Some days are cold and bleak. Outside and inside. It’s a bitter cold that quickly chases me away and back into a place of warmth. I don’t want to feel the cold viciously biting at me. And yet there is still color, light and beauty. I appreciate the beauty I can find in the bleakness.
It’s hard, on days when I’m feeling completely defeated and alone, to see or feel anything but the bitter cold and darkness. I dig deep, trying to find some light and warmth. It’s hard to believe there is any beauty within me on these bleak days when the demons inside me, and even some without, try to feed me only darkness. It’s by a small sliver of hope that I cling on and keep searching, keep digging.
A couple of nights ago, during family scripture study, we were talking about miracles. We spoke about how miracles aren’t always big. Sometimes they are little. And they are all around us. Last night, I witnessed one of those miracles.
My nine-year-old wants to play basketball. His autistic brain makes it difficult. It’s not that people on the autism spectrum can’t do sports, but according to Dr. Sean Healy, “Many individuals with autism have lower fitness skills compared to other people. These skills include balance, body coordination, visual-motor control and other mobility skills.” (https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/autism-exercise-benefits) This definitely describes my son. He also very easily gets lost in his own head and has a hard time paying attention to what’s going on around him. I want him to be active and fit, so I’ve tried to encourage him to do swimming or track. I’ve told him how good I think he’d be at those things with how tall he is, with his long legs.
He wants to play basketball.
Last night he had what might be his last game of the season on his rec league. This is the third year he has played, and he’s never scored a point. I’m not sure he’s ever even tried to make a basket during a game before. Last night, while he was sitting out, I talked to him about how important it is to try. I pointed out that there were kids who shot the ball, and even though they didn’t make it, they had at least tried.
“Look,” I said, pointing out a kid on his team who had shot the ball several times, but had never made a basket. “Even though he missed it he keeps trying. And look how happy he is! He’s out there having a ton of fun.”
My son decided he wanted to make a basket. He was determined to make one. I told him he had to try. There were a couple of times, after he went back into the game, that he had a great opportunity, under the basket, to make a shot. But he hesitated and got blocked or had the ball stolen from him. I could tell he was becoming agitated and frustrated that he hadn’t made a basket. It was fourth quarter of what might be his final game of the season. Then a miracle happened.
The other team knocked the ball out of bounds. It was our ball on our side of the court. One of my son’s teammates threw the ball into him. And no one went to block him. No one. In fact, it seemed like no one knew what was going on. Everyone was just standing around as if there were no game happening. My ex and I yelled at our son to shoot the ball. Like usual, he hesitated. I was sure someone from the other team was going to come block him or one of his teammates was going to yell to him, which might only fluster him. But nothing happened. Everyone continued to stand around, doing nothing. My son was right under the basket with a wide-open shot. And finally—finally—he shot the ball. And it went in. He made the basket! He got the point!
It was a great night for my son. I consider what happened a miracle because he needed to get that point. He’s beginning to see that some other kids treat him differently because he is “different”. Kids walk away from him, they won’t play with him, they don’t know how to react to him and his autistic behaviors. It’s always been hard, as a mother, to see this, but it used to be easier because he didn’t notice. He got caught up in his own little world so easily that he didn’t notice the way others were treating him. He finally has noticed, and it’s heartbreaking. I do think his basketball team this year has been really great. It is full of good kids who are friendly and mostly understanding of him. But previous years kids wouldn’t pass him the ball or include him. He can look back now and see that. And it hurts him. So the fact that he actually did something good and made that point was so needed. So needed. I do truly consider it a miracle. I do feel like God was watching out for my son and showing him that He is aware of him and his struggles. He is aware and He loves him.
Last week I reached a level of depression I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. I had wanted to focus on gratitude, but it was hard. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful. I thought of many, many things I had to be grateful for, I just couldn’t feel it in the depth of my depression. However, I still wanted to try.
I thought of this quote by Tim Keller a coworker shared in a meeting the week before. “It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.” I decided to do more than just think of what I was grateful for. I wanted to do something and see if it helped.
Even though I wasn’t feeling much of anything, other than despair and defeat, I wrote a bunch of little notes stating what I was grateful for about my husband, then placed them all over the house for him to find. It felt good. Seeing how much he appreciated finding them felt good. It didn’t completely take away the darkness and depression, but it did help to lift me from it. And it inspired me to do more.
