillow, I could watch it — and I did, for hours. It was beautiful. I was sick and scared of what was going to happen, and all of my grief and sadness and inadequacy wanted to rush over me in a witching-hour tidal wave, but I anchored myself so tightly to that light in the window and I didn’t let go, no matter what.

At some point I must have fallen asleep, because then it was morning again and the fever had broken in the night, and the room was flooded with that yellow light of early September. But even still — just for good measure — I parted the curtains and made sure it hadn’t been a hallucination. And there, still flickering but faint now because it was day, was the candle.

Last night, there wasn’t a candle — I checked — but that was OK, because the memory of the candle was enough to anchor myself to when I started to drift into that ugly darkness of the witching hour. And at some point, I must have fallen asleep again (because we always eventually do), and in the morning there was the light of late November, reassuring still, but softer just the same.

But I remembered. So I lit a candle myself and put my own hand on my own chest and felt the rise and fall, and guess what? It was enough.

Image via Thinkstock.

A version of this post originally appeared on Liz’s blog.

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Originally published: December 2, 2016
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