February 12, 2017

How I Traded in my Life in the Darkness for one of Empathy.


I would like to present my case for respecting the darkness.

Remember that weird girl in school? The one with the spider earrings and the black, band shirts. She was kind of moody and missed school a lot. She was always cracking jokes and making everyone laugh, but inside she was fighting the battle of a lifetime. That was me.

There is no way to accurately describe the dark side for those who have never been there.

Let me give it my best try: It is gloomy and lonely. While others around me were playing sports and finding their gifts and talents, I was barely scraping by in school, and I was obsessed with dying.

I felt like I lived in a world with an excess of gravity.

Everything seemed harder for me to accomplish, impossible really. Each interaction felt like a burden, draining me of every drop of energy I held. I was trapped in an unwanted life. I felt judged and misunderstood.

My mother would ask what was so horrible about my life, and I could only think to answer with, “What is so great?” Her love of life seemed naive to me. My mind emphasized work, struggling and how I spent most of my time in agonizing worry.

It shocked me years later to read that they have found that PTSD is perhaps created by our inability to cope with trauma when we feel isolated and unsupported. This concept is commonly demonstrated when servicemen begin suffering after their return to everyday life. Although their family and friends love them, they cannot easily empathize with their feelings. They have no one who understands what they have experienced.

Could something as simple as empathy and support be the cure to such a devastating issue as PTSD?

I assure you that voyaging into the darkness of depression is not a choice. No one decides to go in and set up residence there. I stumbled in quite accidentally, at the age of 13, after a friend of mine was murdered. I was abducted by the darkness without realizing it had overtaken me.

There was no warning.

My mind had shifted. My thoughts suddenly became bleak and hopeless. I saw no saw no difference then, but now I see that they changed. At the time, they were still just normal thoughts.

For my closest friends and family, it was confusing and frustrating. It looked as though I had willfully abandoned them and that I had the choice to simply come back out. It was painful and alienating. I had become completely removed from everything and everyone.

Before I have you believing that this darkness I describe is all bad and has no merit, let me tell you what it gave to me.

It was a slow recovery, similar to digging myself out of a grave. Over time, and with a lot of talking and professional help, I began to experience some feeling again. I had help to painstakingly exhume my soul from the dread, fear, hurt, sadness and grief. It took years, but I finally emerged, much changed.

I knew I had recovered when, like a sunrise dawning, a vista of brightness and euphoria began to appear before me. Like never before there was a brilliance to my existence. My eyes could see and my mind could process—there was light. I began to see happiness in even the mundane. There was excitement and hope, people and places I wanted to explore and appreciate.

I also discovered I had a real love in my heart for those hurt and were struggling. I was drawn to people who were suffering and able to resonate with the depth of their agony. I had been there. I knew it too.

The dark side has definitely left its mark on me.

Today I have an easy understanding of others who are lost in misery and isolation. I can hold space for them. I know it is heard when I tell them, over and over, “I am here, and I will be here as long as you need me to be, even when it seems it is doing no good.”

Even 20 years later, I still feel like a beacon to those lost in their darkness. I am the living proof that there is the possibility of liberation from its hold.

I celebrate the time I spent in darkness, now knowing that what almost killed me, instead made me wiser. My time in the dark has become my gift. It keeps me soft and kind and serves forever as a filter that allows me to see and help others find just how truly resplendent living can be.


The darkest dread is that of fear, and of the unknown.

The deepest pain released in tears, as my depression grows.

That sinking lonely feeling, the hurt cannot be told.

Rearing its ugly head and crushing me in its hold.

It tears me from my family, pushes my love down deep inside.

It steals my every moment and belittles me with lies.

This monster dwells within me, it never takes a leave.

It hides amongst the shadows and descends like a disease.

There must be a way to kill it, surely there is a cure.

I must find a way of escaping, not much more can I endure.

**Author’s note: This poem was written in the midst of my deepest darkness, when I was 17 years old. 11/5/1991


Author: Traci Burnam

Image: Flickr/UD Misi

Editor: Molly Murphy

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