Photo retrieved from: shewalkssoftly.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/kintsugi-collage-bis.jpg
I’ve been beat down and defeated of late. I’m emotional. I’m anxious. I’m worn out. I’m depressed. My medication is causing more problems than it’s fixing. My dog won’t stop peeing in the house. I can’t afford my therapy sessions. I feel so discouraged. If I was a piece of pottery, life has dropped me more times that I can count…just let me free fall straight onto a concrete surface. It. Just. Keeps. Happening. Does that mean my shattered pieces should be swept up and discarded? Am I broken beyond repair? Am I unlovable? Am I still worthy to be looked upon with appreciation and respect? Can I still be viewed as beautiful?
“In Japan there is an art form called kintsukuroi which means “to repair with gold”. When a ceramic pot or bowl would break, the artisan would put the pieces together again using gold or silver lacquer to create something stronger, more beautiful, than it was before. The breaking is not something to hide. It does not mean that the work of art is ruined or without value because it is different than what was planned. Kintsukuroiis a way of living that embraces every flaw and imperfection. Every crack is part of the history of the object and it becomes more beautiful, precisely because it had been broken” (Doyle, 2015).
Ummm. Okay. But how does this humpty dumpty ceramic bowl feel through all this? I bet pretty crappy. Is it all worth it in the end? Does bedazzling broken pieces back together make it feel whole again or does it just feel like a dressed up piece of trash? I don’t care how much gold you cover me with…I don’t feel worthy of a second look right now, let alone being called a beautiful work of art.
The other day someone very important to me said, “I don’t know whether I am just completely obtuse or you are an incredibly good actor, but it is hard for me to see all of this going on inside you.” I assured her that I am a good actor – I have spent my entire life learning how to hide my broken pieces. Robin Williams, a master comedian who eventually took his own life, said, “All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul, and they will never notice how broken you really are” (NBPTS, 2017). Why do people with broken spirits feel the need to hide behind smiles and laughter? Because there is stigma. There is shame. There is an underlying fear that people will not see the gold lacquer holding the broken pieces together. I am guilty of this. I am guilty of internalizing these powerful emotions and not letting others know I am not actually doing as well as I make it seem – that I’m tired of being strong and am just barely holding on by a thread.
Writer Laura Greenstein (2018) shares that “people will show endless compassion to a person experiencing depression due to the passing of a loved one, but not to a person who just can’t help but feel sad all the time… Keep this in mind when you’re interacting with a person experiencing Depression: Don’t judge or stigmatize them for not knowing the root of their symptoms. Telling someone they ‘don’t have a reason to be depressed’ is the same as telling a person with asthma: ‘The air seems fine to me.’” I found this to be incredibly profound. Comparing mental health issues with other physical diseases sometimes brings it home for people. That’s when they get it. Psychologist David Burns actually suggests that “depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem” (BrainyQuote, n.d.). (note…I feel the key phrase in that statement is “can seem worse” – I would never say my depression is actually worse than terminal cancer). What makes it seem worse is that depression is a disease that is not strongly supported and certainly not socially acceptable…it is most often experienced alone and behind closed doors.
And yet…people suffering from depression or any other mental illness may have more shimmering, beautiful gold holding them together than actual pottery. Their original pattern may be barely recognizable. Again, I ask: Does bedazzling broken pieces back together make the bowl feel whole again or does it just feel like a dressed up piece of trash? I believe the answer is quite simple: both. There are days that I feel like I have come through so much and conquered so many demons. Then the very next day I feel that I am in pieces again, worthless and unlovable. I think it is a very fluid and volatile process. We do not get broken once, repaired with gold, and shine for the rest of our lives. We are bashed apart repeatedly. Life isn’t fair. People will always stigmatize mental illness. Some people will never acknowledge that my scars don’t make me a monster. Sometimes I won’t acknowledge that fact. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hold a mirror up to my soul and glimpse the brilliant gold. Even if it only last for a few minutes before I am shattered again, at least I know it’s there.
Over the last couple months, I have been faced with the fact that I have true, clinical depression. I don’t just feel sad every now and then. I have a soul destroying disease with a chemical, biological, and genetic foundation. There are moments when I don’t know how I can face life always wondering when depression will rear its ugly head. I fight off waves of shame, embarrassment, and feelings of inadequacy when I become emotional for no apparent reason. Why am I not strong enough? Why am I so broken? Why am I so ugly?
Why? Quite simply because this is who I am. If I or anyone else is unable to see the gold or silver holding my broken pieces together, all I need to do is shift in the light or change my perspective. It is there. Yes, I am broken. Yes, I am hurting. No, I am not always going to be okay. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am not garbage. My depression and anxiety allow me to feel things at a depth of which many people can only dream. Brad Paisley has always been one of my favorite country artists. His song Perfect Storm (2014) is a particular favorite.
And she loves just as deep as she goes when she’s down
The highs match the lows, can’t have one without the other
Perhaps that is the silver lining (or gold lacquer) that I am seeking in all of this. The beauty in my brokenness is not the brokenness itself, but the depth of feeling that comes as the result of the brokenness. Yes, it is volatile. Yes, the low points are terrifying. But oh the high points are beautiful. The amount of love I am capable of feeling can be overwhelming. I guess my point in all of this rambling is that just because we are struggling to see our own beauty or worth, that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. Sometimes it becomes hidden, just as the brightness of the sun is not seen at night. It would be silly to think the sun dies and is reborn every evening and morning. It is just biding its time and waiting for its moment to shine again.
I’m broken. But that brokenness is what allows me to feel such extreme emotions – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is no shame in that.
“I understand now that I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, “For the same reason I laugh so often – because I’m paying attention.” – Glennon Doyle Melton
BrainyQuote. (n.d.). David D. Burns Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/david_d_burns_201467
Doyle, John. (2015). Resilience, Growth & Kintsukuroi. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/luminous-things/201510/resilience-growth-kintsukuroi
Greenstein, Laura. (2018). Depression Doesn’t Need an Explanation. NAMI. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2018/Depression-Doesn-t-Need-an-Explanation
NBPTS. (2017). Mental Health Awareness in the Classroom. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Retrieved from https://www.nbpts.org/mental-health-awareness-classroom/
Paisley, Brad. (2014). Perfect Storm. Moonshine in the Trunk. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/bradpaisley/perfectstorm.html