An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Chapel: Part II

In Part I of “An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Chapel,” I offered up three keys that make my marriage work despite the fact that I am a Christian and my husband is an atheist. In Part II–written by my husband Jim Liner–Jim seconds two of the points I made in Part I with his own reasons and elaborations. However, rather than taking a Christian angle on the third point, he takes a more pragmatic approach to differing spiritualities in marriage. Part II offers you not only the perspective of an atheist married to a Christian, but also a caretaker married to a chronic depressive.

Part II: Jim

Focusing on shared values

As Laura Grace mentioned, one of the ways we are able to overcome our spiritual or metaphysical differences is by focusing on shared values, in particular the radical practice of love that Laura Grace sees embodied in the Jesus of the gospels. While I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus—or for that matter, in divinity, period—I do believe in the obligation to love the other and to demonstrate that love through practice.

You’ve probably seen Mr. Rogers’s comment on love circulating through social media: “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It’s an active noun like struggle.” For me, the heart of this comment is the distinction between love as a feeling and love as an action. This way of thinking about love is not theological; it’s political. My thoughts on love are inspired by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, two theorists whose work has been especially important to me, both academically and politically. On Hardt and Negri’s take, love is not just a feeling one has for one’s partner or family; rather, it’s a way of engaging with and accepting other people in their very otherness. This is very important to me as a Marxist: any meaningful leftist politics requires solidarity and collaboration, and “love” is the name of the process by which solidarity and collaboration are built. In their book Commonwealth, Hardt and Negri write: “When we … form a social body that is more powerful than any of our individual bodies alone, we are constructing a new and common subjectivity…. [L]ove is a process of the production of the common….” Laura Grace and I can agree on the importance of this kind of love-as-collective-action, even if we disagree about the metaphysical bases of this love. And as Hardt and Negri put it, “Without this love, we are nothing.”

Compromising with compassion

Just as love is an action and not just a feeling, so also is compromise more than merely an attitude or a good intention. Rather, as Laura Grace has emphasized, compromise is work. It requires us to value each other’s needs, perspectives, and priorities, even if we sometimes have to draw a line in the sand. It isn’t always easy, though, to decide where to draw that line—a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

In 2011, we moved from Oklahoma to Washington State to share a house with a close friend of mine. Since we had decided that Laura Grace should make maintaining her mental health a higher priority than earning a paycheck, I was teaching full time as an adjunct in order to support our family, and my work on my dissertation had completely stalled out. The friend we moved in with generously covered the lion’s share of the rent so that I could reduce my teaching load and concentrate on the dissertation. I would never have finished the dissertation without my friend’s help, and I will forever be grateful to him. However, my own sense of urgency caused me to overlook telltale signs of trouble for Laura Grace’s mental health and to take risks with her mental health that I will never take again.

To begin, it was ill-advised for us ever to move in with a roommate. We knew that close proximity with anyone could make it difficult to deal with a depressive episode or an anxiety spike, yet we—I—pushed forward with our plans so that I could finish the dissertation at whatever cost. Eventually Laura Grace’s depression once again reared its head, and by the time she was in a full-blown depressive episode, I was frantically and obsessively working to finish the dissertation. When things were at their worst, Laura Grace needed constant help to manage parenting a toddler and dealing with daily life, so I spent my days taking care of her and Ada and my nights working on the dissertation. Two to three nights a week for about two months, I stayed up all night writing—and I resented every minute of it. So, when it was time for us to move again and I had still not found a full-time academic job, I didn’t hesitate to move us into my parents’ too-small-for-two-families house. It proved impossible for Laura Grace to recover there, so as she has mentioned, she and Ada moved temporarily back to Texas so that Laura Grace could recover with her family.

