“Why am I doing this?”
I am wandering through the Richmond airport at an hour that is often past my bedtime these days. I am wearing pajamas and feel much like I am dragging a 50-pound weight behind me.
Weeks before, I had offered up my home to a stranger flying in from Canada to attend the same teacher training module I was going to be traveling to in Western Virginia. At the time I made the offer, I was excited. I’ve learned though my recent travels of the blessing of having a friendly face – even if one belonging to a virtual stranger – and a warm home on the opposite end of a long flight, and I was happy to have the chance to return what had been gifted to me so many times in recent months.
But the arrival of June brought with it the final depths of my cancer-induced depressive streak, and with it a seeming inability to connect. With other people, with the Divine, with myself. And with that lack of connection came the echoing of the Enemy’s voice – all my fears of not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough crashing to the surface in a way that threatened to drown out all the beautiful teachings I had been so gingerly collecting.
In the hours that led to her touchdown, I had decided that this woman would find nothing redeeming in me. As I wandered through the maze of her Facebook profile, I determined that I seemed like a joke in comparison to her. I braced myself as the story in my head continued to play out – wondering how quickly she would come to regret taking me up on my offer.
* * *
As we’ve discussed before, my world is occupied by an army of imaginary friends. The spirit of these beings surround me, and when I don’t feel up to talking to physical beings, and when Hope has had enough of my prattling and has retreated to her crate, I often take up conversation with them. God and Christ and Ganesha are regulars, and Thomas Merton seems to be sticking around. A more recent addition is Saint Francis.
When I stop to really think about it, my attraction to and fascination with Saint Francis isn’t a recent development. In Catholic school, he was the only saint I felt any real resonation with and I have always had a fondness for his popular prayer. I can probably trace this childhood connection to the fact that I was taught by Franciscans back in those elementary school days, and his current reemergence in my world is likely in no small part due to the fact that my current teacher, Father Richard, is a Franciscan himself.
One of a number commonalities between Thomas Merton and Saint Francis is the fact that they were both hermits. There is much discussion among the Christian mystics about the necessity of solitude for reaching ever deepening levels of connection with the Divine. These two are often used as prime examples.
So in recent months, I have felt myself pulling ever inwards, I have begun to ponder if something like the life of a hermit isn’t what God has actually intended for me. Perhaps this is why the strongly desired partner and family never materialized. Maybe this is why such a dark night had to be followed by this current murky dusk. Maybe the purpose has been to draw me toward solitude, into silence, closer to Him. Maybe it has felt so difficult to rejoin the land of the living because I am not actually meant to do so.
* * *
“I need to go home.”
This is my thought as I make my way up the stairs of the farmhouse and into my room for the next five days. Or rather, our room. For I have just been blindsided by the fact that I am not only sharing a room with a stranger for the next five days, but a bed as well.
My mind immediately goes to all the reasons this person will be disappointed to find that I am her roommate. How she will be frustrated by my night sweats. Irritated by my early bedtime. I wonder if I can sleep in my car so I don’t have to put her through dealing with me and my body’s strange chemotherapy and menopausal awkwardness.
But I don’t go home. I remind myself of Costa Rica, and the miracle that occurred in that place. I take a book and find a hammock and try to breathe for a moment before the others begin to arrive. As they do, I can tell I don’t belong there. They are all yoga teachers already. Each of them strong and beautiful and many of them know each other already. I wonder how quickly they will figure me out - figure out that I am in over my head. I wonder if its possible to be expelled from teacher training.
I immediately wish I had brought five more books to hide in.
* * *
“This is normal,” he tells me as I continue to ugly cry on the exam table. This is my second breakdown in a medical provider’s office in as many days, but they are the first I have allowed myself since the day Dr. McGuire told me the chemotherapy didn’t work and we would need to do more.
It is normal. I know I have written this before, but its so important to say again because I need everyone reading this to understand – whether you are dealing with cancer or just love someone who is. The vast majority of us survivors will sink into a deep, dark depression following treatment. Following SUCCESSFUL treatment. It doesn’t mean we are ungrateful for where we have come to, or that we don’t see the beauty in the journey. Its that we have been ripped out of our old life and placed in this new one and while it might be beautiful and miraculous, nonetheless, we were transported there against our will and this fog is a normal part of adjusting to the new landscape of a foreign world.
I fought it for a as long as I could. But it caught up to me. Until finally I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
So I left his office with a hug, affirmation that this darkness won’t last forever, and the one thing I had been hoping not to need.
A prescription for an anti-depressant.
* * *
I was hesitant to share this with y’all for many reasons. Among them the fact that there is still a lot of stigma around depression and mental illness. There is also the fact that y’all know that I have been trying to heal as much of myself without medication as possible.
But I have said all along that I believe there is a place and time for Western medicine. And this is one for me. My therapist, physician, and intuitive all agree that my depression had gotten so bad that it was preventing me from doing any healing at all. As my intuitive explained, I’ve been moving down the river of healing at a quick clip for the last 15 months. I need a second to sit on a rock and catch my breath.
This is my rock.
We plan to use it for 60-90 days, and then stop.
It is okay to ask for help, y’all.
Its hard. But its okay.
* * *
The first evening of our retreat, my teacher asked us to set an intention for our time together. I was feeling isolated, out of place, inadequate, and alone and was trying to figure out if it was possible to make a break for the river and just swim away when my intention came floating to the surface.
To connect just a little to myself, to the Divine, and to these humans around me.
The task seemed daunting, and as I snuck off to bed without saying goodnight to anyone I wondered if I had set myself up for failure.
* * *
I wish I could tell you that I woke up that first morning in the farmhouse and my shyness and introversion had melted away. I wish I could tell you that the depressive cloud had lifted in the night. Those things didn’t happen.
But as the days went on, the connection did.
Maybe it was the magical properties of the Cow Pasture River or the healing lessons at the feet of my teacher, maybe it was the fact we all felt a bit like we were transported back to summer camp or our bonding over the Copperhead who visited. Maybe is was just God letting me know I am not completely intended to live as a hermit. I’m not sure. But as the days went by, I felt the golden threads running from my heart slowly becoming entwined with the humans surrounding me.
* * *
The truth is, the depressive fog told me lies about my place in the kula that gathered that week. Rather than encountering the judgment and disappointment I had feared, the beautiful Canadian sprite that I picked up from the airport felt almost immediately like a sister I had misplaced somewhere along the way. As our conversation took us through the mountains and toward the river and back again five days later, my heart understood that we would most certainly meet again. I had opened my home to her because she belonged there – just as she immediately made me feel that I belonged in her world.
And as for the dreaded roommate, as we sat up way past our bedtimes talking about life and training and reviewing notes from the day on our final night in that room, I found it hard to believe I ever thought about sleeping anywhere else. We finally decided to put ourselves to sleep and she reached over for her earbuds so she could drift off to a podcast.
“Want to listen?” she asked, offering one to me.
Immediately I felt as if she was another sister, found when I least expected. And I wondered how I would fall asleep without her there the next day.
It just goes to show – the stories the Enemy tell us, they aren’t true. But he will use whatever means he can to get us to believe them. Even depression.
But if you’re lucky, you’ll find some sisters along the way to remind you of yourself. Even sisters you never knew you had.