Soul Sickness and Soul Healing (Marsha)

Today’s post comes from my wife, Marsha.  If you would like to submit a post for Just A Thought, please contact Marsha, editor of this site, at

In the quirky 1990 romantic comedy, “Joe Versus the Volcano,” one of Meg Ryan’s characters tells Joe (played by Tom Hanks), “My sister is soul sick.”  Actually, everyone in this movie is soul sick, and the plot, of course, is about how through risking life and heart, they find their way back to soul health.  The story involves a made-up brain disease, a sea voyage, and ultimately a leap into an active volcano – crazy, entertaining stuff – but the idea of soul sickness has always stuck with me.

I am quite certain that we all know soul sickness.  I don’t want to try to define it, and I certainly don’t presume to know how to cure it.  I do want to play with it, though – soul sickness and soul healing – by sharing from my own life.

In 2007 I was 50 and experiencing a long list of symptoms related to what is termed “perimenopause.”  I had read enough to know that there is a wide range of how women experience these hormonal changes.  Some women sail through with little disruption, while others experience physical and emotional distress of varying degrees.  I prided myself in being healthy and assumed I would be in the former group when my time came.  It was a blow to my self-image as I read through a list of common symptoms and, check, check, check, I had to admit that I was having a hard time of it.  The worst was a frightening depression that unmistakably came and went in concert with the roller-coaster rise and fall of my hormone levels.  This, my propensity to downplay and deny my distress, even to myself, and the fact that it was all intertwined with other stressful circumstances, led me to a place of soul sickness.

It was during the hardest months of that year that, out of nowhere it seemed, I had an overpowering desire to crawl into the earth, literally, and cocoon myself there.  To be exact, I wanted to hollow out a little section of earth, exactly the size of me, and lie down on my back.  I wanted to be surrounded by low shrubs so that I was enveloped, and I wanted to stay there until I didn’t need to be there anymore.  It was a shocking and unexpected compulsion that was not in any way connected to my conscious thoughts.  It felt like my body was demanding it, and that I had to comply.  I had never experienced anything like this, but I didn’t question it.  I knew that it was coming from a trusted place, and that it had to do with my well-being.  I knew it was about soul healing.

The problem was that I didn’t know where I could actually do it.  It was April in Chicago, which is still pretty cold.  That wasn’t a problem; I could wear a coat in my cocoon.  But I didn’t have a place that would work.  There was no spot in our little back yard, and even if there had been, how would I explain if the neighbors in our building found me?  Hi, don’t worry about me, I just need to lie here for a little while.  I’ll put the dirt back when I’m done.  No, this really was a private endeavor.  I told Pat about it.  Mystic that he is, he was wholly supportive and tried to help me think where to go.  Public parks were too public and we couldn’t think of any friends with appropriate spaces.

Ultimately, I simply did not figure out how to respond to what my soul was telling me it needed while the need was at its most urgent.  A few weeks later though, on Mother’s Day, when the urgency had mostly passed but its intense memory was still with me, I came up with a doable plan.  I found a spot in a reclaimed dune area on the shore of Lake Michigan and burrowed into the sand.  There, shrouded by dune plants, I lay while I wrote a poem to my son who had just graduated from college.  I lay there until I didn’t need to anymore.

I realize that most times our lives do not send us such dramatic messages.  I think I learned some things about soul sickness and soul healing, though.  First, I’m quite sure that I could have persevered and found a private, healing space before the urgent need subsided.  If I could do things over now, I would not let the moment pass.  But I’m also really glad that I went ahead and did something that was less than perfect in its timing and locale.  I try, now, to tune in and respond to the little messages I get – to take a walk, to write a card, to turn away from a bad choice.

Second, my experience in 2007 was a striking message about how important the natural world is to our well-being.  We can easily fall into thinking that our species lives independent from the rest.  But we are animals, and we need the earth under our feet, the sun on our faces, the wind blowing against our skin.  If disconnection leads to soul sickness, then connection may help us to heal.

Just a thought…