These pairs of words were the bane of my existence in fifth and sixth grades. Discerning the most representative relationship between two words seemed like a pointless, tedious, exhausting job. And yet, after so many worksheets got so ground into my psyche, I’m counting on the deep recesses of my mind to know what to do with the analogies I’m acting out today.
The last month, I’ve been on a leave of absence from my full-time work at Trinity Cathedral. As has not been a secret in this space, I’ve been struggling with mental illness–acutely, and for years–and came to a moment where I saw no way forward except to stop. For more than a year, I’d felt out of control (not in a control-freak sense, but in a “I’m seriously worried for my safety if this feeling and lifestyle continues”), and finally had the courage and self-compassion to call a time-out.
More than one person has shamed me for taking this time out–telling me that life isn’t easy and Jesus never said there wouldn’t be challenges, saying that depression breeds isolation and I just need to pick myself up and keep going out and doing things. The problem is that conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply, and desperately trying to keep a toppling cake from sliding on to the floor can create more mess (more disaster?) than just letting the layers hit the floor in a sugary mess.
A dear mentor used that analogy with me almost six years ago; seeing my struggle, he wondered what would happen if I just let the cake fall off the platter all the way to the ground. He could see how much energy I was expending trying to keep the “cake” balanced–trying to keep all the plates spinning–and in his way, asked why it was so important to me to keep everything perfectly in line. This month I’ve been able to ask myself the same question again. Continuing to try to spin the plates or keep the cake in place would have completely defeated the purpose. Sometimes the cake needs to crash to the floor.
So my time out hasn’t been all about netflix or sitting in bed or wearing pajamas all week. Not knowing quite what to do (other than seek professional help, sleep and eat and exercise well, and not be too mean or pushy to myself), I started with the easy things–I cleaned out my closets, I deep-cleaned my kitchen and rugs, I organized years of magazine tear-outs that had accumulated. I hoped that as I cleaned and freshened and organized my physical space, my mental, emotional, spiritual, and professional spaces might become more clear, too. I even hacked away at my shrubs and the vines around my house, banking on a clearer view out of my windows producing a clearer view out of the windows of my life.
And now, exactly 4 weeks after my leave began, I can say with humility and hope that my figurative life spaces are clearer, my life-windows aren’t as obscured anymore, my mental space is much more usable–able even to be productive.
Today, I took one more analogous step: I sowed grass seed all over the soil at my house.
With plans larger than my capacity last fall, I ordered 10 pounds of grass seed in an effort for a more environmentally-friendly lawn. The poor seed sat in our cold basement for a full year. Who knows if it will even sprout after this long hibernation? But there were seeds in my basement, waiting to be planted, and a week here in South Carolina with moderate temperatures and rain for days. The conditions were right, and the seed wasn’t getting any younger–I tossed handfuls of seed onto the soggy soil with the knowledge that more rain would come to beat the seeds into the ground later this week. We’ll see what sprouts, if anything, but just as boats weren’t made for staying in port, seeds weren’t meant for languishing in basements, and I wasn’t made for being bested by depression.
Postscript: Part of my month of reflection has been working toward teaching yoga, and on Monday, I’ll begin my public career at Amsa Yoga (amsayoga.com) at 10:30 am. All in the Columbia area are urged to join!
I’ve missed you and want you to know how proud I am of you. Having had a husband with clinical depression and a sister who struggles with depression, you took an amazing step for yourself – yay you!!
I am so angry – and sad -that anyone would dare to shame you for taking time off to get a handle on your mental illness. I am relieved that you have taken steps toward mental health during these past 30 days. I pray that teaching yoga will be able to be a foundation for your healing process. Thank you for being brave enough to share.