Exhaustion And Guilt
The trip to Calcutta and other parts of India was emotionally and physically exhausting for Maria, beyond what either of us quite imagined. I traveled overseas frequently in my former life and am familiar with jet lag, but I never endured so intense and prolonged and grueling a trip to such a challenging country as she has.
On the return alone, Maria was in the air for more than 36 hours over several days. She met with endangered children in Hellhole districts, women at risk in small villages, walked and drove through some of the worse and most impoverished slums and streets on the earth.
She met loving women at risk who opened their hearts and souls to her. They are still making the potholders she taught them how to make.
Since coming home, she has been on a physical and emotional roller coaster, made all the worse by her belief that being idle for any reason is a character flaw, and that she is not entitled to rest.
A dozen times a day, she asks me or herself if she shouldn't be doing something, making something, selling something, helping someone, accomplishing something. Is it really okay to rest? An hour later, she asks me again. She just isn't ready to be normal.
Like a border colliie, she knows how to do everything but nothing, doing nothing is an awful sin to her, "loafing," "lounging around," "indulging myself." She berates herself constantly for being so tired and drained.
Was I like this after my open heart surgery, I wonder, or my bouts with Lyme Disease or flu? Probably. Yes, she says.
For us, doing nothing is a black hole, we fill it with awful things- guilt, fear and frustration. The idea is to fill it with good.
Like Maria was, I am a bit of caretaker now, watching for the crashes, the need to rest, the need to be outside. Being a caretaker is always complex, it calls out for patience and love. I want to be a comfortable place a safe space. I need to be available.
The conventional wisdom is that it takes a day to recover for each time zone change. I heard that when I traveled overseas, but found it to be useless, at least for me. Every person and metabolism is different. Some people don't feel jet lag at all, others know how to deal with it, others suffer.
I have been feeding Maria Vitamin D and C, recommended to me by regular travelers, making sure she drinks a lot, gets as much sunshine as possible, gets some exercise, takes enough naps to rest but not to keep her from sleeping. She managed to get into her studio for a bit today to write, but she was quickly worn out.
Day by day, I see her body figuring things out and adjusting. The hours of energy and spark are getting longer and more frequent. She sleeps like a cat during the day, long and often. In the morning, she seems herself. But not for too long.
It will take a few more days for her to be back to normal physically, I don't know exactly how long. Longer perhaps emotionally. She saw some hard truths about life in Kolkata especially, and she will be processing those images for a long time. They would keep me up at night, and have already.
What, in my mind, is healing for her?
Time and rest, mostly. Work will be healing when she can return to it, she is always lost without her art. She is in motion almost all of the time.
I hope she gets into her studio for short bursts, maybe comes up with something to make with the wondrous fabrics she brought home. That would be healing. But you can't rush art, it has a life and will of its own. Writing is healing for both of us. She's not ready to finish anything or sell anything, to put any deadlines on herself.
Some people depend on external things to guide them, I am one of those, Maria works from the bottom up, inside out, her art will tell her when it is ready to come out and in what form.
Writing will help. It turns out she is a natural and lovely writer, and writing about this extraordinary and life-altering experience will help her to understand how she feels about it.
Spending some time with her friends, who she trusts, will be helpful. Walks in the woods are already helpful, time with the animals. Long and soft talks with me, some meditation, maybe some yoga. And some reflection. In a way, the trip to India was a wondrous gift, in a way, a trauma to someone as sensitive to her.
Mostly time will help her, it is the most healing thing of all. I have to try to checkmate the self-abuse and doubt, it is also a part of her. She asks for help when she needs it.
Maria will be dogged by images of some of the beautiful and loving children she saw playing games on dirt floors, hiding out in a safe place, the horrors of the sex trade waiting just outside a few feet away. She is a magnet for emotion and feeling. Those are not images someone like her can slough off It is hard to see despair and be helpless about it. You just have to work it through.
She is strong and self aware, she will work her way through it.
So this has been a beautiful week of closeness and healing and recovery, a harder week than I expected. In a way, a beautiful week of closeness and connection, we need each other.
It was – is – more intense than I expected.
But then, nothing about this trip has been what I expected, except our love and commitment for and to one another. The best thing I can do does not involve advice or medicine but is to offer understanding and encouragement. Be good to yourself, I keep saying, let yourself process this and heal. You are a good person doing good, a good artist using your art for good. Give yourself permission to recover, and follow your heart.
Your spirit and body will let you know when you are well and ready to work. Not yet, not yet. It's okay to do nothing, sometimes it is the best thing in the world.