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January 23, 2020

How Mental Illness Led Me to Embrace a Crone’s Life: Aging, Wisdom and the Tree of Life

It didn’t happen the way I thought it would; this growing old thing took me by surprise and started before I was ready. I have some “issues” as we would have said a decade or two ago and I’m still working through how they caused me to find myself suddenly much older than I thought.

I’m turning 68 in two weeks, but five years ago, a serious mental health crisis left me to age in a way that was not always graceful, very rarely easy, but always rewarding. I lived with undiagnosed mental illness for over five decades. As those decades wore on and I continued to struggle through ups and downs and meltdowns galore, a single mind-body-spirit breakdown at 63 would bring it (life as I knew it) all crashing down on my head. And so, my path to aging took on a different look than the one where I would do yoga well into my 90’s, write esoteric poetry, and, perhaps, do a little gardening in the patio planters that would adorn my small perfect cottage. Perhaps there would be someone in the rocking chair next to mine, perhaps not; maybe it would just be my dog. But it would be perfect.

It isn’t. There is no rocking chair and someone else must have laid claim to the cottage I imagined would be mine. I have discovered and I do not regret the discovery at all, that dealing with a new mental illness diagnosis, life-altering medications, and a breakdown that threw me into full retirement, led me to a new way of growing into the sage Crone. And more than that, it makes complete sense to me given what I know now. The Tree of Life, just like the Crone, has come full circle and so have I.

I used to be afraid to grow old. Now, I am grateful to be here to experience this stage of my life. And because I now know the identity of the mental illness (bipolar 2, anxiety, etc.) that has meandered its way through my brain for decades, I can focus on growing old on my own terms. Yes, I’m on medication and the side effects are not great. Yes, my illness requires a certain lifestyle in order to remain stable. But there is a “yes” now to life after a lifetime of “no, I don’t think so”. You know, I don’t think I ever believed I would have the gift of growing old and now that I do, I kind of like it. Actually, I like it a lot.

Picture a wise and gentle crone standing under a giant Tree of Life. Trees have represented the circle of life to me since I was barely out of diapers. The comfort from the roots growing deep into Mother Earth and the branches swinging high into the air encourages me to step into her inner trunk. I am centered, whole, and healing.  You can’t beat that, you just can’t. The playful blowing in the air of the multi-colored branches in childhood and the finding the deeper connections to life in the pushing of branches through the deep dark earth, were less than perfect for me. But I have reclaimed those times and incorporated them into the deep rings of growth within the trunk itself. So how have I begun to do that?

  1. I have traveled through the pain that stole the first 60 years of my life. I lived it in the chaos of the breakdown I experienced five years ago and reclaimed those earlier phases through conscious practicing energy work, shamanic journeying, reviving my art practices, and writing my story.
  2. I look for new pathways to grow in creative and uncommon ways that complement the contours of my life and the patterns in the bark of the tree which I have been gifted as my own.
  3. I make a conscious effort to affirm my oneness with the continuity of the age-old tree and bring her energy to bear on the many tasks and circumstances that are still mine to face.
  4. Finally, I embrace the role of Crone just as the largest tree in the forest embraces her responsibility to provide shade for the smaller trees that grow around her. As I take on that role, I am present to others in many ways, by writing, by creating, by speaking, and mostly by providing a safe space for others who face some of the same battles I have or love someone who does. And in claiming that purpose, I am well on my way to living within the trunk of my Crone-like Tree more often than not.

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Carol Chambers  |  1 Followers