The Open Freedom of Starting Over After Falling Apart

You know what’s cool about finally dealing with a lot of trauma and unpacking a lot of pain while in the midst of realizing I’ve been going down the wrong path for a decade or so? It’s never too late to turn it all around. Even in the midst of dreadful emotional pain that takes a toll on every aspect of my being, I can see a way through it. Going down the wrong path doesn’t mean I need to continue on it. My life can go anywhere from here. I feel the excitement and freedom of a lot of open possibilities.

Somehow I feel compelled to get on better terms with myself before I make any life-changing decisions. Then again, loving yourself sounds like a cliche in some ways. There are fantastic, feel-good think pieces scattered all over the place about the merits of finding ways to love yourself, aren’t there? It seems like something every good feminist should be able to do. I can’t save the world, but I should at least be able to do that, right? Bring on additional emotional daggers aimed at my heart because I can’t even get that right.

Love myself? I feel guilty because I am not anywhere near the country of confidence yet. I’m not even in the same hemisphere. I’ve been there in fleeting moments. Having been in love, though, I know that love isn’t something that comes and goes; if you truly love someone, it’s always there even when the intensity of it soars sky high or temporarily recedes a bit. My feelings for myself are more like long periods of loathing with brief reprieves of something akin to non-hatred.

I mean, I have a basic level of respect for myself. I’d never intentionally hurt any human being or other sentient being. I try to help others when I can. I try to do the right things. I hope to be able to do a lot of good someday.

That level of understanding about myself does not mean that I love myself, though. I care enough about myself to generally keep myself out of harm’s way, which is no easy feat for someone hell-bent on self-destruction who deals with a PTSD, depression, and anxiety. For someone who has no interest in drinking alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or premarital sex, I’ve done a remarkable job of self-destructing. (Not that there's anything destructive or wrong with those things at all; I just tried so hard to avoid certain things since I have an addictive personality.)

So, love myself? Eh. (I’m not Canadian. That’s said with my Southern twang.) It’s really more like: Hell, no. I don’t love myself.

I do like parts of myself, though. I can grant you that much.So, I’m at a checkmate sort of position. I feel like I need to find a way to love myself before I move forward in substantial ways, yet I just don’t. So I’ll continue to work on it. Sometimes just realizing our own limitations can be so freeing. Rather than ignore the bad things, looking at them and feeling whatever it is that they inspire is an act of love for yourself. I’m doing that, so at least I’m acting loving towards myself.

I challenge myself to continue acting in a loving way to myself, and if you’re struggling with these things, too, I hope you do. I hope you want to do that, too. I think that’s the best way to go through life, even if it’s really tough to even pretend that I’m not repulsed by my presence. I’m going to treat myself like I’d treat someone I love.

I have no happy ending to this post, beyond the simple realization that the world is a beautiful place that holds many possibilities, and I want to try to enjoy it more today than I did yesterday. Good morning.

What It's Really Like to Have Depression, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and Anxiety

Society says not to dwell on the past, but when you have PTSD, sometimes you actually don't have a choice. You can be going about your day and suddenly - BOOM! - something will take you right back to a place and time of a severe trauma.

You may disturb or at least confuse others around you when you get extraordinarily emotional all of the sudden. It can seem like an overreaction, and the person who triggered the active, throbbing memory in your mind never intended to set this unsettling sequence in motion. So then you feel like you want to comfort the person and explain that it's not their fault, while you also feel as though you are going to completely fall apart, so you look for a way to at least bottle up the emotion until the next time you're alone. 

Triggers for me have happened in dozens of different situations. They have occurred when I was in a movie theater on a date, while taking the subway, when I was going for a walk, and once when I was interning with this boss who was kind of a jerk to me. He was the last person I wanted to witness a flashback/memory meltdown, yet there it was in all its messy glory. If you're lucky, it happens in front of someone who is sensitive to your situation and feelings. 

The most recent time that I had a triggering experience, I was with someone who was very caring, but I was upset at the current conversation as well as simultaneously having a traumatic flashback. Those double-whammy moments happen sometimes, and they're hard to handle because it's hard to articulate exactly where the pain of the past ends and the pain over the current dilemma begins. Maybe the current situation isn't so dire, but it feels every bit as painful as the old one. In fact, when pain gets stacked on top of pain, it can feel much, much worse.

