2016 has been a rough year. One of the worst I’ve had in awhile, honestly. I’ve been actively struggling to beat depression for over 3 years and I’ve finally come to realize that it might not be possible to beat it. Maybe the answer is just to accept and make peace with it. That’s not really as easy as it sounds, but I’m working on it.
Is it just me, or does the world right now seem like a pressure cooker that’s 2 minutes from exploding? My Facebook feed seems to be filled with only 2 things right now: cute videos of animals and images of violence/hatred/political vitriol/negativity. I’ll admit it: I was neck deep in a lot of that for a very long time. Every new social issue that came forward made me feel like I had to be the mouthpiece for the underdog. And I still feel the obligation pulling at me. But after nearly being swallowed up by depression over the last year or so, I finally came to a tough conclusion. My mental health is my priority and my primary obligation.
It’s very easy to think that the world is at the brink of destruction. Every day there’s a new video of a police shooting. Every day there are more stories (and now videos) of people overdosing. Every day more stories and posts about unrest and violence across the globe. It certainly *seems* like the world is more violent than it’s ever been. Except that the statistics don’t back that up. And neither does history. The world, and the people in it, are much the same as they always have been. Mostly good, some bad, but the bad ones always get more press. And now that we have a 24 hour news cycle, that bad press is in our faces non-stop. And with our addiction to social media, that means every bit of that violence and negativity is a simple click away. And I think it’s poisoning us, our society and our views of one another.
I followed this presidential race as closely as I’ve followed every other until I finally recognized that my social media posts were becoming more and more bitter and negative. And in the end, I also realize there wasn’t much I could do about the outcome of this election. People are going to vote for who they’re going to vote for, and one or two or one hundred posts from me, no matter how informative, wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference. In reality, who gets elected to Congress matters as much, if not more, than who’s in the White House anyway. And our country has had awful leadership before and we’ve survived. I see people in a panic daily about what they’re going to do, where they’re going to go if A or B gets elected. You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to keep on keeping on. We’re going to get up and go to work and get a paycheck. We’re going to tend to our families. We’re going to get sick and get well. We’re going to get married, have babies, go on vacations, and do all the other things we do every day. Because that’s how life works. One man or woman sitting in an office in Washington has a lot less power over how good my life is than I do. And I’m not willing to keep giving that power over to politicians and criminals and the media. I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY OWN MENTAL HEALTH AND HAPPINESS. No one else is.
There’s a lot of money to be made in keeping people fearful and anxious. It keeps people watching the news and buying magazines and buying things to fix the existential hole they have inside. It keeps people obsessed with fitness and weight loss and aging – they’re afraid of getting old/fat/ugly/whatever. Fear keeps people from getting to know their neighbors. It keeps them buying guns and keeps them right where they are, mired in their fear and distrust. And it makes them feel miserable and helpless because they don’t see any way out of it. Then there’s the siren call of the social media notification going off every five minutes, letting you know that someone’s posted something that you just have to check immediately, because you just have to stay informed. You MUST be an informed, plugged in individual otherwise you’re part of the problem.
Well, I’m calling bullshit on that. On all of it. I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of being anxious. I’m tired of feeling bitter and angry every day at what I’m seeing in the media and on social media. And you know what? I am informed. I’m well-educated. I know the evils of the world quite well. But I’m not under any obligation to sit, day after day and watch the world burn. I’m just not. My only obligation is to my own mental health and happiness. My own sanity is my concern. I’m not burying my head in the sand and pretending that we don’t need serious reforms. I just have finally realized that sitting and looking at a tiny screen full of violence and hatred all day, every day isn’t going to make change happen. And what’s worse – it’s tearing people apart. And soaking all of that in just makes me unhappy. So I’m choosing to tune out most of it. I’m choosing to scroll past the political poison being shot back and forth. I’m scrolling past videos of people bleeding and dying. Because I can’t take any more of it and it’s affecting my health. It’s made me depressed and anxious and I’m tired of feeling that way. And for me, the only way through it is action. I’ll take action to make the changes that need to be made. And I’ll do my best to put more love and peace into the world. And I’ll work on quieting my own mind and bringing peace to my own life so that I am able to share that with my family and my friends and on some level, the world. I can’t help anyone if I’m so crippled by depression that I can’t leave the house.
So from here on out, my first obligation is myself and my health. And if that means that I have less social media and more actual socializing in my life, then that’s a win/win in my book.
Peace and love,
Haha – I told you I’d eventually get rid of the numbering!
Whew – the last week since getting back from vacation have been a blur, but in a really good way. I’m still on a bit of a “Hoopla high” and am devoting lots of energy toward my KEEP Collective business, and it is really paying off! I have 2 socials running now, 2 more starting in the next 5 days, 2 more later in September and 2 in October already! I made a fresh commitment to myself to try to work on adhering to a schedule every day and making sure that I am careful to keep a good work/home/fun balance. So far so good, even though I’m not one who likes routine normally. And the best part is, aside from my business going really well, I’m having fun at it!
