Don’t Share Burdens, Mold Them

I used to imagine emotional burdens as heavy and unwieldy. Picture the classic Christian image of Jesus carrying a large wooden cross to his execution. The object is huge, taller and wider than himself, and dense. On his way, he thrice loses his footing and collapses. Finally, a bystander is tasked with helping him continue.

This was my mental model. Say I’m struggling with dark thoughts. Those thoughts and feelings are my cross, and they crush me. Who could I ask to help me? Anyone I reach out to would also have this cross on their back. I can’t do that to someone else. And who would even want to? So I toil on, unaided and unrelieved.

Well. This week in therapy, I hit upon a metaphor that I think makes for a better mental model. It’s one that I’m going to try like hell to adopt. What if emotional burdens are less like a cross and more like a lump of clay. Clay still has substance and heft. It still gets people dirty. But if you want to get something productive out of clay, you don’t give it away. You shape it into something useful.

Your advocates might still get a little dirty, but they can walk away from the clay. They can help you form a vessel or an artwork or a slightly more pleasing shape. If they mess up in the act of trying to help, it doesn’t leave you with nothing. It doesn’t add to your burden. You simply have to redo some of it.

It takes time and tools to make clay into pottery. You may not get to every lump in your lifetime. Some pieces you’ll make alone, by choice or by necessity. That’s the nature of a life that is constantly producing raw material to work with. However, it’s the nature of an artist to do something with that material.

Don’t share the clay; mold it.