People define Grace in many ways, often in relation to specific religions. The definition I like best is an inclusive one that captures the feeling of being in harmony with wherever I am and whatever I may be doing. For me, feeling a sense of unimpeded energy flow, of easy passage through Scylla and Charybdis should they suddenly appear, and of trust in the deep underlying intelligence and purposefulness of life on Earth puts me in the amazing zone of timeless perfection in which all things fit together in mysteriously beautiful ways. For me, this state describes bliss, the eternal now, and the peace beyond human understanding.
Grace, wonderfully, always comes with a dark and terrifying partner. We cannot know bliss unless we know its opposite, the excruciating feeling of being separated from all that is good and wholesome and innocent. We give this sense of separation many names but the one I have come to use most frequently is Depression. Experiencing both of these states throughout my long and eventful life, I have come to see them as Spiritual Siblings, Teachers who offer a profound perspective on life I can achieve in no other way except through the experience of the oneness of their apparent opposition.
As with most people who have a personal experience of these two spiritual states, Depression introduced Herself first, growing out of very early trauma. In the fall of 1947, when I was a toddler of two, I was quarantined, along with my mother, in a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients. During this time I was separated from my family in a Preventorium, a kind of children’s wing of the larger sanitarium. This space was dedicated to the 12 or so children living under the medical prescription of strict bed rest after exposure to TB; at two, I was the youngest child in this rag-tag group of temporary orphans.
My experience of quarantine began in October of 1947 and ended in April of 1948. During this time I was never held by a family member and could only view my relatives – my sister, grandmother, and aunt – through a viewing window. For the brief time of once-a-week visits, I was allowed to jump up and down in my crib as my family members waved and encouraged me. The rest of the time I lived in a five sided crib, the fifth side improvised to ensure my impulses to climb, already strong before my incarceration, were held in check.
My mother was quarantined for twenty-five months because she had full-blown tuberculosis, diagnosed when X-rays revealed a quarter-sized hole in her right lung. Although she had agreed to our quarantine because the doctors promised we would room together, she was not permitted to see me during this twenty-five month period. This long separation from me and my sister along with the threat of imminent death devastated her.
My sister tells me that after I was released from quarantine in 1948, she, my aunt, my grandmother, and I would stand on the hospital grounds and wave up at a tiny speck at a third-floor window. That speck they told me, was my mythical mother. When I hold in my heart this image of us on the greening spring lawn, I feel along with my own anguish my mother’s, partly because long after these events we talked about her quarantine’s effects on her, and partly because I am a mother and know first hand the pain of unwanted separation.
This medical intervention in our lives has had a very long reach. Every fall for many years, the mysterious bell jar, Sylvia Plath’s name for Depression in her novel by that name, would descend on my otherwise happy life, and I would for a few months suffer an excruciating combination of dark emotions. In a few months, this invisible bell jar would lift and I would feel like my intrepid, curious, happy, adventurous self again.
Although I could always tell the story of my quarantine, I didn’t really understand the impact it had on my life until I entered therapy in my thirties. During that time of transformational increases in my understanding of early events, I learned to look back on the person I was in my teens and twenties with great compassion. No one had officially diagnosed my annual period of despair and my mother’s chronic state of deep sadness as Clinical Depression although we endured many of Depression’s symptoms: an inability to concentrate, chronic insomnia, anger over trifles, persistently negative thoughts about ourselves and others, and a pervasive belief that we were simply unsuited for life through some personal deficiency. Therapy educated me regarding the source of my annual Depression and in doing so lessened its power, but it did not halt my yearly descent into despair; it couldn’t because my therapy was cognitive while my sanitarium experience happened long before my cognitive powers had developed. My toddler experience was entirely physical and emotional and while learning to name what happened helped me intellectually, it could not remove the bodily sensations that were my experience of Depression.
