My Work

[This is a very long post.  I’ve done my best to edit it, but I’ve also had to add explanatory material.  I’ve put in comments from the present, in square brackets and italics.  I think the length of it is important as it shows the struggle to change an old pattern.  It’s also possible to see the fight between the part of me who wants to stay with the discipline of being present to my depression, to whatever I’m feeling in the moment, and the part of me who’s been conditioned to believe that I don’t have any worth unless I “do things.”  It surprises me how often a statement of one side is followed by a statement of the other.]


Feeling very bleak.  Waves of meaninglessness.  Can I “lean into” meaninglessness?  What does it feel like in my body?  Grey and flat. tired.  A downward pull that isn’t really weight.  I try to soften around it and my heart starts to ache.  I go off into imaginary conversations.  Something eases.  It’s like I lay down by the side of the road for a while.  Now I’m ready to get up and go on.  But I don’t see any point to it. Maybe I’m just trying to get away from the pain.  Maybe I should stay with it as Pema Chodron says.  I am partly trying to be with it and partly trying to make it go away, which of course doesn’t work.  Can I make friends with meaninglessness?

I see a baby sitting in front of me.  She’s covered with dirt.  Mud or shit or both.  The mud of Flanders.  Something moves in my heart.  At least I can pick her up and clean her off.  I pick up the baby and carry her to a place where there’s warm water (this is a war zone, how can there be warm water?)  I clean her off.  She is crying.  I’m as gentle as I can be.  I talk to her soothingly.  Finally she is clean — well, no, I can’t get that far.  This is a metaphor for my life and I’m still working on cleaning the baby.

[The mud of Flanders and the war zone are WWI, also known as The “Great War.”  The novels I have been reading, by Jacqueline Winspear, are about the time after WWI, when PTSD was called “shell-shock” and also was thought to be imaginary, and a result of “low moral fiber.”  Winspear’s treatment of PTSD is knowledgable and sympathetic.]

Feeling scared and sad. and helpless.  Trying to stay with it, soften around it without success.  I must be angry with myself for being back in this place.

Feeling sad and lonely.  I’ve been working on Pema Chodron’s instruction to stay with my sadness with gentleness.  I think the anger has disappeared.


I worked all day yesterday on being gentle with myself, gentle with the pain I was feeling.  It did help some, the anger faded and I was left with sadness.  When I read Pema Chodron years ago, I felt that she didn’t have anything to say to me.  She talked about anger and jealousy and blame, and I just don’t do those things.  What I missed was “blame yourself,” which I do all the time, and the instructions to “be gentle with yourself.”  I just couldn’t take it in.  Now I see the importance of being kind to myself and am doing my best to practice it.  I imagine holding Little Jenny with the Dar Gorani look on my lap.  I say “there there” and try to comfort her but she can’t soften.  So I just hold her.

What am I feeling?  Instead of calling it depression.  There’s a weight in my heart, some tension in my forehead, a sense of energy being drained out.  Sad and grieving.  I think of what Erica said: she sees me holding on to justice, peace, compassion, every day, in the face of horror, chaos, cruelty, and being alone.  I don’t feel feelings of peace and compassion, but can I hold on to them intellectually?  morally?  I think of them as being what I want, what I choose, even in the face of massive evidence that the world is heading into darkness.

[“Horror, chaos, cruelty” are from the world around me and also from a flashback to infancy and what it felt like.]


Was OK last night, woke up in this grim bleak place again.  I notice that if I start thinking about something, it distracts me from the bleak feeling, but there’s nothing I can do to make it go away.  I am powerless over depression.  It’s not my fault that I feel like this and I’m not supposed to pull myself up and do something.  The only thing I know to do is practice being gentle with myself.  Imagine holding the 4-yr-old who is frozen.

Go back and find what Erica said:  “You work so hard to hold on to goodness, love, justice, but you are isolated, not surrounded by others.  Daily you pick up this battle, for love, truth, voices being heard.  That is not a fragile soul.  You may be weary, but not fragile.”

Notes from phone call with Erica:

Effort for transformation, wholeheartedness, authentic power and its expression, a big effort, all around keeping the voices alive.  Fighting on behalf of truth, love, social justice, every day, even though it’s hard to make a meal.  You are a warrioress.

After the call with Erica.  Feeling as cold as I did in the “Beatnik Room” we made in the top floor of our house in Maine, when I went there in the fall.  This was after the boy I thought was going to be my boyfriend fell in love with my best friend.

Feeling kind of exploded.  As Erica talked about me I felt the space in my chest grow larger and if I took in a deep breath I could break open.  I understand that her contradicting my experience of who I am is knocking apart the basic structure by which I understand myself.  I think of what Dr. Fried said to Deborah’s parents.
[“Her sickness is the only solid ground she has.  She and I are hacking away at that ground on which she stands.”  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, p109]

I told Lynelle about my effort to stay with depression and she said it was very good work and to stick with it.  I said I had practical things I needed to do, she said “Forget them.  What you are doing is far more important.”

