Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Important Discoveries

Looking into my Pandora's Box was like looking into a deep hole in the center of my being. How many times had I casually dropped a feeling, thought, opinion or hurt into this hole without a single thought of what actually became of it or where it went? It's difficult to publicly admit that I had performed that act of avoidance too many times to even consider. At the time, I believed I was doing it to keep myself protected from conflict or pain, but what I was really creating was a life filled with dishonestly expressed emotions and fear of conflict. And those unspoken truths didn't merely go quietly into the night, but instead festered into a toxic mess that had to be recognized, allowed to emerge and reckoned with in an openly authentic manner. I would have been satisfied to leave it all unnoticed and locked away, but when the depression exploded into my existence, I became fully aware that something had gone terribly wrong and I needed to figure out what it was and how to make it better.

I felt the initial step I needed to take toward self-discovery was to cautiously open Pandora's Box, and with courage and strength, face the contents that had been held captive for too long. I knew the assistance of a therapist was crucial for guidance and focus, so I set up an appointment with a woman who came highly recommended. After meeting with her, I left with a glimmer of hope, but in the time it took me to get home, I had slipped back into a dense fog of nothingness. I knew I wouldn't be able to meet again with her until after winter break, so I added a prayer for patience to my daily litany of requests.

Step by step is how I managed to get through the days preceding Christmas, which in the past had been my favorite time of the year, since it was the time leading up to all of my family reuniting for a love-filled holiday together. It was early Christmas morning when I decided to put into action my dad's belief of bringing the body and having the mind follow. I had no desire to go to our large family gift opening, but since I understood the importance of that gathering, I literally forced myself to attend. I was amazed to find that I could actually enter into the spirit of our family's love and momentarily leave behind the cloud of disinterest that would so often surround me. I received the greatest gift that day by experiencing the power held within those simple words of bring your body and your mind will follow.

Going with my parents to Florida was exactly what I needed to do in order to recognize that I had more courage and strength inside me than I believed possible. The first time I became aware of this courage and strength was when I found that I was able to drive, even though a few days earlier I would have been willing to pay for someone else to do it. After stopping for a quick lunch on our first day, my dad handed the keys to me and assumed I would drive for the next few hours. I remember taking a full breath and telling myself that if I truly wasn't able to safely drive, then I could hand the keys back to him at any time. To my total amazement I was able to concentrate and stay safely focused on the road and traffic. Being able to tackle a challenge like this and succeed was a sweet tasting victory for me, and it was this type of discovery that I could tuck into my memory bank to be used later as a concrete reminder of what is possible to achieve even in the darkness of depression.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Step by Step Through Darkness

As I began remembering back to the time of my depression, I was quickly able to get in touch with the profound pain and anguish that had filled my days and nights. I shouldn't have been surprised with how rapidly the images and details came back because those impressions are seared in my memory due to the darkness, terror and anxiety that was brought to my life. For me, living with depression was like cautiously walking across a deep abyss on a wobbly rope bridge with a 200 pound boulder strapped onto my back...a totally uncomfortable and nearly impossible task.

All the color that had previously shaped my days disappeared as I became consumed with focusing on gaining some degree of control over each and every daily task and physical activity . There was not much left in my life that felt natural, normal or stable so I had to concentrate to be in command of my movements. I accomplished this by holding my body rigidly, so rigidly that by the end of the day I ached head-to-toe from my muscles being constricted by such control. One day at school I had a thirty minute break while my class was in music. I walked back to the room, turned off the lights, closed the door and proceeded to quietly let go of the tight reigns. Tears fell down my cheeks with the realization that keeping my body in such unnatural control took a lot of energy, a high toll to pay every single day. As I was releasing these tears of frustration, sadness and exhaustion, a parent peeked into the room to share a funny story with me. Before the depression, I would have loved to engage in a friendly chat, but since I was unprepared to see or speak with anyone, I looked up with shock and had no time to dry my tears. She was obviously concerned, but I could not begin to honestly explain why I was crying, so I told her that I had hurt my hand while stapling some papers together. There was nothing easy about living with depression.

Decades earlier my dad had also suffered from depression, so he was able to share some of his wisdom that he believed might help me at this time. He told me that it was imperative to wake up each day with the attitude that for today I would put one foot in front of the other, even if I wanted to hide under the sheets in my bed all day. He also reminded me that on some days it was fine to give into the powerful urge to avoid the struggle of merely making it through the day. But then he followed by warning me of the possible impulse to allow this state of avoidance to become a habit. I respected his words and continued to remind myself of his warning.

The second seed of wisdom was planted on a Sunday morning when he and my mom came over to suggest that I travel with them and help drive to Florida during my winter break. I had never been to their winter condo because my vacations were always limited to the summer months when I was on a longer break. The very last thing I wanted to do was travel in car for two days, plus I really didn't feel secure in the idea of me driving on unfamiliar highways in my present state of mind. But I trusted both of my parents enough to accept their suggestion. My dad then told me his belief that if you bring your body, then your mind will follow. Such an easy-sounding sentence with one powerful message hidden within. When would I have a chance to experience for myself the energy and strength of that message?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I remember the exact moment I knew something was wrong. My parents had an extra ticket, so they had invited me to go with them to a holiday feast that I had always wanted to attend. The event was on the sixth day of December, and I had been looking forward to this evening for the past two months. We arrived at the beautifully decorated ballroom and were seating at our table when suddenly I felt this extremely odd sensation of feeling disconnected from the whole event as well as all the people. I experienced the urgent need to get out of there as soon as possible. I excused myself as I headed to the restroom, not understanding what was happening to me. Why would I be feeling so bizarre at an event that I had anticipated for weeks? I remember standing in the bathroom stall thinking that my life was in crisis mode and I didn't know why. I was finally able to calm myself down, and after a few minutes I was able to return to the dinner. During the remainder of the evening I felt as though some other person had inhabited my body, and it took every ounce of control to sit through the meal and entertainment when what I really wanted was to vanish into oblivion and try to figure out the meaning of this confusion.

