I love reading your columns and am very grateful for your insights gained through hard experience. These past three years have been extremely difficult as well as incredibly illuminating for me. I graduated college, had my heart broken by the man I love, saw the breakdown of my parents’ marriage, left to work with refugees in a conflict zone, and saw so much excruciatingly painful suffering. I had large patches of my hair fall out, was diagnosed with hepatitis B, was incredibly fatigued, and had major depression. I’m glossing over these experiences just to give you the context for my question. The protective shell of my innocence about the world and my own morality has been broken. I’ve also been drifting in these past years, searching for meaning, for some firm ground to get stronger. I have traveled extensively, meditated and talked to some very inspiring people. I also met a man that I love very much and who has been with me through the worst year of my depression. Slowly, and through the tremendous support of my family and friends, I’ve emerged from the ashes and overcome my depression.
Now a new challenge is before me: I grew from a girl confident about her own abilities to someone paralyzed by indecision. I can’t help but think that everything is constantly changing, like a beautiful flower in decay. I’m scared about the next steps. My boyfriend, let’s call him AB, is also fragile and very anxious about the world and the state of his body. He has anxiety attacks, depression, and sometimes uses alcohol to dull the pain. He is sweet, very kind, brilliant, and always manages to make me laugh. He has seen me at my best and my worst and loves me completely. This past week, he has asked me to marry him. Do I dare? Do I dare risk my heart again? My life again? Gamble my future, knowing such fragility? I feel weak and afraid to tie my life to someone as vulnerable as I am. Although there is much love in our relationship, I feel like the blind leading the blind. Should I wait for someone who is healthier?
I guess the real question I’m asking is: Life is full of suffering. I feel overwhelmed by it. So how do we get stronger and braver to face its challenges?
You are still getting over a very hard time. I would wait on the marriage. I would wait until you are stronger.
The heart imagines happiness. The heart imagines dramas in which we are transported out of our misery. But transport out of misery is gradual.
If you have been scarred by trauma or drained of happiness by too much striving, this may be expressed in chemical and biological terms; it may be that the chemicals you need in your brain are not working right and you need time to heal. Until you heal, from moment to moment you will not be feeling that good.
Once you find the right way to address your condition it will take time. Even the finding of the right way will take time. It all takes time. Along the way you will have amazing experiences; you will have sudden highs and sudden lows and you will think they mean something but it will be hard to crystalize exactly what they mean. But they will build. They are hints of something.
Here is an example of how healing works. I lost some nerves. Nerves grow back slowly. So every now and then I will feel a twinge of a nerve growing back. A new connection is being made. Sometimes that new connection will come as pain. Sometimes it will just be that where there was numbness now there is sensation. Even when the sensation is pain it means that nerves are growing and things are being connected up again.
Perhaps there is an analogy here for the emotions. You may have shut off certain emotions and certain memories; when they first return, they may return as pain. This pain is not a bad pain; it just means you are alive. It may be a memory of something bad but it itself is not bad; it just means you are alive and can feel things.
Go out in the sun a lot. Rest. Eat well. Keep getting stronger. Do not dive into anything right away; do not move or travel to other countries or get married. Just take care of yourself and do the next right thing and take it one day at a time.
That’s my main message to you: Go slowly and be cautious. Let your heart soar and your mind soar but go slowly here on earth.