Part I: The Problem
These past weeks, I've found it very challenging to write a blog post. When I've tried, all the words that fell from my fingers were bitter, angry, and despairing. Some days ago, I could not find anything to say that felt worthy of articulation. Indeed, I could barely complete a sentence. Most of my day was spent in this kind of caustic, emotionally abortive state. Half-formed resentments kept knocking around my head so that I could not quite grasp what I thought or how I felt. I just shriveled, hunkered, wilted, and crouched by my computer all day. I read the news on the computer obsessively. Finally, tearing myself away from Facebook and Truthout, I watched the news on the television. I felt even worse. The world seems damned and I feel helpless to save it. The sky was dark and the cold in my basement apartment bored into my bones. A hot, tearful bath thawed me a bit, but later I found myself on the couch beneath a blanket slipping in and out of one of the worst depressive states I've been in for a good long time.
I could not quite figure it out. I'm prone to occasional bouts of depression, but they are usually mild and fleeting episodes. Ironically, I suppose, depression does not get me down. Generally speaking, anxiety is my mental illness of choice. It is true that depression nearly drowned me almost a decade ago, but it rarely can hold me more than a few hours at a time since then. That's why I was so surprised to find my anxiety swing over so decisively to that deeper darkness.
Whenever I have a feeling, I study it. Why am I having this feeling? Is it ephemeral and/or merely situational? Does it have a more complex or spiritually grounded component? How might my physical condition affect this manifestation of emotional sensation? So I search my environment and body for irregularities. (I can't stand irregularities.) Perhaps it was that I had foolishly gone a couple days without my supplements. As one who occasionally suffers from episodes of what my husband gently calls "not feeling well", I know that I have to eat well, take supplements that support good brain function and mental health, stay physically active, and get decent amounts of sleep. When I neglect myself, I'm likely to become "off balance". To my natural health regimen, I add aromatherapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture. I'm kind of high maintenance that way.
Perhaps it was the dismal gray skies and the damp chill. I'm not a real outdoorsie type, but I do find that I do tend to be solar-powered. Bright days encourage me to be active. Perhaps the dark and the damp compounded my morning doldrums and sent me slipping down into the gravel pit. (I often think of depression as a gravel pit with steep sides. Easy to find your way in. Dull as hell once you're there, but damned difficult to climb out again unless you happen to know the way.)
As is my custom, I fussed and worried about my feelings until it suddenly hit me what had happened.
I looked directly at the Beast.
Part II: The Reflection (always keep mirrors handy)
The Beast is a many-headed, malicious killer and it is everywhere. Look now and you will see it out of the corner of your eye. It is hunger, want, injustice, intolerance, hatred, war, bigotry, torture, pollution. It is grasping, cutting, strangling. It starves, cuts, twists, mocks, and brutalizes. Cut one of its hideous heads loose from its body and it seems that two more grow back in its place. Like the Medusa or the Basilisk, to look directly at it brings petrification and death.
And yet we must fight it. But how? How can we fight something so enormous and so frustratingly resilient? How can we fight something that we cannot even bear to look in the eye?
I think it was a conversation with my little girl that helped me with this question. She came to me in deep frustration that as a child she could not change the world. She was furious with herself that by the time she grew up and had power to stand up for the vulnerable, too much damage would already be done. How many more children will die? How many more species will become extinct?
I heard myself in her, but did not respond to her as "myself" but as "mother." This is basically what I told her. This is basically what I told the reflection of myself in her.
It is good that you want to fight that Beast. But it cannot be conquered by one person. Gather allies. Remember that there are people already out there, working, studying, advocating, healing, teaching. Generations of us have faced this danger and generations of us will face it again because we will not accept defeat as long as love exists.
Do not attempt to look directly at the Beast. The vastness and power of it will freeze you in your tracks. Instead, like the valiant mice in Aslan's battle, focus on the toes and heels and tails of the Foe if that is all you can reach. Even the mighiest adversary cannot keep fighting if we cut the legs out from beneath him. Focus on what you can do rather than what you think you ought to do. Your little efforts, grounded in faith and inspired by love, may be just the thing to turn the tide.
Consider that even the pennies you set aside daily to help other children in the world add up quickly. You may wish to help a thousand children and regret your powerlessness to do so, but consider that the child who receives the gift of your pennies can make all the difference in the world. If your pennies save just one child, that one child can join in the story of humanity. Celebrate her voice. Celebrate her life. She may not be a multitude, but she is a beloved sister.
And always remember that however immediate and terrifying the problems that face us seem, we are creatures bound to the future. You are not done growing. Your job is to keep growing and keep learning. Keep getting stronger. Remember that none of us can fight on our own. The world has not been waiting for you to stand alone. The world waits for us to stand together.
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