That move was absolutely necessary for Laura Grace’s mental health; indeed, while she was there, she started what turned out to be a successful recovery from her depressive episode, and she hasn’t had another one since. But it was also absolutely the hardest and worst time of my life. I was in my thirties, underemployed, living with my parents, and separated from my partner and small child. To this day it still pains me that Ada’s earliest memories are from the time she and mommy lived in the yellow house in Texas—without me. I pretended at the time, both to others and to myself, that I agreed the move to Texas was the best decision, but really I resigned myself to it. Laura Grace was sick and wanted to move, and I couldn’t stop her. Instead of being with my partner and raising my child, I spent an hour or so video-chatting each evening (and then going to sleep, alone, in my parents’ house). I spent Thanksgiving apart from Laura Grace and Ada. I had a week and a half with them in Texas for Christmas and New Year’s, and when I flew home without them, I had to pry myself out of Ada’s arms to board the shuttle to the airport. I was a wreck.

I don’t mention this to elicit sympathy. Far from it: I brought all this on myself. When I had the opportunity to prioritize my academic work and expedite earning my PhD, I jumped at the chance, knowing that we were playing dice with depression. When Laura Grace first started to exhibit symptoms of an incipient depressive episode, I ignored them; I didn’t have time for her to be sick. When Laura Grace needed me to be her caretaker—a job I knew I was signing up for when we got married—I responded with resentment instead of respect, with self-pity instead of empathy. When it was time to make decisions about our living situation, I chose to cross my fingers and hope for the best with Laura Grace’s mental health instead of proactively working to support her recovery. I repeatedly failed to compromise, so Laura Grace had to do for herself what her partner should have been doing with her: make mental health a top priority.

Together, we have done just that over the three years since Laura Grace and Ada returned from Texas. It hasn’t always been easy, but we have learned to compromise as a way not merely to negotiate but to work. Compromise means collaborating, not conceding—it’s not simply a matter of just giving in or giving up, but rather a way to cooperate in constructing a life that meets both of our needs and allows both of us to set and pursue the goals that are important to us, both individually and jointly. That’s where Laura Grace’s newly rediscovered faith comes in.

Recognizing Fruits

Laura Grace mentioned that I consider myself a materialist. One consequence of my being a materialist is that although I might take issue with the metaphysical basis of spiritual beliefs, I still recognize material results when I see them.

One result of Laura Grace’s faith that motivates my support is the sense of community that it makes available. In the last several months, Laura Grace has connected with an intimate, local community of believers. Perhaps because they are not stereotypical middleclass churchgoers, the people Laura Grace has met have been nothing but supportive of her, including those decisions and attributes that have caused her to feel isolated from other believers. Living in (as I’m proud to describe it) the secular Northwest, we don’t have many Christian friends, so this community plays an important role for Laura Grace. Plus, as a stay-at-home mother who, as readers of this blog know, has suffered from agoraphobia and social anxiety, it’s not always easy for Laura Grace to get out into the world around her. However, one particular member of this community has gone out of her way to reach out to Laura Grace, meeting her for coffee, inviting her over to her house, taking walks along the Tacoma waterfront, and in general getting her out of her shell a bit. We have made Laura Grace’s mental health a top priority, and there’s no way for me not to see the good that has come from her engagement with this group.

Even more importantly, Laura Grace’s faith has had dramatic long-term impacts in her mental health. When Laura Grace began recovering in Texas, she made her faith a cognitive foundation in her efforts to combat negative self-talk and overcome dreadful anxiety. Regardless of the ontological status of any gods, Laura Grace’s faith has helped her identify positivity where she can, feel secure in the face of precarious and uncertain living conditions, and make peace with the adversity of which life has no short supply. Since that last depressive episode, Laura Grace has been healthier for longer than any other time in the decade I’ve known her. I cannot discount the therapeutic role her faith has played, so neither can I object on critical grounds to her decision to believe.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, psychologist and pragmatist philosopher William James examined a series of case studies of mystical or transcendent religious experiences. While James’s skepticism questioned the propositional truth of statements of faith, his pragmatism guided him to identify what he called the “cash value” of beliefs and ideas, their consequences for lived experience. In other words, he was concerned not with the truth or accuracy of religious beliefs but rather with what those beliefs did for believers: “By their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots.” There is no denying the fruits of Laura Grace’s faith. We need all the help we can get when it comes to combating depression and maintaining health. If some of that help comes from Laura Grace’s belief in God and providence, I’ll take it.


