& a prompt by novelist Cleyvis Natera on breakthroughs in despair
This may sound really convoluted...there was a time I was SURE God wanted me to become a psychotherapist...late in life. I began college at 51. When I finished my bachelors degree I was on my way to a masters program...when something very frightening happened...it was discovered I had a brain tumor. The story is too long but suffice to say I flew to Los Angeles and had brain surgery and was left unable to walk, was deaf on one side, and one eyeball was turned to my nose, rendering me with terrible double vision. But since I believed God wanted me to become a psychotherapist, I laid in bed and did my masters online. It was three years before I could walk or see again but I did it! Then I pushed through the brain stuff and fatigue and worked towards licensing and eventually had a thriving private practice. THEN the tumor grew back! I was so confused and full of despair. Due to errors in my town (with medical), I had to have the surgery all over again. For three years I felt despair and confusion. But on the other side of the processing of these events, I emerged changed. I realized a lot of things about my beliefs I had to let go of. I understood that life is to be enjoyed...that I didn't need to earn anything. My life is much more joyful. I'm still working as a psychotherapist very part time and on my own...but most of my day is filled with making art and looking across the valley at the mountains, the changing sky, and the animals that walk through. Suleika, I am so thankful you are healing. You are such a beautiful person!
I recently had a colonscopy and as some of you know the prep is very intense. Scared and frightened I went thru it and ithe prep was awful. Then the have procedure and when I awake the doctor says a few words in my bleary state, gives me a sheet full of direction if other procedures I will need and places and doctors to see. Without the doctor explaining in his busyness, I get home and I make calls rot doctor I’m supposed to see, find out he doesn’t accept my insurance, and a procedure I’m supposed to get seems painful and there’s prep for that. I feel hopeless and angry and then realize I could call the doctor’s office and ask to speak to him later in the day, and I let go of my anger realizing I could receive better information if I was kind and respectful. The doc called me on FaceTime, and I asked all my questions, and he was so kind and reassuring and my hopelessness went away and gratefulness came up. The doctor ended the conversation by kindly saying “ call me anytime.” What a difference it makes to me in being my own activist and asking many questions. It made all the difference in the world and my intuition knew I could trust this doctor. The doc and I speaking turned out to be a blessing.
When I was in my 20s, I was a music student, and things were not going well. My last rehearsal with my teacher went badly, and he was very displeased. Devastated, I was sure this would be the end of my playing, and fell into deep despair. But I talked with the women I was playing with--a cellist and a violist--and we decided to play ferociously instead. We actually wrote “ferocious” right at the top of the sheet music! During the performance, something changed in me--I no longer cared about the outcome, or mistakes--if this is the end, let it be with joy. And so as my fingers ripped through the final glissando, and just before the applause, I started to smile. Now in my late 60s, I no longer play my clarinet. But the feeling of that performance has stayed with me, as a way forward: if this is the end, let it be with joy!
Love this prompt to a certain point and maybe thats because reading your friends essay brings back memories from last year. When my daughter and I almost lost her. I remember that being a state of despair and shock at the same time. The breakthrough I had during that was about oddly enough about feelings. When we got up to the room from the ER area there was a nurse that asked me if she can get or help me with anything. I was stunned because no-one has ever asked that in the 11 yrs its been me and my daughter. That time led to a path of self discovery of getting in touch with my feelings and being taught by the nurses how to give myself permission to feel. That has translated back to home life where I encourage my daughter and those around us to be real with they're feelings after being told they can't be for so long. Have a great sunday suleika.
Prompt:"Write about a time you had a breakthrough in despair. What did you learn? What did you do with that knowledge?"
This is a very difficult prompt for me because my life is about breaking through. Some time back, I asked for a driver ( I would pay of course) to take me shopping and around my new city. Quite a few people responded- and it turned out nicely. This seems so simple and not Earth shattering but it meant lots to me. I left my familiar for the unknown with good intentions, however, the ramifications are lasting. I tried for so long to retrieve what I thought was mine and it did not happen. Sometimes life is tricky and one does not understand the ramifications of good deeds until it is too late. this is a breakthrough in comprehension if little elase.
