Depression. I was a walking Cymbalta commercial. Tired, achy, unfocused, despairing, crying until my once sparking eyes receded into their sockets, puffy and red. My compassionate heart-felt hollow and aching. My once joyful self exorcised from my body, whereabouts unknown. “Who is this person that has taken over my existence? I don’t know her,” I screamed out. “I don’t want to know her.” I hated who I was. I hated the diagnosis that defined my current reality, a label coined in the name of mental health. No clinical diagnosis had been given me, but having just completed my masters in counseling, it was evident that I met the criteria for a mood disorder, major depressive episode.
Disorder. I had learned a great deal about disordered thinking and feeling in graduate school. Research-based findings and immersion in theoretical frameworks had defined my journey for three long years. It was hell letting go of an enlivening coaching practice to build competence in a field built on diagnosis and disorder. Creativity was limited; experiential learning rare. Despite my disappointment with the methods used to teach me, I was determined to achieve my lifelong goal to become a professional counselor. I believed that earning licensure would add value to my work and secure my future in a way coaching alone never could.
Death. All the while I was in graduate school my 12-year old business was dying a slow, steady death. My receipts had dwindled with the economic downturn; my website became infected with malicious code. Still, I held onto my pride and my pleasure, facilitating a few retreats and tele-forums and squeezing in a few coaching clients between research papers and tests. I loved (and still love) what I created with HumanArts, a coaching and consulting practice designed to help people and organizations become creative, resourceful, and whole. But I knew it was time to let go of my creation. The universe was beckoning me to move forward again. Despite my resistance and fear of the unknown, I shut down my website, disconnected the phone line, canceled the P.O. Box, and scrapped my artistic letterhead. My heart grieved. I felt lost, a woman alone in search of a new identity.
Departure. This ending wasn’t the only cause for my depression. It was also fueled by the departure of my only sibling, Sandy, who moved to Los Angeles in July of this year. I wallowed in self-pity, convincing myself that she was the only person I could truly lean on, and now after 30 years of togetherness in Atlanta, she was gone. Her timing sucked! She left me when I really needed her. I had just taken a part-time job with a dysfunctional county agency, a treatment center for substance use disorder. I was frustrated with red tape and hierarchical controls, discouraged about my choice to enter the mental health field after years of entrepreneurial freedom. I had finally earned the right to counsel individuals with “disorders,” and here I was, struggling with a disorder of my own.
Disconnection. “Help me, please!” I screamed out loud to no one and everyone. Numb with pain one day, anguished the next, no matter what surfaced I knew I couldn’t suffer alone anymore. “Haven’t I already been down this path?” I bemoaned. “Didn’t I write a saga of loneliness in A Journey of My Choosing?” Despite my resistance and fear of the unknown, I knew exactly what I needed to do.
Reconnection. I picked up the phone and called my friend Kathy. Again and again, she was faithfully there. I asked my friend Mardeene to come over and comfort me. I needed to be held and cry in her arms. I let it all out on the phone with my sister, purging my emotions until I felt limp. To salve my tired soul, I took hot baths and played soothing music. I cooked healthy meals and drank hot tea before going to bed. I walked in the park, practiced yoga, and meditated at sunrise. I got out of the house even when I didn’t feel like it. I asked for help, over and over, despite the shame I was feeling inside. I stopped giving so much and started taking much more. Then finally one night after six months of darkness, I caught a glimmer of light during a Winter Solstice celebration.
I always return to Mary & Martha’s Place at Solstice, a spiritual center that fills me with peace and a renewed sense of hope. Mardeene agreed to join me and I was thankful that she did. Sitting in the pew of a dimly lit sanctuary, my soul sank into “Sweet Darkness,” a poem by David Whyte…
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
A surge of grief caused me to shutter. Mardeene took my hand and squeezed it tightly, there once again, tending to my needs. Together, we meditated in sweet darkness and sang softly with a community of gentle voices. Near the end of the service, we stepped out of our pew to join a procession, moving toward an altar filled with unlit votive candles. I hadn’t noticed that I was the last in line until I arrived at the table. I lit my candle prayerfully before attempting to hand my light stick back to the women guiding us along. Instead of taking my light stick, she handed me another votive. There were many more candles left to light, and miraculously, I was the one who was invited to repeat this ritual over and over again.
Over the last few years I lost much of my light spending time in places “too small” for me. My creative spirit withered in the halls of academia, and it’s currently suppressed by government bureaucracy. I trust these experiences are serving a purpose, but I also know it’s time to break free once again. My mind isn’t clear of exactly where I’m headed, but my heart knows for sure that I can’t go it alone. I’ve been there and done that on a solo journey of my choosing. Today I choose to connect to an enlivening community.
Connection is key in the journey of self-development. The research proves that growth-fostering relationships enhance creativity, clarity, and vitality. So there, theories do serve a purpose and education is useful (I smile as I write), but what’s most valuable to me right now are the people who bring me alive.
My intention for 2011 is to expand my connections, “Alone, Together,” writing and reading my way into re-creation, overcoming the darkness as I step more fully into the light. If you’re seeking more light, more love, and more connections, join me.