The last few weeks have been kind of rough. My depression has come back, as it always does once the weather gets cold and starts turning to winter. The thing to remember about depression and all mental illness is that there isn’t always a reason. Sometimes there is no former trauma, there are no triggers, it just happens. I’ve been trying to look for the good and see hope, though. I wrote a couple of poems about it. They may seem a little forced, but sometimes that’s what we’ve got to do. We have to force ourselves to look for hope in the midst of darkness and despair.
by Tacy Gibbons
October moon spreads its light softly
over fallen leaves and fallen tears.
Just enough for some small hope,
a little healing.
Change, metamorphosis can be painful.
Dying leaves crumble beneath heavy footsteps.
Yet even in the dead of night
the jeweled moon shines.
Trees on the mountain, blazing red, orange, yellow, will fall,
replaced by new, vibrant greens in spring.
Ever stretching toward the sky.
by Tacy Gibbons
Tunnel vision is easy
when the sun rises late
and sets too early
behind craggily-toothed mountains.
SADness feels like it will last forever
in the long, cold, dark winter.
I find some small comfort
in black-capped chickadees perched on frosty trees,
continuing to sing
with breath curling out before them—
a twirling, lilting song of hope
in the freezing November morn.
Something people may not realize is how tiring it can be for those of us with anxiety, who are also introverts, to be around a group of people. It’s not that we don’t want to be around people (though admittedly sometimes we don’t), but it takes a lot out of us.
I thought about this last week when I was at band rehearsal. I recently joined a community band, and I’m loving it! Playing the flute is something that has brought me so much joy through the years. As I’ve gotten better at identifying my own symptoms of anxiety or oncoming panic attacks and have been able to think about what I can do to help I’ve played my flute more. Even if it’s just for five or ten minutes it is something that has helped calm or stop panic attacks or has helped lessen anxiety.
I have wanted to play in a group for so long, but even if the opportunity came up I was never at a place in my life where I would have been able to join. Luckily, I’m at that place now. We have had three rehearsals so far, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I really do love being with this group, but sometimes it’s hard being around a bunch of people. Last week was particularly hard. Part of it was probably that I’m feeling insecure. Even though I have played my flute through the years, I have mostly played easy, melodic pieces because that’s what I love, that’s what I connect with. I haven’t challenged myself much, and now we are playing pieces that I could have easily gotten in high school, but I’m really struggling with now. Several of the other flute players are much younger, but more recently out of high school and haven’t lost the ability, so I feel rather embarrassed at my skill level right now. Add on top of that other stresses of life, and I was absolutely exhausted after coming home from rehearsal last week. I actually broke down in tears when my husband asked how rehearsal was. I felt kind of stupid because I truly enjoy playing and being in a band again. But just being around so many people spiked my anxiety and took so much out of me.
I guess what I want people to know is that it’s perfectly normal for those of us with anxiety to get exhausted being around other people, even when we’re not expected to talk with them. I also think it goes back to the fact that anxiety can sometimes come off as snobbish or standoffish. But that’s not it. It’s just that it is so hard for us, and it can be extremely tiring and take a lot out of us. So be patient. Realize it’s not you. It’s the horrible anxiety that we have to live with. And we’re trying.
First off, depression sucks. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s blinding. It’s like a wet, soggy blanket constantly weighing you down. It’s shame and worthlessness. It sucks.
I’ve come to know depression well in my life. I was first diagnosed as a sixteen-year-old, but when I look back at my life I think it started as a small child. There were times the depression left, where I was good and depression-free, even for years, but when it came back in the form of postpartum depression over fifteen years ago it never really left me.
Some people refuse to believe they have any form of mental illness. Or they acknowledge it, but use it as an excuse. I know I have it and can recognize the symptoms in myself most of the time. Unfortunately, depression often skews our perspective. It can make us believe we’re doing things we’re not, that we’re focusing on things we’re not and vice versa. It can even make us believe things aren’t as bad as they really are. I’ve had someone point it out to me, and I’ve also been able to see it in others.
