When circumstances and a sequence of events threw me into a dark abyss of depression, I became the ghost next door. Depression had reared its ugly head, and I became a shell of my former self. This book captures the impact it held over me and how, through relentless search, I fought my way back to light.
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THE GHOST NEXT DOOR
How I Survived a Traumatic Depression and Came Out the Other Side
By Cheryl Story
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Cheryl Story
All rights reserved.
BEFORE THE GHOST
The fall of 2006 started as one expects when living on the west coast of Florida. Days were still humid and hot; no leaves were changing. Life for me was continuing as always. I had recently started a new job and had to travel a hundred miles a day round-trip. But the job promised advancement, and the pay was decent (as decent as you might expect in sunny Florida).
I lived with my then-partner (of almost sixteen years) in a small but comfortable home in a relatively quiet, uneventful neighborhood. We had each other, our three schnauzers, and friends, and life was good. At the same time I was beginning my new job, I was also taking classes online to finish my long-overdue BA degree in English literature. I was, for all intents and purposes, happy, and my life was full.
In late October, my partner was going away on a short trip to Michigan to visit with an old friend and get some well-needed time away from the seemingly endless task of caring for an elderly, ill mother. My new job and course online prevented me from going, obviously. What seemed an innocent period apart would change, very shortly, life as I then knew it to be.
Now looking back to the time and the events that unraveled, I recall a particular night. While walking the dogs, I suddenly had a queer feeling. A shudder went through me, and I knew that somehow, some way, a change was coming. And come it did. Had I listened to that whispering, still voice within, could I have possibly changed what lay ahead? Even now I think not.
On my partner's return, I sensed some small changes but swept them away, telling myself I was seeing something that just wasn't there. But as the time slipped into November, my fears or delusions of a lurking, hidden problem began to surface ever so slowly into a reality I had not wanted to see. Even confronting and questioning my partner didn't bring me any real answers. Deep inside, I knew something was not right, and my world seemed to change before my very eyes.
As Thanksgiving drew closer and things seemed to continue with no real answers, I finally met the situation head-on. My partner then finally stated that while we would always be the truest of friends, we were basically through. I recall the cajoling, the tears, and my arguments that we would fix whatever it was that had been broken, but to no avail. I asked if there was someone else, but no, that was not the reason; it was just past time, and there was nothing either of us could do to repair time. I remember stating that we could get counseling, together or separately; again, that was too little, too late.
During this precarious time, I spoke of this to no one—not my mother, who was and always had been more a friend than a mom, nor to anyone else. I still did not know many of my colleagues at work well enough to confide in them, and for the most part they were used to seeing me as positive. This would change very soon. Four days after Thanksgiving (which we did not celebrate together as we had in normal, different times), my partner, and one of our dogs, got in the car and drove off. And that was it.
And me—I spent most of December still attempting to mend fences that no longer could be mended. My friends George and Tim were the only ones I told about my personal situation. During the Christmas holidays, I even lied to my mother and said that my partner and I would be out of town. I contacted a counselor, thinking this might get us back on our feet. It did not, but it was the sanest choice I ever made. I had no idea how important that call would be and what an important role it would play in my next journey.
And so I began my journey to depression and the painful havoc that became my new life.
THE GHOST NEXT DOOR
You would not see me—of that I made sure. Cloaked in darkness at all times, I would do the mundane, necessary items of the day: retrieve the mail, take out the trash, walk the dog. Always confident that no one would know I was there, I didn't even know for sure that I, myself, existed. Many times I could be found, sitting in the darkness inside my home, making no noise and showing no signs of life. I sat in my protective shell, cocoon-like, waiting, usually crying. Sobs writhed through me.
I know my neighbors must have wondered, even shuddered, at what was happening within my house, what evil might prevail. My home was always in darkness; if they looked closely, they might have seen a low candle glowing or perhaps heard whimpering or my screaming.
I was the ghost next door!
When I was forced to leave my home (only out of sheer necessity), I drove through the dark streets, mindless of the traffic or other people around me. Through the days and hours, and eventually months, that I held the demons within, somehow (and yes, miraculously) I was able to keep my job, collecting on delinquent mortgages. When I did encounter people throughout the day at work, I somehow always managed to slip quickly away, avoiding contact of any kind. Conversation with others of any type, even the simplest of greetings, could—and at times did—spiral me into panic, or worse, tears.
