I am sitting in my favorite diner. Bob Dylan is wailing on the stereo. A cup of coffee steams at my side. I am home.
I got home yesterday after a short road trip south to move a truck and trailer full of furniture to my daughter’s new apartment. It was a lot of miles for three days, but it’s part of the parent gig, I think.
It was a lot of miles, and I managed to squeeze in a visit to each of my sisters on the trips up and back. I am one of those blessed ones – I have sisters I don’t just love because that is part of the sibling gig, but because I really like both of them. Love comes easily with us, and I am grateful. Being 11 hours away, we don’t see each other a lot, so it was a joy to be with them for an evening here and there on the journey.
Lost in that journey was my routine. I have become a creature of my morning routine of prayer, bible reading, meditation, and writing. Like an athlete warming up before the big game, my routine prepares me to overcome my depression and strengthens me for the day.
I built the routine with the help of a wise and kind therapist, who helped me find the tools to win my battle (at least most days). It has become ritual for me, like the monks of the middle ages with their daily matins and their hours set apart for worship, prayer and meditation. Religious almost.
It’s not fancy. It works.
It took a long time to find the formula that worked. I don’t know if I am a slow learner, or it is just because we are all broken in different ways, so every repair is slightly (or sometimes very) different. ,
We are complex beasts, we humans. Even when we seek simplicity, there’s so much history, and the effects of that history, in the mix. Add to that the mad subtleties of a very plastic, constantly adjusting brain and a chemical stew that keeps all makes the lives we lead more of a magician’s potion than a machine.
(As an aside, one of my sisters, who is a doctor, often says that there are doctors and there are mechanics. The doctor’s treat the whole. The mechanics treat the body or illness like we are machines. Guess which one does the most good.).
My routine works for me. It has for nearly a decade. As much as the low dose “happy pill” I take each morning, that routine stabilizes me. It sets my frame of mind in a good place and on a good track. It prevents my sometimes unruly brain on a good path that is generally sustainable for the whole day.
Over time, I became superstitious about my routine. I became afraid to disrupt it, even for a day or two. Having risen from the dark places to what I think is a pretty dang good place, with my routine as one of the big tools to get there, I was afraid each day my routine got disrupted. So, before, a few days traveling like I have done as I hauled chairs and tables and such down to my daughter’s actually scared me.
I’ve had my routine busted a lot over the past couple of years, and particularly in the last year since I got married. At first, it frightened me a little, but in time, I came to realize the work of a decade had done it’s work. I am in a maintenance place these days.
I adjust. That’s what I came to realize.
I think, when we have something traumatic happen, and claw ourselves back, we tend to think of ourselves as more broken as we are. I am not saying we’re not changed, but if we do the work and crawl back to good places, we tend to still think of ourselves as broken.
It can work the other way too. We can, in the midst of being broken, think of ourselves as more together than we really are. I have just reconnected with an old friend who I did not treat well at a time that I was terribly broken and thought I was more together than I was. Had I been more aware of my brokenness, or more honest with myself (I was in such a dark place I cannot tell you to this day which was the issue.), I would have treated him better.
Plato is credited with saying “The unexamined life is not worth living.”.
A lot of us probably read that as something we need to do here and there. But I have come to see it differently. I believe that we need to be constantly examining our life, monitoring, constantly resetting our course and at times, our destination.
We change constantly. I had depression a decade ago. I have depression now. However, the difference between then and now is huge. I am in a much, much better place. What I fight now is manageable. What I fought then was not. I understand my enemy now. Back then I did not. But we still have only that one word, depression, to describe it.
And my routine? It is still useful. But a day here and there away won’t send me back to the dark ages. That is the truth. It took me a while to understand that. Hmm. Maybe I am a slow learner.
It’s good to get back to the routine this morning. I used to think if I abandoned it for a day or two, I would somehow forget how to write, how to pray, how to meditate.
Of course, I was wrong.
Except in trauma, our brains change slowly. Our hearts change slowly. We can survive a little change in the routine. At times, it might even be good for us.
This trip was good. There were two long, long stretches (11+ hours) of driving. You can do a lot of thinking and praying in eleven hours. There was more physical work than I normally do. A good thing. There was family to catch up with. There was the excitement of my daughter’s new adventure. And there was time to let all those things settle in on the drive back north.
There is no lesson buried in this post. It’s more a meditation, a chance to examine flaws and victories and my own lessons learned. A chance to do what most of my writing does, look inward and figure out the constantly changing creature that is me.
Be well. Travel wisely,