My cousin recently posted on her blog about the trifecta of health: that in order to truly be healthy, we must pay attention to and nourish ourselves, body, mind, and spirit. Her blog is not public, and I’m quoting it without permission, but her point – and her experience – hit home:
to be healthy, i believe all three need to be in sync. like an equilateral triangle. in the world i live in (and probably you too), no one blinks an eye if you have to go to a doctor appointment. and half the time they don’t question you if you choose to go to a spirit appointment (church anyone?) but what about a mind appointment? that’s when people will start putting red flags on you. this is hardly an equilateral triangle anymore, but more of an isosceles triangle. do i have to point out which is the odd side? i find myself very unnerved by this imbalance. i don’t want to be red flagged.
She goes on to talk about how she sees a therapist, not for any specific reason, but in order to keep her mind as healthy as it can possibly be, and how no one seems to be able to grasp this idea; even her own parents are trying to figure out why she’s going, making assumptions on what could be possibly be so wrong with her mentally that she needs to be fixed.
This has been my experience, and also, it hasn’t been. Every time I have been in therapy in my life, I’ve started going because I, or someone else, felt that something in me needed fixing. But what I’ve noticed is that oftentimes the conversation will stray from its original point (in this case, miscarriage and PTSD) and go into some broader aspect of my personality (like my need to plan out my life just-so, or my unattainable and indefinable goal of perfection). These things are inherent in me. I don’t need my perfectionism fixed, because it helps me strive to be a better person in many ways, but I do need it to be kept in check. If I didn’t have a miscarriage to focus on, would going to therapy regularly still benefit me in the greater scheme? I believe that it would.
I also find it interesting, what my cousin said about no one questioning a medical appointment but red-flagging a psychiatric one. In fact, my therapist and I touched on this exact idea the other day, when we determined that stretching is a much more acceptable and less noteworthy public activity than crying. (Stretching: “Oh, you’re taking care of yourself. Okay.” Crying: “Oh my gosh, what’s wrong?!“)
On the other hand, I’ve chosen to put my mental mess out there, via this blog, and the reactions I’ve gotten don’t seem to have me red-flagged. Sure, people have told me I’m brave to write about all this, and that my story is heartbreaking and/or inspirational, but I believe they’d say the same things if I was writing about a battle with breast cancer. It seems we are not as opposed to the ideas of mind-sickness and mind-healing as we think we are. Perhaps we’re just afraid to talking about them.
At the end of her post, my cousin posed this question to her readers: “what shape is your triangle?” And that got me thinking about how my triangle is nowhere near equilateral. I’ve got this body/mind thing down: I feed and exercise and take care of my body, eating when I’m hungry, taking my vitamins, going to the gym/for walks/on bike rides; I feed and exercise and take care of my mind, reading lots of books, practicing my French, playing Scrabble, and going to therapy. But my spirit? The spirit side of my triangle is short.
A brief history: I was born and raised (baptized, reconciled, communion-ed, confirmed, and yes, married) Catholic. I am not a regular church-goer, but have found that, given my choice of Christian services, it will always be Catholic Mass that makes me feel at home. (My dad once said, “I like Starbucks because it’s like the Catholic Church: no matter which one you go to, you always know what’s on the menu.”) I’ve always had a fairly large number of Jewish friends, and love the traditions and rituals of that faith. And of course, I have Yoga Mom, as my therapist has christened my mother, who, I suspect, snuck some Eastern spirituality into my psyche even as she was bringing me up in the Catholic Church.
The result of all this is that I do believe there is something greater than us, and for simplicity’s sake, often refer to that something as God, but I’m still not quite sure what that something is, how it works, or what to do about it. At times in my life when I’ve tried to embrace Catholicism, I’ve consistently butted heads with aspects of the Christian belief system, despite the familiar comforts of its menu. I remember being told, as a teenager, that “God is watching you all the time… even when you masturbate.” And since then, the thought of God being there, hearing my every thought, seeing my every action, and disapproving of like 85% of it… Well, it’s enough to make a girl crazy. And then there’s the whole marriage:divorce::pregnancy:miscarriage thing. Was it karma? The act of a vengeful God? “God has a plan;” is this God’s plan for me? What kind of an effed-up architect…?
The flip side is that I want to be spiritual. I envy my friends whose faith is strong. My triangle is imbalanced, and I am deeply aware of it: I am searching for something more. But I need that something more to take a form that I can jive with. I need this God: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). But first I need Him to reconcile Himself to the God who allowed my heart to be broken and my spirit to be crushed in the first place. I want truth, but don’t even know where to begin looking for it. Should I pray? Should I meditate? Should I commune with nature?
Or is it true that God is meant to remain a mystery, and my ineptitude at blind faith is just another part of me that needs fixing?