Another dirty trick to these flashbacks is that the pain doesn't just evaporate as quickly and suddenly as it appeared. Sometimes the intensity of the pain continues for days, weeks, and sometimes - rarely, for me - months. Something unexpectedly triggered me yesterday, and I'm still reeling from the pain, although I'm trying to enjoy simple pleasures in this very day.

I am in a great deal of emotional pain. Just like yesterday, I have a raw ache that feels like a hollow wound in my chest. It feels like the wholeness that maybe once made up my entire heart was ripped out slowly. leaving a jagged, open wound. It feels like someone tried to put it back in, only to rip it out again, leaving a fresh injury that's more painful that ever, made worse by having perceived that things could get better. Now it feels they won't get better, and tears flow.

I find tears flooding my eyes and blurring my vision of my computer screen as I try to write. I want to take a nap to forget the pain for a while, but I have severe anxiety when it comes to lying down in bed. I can’t sleep unless I am so tired that I’m about to pass out, or I will feel overcome with anxiety to the point where I downward spiral into a ball of terrified, tear-spewing human goo in a matter of minutes.

I thought something I recently said would be cathartic and perhaps was a necessary component to healing, but I want to take it back. That’s the thing, though. Life is always changing, and you can’t redo stuff.

I am dealing with pain that has long been ignored. I’m not falling apart; I’m trying to put myself truly together. However, I'm told that things get worse before they get better. 

Anxiety tells me all kinds of horrible things in the meantime. It asks me to look at all the ways I’ve made friendships worse when I could have made them better. It shows me every possible way I’ve pushed people away when I’ve wanted to bring them closer. It makes me look up close and personal at anything I’ve possibly done wrong in my life, and then yells at me for what a horrible person I am to not have done better at everything on every day of my entire life. The shame follows suit, bringing home the point that everything bad that’s ever happened to me was all my fault, especially my dad’s suicide, because surely I should have been able to prevent that.

So, in the midst of all this, I haven’t been as productive as I was able to be in the past. That brings on more shame and distances me further from being able to do what I want and need to do. I am finding ways to be more productive going forward even when emotional pain rains down.

In fact, there’s this huge part of me that is the most hopeful, overly cheerful optimist who believes that something good always comes from even the most awful, horrible things. That same part of me wants to rejoice because I am learning better ways to deal with the anxiety and depression, and it is reassuring to remind myself that severe pain is only temporary.

I've found joy in little things today. I stopped crying for a bit and savored the experience of going shopping for some necessities. Tomato soup, vegan spring rolls, and a 12-pack of diet coke with Taylor Swift lyrics on the cans were entirely too much fun to shop for...Today completing the most basic tasks sort of took on the shift of being pleasurable and fun because they were accomplishments. I am being productive and doing what I need to do to continue on. Buying food is life-affirming; making meal plans for the near future is reassuring. 

There's a strange intersection of depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Maybe they are all covered under the simple title of PTSD. I am dealing with it as best I can, and my best is enough for me. Ultimately, everyone who battles any or all of these things will have their own experience of them, with symptoms probably not quite like mine. I think what we can all agree on is that it's totally okay to find fun in small things. The sparks of joy we've nourished can mean the most when things seem otherwise bleak.

How I Made a Kit for Surviving Suicidal Feelings

I am not too thrilled about the fact that I suffered with suicidal feelings on a recurring basis since my father shot himself to death when I was ten years old. I would not wish this living hell of mental anguish on anybody, not even that mean bully boy who once told me I’d end up crazy like my father or those rude people who talk in the cinema right when the movie gets good.

If you are in immediate danger, you need to call 911. For someone to talk to right away, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Also, here’s a list of crisis centers all over the world. You’re not alone in this, no matter how much it feels like you may be.

When you are feeling okay, it’s important to be as proactive as you can when it comes to self-care. One thing that made a big difference for me was creating my own kit for surviving suicidal feelings in case they come back. I’m not taking those lying, stinking feelings lying down. After all, feelings are not facts, and they pass. Until they pass, they can hold you hostage, though, so it’s important to build up a defense against them. I can simply say that these things are helpful for me.

