My Shelf of Good Intentions

My workbench in our basement.
My workbench in our basement.

What is the purpose of an empty shelf? A shelf is put in place in order to be filled.

Conversely, a workbench should be left empty, with plenty of space, so that any project needing attention, any tinkering that begs to be done, can have its moment.

Just about every house we have lived in has had a space where I put things that need to be fixed, because, by golly, why would I take five minutes to glue this to that now? Isn’t a pile of things needing glue more efficient? This is how I first wound up with what I call my “shelf of good intentions.” Torn books needing tape, toys in need of new batteries, candle holders that require the wax coaxed out of them, all are placed on this shelf, with the good intention of getting to them, someday.

Each day, my shelf of good intentions fills quickly. There’s not a lot of “why not now.”

I haven’t been very productive lately in my writing. I have been writing, but writing is slow, and I want to portion for myself dollops of guilt over it. I know excuses, and I know their danger. What I’ve learned is that most excuses are nothing more than false bottoms to the drawers in which we store our intentions. It is a favorite pastime of mine to lift the false bottom and see what’s underneath.

Underneath my excuses for not being productive (I’m tired, I can’t focus, I’m not sure what to do next), is a very real problem with depression. Not just down, not just blue, but so much more than I ever want to give language to, because naming something gives it a place, doesn’t it? You don’t name a stray if you want to stay unattached, and calling this what it is makes it a part of me, when I want no part in it.

All my life, all my life, I have started my days against the voices, the voices that tell me not to get up, not to move forward, not to bother because what I have to offer isn’t worth anyone else’s time. Those voices say don’t speak up, don’t embarrass myself by admitting just what I’m thinking.

So I harden myself, first against the voices, then against everything else.

The hardening is the scariest part of all, when I have to be still, I have no choice, or those things that scare me most peel out of their skin and show themselves, dark, stark, and stinking of the lies I fight not to believe.

My first act of defiance is to do just what those voices tell me not to do, to speak up. Before I can, I have to learn to ignore what tears through me in terror, begging, warning, screaming of what people might think of me now. I first tell my husband, then a friend, then another, then my family, because I am scared and I am exhausted, but I will not give in without a fight.

There is a pain with depression. It is what we expect. Those who have to watch as their loved ones falter look for signs of the pain.

I hid it well, until I didn’t.

But just past the pain is a secret room called apathy. It is a numb so deep no hand reaching in to help can be understood for the blessing it is. It is where all the ash is stored, with only a glancing memory of fire.

I lose chunks of myself in apathy. I scoop out what I can and I wait.

A hand on my shoulder and I tense up. Only the hardest of hearts would resent the rescue, but here I am. There will be healing, but don’t force this girl to stand.*

The pain comes back and mixes with apathy, creating a mire at the bottom of my pit, and only then, after I have smacked away the hand reaching down to help me up, only when that mire starts to feel like home, do I reach up.

It’s not shame that keeps me there. It is a fundamental misapplication of the idea that I must always come to the table with something pleasant to offer. It is also knowing that asking for help will bring a certain amount of attention, which is something I could live my whole life without.

I realize I have put myself on the shelf of good intentions, and I have been waiting… for what?

A clear space to work? One confession, a single naming of the depression that taunts, and the piles of good intentions crash right off that shelf.

There. Now it’s a workbench.

Naming it didn’t attach it to me any further. It just gave it weight, it let me admit to the space I needed to recover.

With a habit of hardening, I now have a choice. What do I let slip into the hollow, now that so much of me has been shaken loose? Will I let that new piece be stronger? Bolder? More tender than the hardened over scar tissue of hurts past?

Will I let the new piece grow closer to the curve of who I am, who I could be, or will I let the growth be stunted by the voices yet again?

I know the answer I want.

What have you placed on the shelf of good intentions? What, exactly, are you waiting for?

*This is a line from the song “For Those Below” by Mumford and Sons.

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7 thoughts on “My Shelf of Good Intentions”

  1. Beautiful and hard words to write, I know they were. Do you want to know what I think when you do speak up? Brave and real and gutsy and honest. I was so darn excited to see a blog post from you in my inbox today!!

  2. For those of us who suffer from depression that cannot be explained by our lives or circumstances, it makes it even harder to explain it to others. You have done a beautiful job here, although I clearly wish none of this was the case for you, or us. I second Meredith’s sentiment in being excited to see a blog post from you in my inbox this morning. And since you spoke up and shared this current struggle, it reminded me (again) that I am not the only person struggling with these good intentions shoved into the back of a drawer for no logical reason. And I hope it helps you to be reminded that you are not alone, nor the only one who feels this way. And that it’s OK to feel this way and struggle. It is not your fault, nor is it a flaw. It just is. And while it is indeed a struggle, you have overcome it, and you will again. Thank you for sharing this, Alli. Your honesty and bravery helps others function, and I hope that same honesty and bravery grows stronger in you, and helps you function as well.

  3. I have an easle sitting with good intentions of me beginning a painting. I have a piano lying dormant with the top down waiting until the time comes for me to play it again. I have ideas for sewing that finally led me to put away the machine. And, what I’ve learned especially over these last 7 years of being a single mom is that when I hang out waiting for the right time to come, I find it slipping further away, pushing me more into despair, leading to a place of darkness. So, those good intentions listed are now just that, and instead of me waiting I rest in knowing that I don’t have to…that when the time is come for me to paint, I’ll paint; when the time is come for me to play, my fingers will tickle the ivories; when I feel inspired to sew up a cute pillow, I’ll sew. I now rest in being okay with that. I find solace in a simpler way of keeping my life in tact so that I’m not swallowed up by good intentions left lingering leaving me sad. In the meanwhile, I’ve also accepted what is my life and stopped hoping for anything else that I figured would be so much better. Depression is all-consuming; being an alcoholic, I know this very well. But there is a way out: doing just what you have done. Naming it. In recovery we call this “surrendering”. Now, you can move forward, and if you choose, with help, the spaces will indeed be filled with more positive shapes, intended or not. 🙂 Much love! XOXO-Kasey

    1. I love this. Thank you for sharing. It is a great release to just let some things go. Not forever, just for now, and worlds will not crumble in the letting go. That said, I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this gracious comment of yours often, to remind myself.

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