The world feels very dangerous right now; people in power are doing everything they can to create hate in an attempt to divide us, perpetuate fear, and ultimately induce a sense of hopelessness. This is the perfect mix of ingredients necessary to drive my depression into a dark space and produce an intense state of tribulation. It is not a secret that I struggle with my mental health, because I want it that way. I made a conscious choice five years ago to no longer be ashamed of what years of other people’s abuse brought into my life.
It wasn’t until four years ago that I first learned about intersectionality in a Women’s Studies course. My intersecting identities create a different life experience for me than for the person sitting next to me in class; this is true for each of us even without considering intersectionality, because perception also has much to do with the truth of our reality.
When my feelings become more than I can bear, I find that art, music, writing, and meditation are effective in at least subduing the distorted thoughts that are ruminating in my brain. I typically start with writing, then turn on some tunes, and then move on to meditation if neither of those work to quell the thoughts. If all else fails, I pull something out of my wide array of art supplies and begin the work of letting my hands guide what they create.
When I am in the darkest of spaces, the medium of choice is always clay. There is something about feeling the coldness of the earth pass through my fingers, press into my palms, and then mold into an unplanned object reflective of the feelings that calms me. All those feelings that are sitting deep in my soul, stuck there, trying desperately not to creep to the surface and emerge as anger, slowly begin to let go.
I know my pattern; I discovered two years ago that the secondary emotion of anger sits deep in the pit of my belly, and takes the form of anxiety on the outside, often in obsessive compulsive patterns of behavior that give me the illusion of control and ease the discomfort. For me, anger is not a safe emotion. When my ex-husband was behaving abusively, I initially fought back, which only enraged him more. I learned that forcing the hurt I felt deep down was a much safer way of dealing with his rage.
Working with clay has helped me to allow those deep-seated emotions to rise towards the surface, so that I can address them with my therapist. In many ways, clay has helped me express myself when I couldn’t find the words, or when something was blocking me from accessing my emotions. It has been quite awhile since I had to pull out my clay.
This past week though I have experienced an overwhelming sense of doom when I am still and not distracted by my obligations in life, though I know that they are contributors to what I am feeling. The clay figure posed next to my guitar that hangs from my wall, sits head lowered, arms wrapped around their legs, facing away from the music that typically fills my soul and brings so much peace and joy to my life. Right now, the struggle to find the light feels gravely difficult, if not impossible and this piece I created directly reflects those feelings.
The intersections of my life and how they play out greatly contribute to that sense of doom. I am a white, cis gendered, queer female who is middle aged, divorced, has disabilities, lives with mental illness, is poverty stricken (yet passes for middle class), and finds my spiritual practice through Buddhism. I am tattoo covered, outspoken, free-spirited, open-minded, resilient, and a lover of all that lives free. I have a family that is challenging, often alienating, and includes some members that I have created distance from.
However, I have much to be grateful for: my children that I love; a service dog, a cat, and a kitten that bring laughter into my life; a competent and caring support network of providers; and some very amazing friends that love me and accept me for me, the authentic me, even when I’m depressed, and struggle to find a reason to live. They all hold hope for me when I am unable to find even a sliver. They lift me up and help me to rise when I have fallen. They wash away the darkness with a hefty dose of empathy and love that destroys that overwhelming sense of doom, doing all it can to drag me down into the darkest of spaces.
The darkest thoughts are no match for the love of others that I have chosen to be in my life. Many of those I am closest to came into my life through happenstance when I least expected it. They stomp out the doom and shine light into every crevice of my soul. Love of others, love of myself, and love of the earth that I inhabit fill me with joy, move my feet to the beat of music, and help me to appreciate the importance that each moment of simply being is.
There are many people in this world that have a complex array of intersecting identities, life experiences, and trauma that greatly affect the way they walk through their life. As a social worker, my hope is to be able to support people as they work though their darkest of moments, helping them to find the light and hold hope for them when they cannot find it, just as the most important people in my life have done for me. I feel prepared and also know this will come with many challenges; acknowledging the importance of a person’s identities and listening to learn will be crucial to my work as a therapist and helping people find their path towards healing.