Thank you, as ever to Rose Rouse and Suzanne Noble from Advantages of Age, for the unstinting encouragement, love and support to my writing. I am so grateful.
Recently, somebody asked how I found my way to The Fields of Kindness. This is, as much as it can be, my reply.
I was first diagnosed at thirteen, and even though I grew up (eventually) and became a psychotherapist, I was particularly blinded to my own baseline and lifelong depression.
Through the prism of hindsight, I can see chapters like hills gently rolling out my little life. Childhood ended when I was sectioned into a psychiatric hospital. After that came what I call the drug years, or the lost years. They certainly were that. During those sixteen years, aged fourteen to thirty, I missed a few things. The vortex of addiction is a particularly narrow tunnel. The horrors of Thatcherism largely passed me by. I missed out on two opportunities to get Australian citizenship, just by showing up at an amnesty with my passport. I threw away a woman who loved me when she asked me to choose between her and the drugs.
Having taken myself to the very edge of the human world, I defied the odds and stayed alive. A third chapter opened. I was wretched and wrecked and it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to stumble back into the realms of the living.
Not in a Hollywood whoosh, but slowly and blindly little bits and pieces started to move, like metal filings pulled toward Home.
While in Rehab I’d been taught to go to Narcotics Anonymous, so that’s what I did. In the meeting rooms, some were talking about going to therapy, so I did that too. Looking back, I can see more clearly, just how ravaged I was. Commitment to drugs will take everything a person is or can be, and I had utterly given myself up to it. I had no capacity for self-reflection. I didn’t know what was going on inside me, or around me. I didn’t know that I was managing self-hatred as big as the world, the only way I knew how. I was held together by a few Leonard Cohen songs and a taste of something elusive I sometimes found on the MDA fueled dance floors with the gay men.
Coming out of that, almost dead but not quite, after multiple suicide attempts and all manner of unlikely failures at dying, there wasn’t much left. I’m taking a moment to look back at her now, from thirty years on down the track and it makes me wince. I don’t quite understand how I moved from there to anywhere.
Only possible, I think, because of the 12 Step Fellowship. Thank you Narcotics Anonymous, first in Sydney and then in London, for holding me. It was basic stuff. Go to a meeting every day. Or even two. If it gets bad enough, go to a third. Don’t use. Get a sponsor. Keep It Simple Sweetheart was KISS. The way we held hands at the end of meetings and said the Serenity Prayer.
I stayed drug and alcohol free and used the 12-step formula for six years. It was, to paraphrase Mr. Cohen, a Temple where they told me what to do. It was my first experience of being received. I was welcome and understood. I was offered some guidance, but not in a top down kind of way… I kept hearing versions of my own story. I got a taste of resonance and I liked it.
I didn’t know I couldn’t think, or that I couldn’t see myself at all. I went to therapy and slowly began to translate some narrative meaning. The story of me started to make sense. I was immensely moved, as I came into focus, not only by my desperation and suffering, but by the processes of self-rescue, and the intimacy of psychotherapy itself. I found myself training without ever having asked myself if I wanted to be a therapist. Some years later when I did stop to ask that question, I found the answer was yes.
As for depression and me… now that it’s achingly simple, I have to concentrate and focus to remember the wracking labour pains.
I didn’t like the word Depression in relation to me. It felt like a judgement and a terrible failure. I should have worked it through, or healed it. Or, God help me, translated it. I did so much cathartic bodywork, and was always disappointed not to get rid of my heavy. I worked like a dog with a bone… I did family constellations, all manner of group therapy, shamanic healing, rituals, prayers, plant medicine, laying on the couch three times a week, periodic (secret) antidepressants and then Tantra and 5Rythms dance.
Every single undertaking gave me succor. I was very hungry. If I gaze back at all my endeavors, I feel touched by my appetite and longing to be healed and whole, even as I was partially trapped in my own prescription for that. I was nourished, though. I ate a lot of light. I found a sense of place, or the beginning of one. I met with my own homelessness and started to welcome grief.
What did for me, was that no matter how much light I ate, and how much good medicine nourished me, I was still waking up each day with the weight of the world on my chest and the taste of defeat in my mouth. I didn’t even want to call that depression, which is a little bit daft for an experienced psychotherapist, but hey.
