Beyond Blue

I found this interesting article on how depression affects couples: “Depression Fallout: The Impact of Depression on Couples.”

Clearing clutter has got to be the number one tool used by God’s watchdog of the pearly gates (St. Peter) to distinguish the advanced souls on earth–the Dalai Lamas with absolutely no attachment to material objects–from their infant brother and sister spirits, who clutch petals from their wedding bouquets and movie tickets from a first date 30 years ago in hopes of hanging on to the good memories of the past.

As for me, I’m locked both in Christmas past–with boxes of journals and college notebooks I can’t throw out–and Christmas future–with crates of research for books I intend to write in 2010 or 2012, when I’ll have more time.

“It’s simple,” Eric instructed me the other day as I attempted this torturous exercise. “If you haven’t used it or pulled it out in five years, chuck it.”

He walked over to a box in the garage labeled “mystic friendships.”

“What on earth is in here?” he asked.

“Research for a book I am going to write about the friendships between some of the great Christian mystics.”

“Right. Have you opened the box in five years?”


“Then chuck it.”

“I can’t.”


“Because one of these days, I will write that book.”

“Okay. Then buy the resources you need at that time.” (Note to readers: If any of you would like to write the book, I’d be happy to ship my photocopies and books to you.)

My handicap in the garage points to a much larger issue, of course–one that feeds my depression. I’m terrified to let go. Of everything in the past. And of all the potential in the future. I’m a flaming “P” (Perceiver) on the Myers-Briggs personality test, which means I see possibility in every sheet of paper and notebook and journal and movie stub and wedding napkin. It’s all so meaningful! Until I can’t find what’s truly important–like the last letter my dad wrote me before he died–because I’m drowning in stuff, like the memorabilia from his 50th birthday party (including a photo of me dancing with Rob Lowe, whose father was a friend of my dad’s).

Perhaps if I got better at living in the present, then the tokens of the past and future wouldn’t matter so much.

Even if I fail to effectively de-clutter my home, I’m good at reading about de-cluttering. Two books have been helpful in teaching me what this agonizing task has got to do with mental and spiritual health.

In “Make Room for God: Clearing Out the Clutter,” author Susan K. Rowland claims that “clearing out the clutter, as mundane as it may seem, is really a sacred task.” (Uh oh.) She offers six simple (but grueling) steps:

1. Extract the essentials, the things you must not lose (for me, everything). She’s talking about things like keys, bills to be paid, calendar items (a bracelet my best friend Angela made for me in the fifth grade?).

2. Once you extract your essentials, remove everything from the area you are clearing and sort it into piles, boxes or bags. Basic categories include “Keep,” “Give Away,” “Throw Away,” “Recycle,” and “?” (for things you feel ambivalent about…like Angela’s bracelet).

3. Once you have sorted through everything, put back ONLY the things you have decided to keep.

4. When the room or closet or drawer looks right and feels comfortable–when drawers, closets and cabinets are about half-full: STOP. Rethink everything you used to keep there. Do you need it all?

5. Remove the clutter permanently (OUCH!). Deliver your donations to a thrift store or charity, visit your local recycling center and put the garbage out (without going through it one last time).

6. Get help from a friend (or a clutter-police of a husband). Take turns working on each other’s houses (or shelves). Remind each other how much each of you will love your houses (or each other?) when it’s all over.

My other resource is Karen Kingston’s “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Clutter Forever.” She is among a few pioneers to use Feng Shui in Western cultures to “balance and harmonize the flow of natural energies in our surroundings to create beneficial effects in our lives.” Working directly with the energy of each space (which means she’s never coming to dinner at my house), she sees Feng Shui as a complete way of life.

On clutter, she writes:

“Clutter accumulates when energy stagnates and, likewise, energy stagnates when clutter accumulates. So the clutter begins as a symptom of what is happening with you in your life (yikes) and then becomes part of the problem itself because the more of it you have, the more stagnant energy it attracts to itself.”

It doesn’t take much to get this mortal second-guessing herself. One harsh message on the comment board will do it. An African-American woman was offended that I used Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sentiments as a launching pad for my own dream–that mental illness would lose its stigma. As I read her remarks, I thought to myself, “She’s right. I’m self-indulgent to express this dream given all the suffering in Iraq, Darfur, and a million other places on the globe.”

Then the doorbell rang.

On my porch stood a florist holding a dozen white roses. I was confused…Valentine’s Day was a month away. My birthday was two weeks after that. And I hadn’t slept with Eric the night before.

The card (which is next to my computer now) read: “My Dear Therese, Your dream is also my dream. Thank you for celebrating our dream. Love, Ann”

My guardian angel, Ann. You’ve got to love her. God hand-picked for me a retired (bipolar) woman because, given all my self-doubts and wrong turns, she doesn’t have time to both hold a real (earthly) job and be my guardian angel.

Ann hadn’t even read the message board. (Angels don’t need to.) She didn’t know that I had banished (for the fifteenth time that day) my mission to educate people on mental health because, as my reader said, “There are much bigger issues in the world today to consider.” My guardian friend was merely grateful that I had articulated her frustrations and dreams as well.

There’s a lesson in this (of course): Everyone is entitled to a dream–even a “whiny, bitter, self-serving, complaining white woman–” but especially those suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. Because, even in the face of Iraq and Darfur, our pain is valid too.