Thursday, 1 October 2015

Breakdown to Breakthrough - A Journey

Images from Google images
In early July 1975, I was at the convent in Duxbury falling apart as it turned out. I used to lie under the poplar trees sometimes, gazing up at the sunlight playing with shadows, listening to the crinkly rustle as the leaves were tossed by breezes from Duxbury Bay, and I longed for the wind to carry me away to a place of peace where there was no chaos or pain. Only I didn't have words for my soul sinking into a place of horror. 

In August that year I was sent to St. Monica's Home in Roxbury to be in charge of the kitchen, replacing Sister Leslie Anne who was on holiday - planning meals, placing orders, and other food-related activities... Somehow, I functioned just above the Pit - enough to do the work - though again I had no idea what was happening to me. I did, however, arrange an appointment with a psychiatrist in Boston for September after my holidays - hoping he could fix me up before I returned to Haiti on October 15th. Right... a few visits and ... Wrong...

September 17. But who remembers? I do. I sat in JTM's office dully looking at the floor. His first words: "How long have you been depressed?" I looked up. There's a word for what is happening to me? If I'd been as well as I've become over the years - hard work by the way - I'd have answered, "Most of my life." But the Pit is a place of few words, little insight, and of clinging to a thread of survival. I was a breakdown waiting to happen most of my 29 years. It happened, however, when I had lived a life of prayer, self-discipline, and faith and had developed some tools to survive when I crashed. 

Thus began a journey into deep inner caves and through long tunnels - literal tunnels in hospital . A breakdown we called it then. From a present-day perspective, I call it a breakthrough. An offer of health.

It's been forty years this autumn since I 'fell apart.' 

I like to think of myself as a stained-glass window. I broke into many pieces that have been put back into something beautiful through hard work and with love and help along the way from my Sisters, family, friends, two therapists, and an angel of a Boston social worker - Janice Goldstein. And it weren't easy for them to accompany me. Understatement.

This month I'm making a pilgrimage to Boston. To visit my Sisters and friends. One woman in particular, Karen, whose friendship began November 21, 1975 and has lasted tough and strong all these years. And her 95 year old Mom who welcomed me into their Southie home when I needed extra love and support. 

Looking forward to long walks. Sea air. Giving thanks.

Sister (then Mother) Marjorie Raphael sent me a note in my 1971 Profession retreat (as a response to my anxiety) reminding me that seagulls simply ride the winds in storms ... an image I go back to often.

Sister Rosemary told me every time I saw her in later years before she died that she carried in her heart the powerful image of me sitting in habit on my hospital bed clutching my crucifix. And how she admired my courage. I also clung to Psalm 139 for comfort. 

I wasn't too keen on God in the early years while the pieces were shattering. My images and understanding of God needed to fall apart as well. God who will zap me if I step a centimetre out of line. God who takes innocent children's lives. God who will fix things like my parents' marriage if I just pray hard enough... God who wants me to be perfect. God who wants us to suffer. God who wants us to 'offer it up.' God who is never satisfied... 

Aaahhh.. God and I have come a fair distance since those days. I'm convinced that God loves balloons. That God wants us to have fun even - maybe especially - in church. And to use our motto at St. CHL - "We don't do perfect." None of that is to deny suffering. It happens; it's not required.

And on it goes. A life journey. It helps to remember we're not alone.

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