Healing Through Writing

A friend recently posed a question on social media about writing and if it has helped heal or ever hurt you. I immediately thought about how healing writing poetry was for me in high school. It truly was a form of therapy. Being diagnosed with depression was scary. Living with depression was even more scary, as well as confusing and lonely. Writing poetry helped me make more sense of what I was going through. Being able to express how I felt and what I was living through brought comfort.

Writing, especially poetry, was based a lot on inspiration. I know some people who can sit down and just write a poem. I could only do it if inspiration came to me. One day the inspiration stopped. So I stopped writing for a long time, and it was incredibly painful. Years later, the inspiration started coming back to me, and in the last few years I have written a lot of poetry. Once again it has been therapeutic to me.

I’ve shared a lot of my poems here, but they never get many views and rarely any kind of response. Maybe people don’t like poetry. Maybe it’s because this isn’t a poetry-specific blog. I don’t know. What I do know is the sense of contentment and healing that has come with being able to express myself through poetry again. It may not be good or anything worthy of praise, but I write and share it for myself and anyone else who may have felt the same healing power through writing—or reading—poetry.

Dark Place
By Tacy Gibbons

Hiding out in the bathroom.
Shame, blame, not a game.
Don’t know how to face
the race of time
and the mountains that stand in the way.

Fear, tears.
Just wish I could disappear.
Don’t want to see
who’s looking back at me in the mirror.

Guilt, wilt.
Mom, c’mon, wife, life.
Can’t shake my own expectations.

Get up, get out.
Run all about.
The bathroom will be waiting another day.

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Yes, More Poetry

Here are a couple more poems because that’s what I’ve been inspired to write lately.

Open Book
By Tacy Gibbons

I am
an open book.

When you see me sitting there
will you read from the beginning,
only to stop halfway through out of boredom?

Will you simply start where the page is open
without bothering to read what came before?

Will you flip through a few pages here,
a few pages there,
then toss it aside, uninterested, uncaring?

Will you close it up, look at the cover
and decide it’s not worth your time?

Or will you read each page,
beginning to end,
sometimes stopping to ponder . . . 
	
wonder . . . 
		
reflect . . . ?

Will you push past the difficult parts
and appreciate the story being told?

I am
an open book,
waiting for someone to read all my pages.
Anxiety
By Tacy Gibbons

Sometimes you sit next me,
constantly nudging me, reminding me you’re there.
When I get up to go you follow at my heels
like a new puppy afraid of getting left behind.

Sometimes I keep you at bay,
glance you in the distance, staring me down.
I avert my eyes and focus on the light, the here-and-now.
I’m happy without you.

But lately you’ve invaded my space, my life, my body.
You wriggle beneath my skin, turn my stomach
and tighten your hands around my throat.
You leave me immobile, paralyzed,
attached to rigid chains and a weight that never lightens.
Prisoner, I am, that can’t break free.

Let’s Be There For Each Other

I’ve been finding myself inspired by quotes lately. It might sound cheesy, but we live in a world where it’s so easy to just post a quote on social media. I have a friend who does nothing but post inspirational quotes on Facebook. Many of them have been what I needed to hear in that moment and some have led me to think and ponder. The quote I’m inspired by today says, “Someone who drowns in seven feet of water is just as dead as someone who drowns in twenty feet of water. Stop comparing traumas, stop belittling you or anyone else’s trauma because it wasn’t ‘as bad’ as someone else’s. This isn’t a competition. We all deserve support and recovery.”

Something I’ve come to learn in life is that no one “has it made”. At least I’ve never met anyone who does. We all have struggles. We all suffer. In this age of social media it’s easy to look at someone else’s life (through the lens of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, etc.) and think everyone else is having so much fun, doing awesome things and living this great, struggle and trauma-free life. But that just isn’t true.

It can also be easy to think that others must not be struggling as much or that they must be happier because of all the things they have and are doing that we don’t have or don’t get to do. That also isn’t true. The past year-and-a-half I’ve got to travel to San Diego and Hawaii. I even got to go to The Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame (a life-long dream of mine) several months ago. We’re building an addition onto our house that is going to give me and my husband this big dream closet. There are good things happening, but there has also been so much hell that I’ve been through as well. It got so bad at one point last year that I tried to take my own life. From the outside looking in it may appear that I am one of those people who does have it made. But just because I’ve been able to travel some and am getting a big closet doesn’t mean that horrible things haven’t happened. It doesn’t mean trauma hasn’t punched me in the face and beaten me to a pulp. Because it has.

