Tuesday, June 30, 2009


It is incredible to witness how quickly things change. One moment in a day, I am full of joy and in an instant that joy is in tatters. Aria’s cancer has been a dizzying ride in that regard and it has taught me how to surrender in some ways. This isn’t to imply that I become a victim and give up. On the contrary, I have learned to become a fuller participant allowing Life to take me where it will. The emotional jarring, the ups and downs are just part of it and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that it takes its toll.

I have learned however, that honesty is disarming and empowering. It is rejuvenating to admit when things are good and why they are so positive as well as document those things that are full of trial and sorrow. You cannot know one without the other. It is the pairing of seeming opposites that teaches us to dwell in its place of balance.

This emails shows you a moment of real sorrow. But know this, where there sorrow there is always joy to be recovered just around the bend. And so it is.

March 26, 2008
Subject: “Quicksand”

On January 15, 2008 I made a vow to myself to be completely honest with others, especially our children about what was happening. I knew that to be honest with others meant that I first had to be completely honest with myself. This is an easy thing to say and think but often a surprisingly difficult thing to do. For a little more than a week, I’ve had to face something about myself that has proven very challenging.

I am depressed.

There it is in all its simplistic glory. It may not be much of a surprise and it certainly isn’t all that surprising to me but it has been a difficult thing to admit nonetheless. How easy it would be to justify my sadness by identifying all the things that are happening that would cause just about anyone to become depressed. I certainly possess every reason to feel sad but therein lies the inherent stigma of depression. There are millions and millions of people who seem to have everything; family, friends, fortune and fame and still they are chronically sad. They seem to have no reason to be depressed and yet they are. This misunderstanding of depression, this lack of cause and effect is the disconnect that perpetuates the negativity associated with depression keeping so many, to my mind anyway, from seeking the help and doing the work that is necessary for healing. I’m lucky. I have reasons to be depressed and I know exactly what they are. Do I need therapy? Do I need to be on medication? I don’t think so, at least not yet. I remain open to the possibility though, while trying to remain honest.

In my sadness it is so tempting to explain my reasons, illustrating them in great detail, drawing you into the shadow of my sorrow. This is the downward spiral of self-pity that is wasteful and unhelpful. After several days of doing that to 3 women I hold most dear, I realize that that approach doesn’t contribute to my healing. It helps me feel as if I’m justified and understood, which offers me valuable temporary relief, but I remain depressed and so I know that I alone must do the work it requires to lift myself from shadow back toward light. It is important to say that I recognize that I am not alone. I am surrounded by loving, tender people and I know you are there. The process of healing, however, is mine and mine alone and it is this process to which I refer. It is also important to say that I face this process sturdy, confident and unafraid.

The signs of my inevitable depression have been extremely clear and I think they are worth describing. First and foremost, my emotions have been hovering just beneath the surface of daily interactions. Tears have broken the levy of my will with the least infraction. They come uninvited, against my will shattering what I had been trying to piece together. This past week my feminine hormones were raging and I found myself battling the age-old oppressive attempts to keep ‘female emotions’ suppressed for fear of becoming ‘hysterical’ ‘too emotional’ or ‘absurd.’ These emotions were as involuntary as the internal sensation and the external erection of an adolescent boy after drooling over a naughty magazine. I feel fortunate to have such a range of emotion and I embrace them. Still, the manner in which I deal with these emotions and this depression in general requires some refinement.

Another tell-tale sign of my depression is my short fuse with the kids and the way I bark at them in exasperation. My patience is thin and I find their demands burdensome, tiresome, and annoying. This isn’t right. It inhibits me from enjoying them and inhibits me from being truly present to them. They deserve more and certainly deserve better. Under non-depressed circumstances, I am a good mother; patient, kind and creative. With these depressed circumstances I am still a good person but with faltering mothering. This needs to change.

Recently my friend, David, told me that he had been reading Haiku, which I love and he wrote me one. It touched me deeply and it helped. As the universe would have it, my dear friend, Jenny, who lives in Scotland sent me a book of Zen Haiku. I’ve read the whole thing cover to cover and am now going back very slowly, savoring each word. I came across one yesterday that spoke to the very depth of my spirit.

For the man who says
He tires of his child
There are no flowers.
(Basho (1644- 1694))

How lucky I am to have so many holding me so tenderly and so close. I am not enjoying the things that I once enjoyed. I have no energy for those things it seems. Sewing leaves me feeling like I can’t finish what I want to start. Writing letters and thank you cards finds me with empty thoughts and a silent pen. Gardening is too daunting and overwhelming to consider. I don’t know where to begin so I simply look the other way and ignore Mother nature’s plea. I don’t have energy to connect with friends. I feel scattered and mired in my circumstance so much so that I find it hard to be fully present to those I hold so dear. If I allowed myself to be drawn into that completely, I would find myself feeling guilty and unworthy of friendship, which would then become a vicious cycle of with-drawl, retreat and continued sorrow. I see the darkness of that path very clearly. It isn’t one I’m choosing to travel. For now, I am only pacing before it and today, I noticed a ray of light over my shoulder. I’ve been glancing that way a lot already.

It is liberating to admit my depression. I don’t have to exercise any energy pretending I am anything other than what I am. I am still ok. I am still strong and I am still full of clarity. The only thing that remains to be addressed is how I intend to heal and to ‘move on.’ I like that phrase very much and I use it often with my children but I realize that it can be mildly dismissive reflecting our instant fix society of today. It is as if to say, that since I recognize my depression and all of its triggers that I ought to be able to move on effortlessly like a quick swipe of dirt off the bottoms of my clogs. Process doesn’t work this way. Moving on requires deliberate intention and the methodical passage of time that is such a gentle healer.

There is an image in my mind from a movie by Mel Gibson called “Apocalypto”. This is an extremely intense film filled with horrific brutality contrasted by exquisite breath-taking beauty. Without revealing too much of the film, the main character, Jaguar Paw, is dealt a life-altering circumstance from which he desperately tries to flee. His only purpose is to return to his beautiful pregnant wife and son whose fate we know but remains an unknown to him. He is an undaunted warrior. There is a time in the film where it looks as if he will conquer his circumstance. He is running. His eyes are focused on his family and everything about his run had me on the edge of my seat when suddenly he falls into a pit of quicksand. It is a shocking moment and despite my breathless panic, he remains completely calm. He sinks quickly holding his breath never once looking distressed. He is completely submerged but slowly, methodically, he lifts one arm from the sandy thin tar-like pool and then the other in a slow-motion swim that brings him to the edge. In a final burst of energy, he slowly lifts himself from the suction of darkness and there he stands. He is covered in black with only the brilliant contrast of his eyes and his teeth staring and seething with victory. He pauses only momentarily to catch his breath and perhaps contemplate his potential defeat but soon he moves on to face his purpose.

This is how I feel. It would be so tempting to panic and fall prey to my anxiety, flailing around helplessly. It would be so easy to succumb to the downward pulling force of depression, noticing the offers of help from others but carelessly pulling them down with me. However, like Jaguar Paw, I, too, am an undaunted warrior with a clear purpose. I have a family who needs me and I need them. This image has empowered me to move slowly, simply, methodically toward the edge to where healing is. I can imagine you on edge offering to throw me a vine, lend me hand, or bend a tree branch. The emotional quicksand that has engulfed me is something from which I must pull myself. I am being forced to muster strength and wisdom I never knew I had.

In this particular exercise of writing, I find myself that much closer to the edge, which is surrounded by all of you cheering me on. I can hear you and I can see you. Slowly, steadily and with deliberate truth, I will reach the edge, standing stronger, wiser and with a victorious smile. ~j

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