Beyond Blue

I have a friend who refers to his other half as his “solar-powered wife.” This sunshine-dependent woman has learned (the hard way of course) that she is a “high-intensity light” human being, a living organism that functions best when exposed to high-quality (a.k.a. Floridian or Virgin-Islandian) direct sunlight for long periods of time. When plucked from the Southern beaches and planted back into her New England home, this life form withers like so many others who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

I’m a “high- to medium-intensity light” person myself. If I didn’t have two small mouths to feed here (and one slightly bigger one), I’d flock to Florida and write from there. Instead I work under a mammoth HappyLite and pretend my feet are in the sand.

Humans are like plants. Some of us require long exposures to intense sunlight while others thrive on very little. Ray. R. Rothenberger from the Department of Horticulture at the University of Missouri-Columbia writes about the different kinds of light various houseplants need. The Chinese evergreen (aglaonema), for example, requires low to medium light intensity, while the spider plant (chlorophytum comosum) demands medium to high intensity sunlight.

As a depressive, I’m intrigued by the process of photosynthesis in plants–how they use sunlight to produce sugar and chemical energy. The word, quite literally, means the “putting together” (synthesis) of “light” (photo). All of life depends on this chemical process, which uses water, light, and carbon monoxide to release oxygen.

Photosynthesis is not all that different from the way we process light. According to Dr. Kevin Keough, this is how light therapy works:

“In simple terms, after light hits our eyes, it travels through the brain to a specific area, causing biological changes that impact how we think, feel, and function. In technical terms, after bright light hits our eyes, it travels along the retinohypothalamic tracts to the suprachasmatic nucleus located in the hypothalamus. From there, it moves to the pineal gland. This complex process triggers hormonal and neurochemical changes that alter core body temperature, melatonin secretion, and serotonin and related neurotransmitter levels. These biological changes ultimately result in fairly rapid changes in our body clock and circadian rhythm that affects how we think, feel, and function.”

None of us could live in darkness. Even the “low-intensity light” human beings and plants. For starters, we’d suffocate because no oxygen would be released into the air we breathe.

That’s why, when it came to creation, God started with light.

An epiphany can mean several things: an “Aha!” moment after relentless searching and study, the first time you see something (or someone) in its natural form, or the Christian feast commemorating the visit and adoration of the Christ Child by the three wise men.

As a child, I imagined I was a Wise Girl (not a mafia chick or Wonder Woman’s best friend), an astrologer from the east guided by a bright star towards Bethlehem. I wondered what special gift I could give Jesus and his parents in addition to the gold, frankincense, and myrrh presented by the Magi.

Yesterday, on the feast of the Epiphany, I remembered the “Aha!” moment of a year ago.

I prayed and prayed and prayed some more that God would take away my depression.

I was in church, kneeling, bawling my eyes out (typical behavior at that time).

“If you never take away this depression,” I said to God, “then I can never know what my real gifts are. I can’t offer the world anything until you take this bloody thing away!”

The reading that day was 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10, the text where Paul appeals to God three times to remove the thorn from his flesh. I didn’t like what the Lord said back to Paul, but it made sense:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul goes on to say, “So I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

The message I heard from the heavens that day on my knees was this: “Look, dear child, I know your depression and whacky moods really suck, but can’t you see how they also add to your empathetic and introspective nature? I’m sorry, but the constant PMS-like symptoms keep you humble, faithful, and compassionate towards others that suffer. So learn to deal with them.”

In other words, I pleaded with God to take away the blindfold so that I could paint a masterpiece in my lifetime. But not only did he not restore my sight, he insisted that any masterpiece I might produce on this side of death could only be created in my blindness.

In my 35 years as a Catholic I had heard this passage many times before and listened to countless interpretations of it–the purpose of suffering, the role of humility, and so on. But never did I attach it to my depression.

“If this is a gift,” I yelled back to God, “then I want to return it! Now!”

But the divine creator doesn’t operate like a customer service representative. There are no merchandise exchanges, or 30-day guarantees up where he hangs out. What you get is what you get.

Have you had any epiphany moments?

Here are some cool quotes from “The Artist’s Way:”

I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.
–William Blake

God becomes an activity in our consciousness.
–Joel S. Goldsmith

Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over and whispers, “Grow, grow.”
–The Talmud

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Talking to my mom is like reading a chapter of the Big Book (the 12-step Bible). I vented to her yesterday about a spat I had with an in-law. All I wanted her to say was, “You are right. On all counts, you are absolutely right.” Instead she fed me a line from her 12-step literature: “No person, place, thing, or circumstance can take away your serenity.”

Puh-lease. Did the author of these words mistake some addicts and their kin with a band of Buddhist monks ready to slip into the sandals of the Dalai Lama? I know that there are advanced souls out there who have mastered this spiritual law. But as an eternal beginner in recovery, I direct my energy toward maxims that speak more to my infant state. Like, for example, “You don’t have to like them. You just have to love them.” If I stick to loving family members even when I don’t want to, maybe after awhile hurtful quarrels won’t disrupt my inner peace. But I seriously doubt it.