Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish

Several years ago, a few days after we reset our clocks, I felt as if a light went out in me. I was sluggish. I felt blue. Gray, really. Not inclined to run errands after work. All I wanted was to get home and onto the couch.

It was bad. A Google search confirmed my suspicions. I was suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). And boy, was I. My own personal darkness.

A few weeks into this SAD-ness, I woke up abruptly in the middle of the night. I was about to get up for a glass of water and a sleep aid when I noticed how quiet everything was. How still. And yet, how full of sound.

My bedroom was ink dark. Bad thoughts started bubbling up. Anxious thoughts. Troublesome thoughts. Because I couldn’t see the outlines of things or my own body parts, I felt like this fluttering-anxious-bodiless brain zipping around in the dark. It was me and not me at the same time.

I was reminded of something my youngest daughter told me when she was seven or eight as she struggled to sleep without a light on at night. She said that what frightened her the most was that in the dark, she couldn’t seeherself.

It seemed that I, too, was afraid of the dark.

In that moment I thought, what if I faced this? What if I faced my fear?

So I gave it a go.

I could hear my breath.

My husband’s snoring.

The ticking of my bedside clock.

The scratch of a branch against the side of the house.

A truck exhaust from the nearby expressway.

Sounds I don’t normally hear.

My eyes began to blur the objects in the bedroom and for a moment, I was no different from a piece of furniture in the room and my eyes weren’t straining to see.

Unless someone set up a night vision camera next door or across the street with a huge zoom lens, no one could seeme. No one knew if I was awake or asleep or dancing or digging into the cookie jar.

This stood out for its deep privacy.

I got up for that drink of water and sleep aid  – feeling my way – and then got back into bed thinking that this little experiment in the dark had been very illuminating. 

The dark dials down our senses. It cranks up others. It’s refreshing to be out from under the lights. To blend in with your surroundings. To pull back from the details. To become one with everything.

When we are well lit, we can see ourselves. We feel seen and secure.

Perhaps these darker days are a prompt to push our sight to the side and see ourselves away from the light, away from screens. To know we are alive because we can touch or smell our own skin, feel or taste our own breath and listen to the blare of the quiet.

There are only a few months in this season of darkness and only a few weeks before we hit the shortest day of the year on December 21. Every year around this time, I remind myself to try to embrace it; to hang out in the dark just beyond my comfort level.

We may not be able to see ourselves, but we might learn something about who we are from the inside out.

What’s coming up:

Chicago-area readers: Come hear me read a long-form story at Fresh Meat on Sunday, November 10 at The Celtic Knot.

Check out my upcoming workshops here.

Photo by Andy Holmes






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