“There once was an opossum whose name was Oscar. He lived in a great big forest. Oscar had a mother, a father, and a sister. He was very happy until he found out that his forest was going to be turned into condominiums.”My childhood journal, age 10
When I was young, I was very clear about a few things: I wanted to write stories. I loved animals. I didn’t like the way I saw them treated most of the time.
I also had a spiritual connection to the natural world that was hard to explain. I felt at home in the woods, where magic seemed real and the animals felt like family. Surrounded by ancient rocks and soaring trees, the world stretched big enough to contain my dreams.
I turned one dream into a reality and wrote my first novel when I was twelve.
Fast forward to high school, and I was so miserable I thought something inside me must have broken. I felt like I was inside a thick, glass jar and the rest of the world was outside of it. I felt empty except for a sucking black hole that corrupted everything before I could touch it.
In other words, I was depressed.
Faced with the demands of school, increasing self doubt, and my belief that I had to be perfect, I stopped writing stories. I hid my love of animals. I lost the magic of the woods.
I spent years trying to achieve my way to happiness.
I moved to California and worked as a cashier, baker, tenant organizer, program manager, international volunteer, marketing manager, senior associate for investor relations, office manager, receptionist, community manager, and director of operations. I even got an MBA.
I did well, got promoted, accomplished my goals. But I still wasn’t happy.
In my late twenties, I went off my anti-depressant medication and slipped back into the dark waters of despair. When I started having panic attacks, I was humbled enough to seek help from a therapist and face my depression head-on.
In therapy I learned just how disconnected I had become. I was avoiding my emotions, suppressing my desires, trying hard to keep it all together.
Only when I finally let it all fall apart did I start to heal.
I learned how to surrender to my emotions, allowing myself to feel them fully no matter how strange or embarrassing I judged them to be. In doing so, I realized that it’s possible to accept and even love the messy, ugly, and awkward parts of myself.
I began to understand that my flaws, far from alienating me, actually deepened my connection to other human beings, as sometimes the only thing I shared with someone else was persistent imperfection.
Eventually, with lots of time and help, I found my way again. I began to feel not just better, but more whole. It was as if one by one, long-absent pieces of myself I hadn’t even realized were missing were returning home to roost within my breast.
Still, depression and anxiety never went away for good. They revisited at regular intervals, sometimes occupying my psyche like boorish houseguests for weeks or even months at a time.
I wanted to dismiss their residencies as random—and perhaps at times they were—but over the years I couldn’t help but observe an undeniable pattern:
Depression haunted me when I lost my way.
I got depressed when I pushed forward without listening to what I was feeling. When I was once again seduced by the false promise of perfection. When I turned my back on the things that made me come alive.
Every time I stubbornly pursued a course of action that came from fear rather than inner wisdom, the pain would gradually get more intense, and before long I’d have to let go of whatever effort I was making to force my will upon the world and surrender to the guidance of something larger than my ego.
Listening to that guidance, I moved back to my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, adopted 8 chickens, and started walking in the woods as often as I could.
I also began to write again.
I started with a blog for my coaching business, then worked on a series of short, allegorical stories for my clients about the first hero to go on a quest to find his calling.
Eventually I got the idea for a novel and completed it two years later, a mere twenty-seven years after my first. It is—unsurprisingly—about humanity’s lost connection to animals and what they still have to teach us.
Whether we’re depressed or not, much of our pain comes from the fact that we’re disconnected—from ourselves, from other people, and from the wider living world.
When I could no longer deny the pain, I learned how to reconnect.
As I began to try to help others do the same, I realized that the things I had abandoned—my single-minded stories, my inexplicable love of animals, my sometimes painful sensitivity, and even my depression—were invaluable gifts.
My misunderstanding was in thinking that I had to grow out of these things, when in reality, I just needed to grow into them.
One way of looking at what’s happening in the world is that the pain is growing too large to continue to deny.
In the face of such pain, we have a choice: we can despair, grow angry, or bury our heads further in the sand, or we can see it as an invitation to pay more attention and begin the process of healing.
We heal the world in the same way we heal ourselves—by restoring deep connections with other people, the natural world, and—perhaps most importantly—our own deepest wisdom and love.
I’m a certified Integral Coach and have a Masters in Business Administration from USF. In addition to one-on-one coaching, I also coach groups and lead workshops for organizations such as Emory University and the U.S. Peace Corps. I’m a former board member of the Georgia chapter of ICF and have served as an adjunct faculty member at New Ventures West coaching school in San Francisco.