Yesterday, I slipped into an old kind of exhaustion and crawled into bed. It felt so physical that I didn’t know it was depression. What’s wrong with me?! Am I sick? No! I’m just a mess. I hate myself! In a self-punishing mood I made no attempt to consciously go into my feelings. It didn’t even occur to me to Get Present or phone a friend for help. I even read a book about world history that was so disturbing it plunged me deeper into darkness. Pulling the covers over my head, I tried to hide from what Winston Churchill called The Black Dog.
I had fallen into an old childhood pattern of dealing harshly with my feelings. In the years after my father died when I was 5 1/2 years old (and had mistakenly decided that I had somehow caused his death) I often suffered from depression. My mother didn’t know what to do with me or it, so she would get mad, shake me by the shoulders and yell, “Oh, snap out of it! What’s wrong with you?” So I learned that sadness and depression meant I was severely flawed. Even more upsetting she once said, “Despair is the one unforgivable sin!” Well, that clearly meant that I was doomed to hell.
Years later, Mother confessed that she always hated it when her own mother got the “blues.” Perhaps it scared her as a child. At any rate, she had little tolerance for depression.
This morning, however, I managed to call my “Action Partner” at our appointed time. We connect daily to help one another stay focused on our goals. Ashamed, I said that I had done nothing productive yesterday and had spent the day in bed. “Oh, that’s okay,” she responded. “So you spent a day in bed reading. Big deal.” Her lack of judgment opened me up. I began to cry. I had not shed a tear yesterday. I had shut down without knowing why.
Now I knew why. Yesterday morning I had met with my realtor, lowered the price of my house, and set the date for another open house. After pursuing every possible way to keep my home, I had to accept that it wasn’t financially possible. I must sell it. I thought I was peacefully resigned, but not long after the realtor left, I found myself in bed. I hadn’t even seen the connection.
“Oh, no wonder you’re sad,” my friend said. “You’ve been there for almost 35 years. Your home has been a genuine sanctuary: a place for the Creative Explosion workshops and acting classes.”
She was right. This house has been a shelter for beloved stray animals and people. I have healed so much of myself and written books and plays here. I designed and helped renovate the house itself, carrying wallboard, learning to spackle holes, and paint. I have sewn curtains and furniture covers and loved and cared for my home all these years. Of course I’m sad. Who wouldn’t be?
Then, I remembered years ago going back to Indianapolis to help my 90 year-old mother pack up to move to her lovely retirement home. She sat in her room and didn’t participate. When I asked her about this thing or that, she would wave her hand dismissively, “Pack whatever you want.”
When we left her home of 25 years for the final time, she walked out to the car rigid, erect, silent, and did not look back. She never expressed a word or a feeling about leaving her home. Two weeks later she died suddenly.
It has taken me years to be able to allow myself to be sad. Sometimes, like yesterday, I slip into that old shut-down mode and need someone else to give me the permission to feel. Thanks to my friend’s non-judgment, it took only a moment for me to come back to life and have, as they say, a good cry. The depression caused by judgment and suppression was relieved, and I felt so much better. It is true that to feel is to heal. I was alive again. “Thanks,” I said to my friend. “I’m feelin’ a lot better about feelin’ bad.”
She said, “Hey, that’s a good title for a country western song.” I laughed through my tears. Then, I was able to get up, get dressed, and start stripping the house of even more of my personality and history. The crystals got packed away. Pictures of my animals, the Dalai Lama, and Hathor got take off the walls. Power shields, magic wands, and dream catchers landed in a closet.
Later I Got Present on the phone with a friend. I was okay. I felt many subtle and different kinds of sensations all over. “It’s like a symphony in my body,” I commented. And then I saw myself sitting in an auditorium watching and listening to an orchestra playing a kind of adagio movement. It was beautiful and sad—very nostalgic. Tears came to my eyes. My Higher Power appeared in the seat on my right. He took my hand and held it in his. There was such love and compassion radiating from it. “You see,” he whispered. “Sadness is nothing to condemn or try to get rid of. It is connected to the heart and to love, and can be very beautiful. It is part of the Symphony of Life.”
Ah yes, a much better way to look at grief. That poor Black Dog needs a lot of love and compassion.