First up is Sharon:
Equilibrium. Sound unrealistic given the avalanche that is your to-do list?
You’re not alone.
Check out the faces of drivers around you or people walking down the street, and it’s not hard to see others sporting a look that says they need to be somewhere else.
Being out of balance is how Merriam Webster partly defines stress. It says, “a state of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existing equilibrium.”
Stress, as well as other mental health factors, has a front-and-center need to be addressed. According to some studies,most doctor visits in the U.S. may be triggered by a stress-related issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that antidepressants were the most frequently used drugs by Americans, ages 18 to 44, from 2005 to 2008.
But there’s another side to this coin.
A recent 60 Minutes report highlighted the effectiveness of placebos in treating depression. When asked whether people using antidepressants improve, Dr. Irving Kirsch, Associate Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School said, “Oh yes, people get better when they take the drug.”
“But,” he said, “it’s not the chemical ingredients of the drug that are making them better. It’s largely the placebo effect.”
So if the active ingredients in the drugs aren’t necessarily causing the effect — nor are the inert ingredients in the placebos — could there be a different approach that has an impact without pills?
For instance, what if the thing that needs to be addressed is ultimately the sense of being out of equilibrium? One way of doing this could involve nurturing a sense of inner peace, calm, or stability.
This idea rings true in my own life.
A year after I graduated from college I experienced a deeply stressful situation, and felt extremely depressed.
My college sweetheart asked me to marry him. It was a hugely joyous time — for a week. We told our families, our friends, and our colleagues. Then, out of the blue, it hit me that this relationship was not the right fit for a marriage, for him or me.
I really wanted it to be a happily-ever-after story, but unfortunately all that wanting didn’t make it so. Six months later we broke up.
The deep despair that I felt was too much.
Sometimes when I was driving I would think, “What would it be like just to turn the steering wheel and drive off the road?” If I just ended my time on earth, maybe that would be better. I could move on to whatever came next in the following plane of existence. “Why live with this much mental angst?” I thought.
My loving friends and family tried to be as supportive as they could. “Why was it not right?” they asked, trying to help me sort out what had happened and why. They bought me flowers and had meals with me, but I still felt like my lights were off.
Mornings were especially rough. Because the dream-world felt so much better than waking-life, I was really unhappy when my alarm woke me up.
But underneath all the stuff I was dealing with, in the back of my thought I felt there was a divine path that could help. In tough situations I had been in before, I had asked a practitioner of Christian Science to help me, to good effect.
So I contacted this person to pray for me
and, in addition, she encouraged me to consider two points: what I was grateful for each day, and how I could help others. Frankly I was a little dismayed by this.
I thought, “How can I help others? I’m the one who needs help!”
She said maybe the help I could offer would be simple, like holding a door open for someone behind me. To even recognize that I could help seemed like a stretch. But I tried.
I also strove to be grateful for a few things each day. It wasn’t easy, but the practitioner helped me to see how to take some next steps.
I started to realize that it didn’t really matter what I was doing. What mattered was how I was thinking about what I was doing, and whether that included a sense of love.
Eventually I had a much firmer, clearer grasp on gratitude and through my small experiences of helping others, I understood better that I had a purpose, just as every person does. Contentment, satisfaction, and joy began to replace the sense of loss and despair I had felt.
I was lifting myself out of the abyss and got better at tuning in to what divine Love was telling me was true about myself and others.
While the circumstances in my life didn’t immediately change my outlook had been altered. The prophet Isaiah mentions something similar: “Lift up your eyes all around, and see…” To me, spirituality enables us to see beyond what is in front of our eyes to what fills in the picture of what is really happening at a deeper level.
While I can’t say my life has been pure bliss in the many years since, I can say that I’ve never again experienced the despondency I felt then. I’ve realized that no matter what I’m going through, I am able to keep a higher perspective and that brings equilibrium to my mental health.
I was also happy to learn that my boyfriend married within a few years.
Oprah Winfrey once said, “I trust that life is bigger than what I can see. I trust there is a divine order beyond my control.” [Source: Oct. 2000 O Magazine]
I agree. The Divine is always loving us and providing goodness in our lives, which is what I learned from this experience. Nothing has the ability to shake that order and disturb our equilibrium.
And now, here's Janet:
I was appalled by the very word. Good girls didn’t get divorced. I had always been a good girl. A good Midwestern, Catholic girl. But, I was going to get divorced.
What’s more, the divorce stories that I had encountered in my life were not pretty. The first two couples I knew who had split were two of the sweetest, most loving couples I had ever met. In one case, the soon-to-be-ex-husband urinated on his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s car. The other case was much more ugly. These previously kind, caring people had turned into monsters. How had that happened?
All my friends advised me that that’s just the way it was. The nature of divorce transformed two former lovers into armed warriors. There was no way to avoid struggle over money and possessions. You just prayed that you could reach an agreement before you had to go to court and waste a big chunk of the money that you had. They agreed that sadly, when all was said and done, it was virtually impossible to stay friends with your ex.
I was baffled. How was it that two people who had loved each other, vowed to spend a lifetime together, produced wonderful children - could come to this? Why did it have to go all wrong?
I turned this over and over in my mind. It seemed to me that each of us is only really close to a handful of people in our lifetimes. So, each of those intimacies is unbelievably precious. Surely the person whom I had been married to for so long, the father of my children, qualified as one of the most important, if not the most important, person in my life. So, although, we had reached a point of no return, the last thing I wanted was to make an enemy of him, to sever him from my life.
Somehow, I was determined to get through the whole thing without wrecking everything.
1) Meditation - The first thing I did was to meditate and focus on the end result of a loving, respectful and honorable dissolution of our bond. I wanted an intact family that could still celebrate holidays, birthdays, graduations and weddings without discomfort - in fact, with joy. I included this goal in my daily meditation for several years.
Because, that’s one thing I learned, divorces are usually not quick.
2) Counseling - We worked with a series of marriage counselors, at first to try to preserve our marriage, but ultimately to help us navigate the painful separation dialogue.
It was much easier to discuss the volatile topics in a safe place.
3) Children - We put our children’s needs first and worked around their lives. Before, disrupting the family home, we waited for our youngest child to graduate from college and move on to her first job and apartment.
4) Mediation – Since we both wanted to avoid going to court, we chose to work with a mediator. When I began to feel that I couldn’t hold my own representing myself in those sessions (I had always had an agent to be my advocate), I suggested that we continue our negotiation in writing.
5) Written Negotiation – Although, this strategy of responding to each other in emails was quite unusual, it really seemed to work for us. We were both more measured, more careful and, I think, more clear in writing. We took time between each new proposal to reflect on the repercussions and confer with our advisor attorneys before generating a response. Instead of letting the lawyers drive our communication, we tailored the process to our strengths.
6) Support – Despite the break-up, we continued to help each other do the things that we had previously always done. I helped him get his house put together. He helped me sort out my computer and accounting.
Two years later, we’ve spent the last two Christmases together as a family. We watch each other’s cats when we travel. We share news of our children as we receive it. We talk easily.
I am so grateful that it was possible – a kinder, gentler divorce.