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.

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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.

No Respecter of Persons

It is five years to the day since Chris Cornell took his own life. It’s always a solemn day for me. A sad day. He was so talented and had such a unique voice. I still mourn his depression and his death. I wrote this post a couple of years ago and wanted to share it again.

Today I write in honor of Chris Cornell—three years to the day after his suicide.

I first heard Soundgarden, Cornell’s band, when I was in high school. Black Hole Sun and Spoonman. Instantly I loved them. And then a couple of years after high school I heard Show Me How to Live and I Am the Highway on the radio. The two singles from the first album of Cornell’s new band, Audioslave. I was hooked! The fact that they could write something as powerful and rockin’ as Show Me How to Live and as powerful, yet soft and beautiful as I Am the Highway was amazing to me. I went out and bought the album on CD as soon as it came out. I listened to it over and over and over again.

Many years later, after Audioslave had disbanded, I heard rumors that they were going to get back together to go on tour. I was so psyched! And then, I’ll never forget the day I heard the news that Chris Cornell was gone. It was early in the morning, I was in the car, pulling up to the gym. The DJ on the radio announced that Chris Cornell had hung himself. I was devastated. My heart ached that such a talented person had been in such a dark place that he had felt the only option was to take his own life. And I finally, really came to understand why people made such a big deal about celebrity suicides—because it shows that mental illness is no respecter of persons. So often, we think people have it made—celebrities, CEO’s, the wealthy, even our neighbors, family or friends. It’s easy to think we know what’s going on by seeing the outside, when really, on the inside, that person is struggling, suffering, dying.

Too often, I think the signs of depression get ignored. Too often, I think depression is minimized because it’s easier that way. It’s easier to ignore or give simple answers. Sometimes it’s because of the stigma still attached to depression. Sometimes it’s because of lack of education. And sometimes it’s because, simply put, depression is hard. It can be hard to understand or to know what to do, as is the case with any mental illness. And it can be hard because it’s different for everyone. And that is totally normal.

But when it comes to helping others, what’s right may be more important than what’s easy. The Mayo clinic has an amazing page about how you can recognize depression in others and ways you can help and encourage them. I can testify that even a simple smile can make a difference. I still remember a couple of girls I went to high school with who made a difference in my life. One of them always said hi to me, always gave me a smile. Another one brought me flowers because she had noticed I was sad the day before. I have a friend who easily could have given up on me because, as I stated, depression is hard. But she didn’t. Even when it scared her, she kept being my friend, and that made a huge difference. My boyfriend is a good example, too. Little things like asking questions and trying to understand what I’m going through helps so much. These things truly do matter.

Chris Cornell made a difference to me. There were so many times I was off at college that I would take off for a long drive in my car when I was feeling sad or frustrated about something, and I would crank that Audioslave CD! It always managed to either help release my frustration or remind me that I wasn’t alone. It still saddens me that I’ll never get to see him in concert. It saddens me that such a talented person struggled for so long with depression—until he couldn’t struggle anymore. But I believe we can do something about the alarming number of people who take their own lives. It starts at an individual level. Learn to know the signs of depression and learn what you may be able to do to help. And remember, a simple “hi” or a smile may be just the thing someone needs.

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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD? According to the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651) SAD “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons . . .” It generally starts and ends at the same times every year and, more often than not, is during winter months. However, it is more than just not liking winter.

A few weeks ago my daughter told me she had been feeling depressed lately. Thanks to medication and an awesome therapist her depression went away and her anxiety has been more manageable lately. However, I had also noticed that her depression seemed to be back, perhaps not as bad as before, but she definitely seemed more down than usual. I told her she probably had Seasonal Affective Disorder just like I do. “But I don’t dislike winter,” she said. “I actually like the snow, and the cold isn’t that bad.” I explained to her that SAD doesn’t mean you don’t like the snow or cold. It is much more than that. It is an actual disorder. The Mayo Clinic lists possible causes as:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

You may not be affected by the cold. You may love watching the snow, playing in it, going skiing, etc. That doesn’t change the lack of sunlight or other risk factors for getting SAD.

The Mayo Clinic states, “Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the ‘winter blues’ or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own.” SAD causes depression and has other symptoms, such as low energy, sleeping too much or having difficulty sleeping at all, feeling tired all the time, losing interest in things, appetite changes, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and thoughts of suicide. For me, it is when all my demons come back. I can be totally fine, feeling great, managing my anxiety and the general challenges of life, and as soon as my SAD kicks in (usually around the end of November/beginning of December) the depression hits. I have many of those symptoms I just listed, and I start feeling horrible about myself. I start doubting all the good and believing in the false.