The next morning I felt that all the vitality and joy had been sucked out of my being, and had been replaced with a powerful sense of apathy and an abundant amount of anxiety. I couldn't shake that feeling all day. I also couldn't eat anything because my whole system was in a state of upheaval. My body seemed to be shutting down while my mind felt stuck in high gear, and I didn't have the slightest notion of how to make everything return to normal. I was going through the day in a state of fear, panic and profound lethargy. I had the urge to go to our neighborhood church and sit in the quiet, thinking that maybe I would find some feeling of relief by just being there. I remained for an extended period of time, imploring God to fix whatever was going on inside me. This was followed by tears of sadness, mixed with tears of defeat for my complete inability to comprehend or control this situation.

On the way back home an unusual statement came boldly out of me mouth, shocking me. I said, "Well, God, you have my attention, if that's what this is all about." It took me years to realize the power of that statement, but at that time I was mainly mystified about the origin of this insight. What had made me aware of the possibility that this may have all been happening as a way for God to get my attention? I had no way of knowing for certain, but I did know that the woman I had been a few hours ago was no longer the one in control of my body or life, and it was knowing that fact that scared me more than words can explain. I was even afraid to talk about it with my friends or family because I thought that verbalizing my fears of losing control might indeed send me over the edge of sanity into some black hole. It was as if the life I had known was on the verge of disintegrating right before my eyes, and I was at a total loss as to what my next step should be.

I set up an appointment to meet with my family doctor in hopes that he may understand and be able to explain what was happening and then be willing to assist me in formulating a plan to deal with this state of turmoil. He asked me many very specific questions and concluded that I was depressed. Depression? What would be the reason for me to be depressed when my life seemed to be going well? My family was healthy, my job filled me with satisfaction, my friendships were strong. I wondered what could be so wrong that it would set off a depression? I needed to learn more about the causes and cures, and the one finding that hit home loud and clear was that depression is sometimes triggered by anger turned inward...Yikes! Could this have anything to do with my infamous Pandora's Box?!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pioneer Mode

There is a part of me that is tempted to merely continue telling my story without adding more details about my marriage, but the other part of me understands that my relationship with Jim has been a journey of many learnings, and I feel as though these gifts of discovery are to be shared. There may be one person who reads this and is somehow helped on his/her path, so I view this as an invitation to step away from the present, reflect on the past thirty plus years of our relationship, and then communicate it with deep honesty, sincerity and love. Therein lies the challenge for me because I have only shared these details in one-on-one situations, never in the public venue.

It seems as though Jim and I tripped over a lot of the typical bumps that couples experience while creating a meaningful life together. It certainly didn't help that my past arrived with me, meaning I brought enough baggage for a six month extended trip. I also brought all my awkward ways of dealing with emotions, and since Jim didn't arrive empty handed, we were in serious need of some clearing and cleaning out of old habits. The biggest obstacle for us was that we were each equipped with undeveloped tools and no maps to give us a sense of direction, so we found ourselves like pioneers, making our way over the unknown terrain of our life together. That brings me to my first learning...finding how to best acquire the skills necessary to make this partnership work effectively. I should mention upfront that this initial learning took us literally years to create and fully understand how to use them.

I want to share a few illustrations of our good intentions, but faulty connections. The first gift I ever received from Jim was for my birthday, a few months into our relationship. I was blown away by the size of the gift he brought to the house, and I was even more blown away by the contents...a two drawer metal file cabinet! I was shocked, speechless and at a loss as to how to lovingly respond to this very impersonal practical gift. He stood with a pleased smile on his face because he knew that I had been looking for a way to organize my papers, and I stood with a blank look on my face, having a hard time admitting to myself that I was disappointed to have received such a sensible gift from him. Then I felt guilty for seemingly not appreciating Jim's thoughtfulness in choosing something that he knew I could use. Are you now beginning to see how our differences in perceptions and expectations were challenging for us to handle? Hindsight is 20/20, so I feel a bit guilty sitting here critically dissecting some of our earlier behaviors and efforts. I now treasure Jim's ability to be the practical one, and each time I remember the file cabinet I smile with love and appreciation, although it took me many years to acquire this insight.

There is also the unforgettable night when we were invited to a friend's house for dinner and Jim was quite impressed with the stroganoff she prepared for us. He couldn't stop talking about it on our ride home, so I decided that soon I would make it, even though I had no idea how to prepare it. A few weeks later I had found a recipe, done the grocery shopping, and started making this fussy, time consuming dinner of beef stroganoff. I was feeling excited about surprising him with this special meal, but I was the surprised one when he took one quick look at it and said, "Is THIS what you made with that steak was on the counter?" How was I to react to this question after having spent the afternoon preparing what I felt would be an exceptional meal? My feelings were crushed, and I think he should have considered himself lucky for not wearing the dish, because believe me, that is what I considered doing. Working on an openly honest relationship was going to be more challenging than I thought.

During these early years we both had good intentions of helping create a solid foundation for our marriage, but in reality we didn't have the directions explaining how to make this happen. At times it seemed like we were merely going from one minor annoyance to another, never totally aware of how to best clean up the hurt feelings or frustrations. So many of my feelings went unspoken because I wasn't sure how to verbalize them without making Jim feel attacked. Have you already figured out what I did with all those unexpressed feelings? Of course they were each tucked safely away in Pandora's Box. What became of all these emotions that had accumulated over the years? You'll just have to stick around to find the answer to that fascinating query...