“Darkness, like all things in this world is not just a partial or total absence of light; it is a metaphor. I wish nothing more than for my child to be fearless of the dark….whatever form it takes.”
When we are children, fear of the dark is simply that; a rational impulse from once being the prey when darkness fell. It signifies nothing other than a simple belief that the darkness is scary. That it contains unknowns, secrets and things that go bump in the night. The potential what if’s and could’s that creep out at night.
Very severe fear of the dark has a proper name, nyctophobia, but is only used when it becomes debilitating in adult hood. It is assumed that, at some point, most children will have a fear of the dark so it’s not immediately called nyctophobia (now that would be scary!) After all, it is a survival mechanism that apparently dates to when we slept in caves and were the top predator (as in spears and hunting, not cages and abattoirs!) Our predators operated more successfully at night than we did, therefore human beings associated darkness with things that could hurt us, making the fear of the dark a reasonable precaution if nothing else.
The fear, as a child, I remember all too well. And I know my daughter feels it too, although she isn’t yet old enough to fully explain to me that this is what she is afraid of. I remember the fear of the darkness becoming almost tangible; a physical thing. Thick and lonely and heavy in its presence. I recall lying in bed, after waking from some illogical nightmare (as happened regularly to me and was suffered graciously by my poor, patient parents), not knowing whether to risk the unknown dark corners of my room to venture across the landing. The landing, and of course the door to my parents’ bedroom, was the unknown but the path I must endeavour to take for safety. For the security of cuddles and dreams in their arms. Where the fear of whatever nasty was getting me in my dreams would dissipate. Where the tightness in my chest would slowly ease, and the squeeze of my mother’s arms and the steadiness of her breathing would sooth me back into a dreamless and comfortable sleep.
But as we get older, darkness becomes representative of something else. It is associated with feelings. Those of anger, jealousy, pain, coveting, grief, loss, fear – all the things we know to be wrong or damaging to our mental health and happiness, are classified in our hearts as dark. Darkness is, as Star Wars tells us, its own side.
So, the physicality of darkness never truly leaves us. It just takes on a different form as we age. The thing that would once creep up on us at night time becomes something that can cast real shadows on our days; engulfing the daylight with darkness, thickness, loneliness. And it is easy to be crushed by the weight of it. For many, these feelings come and go like the ebbing of the tide or the passing of the weather. But for some, this darkness has a real name. Mine is called Anxiety and Depression.
It affects my body in the same way the darkness of my childhood did. It crashes over me and can be overwhelming, heart-stopping and generate a fear of dread that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It drives a feeling of not having done enough, but not ability or motivation to do more. It gives you a feeling of complete emptiness but of wanting. And it stays upon me like a sheer scarf: I am able to see through it, but not clearly.
It is universally taught that sleeping with the lights on is bad for us. For all sorts of reasons but mainly because it jumbles up the levels of serotonin and melatonin in the body. So it’s all those physical things that our body needs that our mind chooses to throw a spanner at. So, what do we do about the metaphorical darkness that can come as adults? What answer is there to light the path when each step feels like one over the edge? I found the answer –
A little light and a little sound. For my daughter, who endures her fear of the darkness with the same gusto that she attacks everything in life – with strong-willed eagerness, a song and a torch.
Sounds of lovely things, like music, can help us as adults to shift our sense of darkness and intrinsically change our thoughts into positive ones; our feelings into those of love and gratitude. A little song, whatever it may be can help to sooth my daughter into comfort, security and an ongoing feeling of love long after the singing has stopped. We sing together each night before bedtime.
I don’t imagine this is the answer for all families, but for ours it is. We are not straight from the pages of a fairy tale or from a Disney motion picture – I assure you – but that time spent singing, with our little torch, gives us connection and some freedom from both of our darkness. I see the darkness lift from her when she waves her little torch around the ceiling. And I’m sure she feels my darkness change, if not to light, but a shade of shadow that was better than before. She sees into my soul at those times and I thank her for it each day.
And so, my summary of darkness is that it can go to hell. Because, even though the fear is natural as a child and almost inevitable as an adult – those rays of sunshine are the priceless, amazing moments that make life the adventure that it is. A small light within a room of darkness changes the makeup of that room; of the people in it and the way they feel.
I wish for nothing more than for my daughter to live a life free from the darkness of the world for as long as she can. For her to be free of the demons of fear that live inside me and to continue to tackle each day with ferocity and vigour. I want my child to be a warrior and a lady, a hero and a maven of bravery, to fear no darkness and cast light wherever she goes.
So back off dark…..we’ve got a torch and we’re not afraid to use it!