If you find yourself in a marriage with major differences of opinion, I encourage you to focus on your shared values and compromise with compassion. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, know that you are valuable and worthy of love. You do not have to be defined by labels like atheist or depressive. Fight hard for your health, persevere for love, and, if you choose to share this life with a partner, work together to build a path that you can both walk happily. I look forward to many more years of learning how to do this thing called life with Jim by my side. We both wish you all love and happiness.


An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Chapel: Part I

I don’t write too much about marriage because I have only been married for 8 years. How could I offer advice to anyone? So I’m not going to offer advice, even though I am going to write about marriage. I want to talk about my marriage because it is working and that is worth talking about. There are a lot of things, on paper, that would seem to suggest that my husband and I would not be a good match. He is an atheist, a leftist and a Marxist, and an intellectual. He was raised in a working class family just outside of Seattle. I’m a Christian, a liberal and a socialist, and a bohemian. I was raised in a middle class family in a Texas town. When we met I was politically apathetic and he was politically engaged. My parents had both graduated from college; he was a first generation college graduate. He was a party animal, and I could hardly stand parties.

But, outside of all those demographic categories and labels, we had and have quite a bit in common. From the beginning, we liked each other (still do), and we had some of the same values already even if we didn’t call them the same thing. Also, I never wanted to marry someone just like me anyway. I wanted to stay interested. Just yesterday, my husband told me some random thing that I had never heard and never even wondered about. And it was fascinating. And it made my morning because I was just sitting at home in my pajamas, drinking coffee, and chatting with my life partner, and I learned something new. I joked on Facebook the other day that my husband tried to talk to me about Jacques Lacan–a notably difficult psychoanalytical theorist–just 10 minutes after I woke up. But, in all honesty, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I need to be intellectually stimulated. I want to be with someone who keeps me on my toes. Someone who pushes me to keep using my brain. I love to think about and playfully discuss abstract concepts, and my husband can not only hang with me, but he really digs it too. We do not always agree. And that makes it even better. We push each other to really fill out an argument and see more than just the point of view that so easily comes to us. We not only taught critical thinking (he still teaches), but we practice it constantly. We encourage each other to continue developing as individuals; we nurture our marriage by giving each other space to grow. We try to graciously accept change in each other because we know it is inevitable.

Our biggest difference, though, and the one that seems to baffle others the most, is our spiritual difference. Jim, my husband, is a materialist meaning that he believes that everything–including consciousness–is the result of material interactions. He doesn’t believe in God or the soul. I, on the other hand, am a Christian–a pretty damn progressive one–but a Christian, nonetheless. I believe in the divinity of Jesus, and I believe that a singular God created the universe. These ideas are in stark contrast from one another, I know. It is kind of bizarre, I guess, but we try hard to make it work. We were both nonbelievers when we got married, and we both feel seriously committed to our choice to be life-long partners.

You might imagine that we argue a lot due to how permeative this difference seems to be, but we argued far more during the early days of our relationship and marriage–when we were both nonbelievers–than we do now. Last night we had a silly argument about the volume of the music we were listening to, and my daughter said, “Wow! That’s the first time you and Daddy have ever had an argument!” Of course, we argue some, but, truthfully, not often. We are slow to strike and quick to apologize. And we don’t argue about spirituality because neither of us can or wants to prove our position to the other. We are not terribly sarcastic. We do not judge or shame each other ever about anything. We don’t place blame. I don’t believe that families should work that way. We listen, and if we disagree, we ask questions or express our different point of view.

Of course, this could all be that we are just very compatible. So, I have come up with a few things that I think make our spiritually different marriage work outside of just our compatible personalities. Jim and I each put a great deal of effort into our relationship. Here are 4 ways that we try to nurture our relationship despite the spiritual chasm between us. In Part I, I have offered up three keys to our happiness as a couple; in Part II, Jim seconds two of my points, and offers an alternative to the third. I hope you enjoy this collaboration as much as we enjoyed working on it.

