This little known book describes the inner experience of depression, in a very sensitive and authentic way. Its charm lies in the fact that in spite of the very real description of depression, It is full of hope.
In the beginning Lea, The main character, is in her deepest moment of despair. The world seemed bleak, senseless and cruel. She feels complete alienation. Her pain was so great, that she tried to jump from a bridge, in a futile attempt to commit suicide. An alien caught her and saved her life.
The first step to her recovery was numbing her emotional pain. The alien temporarily numbed Lea’s pain and locked her in a house, in order to protect her. (Fantasy equivalent to psychotropic medication? Hospitalization?) Lea felt better, though numbed. She knew that the numbness was a temporary relief, a crutch to support her during the process of recovery.
The alien brought her to a secret gathering of a community of aliens, the “people”. The people are human-like aliens endowed with psychic powers, who live in a deeply spiritual community. They were scattered around after crash landing on Earth. Some individuals were separated and had to cope by themselves, hiding their real identity a coping with their “otherness”. Lea participated in many night gatherings, During these night gatherings the participants told their life stories.
Hearing the stories, in the context of a community, was the beginning of her recovery process. Lea initially did not want to believe in the wonder of life. She was reluctant to relinquish her pain and loneliness. Those, at least, were familiar. It took time before she really committed herself to the recovery process, and started to fight depression on her own.
Henderson’s prescription for recovery is twofold. She sees community and faith as the two prescriptions of recovery and life.
Lea’s recovery took place in the context of a community. When Lea looked around and heard so many stories about suffering , she asked herself where their strength comes from. And she answered herself: “ When anyone of them cries out the others hear – and listen. Not just with their ears but with their hearts. No matter who cries out – someone listens-“
Henderson sees depression as lack of faith. The lack of faith makes the world so bleak. Only faith can restore meaning to so much suffering. Only faith can mitigate the sense of loneliness.
There are other traditions within the mental health realm that consider faith and community as central components of recovery, such as all the self help groups that are AA based. Faith and participation in community are considered a prerequisite for recovery.
Henderson’s prescriptions for recovery are challenging. As a therapist myself, Can I prescribe faith or community? I do not know. Is faith, or community, always beneficial? Probably not. However, I find her intuition, that probably stemmed from her own experience, very inspiring.
Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson