I am driving along a familiar road, admiring the dark wintry trees lining the way and following a small white car which is not going very fast. Suddenly I have the premonition of an accident, so I pull back and follow more slowly. Half a mile later the little white car pulls into the right hand lane, even though there is nothing to overtake, and heads straight for the line of oncoming traffic. I can do nothing except ensure I can help anyone hurt in the inevitable smash. I pull into a driveway, the back entrance to a counselling retreat centre and park in front of two well-worn wooden gates, which are closed. As I park I am aware of the impact, though unsure whether I have heard or felt it. The cars behind me pile on as though they haven’t seen what has happened.

Grabbing my mobile ’phone I head in the direction of the accident, hoping I will am able to help…

At this point I awake and ponder my dream.

Recently I have been going through an ‘age-crisis’, aware that nearly 30 years of my life have been taken up with fighting depression, off and on, and beating myself up, as we all do, for malingering and spending time gratuitously healing myself, rather than having children and/or becoming rich and famous…

I realise, the little white car in my dream is the transport I had when my depression was beginning and I was heading for disaster head-on which, at times, felt fatal – yet another part of me was there to help.

And although the place I park is somewhere people usually find help with their problems, the gates are shut to me; sometimes help comes from unexpected sources; one of my lessons has been in self-reliance.

Although I would not have chosen my road, I would not change a thing in retrospect. Painful as my head-on collision with life – and death – has been, it has equipped me to help others in the same situation. I can’t stop it happening; we all have to face our own bewilderment and fear when we realise the route we’ve been on is about to change drastically, and we’re headed for potential pain and major repairs. It seems mad to be excited. We may never be the same again; depression and heartbreak leave their own scars, but in facing up to it, however painful, there is new life, and as we crawl through the wreckage, we can find new meaning. We can’t resurrect our loved-ones; we can’t reclaim lost time, but we can make sure we make the most of every minute we have left. Bad things happen to good people, but however unlikely it seems, good can result.

I hope anyone else in that situation will take comfort. Even if the process takes decades, and some issues may be constant the for rest of our lives, healing from pain is possible if we don’t balk at the challenge. New direction and purpose can arise, phoenix-like from the ashes, and life can regain its savour. It may be that we once secretly longed for our new path but never imagined it could be ours, or knew the cost of reaching it, and although we may still wish we could ‘have it all’, past and present, we recognise our calling and accept it with joy – perhaps sometimes even happiness. There is a difference: joy embraces the pain in life, still finding worth in it. And when you do that, happiness is not so far behind.

Karen Steel, Celebrant