One of the worst things about depression is that is can cause us to be selfish. Not in a narcissistic way, if that makes sense. We just tend to focus on our own struggles or needs we don’t feel are being met, rather than thinking of other’s struggles or whether their needs are being met. I saw it in myself the past couple of days, and I feel ashamed. It’s not that I don’t matter. I do, and I do need to try to help myself and do what I can to get myself out of this pit I’m in. But I can also think of others and do better to remember how much they matter too.
It might be more difficult to remember or recognize these things in the midst of sucky depression, but it is possible. And it is always possible to do better.
I’m working on normal blog stuff, but for now, here’s another poem.
by Tacy Gibbons
Two kestrels dance beneath a gray-clouded sky,
swooping, swerving and swirling around one another.
A display of timeless beauty,
over in seconds as one bird flies away.
They say the days are long, but the years are short.
Yet most days go by in a blur of have-tos, need-tos and must-get-dones.
The years fly by in the blink of an eye.
A snap of the fingers, and I am old
and no longer dancing like a pair of kestrels.
By Tacy Gibbons
where’s the light
twist and turn
try your best not to burn
start to climb
fall back down
slip and slide
you might drown
cut the vein
here we go
all over again
Life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes bad things happen even when you’re doing the right things. A perfect example happened a couple of days ago. I was on my way to Southern Utah for a few days. My kids are with their dad for Spring break this week, so I was going to spend some time birding and just relaxing by myself in warm, beautiful red-rock country. A few hours into my trip and three-fourths of the way there my car broke down. The engine seized up and wouldn’t start. Now my car is sitting at a dealership where it will take around 2 months just to find out if the cost to repair or replace the engine is covered by the warranty. What happened isn’t because I didn’t take care of the car. I had it serviced when it needed to be. I always kept up on oil changes. I did everything right, and yet . . . the car broke down and now we’re down to just one vehicle. And I didn’t get to take my solo vacation.
Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned, and sometimes bad things happen even when you’re doing things right. That’s just life. There are two important things I learned from this experience, though. One, even when things are bad and sucky and deviating far from what you wanted or had planned, there is still good, and there are still things to be grateful for. Shortly after pulling my car off the side of the freeway and turning my hazard lights on a tow truck pulled off. The driver got out and asked if I needed help. He said a local who knows him called him up and told him he had passed a car off the side of the freeway with hazards on. I’m grateful for the person who called the tow truck driver and grateful for the tow truck driver himself. He’s the one who towed me to the dealership, quite a ways away. And he was so nice! I was worried about my anxiety kicking in, not knowing how to talk to this stranger, but we talked easily and had a great conversation the whole time. Even in the midst of adversity and total crap happening there is still light and goodness.
The other thing I learned is how important it is to have the right people in your life. To have the right support team. It can be hard to have any sort of relationship with someone who has mental illness, but my husband has been absolutely amazing in his relationship with me. I don’t deal well with stress, but I have found that I deal with it better since my husband came into my life. Five or ten years ago I would have been an absolute basket case in this same situation. I wouldn’t have known what to do, I would have been terrified, I would have been extremely angry that things didn’t go as planned and that I didn’t get to go on my vacation and probably would have thought the world was ending just because my car broke down. Seriously. But I stayed a lot calmer than that. After I pulled off of the freeway I called my husband. I was a little frantic, but not basket-case, I’m-freaking-out-and-can’t-stop-crying frantic. Knowing he was going to try to get ahold of the insurance company and that he’d pick me up from the dealership helped keep me calm. I did get a bit emotional thinking about the possibility of having to buy a new car when I feel we can’t afford it right now, but he stayed calm and reassured me it would be okay. Having someone who can support you in the right way during those difficult times is so important. And I’m so grateful I have my husband for that. He truly has helped me grow, and that is so helpful and so wonderful.
So when life doesn’t go as planned and crap just happens, remember to look for the light. It’s there. And finding a good support person or team will also do wonders!
My wonderful, amazing husband shared this with me not too long ago and I told him I would love to be able to share it on my blog, so he wrote it up. I hope you all find it as thought-provoking and inspiring as I did.
It’s interesting how images and photographs can sometimes convey so much more than is apparent at first glance. I have a series of three photographs hanging in my office. They were taken by a very talented friend of mine, Alli McPhail (@alli_eliz on Instagram), and are of Lake Michigan, a place with significant meaning to me. The photographs are stunning! The angle of shot, the moments captured, the framing and color; it all comes together so beautifully. Although I appreciate the quality of those photographs, it is the symbolism of their contents that immediately grasped my attention and drove my desire to display them.