At the end of the day, I was desperate to get back to my shell, my safe haven. Only then could I allow the sobs, the silent screaming, to begin anew.
I was the ghost next door!
This haunted house, trapped in unfathomable, painful darkness, was not chosen by me. But no one would choose this gut-wrenching, stark sadness. There were hundreds of times I would wake from stolen moments of much-needed sleep and wonder at the depths of my sadness. I questioned the whats and the whys. How did I allow myself to become this way? How did I give another person the power to rip my life apart at the seams? And how was it that my breath still came, without reminding myself to do that very thing? I learned that just breathing can be the hardest thing of all. I yelled at God sometimes, waiting for answers. I heard none. Yet somehow I knew the answer seemed to be that I had simply allowed this.
I was the ghost next door!
When I first felt this depression envelop me, when the darkness began its vast descent, I was surprised. I was surprised not only by the depths of this depression but also by the fact that I had been visited by depression at all. There had been other hard times in my life: difficult days, heartrending events, losses, and deaths of loved ones. But I had always prevailed before. In fact, many people considered me a rock, a source of strength in times of woe. This time, however, through a sequence of events and circumstances not chosen by me, I found my way to depression.
I was the ghost next door!
In my new home, my haunted house, there was no laughter and no joy. There was no light at all. Hope, which is our very thread to life and to light itself, had seemingly slipped through my fingertips and escaped me. A shell of my former self, I gave way and grew ever closer to the darkness I now welcomed as friend.
I was the ghost next door.
I wore these new, translucent robes well. Their shackles enveloped me and stretched through to every fiber of my being. The stark, deep, entrenching darkness encroached its way into every aspect of myself. And now more often than not, it seemed much easier just to end my life, which held so very little meaning for me. The thought of ending my life came easily and often. When one feels that one's life has been ripped away and one's very heart is gone, death seems an obvious end.
I was, after all, the ghost next door.
There were many times, late in the night, alone in my own stillness, that the thought of suicide beckoned to me. Somehow it seemed fitting to me. It alone would quiet the despair and the utter futility I now viewed as my life. I even remember thinking once that I could just go outside behind my house and lie there quietly, waiting to be gone forever, to be done with all this sorrow and pain. Today, I do not recall what prevented me from taking my own life. I do know it was providence, and perhaps a visit from an angel. For whatever purpose, whatever His reasoning, God did step in.
THE GHOST LINGERS ...
My life (if one could call it that) remained cast in shadows, and the tears continued to flow. I found solace only when I was safe within the quiet of my home. It was there and only there that I could give in to the darkness, wrapped up and hidden from the world. Here, in this quiet, I could give way to tortured sobs.
It should come as no surprise that in my haven, the darkness, I would rant, beg, and even plead with God. Often, I do not know exactly what I sought from Him, but ask I did. More often than I would like to admit, I would argue and, yes, even scream at God. But between the yelling and the sobs and the rants, I also began to pray. And still the ghost remained.
Depression is a mighty beast. It can knock us down to the ground and keep beating even after we are down for the count. It slithers and seeps into every single pore of our beings and gives no rest. Life ceases, halted for a time by this silent, cunning demon. It can and does affect every portion of our lives and touches the lives of those around us as well.
I spent many weeks and countless hours praying, scolding God, and even bargaining. Bargaining with what, you might ask. I did not know that either. What could I or anyone have to offer to God? Those answers would come to me much later.
These actions did not bring peace (yet), nor did they bring hope. Yet solace I sought, and solace I began to find. But still it seemed that I had become so insubstantial that I would never be solid again.
And still the ghost remained. But the ghost began to see a glimmer of ...
There were times I was amazed at the tears. How much could one person cry? The abyss continued to wrap me in its fog. As the tears and darkness continued, so did my search for grace, God, and some kind of peace.
Somewhere from within, through the mists of tears and the darkness, I began to sense a change. As my ranting and praying continued, I began to feel a lifting and some ease in the pain. This ghost had enveloped and cloaked me for many months now, and at times it seemed destined to stay. When one becomes accustomed to darkness, one almost welcomes it. It seems to wrap you in some nether world of safety. Yet one realizes this is untrue. And somehow, at some point, something within me let go of this stranglehold. I began my ascent.
It was not immediate. It did not take minutes or hours—or even days! But climb I did, slowly, gasping for breath, and seeking the light. In reaching for that light, I began again to see a glimpse, a brief hint, of hope. I had begun to feel and to view within myself a quiet change. Slowly, I began to feel some of the depression lift from me.
