One of the most difficult parts of my recovery from depression and anxiety is the obsessions that can accompany a period of instability. Just when I think I’ve reached a plateau of relative peace, something happens—usually involving a mistake, weakness, or character defect of mine (that is, I’m a tad short of a perfect performance)—and I can’t let go of the obsession.
Thankfully, I have very good friends repeat to me. “It’s not about that. Trust me. The obsession is about something else.”
But while you are in that space you think they are just saying it because they are quite sick of you babbling about this one thing that has you ate up inside.
Now when the tables are reversed, I can see it clear as day.
When a friend of mine couldn’t stop measuring his fence in the backyard, obsessing about whether or not it would meet inspection, I gently nudged him and suggested that maybe the fence wasn’t the issue. Maybe the fence symbolized something else in his life that he was fretting over. When the fence obsession died down a little, he could see that.
I’m in that obsessing phase again. As much as I try to let it go, it’s like the fence. I get out my measuring stick, adding the numbers over and over again, just like I used to do as a kid with OCD and a rosary. One more prayer and I will feel better. And so the endless cycle of obsession and compulsions went.
I think it was after I repeated something like 20 times to my friend yesterday that she finally said. “Let me tell you a story.”
There was this priest who headed a five-day retreat that I attended a few weeks ago, and he told the Story of the Sugar Lady.
One day at the grocery, he picked up some sugar and there was a beautiful woman doing the same. They exchanged smiles, and she went on her way to check out. The priest followed her. Even out to the parking lot. He was mesmerized by her.
It doesn’t stop there. He would go back to the same store, to the sugar section, hoping to see her again. He began dreaming about her. He could not get her out of his mind no matter how hard he tried.
He finally discussed it with his spiritual advisor. “What do I do? I cannot let go of this obsession!”
The spiritual advisor said to him, “It’s not about the Sugar Lady. That’s obvious. What you need to do is find the holes in your life—the empty pockets that are sources of suffering for you. Do that and when you come back, we will talk more about the Sugar Lady.”
He began to identify a few areas in his life where his needs clearly weren’t met: his community life, sources of fun and recreation, a connection to family, etc. Once he identified them, he felt a tremendous sadness over him…a kind of grief that took him by surprise.
So he returned to the spiritual advisor with the heaviness in his heart.
“Now,” the spiritual advisor said, “give this to God.”
As he asked God to take this pain from him, he felt a lightness and freedom that he hadn’t felt in weeks. But the hard work was just beginning. He made a plan to try to fill in, as best as he could, the areas in his life that were barren.
And he never thought about the Sugar Lady again.
If I think about it, it makes perfect sense that I would be going through a period of obsessions right now. My work life has just been turned upside down, and with the economy still affecting Eric’s profession so much, we are under a substantial amount of stress. Eric is doing great as the “mom” of the house, but it’s been a considerable adjustment, as it has for me taking a back seat to the kids’ activities and carrying the pressure of producing income from a writing career (a phrase you don’t hear much).
So, inspired by the Story of the Sugar Lady, I’m in the process of poking around to find the various parts of my life that are in need of some filling. Thankfully I have help. From my friends and therapist and doctor and twin sister. Because what is obvious to them is not so much to me. However, unlike the priest, I’m not waiting to have my list completed before giving it to God.
Because I’d like to be done thinking about the Sugar Lady before tomorrow.