Finding Clarity, Connection, and Constellations in Dark Times

Sometimes the most poignant of life's lessons reach us when we're down

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by Christie Patient |

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Unlike members of the band Green Day, I could happily live through an entire year of Septembers. Januarys though? Wake me up when that ends.

I always find myself exhausted and burnt out this time of year. I used to chalk it up to seasonal depression, but it’s hard to blame the weather now that I live in a land of endless summer.

Maybe on a cellular level, my body is in tune with the seasons of my origin. It tells me that this is a time for internal wintering, even when the orchid tree outside my door says it’s time to bloom.

What makes January especially hard for me are the anniversaries. In 2018, I lost my cousin Charlie to lung cancer. The next year, my mom, Holly, had an exacerbation of acute respiratory failure due to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), and I spent the entire month of January at her bedside in the ICU.

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Much like the surf report on the North Shore of O‘ahu, where I live, waves of grief swell in January. This year is no exception, and with new grief from losing a close friend in August and my childhood neighbor Nona — someone in my life who lived up to her grandmotherly name — in June, I am in for a month of big feelings.

In the past, I’ve hated myself for feeling so miserable (because if one thing cures depression, it’s self-loathing, right?). It’s taken a lot of work, but now I am able to sit with all of my unpleasant feelings. I surrender to them. I ride the waves of pain, sadness, and fear. This year, I welcome anger for perhaps the first time. I turn things over and over, trying to make sense of the senseless, looking for ways forward through the dark.

Maybe you can relate to this practice of aching — this willingness to fumble around without a light until your eyes adjust and you get some clarity. Or maybe you never leave home without a headlamp.

Balance and light

Even in the darkness of my internal winter, or maybe because of it, some things become abundantly clear. Truths emerge from the grief like constellations blooming in the sky as dusk gives way to night.

The one truth that I keep relearning is that life is full of polarities. Everything is connected and fighting for equilibrium. Despite a tendency toward entropy, the body battles for homeostasis. The exhale forces an inhale. The universe, I believe, seeks balance.

With each new challenge in my life, that constellation of truth guides me through the dark. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I can’t. But I can take comfort in believing in balance.

Going through the IPF journey with my mom tested me in so many ways. I can recall the weight of responsibility and the fear, loneliness, and uncertainty I felt when I became her caregiver. But I also recall courage, vulnerability, and trust I had in forces beyond myself. Those were raw and tender days, and I’m so grateful I showed up for them.

By having the courage to care, I became a person I am proud to be. I am someone who moves with power when I am in pain. In the wake of loss, I choose the path of love more frequently — with myself and others. I have a lower tolerance for halfhearted relationships, unkind behaviors, and my own excuses.

So, as I endure another gut-wrenching January, I take comfort in the balancing act that I know is going on all around and inside of me.

We all cope with our challenges in different ways, but I hope that if you are facing something that feels too big to handle — if your heart is broken and your world feels dark — that you can nurture whatever pinprick of light breaks through.

My wish for you in this new year is that you find a truth that comforts and guides you through dark times. And if you are struggling to find that thing, take heart in this other truth I’ve come to rely upon: Even though you can’t see very far, you are never alone in the dark. If you call out, someone will answer. I promise.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Janet Zacharias avatar

Janet Zacharias

Thanks for the thought provoking column. I experienced an exacerbation and spent Christmas in the hospital, came home and went from no supplementary O2 to 24/7 O2. I'm feeling the darkness too.


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