Part I: Laura Grace

Focusing on shared values
My husband and I talk plenty about spirituality and Christianity. It is a big part of my life, and I could not be happy if I felt forced to hide it. Likewise, we also talk about materialism and atheism. We talk about our lives and our beliefs all the time. We listen, we play devil’s advocate, but we don’t judge each other based on our differences. We look at what we have in common and use those things as the foundation for our relationship. Love is a wonderful example. Unconditional love is an incredibly important, Christ-like value for me. I believe that we are most like Jesus when we show love. My husband, who does not believe in Christ’s divinity and even questions his historical existence but appreciates him as a social thinker, also supremely values this kind of socially directed love. We both believe that love is a terribly important political tool. It drives our commitment to political equality for all people and cements our desire to actively fight for more inclusivity in our nation and world. We choose love over fear every time. For Jim, this, along with everything else, is political. For me it is both political and spiritual because Jesus was a radical–both politically and spiritually. Jim and I believe in showing the world the same kind of love, and we prioritize it the same way, we just have different reasons for why we believe in it. Rather than arguing over whether this drive is material or transcendent, we brainstorm over ways to show this love in our daily lives. We share political, social, and cultural values. We just disagree on why we believe in them. Sometimes it takes creative thinking to see beyond ideology, but it’s also challenging and stimulating. We are always encouraging the other to think deeper. We sharpen each other’s rough edges through critical probing and with honest questions. We focus on the positive–look at what we have–and don’t get caught up in labels.

Compromising with compassion
Part of any happy and equal marriage is compromise by both partners. Period. It is the way two people work together healthily for a long time. Since our differences are spiritual in this case, compromise does not mean that we compromise what we believe, but rather that we compromise on what we do. I am allowed to think, believe, and say anything I want in my marriage. My husband has the same privilege. However, I cannot just demand that he allow me to raise our child as a Christian. We have to think about how the other feels about raising our daughter in or out of organized religion. Hell, we initially had to compromise on whether or not to even mention that some people believe in a thing called God, but we compromised, nonetheless. I do things like listen to sermons or Christian music on headphones if my husband is home. I am not hiding it from him, but I know that he does not like it, so I’m not going to make him listen to is. Likewise, he knows that I like to talk about the sermons I have listened to, so he will listen to me talk and even engage me in conversation about it. We compromise with compassion. We think about the other’s needs as well as our own. Sometimes, when my husband wants to rail against conservative evangelicals, I will compassionately listen, but he will also compassionately listen to me play devil’s advocate as a former conservative evangelical who still loves many conservative evangelicals. Compassion and humility can go a long way in a marriage. I am certain that I do not know everything and that I am not always right. I choose to try and compassionately listen to those around me, especially my husband, always leaving open the possibility that I could learn something from any conversation. I make compromise a priority because I believe that it contributes to equality and harmony in marriage.

Giving it to God
If you are in a spiritually diverse marriage, know that there are no easy answers to some questions. I won’t even go into the afterlife! But there is one thing that you can do about those issues–give them to God and stop worrying. Prayerfully bring your issues to God, study relevant scripture, and evaluate your marriage outside of your spiritual differences. When I reconverted to Christianity, I was living apart from my husband because of my poor health. I had a choice to make: did I stay in the town where I was raised, near my home church and Christian parents, or did I return to my life in the Pacific Northwest with my intellectual, atheist husband who I still loved dearly? I prayed hard about the issue. I needed to know what God wanted me to do, and I told Him that, no matter what, I would do as He directed. I ended up finding 1 Corinthians 7:13, in which Paul wrote to new believers: “And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.” My husband and I were still very much in love, so this passage seemed to answer my question clearly. While clear, it certainly wasn’t simple. How was I to face eternity without my husband? Shouldn’t I put all my effort into converting my husband so that we could spend the afterlife together? Again, I began praying fervently. I asked God to show me how to do it. How was I to live with the fear of spending eternity without my love? It was too big a burden to bear. I prayed that God would rid me of my fear and anxiety. I prayed that he would give me the strength to allow my husband to be the man he is with the same right to free will that I had. And God did what I asked. He simply took it. It is unbelievable, I know. But it happened, and I have a happy healthy marriage, as well as a thriving spiritual life, to prove it.

