The Chicago Tribune has had front-page stories in recent weeks about the suicides of young mothers from postpartum depression. It reminded me of my response to the current film "The Hours." It made me appreciate of my own healing of mental instability.
While outwardly I fulfilled my innumerable tasks, for weeks I would feel mentally trapped in a darkness from which there was little escape.
The film illustrates the courage it takes to face down depression and keep trying to connect. One character commits to making a second birthday cake for her husband after the first one collapses because of her confusion. Another buries her fears about the party she's giving by ordering from the florist as many hydrangeas and roses as her apartment will permit. The character who is a writer finds refuge in her sister's early arrival for tea even though the children are badly behaved. These acts of hospitality that might look small from the outside are lifelines of love, beauty, and unselfishness.
That's what it was like for me during my first decade of motherhood. I would find the courage to take my child to the park even though the isolation felt worse there. Some mornings after school started, I would take a book to the brook behind the library and try to keep focused on the story line. I could delight in trips to the woods even though I had fears of us getting lost and never coming out.
A refuge in ideas
My only true solace was in the spiritual breakthroughs I found in reading the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy's book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." In them I would keep finding ideas that felt like such a refuge that I would want to think about those ideas more than about the darkness. Even when the periods between inspirations were often long, I could feel a movement in my thought. Instead of wallowing in the mental emptiness, I would find myself turning away from it to remember some little phrase, sometimes only a word and sometimes a whole sentence.
One of the passages that helped me was: "Consciousness, as well as action, is governed by Mind, - is in God, the origin and governor of all that Science reveals" (pg. 480). I knew that God had to do with goodness, and the promise was that I would be able to find the good thoughts that moved and responded to life instead of the patterns that disconnected me over and over again.
Another act of courage was taking a quilting class. Needlework offered me the comfort of a repetitive task that produced something useful instead of the mental repetition that felt so self-defeating. After I learned four basic quilt patterns, I taught myself others. Soon I was designing my own quilt squares. Everything around the house and garden sparked ideas. The clematis vines, the grape arbor, the lilies, the stained-glass window patterns all found beautiful reproduction and were organized into memory quilts for my boys.
The quilts still haven't been finished because my life has moved so dramatically into the freedom to serve. I'm in the ministry of Christian Science healing now, helping others escape their mental demons. But despite the demands, I find that I am just as dependent on fresh inspiration and watch carefully each day for the way God communicates His love for me and everyone. Every hour of the day is anchored in a Bible verse, a new insight to God's being, a commitment to some Christly quality of thought that secures my own character. I have learned that the only love I have to give others is the love I receive from God.
In the movie, the writer is talking to her husband, and she decides that someone in the book she is writing must die. She announces it must be the poet. One can't help but wonder if this is part of the resignation that leads to the woman's own suicide. But the thing I keep thinking about after seeing the film is that it is the "poet" within each of us that protects us from the ravages of mental illness.
There is an irresistible impulsion within each of us - you could call it an artist - that will not consent to being silenced. The essence of each of us is this indomitable relationship to the origin of all life, the God who is Spirit. Obviously not all of us are composers of great music, painters of great canvases or writers of classic novels, but the little songs we sing, the colors we decorate with, the e-mails of encouragement we write, all have behind them the dynamic power of God's love loving us so we can love others.
Herein is the sanity of life: that thought moves in response to God's love, showing us the freshness that renews despite the crush of the demands of our days. May we commit to noticing the poems of inspiration in our own thoughts, and commit to writing them.
I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.