As a “gift” for our 25th wedding anniversary I made an appointment with a psychiatrist because I could no longer love the person I had become: Defensive. Paralyzed by self-doubt and fear. Unable to move forward. Subject to increasing moments of darkness and tears. What followed that phone call eight months ago was a diagnoses of clinical depression, the search for the right type and dosage of medication, the work of re-framing how I went about my life and ministry and relationships, and further medical tests that reveal an underlying auto-immune disorder that may have been contributing to my neurological and physiological state; that of being dog weary tired and depressed and in real pain.
I admitted to my wife the other night an observation: I’m doing pretty well.
Am I allowed to say that? To write that? To confess it? Laying next to her in bed, I think “Who is this goofy guy, who laughs and makes her laugh. Who doesn’t get defensive when she helps him with his chores. Who is no longer edgy (in the unhealthy understanding, not the cool one. If being “edgy” is still cool. I am not always taking the pulse of such things). Who doesn’t knee-jerk lament in anger and frustration every time something unexpected and unappreciated comes along. Who has learned to say “thank you” without some vague sense of guilt and appreciates both giving and receiving thanks. Who is constructing healthier boundaries between work and home and carving out time for that which brings him (me) joy. Maybe that man laying next to her has a little less toxic empathy that crushes the best of us when left unchecked. That person is so much a stranger to me, but I am beginning to like him. And yes, I know that sounds weird, but there it is.
As I emerge from the forever memory of sadness and withdrawal, I am gardening at home again. The once mighty butterfly garden now an overgrown and tangled mess is slowly taking shape and coming back to a more easily maintained and ordered life. Honestly, I like the unmanaged mess it had become, but the neighbors might not, nor the code inspectors. “Natural” is not exactly the rule of the day around here where nearly all of our neighborhood received citations a few years back because our lawns had turned brown during the dry season, while we were under water restrictions. Don’t get me started on the post-modern comedy/drama of life in the suburbs today. So a more aesthetically pleasing protest against perfectly green and manicured lawns is re-emerging, a few yards and native butterfly plants at a time.
Taking care in the sun, it no longer exacts a steep price on my health. At its worst, just a few months back, it was a price simply not worth paying. Not worth hours of pain and being bedridden. The sun had begun to frighten me with what it could do in just a few short minutes due to the auto-immune disease and the medicine that I take to combat it. But I have entered a period of good health beginning the new year and I am taking tentative steps to embrace it. Of continuing to move out into the light, onto and into the dirt. To cover myself with creation, dirty fingernails and knees and random clods somehow cascading down my hair and getting in my ears. To dig and plant and weed until muscles ache and I am drenched with sweat. To smell and I suppose smell. And I am grateful to have recovered the wonder of thankfulness.