Hey, What's Your Spirit Animal?

I was delighted when a prospective employer recently asked me this question. I hope she appreciates “eager” in a team member because it didn’t take long for me to reply, “I have two: A whale, and Sadness from Pixar’s inside out.”

Whales have long held significance for me. I grew up vacationing in Maine and over the years,  my family went on several whale watches. There is something so otherworldly about seeing these mammals of the sea glide in and out of the ocean, sharing their secret language with slack jawed spectators. For a dreamer like me, a four hour cruise deep into the Atlantic felt like a magical journey into a world my imagination could barely conceive.

Years later I discovered that whales symbolize creativity, and more than that, they are known as the record keepers of time. Their ability to communicate transcends distance as they can send messages miles away to warn family of danger, or to let their child know where they are. In some teeny, tiny way, I like to think that I write for the same reason. To bridge the gap, to send love, and to make note of what was happened for fear I will forget once the storm passes.

From our whale watch in Cape Cod, Mass. 2015

From our whale watch in Cape Cod, Mass. 2015

Going back to my childhood memories of whales, I think I also aspire to live the life of a whale. They're slow and that's ok, it's just who they are. I might have a NYC walking pace, but in many other ways, I am slow. Slow to rise in the morning, slow to process my feelings. Slow to understand insurance deductibles and excel formulas.

Whales spend most of their time underwater, doing their slow, whale thing, but when they do emerge, it is to breathe and eat, then lots of people take pictures and watch in wonder. I mean, I can think of worse gigs. It's low key famous, basically.

As for Sadness, well she's my girl. I loved Pixar's Inside Out, and was immediately drawn to Sadness's anxious fretting and adorable blueness. I related instantly to her fear that Joy was a crazy fairy who sure, was fun at a party, but may prove unreliable when navigating life's inevitable disappointments. 

It doesn't feel macabre or dark to relate to Sadness. When I finally began confessing, sharing and writing about my depression, it lessened. Some of its power was taken away and the burden felt lighter. I found most people didn't comment that I was weird to feel sad so often, but that they related with heartfelt "me too's."

Joy is a good and beautiful thing, but it's my sadness that anchors me. Some people of faith may be troubled by this as Joy is not only a gift believers have, but also a mandate whose end result is hope. I love hope! But I also love that God acknowledges sorrow, mourning and grief, and that joy comes in the morning. It is ok to be afraid and sad first.

" I say this to bring you peace. For in this world you will have trouble, but TAKE HEART; I have overcome the world."  ( Got the capitalized part of that scripture tattooed on my arm because SHORT TERM MEMORY problems.)

Sometimes I think of sadness as empathy that is easily accessible. I like that I am still moved to tears by both mundane and extraordinarily sad things every day. It will in fact, be a sad day, when the broken things of this world don't make my heart hurt.

Depression and sadness are different. Even when my depression is managed by medication, or for some reason held at bay, my sadness is still there reminding me of my humanity and that it isn't anything to fear.

Photo via PIXAR.

Photo via PIXAR.

If you were to come to my house, you would find symbols of my spirit animals though out my home. A Sadness figurine sits atop my desk, next to a mustard jar from France that features all the Inside Out characters. (My friends sure do know me.) There are whales ( and anchors) just about everywhere you look. If you needed to describe my home's style, I would suggest: Coastal Queens. Hey, we do live on an island.

These visuals make me happy. They are reminders of the temporal and the eternal. They are glorified tchotchkes and priceless keepsakes.  

If we meet at a party, don't tell me your sign, tell me what your spirit animal is. It might be a revealing look into your authentic self and why you are the way you are. Or it might just mean you really love cats.

Don't have one? Ask yourself what animals always seem to "find you," or that you feel inexplicably drawn to. Be open to the fact that your spirit animal might be Michael Scott. If all else fails, take one of countless spirit animal quizzes on the internet.