Do Something Else

When you are feeling really hopeless, and ideation of suicide starts to overpower your strong self, try to do something else. Get your mind off things for a little bit. That’s not a long-term solution, but getting away from the pain of dwelling on the thoughts can work wonders.

Make a list of 10, 100, or 1,000 things that you can do immediately to distract yourself when things get rough. Don’t pressure yourself. Start small and add to it over time. Here’s what I started with:

  • Go for a walk around the block. (If I don’t want to see anyone, I have a one-mile, walk-in-place workout DVD I walk along to.)

  • Make cookies. (I try to eat one and give the rest away, but the baking itself is comforting.)

  • Call a friend. (You don’t have to talk about your sorrows if you don’t want to, but try to clue one friend into your troubles, one who is able to be there for you. It was a dear friend who led me to start my entire healing journey to begin with…

  • Make a new friend. If you feel lonely, you may even join some social media groups where you can chat with strangers who can become friends. Keep an open heart to new friendships. (I met one of my best friends through the comments on Judith Light’s Facebook page at a time when I wasn’t even seeking a new friend, but I can’t imagine my life without her now.)

  • Make something. (If you like to draw, maybe draw a visual representation of something that stretches your thoughts beyond what’s currently consuming them. Try another craft you love or maybe a new one altogether.

  • Watch a movie that filled you with wonder as a child. (For me, that was The Brady Girls Get Married. I cannot watch that movie and remain sad, and it’s always been so. Your choice can be any movie that helped you feel that life was beautiful and dreams can come true. If it doesn’t make you feel good to revisit that, try another type of comfort movie. Films that encourage you to feel good are ones to treasure and bring out at a time like this.)

Read Things That Empower You

Reading is one of my favorite things to do. I find it immensely fun. If it’s not your thing, don’t feel pressured to read. If you want to try it, you may simply find something to read that gets your mind off things. If you want to read things that I’ve found helpful for depression and anxiety, you may try these things.

  • Someone To Talk To: Understanding How Therapy Heals - This book by Joyce Houser, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is a unique and beautifully written book that explains what you can expect from the therapy experience. It covers the concerns and questions you’ll likely have when it comes to anticipating the process of therapy.
  • Hyperbole and a Half - This hilarious blog isn’t usually about depression, but there are two genius blog entries (Part 1 and Part 2) that express a woman’s experience with depression in a beautiful, heartbreaking, and profound way.

  • Lisa Jakub’s Blog - Lisa Jakub is the author of You Look Like That Girl, a memoir I really enjoyed about her adventures as a child star of such films as Mrs. Doubtfire as well as her life beyond Hollywood. She also blogs on Lisa writes about her struggles with anxiety and often speaks up on the topic. Her post, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety and Other Perks of Being Me, is really powerful. Her writing helps me feel freer to speak about my struggles, and even this social media post encourages you to embrace your weird. How cool is that?

  • Positive Psychology of Emily Vansonnenberg - Emily Vansonnenberg is a fabulous therapist, consultant, university instructor, and researcher in Positive Psychology. This guest post she had on Corey Parker’s Blog for Actors inspired me to take much better care of myself. I have re-read it multiple times and implemented many of her suggestions for self-care.

  • The QC Report - Quinn Cummings is my all-time favorite writer. She’s hilarious and always makes me smile, yet she also addresses serious topics and has a lot of profound things to say. She has written three books, including Pet Sounds. Her blog, The QC Report, is fantastic, and so are her social media posts on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr

Create a Coping Playlist

Songs can save a life. Music can be earth-shaking and life-changing. It can transport your mind right back to a moment in time and a single feeling. It can even make you want to fall in love and start to believe that it’s possible for the one you love to also love you. Sometimes it can even get your mind completely off the pain that it’s in. These songs are a few of the ones that have helped me, but your own coping playlist may look completely different.

  • “The Competition” by Kimya Dawson - This marvelous tune is a frank account of a girl’s self-loathing and how she helped herself over time. Among the very powerful lyrics is this one, “I got good at feeling bad, and that’s why I’m still here.”  

