Hole in the soul

A few years ago I was struggling. I was going through a difficult time, feeling depressed, sad, empty, not myself at all. For a time I was miserable, but over a period of months I came to terms with some of the issues I’d been struggling with. And eventually life was better again; not perfect, but so much better.

Sometimes I remember those months, and what I learned from the experience.

Depression steals your energy. I remember feeling like I just wanted to sleep, to escape. Simple chores were overwhelming. The only thing that kept me somewhat normal was work. Work helped me put on the façade, gave me a reason to get up and get moving. Because I didn’t want to bring drama to my work place, I tried to minimize what I was going through, tried to hold myself together so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed with my co-workers.

Depression steals your appetite. At least that was what happened to me. I lost interest in cooking. I was alone a lot during those months, and it was easy to ignore meals when I wasn’t hungry, and too disinterested to cook. I lost 20 pounds in a few months. Best and worst diet experience I’ve ever had, the only “diet” that was effortless. In the past I’d put on pants or a favorite skirt and realized it was time to lose a few pounds. I’ve never before had to look through my closet for something to wear that wouldn’t fall off me.

Depression steals your interests. I would try to read to take my mind off the things that were bothering me. I couldn’t read. I would try to watch TV. I couldn’t stay engaged. I couldn’t settle myself long enough to accomplish much. I was restless and yet exhausted.

Depression steals your rest. I slept a lot when I wasn’t working. But often in the middle of the night I would wake up and my mind would race, going over and over the things that were troubling me. I was sleeping all the time, but not resting. My sleep cycle was broken by stress and worry, and somehow, the more I slept, the less I rested.

Once I was in the grocery store, walking around like a ghost, feeling the physical impact of depression. I felt like there was a hole in the middle of my body where my stomach should have been. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself with a gap between chest and hips…a hole that only allowed for the churning engine of stress that took the place of my belly…and even though I knew there was no hole, I remember thinking that the gaping emptiness seemed so real, I was surprised other shoppers weren’t staring at me, stopping to ask if I was alright. Because I had a hole in my middle. It was a surreal experience, and I wasn’t even on any medication. I was just feeling the drowning grip of sadness.

I walked around the store, filling my cart, looking normal on the outside, feeling lost and empty on the inside, and so aware of the gaping hole. As I walked around, I began to wonder who else was walking through the store with their own holes, invisible to me, but so real to them. Holes in souls.

That question took the focus off myself and allowed me to stand back and recognize that I probably pass people all the time who walk around with holes. I just don’t see what’s in front of my eyes. I try always to be kind, to be thoughtful. But even so, there are days that I’m wrapped up in my world. I pass people on automatic pilot: kind but remote, polite but disinterested, because I’m busy, and on the run, and don’t really look close enough to see the hole that’s devouring the person in front of me.

Living for a time with a hole in myself helped me realize, in a way I hadn’t before, that a lot of people walk around like that. Walking wounded. They put on the face, just like I did. They go through the motions of living, just like I did. Some get help, and some get relief from a change in the situation that’s causing the pain. That’s what happened to me. Circumstances changed, the skies cleared, my smile came back.

It wasn’t without some effort on my part. I did a lot of soul-searching, made some changes that were within my power to make.

It was a humbling experience. When you’ve always been hopeful, mostly happy, mostly sunny side up, it’s hard to recognize a self who’s drowning, who can’t snap out of it. You begin to look at people who struggle with depression and other forms of mental illness through a different lens. You find more compassion, more appreciation for the struggles that are invisible to the eye, but so real to the heart.

When I remember that time, now I can feel grateful. It taught me a lot about myself and helped me find strength I didn’t know I had. I learned the value of “wait and see.” I learned that the phrase “trust the process” isn’t just something you hear in corporate settings. I learned that life will often right itself, if you work with it.

I don’t want to tempt fate by thinking I’m invincible. I’m not, and the truth is, no one is. If there is a next time, I think I’ll manage my hole a little better. I think I’ll know to trust, I’ll find my smile a little faster, a little easier. The reward for weathering the hard times is being better prepared to face whatever comes, and knowing, knowing, that you’ll survive, and thrive, and grow above. Eventually, assuredly.

Once you’ve worked through a hole in your life, you’re never quite the same. You’re scarred, but you’re wiser.

I no longer have an engine of stress running in my stomach, or feel like there’s a hole in my body. But I can empathize with those who do. I don’t talk a lot about this experience…just doesn’t come up in normal conversation. But now and then I see an opportunity to speak up, to share, to encourage, to say, “I’ve been there.” It’s a powerful thing to look back at a challenge and know you’ve overcome. And it’s a powerful encouragement to someone else to hear a first-person story, to know someone else really gets it.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out now. I’m not even sure why I’m sharing this, except that I suddenly wanted to.

I’m not sharing to get sympathy. I’m sharing to give hope.

I started my blog during those months, started it to stake a claim to the positive person I knew was somewhere inside. I was determined to find my way to that self again. And I did. I had help from a few significant people who knew what was going on, and some of the conflict in my life subsided.

After the worst of it was behind me, I noticed I was singing again. I noticed I was interested in food again. I noticed I had a renewed sense of grace, of redemption, found a new sweetness to life that stays with me. I sometimes have small setbacks, and I sometimes feel discouraged. But I’ve never gone to the depths again. I’ve learned the signs to watch for, and the steps toward healing.

I think I’m a better person than I was, in part because of what I went through. It changed me, grew me. And though the details are not important now, I can share this much: to anyone reading this who is lost and despairing, don’t give up hope.

Do something to get yourself moving, literally. Get off the couch, do the smallest thing, and let that lead you to the next thing, and the next. Action inspires hope, and hope is the lifeline to healing. Reach out; there are probably more people than you could guess who understand at least some of what you’re experiencing. And give yourself time. Time can be your ally, and in time, you can look back and see that you’ve come a long way from your lowest point.