As an advocate for mental health I believe it is so important not to judge and not to compare struggles and trauma. Instead, I believe we should be looking for connection and extending empathy and compassion—even when we can’t see or don’t know what someone else is going through. Some people, like myself, are very open about our struggles and seek to educate others on mental illness issues. Others keep those things to themselves, and that is okay. It took me many years to open up about my depression, anxiety and OCD. And even now, there are things I choose not to share or go into detail about—for various reasons. I respect everyone’s choices about what they do or don’t share with others. Through my own painful experiences I have learned that no one has a perfect life and everyone has trials, struggles and suffers through difficult things in life. This means we all have more in common with each other and aren’t as alone or misunderstood as we might think.

My hope is that we can all be more loving, understanding and compassionate with each other. Just because our trauma is different doesn’t mean one is worse than the other. And one of the best ways to help ourselves is to be there for each other.

The Truth About Toxicity

I’ve been wanting to talk about toxicity for awhile now, but have put it off because I think it can be a very polarizing topic. For me, toxic people and toxic characteristics are real. They are very real for others as well.

For those of you who feel like you are in a toxic relationship of any kind, I’m here to say it’s okay to step away. You and your happiness matter and sometimes the only way to achieve that is to set boundaries or even completely cut ties with the people who are abusing you.

So what is toxicity? A dictionary definition explains that toxicity is “the quality of being very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.” Toxic traits include, but are not limited to:

Lying
Manipulation
Shame
Using Excuses
Judgmental Behavior
Negativity
Controlling Behavior
Unrealistic Expectations

Unfortunately, I think the word “toxic” is being used too often as an excuse to just cut people out, which diminishes the real effects that some people suffer from actual toxic people. True toxicity is a pattern of behavior that persists without a person acknowledging it or choosing to do anything about it.

Something important to understand about toxic people is that they may not be toxic to everyone. I saw this quote attributed to Tamara Yancosky that says, “Extremely toxic people will only be abusive with a select few; this way their behavior won’t be found out by the majority.” If someone tells you a certain person is abusive or toxic, don’t just automatically brush it off or think they’re crazy just because you don’t see that person as toxic. I have had first-hand experience with toxic and abusive people who seem completely nice and normal to everyone else. And maybe they are nice and normal to everyone else. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t toxic to some.

Just like toxic substances poison, toxic people poison. If I knew something was poisoning my garden or my body I would do everything to remove that poison. It is also okay to set boundaries with or remove poisonous people. I really like this quote by motivational speaker, Hank Smith. He said, “I do not believe in using the word ‘boundaries’ to just cut people off simply because they do or don’t do what you want. That is manipulation. When I talk about boundaries, I’m talking about protecting yourself and others from emotional, physical, sexual, or any other form of abuse.” Setting boundaries with or walking away from toxic people is about protecting yourself from real harm.

Something I have been accused of from toxic people is that I just need to forgive, stop holding a grudge or that I’m only doing it to teach them a lesson. A quote that really resonated with me is, “We don’t walk away to teach people a lesson. We walk away because we finally learned ours.” This is what happened with toxic people in my life. I walked away because I finally learned my own worth and value. I finally learned that I was worth more than the poisonous way in which I was being treated. It was absolutely about me finally learning my lesson and had nothing to do with trying to teach them one. I don’t have the time or energy to spend on something like that. Just like I don’t have the time or energy to hold grudges, which leads into another awesome quote from Hank Smith. “Don’t let someone convince you that you are holding a grudge when you are holding a boundary.”

It is okay to have boundaries, and it is also okay to cut the poison, or toxic people, completely from your life—even if those people are family. I think that is something that is really hard for people in the culture where I live to understand. I live in a place that is predominantly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that families can be together forever. I believe that. The key word in there is can. Never is it stated that families will be together forever. It’s stated that they can be. Much depends on that. But this error in belief, or even acknowledgement of the actual belief (with that word can) seems to make some people think that they have to maintain familial relationships in this life even if they are toxic or abusive. That is absolutely not true. Another belief I, and members the church I belong to, adhere to is that God wants us to be happy. It is impossible to have happiness or joy when in a toxic or abusive relationship. That means that God does not expect us to stay in those relationships, even when they are family.

This is an important topic to me, one I will probably revisit again, focusing on more specifics, but for now I hope this helps others to understand and find their own hope.