  • “What It’s Like” by Everlast - What can I say? This is just a gorgeous song about empathy and putting oneself in another’s shoes.

  • “New Romantics” by Taylor Swift - As her latest single for 1989, Taylor Swift’s “New Romantics” is uplifting and invigorating. She declares, “I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me. And every day is like a battle, but every night with us is like a dream.”

  • “No Matter What You Do” by Olivia Newton-John - “No Matter What You Do” has been my favorite song since it came out in the mid-1990’s. It wasn’t even released in the United States when I first got my copy as an import, and this single off the album Gaia is a treasure. (Consider this amazing fact: Olivia Newton-John wrote the entire album Gaia while she was recovering from cancer, and it is the most positive album I’ve ever heard. The entire album is on my playlist.)

  • “Razorblade” by Blue October - The most beautiful and rage-filled song for survivors I’ve heard.

  • “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette - The ultimate song for the broken-hearted never -- and I mean, never -- gets old.

  • “Free to Be a Woman” by Jennifer Love Hewitt - This song is from the 1990’s, too, and it is an incredibly empowering tune about claiming/reclaiming your life and freedom.

  • “Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah)” by Andy Grammer - This euphoric song picks me up.

  • “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees - I remember listening to it and feeling ironic when I did not feel like doing what the song title suggested, yet it somehow cheered me up.

  • “Tequila Sunrise” by The Eagles - It reminds me of a happy memory. I recommend filling your playlist with songs that remind you of comforting, joyful memories.

I especially recommend singing along to your favorite songs. I find something infinitely comforting about doing so. Store your playlist in a place that’s easily accessible to you. YouTube allows you to create playlists, and so does iTunes and a variety of streaming websites.

Indulge Your Other Senses

Although it may not always seem like that’s the case, human beings are capable of enjoying great pleasures throughout their lives. There is so much of life that can still be enjoyed. Even when it appears that pain is the only feeling you are capable of experiencing, there can be a break in it for pleasure. Think of things that help your senses come alive. Hearing music is only one of the many pleasures that the senses can bring us.

  • Smell - Always keep a supply of fresh candles, oils, warmers, or perfumes in your favorite scents in a box that you can grab when things start to feel bad. Stash away perfume samples from magazines that you love. If you love the way your boyfriend smells, ask for a shirt that you can save. Make sure that you have access to whatever smells fill you with comfort.

  • Taste - Have easy recipes for meals or treats you can create that make you feel good. You may even opt to make a little bucket of all the ingredients you may need to make your favorite meal when you need a pick-me-up. Keep a stash of candy, gum, or other treat that helps you celebrate the pleasure of tasting something you adore.

  • Vision - Try to create a haven where you can place beautiful things all around you, even if it’s just a small corner of a room or a folder on your computer. I love art by Fairuza Balk, Edgar Degas, Annie Poon, Kara Maria Schunk, and several other artists. Having their art nearby gives me a lift.

  • Touch - Have things you love to touch readily available. Favorite fabrics and soft pillows should be on hand. Consider buying yourself a gift certificate for a massage that you can cash in when you go through a tough time. Feel wonderful things on your skin like water in a swimming pool or the wind on your face as you drive.

  • Temperature - If hot weather brings you down, and you’re feeling stifled, cool down with a fan or air conditioner, even if that means a trip to the mall or the library. If you’re cold, bunker down under an electric, heated blanket.

Try combining pleasures by doing things like filling the bathtub with scented bubble bath salts, then soaking in the warmth while you listen to classical music and read. Combine pleasures in a variety of ways that feel good to you.

Dream New Dreams, Set New Goals

So many parts make up your wonderful self. Human beings are complex, and we need to tend to the physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of our beings. When hopeless feelings creep in, sometimes it can be hard to continue to care about current goals. In those times, it may help for you reevaluate things and set new goals for yourself. This can help you on a long-term basis.