SAD is real and not something that should be brushed away or ignored. Luckily, there are things that can help. Light therapy is a great way to help counter the effects of SAD. I go to a spa that has red light beds and lamps. You can also buy them to have in your own home. Taking extra Vitamin D can also be helpful. Therapy and medication are also always things to consider.

I wanted to write this so people know SAD is more than not liking winter. It is a serious disorder that can be incredibly challenging to live with. But like any disorder or form of mental illness there are always things that can help and give hope.

Doing Better

It has been awhile since I posted. I’ve been doing pretty well. I truly think going to a therapist has helped so much. I usually only go every other week now, but having a person I can talk to, who can help me work things out, who is very solution oriented has given me the tools I need to heal, cope and live has made such a difference.

There have been some really difficult things going on, though, as well. It seems like almost every time I go to my therapist I tell her, “Well, the drama of my life continues.” I definitely hope that the day comes that I don’t need to see a therapist anymore, but while the difficulty and trauma continues I will keep going to see her, even if I feel that I’m doing better now.

One of the worst things we can do when we have mental illness is say, “I’m all better. I don’t need to keep going to a therapist,” or, “I’m all better, I don’t need to keep taking my medication,” or, “There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s everyone else!” Sometimes, we do get well enough to stop going to a therapist or stop taking medication, but it isn’t something that should be done without serious thought and consulting a therapist or a doctor.

My daughter was on anti-depressants and was going to a therapist for her depression and anxiety. Luckily, she was able to stop both. She still has some anxiety, but she is able to work through it thanks to the tools her therapist gave her.

Unfortunately, too many times I have seen people who quit doing the things that were helping only to crash and go right back to where they were before they got the help. And the vicious cycle repeats.

Some of us may need to be on medication for our mental illness our whole lives. That’s okay. Some of us may need to see a therapist our whole lives. That’s okay. Some of us may need to exercise, do yoga, use treatments like EMDR or ART our whole lives. That’s okay. If I had a broken bone that just wouldn’t heal, I wouldn’t stop wearing a cast or wrap or sling or whatever was helping it. It may not be fun to have to wear one forever, but if it helped me live a better life, if it helped me accomplish what I needed to in life, I would wear it forever.

I’m doing a lot better. But I know I still need help with the difficult things going on right now and with past trauma that I haven’t completely worked through yet. Until then, and even after if I need to, I’m going to continue going to therapy. I’m going to continue to recognize and acknowledge that I need help. That’s okay too.

ART

I’m trying yet another kind of therapy to help with trauma from the past that is still affecting my present, in the form of anxiety. It’s called ART, or Accelerated Resolution Therapy. It is similar to EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) in that it uses eye movement and visualization, but the results are much quicker.

I liked it because, while my therapist guided me, I was really the one in control. I didn’t even have to tell her anything I was seeing or feeling unless I wanted to. And yet, the session continued. I was pretty drained and very tired, after, but I also felt lighter, like this weight of burden had been lifted off of me.

There is this tiny of seed of doubt at whether one session could really have worked, but I also have faith because I’ve experienced the true effect of EMDR. My ART session focused on something that doesn’t necessarily affect my everyday life, but rather certain circumstances that sometimes arise, so I can’t say for sure, yet, how much it helped, but I have noticed that when I think of those memories associated with the trauma I no longer feel any sort of anger, frustration, fear, sadness, depression, etc. That, also, is incredibly freeing! And it adds to my faith that ART really does work.

I truly am amazed at how far we’ve come in regards to help for mental illness. When I was first diagnosed with depression as a teenager, over twenty years ago, it seemed like the only thing you could do was take medication or use talk-therapy. Both of those things can work, but there are so many more options now, as well, which makes me incredibly grateful. As always, it’s about remembering that what works for me may not work for you. It’s about finding what does work for you and sticking with it. We deserve help. We deserve healthier lives. Because we are all worth it!

What I Wish I’d Said

Today’s post comes from a guest writer. I instantly connected with the writing as soon as I read it and knew I wanted others to read it. I hope it is as insightful, meaningful and full of hope to you as it is to me.

“Isn’t that selfish?” A discussion among friends had somehow turned to the topic of suicide, and this was a rhetorical question from one. It was the type of comment that carried with it a sting only partially ameliorated by the knowledge that suicidal ideation and mental illness are things that simply cannot be truly understood by those without experience. The taboo nature of mental illness tends to keep its victims hiding in the shadows. Fortunately, this was one of the few times I felt brave enough to speak up. At my prodding, he explained his opinion that ending your life ended your own suffering only to cause it in many others.

