In my mid-forties I thought I had it made: a good marriage, excellent health, a career I loved, modest savings, and a nice home. But in my fifties my whole world fell apart. I lost my job and career, my marriage, my home, and most of my savings. And of course, my health suffered. I was depressed—I had no energy and little interest in anything. There were many dark days when it seemed that my life was over. I had no clue of where to go from there.
How did I end up at such a low point? Many years of failing to listen to my soul.
I had long ago abandoned parts of myself, my shadow, out of deep shame. I invested heavily in an ego that demanded perfection of myself. So after a lifetime of wasting precious energy trying to perfect and control myself, I was exhausted. I was pretty good at pleasing others, but usually had no clue of how to please myself. Or what my soul required of me.
My depression goes back to my childhood. I grew up with depressed parents. I grew up within a religious and cultural tradition that views human nature and our physical body as inherently sinful. I was taught that spirituality and sexuality are opposites. I wasted energy struggling to suppress my desires for pleasure and sex. I learned at an early age to live in my mind and to disconnect from my feelings and my body. I had difficulty being fully present with others. The more I tried to be perfect, the more I seemed to fail, adding to my shame instead of reducing it. I was caught in a vicious circle of shame that was strangling the life out of me. How could I love myself when I was failing on so many fronts? How could I not be depressed?
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.
—Zora Neale Hurston
After my life began falling apart, I went to counseling (therapy) and took an anti-depressant medication, both of which helped. Gradually, I stopped listening to my self-critical thinking and started paying attention to my desires and following them. I started listening to my soul. I trusted myself to take risks I would have previously considered outrageous.
A significant experience early on in my quest for health was when I decided to investigate my desire to go to a nude beach. I had been skinny-dipping years ago and enjoyed it, but this time I had a different agenda: I was looking for ways to shed the tattered remnants of my old life and free myself to find a new life.
So I went to a clothing-optional beach alone. I left my clothes, shoes, and eye glasses on my towel on the sand and walked down the shoreline carrying nothing with me except a shaky feeling of vulnerability and some prayers for help. In some ways this was a good metaphor for how I saw my current life: I had lost everything, I was alone, and couldn’t see much past my own nose.
On this day, the Atlantic was chilly and rough, so no one was in the water. After several hours of walking up and down the shoreline, I worked up the courage to go in. When I finally waded in, I was barely able to keep upright as the waves churned the sand out from under my feet. I had a rare glimpse of infinity: a vast, powerful ocean and open sky, and absolutely nothing else. As the waves relentlessly pounded me, I felt alone and tiny and vulnerable! It was like I had come face to face with God and I was absolutely naked with nowhere to hide. Terrifying and humbling and exciting! As I surrendered myself to this primal experience, intense emotions rose up in me and years of grief poured out. As my tears flowed down my face and into the sea, I felt a powerful, healing connection with God—a baptism of spirit. Gradually, my grief was replaced with joy and gratitude as I realized that after all my losses, something of great value remained! I had myself! I felt so blessed! And so free and awake and alive! I had trusted that tiny voice of my soul that had called me to this beach and urged me to strip and enter the turbulent water. And I had received the exact healing my soul needed!
From there, over the next two years, I found my way to ecstatic dance classes, naked yoga classes, men’s groups, tantra workshops, and social nudism with gay, bisexual, and straight men and women. And I felt called to help men connect with their bodies, souls, and sexuality.
After my marriage ended, I began dating even though I was scared and still grieving. I hadn’t dated in 40 years! I am bisexual, so I started out dating some men. Then, surprisingly, I fell in love with a woman. We enjoyed 18 amazing months together before we needed to go our separate ways. I’m glad I had been willing to risk loving again—that was a miracle really. And I will keep myself open to loving. Again and again.
In high school I realized that mainstream churches did not meet my spiritual needs, so I joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Now after several decades of quiet, meditative worship (balanced with lots of peace and justice work) with the Quakers, I’m attending the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of Tampa. Now one of the most important events of my week is joining in the celebration of communion at an open table where all are welcome unconditionally.
All of these experiences have helped me to heal and grow.
The more I free myself from shame and perfectionism, the more I love myself. My relationships are more loving and I have more energy for living.
And my soul sings as I help others experience the joy of living that is our birthright.
For helpful tips on recovery from Depression, read my article Depression – Holistic Help and Healing.