The Dark Days

If you’ve read a few of these posts, you’ve probably noticed that they are upbeat and positive. “I was thrilled…,”  “I am forever grateful…,” “The shoot went well…” It seems A Life’s Work and my life are skipping hand in hand down a carefree path where only good things happen. In bringing this to your attention you might wonder, “Is David on happy pills or is he lying?” Neither.

One reason for all the positivity is, though this is a blog about the process of making a documentary, it also exists to promote the film, so it’s not really in my interest to be a negative Nancy. Another reason is that I am optimistic by nature. But make no mistake, the dark days are there, I just haven’t written about them. And even though the dark days haven’t crept up on me in a while, I’ve been feeling like I should share this experience, so here you go.

This photo was not taken on a dark day. It just looks like it was.

The darkness can descend for any number of reasons: A shoot didn’t go as planned, a grant or story rejection, a nightmare, a flare up in my creaky lower back, perceived indifference, looking at a pile of laundry that needs to be done. Whatever the reason, great or small, real or imagined, the darkness can grab hold and drag me into a downward spiral.

So how do I manage it?

I do a few different things. I list things I have to be grateful for, and this list is embarrassingly long. If it’s one of the dark days where I’m less than thrilled with A Life’s Work I step away from it and don’t work on it. I don’t try to force it. On those dark days it’s easy to make bad decisions, and though it’s easy enough to go back to a version that was saved before the dark day, dark-day decisions sometimes just make me feel worse. I try to go outside, walk or bike along my beloved Hudson River. I visit with friends who, even though we may not talk about the darkness, have a way alleviating the gloom. I avoid alcohol on the dark days (I’m renowned for my moderation anyway) because for me, after the giddiness of initial consumption the alcohol will exacerbate the darkness to a frightening degree. Often I clean my apartment like a fiend. The sense of accomplishment is significant and the physical activity must get some of those good endorphins flowing. I play guitar A LOT on the dark days. It seems like it’s the one creative thing I can do. When I am playing music that is all I am doing; I am not remembering or regretting, projecting or expecting. I am present. I play all manner of songs, from If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will) to Girl from Ipanema to Back in Your Life to Back in Black to a Villa Lobos Prelude.

If the darkness is particularly stubborn and lingers into the evening, I’ll watch a film, something I know is inspiring or soothing or engrossing. This can mean a film by Yasujiro Ozu, a Japanese samurai film like one of the Lone Wolf and Cub series, or a documentary by the Maysles. Depends, I suppose. Then I read myself to sleep.

What I’m doing is shifting my focus from dark to light.

More often than not the darkness is gone in the morning. If not, I keep battling it the same way. Eventually the darkness leaves; I know now after many years, and thanks to the help of friends and others, that the light I possess is brighter and more powerful than the darkest darkness.

I believe we become stronger when we share our stories; “we” being the teller and the listener/reader, and that is why I’m sharing this with you.

For a harrowing and enlightening book about one man’s battle with depression, check out Darkness Visible by William Styron. I’ve found comfort in this book more than once.

[Cross-posted on]

2 Replies to “The Dark Days”

  1. Hey! You told me you never got flare-ups in your back since you’ve been doing those exercises I never do! ;D

    Loved this.

  2. Glad you liked the post, Karen O.

    I’m always in a little discomfort or pain, but it becomes more intense when I’ve been slacking off on the exercises that you never do. (Shame on you, Karen O.) This is no surprise, really, but part of that insidious cycle. Probably the worst thing I can do when I’m low is become inactive, which then makes my body feel worse, which then makes my mood worse, which makes it harder to become active, etc.

    As always, great to see your name here.


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