|Photo by my Anna May|
There have been a few times in my life where I have found myself clinically depressed. I say "found myself" because it's a place you never intend to be, it just kind of sneaks up on you as you are traveling through life. Like getting lost in a bad part of the city. How did I get here?
I remember sitting in the office of one of my therapists trying to explain how I felt. I told him I felt as though I was trapped inside a house with really dirty windows and all I could do was sit there and try desperately to see out. Watching life. Everything going on without me. Longing to be a part of it all, but not knowing how to get there.
I also remember the hopelessness that ached inside of every cell of my body. Intense longing for something different. Longing that went nowhere. Turning and turning in my mind that led to an infinite number of dead ends.
Mine was a quiet desperation. Most are.
I've changed a lot from those days. Not that depression doesn't slip under my door now and again, but how I see this uninvited guest has changed dramatically. And the way in which I greet her seems to have significantly impacted her length of stay. Oftentimes transforming the nature of our visit from the fate of hopelessness to the passage of sadness.
It's why I write to you today. These days I have found sadness to be visiting quite a bit, and I'm doing my best to just let her be. My hope is that even in my writing, I may find some level of comfort. It's difficult for me though. Not that I don't allow myself to be honest in all of this blogging business, but my nature is and always has been to be positive. I don't like whining. And I do, even in my most miserable times, honestly find the good. But today, I am allowing myself to share the real. Today, I am tending to my sadness.
About five or so years ago, my father made an announcement to our family. It was Christmas morning and we had all just completed the opening presents frenzy that accompanies a big family with lots of grandchildren. There, standing in the middle of a great-room filled with strewn boxes and mountains of wrapping paper he said this, "We need to be thankful for these days. It won't always be this way. So right now, we need to be very thankful for all that we have." I don't know if anyone else heard those words like I did. It was a brief break in the chaos and it was Christmas morning for Pete's sake. There was fun to be had. But I heard it, and those words have never left me.
By next Christmas, things had indeed changed for our family. My mother began to experience serious health issues that were extremely painful and unexplained. A condition that has been relentless over the past few years and completely debilitating. The recession hit hard, like it has for almost everyone else, causing the loss of jobs, the loss of homes (my parents home in particular - the gathering place for our family) and a tremendous amount of financial hardship, which continues to this day.
In 2009, after completing the best marathon of my life, I became sick and never recovered. The past two years have been full of countless stays in the hospital, hundreds of tests, doctor's appointments, emergency room visits and medications. I have had surgeries that have made things better and surgeries that have almost taken my life.
In the past year Dave's sister was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, his sister-in-law was hospitalized with an unexplained life threatening illness that has left her on oxygen for the rest of her life, my mother had a stroke and most recently, Dave's dad was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that has left him unable to swallow. During this same time my parents had a house fire, we lost a good friend to cancer, and all the usual illnesses and issues that a family with seven children and a chronically ill mom may find themselves dealing with. I will never forget the day we ran into Dave's brother as he brought his wife into the Emergency Room at the hospital. It was one of the rare occasions where we were actually leaving the ER and not being admitted. They were not so lucky. I will also never forget the look in those two brother's eyes as they hugged each other in silence.
These past few months have been difficult, to say the least. At some points there have been three or four family members in the hospital all at the same time. It's an odd practice, prioritizing which family member needs to be seen. I know that for my husband, the exhaustion of it all has a way of melting everything together. Who is where, why are they there, and when was the last time we visited are all items to be straightened out in the elevator. It's surreal.
This week as I watched my own parents struggle with more than their fair share of pain and hardship, as I watched my husband get up at 4:30 each morning and crawl into bed at midnight, trying to fit work and caring for his father into the same 24 hours, as I laid in a hospital bed myself while my own daughter had to go to the emergency room alone, as I found out about a good friends husband suffering a heart attack...
I am so sad.
I hold on to the truth that nothing lasts forever. That there is no light without dark, no good without bad, no joy without sorrow. That the weather changes, it comes and it goes on the breath of Nature and that this is the truth. I know this. I tell this to my family, to my daughters, to myself. With the shallowest of breath, I whisper it to myself.
But I am not hopeless.
When I think back to those days of looking out my clouded window, unable to be a part of the world outside, I find myself in an entirely different space. Sadness is no longer something outside of me, something to be conquered or destroyed - it IS me. It is just as much a part of me as joy, love, compassion, anger, greed... all of these things make up what is me. To destroy my sadness - to somehow annihilate my sadness would be to annihilate part of me. To struggle in this way would mean to do violence towards myself. If I cannot be compassionate towards myself, then how will I ever be able to show compassion towards those whom I love - the very ones for which my sadness arises? What I have learned over all these years is that the best thing I can do for my sadness is to care for it. To care for it just as a mother cares for her child. Just as I would care for one of my daughters. Fully experiencing it, not replacing it with anything else, letting it be.
It's funny how things come to you. As I work through this day, words come and go, meanings arise and are transformed by the movement of my effort. For the past five years I have heard my father's words, "It won't always be this way." as a sort of predestined fate. It's good now, but just you wait.
But this is it! This is exactly it! Oh, how I wish I could have known then what I know now, in this very moment! Dad, you are right! You are SO RIGHT!
It won't always be this way.
This is the truth that I hold on to, that I have been telling my family and my children - the truth that you Dad, YOU have been telling us all along! The truth you need to hear from your very own heart. It won't always be this way.
This sadness - it's going to be here for a while. And that's okay. We will care for it - each of us. And we will care for each other. And in the end, it's passage will give light to the most beautiful day. A day made so much better by the reflection of the suffering it was born out of - refined and polished by the stones and tears that paved this very journey we are on.
This is my peace.