All three photographs are of the water. Yep, just water.
The first image shows the gentle ebb and flow found on the surface of the water. Gradual lulls and slow drops with subtle ripples fill the frame. To me, this symbolizes day-to-day life with its slight ups and downs that gently rock and sway. The high moments offer a broader glimpse of the good in life, while the lows bring things closer and into focus. It is in these moments we live most of our lives. Not the super highs and triumphant joys we can (and hopefully) experience, nor the very difficult struggles we go through. Just the normalcy of an overall peaceful and content existence. We aren’t knocked around, there’s no fear or danger, just a movement in which we find peace and happiness in sync with the waves. In these times, it is easier to go about our lives. It is easier to appreciate the joys we have. It is easier to work through difficult emotions, slight conflicts, and disappointments. It is easier to be strong for others. In these moments, we feel at peace and recognize our worth.
The second image shows a different moment in the water. The gentle ebb and flow of a wave is being displaced by a crashing, tumultuous one that will completely rock the surface of the water. The two are at odds, pitted against each other in a beautifully captured moment. The peace of the gentle wave can still be seen, but the viewer knows it is fleeting and will soon be destroyed by the overwhelming crash of the raging one. To me, this is an image I know all too well. In me lives this moment far too often. Two sides of me fight over unbearable conflicts and disparaging situations. My gentle days are often disrupted in this brutal manner by situations and circumstances in my life which are both in and out of my control. I find myself at war; logic versus emotion, the past versus the present, desires versus needs, perception versus reality. This photo displays the warring parts of me in breathtaking beauty. In these times, it is much more difficult to see beyond the wave crashing upon us. It is much more difficult to focus on joy, on peace, on value and worth. Big crashing moments overtake us, causing fear, causing intensity, causing worry and doubt as they become all we feel and see. In these moments, I struggle to get through them, desperately seeking the gentle waves while finding it difficult to believe I deserve the peace it would bring. More often than not, my only course of action is to try and hold on, let it crash upon me, and wait it out while hoping it doesn’t leave irreparable wreckage behind. I find myself struggling to keep my emotions in check, struggle to see beyond the immediate heartache and difficulty, and struggle to even do the things which can bring me peace once again.
I will admit there have been times where I barely, barely held on. Where waiting it out seemed an impossible task. Where the crashing, tumultuous wave seemed too great to ever find peace in its wake. But it does pass. Even writing that seems difficult to believe, but I know it to be true. When nothing is causing water to have waves, the water will settle and be completely at peace. I believe our lives are meant to be at peace. I believe our default setting is to be at peace. Fighting through those dark moments and holding on to a broader perspective can help us see past the moments which thrash us about. Holding on, even to a rocking boat, can help us get through it.
This brings me to the third photograph. A photo of water stretching out before me and going much further than I am able to see. In the foreground of this photo are those gentle waves, but some of the highs are higher than others and some of the lows lower than hoped for. In the foreground, one can see clearly the broken surface of the water with its many ripples, shaping moments and variety. Moving our eyes up towards the horizon, however, the water appears to gradually smooth out until it becomes a flat, straight line separating water and sky. From this distance, we cannot see the ebb and flow, the highs and lows, the crashing waves and tumultuous moments. From this distance, the water appears to be completely at peace. The further the distance, the more peaceful the water appears.
To me, this image is all about perspective. When difficult things are fresh and up close to me, the waves seem greater than those in which I’m able to distance myself. When I have time to ponder, to heal, or to work things out, the difficult times are pushed away and become smooth. This may be done through physically distancing myself from the situation at times, or by allowing time and realistic thinking to smooth out my reactions. Over distance and time, moments of difficulty in life can be displaced by the broader perspective of peace which overlays our lives. Negative self-talk dissipates, worst-case scenario thinking dissolves, and the warring sides within me come to peace. When I’m able to broaden my perspective, I’m able to find peace.