The worst symptom of depression is the relentless narrative voice. A violent and unforgiving self-rap. The head-fuckery of it. The impossibility. The fact that it is never, ever going to be okay, to be here like This.
I moved through life and life moved through me. Sometimes with more ease and sometimes with less, but never free from the weight of myself. Never able to make myself well in the way I had in mind and vision.
Something happened. After all the fighting, the twisting and spinning in the wind, and after every trick in the book was exhausted, there was just nowhere left to go, so I fell. It was a palpable fall. My system gave up and I lost my grip on it all. It was a relief.
I didn’t know where I’d landed for quite a while, but when I started to get my bearings, postcardsfromthewindowledge.com was born. I didn’t know much, but for the first time, that didn’t seem to matter. It seemed I had fallen, not from Grace, but directly into it.
This is my first Postcard from the window-ledge and I called it: Forgiveness.
There is a wide divid
between an idea of me in my life
and the truth
and I have tried and tied
myself in knots
with medicine and meditation
to make a better fit
and rearrange the pieces into
much more satisfactory shape
I did not understand why I kept failing
and falling, or see the hopeless, helpless
circles and cul-de-sacs of trying to make
a brand new cut out of old cloth.
I had to unlearn the tyranny of healing
and find my own
that didn’t have so much to say
about healing and transformation
rebirth and renewal
and especially about surrender
oh, how I had to stop trying to surrender right
the pitch perfect surrender
like chasing an impossible orgasm
Somewhere between a daughter being born and a sister dying
I have found that I can love life
and long for death, at the same time
that both are true and I am as full of tenderness
as of despair.
The last frontier was about my attachment to an idea of episodic depression rather than the baseline kind. If I was going to be a member of the depressed tribe, I really wanted to believe in, on and off, good and bad, in and out, alive and dead… you get the picture. I wanted to have episodes of depression, in between which I could be well, wide open, productive and even happy or joyful. This was quite a showdown. The truth is that I’m not an episodic depressive, though I have forced myself into that construct on occasion. It has been the source of so much suffering. Finding in myself a welcome state of well-being, I couldn’t ever let that be in co-existence with the bleakness in my bones.
Depression Is My Home Address. It just is. Of course, I am thoughtful about this. Nature and nurture, generational mental health and all manner of self-diagnosis. But this thing called depression, the sheer weight of it, and its particular quality of darkness, have always been with me. Having spent so much of my life trying to get rid of myself, it feels so good to stop.
When I fell, I landed in The Fields of Kindness. I don’t really know how that happened, but suspect it could only happen in that tiny beat of surrender. In that precious moment when I couldn’t go on and gave up on everything, the thing that was trying to happen, could.
These fields were here all the time, just waiting for me. I have to tell you though, that they are not warm and fuzzy fields. They exist in an elemental world, rather than a Disney film. The wild winds blow in and the grass often tastes of salt. These fields though, they are so kind and so damned inclusive.
Radical simplicity: it is just This, over and over, breath by breath. I was here all the time. And depressed without the internalised voices making it wrong, over and over, is a much simpler kettle of fish. Embodied rocks, laboured breath, the darkest, almost starless night sky, and all the sighing and moaning that living with a dog and a cat forgives. What if there’s nowhere to run from? Or anyone else to try and be? What if there is nothing to fix?
Sometimes I can’t work out if my little life got smaller, while knowing for sure that spaciousness happened. I’m always saying, thank you, Life, and loving the absurdity of having so much gratitude for a life I also long to be done with and out of.
If I have anything to contribute to the dialogue about depression, it’s to do with compassion, kindness and welcome. What if there really is nothing to fix? I know it’s controversial and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but absolutely nothing else worked until I put out the welcome mat.
I have to tend to that mat, pick it up and bash it against the wall once a week, and brush off the debris. I reckon it’s a lifelong practice of remembering to welcome the one I’m with and keep giving myself up to This, especially when This is not what I had in mind or plan.
3 thoughts on “Roadmap to Compassion”
As always, you moved me so much! Thank you Caroline! Thank you for writing so open and poetical about harsh things. Thank you for showing the baseline of life, where you go when you surrender. Your heart must be so open, to always open mine so wide!
So very touched reading this Caroline and rereading all your other articles for Advantages of Age. Feeling very close to you right now.
Thank you, dear Cath… love the mystery being read and the the mutual touching and being touched that ensues… love you too, my dear friend xxx