Tag: psychology

Life Under the Cloud

Life Under the Cloud

I have spent a lifetime battling back the cloud of depression. I can’t pin down exactly when it started, I think perhaps it started in the womb, or is carried forward in my DNA from previous generations of familial women who embodied powerlessness. I came from a lineage of women bound by cultural dictates and personal characteristics that turned them into creatures that were doomed to battle for their soul. This cloud moved in and settled over me, it welled up inside of me and worked as hard as it could to smother me, to take my heart and soul away. I did my utmost best to live a “normal” life, but inside I was dying. I believed at the cellular level that I was flawed and I worked diligently, every day to repair this flaw.

cloud of depression
Digital Editing and Painting by Lente Scura

Depression like the other labels we use for illnesses and conditions that plague us, has become nomenclature that lifts it ever so unwittingly out of the painful reality that it really is.  Terms that seemingly quantify such things, water them down to make treatment manageable, and maybe even bearable, but also allowing doctors, pharmaceutical companies and even therapists to throw a pill or a particular therapeutic model at them, and declare an individual on the road to recovery. All that’s needed is a little tweaking.  How many times did I hear, “You don’t have to suffer.” Well, they were wrong. Apparently I do. And, I did.

I believed them at first. I was a guinea pig for our modern view and treatment for depression. I sought help early and often, from parents, siblings, friends, priests, therapists, professors…I sought help for the pain that I longed to be rid of, a perspective of life that kept me fragmented and disconnected from the best parts of me. I received help for the problems in my life that developed as a result of the thing that lived in me. The word “depression” as a medical/psychological condition was not mentioned to me until I was in my mid to late twenties. It was not a thing people quantified. My mother struggled to say the word, like somehow it had cooties.

In addition to living with the pain caused by the depression and the resulting life choices I made from this core of pain that added to it, I came to believe that I was flawed on so many levels. I lacked willpower, character, strength, determination, intelligence, something!  I stretched out my hands, my mind, my heart, my soul and reached with everything I had for happiness, success, love, freedom and the ability to find peace and be me. It eluded me. Again and again, I tried. God how I tried. I did everything in my power to change. I “pulled myself up by the bootstraps” as my mother used to suggest so many, many times, only to “fail” and find myself back in the blackest of pits.

I began reading self-help books early on…and books like Siddhartha, Waiting for Godot. I listened endlessly to Kahlil Gibran and Rod McKuen. Like everyone else of our generation I read “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” and “Your Erroneous Zones”. I delved into Transcendental Meditation and learning to access my alpha level brain waves. I went on to study psychology, philosophy and theology, absorbing the richness of the writings and theories of Jung, Kierkegaard, Tillich, Niebuhr, Erik Erikson, Piaget, Plato, Socrates and so, so many others. My searching for answers became more refined and I was lifted up by teachers who offered a glimpse at the bigger picture.

I remember the day I caught a glimpse into what has become the foundation for the clinical treatment of depression. As fate or the Universe would have it, I picked up a book that caught my eye in a New York Times Book Review one Sunday morning. It was called  Unfinished Business by Maggie Scarf, and it blew me away.  It made perfect sense and offered me a kind of hope that had heretofore not been offered.

I was 28. I had just completed my M.Div. from Princeton Theological, a three-year degree where I broke with the tradition of the program and focused on learning everything I could about the spiritual/psychological connection. After graduation, my business background combined with my theological education led me to a job with the Gallup Poll where I assisted in setting up their Religion Research Center. Politics and greed being what they are it did not get off the ground and I was no longer needed. I moved from there to a job with another non-profit in the area.  I had my own apartment, was in an on again off again relationship with a guy who had graduated with me and in the mid-west working on his PhD Things were supposed to be good. That was the mask I wore. I worked hard to keep up the front. What could not be seen on the surface was my rapidly disintegrating insides.

Prior to picking up Maggie Scarf’s book, I spent two years with the most respected therapist in the area.  He was head of a cutting edge counseling center sponsored by a wealthy Episcopal Church in the area. In addition, I also sought the counsel of an esteemed professor, who taught me everything I knew at the time about Jung. He was also cutting edge in his field at the time. Known for his depth, compassion, sensitivity and profound insight into the human spirit,  he held a Doctorate from Harvard and had written several books. I had access to an individual who was a giant among men in the world-wide community. Steeped in Jungian psychology and a deeply spiritual man,  he offered me little real help, in spite of his (I have to believe) desire to do so.  The word “depression” was never mentioned in any conversations with either professional.

