Trying to Be Hopeful

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.

October Moon
by Tacy Gibbons

October moon spreads its light softly
over fallen leaves and fallen tears.
Just enough for some small hope,
a little healing.

Understanding.

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.
Growth. Renewal.
Ever stretching toward the sky.

In November
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.
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A Poem About Depression

Depression
by Tacy Gibbons

there isn’t always a rhyme or reason
time or season
anything recent
depression attacks

dark tendrils creeping
cause such weeping
leave me pleading
for relief

seeking reprieve from the storm
crying I mourn
so tired and worn
just take this plate away

bring back the light
warmth so bright
away from depression’s sight
give me a reason

Mental Illness is Not Math

One plus one might always equal two, but people and mental health can’t be measured like math, so it frustrates me when people who have absolutely no experience with mental illness act like it can be—like we are all the same or should all be the same.

One of my daughter’s school teachers recently made a bunch of inaccurate assumptions about her and her mental health, then gave his own son as an example of how he is thriving under the same circumstances. I’ve had others who have done the same thing. They expect everyone to be exactly the same—a “1+1=2 for me or this person I know so 1+1=2 for you and this person you know” type of thing. But that simply isn’t the case when it comes to mental health.

Just because medication works great for one person doesn’t mean it will work great for someone else. Just because one person gets a lot out of therapy doesn’t mean this other person will. Just because one person thrives under pressure doesn’t mean everyone will, can or even should be expected to.

The reasons for mental illness are also varied. This same teacher made the assumption that stress from this one extracurricular activity is what is causing my daughter’s mental health struggles right now and that she just shouldn’t do it again next year. In fact, my daughter really enjoys the activity and is having fun doing it right now. Her mental illness is genetic. There is a lot of mental illness on my side and her dad’s side. She has a genetic predisposition towards it. And just because she enjoys this activity doesn’t mean it’s going to cure her. There are other things that do help her, though, so it’s important that she has the ability to do those things.

This is why I keep blogging about mental health and mental illness, why I feel so strongly that I need to keep trying to educate people. Despite how far our understanding and acceptance of mental illness has come in recent years there are still way too many people who have such an archaic belief and understanding of it. Rather than trying to put everyone is a small, tiny, tight, too-cramped box, let’s open our minds and try to be more loving and understanding.

Anxiety is Exhausting

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.

Things That Trigger My Anxiety

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was diagnosed many years ago. Anxiety and being “nervous” are not the same thing. True diagnosed anxiety can be crippling. Unlike my depression that comes and goes, anxiety is something I deal with on a daily basis. I think I’ve gotten better at coping and simply living with it, but it can still get the best of me. I’ve also decided that while there are things I can do to help and sometimes push through it, it is also okay to avoid things that cause anxiety.

Just like symptoms of anxiety can be different for everyone, things that cause anxiety can also be different. This is important to understand for those who live or work with or have any kind of relationship with those of us who have anxiety. If you don’t understand the symptoms or what causes them I understand how frustrating it might be. So I’d like to share some of the things that trigger my anxiety.

A common one, I’ve found, in many of us with anxiety is talking on the phone, especially when we have to call someone. Similarly, I also really struggle asking people to do things or sending reminders. Because of this I often put such things off until the last minute. When I even think about it I start to get physically sick to my stomach and breathing becomes labored.

Being in a crowd of people generally doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind being at the airport or a mall or a concert. It’s when I’m in a crowd of people that I know or where I’m expected to socialize and make small talk that sets my anxiety off. I generally keep to myself in these situations, not because I want to, but because it’s too terrifying to sit by someone or just go up and talk to someone. If someone sits by me or starts talking to me I may come off as the socially awkward person I feel like I am, but I’d rather that than awkwardly be by myself.

Another thing that gives me anxiety is Zoom meetings. I know a lot of people like them, especially in comparison to in-person meetings, but for whatever reason, Zoom meetings gives me horrible anxiety. I haven’t been in a lot of them, but I try to keep my camera off. I figure it’s better for everyone else not to see me having a panic attack as I sit there.

Being late is the worst! Everyone else I know who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder also hates being late. My daughter’s band teacher has this saying that goes something like, “Being early means you’re on time. Being on time means you’re late.” I love it! It is one my philosophies now! It’s not that I’m never late. Sometimes I am, but I try so hard not to be because I start to panic when I’m late.

There’s more, but I think that’s a good list for now. My anxiety can also be triggered at different times based on certain circumstances. Some of my symptoms of anxiety are difficulty breathing (sometimes leading to hyperventilating), getting physically sick to my stomach (sometimes leading to nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea), light-headedness, headaches, uncontrollable crying, becoming restless, fidgeting, pacing, feeling the need to hide and tight or painful muscles, especially in my neck and shoulders.

The reason I share this is in hopes of helping others understand anxiety better. It can be easy to judge and make assumptions about reasons why people do or don’t do certain things. Hopefully it will be easier to be more understanding now. Maybe the reason someone isn’t on a Zoom meeting is because of anxiety. Maybe someone is sitting alone or hugging a wall, keeping to themselves, is because of anxiety. Maybe when someone seems unreliable, they’re actually trying their hardest to conquer their symptoms. Maybe they’re attempting to call someone or reach out or send a reminder when they’re hit with nausea, hyperventilating, vomiting or muscle pain or all of the above. I try to push through, I try to cope, but sometimes I need to give myself grace and take the anxiety-inducers out of the equation altogether.

Some Things About Depression

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.

The Strength We Should Admire

Today I saw a cartoon with two pictures. The first was of a person standing triumphantly on top of a mountain with the caption, “The Strength We’re Taught to Admire.” The other was a picture of someone struggling to barely make it out of a big, dark pit with the caption, “The Strength We Should Also Admire.”

I really needed to see that today. My depression has taken hold and strengthened against me significantly the last few days. Today I spent a lot of time in bed and a lot of time crying. Despite how much I wanted to spend the whole day in bed, pretending life didn’t exist, I accomplished a few things. I took my daughter to school and got my son off to school on his scooter. I took a shower, even if it wasn’t until the afternoon, and I never actually got dressed; I just stayed in my pajamas all day. I even made dinner and participated in our nightly family scripture study.

Most days I do much more than this. But today it took everything I had to do just these simple, little tasks. Rather than beating myself up for being so pathetic, I’m trying to feel good about how much I did, considering the big, dark pit I’m in right now. I hope everyone can celebrate those little things too, because sometimes it takes far more strength to accomplish them than it does to climb a mountain.

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.

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.

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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