I have a friend named Lucy.
Lucy is witty, thoughtful, passionate, committed to her people, a fashionista in the truest sense and maybe a little bossy.
She also happens to be eight years old.
Every summer Lucy and her mom, my best friend Keek, come to Oklahoma to stay for a week. We swim, watch movies, play in the park and go shopping. It’s a highlight of the summer for Davy and me, but for Lucy it turns out it’s her favorite week of the year. Somehow Auntie K’s house in Tulsa, Oklahoma has become her go-to vacation destination. In fact, she is so taken with the wonder that is my house that she announced to her mom her wish to have her ashes sprinkled in my backyard when she dies.
I try not to let it go to my head.
The truth is I have an amazing collection of Littlest Pet Shop toys I held on to when my daughter outgrew them, and I’m pretty sure they are the real attraction.
I’ll take any love she has to throw my way.
During our week together this summer, we made a special trip to a favorite store of mine. I was in the market for a new stone for my Qudo ring and thought Lucy would be the perfect shopping partner. We made our way to the counter, and Lucy chatted up the attendant while she pulled various stones out of the glass cabinet and laid them on a cloth on the counter. She observed the sizes and qualities of the stones, making her observations known to pretty much everyone in the store.
She’s enchanting, to say the least.
We were having a grand time until it became clear that her bold and colorful fashion preferences and my generally muted style choices were going to clash. Everyone in the store was clear on the fact that Lucy’s tastes were by far superior to mine, so I indulged her and her audience by taking the time to “try on” each stone, screwing it into my ring one-by-one. Not an easy task for someone whose hands shake constantly from the impact of pain, depression and anxiety on my body. Nevertheless, I persisted, and about 25 stones later, Lucy and I were at an impasse as to whether I should choose the large, fuchsia stone with rose gold encasing she preferred or the much smaller deep gray, gold encased one more to my liking.
I gotta tell you, it was hard to look into her beautiful Asian brown eyes and tell her the hard truth… I was going to buy the gray stone.
Lucy is a resilient young woman, and she took the news well despite her disappointment. But I guess I was struggling to release myself from some misperceived eight-year old judgment, so as we were driving home I said, “Lucy, I’m sorry I didn’t choose the pink stone, Gray is my signature color, and I really wanted a gray option to go with my mostly muted wardrobe.”
Lucy, all solemn and serene while staring at the passing cars, responded with the wisdom of a woman who has lived out the fullness of a long and complicated life, “It’s okay, Auntie K, you have to be true to your shadow self.”
Have you ever had a moment with a child when such innocent insight and clarity is thrown at you that you can only respond with wondrous – and maybe a little bit of uncomfortable – laughter?
I felt as though this eight-year old princess of China had reached into my soul and seen the essence of my struggle with self.
And then gave me permission to embrace it.
Depression and anxiety accompany me through most of my days. I can’t remember a time in my life without at least one of the two by my side. They present themselves a bit differently in different seasons, but they’re always there.
I haven’t made their presence welcome. I’ve resisted. I’ve suppressed. I’ve gone to therapy. I’ve done the work recommended in the best books… all in an attempt to leave both depression and anxiety in the dust.
Several years ago a therapist described their presence in my life as my “early warning system” – my self’s way of letting me know it needed my attention. He recommended I choose a position of gratitude towards them, noting that many who struggle with this sort of melancholy are often caught in the wave of it unaware that it is coming. Yet my unwanted friends have a way of showing me trouble is on the rise.
At the time I couldn’t embrace his way of thinking because the idea of welcoming their presence felt wrong when compared to my ideal that the end goal in the work of therapy should be to rid myself of depression and anxiety altogether.
That was many years ago. And like you might with a neighbor who never brings in his trash cans, has a dog that barks late into the night EVERY NIGHT, walks out to his mailbox wearing nothing but his robe and a pair of boxers… and wants to chat, but also keeps an eye out for possible hazards or intruders because your safety is a genuine concern to him, I’m developing an unexpected appreciation for my companions.
I mean, we’re not going to snuggle up together on the couch, but there’s a growing embracing that is happening that allows me to more readily relax my posture toward the presence of both depression and anxiety in my life.
And I guess with that change is coming some much-needed kindness towards my shadow self Lucy so astutely discerned.