Morning, Susu. So glad River and Sunny are your care companions. Covid finally caught me a couple weeks ago. Better now. Ease for your day. I wrote a poem to my 14 year old self. Thank you for the prompt. She was born of discord and despair, deep pain and fear. I’ve realized she served a purpose as my protector but now no longer serves my being in a way that promotes my overall wellness and wholeness. So, I honor her and let her go. https://open.substack.com/pub/constellationsinherbones/p/letting-go-of-ophelia?r=2jvyze&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web
Letting Go of Ophelia
I held her close
14 year old me
My brain like shattered glass
Reflections of light
Kaleidoscope tears fell
Burning my skin
Her hand in a fist
The fight against injustice of any sort
The wrestling with uncertainty
No orchard thrives on lack
She betrays her own heart
Trying to build friendships on quicksand
She was born of a need for a guardian Angel
A fairy godmother
You are a warrior now
A wise teacher like the sage olive tree
Release the hustle, tender poet
Embrace the plenty of your days
New friends are here to love you
Just as you are
The cosmos of love
is in your bones
Prompt 262. Breakthrough in Despair by Cleyvis Natera
Write about a time you had a breakthrough in despair. What did you learn? What did you do with that knowledge?
Suleika, I am happy that you are overcoming COVID. I have not yet experienced this nuisance virus, yet, so I do not know first-hand its effect.
After reading this prompt, my first response was a muffled “ha.” A quick inventory informed me that I have not experienced a breakthrough in despair. Haha! What are you thinking? I ask myself. No, the background hum of my life is somewhat of a dampened layer of despair, varying in amplitude unpredictably. Annie Lennox’s song hits me now – “No More I Love Yous” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-4zhsVDRLE).
I have tried many times to dissect it: what is despair? I have looked at it from psychological, spiritual, mystical, and practical viewpoints. At times I think I know what it is because I can associate its onset with a life-changing event. I have tried to substitute memories of joy for it. I have tried to face it head-on and push through it, but there is more on the other side. I have given up trying to defeat it. It is just there, one more aspect of who I am. Hello despair, what shall we do today?
I am aware that it has cast a dark layer over my life, but that awareness is not sufficient to dissolve this smokey layer. Could it be like an addiction? Maybe I have a dopamine deficiency. Maybe smoking unfiltered cigarettes would help.
Ha! I do not think a breakthrough would help, for if it did help me, I know there is someone else in the world dealing with this monster called despair.
When my infant son was 6 months old, I laid him down for a nap that seemed to stretch on for hours. Feeling nervous about his long sleep, I checked on him and his body was on fire. When I lifted him from his crib he was as limp as a rag doll. I raced him to the doctor who took his temperature and it was 105.6 degrees. I was terrified. I didn't know if he could recover. I remember praying that the fever would not affect his brain. After a full examination and an exploration into what might have caused such an extreme fever, the physician eventually treated him with something "homeopathic." This was 1981 and I had never heard of such a treatment. But the doctor had trained in Germany and homeopathy was integrated into pediatric practice there. To my complete surprise, my son responded immediately. He sat up and began nursing vigorously. I was told we could go home and not to worry. He would be fine. The very next day I saw a flyer on a lamppost on a NYC street advertising a class on homeopathy. Eager to learn more, I attended and was amazed to see video after video of cured cases. I became even hungrier to find out more, but there were no schools for homeopathy in the US at the time. So I traveled to Europe to track down a practitioner who would share their knowledge with me. Then I finally found doctors in Berkeley CA who would train me. Eventually I set up my practice in NYC. I also teach doctors and nurses how they can use homeopathy when their conventional medicines are not able to help their patients. I've been in practice for near 40 years and I love what I do. I love working with my patients at home and I am happy to jump on a plane to teach classes or offer care to communities in need. And it all grew from that harrowing experience when I thought I would lose my little boy.
I'm glad you're feeling better from your bout of Covid, Suleika. Hope your energy continues to grow.
Your writing is gorgeous as always.
I worked throughout the pandemic in a large hospital and I got Covid in October 2020 -- right before the vaccines rolled out. I dealt with extreme fatigue and loss of smell/taste. It took six months to regain them.
Cleyvis, your writing is achingly beautiful. I consider being introduced to your writing as a gift. ❤️
Back in January, in Suleika's The Shape of Goodbye newsletter, I wrote - for the first time - about my life's journey. It wasn't easy to be vulnerable.
The supportive responses from two community members, Peg and Mollie, that day stayed with me -- in my heart and soul.
That's the power of this space, the IJ community.
Your prompt, Cleyvis, has inspired me to share what I wrote that January day. Though it still is my current circumstances, I feel strong.
It's wonderful news about your honeymoon and that you're feeling more energetic, Suleika! I've read that Riviera Nayarit is immensely beautiful. 🦋
You've wrote about Anais Nin's quote "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." I love this quote too.
I'm ready to share in this big-hearted IJ community. We're all fragile and doing the best we can at the moment.
Long goodbyes are shaping my life's journey.
My beloved feisty maternal grandparents, who were the glue in my dysfunctional family, became ill in my 20s. "Morfar" - Swedish for grandpa - battled Alzheimer's and my grandma "Mormor" had dementia.
Another IJ member Peg eloquently wrote about "walking her father home." I feel that same honor with my grandparents.
