As a person with the double whammy of anxiety disorder and depression, my natural tendency is to ruminate on the negatives in life. Though, hilariously enough (to me) since undergoing psychotherapy and medical treatment for these conditions for over three years now I have discovered that I’m quite the optimist. Dark, somewhat gothic in my creative expressions, a little bit morbid, and with a raging thirst for heavy metal music, to be sure, but it’s a revelation to discover that under the gloomy layers I am, generally, an assume-the-best, hopeful, upbeat kind of person who loves art and flowers and kittens and classical music. Don’t let the wardrobe of black clothes fool you; when my mental health is going well, I’m very laid back and really quite capable of being friendly. To look back on years of being told by the powers-that-be that I was lazy, disorganised, unmotivated, had a “bad attitude” with an attendant “lack of gratitude,” there’s a vague satisfaction that I can now look at those past conversations and realise that what they were seeing was a manifestation of my mental illness, and not intrinsic to my personality. It turns out that despite years of contradictory evidence, I’m a fairly neat and tidy person when I’m not weighed down by the persistent ennui of a despairing, depression-riddled existence. It makes me realise that I basically wasn’t a fully alive and happy human being from roughly 1991 to 2013 inclusive, up until the anxiety-induced physical breakdown landed me in the doctor’s office begging to know what was wrong with me. What seemed a terrible drama at the time became the doorway into learning how to live well with my mental condition. Add to that the freedom borne by discovering personality typing systems – critiques of their scientific veractiy notwithstanding – and realising that I’m actually really normal for a specific but relatively common subset of human being-ness (ISTP, Enneagram 5w6), and life starts to look a whole lot less bleak than it used to. I can now embrace the fact that like roughly one third of the human species, I’m an introvert – not “shy,” not “too quiet,” and not, as my primary school reports attest, “terrible at making friends.” An introvert with a physiological and psychological need for lower levels of external and environmental stimuli in comparison to my extroverted acquaintances (another argument in favour of going back to living in rural areas).
At the same time, as I mentioned in a previous post, coming out of Pentecostal Christianity after just over a decade of committed involvement, I have to relearn a few essential life perspectives. In particular, that a life lived small, humbly, and without much fanfare and grandeur, is still a life worth living. In my mind it’s less “making God famous” and more St Thérèse of Lisieux – that is, a small and simple kind of approach. To try to explain that to people who haven’t been involved in Pentecostalism is terribly difficult; but suffice it to say that for me I was left with the distinct impression that God much prefers the people on the stage than us nobodies in the pews; that God prefers the ones with high incomes; that God prefers the conventionally beautiful person to those of us who never could afford desperately-needed orthodontic treatment; that God prefers those who dress in brand-name clothes. (The point is that the God I believe in loves all of them…) Now don’t get me wrong – if you asked anyone on the stage in a Pentecostal church of the sort I was involved in whether they’re deliberately making introverts feel overlooked, of course the answer is no. I don’t think any of them are motivated out of spite towards the pew warmers. It’s just something in the environment, this social structure that can inadvertently conflate ego and material success with God’s blessing. But as I explore ancient Christian contemplative practices, and read about the saints, I find a lot more diversity of spiritual expression. Ah, the saints – what a wonderfully colourful and diverse group of individuals who can inspire us to live our lives in different ways!
For me, part of this journey means that I am having to learn to celebrate the small victories. Over the last few weeks there have been several. Particularly the fact that I managed to get my cat to vomit on the easily-cleaned tiled floor when he was about to barf all over the carpet and all over the other cat. Or the time last week that I got Child No. 2 to ballet lessons on time and that her hair stayed in its bun for the whole lesson. The day that I managed to get the kids to school without having to raise my voice even once – not even the crazy Melbourne traffic was able to rattle me! (For once.) The fact that I read a whole hardcover ink-and-paper book without once getting distracted by the fake book that is face book. The fact that I’ve successfully gone alcohol-free for Lent and it was not only nowhere near as difficult as I anticipated, I even shed some unwanted and excess weight as a result. The time I managed to complete a level on geoDefense Swarm that I’d been stuck on for about eight months. The fact that I sold some t-shirts on my RedBubble store. Or that I drove to the dentist and resisted the urge to skip my appointment and it was all good and it didn’t hurt at all.
It may seem obvious, but after years of being in an environment where’s there’s an implicit, though mostly unacknowledged, sense that spiritual strength and goodness lie in one’s popularity, it is surprisingly difficult to look at the seeming smallness of one’s day-to-day life and see that it is entirely adequate. Not perfect, but not insignificant.