Somehow it got to be March while I was doing things other than updating the blog. That happens a lot now.
I have not been idle. I have been occupied with an assortment of things – feeding my soul through art, writing for my church and for my upcoming classes, a few rounds with a head cold that Spouse brought home a couple of weeks back. All the bits and pieces that add up to the ordinary reflective sort of life that belongs to a person who also, occasionally, gets a wild hair to paint flowers on a snowbank in the front yard. Just in case anyone was wondering what sort of person does that sort of thing.
Part of it, I think, is that the flowers painted on the snowbank sort of went viral – I am still getting more hits on that post than on everything else put together, so my Bacon Cat suspicions are proving true – and I find myself wondering whether I really want to put this thought or that one in my public internet spaces which at the moment are mostly being viewed by people who are tired of looking at winter and probably not thinking too much about ministerial formation or Unitarian Universalism.
Do I really want to put my whole self out there? Old habits die so hard.
So I have held back, kept my words private, shared with only this few friends or that. But some of them would like to be out in the world now, and so I am turning them loose.
On the making of art:
February 16, 2015
[Spouse was away for a couple of days] so I did a Bad Thing and made art in the kitchen instead of the studio.
Because it’s effing cold down there in the basement, and I’ve been itching to paint since I got back from Chicago.
I now have a work in progress that needs to dry enough before tomorrow afternoon for me to stash it in the basement room again.
My inner critic keeps saying rude things like “You shouldn’t be doing this in here. You’re going to get paint on something. You’re going to make a mess. You aren’t supposed to paint in here. What if [Spouse] comes home? What if you get caught?
“You shouldn’t even be doing this at all. You should be doing laundry, shoveling snow, organizing all that crap you have all over the house. Don’t you have things you need to read for class? You don’t even know what the next assignment is. You’re probably already too far behind to catch up. All the productive things you ought to be doing, and you’re doing -THIS-?”
Oh critic, you are such an asshole. @#$% off already. I paint because it feeds my soul.
I feed my body every day. Usually coffee to start with. Sometimes other things like cereal or bacon and eggs or fruit or leftovers. I am teaching myself that it is no less important to feed my soul than it is to feed my body. I am trying to teach myself that sometimes it is important to feed my soul -first- and worry about getting work done after that. The work is not in fact going anywhere.
A few days later, I wrote privately about mental health and self-care. I have been pretty circumspect discussing this part of my life here; this is a public space and I write with the assumption that anything I’ve posted here may turn up later in my professional circles. But since it seems good to write about it here, now, I guess that means I’m ready to talk about it.
I have struggled for most of my life with unrecognized and untreated depression, anxiety and other stress-related mental health symptoms. Last summer I withdrew from CPE when my anxiety became so severe I could not continue, and then I fell into a major depressive episode about which the less said, the better. If you don’t already know that abyss, I won’t be the one to send you there.
Things are improving, slowly. I have gotten (and continue to get) professional help – both with managing my symptoms, and also with exploring and healing the underlying psychological wounds that fuel them. But this kind of personal work is largely invisible, and making the time and space for it means saying no to opportunities – and people – that I would much rather give myself to:
February 23, 2015
This is not a project that I expect to be done with any time soon. It is taking almost all my energy and attention right now; I expect it will take a big piece of my energy and attention for the foreseeable future. Maybe my “all the things” will end up being slower and gentler than it is for other people. I kind of chafe at that idea, because I have internalized the cultural norm that values short-term productivity over long-term sustainability – and then castigates the failure that inevitably comes when resources are exhausted.
But I am learning, however slowly and uncomfortably, that if I operate under that paradigm I will destroy myself and the things I care about. I have come closer to that than I am willing to give details about, at least not online. And the thing that is clear to me is that my first and deepest priority necessarily must be -not- to the infinite work that is to be done in the world, nor even to the pieces of that work which might be most immediately urgent and near to my heart, but rather to not undoing the healing work I have already done. There’s a meme circulating the last few days that says something like “You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” I do not think I am required to take on the weight of the world until I shatter under the strain, either.
But of course I am still doing things for others; I just have to be selective about what I take on, to make sure I allow more time than I think I will need for taking care of my frustratingly soft and fragile self. One of the projects I’ve done this winter: assembling “Soul Matters” theme resource packets for my home congregation while our minister has been away on sabbatical. I’ve enjoyed the challenge and I’m also very glad she’s back.
The cover message for our March packet, on the theme of Grief, Loss and Acceptance:
When I agreed last fall to prepare the Soul Matters packets while Rev. Carie was away, and then saw that one of the themes I’d be writing about was “Grief, Loss and Acceptance,” my first thought was something along the lines of “Uh-oh! I don’t know anything about that! I’m going to have to find an expert. Someone else. Anyone else. I don’t know what I’m doing. I haven’t got anything useful to say…”
How often do we react to grief and loss – whether our own or that of someone we care about – in exactly that way? Modern western culture does not teach us very well about living with grief and loss. Our institutions and cultural systems push us to move on very quickly, acknowledging the need to pause and mourn only the deepest of personal losses, the death of a close family member. (As if three days of bereavement leave were enough time to even begin the process of closure!)
But as human beings we feel grief whenever we experience a loss – not only that of a beloved to death, but other losses, whether life-disruptive or barely noticeable to those around us: the threat to security and stability that comes with the loss of a job or business; the loss of the familiar when we move from one home to another, whether by choice or forced by circumstance; the loss of both what was and what might have been, when relationships shatter or become estranged; even the loss of our former selves to changes in mind and body that come through accident, illness, or the slow influence of time.
Grief takes many forms: anger, denial, fear, desperate bargaining, confusion and deep sorrow. Eventually, by working with our grief, we come to accept the change that loss brings to our lives, and to mend the holes those losses leave in our hearts.
Let us be gentle with each other this month as we explore this challenging theme.
And finally, a prayer:
February 28, 2015
God of my heart, hear my prayer.
Help me to find myself,
the self you gave me when you let me in this world,
the self I have dropped or given away
or had stolen so many times,
the self I do not recognize when you dangle it
just outside my grasp
teaching me to extend my reach.
God of my heart, be patient with me
as only you, eternal, can be patient;
pick me up and set me upright again
wipe me clean when I land on my face again
remind me of your love
comfort my sorrows
God of my heart, be gentle with me
help me to contain my confusion and frustration
when I cannot contain them on my own
Bear with me when I am tired and cranky
offer me a cookie
and make it so that taking a nap when I need one
does not seem like the end of the world
God of my heart, hold me
as if I were your treasured child,
and remind me again what you have before:
that this is so,
that I am your beloved,
that all I need do is to be loved.
God of my heart, remind me
that I cannot earn your grace
not because of my failing
but because it is too freely given to be earned
and mine already,
if only I would receive it.
In all your holy names I pray,