May We Encourage Each Other

I saw this quote recently that really spoke to me. “Your journey is not the same as mine, and my journey is not yours, but if we meet on a certain path, may we encourage each other.” I think this is the epitome of empathy. Empathy isn’t about understanding or the ability to say, “I get it. I’ve been there, too.” It’s about being there for others even when we don’t understand what they’re going through. Empathy is meeting on a path that doesn’t look the exact same as someone else’s path, but still giving encouragment, a hug and saying, “That really sucks. I’m so sorry. I’m here for you. I love you.” I do think it’s possible, even when we are going through our own struggles. What a beautiful thing when two people on a rough, rocky, difficult road can embrace each other, wipe each other’s tears and be there for each other even though their rough, rocky, difficult roads aren’t the same.

Depression can make it hard to look at anything but yourself and your own struggles. I know because I have had depression and had a hard time thinking of anyone but myself and my own struggles. But as I continue to learn and grow I’m trying harder to look outside myself and see how I can be there for others. As I have done so my own depression has eased and I’ve found connection, which is one of the most important things in the world to me. I hope I can keep getting better at this. And I hope we can all pass others on our journey who will encourage us and whom we can encourage as well.

Why I Keep Blogging

Lately I’ve been wondering if I should even keep doing my blog. I have over 250 followers, but my posts usually only get a few views, maybe up to fifteen if I’m lucky. Of course I didn’t start this blog thinking I would get millions of followers and thousands of views. I don’t do it with the hopes of becoming famous or anything like that. But it’s still hard to see the point when so few people look at it or seem to care about it.

This got me wondering why I feel the need to blog and why it feels so hard or hurtful to think of ending it. One reason I started this blog was in the hopes that it might make a difference in even one person’s life. Once, a random person commented on one of my posts that what I had written had made a difference. So I guess I did that, and I do feel grateful for it.

Another reason I started it lies in the subtitle of this blog. “Opening a Discussion on Mental Illness.” I really hoped that more people would comment, that this really could be a place to have an open discussion about mental health and mental illness topics and awareness. I also hoped that there would be others who would want to share their stories or perspectives. There have been very few, and often, my husband is the only one who comments. So again, this makes me wonder if I’m really making any kind of difference at all or not.

But I also realized that one reason I keep posting, even though I know I might get let down, is because it is a creative outlet for me. Writing has been a part of who I am since I was ten years old. I shared my writing in English and Creative Writing classes. I had people who actually asked to read my poetry and my stories. Since college I have been in writing groups where I got feedback, interest and encouragement. But it has been years since I have had any of that. Other than a little poetry here and there, this blog is the only creative writing I have done in a very long time. I think about working on my stories again. I think about it all the time, but always talk myself out of it. What’s the point? I’m no good anyway. No one wants to read my writing. Nothing will come of it. So I keep blogging because writing is still a part of me. It is in my blood, something I feel in my soul. I need to keep sharing my writing whether I get a lot of view or not, whether I get any comments or not, whether I’m really opening a discussion or not. It makes a difference in my life. I fear that if I completely stop writing I will lose a huge part of myself and never feel whole again. So I will keep writing and sharing. Because sometimes we need to do things for ourselves.

In a Funk

The last couple of weeks have been tough. For lack of a better description I guess you could say I’ve been in a funk. I’m not sure if it was a recent event that triggered emotions from past trauma, but my anxiety has been nearly paralyzing and my depression, while not as horrible as at some other times, has been a weight on my shoulders. A weight on my heart. I tried to deal with it, told myself I could do it on my own, but finally decided I needed some help and guidance. I felt too lost to keep attempting to navigate the fog on my own, so I tried to get an appointment with my therapist. I felt stupid, though. The whole point of therapy is to get to a point where you don’t need therapy anymore, right? And I thought I’d about gotten to that point. Things have been really good. I’ve been doing good–until a couple of weeks ago.

Unfortunately, my therapist got sick and ended up in the hospital, so no appointment for weeks. I’m trying to use the tools she gave me to get through this. I keep telling myself I need to stop being so pathetically weak. I need to be strong. Others rely on me to be strong. If I’m not, everyone else suffers. But maybe that’s not strength. Is it really strength to ignore our own needs? To ignore our own suffering? Or is it just the same as hitting your head against a brick wall and pretending the throbbing bruises and blood dripping in your eyes isn’t there as we go about business as usual?

At this point, I don’t have any answers. It’s easy to tell someone else it takes strength to admit you need help or that you shouldn’t ignore your needs; you should take care of yourself, even if that means letting it all out in tears or staying in bed all day or taking a long bath while ignoring all the housework. It’s easy to tell someone else that it’s okay to call your therapist when things crash after being good for so long. It’s harder to tell myself those things, especially when I don’t know how long this anxiety and depression will last.

