More Yang, Less Yin

The yin (shade, darkness) and the yang (light, sunshine) are opposite and interdependent, constantly changing, sometimes more one than the other and on occasion, one engulfed within the other.

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Mercurial, haphazard, in perpetual motion and full of contrasts: light and dark, day and night, happiness and sorrow. Our lives embody the yin-yang and for our part we must learn to adapt, knowing that bad times will eventually give way to good. As a reasonably optimistic person I live in hope that any periods of yin in my life will eventually give way to yang and on the whole that’s what happens. Living with someone who is suffering from fairly severe depression calls the whole yin-yang into question though and at present I’d appreciate a bit more yang and a lot less yin in my son’s life.

When someone develops cancer it’s immensely difficult for them and for their family and friends. As well as being a distressing sometimes frightening experience, family members often feel helpless because they believe they are unable to do anything that will change the situation for the better. Clinically this is likely to be the case but spiritually and emotionally it is not so. I know this all too well as I’ve been on both sides of the cancer fence, patient and family member. I now know the same sense of helplessness can be true when sharing your life with someone who is struggling with depression.

Watching a person you love withdraw from the world, continually question their worth and slip into thought patterns that hold no glimmer of hope or positivity is extremely challenging. Emotionally it’s very draining and this is especially so when you think you’ve turned a corner only to find yet another brick wall shrouded in darkness. That darkness is insidious and as a parent it chills my heart because I have no way of knowing how long it will continue or how much darker it might get before some daylight eventually creeps into my son’s most desperately unhappy episodes. Though he is making progress (we both thought the worst might be over) it seems minor incidents continue to throw him back into the void. Often that journey is highly traumatic and when he goes back to the darkest place we have to start again from the beginning, covering old ground and having the same conversations.

“Life is unfair,” “why do bad things happen to good people?” and “how come nasty people make other peoples lives a misery without consequences?” are regular features of our cyclical, circular communiques. It takes a significant amount of rational discussion and sound reasoning to help dissuade these views once they’ve taken root and I am not always successful. When I explain with clinical precision that fairness, bad things or nasty people are simply concepts and value judgements i.e. they are all made up, the message sometimes strikes a chord. Illustrating that life is a series of events to which we attach meaning, meanings are subjective and intangible thus fair/unfair, good/bad or nasty/nice can only ever exist in our personal view of the world occasionally comes across as off-beat or plain weird enough to provoke a degree of confusion and in doing so lets a sliver of light reach in.

I seem to serve as a constant reminder that a caterpillar sees only the end but for the butterfly life is just beginning. It takes patience, time and unwavering commitment when we’re having the same conversation for the two-hundredth time. I’m not a psychologist. I have no real idea how to help challenge the spectre of depression yet I feel compelled to do so. Something primordial whispers do whatever it takes, prevent it gaining so firm a hold that it might never let go… because deep in my own psyche lies the thought that it might not let go.

In those moments I think of the caterpillar. There is a period of complete chaos where it is nothing more than cell soup inside a paper-thin wrapper. During a few weeks metamorphosis it’s yin is transformed by the developing yang and then, almost miraculously, a butterfly breaks free. Life is once again in order and it has chosen a new and vibrant shape. No trace of the caterpillar’s doom remains to be seen.

This, I have to hope, is what lies ahead. In the meantime, patience and tenacity prevail.

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