What I told him was how, in those early days of my undiagnosed illness, I had a figurative scale. On one side, it weighed the burden I was to others. On the other side, it weighed the burden and the sorrow it would bring to others if I died. I told him that as my illness progressed, I perceived myself as being more and more of a burden to those around me, to the point that it seemed my death would be less distressing for my loved ones in the long run. But there were many things I didn’t say and wish I had.

What I wish I’d said was that there is a difference between wishing you were dead and thinking about killing yourself. For me, the pain was so strong and so relentless for so long that death, had it come, would have been welcomed.

What I wish I’d said is that sometimes those of us with mental illness get so used to not seeing the light that it’s painful to continue looking for it. But hope is key. When I had hope, it kept me from reaching the point of true suicidal ideation. Hope is such an integral part of motivation that the lack of it has the power to override the strongest, most basic human drives.

What I wish I’d said is that, for me, it was the hope engendered by my connection to my God that gave me the strength to hold on past all the misperceptions that weighed in on my figurative scale.

What I wish I’d said was that through every prayer that came out in anger and every prayer where my internal chaos was so strong that the only words I could muster were “Please help me,” my God was there, He heard me, and He had a plan for me if I just kept hanging on to the glimmers of light and hope.

Sometimes the strength He gave was from the experience of the almost completely consuming anxiety subsiding after just a few hours, as opposed to days or weeks. Sometimes it was finding the will to get out of bed however briefly. Sometimes it was the temporary yet significant relief from a friend or family member, or from being able to get a few hours of sleep. Sometimes it was the moments that made me think I wasn’t a complete failure for all the fights I caused with each family member. Sometimes it was the feeling of being seen or understood.

What I wish I’d said was that most of the time, these were fleeting and not anywhere close to the degree of help that I was seeking. But they were things that, slowly, minutely, yet still surely, provided what I needed to make it through one more day, one more sleepless night, one more episode.

What I wish I’d said is that the darkness still comes, but I can now see incredible beauty that is imperceptible to anyone who has not experienced a similar brand of darkness.

But what I most wish I’d said was that, for those consumed by the darkness of mental illness, there is help and hope to anyone who seeks it.

For those of you blessed to be without the burden of mental illness, I hope you can join the fight to destigmatize suicidal ideation, and that you can have the courage to be the light for those consumed by the darkness. Perhaps destigmatizing suicidal ideation will lead to more people having the courage to reach out for help when they suffer from it.

By J. Whicker

My Experience With EMDR So Far

I want to talk about my experience with EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I started it with my therapist a few weeks ago and so far the results have been amazing! If you’ve never heard of EMDR before it is a type of therapy used to help people heal and recover from traumatic events or things such as PTSD, anxiety, depression and panic disorders. It involves a lot of visualization and the therapist using side-to-side eye movements, sounds, taps or some sort of stimulation (my therapist uses buzzers I hold onto in each hand).

I’ve only had a couple of sessions working on EMDR with my PTSD and a little on my anxiety, but I’m already seeing the difference. Not only has it helped me get over panic attacks that have been triggered by PTSD faster, it has also helped diminish the severity and the feeling of panic had at all. I went months being severely affected by my triggers to almost not being affected at all anymore. I know I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but I have so much hope as I feel my quality of life improving.

If you are someone suffering from a traumatic event, PTSD, anxiety or depression or are struggling to heal wounds from your past, I suggest looking for a therapist trained in EMDR. Everyone is different and all therapies, medications, etc. work or don’t work for every individual, but I highly recommend this form of therapy. I am a skeptical person, but I also believe in giving things a try. If it works it is absolutely worth it. If not, you move on to find something else.

I will give updates on EMDR as I continue to work with my therapist on it.

There is Good. There is Hope.

Recently, in a conversation with someone I love, I realized that I write a lot more of the depressing than the happy or uplifting. It’s not necessarily because there is more depressing than good, but because of my need to write when I’m depressed. I guess you could say it’s a way to “purge” my soul. 

When I was in high school I wrote a lot of poetry. Most of the time I wrote when I was depressed, and the poetry was depressing. But it was like therapy to me. It was something I needed to do. I think there is something about writing what I’m feeling, getting my thoughts on paper (or computer, these days) that help me understand or begin to sort what I’m going through. And that is important for me. It is needed.

Sometimes when I write about the struggles I go through, I try to do so with a question in mind. I hope that it will open a discussion with others who have felt the same way. I hope we can help each other by discussing different perspectives and things that have worked for or helped us. And it really, truly does help to know that we’re not alone, that we’re not the only one feeling a certain way or struggling with a certain thing.

I never want anyone to read my blog and go away feeling totally depressed and discouraged. I will try to write more about the good. I will try to write more about progress and hope. Because there is good, I do make progress–we all make progress–and there is hope.