Normally, I’m the type of person who keeps my head down and tries to avoid conversation with others when I’m at a store or in line to pay for my groceries. I worry having to make eye contact and talk to someone will trigger my anxiety. But I decided to step outside my comfort zone. I took my girls shopping for clothes the day before Thanksgiving. The person helping me asked if I had any plans for Thanksgiving. I answered her, then asked her if she had any plans. She smiled and replied, then we continued to have a wonderful conversation. She seemed really happy—maybe even grateful—when I told her I hoped she had a great Thanksgiving just before I took my bag of clothes and left. I had a similar conversation with a checker at the grocery store after Thanksgiving as I asked her how her Thanksgiving had been. We both smiled and she seemed genuinely happy that I had asked her questions and engaged her in a real conversation. I was happy, too!
Focusing on gratitude and then stepping outside my comfort zone and doing, rather than just thinking or feeling, really did make such a difference. I know it can be hard, but I encourage others to give it a try, too, and see what a difference it makes!
I found this quote by Albert Schweitzer. “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” Kindness is inspirational.
It was very hard on my mental health seeing how much judging others were doing at the beginning of the pandemic. As someone who’s depression suffered from the isolation, as someone who couldn’t “just wear a mask” because of my extreme anxiety I felt the need let others know how difficult this time was for those of us with mental illness and that things aren’t always as simple as they seem. Their hate and anger did nothing to inspire me. But kindness did.
When I found out I would have to wear a mask when I went back to work at the end of summer, I panicked. The first time I even tried to put a mask on I had a panic attack. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I’d have to find a new job—one I could work from home where I wouldn’t have to wear a mask. I was so stressed and overwhelmed. I opened up to my coworkers about my anxiety, and they were so loving, accepting, understanding and kind. They all started suggesting things I could try and ways they might be able to help. Their love, support and kindness is what really inspired me to find my own solution so I could keep my job. That’s what led me to the silicone mask inserts that I wear beneath my mask. It is the only reason I can wear a mask.
Similarly, my daughter also struggled to wear a mask because of her anxiety. We tried so many different kinds of masks. We tried the same inserts I found, but nothing worked. Then I saw a coworker with a mask I’d never seen before. I asked her where she got it, and she told me she’d made it. She told me about her claustrophobia, and how these were the only masks she could wear without panicking. I told her I’d been looking for something for my daughter, and she volunteered to make her some masks. Pure and simple kindness, but such an inspiration!
Kindness, understanding, love and open-mindedness inspire, help, build up and allow “hostility to evaporate”. I think the only way to do this is to allow ourselves to see beyond our own perspective. We don’t have to change our beliefs, but we do need to try to understand each other and understand that we are all different. We have different experiences that have shaped who we are. We are not a one size fits all world. No matter how much we might think we understand someone else, until we really are walking their shoes we don’t see the whole picture. That’s why kindness is so important.
I reconstruct my suit of chainmail,
a piece I had dismantled long ago.
I knit it together piece by piece,
clink by clink.
It is heavy and hot and restrictive.
It is not me.
But it is the only protection I know of
that will shield against the poisonous arrows
that rain down on all sides.
It is not impenetrable,
but--for now--it will do.
I then wrote this just after:
Deeper down the rabbit hole of darkness I go. There is no light. There is no warmth. And I can’t find the door out. Maybe there is no door . . .
It’s easy to feel like my efforts to educate people on mental illness isn’t making a difference. Yet I keep trying because I keep hoping—somehow—that it will make a difference.
Just the other day I saw a post from someone I know about how angry she is that not everyone where she lives is wearing a mask or taking Covid seriously. She posted a parody on a song from Beauty and the Beast that used harsh, shaming, judgmental language about people who don’t wear masks. Things like how simple it is, it’s just a piece of fabric and just wear the f***ing mask. It broke my heart—not so much for myself, but for other people who have depression, anxiety and PTSD. For some of us, seeing something like that could be what finally pushes us to the brink of utter despair and even suicide.
Even after all this time, it’s not always that simple. If someone isn’t wearing a mask it doesn’t automatically mean we’re not taking Covid seriously. For those of us with anxiety masks are more than “just a piece of fabric”. Masks are claustrophobia that literally do make it so we can’t breathe and can’t function. For those of us with PTSD masks are the face of someone who assaulted or violated us. We are already struggling, while trying to do our best, without being shamed, condemned and judged.
This is a difficult time for so many people. Can’t we reach out in kindness and love instead of anger and hatred? I started, and continue, this blog in the hopes that it would help someone, in the hopes that it would educate, in the hopes that it will inspire. We can all have different beliefs and different struggles while still helping, educating and inspiring each other in love and positivity. As slim as my hope is, it’s what I’m hanging on to.
November 6th I got married! I wanted to post something before the wedding and honeymoon, but it was a busy time. The wedding was beautiful and wonderful and perfect. The honeymoon to Kolob Canyon, Snow Canyon and Zion National Park was amazing and so much fun! I had this illusion that when we got back things would still be good. Mostly, they really are. I’m married to the man of my dreams, and that is very, very good! But we also came back to some incredibly difficult challenges. Challenges that could have had me curled up in a ball crying and hopeless. And yet, all I could think the other night was how I wanted to thank God for all He has blessed me with.
