I used to have this mental picture of myself alone, out in the open ocean in a dugout canoe. The canoe was loaded down with all kinds of really important things that I absolutely had to bring to shore. I could see the beach in the distance, but no matter how hard I paddled, it never seemed to get any closer. But if I stopped paddling, the waves would swamp the canoe and it would go down. It was just the most lonely, desperate, trapped feeling in the world. Every once in a while, I would express my overwhelmed feelings to someone--people who truly loved me and cared about me--and they would suggest things I could do, or stop doing, so I could feel more at peace. But I could never really bring myself to do or stop doing whatever they suggested. My reasons were things like "But who will take over ___ if I stop?" And "But so-and-so handles ___, which is way worse than my situation. So I should be able to suck it up." (I had just a little bit of a messiah complex going on, among other things.) And so I just kept paddling.
It went on for years--years of time and circumstance and crisis--until finally one day a big wave came along, and my little canoe sank. I had totally exhausted myself in every way, and I had a major depressive episode. It was absolutely terrifying. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't accomplish simple tasks like following a recipe to make dinner.
At the time, I was reading a book by Henri Nouwen called Turn My Mourning Into Dancing. He says that "true gratitude embraces all of life" and that "when our gratitude for the past is only partial, our hope for the future can likewise never be full."
I thought the man was an idiot. There was no way I could be grateful for all the things that had happened. No way, no how.
But my depression had an interesting impact on my world. I couldn't be shut down emotionally any more. And I couldn't do-do-do all the things I used to. I had to deal with myself with no other distractions. And that was pretty painful. It felt like a long, long crawl across broken glass.
And then one day--and it took almost two years--I got it. I was grateful. So grateful to be free from trying so hard to be perfect. So grateful for honest relationships. So grateful to just be myself and have that be a good thing. I had to admit Henri was right: "Every moment can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads to new life."
Around that time, I came across this poem in the Oprah magazine:
Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
Philip Booth, from Lifelines