During this period, I was working as a editorial assistant at my beloved hometown daily newspaper, pursuing my dream of becoming a reporter.
Those years were both beautiful and heart-breaking. My editor gave me the green light to report and write in addition to my copy duties. Though still naive, I outgrew my shyness and thrived in confidence and skill.
Falling deeply in love with my editor and having a passionate affair with him while working there was not part of my career plan.
Shortly before I lost my job (he retained his job), he had moved in with another woman and later they were married. I was devastated.
What followed was a years-long goodbye to my dreams: I was barely surviving in every sense. And, during that time, my beloved grandparents passed within a year of each other.
I floundered for years, working low-paying jobs to survive. My lifelines were my only sister, a few friends, reading and prayer. And a deep resolve to not become bitter.
In the last 20 years, my sister developed life-long severe health issues, including stage 4 lymphadema in her legs. A terrific children's critical care nurse, she can no longer work.
She's struggling to cope. Though she knows that I'm there for her and I text her supportive messages, she rarely calls. She says it's not me. She is isolating by choice and doesn't want unannounced visits.
This is a long goodbye: wanting to walk my beloved sister home and unable.
For over 20 years, I've had to detach with love from my toxic, enabling elderly parents and recovering addict brother who lives with them. I deeply love them, but any time that I've tried to connect with them in a healthy manner has failed.
Another extremely difficult long goodbye with my parents and brother.
The Serenity prayer is one of my lifelines. I have a couple of close friends. Though they don't understand my situation because they have emotionally strong families, they're supportive. Nature is a balm for my heart and soul. Laughter definitely helps. And I ask God daily to help me be strong, compassionate and resilient.
I don't regret falling deeply in love many years ago. It took me a long time to learn to be gentle with myself: to realize that I did the best I could at that moment.
For the last nine years, I have been working at a large hospital. Though my hourly pay is only a few dollars above minimum wage, I find joy in helping patients and families. That is making life count in my book.
I live alone in a tiny studio apartment with no luxuries (and no pets allowed.) I'm up to my ears in alligators in the form of credit card debt -- thanks to my floundering years after the newspaper chapter.
Perhaps my writing this for the first time will help someone else. Take care. 🦋
Sometimes it seems Despair is my middle name. Cancer and the Covid pandemic came back to back in my life, and have been a formidable pair of obstacles that wiped out my dreams and opportunities for fun. All the things I’ve wanted to do in whatever time I have left seemed permanently out of reach, leaving me sad and disappointed.
One of those things is travel; going to wonderful places with my husband, eating good food, meeting new people. It has been six years since we last did an overseas trip, and I was beginning to think we could never again get past all the obstacles and go.
That is until about two weeks ago, when we suddenly decided to go to France, a split-second decision when we heard our favorite B&B in the Lot Valley was about to be sold.
I suddenly said: Forget the obstacles! Allons-y! It’s been a whirlwind of planning, and next month we’re on our way.
I’m going to pack up all my fears and take my less-than-perfect body--my recently-injected but still painful joints, my ringing ears, my sometimes overwhelming tiredness, my terror of getting sick--put it all on a plane and leave. The truth is I actually feel fine most of the time in spite of all that, so we’ll be getting a car and driving to places both familiar and new in the south of France.
I heard something recently that has become part of my daily mantra for positivity: I can do hard things.
Going on a trip should be more joyful than hard, but when you’ve been sick, and have developed terrors both real and imagined about leaving the comfort and safety of your home, then yes, it’s hard. I have to constantly remind myself that I can do this.
I’m grateful for all the wisdom I’ve gained from reading your newsletters, Suleika. You and all the fellow sufferers who take the time to share their thoughts here contribute to my drive to keep living. Merci, mes amis!
In 1996, May, I was expecting to complete a MFA program in ceramics. A few months before I suddenly found myself unexpectedly enchanted by a whole different approach to clay; this was very spontaneous, engaging my voice and body. The results were sculptural, sensuous and suggestively figurative. I was fascinated. Then one day the professor of the ceramics program saw my new work and quickly announced “if you continue in this direction, you will not graduate from this program”. I struggled with this and finally decided I could save my new direction for a time after graduation. But, how was I going to finish? I had a thesis to write and a graduate student group show in May.
Then, my car broke down. Leaving it at the garage, walking back into town, I passed a bookstore. In the window, among many books, was a book titled “Everyday Sacred”. The book whispered “read me”. In the middle of this book I suddenly knew what my MFA thesis was going to be. By the time I finished the book I knew what my show was going to be. Most significantly, I learned about the Japanese word Oryoki, in English “just enough”. Oryoki is also a name for the begging bowl carried by monks who leave the monastery to walk meditatively into nearby villages, chanting and asking for nourishment. Oryoki is also a special meal held within the monastery, in silence. One asked only for what could be comfortably eaten, “just enough”.
