Midway through this year, I had the opportunity to enroll in a spiritual direction practicum course offered by Still Harbor. I’ve been discerning a ministry in spiritual direction for a little while now, but opted not to take this course last year because it involved traveling out of state once a month and I didn’t have the funds. However with COVID-19 and literally everything being made virtual, this year the practicum was offered entirely online and I figured this was the year to do it – and I’m loving it! Being on Zoom for several hours once a month can be a challenge (I make it work with lots of water and snacks), but the material is engaging, the fellowship with my fellow students and instructors is really life giving, and I feel really affirmed in pursuing this ministry.
In our coursework last month, we learned about trauma-informed spiritual accompaniment, that is, building a practice that supports and is accountable to folks with various kinds of trauma. Engaging with this training module helped me to become more aware of how my trauma has informed my spirituality, and also how some of the ways I discuss matters of the spirit can be triggering or harmful to other folks. What really hit home for me in the coursework was an interview that we listened to with the Rev. Laura Everett, in which she discussed mending as a spiritual practice. She explained that when she patches up her wife’s favorite jacket, that is both an act of devotion to her and to the person who made the jacket. It resists the idea that objects that are broken must always be discarded. She went on to say that mending, as a “lived theology”, reminds her that no one is disposable, and that mending ourselves, healing from our own pain, is an act of devotion to God.
2020 has not been kind to anybody, but if I’m being honest, 2019 was not all that better either. I went through a lot last year: I left unhealthy workplaces, I experienced sexual harassment, I faced lots of financial insecurity, and I was in a deep depression that I masked very well. I was able, at the latter end of last year, to begin working with a therapist who helped me address all those things, and things started to feel a little easier. And then 2020 rolled around, the pandemic exploded, I lost my job, and have been living off stipends and freelance work since then. Fun times.
As incredibly traumatic as these last two years have been, there has also been immense growth. Being underemployed and in quarantine this year has been stressful, but it’s also given me the space to put my healing first. Our capitalist culture demonizes taking time for sabbath, healing, or virtually anything that isn’t “productive”. When someone close to you dies, you’re usually only allotted a few days off, if any, to attend the funeral or homegoing service, and then you’re expected to come back to work. If you get sick, like so many folks did this year, and you don’t have enough sick days to cover a period of illness, you lose wages simply for taking care of yourself (and your co-workers, by not getting them sick). I, like everyone else, internalized so much of these beliefs. I felt lazy and selfish just for making time for myself, even more so when I was having a rough mental health day. This year, I gave myself permission to really address my mental and physical health in much deeper ways than I have before.
Being in therapy has helped immensely with my anxiety and depression. One big thing I’ve worked on with my therapist is changing the way I relate to myself and others. In addition to struggling with making time for myself, I find difficult at times to ask for help when I need it, and then I feel resentful – at friends, because I feel as though they should read my mind (spoiler: they can’t) and know I need help, and at myself for taking too much on. Or I don’t ask because I’m afraid of being told no. I’ve been working on pushing through that discomfort, asking for help in little ways and working my way up to the bigger asks. I also started identifying little bits of negative self-talk that pass through my mind – you’re a burden, you’re lazy and don’t want to do this yourself, no one wants to help you – and countering them with positive messages.
As I’ve been working from home this year, I began to notice that I had trouble focusing on getting even basic tasks done. I couldn’t motivate myself to do things. I initially thought this was simply pandemic anxiety – so many other folks in my life have expressed similar difficulties – but if I was being honest with myself, it was an issue that I’ve struggled with for a very long time and just never thought much of. Before the pandemic, I had trouble sitting still or relaxing. I would often have lots of ideas for projects, start them with all the enthusiasm in the world, and then I would lose steam and not finish any of them…and promptly feel like a failure. It wasn’t until a friend of mine posted on Facebook about their ADHD symptoms that I realized a lot of what I was experiencing lined up very well with someone who has ADHD. After some tests and doctors’ visits, I was officially diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 29. A very interesting way to end my twenties for sure.
My doctor and therapist helped me change my antidepressant and added an ADHD medication to my regimen, and I noticed an immediate shift in my mood and focus. It’s been a few months now since I made these changes, and I have energy to actually do things for the first time in a while, I can actually finish things that I start, I have a lot more mental clarity, and I found it easier to work through sadness. Perhaps most notably – I’m not overwhelmed by constant anxiety. It’s liberating. I feel happier and more at ease, and my outlook on life is much more positive.
I’m finding non-pharmaceutical ways to better my mental health too – making more time for things that bring me joy, drinking more water and eating regular meals, asking for help and talking to folks I trust, and being unapologetic in taking time to rest – if I feel tired, I take a nap. All of these changes have helped me work through moments when I get triggered, sad, or anxious about the state of the world, or my finances (still living off those stipends, you know). I have a lot more tools in my belt to handle those challenges, and I’m developing more kindness for myself. I see the fruits of this work, this mending of myself, in how I interact with those I care about, too. I’m now in a loving, joy-filled relationship with my best friend, my relationships with my family are improving, and I feel like I’m able to be more present to folks when they need support, whereas before, it felt like my well was running dry.
My favorite psalm is Psalm 139, which in the NRSV has the subtitle “The Inescapable God”. It speaks of the intimacy and closeness that we have with God, because God created us: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13). Knitting suggests so much tenderness. Have you ever paid attention to someone knit? It’s something that, with a lot of practice, becomes almost effortless, and at the same time still requires patience and focus. So when I say that God created us, I don’t mean God simply snapped God’s fingers and willed us into being. God formed us. God knitted each and every one of us together, and as Rev. Laura Everett said in the interview I mentioned, when we choose to take care and heal ourselves, we honor the Creator who so lovingly took time to shape us into being.
Something folks may not know about me is that I have always hated showing my teeth when I had to smile in pictures. I found it hard sometimes to smile in the mirror, even. I could always think of a litany of reasons why I didn’t like my smile. But a little while ago I saw myself in the mirror, made a silly face and took the picture below to send to my boyfriend. It hit me that I feel so much more comfortable smiling now. Another place where there’s healing happening. 2020 has been immensely difficult, traumatic, and long, there’s no doubt about it. I had so many plans and dreams for this year before shit hit the fan – I wanted to travel more, write a book, get a tattoo. I didn’t get to do any of those things, but instead I was able to do something much more meaningful – to truly make time and space for my healing and well-being. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to work on mending myself, and in so doing, giving thanks to the One who made me.