After a time, I sensed that the ghost had begun to hope again. Somewhere within me I felt that somehow I had made it past the midnight hour, like the hands on the clock. This slow progression past midnight seemed to bring signals within me of quiet changes. I began to feel an awareness, a change in my inner spirit. We all, at one time or another, pass through a dark night. A new dawn brings with it a new vision. We begin to see new answers, possibilities not visualized in the darkest hours of night.
Loss is normal, even expected, in each of our lives. Being lost, however, is an entirely different journey. Feeling lost inspires intense fear. It is as if you are a young child in a mall, disconnected from your family. Being lost means not having hope; it means aimless wandering. And your cries for help in your anguish seemingly go unanswered. There is loss, and then there is being lost. My travel to the darkness included both.
THE GHOST BECOMES WEARY ...
I had somehow, after days and weeks, begun to feel a strengthening within me. I had a clearer view of the person I truly was and of the life I wanted to continue.
As light began to seep into and through the mists of the darkness, I was aware of myself beginning to emerge. The new self was small, stretching baby steps toward the light, crawling slowly to the end of this tunnel and away from the ghost. It is much like swimming in the dark waters of a lake. You are unable to see anything in front of you or around you at all. But instinctively you know that you must push upward toward the surface. There, gasping for breath, you are again free and surrounded by light.
The ghost does not want the light; it even shuns the light. It is quite happy with how things are and wants you to stay, forever, in the darkness. But like a swimmer in that dark lake, I had begun my ascent toward light, hope, and life. The ghost I had become, the ghost that had surrounded and shrouded me in darkness, grew ever wearier and then was gone.
HOW I BECAME FREE FROM THE GHOST AND DARKNESS
This travel to the darkness is not mine alone. Many before and after me have taken this same road, though certainly not by choice. I am no expert in this journey. Any of us at any time could become a ghost too. The ghost that I had become may very well be familiar to you, now or at some point in your life.
It was several years later that I understood that the ghost had been silent within me for a very long time. Today I can honestly say that I count it as a blessing that my ghost appeared at all. If depression had not taken such complete control over me, I would likely not be here to write this at all. My time with the ghost taught me to seek help, to turn to others, and to know truly and very deeply that without God, I am utterly alone. It is not an easy thing to confess, but quite frankly, I most likely would have taken my own life long before now if not for the ghost.
The event that had catapulted me into impending darkness, as I stated earlier, caught me unaware. Someone who is unprepared for a storm can do little against the arrival of peril. Yet when I first felt the tentative approaching of the darkness, I began taking small steps to protect me from the coming storm.
How blessed we all are to have an inner knowledge, an intuition, that "still, small voice within," to aid us even in the darkest moments of our lives. Even as the ghost was lurking, that voice within me started to instruct and, yes, to protect. I had long held a firm, quiet faith in God. I knew without doubt that He existed and was here for us all. I was not a churchgoer and rather abhorred religion itself, instead believing that my church was the world around me and within. At the time of my descent into the abyss of deep depression, my relationship with God was shallow, at best.
As I began to feel more and more like a ghost, somehow I knew there were certain measures I had to take—and quickly. It was with apprehension that I pulled out a phone book and went to the directory for counselors. Because of the state of my relationship with religion itself, I did not want to seek help from a minister.
I was lucky (blessed) to find a counselor who was recommended by a Methodist church I contacted. As if planned, I found that her office was not far from my home. I went to see her and continued meeting with her weekly, if not more often, for close to nine months. These sessions with her at first were traumatic in themselves and quite difficult. I am not one to speak of personal matters and prefer keeping them to myself or sharing them only with a trusted friend. There had always been things I did not share with my close family. And if I ever thought for a moment that something might worry my mother, I kept my thoughts to myself. So, these weekly meetings with the counselor were a huge first step, but they were also very, very necessary.
These sessions with Dr. Elizabeth became a vital portion of my week. At first much of them were spent crying. But as our talks took shape, I began to see not only who I was but also how misshapen my sixteen-year relationship had been. She helped me see my true self better than ever before and define mistakes made by me and others in my relationships. There is much to be said for speaking with someone who has no knowledge of any of the players in one's life and can offer true and insightful guidance. I will always be thankful to her and to the path that led me to her.
Excerpted from THE GHOST NEXT DOOR by Cheryl Story. Copyright © 2013 Cheryl Story. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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