Maggie Scarf handed me a lifeline. She spoke the word “depression” in a way that resonated.  Not only did she address it head on, she offered suggested treatment options and discussed its impact on women. My excitement was followed by anger. I thought, “If she knows this why don’t these two educated, well-respected professionals know it?” (It didn’t occur to me at the time that maybe it had something to do with the fact that they were men, and depression was overwhelmingly viewed as a woman’s issue).

was so charged up that I purchased a copy of the book for each of these men and mailed it to them with a note, “This book has changed my life. Maybe you’d like to read it.” For the first time since I’d started sought professional help, and after spending money that I didn’t really have, not to mention the days, weeks and years of excruciating pain and believing I was a failure, at last someone spoke directly to the issue. Now, I could find relief. Sadly, it was not to be. My euphoria at having found an “answer” hardly gave me the tools to change what really needed changing. Shortly thereafter I crashed and burned.

I lost my job. I quickly disintegrated into a place where I could not make a decision. About anything. I oscillated between frantically and desperately trying to find help and sitting in the middle of my apartment crying. I was in excruciating pain. Debilitating pain. I barely remember the details. I must have called my parents, because somehow my sister and her husband drove the 2 1/2 hours to my apartment, packed my stuff and deposited me and my belongings on my parent’s doorstep.

I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not stop crying. I cried all day every day. I lost 30 pounds. My mother sat beside me and cried. That only made me angry. My father went about his business as he always did with little to say. The pain was tremendous. Day after day.  The only thing I remember was falling into the routine of  my parent’s life, breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, dinner at 6. A cup of tea at 4. Bed at 10. Their routine contained me as I cried the tears that would not stop. I was lost in time and space. My life was a cavern of despair with no way out.

Going home, a home that embodied the darkness that lived in me, the silence, the fear, the despair, though far from ideal was likely better than an institution where I would otherwise have been. Apart from the emotional baggage that lived there, the simplicity and structure held me and kept me safe until I was able to find a way out.

And then, I met Sandy.

Unraveling Ourselves

Unraveling Ourselves

“Unraveling external selves and coming home to our real identity is the true meaning of soul work.”

Sue Monk Kidd3c15e6af5a296dd861c2bd8ba93aa29e

There is so much to be done in the unraveling department. The good news is that once true unraveling begins, one starts to feel lighter and lighter. The heavy weight of pain and confusion begins to lift and the challenges one faces are laced with hope. Feeling one’s real and honest identity become interconnected with one’s soul is both energizing and life affirming.

If anyone had told me years ago that I would feel younger, happier and freer at sixty-three than I had ever felt at any other time in my life, I would have been convinced they were smoking something. I lived pretty much most of fifty something years under a black cloud, fighting, struggling, despairing…suffering inside in a way I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I was dedicated and earnest in my pursuit of self-understanding from a very early age. I was drawn to the spiritual life, like a magnet. I understand the human need and desire for a connection with the divine, implicitly. What I didn’t understand was my pain in the world. I didn’t understand how the world and the divine spoke to one another. The divine was speaking, but no one was listening.

Repeatedly throughout my life, I moved toward God and then fell away. I moved toward spiritual teachers and an understanding of an inner life, but when I attempted to carry it into the world I felt frustrated and alone. I did not know how to put words to any of what I knew to be true in a way that would convey to others.

The symbolic language I found and used to describe such things no longer worked in my practical, modern surroundings. I desperately wanted to find a connection between the two. I did not want to leave the world behind and go to a mountain top, although at times I wish I had. It could not have been more painful to be alone with God than it was to be alone in the world.

Now all these years later I’m beginning to see more clearly what happened. A product of my times, I found nowhere to go with my spiritual yearnings. Even seminary was an environment that was decidedly pragmatic in its approach to spirituality. One believed in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, even questioned and discussed them with other believers, but when all was said and done it was understood that the ultimate goal was to bring our faith and belief to others in the context of the church setting. What about bringing it into the world at large? Why must we put it into a box only to be brought out on Sunday morning in a pre-programmed environment? I couldn’t buy into any of it.

To my way of thinking what was always wrong with the “church” was what is still wrong with organized religion. It’s religion in a box. It’s not about spiritual listening and learning and becoming. It’s not about looking for God in the everyday world of board meetings and while making peanut butter sandwiches for your kids. We paid lip service to that, but there really was no support structure for such a lifestyle.  Religious traditions are too small, too narrow, too limiting for what I believe God to be and the spiritual life to require.

When “religion” didn’t answer my questions or satisfy my yearnings I didn’t abandon the Divine that lived in my heart. I just stopped paying attention to her voice. She was still there, calling to me, needling me, tormenting me. I chose instead to turn my back on my soul and sought refuge instead in the psychological realm. Therapy. Medication. Pain. More therapy. More pain.More medication.

I learned much about the human psyche, but it did not help me grow in self-esteem or  value the gift of life, because at my core I remained disconnected from my essential myself, my soul self. I was ignoring that place from which all real self-esteem comes. If we are not listening to our deep, inner voice and hearing the messages and guidance of our soul, we will never find peace. We will never understand who we are or what we have to offer the world. We will never trust that we are valuable, or that we matter, no matter what. No therapist, no religion, no worldly structure  or construct can ever teach us that.