I cannot and will not promise you that what happened to me will happen to you, but I will tell you that God is capable of it. I found that the best way to “evangelize” to my husband was to be a good partner and a good person. I found that if I lived by my values, tried to be Christ-like without being dogmatic, my husband was far more receptive to discussing Christianity in general. I found that if I stuck to my guns but was willing to admit that it was logically indefensible to believe in God, we could actually dig into theological discussion. I’m not trying to backhandedly convert my husband; I’m figuring out how to express myself and my beliefs with a nonbeliever in a way that opens rather than shuts down discussion.

If you are the nonbeliever in a spiritually different marriage, this last point may not be of much use to you, but in Part II, Jim offers an alternative point to Giving it to God. You can find his thoughts, and the conclusion to “An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Chapel” here.

Looking for a Miracle

It’s been just over 2 weeks since I cut my hair–since my last really bad day. When I reread my post “Why I Cut My Hair” this morning, I was surprised that it had been 2 weeks already. The day still looms large in my memory. I’ve talked before about how I often talk to God when I am thoroughly consumed by my depression. I pray a lot, but when I say I talk to God, I mean that I often talk out loud angrily, outbursts of frustration and angry questions. I spout out my hopelessness and loathing. I say things to God that I wouldn’t say to anyone else about how I am feeling. He already knows the worst of my thoughts, and when I talk to God, I have no fear of how He might respond to the insanity, because he is quiet. God has never literally spoken back to me. And I’m not expecting a literal answer. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, just that I’m not waiting for it to happen. I’m also not saying that God doesn’t respond to me when I talk to Him. It’s just that he responds in His own way and His own time, and sometimes I’m too daft to recognize it.

Two weeks ago, before I cut my hair, when I was in the depths of a depressive moment, I asked God for a miracle. I felt like I needed one. I felt like the only way I could survive–the only way I could forever get rid of my suicidality–was for God to give me a miracle. God has performed miracles in my life before, at least I think they are moments of divine intervention. My one, actual suicide attempt was nearly successful. I took enough drugs to kill myself, but good luck or God–however you want to look at it–intervened and saved me. That’s the most obvious example in my life, but, being a positive thinker, I like to think that God has performed many smaller miracles in my life as well.

So I asked for a miracle 2 weeks ago. I told God that I couldn’t do it without one. I threatened that I would give in if He didn’t help me. So where is my miracle? Was it that my daughter snapped me out of my depressive day 2 weeks ago? Was it good news my husband received at work? Was it the refreshing weekend I had? Was it the confidence I regained after working on my book manuscript and being reminded of my own strength? Is it reconnection with an old friend that reminds me of beautiful parts of myself that I haven’t thought about in years? Is it a new blog idea I had that allows me to therapeutically write even more?

My dad, David O. Dykes, has a book called Hope When You Need It Most that has this wonderful acronym for hope that I love: Having Only Positive Expectations. I choose to be hopeful, despite the hopelessness that resides in my brain. When I can be positive, I am. And when I ask God for a miracle, I expect that it will come. And I love that I begin to see every good thing that happens to me as possibly the miracle I asked for. It’s all about how you think about things. My change in perspective since I faithfully asked for a miracle could be the miracle itself. I am seeing my blessings clearer, I see everything potentially as a gift from God. It is an exercise in positivity, hope, and faith. May you all see your own blessings clearly and find every miracle in your life. Stay hopeful through practicing positivity when you can. And when you have no hope, hang on. Sometimes miracles happen even when we don’t ask for them.