Songbird

Sometimes it’s discouraging and difficult to want to continue with something when it seems like no one cares. But song birds have taught me a lesson I put into a poem.

Songbird
By Tacy Gibbons

House finches land at my feeder,
then fly into a nearby tree and sing.
Rain or shine
they sing.

Sometimes they duck and hide
when swirls of snow hit
or take flight when starlings
and red-winged blackbirds invade,
but they always return.
And they sing

I, too, will sing my song.
I may duck and hide
when storms rage
or take flight when blackness surrounds,
but I will return.
And I will song my song.

Sharing Some More Poetry

Sometimes life is hard. In those hard moments writing, especially poetry, helps me. It has always been therapy for me as well as a creative outlet. Words are my soul. Words make up so much of who I am. Even though the things I may have felt in moments, days or weeks of depression, despair, frustration, hopelessness, etc. fade the words still mean something to me. And maybe they will mean something to someone else as well. That is one of the reasons I love poetry so much. It can touch someone through time and distance in so many different ways. Here are a couple of poems that may not be how I feel now, but are how I felt at some point and may be how someone else has felt or is feeling.

Honeysuckle Poison
by Tacy Gibbons

Scent of honeysuckle.
Nostalgia hits.

I can see the fence where its white flowers grew.
Smells of heaven and childhood.
Picking blossoms and sucking the sweet nectar down.

Memories now poisoned with the knowledge of your lies,
the truth of what you really were
polluting the sweetness like poison.

Reaching through time and memories,
choking on the bitter reality,
the past now tainted by your toxicity.

Yet, I rise up through the fallen petals,
let the poison fade.
The wave of nostalgia washes over and retreats.

And I am left only with the sweet scent
of honeysuckle.

A Day In the Life
by Tacy Gibbons

I am the captured tiger,
beaten into submission,
thrown into a cage.
My master holds the only key.

Head hanging, shoulders hunched,
sad eyes look longingly for the dream I used to live.
Master asks me to lift my head,
swish my tail and purr.
He needs life to feel normal again.

I sit in patience, surrounded by bars,
lift my head, swish my tail and purr,
hoping to please, hoping for companionship.
Master walks by, smiles and pats my head . . . 
then wanders off,
leaving me to my cage and defeat.

I am the captured tiger,
beaten into submission,
thrown into a cage.
My master holds the only key.

And I wonder—
if he ever lets me out, will I want to go?
Or will the caged life be all I remember?
All I want to know?

Or maybe—will I run?
Run to freedom and never look back.

When Do We Let Our Truth Shine Through?

Father’s Day was a difficult day for me. I knew it could be, but had hope it might be okay. That hope was crushed after something unexpected happened, so I spent the next two hours of church on the verge of tears, fighting as hard as I could not to let them spill out and trying not to let my true emotions show. I then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening trying to be strong for my family even though I was close to crying pretty much the whole time.

Since then I’ve wondered how often other people are experiencing the same thing. How often have I chatted with someone at church, run into someone at the store or talked with someone on the phone who seemed okay, but inside were actually doing everything they could just to hold it together?

I believe in trying to be optimistic. I believe in doing what we can to help ourselves find and live for the good. A long time ago I worked with a woman who seemed to have a pretty crappy life. Almost every single day when I got to work she would cry to me, tell me how awful her life was and go into detail about the latest tragedy she’d suffered. Almost every single day. For years. I felt for her and did what I could to be there for her, but it was also incredibly draining. As someone who takes on other’s emotions I struggle to be around negative people. I also recently worked with someone who was very controlling and negative and it damaged my mental health so much I had to quit. So I do believe in doing more than just showing or sharing the bad, difficult, negative, hard things in our lives, but when do we show it? When do we allow the truth to shine through? When do we allow vulnerability out? When do we let others see that it’s okay to not always have it together? That it’s okay to have hard days and let others see? When we do, this gives us the opportunity to help, to serve and to be there for each other.

I’m sure I will have plenty more days that I hold it all in, afraid to show what’s really going on, thinking I have to put on a mask and be strong for everyone else. It’s hard to take that mask off in front of people. It’s hard to be vulnerable. It’s hard to let others see the truth when it’s not pretty and wrapped in a nice, neat package with a perfect bow on top. But life isn’t always a perfect, pretty package. And I think sometimes we should let others see. We should let them know and let them in to help us, so we can also help them on their hard, difficult days. Maybe we can all learn together.