Hoovering and Hovering in the Vacuum of Space

A prescription for depression.
A prescription for depression.

Whenever I hauled the upright Hoover out of the hall closet, my children would invariably ask: Who’s coming over? Who is coming over that warrants hoovering up all this dust? Now unfortunately we did not just clean up for anybody and my children knew that when they heard the vacuum someone pretty damn important was coming over. And any of you who have ever seen my office or my car, will understand that cleanliness has never been my strong suit nor was it my children’s. In order to make room for company, we had to clear out the clutter… the pile of newspapers… the books… the magazines.. junk mail from the kitchen table… the dishes out of the sink… the Legos from the floor… And then once we had relocated the carpet… we would haul out the Hoover.

There is a painted slate with pride of place in my kitchen that says: “My house was clean last week. Sorry you missed it!” When my children were little, I blamed the clutter and the chaos on them. When my children were grown and gone, I confess the mess was mine and mine alone. It was not the vacuum in the hall closet’s fault, but a vacuum was involved, a vacuum that invariably tugged at my soul.   The tug was subtle, almost imperceptible and quite incremental. But it was definitely a downward tug– a tug to a slightly darker place.

So for a very long time, I hardly ever hauled out the Hoover. I didn’t really notice at first but I started sleeping a little later, staying in my pajamas a little longer, and going to bed a little earlier. Dishes would pile up in my sink and dirty laundry on my bedroom floor. My trashcans had to overflow before I would empty them. And my clothes rarely made it back into the closet. My mailbox got so clogged with letters and bills, both my creditors and the post office sent me threatening notices. And the dust that settled all over my house was so thick, I could write my name in it.

Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.

And I thought I was okay. I really thought I was okay because I was getting by. But that is all I was doing – just getting by. I still got up, I still got dressed, I still got myself to work. But I would wait until the very last possible moment to go out the door. And once at work, I would leave at the earliest possible opportunity. Home again, home again, please, just let me go home again. Home again, home again, just to barely get by.

But I really believed I was okay. I was functioning and functional. I did not notice what others noticed. I did not notice that I was ill, really ill. I did not notice but my children did. My grown up children, Zach and Colleen and Jacob, noticed and they sat me down and told me so. They literally sat me down at my own dining room table — piled high with unanswered mail and cluttered with coffee cops.

And this is what they told me.

“Mom, we love you. Take a look around you. Things are falling apart. You are falling apart. You aren’t taking care of yourself and it scares us. We love you and we want you to be around for a long time. Please pay attention. Please take care of yourself.”

I tried not to cry. I tried to tell them I really was okay. But when they got up and left that day, I knew that they were right. I had been living in darkness, in a place that was empty and hollow and shallow and cold. I was living in that flat, flat space, in an empty hole in my soul, called depression.

This lack of insight, this lack of ability to recognize one’s own mental illness, psychiatrists call, anosognosia. It is different in kind from simple denial. You are not trying to hide from yourself what you know to be true. You truly do not see yourself as ill; you see no need for treatment; and you are virtually blind to the consequences of your illness on yourself and on those around you.

It is only in hindsight, distant hindsight, looking back over a decade that I can truly see how truly sick I was.

In the light I can see now, how dark, dark was that empty space. And I do not want to ever go back there. I work very hard so that I won’t have to go back there. But sometimes even while basking in the sun, that dark and empty space still tugs on my soul.

But cosmologically speaking, even empty space is not empty. It pops with subatomic particles, popping in and out of existence with quirky names like quarks, leptons, bosons, gluons, and muons. These include the now confirmed Higgs-Boson “God particle” that conveys mass and the yet unconfirmed graviton. Those quirky quarks are my favorites being “up, down, charmed, strange, top and bottom”. And, of course, let’s not forget the photons, the bearers of light.

The fabric of space hides itself in darkness. Dark velvety space is a fabric that matter bends and twists. Lit by the particles of light, the visible universe contains millions of billions of galaxies, each galaxy with millions of billions of stars, and untold millions of planets circling them. And here we are on this fragile earth, our little island home on the outer edge of the swirling and whirling Milky Way.

But much of what keeps the universe together cannot be seen. It resides in the darkness. Biblically speaking its as if God did not stop with “Let there be light” but also mysteriously added “Let there be dark”. Specifically according to that famous biblical scholar (not!), cosmologist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, in his book, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, we learn that the universe is filled with both dark matter and dark energy.

Dark matter is the equivalent of gravitational super glue. Surrounding galaxies like a halo, dark matter keeps stars and planets in their courses over visible matter by a factor of six. What we cannot see binds stardust together. And we are all made of stardust, crafted and created from the stuff born in the belly of stars.

And at the same time, as Hubble discovered in 1923, the universe is expanding. It’s not only expanding, it is speeding up. Based on the Big Bang, and a bazillon other variables, cosmologists calculated the speed. But space is speedier. Literally space itself is expanding. More space is coming into existence, stretching the distance between already distant galaxies. And again,  what is visible in the universe cannot account for it. But because of Einstein’s equation E=mc2, the conversion of matter into energy based on the square of the speed of light, we know something is really out there, really making this happen. Cosmologists call it dark energy.

So creation happens as much in the dark as it does in the light. In fact, more so in the dark.

Think back to those dark and difficult places and spaces in your life. Think back to those dark nights of your soul. Consider the burdens you have carried, the heaviness you have borne, the singularity of your sorrow. Walking through the valley of the shadow of death, did you walk alone? Walking through the valley of the shadow of death, did you catch a glimmer of Light?

Space opens up inside you. Space opens up around you. Space expands in all directions and light makes all that is good visible again. The Light makes visible  — your life again. The Light of the Sprit breathes life — reviving your soul.

Some call the Light, God. I do — because in God the night and the day are both alike. In God the dark and the light are both necessary. On the mythic first day of the seven days of creation, God created light out of the dark. He called the dark, night, and the light, day. And he called them both good. Yes, good.

Yes. Good news. Good news for a bipolar soul.



  1. thanks… everyone around me keeps assuring me I’m ok, but I know I’m far from fine, and I also know I’m not clinically depressed. I’m linking to and quoting from you in the blog post I’ve been trying to write. For Ash Wednesday 2014 I blogged:
    and nothing much has changed. Maybe I’ll finally finish writing the current post by Ash Wednesday 2015? It’s one in a long series that’s not happening. Peace and resurrection to all of us.


    1. Leah, I read your post from last Ash Wednesday and it was very moving. If only we could simply will ourselves out of the dark. Hope and healing are out there – both medically and spiritually.


  2. “In Him there is no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike.” Hymn 490 from the Episcopal 1982 Hymnal—it is my all time favorite and has pulled me up and out of the weight of depression many times. I love your tutorial on dark matter. Without dark there is no light, without stagnancy there is no evolution. Yin yang. It’s all around us and propels us to act when one outweighs the other. It is perfect!


    1. Yes! I hear the music and it was playing in the virtual background of my brain as I wrote this!! It is one of my favorite hymns as well. But for my readers I wanted to focus on the Creator of the cosmos and be inclusive of every stripe of spirituality. My apologies to Jesus !:)


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