Ebook update

I finished reviewing the first round of edits to the ebook and sent it back to my editor last night. I am so pleased with how it is turning out and can’t wait for you all to get the chance to read the final version (with a new introduction and 2 new chapters!). It has been such a blessing to write, and you all have made it possible through your support. I’ll keep you updated as I know more. ❤️

Grey Morning

Does anyone like leaving vacation? I woke up grey–not quite blue, but definitely grey. I’m first up, outside, piano ballads on the headphones. The sun is behind the clouds. I drank more last night than I often do anymore. No hangover, but plenty of reflection. I kept thinking that I would write something last night as a part two to Good Morning–some kind of good night post written outside in the light of the fire, under the stars, but writing at night feels different it seems. Like the darkness makes me want to say more than I would normally. In American Horror Story Freak Show, the character of Elsa Mars says about her showtime, “…when the darkness moves in and speaks of mystery, the unknown. When logic loosens its vice grip and the imagination comes out to play. Night allows the stars to shine and we come alive.” I love that part–that moment because the night does still hold mystery for me. We say and do things that we wouldn’t do in the light of day. 

But I couldn’t write; I had been writing all day, but once the sun went down, I couldn’t put it down anymore. It turned into lengthy letters of regret. My mind began to wander–think about the past, the future, possibility, impossibility. If I shared what I wrote when I was free from the daily life that keeps me grounded, it would probably be ramblings of a lonely girl in love with books, music, theorists, artists, fictional characters. In the dark I can believe in the romance of my youth, in the daytime I tell myself everything is political; there is no great mystery, there is only the collective need for love and compassion. My intellect rules the daytime and my emotions rule the night. 

But today I’m grey, so my intellect and emotions are warring for control. I want to avoid discontent, dissatisfaction, restlessness. As Florence + the Machine says,”regrets collect like old friends, here to relive your darkest moments…I can never leave the past behind…I like to keep my issues drawn. It’s always darkest before the dawn.” The fighter in me wells up–tells me to shake it out. Has me dancing alone in the woods to get the devil off my back. It’s okay to feel the pull of the dark–the mystery, the romance–but the sun always comes back up. There is always a new day–no night lasts forever no matter how wonderful. 

Grey or not, my day will move forward in orderly fashion. Soon, I’ll wake up my daughter and we’ll measure out our day in finger pricks and insulin shots. It was a lovely night last night, but I still prefer the morning. I can’t handle the heartbreak of a beautiful night but I love it anyway. The sky is still overcast, but I’m shaking out the grey. One last quiet moment alone in the woods before I go home. 

Good Morning

I need to work on the ebook this weekend; I’ve got the manuscript back with comments, but I haven’t yet worked through them, so any delay at this point is my fault. But it will happen. Depression, diabetes, life got in the way. Right now, I’ve been awake for an hour, sitting outside in the woods at the cabin we’re at this weekend. I’ve done my normal routine–get up early (before my daughter), get coffee, go outside, put on my headphones, and just be. Listening to music that reminds me of the wonders of each morning. 

I love the morning. I either wake up happy or depressed–I never know what it will be–and I am very impressionable for the first hour or so. If I am happy, I must carefully maintain that happiness by spending time outside, with music, maybe writing. If I am depressed, sometimes good weather and time outside first thing can change my mood. And if I encounter something difficult first thing I can become depressed even if I woke up happy. It’s a balancing act based on consistency but flexibility. 

So mornings are wonder-filled for me; I don’t know what a new day will hold. If I am depressed, sometimes I can sleep off hours of crying; sometimes not. Sometimes I have felt wonderful for days on end but one day wake up completely off balance. It just happens, and I have to do what I can to combat it. But going outside within 10 minutes of getting out of bed is my go to technique. Depending on the temperature, I will spend up to an hour just sitting on my back stoop (not even in a chair!) listening to music and writing. If it’s cold, I’ll stay until my fingers are too numb to type. It’s the best part of my day. I get lost; lose track of time; get fully consumed in the beauty of the present moment.

As a teenager, I slept in late every chance I could, but after having my daughter, loving late nights with wine turned into loving early morning quiet with coffee. I used to get up early to watch the news, then when I stopped obsessing over 24 hour news (which was bad for my mental health), I started watching a Netflix show or two in the morning. These days, more often than not, I’m listening to music. Today, it’s all upbeat hip hop; I want to reinforce the positivity I’m feeling rather than drown in some of the quicksand music of my past. I think there’s a place for both, though. Last night, sitting in the dark around a fire, we needed acoustic, soulful music to match the night, but this morning the sun is shining bright through all the trees, and I needed to feel strong. I needed to face the day confidently, and hip hop bravado does that for me. 

