Two weeks ago storm Doris battered the UK. Liverpool was hit hard. On our street, opposite our house a two hundred year old beech tree came down. It fell across the road, pulling with it our neighbour’s fence and landing in our drive way at nine o’ clock in the morning. The road was made impassable. It was a miracle no one was hurt and nothing seriously damaged.
It would seem we were not the only ones who had experienced a tree blocking the road, stopping the traffic. Throughout Liverpool over one hundred and fifty trees were felled and even now, over a week later, if you drive around you can see the carnage that has been wrecked by the storm.
Storms cause chaos. They bring destruction. They inconvenience and make the way ahead uncertain and forward motion impossible.
When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety I was brought to a standstill. It wasn’t a choice, it was the only option available to me. My fear and terror of doing anything new not only prevented me from moving forward, but also made it impossible for me to make decisions about the right way ahead. I didn’t know which way to turn, which way to go.
In terms of my goals, my career and many of my relationships, I was static for a long time.
I disappeared, for a while.
I remember running around the local park a year or so after diagnosis and coming across a large hole in the pavement. Some work on the drains or similar had been happening and the area had been coned off with red and white stripy tape, and a sign erected warning us of ‘danger’.
I remember thinking I had fallen into such a hole. I was in the dark.
Storms and road blocks are inevitable in life from time to time. We are thrown off course, we cannot see clearly.
I had to stop, to re-group and gather the energy to scale the obstacles.
Of course the strange thing about overcoming something like depression is that it is not trying harder than makes the difference. It is not pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and climbing over the fallen tree. This would only have set me back and caused me more pain.
The only way to move forward was to stop.
I know that is a contradiction in terms.
But stopping enabled me to figure out the passing place.
It was only by stopping that I started to learn how to really live.
In this period of stasis (which, if I am honest, lasted a good few years) I began to realise the things I had been prioritising were not the important stuff of life. I had been keeping going, keeping going, keeping going, chasing what I thought mattered: approval, achievement, career, the accumulation of the right kind of stuff, while the truth that was inside of me was weakening.
The essence of me, the ousia, was shrinking. Like a muscle which is not exercised, my sense of self: who I am and what I really truly care about, was losing its strength. For years and years I had looked to other people to tell me who I really was.
Stopping in the calm after the storm gave me the time and space to figure out who I was, and to begin writing that story with my life.
I allowed the storm to change me.
I found the passing place, the way forward as I re-evaluated what I thought of as a successful life.
To grow I had to be willing to allow the storm to stop me, then to wait and see what it had to teach me.