The 12’x10′ room with french doors looking over a busy intersection was my prison for seven years. It was also my place of peace. Deep irony occurred in that room as a transformation took place over two years. So it might have been my prison, but it was also my cocoon.
The doors opened and the balcony overlooked Del Mar Street in San Clemente, California–a perfect little beach town. The spoils of this perfect room were perfect views of dusk and sundown every night. I can’t tell you how many photos I took from that balcony.
Across the street a weathervane capped the community center that became a symbol of my transformation. The vane depicted a windmill and two horses. Only later did I realize this was a rendition of Don Quixote.
In 2002 I started dating a girl who never could possibly know she started me down a path of hellish self-discovery. I wrestled with anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I endured sleepless nights. I ended up in counseling. And counseling saved my life, because without it I’d certainly have taken my life. I’m thankful for my counselor and a handful of friends who patiently listened and cared.
I dare to say before my season of anxiety and depression that I probably didn’t know myself. The 12’x10′ cocoon was the place where I wrestled, rested, pondered and explored my heart deeply for the first time. When I came out of that season I was a different person.
During my depression I read Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. The book chronicles Steinbeck’s 1960 road trip across America with a poodle named Charley. He bought a pickup truck for the trip, had a customized camper built onto it and named the vehicle Rocinante. The name always fascinated me. The author shares stories of his interactions with just regular ol’ people and makes lots of observations about culture in America. To me, it captures wanderlust to a tee (almost as well as Jack Kerouac’s The Road does) but with more intentionality.
Wanderlust resonates with me because at heart I am restless to see everything I possibly can. Maybe wanderlust resonates because I’ve always been sort of uncomfortable sitting in one place too long, fearful of introspection. I love wandering and finding whatever I can. I love wandering because I don’t have to think about anything at all, I can just look and observe. Maybe just wandering without thinking at all is what God wanted to get my attention about.
During my anxiety I spent a lot of time in my little cocoon…thinking, feeling, projecting. It was a perfect perch to project onto every family I saw walking by how miserable they must be. It was a perfect spot to observe the world out there looking so beautiful through the bars of my balcony. I was alone with my thoughts a lot. Just sitting and feeling like crap and wondering if this misery will ever end. Plenty of times I thought death certainly is better than this. Holding on was hard. I felt hopeless.
The change was very slow, almost imperceptible. First there was just observing what influenced my feeling and thinking in my growing up years. Then there was a tearing down of the thinking that wasn’t helpful for helping me cope with life. Later my counselor started building up a new structure of thought with a sturdier foundation. All the observing and tearing down parts were painful with no apparent change. I wanted to feel better, but my counselor was working toward helping me feel more deeply. He helped me learn to not run from the crappy feelings, but to embrace their presence and be ok with them.
In the midst of my depression I didn’t get on a plane for three years. It was like I self grounded. God wanted me to sit in one place long enough to think, feel, embrace all the things going on in my heart and head. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. My wanderlust heart has always been more comfortable with moving on, but this transformation required sitting still and letting my heart get worked over. At least my cocoon had a beautiful view.
Since I spent a lot of time sitting in my cocoon, I learned to better handle not rushing from one thing to the next. Sitting still has been a learned skill. But I had a helper in the midst of my sitting. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) My heavenly Father sat with me and comforted me when I felt crushed and despairing. Although my thoughts ran off over and over, there was a calming presence around me. There was a voice whispering over and over “I am with you” and gave glimpses of peace and presence.
When I came out of the cocoon some three years later, I came out different. The ability to sit with someone who was hurting somehow became part of me. I couldn’t do that before. I came out able to recognize how I was feeling, validating the feeling, and even think about what may have contributed to it’s presence. And most of all being OK with myself feeling this intense or subtle emotion. I learned to give voice to what was going on with me.
I still feel anxious from time to time, but I don’t drown in it like I did before. I learned I didn’t need to be grounded by the emotions but could fly even in the midst of them. We are complex people. A child only feels one thing at a time—happy or sad or angry—but as adults we have the capacity to embrace more. I can feel sad, and grateful, and content, and frustrated all at the same time. That is the beauty of growing up emotionally.
That is why Rocinante is a symbol of my metamorphosis. Steinbeck named his truck after Don Quixote’s horse. Miguel de Cervantes writes about Quixote’s thoughtful process of naming his horse:
“Four days were spent in thinking what name to give him, because (as he said to himself) it was not right that a horse belonging to a knight so famous, and one with such merits of his own, should be without some distinctive name, and he strove to adapt it so as to indicate what he had been before belonging to a knight-errant, and what he then was.”
Don Quixote was a has-been knight and so was his horse. But he still thought he was up to the task, and that his horse could be as well. So a new name was given to say he believed in his horse’s capacity to rise to the occasion. A name given to reflect a hero’s stature.
When I came out of my depression and anxiety it was as if a new name was given to me. I could now rise to the opportunity to hang in there and care for someone else experiencing depression or anxiety. I had new capacities. I am no longer a has-been. I am transformed. I am new. A scripture suddenly resonated with me, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Hope had returned.
The weathervane always seemed to face directly toward me when I looked across the street. As if Don Quixote and Rocinante knew exactly what they were doing. Earlier in life I wandered without purpose. Now, after bursting from my cocoon, I started wandering with purpose. I could think, feel, experience life more fully, and explain my journey with more colorful words of experience. I faced hellish self-discovery and found that with God’s help I could rise to every occasion.