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When I left the little house on the tree-lined street, I didn’t say goodbye. I had room left in my suitcases; I didn’t take all of my things. Although a part of me knew that it might be goodbye, I couldn’t face it until I found myself in the embrace of my family and friends. I could barely envision a month without him, let alone a lifetime.

I had struggled with depression since the onset of my teenage years, a black cloud coming out of nowhere, knocking me to my knees. The blackness enshrouded everything, I couldn’t see beyond it, it bore down on me like a ton of bricks, making every movement difficult. He would lift me out of bed, hold my hand, lead me to the shower, turn the water on, wait for it to be just right. When he would close the door, I would fall to the floor, my head between my knees, the running water pounding down into me, masking my sobs.

It wasn’t all the time, yes? It happened once, maybe twice, a year. Like someone pushed me brusquely over the edge, and there I was tumbling down into this black abyss, falling, falling, falling, with nothing to hold on to.

The rest of the time, things were normal. I was happy sometimes, sad sometimes, you know, like normal people. But the threat of being yanked out of regular life and into this dark parallel universe- where I was all alone and everything was so impossibly black, so impossibly bleak- stayed with me every day.

I thought: I can never be a mother like this.

I thought: I’m not worthy of love.

I thought: I can’t take this for much longer.

And then, I began to see the edges of the black cloud as it approached, was surprised to see I had been wrong: it didn’t come out of nowhere. I learned to see it coming, to take an alternate route. I learned that if, when I felt like I was about to be pushed over the edge, I pushed back just a little, chose happiness, I could grab onto life, keep my feet on the ground.

I realized that if I treated myself warmly, gently, with compassion- I wouldn’t fall into this black, sticky, sinking tar pit of despair. I began treating myself with kindness: it turned the tables.

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One of the things my inner voice pipes up repeatedly is: “This life is too difficult for me”.

I used to hear this voice and ignore it. Hear it and ignore it, pushing it down rapidly, forcefully, every time it surfaced, like a weasel popping up on the screen of a video game, and you have 0.05 seconds to bang it, quickly, right on the head.

But in those periods of depression, it was like all those weasels hiding under the holes and popping up one by one, or sometimes a few in tandem? It was like there were no holes but a big, giant army of weasels and they were all crowding the screen, and even if you went ape-shit crazy on them with that oversized animated hammer, they just kept reappearing and crowding the screen like some crazy nightmare, all of them screeching that mantra that would no longer be ignored.

This life is too difficult for me, this life is too difficult for me, this life is too difficult, too difficult, too difficult.

And I would enter into a merciless dialogue with it:

This life is too difficult

Clearly, you can’t handle it!

This life is too difficult

Something is obviously very wrong with you!

This life is too difficult

Shut up and move on!

This life is too difficult

Why can’t you shut up and move on?!

This life is too difficult

Why are you so weak and incapable?!

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Last spring, when my world was tangled in indecision, I sat in a circle of women in a room filled with plants and beaded cushions, way up in Harlem, talking about hungers.

Rachel said: What if we learned to listen to our inner voice? What if we listened kindly and patiently the way we would listen to a small child? What if we responded with kindness and empathy?

What if we did everything in our power to answer its requests?

I had been spending time with my friend’s little girls, and when they would ask me for something, clamoring, reaching towards me with their little hands, I would bend down, look them in the eye, talk to them in a voice softened with love.

What if I treated my inner voice this way? What if, instead of berating myself, instead of tightening myself up in anger and self-loathing, and letting myself know in no uncertain terms that I was not enough, I chose to respond to that inner voice with empathy and kindness?

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Nowadays, when that voice inside me whispers “life is too difficult,” I listen, and respond: What can I do to make it easier? What can I do to bring you joy? What needs adjusting?

You’re doing great, I say. It’s ok for you to feel things are a little difficult. You’re going to be ok.

A lot of my relationship with Yaki was tied into this, tied into my relationship with myself. I thought: I am not worthy of love as I am.

When I began treating myself with kindness, listening to my voice, I began a radically different relationship with myself, and I arrived at our points of interaction differently.

Around the same time, I began this blog, and began writing. As I sat down to write to you, I would clear out all of the noise, and listen. And in writing, my voice became clearer, and more demanding, and I couldn’t continue to ignore it.

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Leaving him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, because I still loved him. I loved him with this big, total love that engulfed me, that threatened to engulf him. And it scared the hell out of me to let go of the object of that love, and of that love itself; that was such a huge, gigantic part of me.

I loved him, and I felt at home with him, and it was everything that I knew.

Leaving him was fraught with fear of the unknown. I thought: What if I will never find love like this again? What if I will never be a mother? What will it feel like to be on my own? How much will it hurt to miss him? How long will I miss him? How will I make it on my own? What if I can’t do it? What if I’m making the wrong decision?

During my last month in New York I kept on coming across passages that asked: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What would you do if you were fearless? And that little voice inside me kept on whispering: Leave Yaki.

That month, I went on a retreat in Upstate New York. One evening, we sat in a large circle as Marianne Elliott, one of the organizers and an inspiring yoga instructor, recounted her life story, and told us a parable:

“Fear,” she said, “is like a sentinel standing guard at the edge of a walled garden. That walled garden is your comfort zone- the known. Whenever you try to leave the garden, the guard perks up and shouts: Stop! Don’t do it! It’s scary out there! Stay inside!”

“Wave at the guard,” she said. “Acknowledge what he’s saying, and then: Go anyways.”

I had been waiting for my fear of leaving to lessen. I made lists and charts with pros and cons; I consulted late into the night with my closest friends. The fear, it was always there, this great big ball stuck in my throat.

Marianne said: Fear is always there, we all live with fear. Acknowledge it, go anyways.

I decided to treat myself with kindness, and that meant listening to myself and that inner voice that told me this relationship was no longer right for me. That this was not the life I wanted.

And then, despite the giant ball of fear that lived in my throat: I waved to the guard, and headed out of the garden.

And on the other side of fear? Things are never as scary as you thought they would be.

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Roasted Peaches with Cherries & Ricotta

Inspired by Dash and Bella

Serves 4-6 as a side dish or appetizer

3 peaches, sliced into eighths

15-20 cherries, halved and pitted

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (thick is best)

4 sprigs fresh thyme

3/4 cup ricotta or fresh goat cheese

1/3 cup chopped parsley

Preheat broiler to high.

Place the peaches and cherries in a baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and toss to coat. Top with thyme sprigs. Broil (not too close to the flame) until softened, and just starting to brown along the edges (about 15 minutes). Remove from the oven and tuck spoonfuls of cheese amidst the cooked fruit. Broil again until cheese just starts to brown. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve immediately with grilled bread and  a green salad.

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