  • Spirituality - Set goals for your spirituality, which can include trying a new church or maybe just going to a Yoga class. There are many ways to experience spirituality. You can simply choose to spend the night at a campsite in a forest and see how it makes you feel. You may want to strengthen your faith. If you don’t have faith, you may want to do something else that enriches your life on a spiritual level.
  • Financial Health - I always loved the line in Meet Me In St. Louis where Rose says, “I hate, loathe, despise and abominate money.” To which her father responds, “And you also spend it.” Hey, we all spend money. I spend it, although I hate thinking about it. You don’t want to focus on things that stress you out when things are down, but try to envision what you can do that will help improve your financial health. Small, simple goals that can be done each day can ultimately result in control of your finances.

  • Relationships - Go to a movie with a friend. Invite a friend over for tea. Plan a walk or a run with a friend. Organize a get-together that doesn’t require anyone to spend money and instead focus on spending time together. Take care of your social life and get a greater sense of community by reaching out to people you care about on a regular basis. Relationships will have a better chance of thriving if both people are reaching out to each other. Focusing on doing one thing to build an important relationship can be a great thing to focus on when you’re down.

  • Happy Household - If your home life isn’t what you want it to be, create goals that can help make your home become a haven where you can relax and experience bliss. If your current home can’t become that, try to plan a move, even if it will take a few years to plan.

  • Emotional - Take care of your emotional health by doing things that make us happier. Keeping a gratitude journal where you write down three things that you are thankful for each and every day can help increase happy emotions over time. Print out emails where people said nice, loving things to you and re-read them when you need a boost of cheer.

  • Community - Volunteer for something you truly enjoy doing. If you are struggling with something, you to a support group. I go to one for my eating issues. Here’s a list of 12-step meetings for all kinds of problems. One of the cool things about support groups is that most are free; all 12-step meetings should be.

  • Physical - According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise eases the symptoms of depression, and we know it’s important for physical health. It can also be a great distraction when negative thoughts are overwhelming.

  • Mind - Your mental health needs to be an ongoing priority, so take steps to do things like meet with your therapist regularly and consider even enlisting the help of a life coach or other support network that can keep you mentally healthy and look out for your best interests.

  • Body - Celebrate your body exactly the way it is now. Take care of it and treat it as kindly as you can. We all have self-destructed when it comes to our bodies in some way. Just because you start down a path, you don’t have to finish going down it. You can turn around at any moment, and I think it’s important to stop ourselves each time we start going down the path to body-hate that can so easily consume us.

  • Intellectual - Excite your mind by studying something you always wanted to learn. You can take a music class via Skype or sign up for a free online class from places like FutureLearn. Learning how I can help others through effective altruism is also great on multiple levels.

  • Nutrition - Try to make smart choices when it comes to what you put into your body, ones that are balanced with the emotional needs for baking cookies and indulging in occasional Icees at the gas station. (Oh, wait, is that just me?) Make nutritional choices that make your body feel good.

  • Career - Set short-term and long-term goals for your career. If you are not yet making a living out of your chosen career, also make goals for earning money and establishing a nice, steady income. That’ll help you be more dedicated to your career over time. It’s amazing how much healthier I feel on a lot of levels when I’m not stressed about money.

  • Meaningful Pastime - Nurture new hobbies. Try to include things that you may find both fun and useful, such as discovering traditions for a place you plan to go.

Make a Hope Chest

Since I’m a hopeless romantic, I am excited about the idea of getting married someday. While I am ambitious when it comes to my career, the real heart of what makes life worth living to me are the people I love, and who would hold a more special place in one’s life than the person you marry? A good marital life sounds like something to aspire to building. At the same time, I certainly don’t need a man to complete my life, and I’m not even ready for anything serious right now. However, I like the idea of having a hope chest for the wedding and marriage that I want to have someday. Among the things in my hope chest? An authentic, officially licensed, unused vintage Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun” Hallmark wedding book from the 1970’s. That’s really specific to what I love and want; fill yours with what you love and want.

Don’t want to get married someday? You may make a hope chest for things you do want. (I also have a chest where I collect things for the pet I want to get someday.) You may want to start planning an around-the-world trip a decade in advance. Celebrate whatever sparks your greatest hopes with a “hope” chest.

Plan a Trip

Planning a trip that’s just for you can help you step out of your negative thoughts and feelings. According to The New York Times, just anticipating a vacation makes you happier, and planning a trip far in advance just gives you longer to revel in that delicious anticipation.