Decades later, after learning many helpful strategies that have allowed me to greet my annual Depression as the wise old Teacher that it is – meditation, writing, bibliotherapy, dance, and daily time in the natural world among these – I discovered EFT. Each time the dark airlessness began to separate me from my ordinary, topside life, I learned to sit and tap, simply telling the story of my feelings in the moment. Eventually, I got very specific about my early trauma and tapped on various aspects of my experience, but sometimes I simply tapped on feeling separated, worthless, thrown away, frightened, and – the one I had the hardest time with – enraged. Whether I tapped specifically or generally, a shift would occur within an hour or so, making my experience of Depression far more benign.
Because EFT is a somatic intervention, that is, a therapy that involves the physical and energy bodies as well as the brain, through tapping on specific points on the face, trunk, and hands it is able to influence my physical and emotional reality, those aspects of my self that are beyond thought – my visceral and energetic memories – where Depression lies dormant until autumn cues awaken its story. Its story is a bleak one as anyone who has suffered from Clinical Depression knows, and its dark thoughts run the gamut from laughable to terrifying: “I’m such a screw-up; I’m stuck; I don’t know how to be normal; no one cares about anyone; no one cares about me; life isn’t worth living” are a few of the depressive thoughts that illustrate the build up of toxicity that can loop through my mind from October well into the deepest, darkest chamber’s of winter’s heart.
Before learning EFT I wrote about these toxic thoughts and beliefs in my journal. I also danced them in choreographies I created to honour Depression’s wisdom, dialogued with these thoughts through Active Imagination, and took them for solitary walks while I remembered those characters and writers who have suffered similarly and related this suffering in novels and essays. While all of these responses to Depression helped me to move through my personal dark season, I often had to isolate myself in order to endure the process of hosting this dark story. Now that I have added EFT to my befriending techniques, I experience a return to equilibrium in a matter of hours, even after the bleakest thoughts.
My tapping stories begin simply enough: “Even though on some level I feel I don’t deserve to be here, I deeply and completely accept all my thoughts and feelings, even the darkest of these. Even though on some level I still believe I’m worthless and deserve to be locked away from all comfort and familiarity, I deeply and completely trust these feelings will dissipate as they have in the past. Even though a part of me is disgusted that I still have this dark visitor every fall, and on some level believe I should just get over this once and for all, I accept myself and all my Depressive symptoms as a story my body still needs to tell for reasons of its own. Even though a part of me hates this Depression legacy, I am very grateful for the empathy it has helped me to develop toward myself and others who suffer similar dark feelings of joylessness and alienation because of early or present trauma.”
Sometimes I tap for as little as five minutes and get on with my day. Sometimes I take a longer time and find myself crying while I am tapping, tears my body has graciously held for me during all the years I was in denial about my Depression. Sometimes I only have the energy to tap and simply ask the universe to take care of me and all the other people in the world who are feeling as lost and alone as I feel. When I tap in this way, I feel connected to the healing Buddhist tradition of Tonglen, where we breathe in our negative feelings (rage for example) and breathe out positive ones (peace, or kindness, or understanding) not only for ourselves but for all humanity.
Over time, I have come to see my Depression as a gift. Because of its annual visits, my experience of Grace, the starting point of this reflection, is more potent in my life. No matter what may be going on outside my skin, within this fleshly queendom my beating heart, my mind, my body, and my spirit know two vitally important realities. The first is that, thanks to the gifts of Grace, I know with absolute certainty that I belong on this Earth at this time doing this work; the second is that although Depression makes me feel I don’t belong and never will, I trust these very potent feelings of alienation and despair will pass. Tapping has made my autumn journey into the depths of my personal trauma a far more peaceful one. For this experience of emotional, physical, and spiritual respite, I am grateful beyond words.
One of my favourite bumper stickers says: “Just because you believe something doesn’t make it true.” My experience with Depression has taught me a similar truth: “Just because I feel worthless and alone doesn’t make it true.” I have had the privilege of feeling Grace . . . that ineffable, wondrous experience of perfect harmony with self and the world. And I have had the privilege of feeling Depression . . . that all too painful experience of feeling worthless, disconnected, and unwanted. Thanks to EFT and tapping, these stories now positively inform every aspect of my life; in doing so, they not only support authentic connection within my whole being, they connect me to others in profoundly meaningful ways.
Until next week