Crystals and Tarot Cards Can’t Always Solve Your Problems

After a strong dose of Life Shit, Anne T. Donahue realizes that she needed something stronger to overcome her crushing sadness

Photo of a young, red-headed woman holding a clear crystal to her forehead-inline

(Photograph: Getty)

It feels like a cliche to be relieved that winter is over. Especially since I’m not a self-identifying summer person: I don’t like the beach, I don’t want to sit on the grass in the park, and I need SPF 60 to ensure things don’t go terribly wrong. But as we know, people change. And with those changes come the realization that what we needed before isn’t necessarily what makes us feel better now. In 2017, I liked the cold darkness of fall and winter. In 2018, I need warmth and sunlight and the reminder that we’re all alive, and not alone. I’ve surrendered to the idea that the world is a little bit bigger than me.

I operate under the illusion that I can control everything. Deep down, I know this isn’t true and that I’m at the mercy of whatever-forces-of-nature tend to dictate terms, but the belief that micromanaging parts of my life will fix the bigger parts has kept me buoyant. Feeling burned out? Cancel plans. Overwhelmed? Channel any/all emotions into good, old-fashioned work. Terrified about the future? Read tarot cards and clutch those crystals. I am in charge of my destiny, so go fuck yourselves.

Of course, that’s not the way it works. And considering I’ve been reading tarot cards since I was a wee baby teen, I should know that. But instead of using tarot as a mirror (which is how it works), I spent most of last fall turning it into a crutch, consulting it over the expansive landscape of uncertainties while telling myself that the right combination of crystals and cards and Moon Juice Spirit Dust could help me avoid pitfalls, lead me to victory and ward off sadness.

That fucking sadness. Thanks to a strong dose of Life Shit™, sadness hit me harder this winter than I remembered it ever hitting before. And quickly, my tried and true standards of evading and micro-managing feelings combusted and left me in the worst possible position: stuck dealing with all them for real. And no amount of meditation or mindfulness could get me through it. So finally, thanks to talking to friends and family, my therapist and doctor, I began to do just that. I talked about how I was feeling, and I acknowledged that processing and sorting through things can take time. I went to my doctor and got my medication increased because I’d gone over a year without checking in on the dosage. I let people in, and surrendered to the fact that I was a person who wasn’t immune to sadness or feeling out of control or bad things happening. And eventually, the sadness began to melt away with the snow and ice. Because that’s the thing about stress and trauma and mental health disorders: spirituality alone can’t possibly cover it all.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t a place for it—there absolutely is. But no one thing can rescue you, and it’s unfair to assume that it will. For me, tarot had squeezed out of what it should be (a source of guidance) and became concrete evidence of one extreme thing or another, mainly because I didn’t want to address what was really happening: that I felt sad and tired and overwhelmed and couldn’t deal with all of it on my own. I didn’t want to be a person who needed help like “regular” people, I wanted to be living proof that my own power could keep any and all negativity at bay. Which isn’t a thing. Not even the most centered soul can evade the curse of how life works. Not even the calmest and dedicated mindfulness believer can ward off the heaviness that requires an actual prescription. In the same way we’re the sum of our parts, there is no one answer to happiness (or to just not feeling debilitatingly depressed). No one thing can save you. Because we’re all so much more than that.

I put my tarot cards and crystals away the other day, taking them off my bureau and putting them into a drawer after someone asked if I’d read their cards and I had to decline. I explained that it takes a lot of energy and right now I’m working on rebuilding my own. I didn’t tell her that I needed space after projecting my own shit onto them and that right now, they remind me a bit of the person I was over the winter and while I know that person was necessary, I need a break from it all for a bit. But I did tell her where to pick up her own deck if she wanted to start reading. Because that’s the thing about tarot and crystals and whatever form of spirituality you believe in: they subscribe to your rules, and you decide what they’re going to mean to you.

They still mean something to me. But if this winter taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need to figure out exactly what that is today.

More wisdom from Anne T. Donahue:
How to Embrace Your Ever-Shifting Self
Why Positivity Can Go Fuck Itself
How to Use Professional Jealousy to Get What You *Really* Want
Dressing for How You’re Feeling—Even If How You’re Feeling Is Shit
Even Unf-ckwithable Women Need Help Sometimes