Consider What Truly Provides Comfort

Take it from here and design your own kit that best serves you. There are no rules for a kit that will help you survive the scariest thoughts. Fill yours with things that make you feel better, if only for a short time. Choose things that help you tune in to the part of you that truly does love yourself. After all, you have come so far and fought this long because you are worth it.

I am going to repeat: If you are in immediate danger, you need to call 911. For someone to talk to right away, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Also, here’s a list of crisis centers all over the world. You’re not alone in this, no matter how much it feels like you may be.

When Rock Bottom Becomes a Bottomless Pit

I tried to get myself something to drink yesterday morning, and tears fell into my glass of ice before I could manage to move it out of the way. They just kept flowing. I must have cried for at least a dozen hours in the past week. I wish I could throw out the painful feelings as easily as I tossed out my tear-stained ice.

I used to think that I’d discovered what rock bottom was to me. I’d been in life-threatening situations more than once, and that’s not counting the danger I was in because of my own desire to end the searing pain that comes with PTSD, depression, and some of their causes.

I figured that rock bottom was that time I bought a rope with a plan to use it or worse still, when I slit my wrists. The thing is, I didn’t end up using the rope. When I slit my wrists, I left myself with surface-level wounds that I cleaned and hid. I wasn’t seeking attention; I was seeking an end to the pain. I have googled “quick, painless ways to die” more times than anyone would like to know, but it can get worse than that.

Those were all horrible experiences, but I don’t think any of them ended up being rock bottom for me. It seems that most people refer to rock bottom as the moment when you hit the lowest point in your entire life so that you are motivated to change. That wasn’t the state I was in when I decided to work towards healing, though. In fact, what motivated me to get help wasn’t painful at all. It was gentle encouragement from a very dear friend. That felt wonderful and safe.

When I speak of my rock bottom, I am talking about that empty, aching feeling within when it feels like nothing will ever feel even a tiny bit okay again. What joy I’ve found in this world feels as though it’s been ripped away over and over again all at once. It’s an emotional ache so extreme and strong that I feel a physically painful sensation in my heart.

In getting help and working towards healing, I’ve discovered that this feeling can get worse. It can get progressively worse. Sometimes I free fall further down into the pain than I’ve ever been. I can always fall lower and descend further into the depths of pain that exist within me.

What I used to see as rock bottom was just a ledge, and beneath that is a lot more pain. You see, I found a seemingly endless well of pain within, a bottomless pit that contains all the emotional pain I’ve long neglected and glossed over and avoided like the freaking plague.

This is horrible, no-good, really bad news, right? Well, I have come to see that it’s not the case. Opening up an access point to all this pain isn’t the worst thing that has happened. It’s among the better things. I thought I was going about my life in an okay way despite the pain I’d experienced but buried. However, I was not fully living life or owning myself and my choices. I kept self-destructing in a million ways big and small. It is only in reaching down into that pit and slowly processing the pain that healing is taking place.

Luckily, so many problems that seem insurmountable are fixable. The pit may be bottomless, but the pain won’t last forever. A lot of things won’t work out in my favor, I’m sure, and that’s okay, too. Maybe some dreams won’t ever come true, but you never lose your ability to keep dreaming new dreams that can be equally as wonderful. Maybe the one you love will never love you, but romantic love isn’t the only valid, special kind of relationship. Whatever problems you may face, you can cherish people and experiences without worrying about the outcome of a situation, and life still holds wonder if you keep going on.

I’m in the middle of a long excavation process where sometimes I’m digging into the depths of misery within me. Sometimes I’m skating along the surface as I recover, and sometimes I’m ascending to greater heights of future possibilities. It’s inevitable that I’m going to trip up on really painful, rocky terrain along the path to the better life I’m seeking.

Life doesn’t just stop to allow for this kind of healing to happen, so I have to find the right balance for me to heal and still deal with life. You’ve heard of lifestyle blogs. Well, this is a blog about the changing lifestyles I’m experiencing. I have faith that these painful things won’t always be an overwhelmingly big part of my life, but I intend to chronicle my quest to deal with life in the best way I can even within the battle against past trauma, depression, and PTSD.