You’ll find your smile again. You’ll hear yourself singing again. You’ll sleep through the night again. And you’ll know you’re healed.




15 thoughts on “Hole in the soul

  1. Hi Sheila! Its been awhile, I know…but I’m back. This post is beautifully written! I’ve read it with full understanding and agreement, and am VERY impressed with your skill in writing it. It couldn’t have be better said! – William

    P.S. I’ve tried to post this but it keeps asking me to log into my WordPress Account (CiderPress.WordPress.com), then says I’m logged in, but the post can’t be accepted. Also clicking the “Like” tab just produces a blank pop-up window. So…I’ll try by logging into my Facebook account, maybe that will work. In any case, perhaps you might want to check your WP comment settings and see if they might need to be changed. 😉


    • Thank you William! What a lovely compliment from you! I really value your opinion…you think outside the box, and have such an original point of view. Sometimes I find I have something to say, and it just pours out. I’m glad this one spoke to you.
      Also, I haven’t changed any of my WP settings. I sometimes have to re-log into my account when I’m commenting…I don’t know why that happens, but hopefully you won’t have difficulty with this in the future!
      ~ Sheila


  2. Sheila, you are a beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing your past hurts in hopes of helping others heal. Thank you for the reminder to always be aware of how we may be able to help souls with holes become whole again.


    • Thank you Ann. I think the biggest lesson for me was to think about people who look whole and are not. Those who have obvious distress are pretty easy to spot. But there are so many who hide behind a face of normalcy. At least recognizing that has made me more aware of the ups and downs of others who look fine on the outside…not that I think I can go around sprinkling fairy dust on everyone…but sometimes the smallest act or word can help, if we only notice. I just try a little harder to be aware. ~ Sheila


  3. One of my biggest depression-fighters (and busters) is to encourage OTHER people. Somehow, when I am “ministering” to other people, I end up soothing my soul. I believe that the blessings boomerang back into my life. So glad that you can recognize depression in your life and take action to keep a smile on your face and in your heart!


    • Yes, Debbie! I so agree…that’s part of the cure, getting up, getting out, and focusing on others. And I find that sometimes when I’m having an off day, smilng even when I don’t feel like it helps. Sooner or later the smile is genuine, and that’s a good thing! ~ Sheila


  4. The Silent Cries

    All Around,
    This little world of my existence
    Seems quite normal.
    Friends and strangers smile in passing;
    Faces smile in greeting,
    Hellos, goodbyes are said as,
    day by day
    We go about the work of life.

    But sin,
    Insidious in its horrors,
    Turning all it touches upside down,
    Has seeped like blood stains
    Into every crack and every crevice
    Of the world,
    And left its reddened mark
    In every life.

    Because of sin
    Catastrophe became a part of Nature’s law;
    Raging storms, torrential rains,
    Leave havoc in their wake
    And death reigns over all
    — trees and flowers, man and beast —
    The Universe itself
    Grows old and dies.

    Yet, our ears are poorly tuned
    To hear the sound of death;
    Mostly there is silence,
    Studded here and there
    With surface talk or laughter;
    Seldom do we hear the pain

    But sometimes,
    Crowding in on mundane thoughts
    I feel the grief of other hearts:
    Of loved ones snatched in death
    Or lingering in that twilight
    — month by month —
    In bodies groaning for release.

    I think of war,
    Of young men killed
    And wives and parents blown apart inside,
    Yet somehow living on.

    I think of crime,
    Of children, brutalized,
    Who turn to brutes themselves,
    Poor, poor wretches who, from youth to death,
    Have lived such pain
    The soul itself
    Was sucked up and destroyed.

    I think of those who wait
    — parents of the missing,
    Mates of those thought dead —
    And, oh, their wait,
    Wearisome and long,
    Is living death!

    I think
    — my head is reeling with the thinking —
    In every heart, in every life,
    Of almost every soul about me,
    Some hurt, some pain is crying out,
    Sometimes shrieking, groaning,
    Sometimes nothing but a whimper
    Needing to be heard,
    Yet silent to the human ear.

    How the clamor
    And the din
    Of all those ceaseless cries
    Must tear God’s heart,
    Who hears
    and cares,
    and waits in longing for the day
    when sin will plague humanity no more.

    Betty Burton Choate


    • Thank you for sharing. Touching, and thought provoking, and troubling….yes, there’s a lot of pain in the world, and so much sorrow. May the realization that we all have to help each other, love each other, and forgive each other be on our hearts, and allow us to live the greatest commandment. ~ Sheila


    • Thank you Marilyn! I know with your experience as a special needs professional you must have seen many lives touched with depression and other types of mental illness. Nothing brings home the reality of that type of struggle more than a personal encounter with it. Truly changed my world in many ways! ~ Sheila


    • Thank you Renee! I know you’ve had a hard few months with the loss of your mom, and I hope that you’re finding your smile again. Be well, dear friend! ~ Sheila


  5. That quote by Rick Warren is powerfully true and your story gives evidence to that. One of our moves had that effect on me. Threw me into depression that all I could do was go through the motions. And that helped. As you said, get up. It’s not always what I wanted to do and some days I sat in my office trying to figure out what I was doing there but it was better than pulling the covers over my head and hiding from life. Thanks for sharing your experience Sheila. I know it will speak to many!


    • Thank you Debby! I would guess most of us have had periods in life like you describe, or like I experienced. Maybe it’s inevitable! Life is such a mix of joy and sorrow, wins and losses. I hope sharing helps anyone who is reading and feeling isolated or hopeless. I often find myself in the writings of others, and I hope I can be a conduit, passing along some wisdom, humor, and hope whenever possible! ~ Sheila


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