Surviving the Swamp of Sadness

There seems to be a great sadness creeping into this world. Dark clouds are moving in, and, for many, veiling the light of joy and hope. While many of my faithful readers know I’m a Christian, I’d like to state emphatically, this sadness may creep into anyone, no matter the religion, culture, race, sex or socioeconomic status.

With our topic of “sadness” in mind, I’d like to talk for a minute about one of the saddest scenes in movie history, at least for some. Despite the fact that I’m mainly drawn toward action flicks and psychological thrillers, one of my favorite movies of all time is The Neverending Story. 

Image result for the neverending story sebastianThe story follows young Sebastian, who has not only lost his mom, but is pushed by his father to “get his head out of the clouds” and stop being such a dreamer. To add insult to injury, he is also relentlessly picked on by a group of bullies. At the beginning of the film, ‘Bastian, as he’s called, skips out on a math test and hides in the school attic to read a special book he just “borrowed.”

Image result for atreyu and artaxAtreyu, a young warrior, is the hero of the book, and as ‘Bastian starts to read, we follow Atreyu’s quest to stop “The Nothing,” a terrible force whose sole purpose is to swallow up the mystical land of Fantasia.

If you’ve not watched the movie, I guess this next part would be a “spoiler alert,” so be aware.  As one of their first trials, Atreyu and his faithful horse, Artax, must travel through the Swamp of Sadness, which, legends say, will devour anyone who lets the despair of the bog overtake them.

In one of the saddest parts of the film, Atreyu soon notices his best friend is beginning to sink into the swamp.

Image result for the neverending story swamp of sadness gif

“Artax you’re sinking!” he screams. “Come on turn around, you have to! Now! Come on!”

He goes closer and hugs him.

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“Fight against the sadness Artax…please. You’re letting the sadness of the swamps get to you. You have to try, you have to care. For me, I’m your friend, I love you.”

Image result for the neverending story swamp of sadness gif

Atreyu is now crying, pleading with the horse.

Stupid horse! You’ve gotta move or you’ll die! Move, please! I won’t give up! Don’t quit! Artax! Please!

Image result for the neverending story swamp of sadness gif

Artax continues to sink as Atreyu’s pleading grows more desperate.

Move please. I won’t give up! Jump quick! Please! ARTAAAAAX!!

Image result for the neverending story swamp of sadness gif

The horse is almost fully submerged in the mud as the scene fades out. The next image is of Atreyu, sitting on a log, crying, as he looks at the spot where Artax had once been. 

Until recently, I never thought of this as much more than a scene in a movie. For some reason, however, it hit me the other day: this is an analogy of what’s happening in this world.

It must be noted that sadness is different from depression, although both are intertwined and extremely common. To me, it appears thousands, millions maybe, are wandering the Swamp of Sadness, some eventually giving up and sinking into despair and death.

The main difference between sadness and depression is, sadness is normally a temporary state. We can be sad because a friend had to cancel out on a movie date, or about a low test grade in school. If it persists and is left unchecked, however, sadness can eventually grow into depression, which is much more serious.

The Mayo Clinic defines depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.

In my book, We Whom The Darkness Could Not Overcome (available on Amazon), I share a wide variety of  stories, a couple of which talk about family and friends who have lost children. While they have weathered the storm and consider themselves “survivors” instead of “victims,” sadness is still part of their daily lives. Honestly, these were some of the most challenging parts of the book for me to write, and I told them, “I will share your story, but will never pretend I can relate to this depth of sadness and tragedy.” 

In spite of this great terror, each survived his or her own Swamp of Sadness with the help of God, friends, family and a dedication to never letting hopelessness overtake them.

While compiling the stories for the book, I interviewed my cousin, Rick, and his wife, Lisa, for the last chapter. I asked Lisa how she made it through the horror of losing both her young sons while Rick was in prison (he’s been out for a few years and both are doing wonderfully now). She began to weep, and there was a short period of silence on the other end of the line.

“You just cry and go on,” she finally managed to say, quietly, through her tears. “I find that two or three days before birthdays and anniversaries (of the boys’ passing) I struggle a lot. It’s hard, it just feels empty; feels like I can’t breathe. Time just seems to stop, but once I get through those days, life goes on again. You just go on. We weren’t given a choice in this.”

Rick and Lisa are Christians, and admit without the love of God, they couldn’t have made it this far.  However, even with the spiritual help they’ve received from their family, Christian friends, and from reading the Bible, the bottom line is it was THEIR choice to go on. God wants to strengthen us during our dark nights of the soul, so we may come out the other side stronger than ever, but we have to CHOOSE it. We have to WANT TO SURVIVE.

Sometimes, “survival” is no fanciful, multi-faceted plan, but rather, a willful determination to NOT QUIT.

Normally, getting through periods of sadness is the result of purposeful acts. One suggestion for surviving these dark times is to look up encouraging Bible verses and quotes, and read them, not once, but repeatedly. This will help to reinforce the fact that God loves you, and that you are special to Him.

Here are just two of the many Bible verses which help overcome sadness:

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.
Deuteronomy 31:8

Pour out all your worries and stress upon him and leave them there, for he always tenderly cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7

Another “trick,” if you want to call it that, to beating sadness is distraction. Clinical depression is a wholly different animal altogether, but as for sadness, small things can distract us until it passes.

One source of distraction is a walk in the park (or, for our family, the local graveyard). There’s something therapeutic about fresh air, and getting out and enjoying the beauty of nature.

Another source of distraction would be to engage oneself in certain types of media. I say “certain types” because sadness normally can’t be overcome by spending hours on Facebook, reading posts and instant messages from “friends” who only bring us down further.

No, I’m referring more to things like books, movies and music. For me, getting alone and turning on music is a wonderful release.

Having a hobby is also a great way to move past the sadness. Hobbies come in many forms, shapes and sizes, and only you can say what best suits you. But, that being said, don’t be afraid to try a new hobby. You might just accidentally discover your next passion.

Another helpful tool is to write down your feelings. One website I visited said to “write bad poetry (or good poetry, if you can).” Journaling is a great way to put words to your feelings. Sometimes, writing down how you feel, and possible reasons for feeling this way, will help to clarify things a bit. Moving past it is much easier if you can better define what “it” is.

The last idea I have for today concerning overcoming sadness is prayer. While I’m listing this as my final thought, for many of us, it’s certainly the most powerful weapon in our arsenal to combat the darkness. Kind of a “last but not least” sorta thing.

Sadness can only engulf you if you let it. As Atreyu pleaded with Artax to do, you have to fight the sadness with all your might. You are too precious a soul to just fade away.

You are beautiful and you are loved, and the world needs you.

And, remember my motto: never give up, never give in, never surrender! 

Thanks for reading, and may God richly bless you today.

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