the darkest places

Artwork by Kate Gillett

I write about darkness because in this world of glossy plastic and colour TV we do not hear it enough. But I write without authority. Anyone who has walked through those jagged edges knows there is nothing but deep humility left. We know it’s not skill or technique, courage, effort or willpower that brings us through these places. It is grace.

I don’t like to write about this, not because I’m ashamed but because we are all afraid of this place. And when scared, people get angry, they turn cold, they turn false. They paste on smiles that strain cheek bones and say thinly (with feeling), ‘Maybe you should go and talk to someone (a doctor/a therapist/someone whose not me).’ They want to care, they want to seem caring, but they want to do it without touching this very dark thing lurking behind weary eyes.

But here I write it anyway. I leave it out in the open like a raw nub of a broken pinecone left in the sand and filled with dirt:

I am lying curled up in a ball in the kind of pain that has my skin crawling off to take up residence in another location. The kind of pain that makes my bones ache for the earth, an early burial, the dark dank grip of underground where I might finally find rest and relief. Respite from the waves of fury, shame and terror raging through the nervous system, clashing and giving way only to exhausted despair that drags on into a dry desert without end. Even my fingers have stopped clawing their way to some ethereal oasis. The kind of pain that brings to mind images of razors dripping with blood, bodies hanging from nooses, the speeding vehicle and the oblivion at the end.

I don’t like to write about it because something must be deeply wrong with me that such bleak places exist within my internal horizons. I must have stopped doing the things that keep me ‘well’. Not enough exercise or work, time with friends and family, not enough prayer. I’ve not kept myself busy enough to outrun that place. I’ve come out of balance.

Life isn’t always in balance. Nepal, my much beloved childhood home and internal-country, recently lurched sideways, up and down, and came crumbling into collapse. It’s nothing Nepal did, or failed to do. The forces of nature are at times brutal and confounding. The most damaging thing humanity ever did was use it’s frontal lobe (made of organic matter) to forget that we are just another extension of nature. The same seismic forces shifting tectonic plates also act upon my cells, my water, my blood, my electric nervous system. So I say it again: life isn’t always in balance.

It isn’t skill, effort, willpower, technique or courage that keeps us in or out of the darkest places. It is grace. It is grace that pushes us to our knees and over the edge into that abyss where demons wearing our own face contort in howls of pain. It is grace that pulls a blanket over our aching skin and bones and holds us while we rattle. It is grace that finds us still lying there when the storm has blown through and the sun has come out; the horror so completely swept away it is hard to believe such craziness really terrorised, that it really happened.

Except that if you take your fingers and palpate your heart, you’ll find missing the hardened dry skin of your armoured defence. You’ll find the place now soft, open, and feeling. The part umbilically linked to a deeper grace, a part no longer your own, a part surrendered.

A part that knows, always knew, it was never you or yours anyway.

If you take your fingers to your broken heart, there you will find grace.


  1. Please remember you are always invited to comment and begin a discussion on this blog. I thought as an appendix I would add this quote by Parker Palmer on his experience of clinical depression that I recently moved me:

    "I don’t have the foggiest idea of how I was able not only to survive them, but to thrive on the other side. As I’ve written, people often say, “I just don’t understand why X took his or her own life.” Well, having spent time in a place where life did not seem worth living, I understand perfectly why people take their own lives: they need the rest. What I don’t understand is why some people come through to new life. Therapy may help, medication may help, changing your life path may help, etc., etc. But in the final analysis, it’s a mystery to me, and I’m inclined to believe that anyone who claims to “have the answer” about how to rise above depression hasn’t been there."
    - See more at:

  2. Caitlin, you are dancing round the edges of something, what exactly that is I'm not sure. You say you write without authority of darkness, yet there is authority and experience (of something) in your writing. And I hear bitterness too - it seems people have let you down. You gracefully describe your feelings, the concept of balance and the 'grace' which seems to have saved you, and yet are you are unable to provide context... as a reader, I am left to make some assumptions of what it is you are really trying to say and I am confused. It is as if the picture I am looking at is just out of focus and I can't quite pull the picture into focus because there are not enough clues.

    I think you write beautifully, however, I urge you to use plain words. Don't be afraid of using labels to reach a common understanding with your audience, those labels are a foundation, a place from which to start.

    I'm glad you have found grace in your life.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read, and give me feedback on your experience as a reader. I can totally see what you mean about the piece dancing around the edges and being vague, and it's good food for thought for any further development of this piece. This entry on the blog is a particularly unformed one, and maybe I should pull that picture into focus!


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