There was this grumpy, old, bay horse named Nicky. He was part of the string for the outfit I worked for in the Yukon. I don’t remember much about this horse, except for one memorable incident while riding along a trail in the first few weeks of July.
One day the crew packed up from Ceaser Lakes to head south to Mosquito Camp. (Yes it is aptly named). I was riding a young horse named Mocha, who basically had been “broken” a couple of days prior by guide Donn. Or rather Donn was broken by Mocha because he was the one who ended up in the hospital with a broken shoulder or something. Mocha was to be my horse to put miles on that summer, and I was happy because I really liked the look of this horse.
At this outfit, they ran their pack string loose and it was my job as wrangler to keep the horses up with the guide leading out front. However for this trip, I was given a task to ride behind Terry, the outfitter, because I was on a young, basically untrained horse who didn’t know how to rein yet and also because he wanted the packhorse Nicky to keep up tight behind him because he was prone to falling asleep while walking and lagging far behind. My task was to slap the ends of my long rope reins on Nicky’s rump to keep him awake and moving forward.
We rode with long yellow rope reins, eight to ten feet in length, for this very purpose. We could ride along and whack the pack horses to keep them moving. The heavy rope made for a good thwack. As well, whenever we stopped we could drop the reins and not worry about the horses breaking them while they grazed. It was a genius method that I carried on with me to other outfits!
Mind you, I was on a green horse, who was fairly spirited. Whirling yellow rope past his head made for some sketchy moments on this ride! It’s always good times training a young horse on the trail, especially when they don’t have much ground work in them! But we were doing good and getting somewhat comfortable with each other.
I can’t remember how long the ride is from Ceaser Lakes to Mosquito Camp, maybe 3-6 hours. Long enough. Nicky was doggin’ it. I had to continually be whacking him. Terry gave me a willow switch to tap his back end with, because I wasn’t very proficient yet at swinging my reins and I was on a green horse that was a little jumpy. I really had to poke that stubborn bay horse. You could see he was just miserable with his job carrying a pack.
We were riding right next to a wide creek, maybe two feet above it, right on the edge of the bank, when Nicky tried to commit suicide. He just leaned over and fell in the river! Pack and all. Lying there trying to put his head under the water.
Terry busted into the river astride his horse, and whipped and yelled and tried to get that bay moving. But the horse just lay in the water, to stubborn to heave himself out—too determined to die. Eventually Terry dismounted in the river and tried to manhandle the suicidal horse into a standing position.
Joel, the other guide and Terry’s son, took over leading us to camp, because we had a string of pack horses getting antsy. So we left Terry in the creek trying to get the bay on his feet. By now Nicky’s pack probably weighed 300 pounds or more, saturated with water, and all I could think was that it had to be just my luck that it was MY sleeping bag in his top pack.
I looked back just in time to see Nicky stick his head under the water again and I marveled at the horse trying to die. I wondered what would make an animal just want to give up like that? Could his life really be THAT bad?
Well, since then, I’ve hit times in my life where I’ve become so overwhelmed with burdens dragging me down, so squeezed into a corner, so stuck, that I couldn’t see any other way out except to die. So I’ve gained an understanding for Nicky now. The desire to just give up. That feeling of being unable to cope anymore, that death seems to be the only way OUT, the only way to find relief.
It’s very hard to admit to anyone, let alone myself, that I struggle with depression. That I’ve reached points in my life where I haven’t been strong enough to pull myself out of the mental muck that overwhelms me and drags me down. That I need help. That I need to ask for help. That I need to take the help that is offered. It’s humiliating and a blow to my ego, when I can no longer cope with things that used to be so simple, so easy, so manageable.
The pack gets too heavy, the burden more than I can bear and all I can think about is that I want to die.
Thank God, I’ve never planned my death or attempted it, but just coming to the point of thinking there is no way out except to die, is scary enough! That thought has been the primary motivator for me to do something about my situation. To ask for help.
Though sometimes I feel like poor Nicky lying in a creek submerged in water with far too heavy of burdens weighing me down and my “help” whipping and yanking and yelling, trying to get me on my feet again. Help doesn’t always feel like help.
What is the thing that ends up getting me back on my feet again? Well, it’s been a combination of things from the support and prayers of family and friends, sometimes medication, sometimes sleep or an escape, sometimes counseling. Ultimately, it’s HOPE. Hope starts shimmering through the darkness. Without hope there is no reason to get back on my feet again.
What do I hope in? Well I come to the point that Jeremiah, the great prophet to Israel during their exile to Babylon, did. He witnessed and endured the fall of Jerusalem—the intense suffering and carnage that happened, from cannibalism to slaying of innocent children, rape and murder—the worst things that can happen to body and spirit, to person and nation. Called the weeping prophet for good reason, Jeremiah remembers the bleakness that covered him, the anguish of that time he experienced, “I gave up on life altogether. I’ve forgotten what the good life is like. I said to myself, ‘This is it. I’m finished. God is a lost cause.’ I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—the feeling of hitting bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on HOPE: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, His merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great is Your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s ALL I’VE GOT LEFT.”*
I’ve learned, that despite all the bad things, the suffering, the darkness, that my HOPE is in God. It’s the same conclusion that Jeremiah came to and he advises, “It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you are young to stick it out through the hard times. When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full face. The ‘worst’ is never the worst. Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.”**
When I find that HOPE starting to creep into the blackness, I’ve learned to fall on my knees in worship and prayer to my God, as King David did. King David of the Israelites also dealt with severe depression throughout his life and if you read his Psalms you will recognize it clearly. Yet David learned to turn to his HOPE, his ever present HELP in those dark times, as he states in Psalm 42:5 “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you”
Worship and prayer are key in expanding on the hope I find, yet sometimes they are the hardest things to do when I am laying in the water, weighed down by burdens too heavy to stand up with.
All I can say is HOPE does come when I wait for it. I just can’t give up. The ‘worst’ is never the worst! My advise is: take the help that is being offered. Know that God is ever present, even in the darkest of times. It’s a promise we can depend on.
“If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.” Ps 34:18
I’ve come to hang onto these verses, as reminders of what to do when I’m in those dark places:
“Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders—he’ll carry your load, he’ll help you out.” Psalm 55:22 Call out to God, PRAY—let Him know everything; all that is troubling me.
“Worship God if you want the best; worship opens the doors to all His goodness.” Psalm 34:9 WORSHIP, praise God and remind myself of His Greatness and goodness to me, past and present.
“I’m hurt and in pain, Give me space for healing, and mountain air.” Psalm 69:29 Find SPACE to heal—which for me is often in the wilderness, away from whatever is overwhelming me.
So, please, if you take anything from this story, or these verses, remember that there is HOPE! Fix your eyes on Jesus! Take the HELP offered you, when you need it. You don’t have to be like poor old Nicky. Life will always come around if you give it a chance and stick it out.
Nicky didn’t die that day. Terry did manage to get him out of the creek and on his feet again—though it took him over an hour. The horse then had to carry his saturated, very heavy pack all the way to camp, but he survived his little “suicide attempt” though he didn’t look too happy about it.
(And my sleeping bag was soaked, but thankfully it was July in the Yukon and one of the few really HOT days we had that year. The sun stayed up long and hot enough to dry out my sleeping bag before bedtime. Just in case you were worried . . . Mom. Yes I am talking to you.)
What happened to Nicky? I do remember he wasn’t used much the rest of the year and stayed in his grumpy, useless state. I heard he died the next year, but I don’t think it was suicide.
*Lamentations 3: 18-24 (The Message)
** Lamentations 3:26-32 (The Message)
(Previously published on April 4th, 2012)