Let me back up. In my 20’s and early 30’s I dealt with an eating disorder. Bulimia. I could have died. It was the death of a young woman, a 12-step recovery program peer, from an eating disorder, that awakened in me the seriousness of my situation. I sought extra support and survived.
So, now in 1996, at the age of 48, I was writing my thesis, based on my understanding of Oryoki. Asking myself “what is just enough in my life?” My graduating show consisted of many bowls, each a different shape, glaze, and firing. I graduated. Immediately afterwards I began teaching at a wonderful alternative mid/high school. Once a year, for six years, the ceramic students put together an Empty Bowls event to raise money for local food banks. Every day began with the question “Oryoki: what is just enough?” I continue to ask myself this question. How does oryoki and takahatsu ( the monks carrying the bowl into the village) live in America, in the 21st century. The despair of an eating disorder, an amazing book, and the enthusiasm of students engaging in the Empty Bowls project all led to a continued life of asking this question, “what is enough?” and looking for ways to serve people. Now, I zoom into children’s hospitals around the country and into homes of our elders, playing flutes to soothe and encourage people. Oryoki. 🏮
Glad to hear your immune system is so strong Suleika! This makes me very happy 😊
A breakthrough of a different kind. It was January 2000 and I was at the car wash when the call came from Phoenix: "Mom, come quick; something's wrong with Gram." My youngest son and his wife were visiting my parents. They investigated when Mother didn't wake up as usual; she did not respond to them and she was on the way to the hospital by ambulance. I raced home, made a reservation on the next flight out, threw a few things in a bag, and caught the plane. I recall sitting on the plane wishing for silence; how could people be laughing, chatting, eating and drinking, playing cards while I was in constant prayer, begging for her life. I wanted quiet to ensure God would hear me when I asked that she wake up, that I get there in time, that I promise to do or sacrifice whatever was needed to ensure she would recover. What happened next was a startling "knowing," that's all I can think to call it. My vivid memory is interrupting my own thoughts by saying to myself: "But you don't want to come back, do you?" I answered my own question. I knew it was true. Come back to what? She had 50 years of pain after contracting rheumatic fever from a strep throat when she was 22 in the late 1940s; she almost died but recovered to a sentence of lifetime crippling, painful rheumatoid arthritis. Only now that I am older can I even appreciate the light end of the scale of pain she endured. I knew then I had to let go of my wants and needs and do whatever I could to comfort her. I was able to spend about 24 hours with her, many of those thanking her, telling her how much she meant to me, and reading to her through the night. My father and her grandsons were with her at the very end. I had just left the room. Sneaky, Helen. But the nurse said that happens often; the loved one departs when the one who would be hurt most by the departure leaves the room. I'll never get over losing my mother, but I can feel her presence when I close my eyes and invite her into the stillness and reverie of my mindfulness.
Dear Suleika, I am so relieved your bout with Covid was not any more severe than it was. Sadly my family lost 5 family members from Covid in 2021. My brother and my husband’s brother died within hours of each other in the same hospital. We each got every vaccine available but unfortunately those we lost chose to not get any. I am happy you are better and Jon did not get it also.
As for your promt for today. I have to admit there were a few times I was in dispair, but I am guessing that the worst time was after my previous husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and the 18 months he deteriorated, followed by his death, followed by being told I was being laid off from my job of over 20 years. I was still dealing with what is called the mourning period, but had to keep going. I found another job but after being there about 6 months, tripped over wires that had been left across an area by the I.T. guy in haste. I ended up with permanent damage to my neck, off work for a while. I became the most depressed I had ever been. I thought my life was on a downward spiral and would never be right again. I prayed a lot. But just before my accident I met the man who would later become my husband. Even though he lived 2 hours away, he drove to my home and took care of me. He was a retired firemen and had paramedics training. Eventually he asked me to quit my job and move to his home. I took a leap of faith and did. And the rest is history. We have now been married over 14 wonderful years.
“I have come to regard these moments of convalescence as rare opportunities for stillness in a busy world, and I’m trying to savor the quiet.”
I am so happy you are feeling better ♥️
This part really spoke to me as I am a recovering workaholic and one of the many things my cancer journey has taught me is to “Listen to my body.”
“Powering through” was always such a badge of honour in my old life. Now recognizing “rest is productivity” is one of my guiding principles.
I still harbour some misguided guilty when I do feel I need rest, even when I am not feeling well, but I do my best to quiet the judgement because I am now a supportive friend to my body.
Sending you continued healing vibes. As always, thank you for sharing and the golden reminders 🥰
Feel better, blessed Suleika.