Pain is temporary, and that’s one of the things I’ve allowed myself to learn. When you hang on to the things that make you come alive and persevere through the tortured moments, the pain lessens if you deal with it. It truly does. Pain lessens, and life goes on.

Heading for a Land of Sunshine or Savoring Joys in the Midst of Depression

Want to know something? I'm so over not yet being over depression. Since elementary school, I’ve experienced on-and-off suicidal feelings, and I wish I could make them go away once and for all. I'd like to just wave a magic wand...and...poof...banish all such thoughts from my kingdom.

You see, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that I struggled with depression as a young girl, and it tears away at my life still. I actually go through life feeling worthless. I have come close to suicide many times. I once bought a rope with the intention of using it to kill myself, but I returned it to the store because I was out of money and wanted some more chocolate before I exited the world.

That's kind of how it goes with me. I like chocolate; I love life. I just don't appreciate the nearly constant mental anguish I have faced at some points in my life. Chronic emotional pain is tricky. Sometimes it knocks you down on an otherwise pleasant day, while other times bad news can send you suddenly spiraling from just okay to grasping for reasons to continue to exist.

When people talk about their experiences with depression, I don’t always relate. I’ve heard people say that they wouldn’t live a day of their lives over again, and that just breaks my heart. That is not true at all for me. I have good days that I would relive if I could. I hear and respect the lived experiences of others, and I have searched for ways to relate my experiences.  

Meanwhile, I savor all the happiness I can find in life, and I inevitably find some meaning in each and every day. I try to be of service when I can. I enjoy my career, and my cherished relationships with friends and family give me immense joy. Art in so many forms enriches my life; I adore many things in the world.

It’s like my kind of depression is a smothering tent that keeps hovering and closing in on top of me, but I see an opening where I peek at the beauty of the world beyond the suffocating darkness. I keep pushing it back, peeping my head outside, and reaching beyond it, trying to grab on to the wonderful reality that is here, too.

Nevertheless, the misery within that tent has held me down. For years, I felt that everyone would be better off without me. I tried to keep my friends at somewhat of a distance, despite my great love for them, because I didn't want them to be wounded if I had to go through with my suicide.

Sometimes I try to be okay for one more day or one more hour. Other times I’ve just wanted to be able to feel I could get through one more minute.

After I entered and eventually left an abusive relationship that I’d risked everything to be in, I was more devastated than ever, and it deeply wounded the part of me that had allowed me to be extremely, highly functional even within the depths of despair that depression caused me. In the midst of this agony when I was merely trying to survive, when I could not even look towards a new day without immense pain, something totally unexpected happened.

I felt a truly happy moment in time. In fact, I experienced the happiest moment of my life. It was brief and fleeting. It was silly in its scope, and I’m pretty sure it meant little to nothing to a friend who was there as well. Yet, somehow, within that flash in time, the self-hatred I’d always felt melted away for just one moment. I felt a wave of undiluted hope and a surge of utter joy. The glee was so new to me that it felt a little bit like being in a foreign land. While I have gone through life feeling worthless, for that blissful moment, I felt worthy of being there and having that experience.

What would perhaps be a silly second that passed and would have been easily dismissed by most was very significant to me. I can’t even tell you exactly why, but I can tell you that what I discovered within this feeling made me stronger. It helped me realize that the pain isn’t ceaseless and unending. It made me feel less like the monster that the depression has always made me believe myself to be.

This feeling awakened in me the need to build a life where happy feelings were possible on a frequent basis. So I asked myself: What sort of life do you truly want to create for yourself, and what sort of person do you truly want to be? As I gain more coping skills and work with more power to overcome this enormous obstacle in my daily path, I ask myself those two things more frequently. I give more thought to my answers that are still evolving.

I want to be my true self, and I am discovering more about who that is as I strive for self-improvement. As far as the sort of life I want to live, I answer this question anew as I deal with the depression and confront it and try to get a handle on it.

