In a previous blog, I addressed my solitary ordeal in a wilderness: sliding into a severe clinical depression. I agree with author and activist, Parker Palmer that “embracing the mystery of one’s depression, illness, addiction, or trauma does not mean passivity or resignation. It means that we are to understand that we are descending toward our own authentic selfhood and toward God. It means gathering whatever self-knowledge that we can amidst the suffering and then making choices based on that new awareness. One begins the methodical walk back to health by choosing things that enliven us and resisting things that do not.
Sister Joan Chittister, a feminist theologian, and Benedictine nun writes in Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope: “To surrender to new meanings and circumstances in life does not mean that I quit grieving what I no longer have. We must grieve well; but I have learned that courage, character, self-reliance, and faith are forged in the fires of affliction. When I embraced the emotional and spiritual suffering, it helped to forge a movement from self-deception to self-awareness. I have never grown in spiritual maturity during the comfortable periods of my life.
Rabbi Harold Kushner actually says, “Life can be painful, if you do it right.”
Here is what I learned about myself during that dark time in my life:
- Self-care and self-love come first.
- I have very strong faith.
- I am not my career.
- Serving those in need does not end with my retirement.
- Every task does not need to be done perfectly.
- Allow other people to have their dark nights in their own time.
- I want to spend more time in solitude each day: Just me and God.
- I am too judgemental.
- Life is short. Do what I am called to do. Get on with it. Now.
- I don’t need a lot of things to be happy. Serving the marginalized makes me happy.
- My kids made mistakes in life. I made mistakes. Let it go.
- To help people who are suffering, I had to suffer.
- Depression and Alzheimers are a lot alike: my mother and I were not ourselves.
- The plan for my life will emerge through the events of my life. Be patient and trust.
- I cannot become someone new until my old self dies.
- Everything does not have to be perfect. I want to lower my expectations. I can learn from the good and the bad.
- I want to stay out of my head and spend more time in my heart. I want to live in the moment; not in the past or the future. Just take one day at a time.
- God was with me through every minute of hell.
- I admitted to myself that I wasn’t the perfect mother that I had thought I was. far from it. And that was okay. I asked for forgiveness from each of my children.
- As I looked back on my life, I realized that God had prepared me ahead of time for every challenge along my path.
In addition, I stumbled upon a very important realization during that long, hard year: In time, my quest wasn’t about begging God to restore my health; it became only to love God more deeply. In six months’ time, my only request was that I would serve God and others through my illness. I wanted to love God simply for God’s self, not because I needed or wanted something. I wanted to love God as I tried to love my husband, Mark. As a friend and soul mate. It took a long time to reach this understanding. Amazingly, when I just let it all go, I began to get better.
That period of clinical depression and cycles of mania was a conversion experience for me. I came to see it as a gift. It made me a better person, a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better teacher, and a better chaplain. For the first time in my life, I was allowed to come face-to-face with God (age 48). When I was eyeball to eyeball with God, I saw my true self for the very first time.
I performed and taught and wrote and lived with more insight, depth, and compassion.
As well, I would like to think that even though my life came to a screeching halt for a long time (and while deeply painful), it was a productive interlude.
“The wilderness will lead you to your heart, where I will speak.” ~Hosea 6:1