[I’m so grateful to have a friend who can validate me because she has been there.]


Woke up early with a bad headache.  I don’t feel like writing or reading or typing or playing solitaire.  I just want to lie down. and keep repeating “Love, truth, justice.”

Feeling very cold and empty.  Reminds me of that first winter in Portland, Maine.  I had just come back from California, feeling completely defeated.  It was the winter of ’70-’71, there was a huge amount of snow, and it was VERY cold.

I’m reading Maisie Dobbs — Messenger of Truth.  I think I’m comforted by the memories of the horrors of the war, and Maisie’s own struggles with her past.

Despite my feelings of tiredness and weakness, I’d like to try building a fire.

I did build it.  I’ve been feeling cold.  I’m also feeling sad, and then some uncertainty.  Not sure if what I’m doing will really help.  Wondering how long it will take, how long I will have to hang out with these feelings.  I don’t feel lonely, I don’t feel any desire to call anyone.


Feeling sad and blank.  Lost in some dreary place.  I don’t feel like I’m doing something real any more.  Feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines, life is passing me by.  But that’s not really true.  It’s conventional life — home, children, career, etc. — that’s passing by, and I chose not to do it, or at least not to make it a priority.

Thinking about when I got back from Europe, feeling battered by “life,” feeling like a failure compared with my traveling companion, wanting to hide.  I needed a refuge and someone who would comfort me, help me, but instead I went “home,” and that year was so awful, so un-nourishing, that I fled to California trying to get away from the pain.

California just exploded me.  It was too much for my psyche which was lacking in basic social skills.  Desperately trying to find someone to love me so I could feel OK.  My heart just aches for that girl.  So wounded and with no idea of what had happened to her.  Thinking she was defective, a failure at being human.  She was overwhelmed, and had no one, no good friend with whom she felt safe and could process what was happening to her.

Thinking of what Erica said:
1) I’m afraid I’m not doing enough for the world
2) I don’t recognize what I’m actually doing
3) I wish it weren’t so hard.
She said these are ways I diminish myself.

My attempt to understand what she meant
1) — that continual push instead of acceptance of being OK just as I am.
2) — don’t see that my actions are accomplishing anything “worthwhile.”
3) — making myself wrong for finding it difficult, failing to recognize the damage that makes it hard, and the courage and determination I put into the effort.

Right now I just feel like a complete failure.

[After I’ve said I have courage and determination, I say I’m a “failure.”]

My heart aches.  Actually it’s my whole chest that aches.  I think I’m also angry at myself that I can’t seem to make an effort — to walk the dog, to do the dishes, to keep up with the mail…

[This is the core of the struggle between staying with my unpleasant feelings and going down the path of the old pattern.]


The first thing I do when I wake up is pat Mocha.  Then I get up, reciting “Goodness, peace, mercy, justice, kindness…”

Yesterday was tough.  I was so badly depressed that I couldn’t do much of anything except read Winspear.  Periodically I would get angry at myself for “not doing anything.”  Then I would remind myself that I was working to stay with it, and try to surround the sad part of myself with softness.

Lynelle reminded me of tonglen.  So I breathe in the feeling of yesterday, dead grey frozen, and I breathe out comfort.  In the book I was reading, Maisie wanted comfort and she could go to her father.  I envy her.

Did tong-len for a while and my heart got very cold.

Driving over to Barbara’s, it occurred to me, that damaged as much as I am, I have actually done a lot with my life.  I’ve taken a stand for peace, for justice, I’ve signed petitions, I even refused to pay my taxes during the war in Vietnam.  I participated in Journey Into Courage, and built Neskaya.  I taught writers’ groups and one of my students went on to teach writing groups that produced material that could be read on stage.  I remember the women, both therapists, one at a peace conference, and the other at my talk at the UU, who said “What you have done is huge.”  They have worked with people, just as damaged, who have stayed stuck in their victimhood.  Jane brought food, and I told her I was depressed because the work I’m doing in therapy brings up very deep material. She said “People get on medication and stop, they don’t even do the work.  It takes real bravery to do the work.”

[Doing this practice, of being with whatever I was feeling, no matter how painful, for almost a week, has been helpful.  I’ve seen a change over these days, though it’s small.  Well maybe not so small (diminishing myself again).  What’s big is that I think letting myself really feel it, really feel how incapacitated I am, how much I have to push myself to “get something done,” I really understand how hard I’ve had to work to do what I have done.  I’m still seeing this only intellectually, but that’s where I have to start.]

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