This year I started on a journey that I never thought I would take. Two of them actually. The first journey is divorce. My wife of 35 years and I are separated and in the process of making an end of our shared story (this part at least). The second is a journey of emotional well-being. I would have thought, even as recently as a year ago, that I knew myself a lot better than I really do. I’ve spent most of my life learning about technical things, the world, history, and business. But until just a couple of months or so ago I spent zero time learning deeply about what makes me tick, why I am who I am and what it takes to make a genuinely good life. To be brutally honest, despite life-threatening illnesses and pretty much every warning sign, I neglected my own well-being, out of ignorance and to some degree pride.
To quote Joe Walsh, ‘Life’s been good to me so far.’ In every externally visible sense I’ve enjoyed life and been blessed beyond what I ever expected from a career perspective. I’ve been blessed with three amazing children and three amazing grand-children. Anyone who saw my life from the outside would have believed that I ‘Had it all going for me’. And in many respects I have to say that’s how it has been. But inside, I’ve been living with a broken spirit and a broken heart. And in 2022, everything I could do to hold it together failed at once. Everything I should have taken joy in was empty and colorless. I realized I was genuinely depressed and disconnected from own soul.
I’ve been in therapy now for a couple of months. I’ve been exploring and reading books on trauma and depression. I’ve got a renewed focus on my faith (this may be the understatement of 2023, but I’m not sure how else to put it). I know it’s a long and winding road. I know it’s the journey of a lifetime. I realize now that ‘soul care’ is more than just a buzz word. I realize now why people burn out. I’ve been striving to live up to what I thought everyone wanted me to be. And I’ve also cried until I felt like an empty shell. I’ve been angry, unreasonably angry, for reasons I didn’t understand until my therapist pointed them out. Finally all the things I read in the books started to gel. The lightbulb went on. I understand why my health is what it is. ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ (the title of a book I recently read), and my body has been keeping it ruthlessly. I’m obese, diabetic, I’ve had cardiac issues, I’m weak and constantly tired. Continuing this way leads to an early grave and I’m not ready to go, not like this.
It only goes to follow that if I’ve been this bad at caring for my own soul and spirit, that I was equally bad at caring for the souls of those around me. Being blind to my own emotional problems was bad enough, but I can only begin to understand how much it affected the people I love. I tried to do what I thought was best in every respect, but I now understand I saw everything through faulty lenses.
So I’m on a journey to (as Kenny Chesney puts it in the song) build a better boat. I don’t know what all 2023 holds. This post and potentially others that follow are part of my therapy. Part of externalizing and excavating decades of neglect of my own heart and spirit. I want to know my true self a lot better and be a better friend, a better brother, a better father and a better Christ-Follower. What I do know is that I’m learning the way. And day by day, I’m doing at least one little thing. And when a wave is too big to stand against, I ride it. I breathe in. I breathe out.
If anyone reading this is in a difficult place with depression, PTSD or other emotional challenges, I urge you to seek help. The days on the road, on the water, and in the woods with my friends or just sitting and talking over coffee have been invaluable to me. I treasure each of my close friends more than I can say. The adventures, the hours and days in beautiful places and doing relaxing things are the coping mechanisms that got me this far. But the truth is that none of my friends are therapists and none of them understand how to excavate and process the most difficult things that life can bring to us. I needed help from people trained in and experienced with sorting all the stuff we accumulate in the attic. And finally I’m seeking that help and learning as fast as I can.