I guess I could have gone the pop route, but when I write, I also want to be intellectually stimulated. So much pop music reinforces mainstream ideologies (redundant, I know), and, given my personality, I want something challenging. When I say I want to “just be” in the morning, I don’t mean just be centered–I mean be just be Laura Grace. And that means I want to think, feel, create. I jokingly say that my job is full-time Bohemianism, but, in grad school, I did personal research on British Bohemianism from the modernist period, and I do keep to some of their basic values. I want life to be about love, beauty, art, truth, freedom. I have this restless urge to be liberated and search for beauty through art. It’s probably naive, but it’s what makes me feel like living. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized how political this all is. As a teenager, these feelings felt all emotional. I wanted to be a beatnik, and experience life simply to really feel. But now, I don’t feel like a soul out of place and time, but one of a long line of rebellion against capitalism. But that’s probably a little much for the blog…

I’m not sure if I’ll get to the book this weekend or not. It’s a beautiful day, I’m in the woods. I have plenty of music, one of my favorite books, and time. May your day be beautiful, and never doubt the power of a little sun in the morning.

Unlocking the Past

You all know my penchant for hip hop, but I didn’t start listening to it much until 2005 when a friend burned me Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album–a masterful mashup of The Beatles’s The White Album and Jay-z’s The Black Album. Really good stuff if you’re looking for a way into hip hop from a rock background. Anyway, though, before I listened to The Grey Album, I was a rock and roll girl with a soft spot for alternative rock ballads. I’ve been listening to some of that old stuff recently, and I’m amazed at how formational it was for me, and how I’ve mentally locked it away in a box with memories and daydreams.

But, it all comes back at me like a wave I wasn’t expecting. I thought I had to put it away forever to be well. I thought I had to ignore everything about my depressed self to be strong. And maybe I do. Maybe I’m too fragile to feel. I love my church, but I’m too afraid to go to a service with music because it reminds me of my depression. My first depressive episode is saturated with musical memories–songs I loved that now transport me back to moments in the past, some of which I don’t want to remember. But some of those memories are worth remembering. Music and books, people I loved and experiences I had. Depression made my life tragic at times, but I’m not sure that I was ever really alone. I just isolated myself from anything that I was afraid of, and I have been terribly afraid of everything that reminds me of my first episode. I’ve never compartmentalized any other episode the way I did the first. It was more traumatic.

But that was 15 years ago. Maybe it’s time to stop being so afraid. Maybe I’m using my intellect as a defense against feeling. I tell myself that feeling deep emotion is the enemy because I only feel deeply when I cannot control it–usually on days when my depression looms large. I feel such relief when a film or tv show makes me cry because I feel sadness without self-loathing. I think it’s one reason I have had such a hard time with my daughter’s diagnosis. It is natural to grieve, but I don’t know how to process deep sadness without depression. My brain tells me it’s hopeless. So, rather than feel hopeless, I bottle it up until I lose control for a day or so.

Getting back to some of my interests from before my first episode reminds me that I used to love feeling a wider range of emotions before the negative ones were all tinged with suicidal ideation. Will I never feel them again? I feel love, I feel happiness. I can maybe grieve without a depressive episode, too.

I think it’s okay to go back. It’s certainly interesting. I wonder if the depressed woman I keep locked up inside (mentioned in my last post) is really just my 19 year old self. I did lock her away. I literally put away her music, books, friends, and dreams rather dramatically. Everything except my collage. I allowed myself that one abstract representation, but I didn’t look at it closely–wouldn’t read the text. I thought I had to put it all away. But maybe not. If we can never step in the same river twice, if we’re all constantly changing, then I don’t have to fear going back. I’ve come so far. I’m not what I’ve locked away because I’ve always been more than my depression. And I think I’m realizing that for the first time. Even when desperately ill, I just might be more than my disease. And maybe loving myself means loving all of myself. I am constantly learning by living in the present even when it reminds me of the past.