Some may live in one photo more than the other ones. Many are blessed to live in the first image most of their lives, while others find themselves tossed about in the second photo for much of theirs. Every experience, much like every wave, can be different and beautiful and scary and peaceful and heartbreaking and joyous. But, especially if we buoy each other, the size or intensity of the waves won’t crush us. We can all find peace on the horizon.
Balance. I’m not sure I believe in it. People try to say you need to have balance in your life, but how are you supposed to balance your mental and physical health along with home life, work life, church life, being a wife and being a mother when you literally don’t have enough time?
I’ve been feeling my identity slipping away again. I don’t have time to be me anymore. I don’t have the confidence. It seems like in order to have “balance” you have to give something up. And then you’re not balanced anymore.
How does everyone do it? How do you do everything you have to do and still make sure your mental health is good? How do you maintain your sense of self, who you are, with everything else? I’ve been the victim of identity theft—real identity theft–my first time suffering through severe postpartum depression. I lost it again in a bad marriage. When I found myself after my divorce it was the most glorious thing in the world! I was so happy again. I had confidence again. And now I feel empty again. How is it done? How?
“And sun can still come through the clouds.” My fiance said this to me last week. Of course it’s something I already knew—both literally and figuratively, but it really hit me when he said it. I truly believe that even when life is stormy, cloudy, dark, there is still light that can—and does—come through.
The last couple of months were full of blessings, but also full of dark clouds. I struggled with a lot of things. Even though time helped heal some of them, I was still feeling pretty down and confused. Then my boyfriend of almost two years and I took a trip to Arizona, where he grew up. We had an a wonderful weekend exploring his hometown and surrounding areas. The best part of the trip was when he proposed to me on top of a mountain with the most incredible, beautiful view of the valley below. The sun that came from that blew all the clouds away! Well, other than the Cloud 9 I’ve been residing on ever since!
Sometimes that sun that gets through comes from other people or from amazing circumstances—like getting proposed to—that happen to us. And sometimes we have to provide that light for ourselves. One of the things that helped me during that difficult time not so long ago was playing my flute. It didn’t take the clouds away, but it did allow some sun through. Meaning playing my flute didn’t magically fix what I was going through, but it did give me some reprieve and joy, and that helped a lot.
So for those struggling, for those who feel like their life is clouded over, remember that the sun can still get through. There are things or people that bring light, joy, peace and hope. And you can find them if you just look.
I’ve learned several things during this quarantine period. I’m sure we all have! One thing I’ve learned is that you can have social anxiety, but still need to be around people. That’s how my daughter’s therapist put it. He said it was something new he had learned from my daughter. My daughter and I both have social anxiety—we struggle to be in large groups of people, to be outgoing, to talk to others, but we also get anxiety being alone or being isolated. Even though I loved the extra time at home with my kids, I also greatly missed adult interaction with my coworkers. I struggled a lot at first not being around other adults or even just being able to see other people.
Another thing I learned is that I can adapt. Eventually I got used to being at home with just my kids. I often said how I missed other people, other adults, talking face to face with coworkers. But once I had to go back to work, after two months at home, I found my anxiety was really bad. I work at an amazing place, and I love the people I work with so much, but I had gotten so used to the way things became that I was having a hard time coping with the change. Yet another change. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so anxious thinking about going into work and being around other people. I was nauseous and sick to my stomach a lot. But after less than two weeks, I got used to being back at work and was even enjoying it again—just in time for summer break and being off again! Oh the irony.
The thing I learned from all of this is that sometimes it just takes time. Rarely is there some automatic cure-all for anxiety or depression or any kind of mental illness. I do believe there are a lot of things that can help, but sometimes it’s merely about taking time to let things settle. Sometimes it’s about understanding rather than fixing. Sometimes, oftentimes, understanding is what helps. So if you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental illness, especially during this unusual time so full of so many constant changes, don’t think all is lost. Don’t necessarily think you need to rush to change something right away. Give yourself time to understand what’s happening. Maybe you’ll discover that you do need to change something. Maybe it’s time to change the dose of your medication. Maybe it’s time to go back to a therapist. Maybe it’s time to start eating healthier. And maybe you just need time to understand and let things settle into a new normal—or back into an old one. It’s okay to allow yourself or your loved one that time.
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