Jane Meredith’s Journey to a Dark Goddess landed in a really timely way for me. It’s a book about journeys to the underworld – journeys into depression, despair, crisis and breakdown. Usually we go because we have no choice, life falls apart, mental health collapses and we walk a dark road from which we might, or might not return. It is a journey that kills some people. One of the things this book offers is a map of the way down (not a map that will give everyone their exact journey, but a sense of the terrain at least) and some pointers for finding a way out.
I’d been stuck for a while. A couple of months ago I made the decision to work with my distress rather than trying to suppress it. I made a lot of headway and came to understand a lot of things, and then it all slowed and I settled in a low, dark place with no idea of how to move. I didn’t want to push myself out and back up to normal life and regular functioning, that didn’t feel right. It’s how I normally handle depression, pushing to return to functionality and utility as soon as I can, and I was trying to shift my patterns.
One of the things this book did for me was make me really see how deeply the push to be normal is implicated in the process of falling down into the dark places. It’s not about me. It’s all about being useful and convenient for everyone else. There is no space to change and heal unless I make and hold a space that is for me. I have so much invested in being useful, it’s been a key part of my sense of self. Can I hold time for not being useful, even for being inconvenient so that I can do what needs doing for me? For the first time, the answer might be ‘yes’. Can I go further and change my sense of self so that utility and convenience to others are not so dominant? Perhaps I can.
I’ve spent years peeling away the layers of my dysfunction, examining what goes on inside my head to try and make sense of why I get ill and depressed. Obviously if I didn’t get ill and depressed, I could be much more useful. I would be more convenient, and these have been far greater motivators to changing than any desire to heal. And so I unpick, and pull back layers to see what is underneath them, trace back threads of thought and feeling to see where they come from. I had figured out a lot, by the time I got stuck, and I had got stuck because I could see no way of doing differently with what I have. Now I see that I must change what I have, and there are things I can stop going along with.
All the things that are not convenient – my moods and emotions, my vulnerabilities and dreaming – are things that I need. If I spend most of my life ignoring, denying and suppressing vast swathes of myself, little wonder that I crack up fairly regularly. I can’t be a china doll automata, always smiling and doing as it is told and also be something alive and human.
I have to be allowed to feel and want, to say no, to not want, to dislike, to get cross. I have to be able to like and not like based entirely on my own preferences. I can negotiate and co-operate from a position of being honest about my own needs and feelings, I feel certain. Don’t and won’t and don’t want to and am not interested and no, are words that I need to embrace. All the things that I consider fair and reasonable when other people do them have to be available to me as well – there is a huge double standard underpinning all of this, and I do not have to keep going along with it. I have the power to change things.
Jane Meredith’s book has been a huge help in making sense of where I am, and showing me what I need to do to change things for myself.