More and more it seems as if society skips right over the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s all about the commercialism of Christmas. I love Christmas and celebrating the birth of my Savior, but I also love Thanksgiving as a time to remember all the things we have to be grateful for.
I know I’ve written about gratitude before. Gratitude doesn’t just cure or take away mental illness, but I do believe it can help. Times when the hard things start pressing me down, threatening to crush me, I’ve been trying to think of all the ways I’ve been blessed recently, and I find myself staying above the weight of the depression. Gratitude is always important, but I’m really going to try to focus more on it this month and invite all to join in with me. Hopefully we’ll all see a difference in the level of happiness and peace we experience.
Sometimes we learn from our own mistakes and experiences. Sometimes we learn from other’s mistakes and experiences. One thing I learned from someone else was how holding onto grudges and pain from the past destroys joy. I learned I don’t want to hold onto grudges.
There’s this woman I knew who could hold a grudge like nobody’s business. She was the queen of grudges! There were times she would talk to me about things people said to her in high school that really hurt her. She would talk about it as if it were yesterday and still held onto all that hurt, pain, resentment and anger 40 years later! I consistently saw her using up so much energy holding grudges and holding onto things that had happened long ago. I saw how it turned her into this bitter, unhappy person. I realized life is too short and precious to waste any of my time or energy on that. That doesn’t mean I never get hurt or upset, but I let things go and move on. This has helped me maintain a better state of mind and more happiness and peace in my life.
This goes hand in hand with forgiveness and what forgiveness is and is not. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. I once heard someone say that short of brain surgery there’s no way you can just forget a hurtful or horrible thing someone has done to you. What it does mean is that the original feeling associated with that person dissipates until we no longer feel it.
Forgiveness does NOT mean going back to or staying in an abusive or toxic relationship. The relationship I had with this woman was very toxic and unhealthy. Since getting out of that relationship I am a much happier, more independent and confident person. I think remembering what this person did to me is important in keeping me from going back and getting abused and misused again. However, when I think of this person I have no negative feelings. I never wish anything bad on her. I don’t feel sad, angry or hurt when I think of her, and I even pray for her and those around her. I have forgiven, moved on and also kept my mental and emotional well-being in tact.
Holding on to things can eat away at us and feeds into anxiety, depression and OCD. Talking things out or being able to step away from our own self-interests to look at things from someone else’s perspective are great ways to move on and rid ourselves of grudges. This also helps with forgiveness, which really can do wonders for our mental health.
A strange thing has been happening where I live. Trees are budding. My Rose-of-Sharon shrubs have new flowers blossoming when normally they bloom in July or August and are completely dead by now.
We had a terrible windstorm not too long ago. The worst one I’ve seen in almost ten years. Trees were knocked over, limbs were ripped off, fences, garbage cans, trampolines and swing sets were blown over and away. My shrubs looked like they were dead. The leaves turned brown and shriveled. And yet, there are new flowers blooming. And I’ve seen new buds on my neighbor’s trees.
I love symbolism, and I see it everywhere. I see these trees, shrubs and flowers reflecting the beauty and strength that can come from going through hard, hard things. The difficult things we go through—the difficult things I have gone through—don’t have to kill or maim us. They may hurt. They may, at times, make us feel weathered, shriveled, ugly. But they are also what makes us bloom and blossom. We become stronger, more resilient and beautiful through the winds that beat upon us. And we can share that beauty—beauty and light—with others around us.
Even through the hard, hard things—like this year of 2020—there is still beauty. There is still newness. There is still time and room to grow. There is still more to become.
I went for a hike in the mountains a few weeks ago. The leaves were starting to change, the air was cool, but not cold, and I was reminded how much I need to be out in nature. Mountain therapy truly works for me. Fall is my favorite season, my favorite time of year. I wrote this poem while I was hiking and thought I’d share.
Some say fall is the time when everything begins to die.
I say it’s the time everything comes alive.
Leaves explode into vibrant reds, yellows and oranges.
Wind dances through the trees, whistling, rustling, then stillness.
Long shadows stretch as far as they can in the dimming moments of dusk.
And the songs within my soul blossom and burst forth.
Some say fall is the time when everything begins to fade and die.
I say it’s the time when everything comes alive and shouts for joy.
Walking through that door makes the blue a little lighter. She holds space as I gently spill. We sit, we talk - we water, dig and bury. Nurturing a shoot. Aiding it in light - to find its path through thorns - Malan Wilkinson