Last night I had a pretty amazing experience, coming out of a canyon I had just been hiking in. Off to the west I could see a storm. Clouds, rain, lightning. As I continued hiking I could tell the storm was moving east—toward me. I wondered if it would get to me before I made it to my car or if it would sputter out and die. I stopped to take pictures, but then quickened my pace, just to be safe.
I continued to watch the storm moving closer to me, until rain finally hit me. It felt good at first because it was so hot, but soon it started pouring on me. Not only was I drenched in sweat, but also got soaked from the rain. I’m not a runner, but I ran as fast as I could down the switchbacks that led to the trailhead and my car.
After making it to the shelter of my car I thought about how this is what my life has been like lately. The view of the storm was absolutely stunning, beautiful. There have been a lot of good things happening in my life—blessings and things to look forward to. But there has been a storm, too. Cold, wet and dark. The rain didn’t diminish the beauty, but the beauty didn’t take away the water soaking and chilling me.
The storm has been taking its toll. My depression and anxiety have been very, very bad. I still see the good, I still remember to be grateful, and I do know that gratitude helps, but it also doesn’t just automatically cure mental illness.
I feel like I’ve been running—as fast as I absolutely can! But the storm has followed me everywhere I go. It’s pouring, it’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s relentless. I’m trying as hard as I can to find shelter, to remain grateful for the beauty there is, but the storm is still here. All I can do is continue trying and be hopeful that someday it will stop or that I will find that shelter.
This morning I hid. After getting after my eight-year-old for not listening and being disrespectful (something he’s been doing a lot of lately) I went in my room, shut the door, got back in bed and hid. I just couldn’t face the world or my kids.
There are a lot of good things happening, and I’m trying to remember that. I am grateful for the good and the blessings. Remembering to be grateful definitely helps, but gratitude doesn’t just cure mental illness. There are also a lot of struggles going on right now, and I have sunk further and further into depression the last week or so. I feel like I’m not where I should be and that I’m not doing enough or being enough. I’m not being a good enough mom. I’m not being a good enough friend. I’m not being a good enough neighbor. I’m not being a good enough fiance. I’m not being a good enough person.
I wish I could find some sort of lesson, some sort of inspiration in all this. But I can’t right now. I suppose that is the nature of depression.
Emotional support animals. Some people make jokes about them. There are memes about them. But I really do believe animals can make a difference. I have seen the difference my daughter’s cat, at her dad’s house, has made. She’s told me about times her anxiety was getting bad, so she’d hold or pet her cat, and how much it helped. No, she doesn’t take him to school or the grocery store with her, but having him has made a difference in her life and for her anxiety.
A couple of months ago we got a puppy. Pepper. A miniature schnauzer. We all love her! My daughter has wanted one forever, but the timing was always off. Things finally came together, and we got our puppy. She has had the same effect as the cat on my daughter, but she has also helped me.
I’ve always struggled to be alone on the weekends my kids are with their dad. My anxiety and depression have always kicked in when I’m alone all weekend. But having Pepper has definitely helped. I don’t feel as lonely and isolated which helps my anxiety and depression. She also helps motivate me. I took her on a 4.6 mile hike over the weekend that I don’t think I would have been motivated to do without her. She LOVES being outside and going for walks and hikes.
So while someone having an emotional support Llama may seem like a bit of a stretch, I can attest to the power of animals and how they can help with mental illness.
For many years I was manipulated, by several people, into believing I was weak, helpless and incompetent. Thankfully, once leaving those toxic relationships, I came to see that I was strong, confident and independent. I’m not the kind of person who whines and complains, then expects someone else to fix my perceived problems for me. I find my own solutions.
I have been incredibly nervous about going back to work, knowing that I’ll have to wear a mask, when it is something that sets off my anxiety and has induced several panic attacks. But knowing I was going to have to do this, I began looking for things to help. One thing I found were these silicone mask inserts. They pull the mask away from your face. While I still struggle to have a mask on at all, not having the fabric actually touching my face has made a difference. I’ve worn it under a mask a couple of times now while shopping and it definitely made it easier for me.
I still think I’ll need to take quite a few mask breaks. (Mask breaks. I can’t believe we live in a world where that is an actual concept now. I feel like I’m living in the Twilight Zone.) But at least I found something that helped. I’m not weak. I’m not helpless. And I’m not incompetent. You aren’t, or you don’t have to be, either. It just takes a little motivation to start looking for a solution that helps you.