(excerpt from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Middle Book)
A few months after my fifty-first birthday, I no longer knew who I was. I don’t mean I had amnesia or anything, but the person I’d always thought I was didn’t seem to exist any longer. As my sons had become self-sufficient and independent young men, my role as their mother was different, and, as the only female in my family, I sometimes struggled with trying to figure out how I “fit in”; my profession had changed so much I no longer felt I belonged in it; and two close 20-year friendships, that had once defined who I was as a friend, had ended abruptly, leaving me feeling unworthy of friendship and unlovable. There were all at once a lot of holes in my life, and I felt like a loser.
Who the heck WAS I?
During the Year of Insanity I put a lot of thought into that question. Just when I’d start feeling like I was hopelessly lost in the wilderness, and would never find my way back to my real self, one of my fellow classmates in “Earth’s preparatory school” (as Mary Baker Eddy described our time here) would drop a crumb on the forest floor that would help lead me the right direction. I don’t think many of these classmates had any idea how important those crumbs were to me. So, to those of you who dropped the crumbs, I want to take a moment and tell you that you saved my life, and I whole-heartedly thank you for that.
Henry Drummond writes (in The Greatest Thing in the World): “The people who influence you are people who believe in you… To be trusted is to be saved. And if we try to influence or elevate others, we shall soon see that success is in proportion to their belief of our belief in them… It is when a man has no one to love him that he commits suicide. So long as he has friends, those who love him and whom he loves, he will live, because to live is to love… The withholding of love is the negation of the Spirit of Christ.”
I have discovered, as I’ve lived my Middle Book, that I am over-the-top wealthy with friends. There have been times when I’ve felt my friends’ expressions of Love towards me lifting me up and supporting me – giving me the buoyancy I need to stay afloat – and when I write “lifting me up” I mean that in a literal sense – I have felt myself – not my body, but my thoughts – literally rising.
I’d like to share a couple of instances with you of times when this happened for me – and I’d like to ask that as you read through these examples, you insert yourself into them – insert yourself as the person who is being shown love, and then insert yourself as the person who is showing love. Because, dear reader, the love that was expressed towards me is yours, too. You are the loved, and you are the loving.
On New Year’s Eve, 2007, I was hit particularly hard by the belief of depression – caught up in weird and intense feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. I don’t know what led me to check out my book on Amazon that night, but when I clicked on Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientist I found that just that day someone had added a new review for my book. The review read, in part: “Karen becomes your friend, someone you know and love and you know if she knew you, she would love you the way you want to be loved.” I read those words and was so touched by them I began to cry. This was exactly the message I needed at that moment. If I could love others, I had worth. If others could love me, there was hope. I’ve always felt that the man who wrote that review had been listening to the voice of Love that day. He’d been guided by Love’s direction to take the time to write a review for my book – and, because he did that for me, he helped to bring me out of a place of deep despair.
We all have access to an incredible power to bring good to other peoples’ lives. That day my book’s reviewer had tapped into that power.
I emailed my wise friend, David Allen, to get his thoughts on “identity” – he always has good stuff to share with me. I told him that I’d reached a point where I didn’t know who I was, anymore – it felt like all my anchors were gone – my job wasn’t the same job, my role as a mom wasn’t the same role, I wasn’t really a mountain-climber, anymore – who was I?! His response was one of the most profound pieces of writing I have ever read, and I’d like to share it with you:
“Karen, I know this feeling. A few years back, before I met you, I went through a similar experience. Up until that time I had identified as a completely self-reliant runner and professional designer who could succeed at anything I wanted to. That was me, or at least, that was who I thought was me. Suddenly, all that was gone…I felt like I had lost my entire identity…Then, one day it hit me. I am not any of those things. Those are things I do, not things that I am. Here is what I am: I am creative, curious, and kind. I like children and I like teaching. I enjoy physical activity. I am a storyteller and I like to make people laugh. I like to do things. I like to make things. I love to learn new things. And I love my family. Whether I am working or running, I am still all of those things. No matter what others may say or think, I am still all of those things. These are the things that never change. These are the things that make me, me. Sometimes I make mistakes and screw up, but that doesn’t change any of those things, either. I am not always happy, but I am always grateful for the things that I am. And I don’t worry anymore about the things I am not.”
I’d met David on a religion discussion forum – he was a self-avowed atheist – but other than our difference in belief about God, we’d found we had a huge amount in common with each other. There were several other people I’d met on the forum – most of them atheists, like David – who had become valued friends to me. One of these valued friends was a brilliant wit named Jamie Longmire, who lived in Nova Scotia with his talented artist-wife, Kathi Petersen. Not long after I met Jamie, he “brought me home” via email to introduce me to Kathi.
Before too long Kathi and I were email buddies – emailing each other regularly twice a day. Kathi had been through some pretty major challenges in her life, and could relate to a lot of what I was going through. She understood my thoughts about not wanting to use medication to get relief from the depression – understood that I felt there was something I needed to learn from my experience. She understood, too, when I told her that I’d found I could be happy even when I was depressed. Kathi wrote:
“…something… that occurs to me … is that we all have to live our own lives, and grow from our own hardships.
“I was in a Jungian dream group once and one of the women was saying something about how she could be just as conscious and psychologically grown without having had a dark night of the soul, and you could tell people were thinking ‘yeah right’ … I hear peoples’ stories sometimes, maybe some television interview, and they end up talking about their really pivotal growth ‘dark night moment,’ and it is something that seems so insignificant …but you have to have the whole context of peoples’ lives. I think it is hugely important for people to grow from their own experiences…
“I actually think in a way that it is very important not to tell someone, when they are upset about the bad time they are going through, ‘Well look at that guy, he has no arms or legs and he is a professional motivational speaker and has written two bestseller books’ … I’m saying this because I think in a way, the hardships (while all different) have a BIG sameness about them, and that the answers have a HUGE sameness about them. It is… about people who are suffering, and people finding out that the suffering isn’t a necessary part of life. The hardships may be … but the suffering not necessarily. I have thought that having bigger challenges can sometimes allow people to learn this more easily (trial by fire?) – to learn that life can be full of joy regardless …”
I remember clearly the moment when I began to wake up from the depression: I was talking with my husband, Scott, about how the people around me were telling me these wonderful things about myself, but I just felt detached from their words – like the words had nothing to do with who I really am. I told him I felt like a fraud. He looked at me and started laughing. “Karen,” he said, “everyone else knows who you are, you’re the only one who can’t see it!”
The way he said it – with such conviction and so kind of matter-of-factly – I felt something lifting from me, some burden that had been weighing me down. I went out for a walk, and everything around me looked lighter and brighter. I felt stirrings of joy. For some reason I’d been feeling like I had to “steal” happiness – as if I didn’t deserve it. But I think that it was at this moment when I began to accept that I had every right to be happy.
“Be happy at all times and in all places; for remember it is right and a duty you owe to yourself and to your God to retain the right, no matter how loudly the senses scream.” – Edward A. Kimball