When You’re Depleted

Photo by Edgar Valdes (www.edgarvaldesphoto.com)Photo by Edgar Valdes (www.edgarvaldesphoto.com)


Since April I’ve been posting interviews with dynamic women who are following their creative desires while serving their greater communities, creating income for their families, and balancing relationships and/or parenthood. Their accomplishments inspire, but they can be intimidating. Who has that kind of energy?


Of course I’m not sharing everyone’s entire story. I’ve left out a good deal of suffering—the usual disappointments and struggles that come with the creative life, but also illness, loss, depression. I didn’t ask about these aspects of women’s lives, because it didn’t feel right at the time. I might change my approach in the future. I can tell you about my own recent struggles with a variety of autoimmune disorders that have left me so fatigued, I often crawl into bed in the afternoons.


Because I have psoriatic disease, my feet are in constant pain and my hands ache. I have inflammation in all my tendons and pain at the points of enthesis, where the tendons attach to the bones, making it feel like my bones ache. I also have spondylitis, creating inflammation around the neck and sacroiliac joints, and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which further saps my energy and fogs the brain. My endocrinologist says I have an angry immune system that attacks without warning and sometimes for no apparent reason. All of this is made worse by summer’s heat and humidity. I have wonderful people helping me and days when I feel tremendous improvement, but I never know when I get up in the morning  how it’s going to go.


I tell you this not for pity. It’s up to each one of us to cultivate self-compassion and care for ourselves. But I want you to know that there are no Super Women here. While I’m in the business of helping women achieve their creative dreams, I’m not selling them a myth. There are many, many days when I feel like giving up on the book I’m writing, on teaching, on my website. And I’m guessing everyone I’ve interviewed has days when they feel the same.


Fifteen years ago, in my first workshop with Natalie Goldberg’s, she listed the three most important lessons she learned from her Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi:


1)    Continue Under All Circumstances

2)    Do Not Be Tossed Away

3)    Make Positive Effort for the Good


I could not have made it through the summer without number three. Most mornings I’ve had to haul myself out of bed and out to Starbuck’s where the industrial strength air conditioning is the only thing that calms my inflammation. While I maintain a weekly list of goals, I don’t get caught up in how many pages I write or edit. My only criteria is to make effort, to get a little bit of work done, even if it takes everything I have.  I shared this with Natalie a few weeks ago.

“After all these years,” I told her, “I realize that all I have to do is show up and make effort.”

“That wonderful,” she said. “But it isn’t ‘all I have to do.’ “That kind of effort moves mountains.”

They way I’m progressing, that mountain is moving pebble at a time, but it is moving, and I feel good about it.


In periods of struggle and suffering, what do you do to make effort? What pebble can you move today to make that mountain shift during your lifetime?


Speaking of Natalie Goldberg, she is the subject my next Creative Mix Interview. It will be ready to publish on Sunday, September 7. I’ll let you know when it’s available.


11 thoughts on “When You’re Depleted

  1. Nita Sweeney

    Thanks, Saundra, for the reminder of “positive effort for the good.” This simple phrase keeps me going as well. I too suffer from low thyroid. Add chronic depression and bipolar disorder and life becomes a haunted house combined with a roller coaster on steroids. It’s good to be reminded I’m not alone in this journey.

    I appreciate your example and the examples of the women you are featuring. It’s all inspiring even though I too get intimidated. The one lesson I might add to Natalie’s list is, “This too shall pass.” Pleasant or unpleasant, it will not last forever. That too gives me hope. Be well, friend.

  2. Sharyn DImmick

    I appreciate the inclusion of the underbelly of success in this blog post. Saundra. When things go badly I eventually return to my core practices. Note that “eventually.” Sometimes in the crisis itself I still forget everything I have learned and react. But suffering will drive me to sitting practice sooner or later because I know it helps to face the truth of the suffering and to sit with it. Lately, I have been consciously reminding myself to let go of things that I have no control over anyway. I have returned to at least intermittent practices of metta (compassion meditation). I also actively seek support from friends when things are hard, letting them know how I feel. Lastly, I keep on the lookout for sources of meaning and ways to move forward. As Nita says, “This too shall pass” is a useful thought, but also, the shorter phrase suggested by Jack Kornfield, “This, too,” which suggests the possibility of acceptance.

  3. steven lansky

    saundra, thank you for this. i shed a few tears reading your piece. i take a strong antipsychotic medication every day for schizophrenia. it keeps the worst of the positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, psychosis) from overwhelming each day. however, the negative symptoms, some of which are exacerbated by the medication, keep me from moving as i once did. when i have no pressing commitments, i often sleep long hours. if i make green tea early in my waking day, i can have a fairly normal day, even string together several at a time. i used to get headaches that were debilitating. now, with medication for high blood pressure, no coffee, and a mild (rather undisciplined) yoga practice, i manage without headaches. exercise is still very difficult, mostly what is hard to overcome is inertia. yet, i write. and i keep writing. and i know you will, too. you inspire.

  4. Bonnie

    You are such an inspiration, Saundra. Keeping it real. Some of my greatest accomplishments also have been pushing through, one pebble at a time, through sickness, depression and setbacks. We get knocked down a lot, but we don’t stay down. I need people like you in my life, because I realize we can’t do anything significant all by ourselves. Thanks for your commitment to the writing community and to Natalie’s lineage. Much love!

  5. Kit Kennedy

    Thanks for sharing so honestly. I have chronic pain and have had a month of flareup.
    This weekend I volunteered at the State Fair, and was determined to have fun afterward so ended up pushing myself too hard. After spending yesterday recovering, today I worked in my garden, which is so therapeutic! I harvested potatoes, radishes and herbs.
    It takes major amounts of energy to deal with my chronic illness, and negative people deplete my supply.
    I try to stick with those who are supportive and loving.

  6. Arlene Appelrouth

    I appreciate how honestly you share yourself. A agree that it’s so important to cultivate self-compassion. I’ve survived another major depression that took ECT to bring me back to the land of the living. Through it all, I kept leading my writing practice group. I recently wrote a column about my experience with depression. It’s going to be published this week and I’m a little nervous about how it may change people’s perceptions of me. I’ve taken Natalie’s advice to write about what scares you seriously.


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