I can’t tell you that I don’t struggle now, but I am facing it head-on. Don't worry; I'm not in imminent danger. I am not giving in to the dark feelings. I am being proactive and taking the best care of myself that I possibly can. I’m forgiving myself when I can’t. I am getting help each day and every time that I need it. Mostly, I am keeping my heart open to the lovely things in life because I have a lot of hope that there are many more moments out there worth feeling and experiencing.

Today, I had a single vegan fortune cookie after lunch. My fortune read, “You are heading for a land of sunshine. You will always have good luck in your personal affairs.” Despite the fact that I’m a skeptic who knows it was a random cookie that I grabbed from the box, I am just idealistic enough to shrug and try to imagine that this optimistic fortune will, in fact, come true. 

My Name is Robin, and I'm A...

Welcome to my little home on the internet. Relax. Kick your feet up. Can I get you anything? Perhaps a YouTube link or an inspiring meme? No? Well, I appreciate that you’re visiting me here.

What I’m actually serving up are posts on my passions. This blog will likely be about my life, a variety of things I love, and some things I don’t love but just have to live with. It will be about my pursuit of the most joyous, kind, authentic, and love-filled life that I can create for myself.

You see, I’m determined to get lots of joy out of life despite the fact that I live with nasty, unwelcome intrusions by the name of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and what I long referred to as situational depression. (Unfortunately, it persisted in several types of situations, so I guess it’s just the regular type after all.)

There is a stigma around these things, but I refuse to cower down to my fears of speaking openly about these afflictions. That is what they are; I won’t sugar coat things. I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy, not even those nasty middle school bullies. While I plan to be open about my own struggles and triumphs when it comes to living with these things, I will fiercely protect the privacy of others in my life.

Now there are lots of brilliant online posts about depression like this one and its sequel from Hyperbole and a Half.  Among her other well-written musings, Lisa Jakub also writes beautifully about anxiety. Licensed therapist Joyce Houser wrote an incredible book about how therapy heals and helps with these types of problems.

I appreciate these writings by authors I admire and am moved by them. They’ve brought me immense comfort. I could never write as beautifully as they do. At the same time, I think that one’s struggle with depression and other disorders can be as unique as it is universal, so it is my hope that sharing things about my own personal experiences may be of some use.

Although I know it’s the most talked-about issue in the land and sea of cyber space, I may occasionally write about weight stuff. I cringe at mentioning that part because I am all for body acceptance, and it’s never my wish to body shame anyone, including myself. For several personal reasons, though, I’m on a diet, exercise, and weight loss plan. On a possibly related note, I’ll be writing about recovery from eating disorders and my huge collection of workout VHS tapes and DVDs.

Mostly I’ll be posting about writing, travel, vegan food, philosophy, books I’m mad about, dancing, music, daily walks, altruism, art that makes me shout, theater, beauty, cinema, achieving goals, volunteering, my love of God and respect for all peaceful religions, my heroes, microwave meals, and the entertainment that lifted me up as a kid. You may find yourself reading about the fun and occasionally panic-filled reality of being child-free by choice when I’m not yet fully committed to that choice.

I’ll be sharing about life as an author, my adventures in freelance writing, and the ups and downs of owning my own business. Also expect posts about the upcoming publication of my first children’s book and my first-ever national book tour!

So that’s what you can expect to find here in addition to memories of Marta Heart, the greatest dog who ever lived. While the content of this blog is likely to shift as my life changes, I expect to be going on about Marta well into my hundreds. If you’d met her, you’d still be talking about her, too.

By the way, as my domain name suggests, I’m Robin Raven. Yes, that’s my real name in the sense that it’s my legal name. No, I wasn’t born with it. I chose my last name when I was a teenager, and I picked it without knowing that characters named Robin and Raven made up a famous Teen Titans couple. That being said, I rather like it, which is why I picked it. Although I’ve gone through my adult life being teased about it, I still love it, so it’s probably here to stay, although I may add another last name on the end someday.

I’m a work-in-progress. I’m striving to improve myself, make positive changes in my life, and become the more self-actualized person I want to be. That sounds vague, but I mean it with a passion and determination that has only recently been awakened. I am so done with being self-destructive, and I am totally over settling for less than I deserve. I deserve to be happy in this life, and so do you. Thanks for joining me on my little journey!