And all the wedding plans are coming along without a hitch! We scheduled the rehearsal dinner today, and I think it’s going to be really nice. It’s hard to believe the last year has gone by so quickly! It was right about this time last year that the kids were setting their date and here we are less than 3 weeks away!
The venue – isn’t it lovely?
It’s been a lot easier lately to stay in a place of gratitude. I’m working really hard on starting my day on a good note by not leaping out of bed and immediately hitting the phone or computer or whatever. I’m taking a moment to just relax and focus on something good before I get out of bed. And I’m doing the same thing at night. Gratitude’s got to be more than a weekly practice!
One of the other things I’m doing is letting go of some of my “interests”. I have a tendency to want to try to do 1,000 things all at once, and my interests are all over the place which is no problem usually. But then I find myself buying a kit and all the goodies to try to learn to knit (didn’t happen), or all the sparkly, nifty super cool scrapbook supplies so I can make awesome scrapbooks of our life and our travels (hasn’t happened). But you know what I *can* do and actually *did* do? I made a point of writing in my journal every single day while we were in Quebec. And instead of collecting bags and bags of ephemera and brochures and stuff and leaving it sit in the closet for so long I can’t even remember what we did on vacation, I actually worked on adding that stuff to my journal last week and got it all caught up and finished within a week of coming back. BOOM!
So yeah, I’ve been keeping myself busy with actual productive work and fun stuff and you know what I’ve found? I’m so much more calm and relaxed and the depression has eased up a lot. I think that I’m a dangerous person if I don’t have something to keep my mind occupied. I have a sneaking suspicion a lot of people with anxiety are like that. If I give my mind good things to focus on and not a lot of time to sit around and go all “worst case scenario” on me, I do so much better.
I hope your week has been amazing! We’ll talk soon!
Much love. – Mama Bear
Yep, it’s been a rough couple of weeks, but I’m back in gratitude mode.
In case you haven’t noticed already, I have a tendency to go into what I call “blanket fort mode” when the depression hits. It sounds better than saying I crawl into a cave, but it’s semantics, really. I withdraw at the time when really, I should be reaching out most. And that isn’t a problem, except that sometimes I don’t keep the right kind of supplies in my blanket fort and I get off-track. And to top it all off, this time I had a colossal screw-up with my medical insurance and they decided to stop paying for my antidepressants. So yeah, like I said, it’s been a fun couple of weeks! But thankfully, I’m starting to feel like myself again.
And it’s going to be a really big week for me. Tomorrow morning I’m headed to my company’s annual conference (we call it “Hoopla”) in Charlotte, NC. I’ll finally get to meet some of the ladies on my team, and we’re going to get lots of training and recognition and of course some fun time together as well. It’s just what I need right now. KEEP Collective truly has an amazing dynamic. I’ve never met a more supportive and encouraging group of women in my life. When one of us has a success, there are always plenty of girls there to cheer us on and when we hit a rough spot, there’s plenty of support for that, too! Nobody’s in competition with anyone else – we’re all rooting for one another. I even wound up connecting with a few awesome ladies this week to get some tips on how to deal with depression and keep my business up and running. Like I said – it’s amazing!
And next week’s going to be pretty amazing, too! For starters, I’m taking our youngest son to a Fifth Harmony concert. And then we’re leaving on the 12th for a long trip to Niagara Falls, Quebec City and Montreal. I’m just so excited to get away for a bit, and especially because I get to hear French spoken a bit (also excited about the French food – not gonna lie!).
Quebec City – isn’t it gorgeous?
And most of all, I am grateful that the depression is subsiding a bit, and that I have people who are there for me even if I don’t reach out for help when I’m suffering. I’ll share more later but for now, I’m just grateful.
I’ll see you when I’m back from Charlotte!
Much love. – Mama Bear
And here it is Tuesday again, and as promised, Total Gratitude Tuesday has returned.
I’ll be honest – it’s been rough keeping up with my gratitude practice lately. The last few months have been a genuine struggle overall, and as anyone with depression knows, it’s rough to keep up healthy practices when depression takes over. While writing is sometimes therapeutic, I’ve found that the pressure of finding a positive spin to put on things has paralyzed me into a kind of long-term writer’s block. That’s a limitation that I’ve put on myself but it’s also because I know that I don’t have any particular interest in writing a blog that’s just a diary of depression, nor would I have any interest in reading one. I’m the girl that likes looking for (and hopefully finding) the silver lining, not just the clouds. It’s the cruelest irony that depression takes away your motivation and energy to do the very things that would help to alleviate some of the symptoms.
And when you add recent events across our nation and the world to the mix, the struggle becomes even more difficult. I have never been someone who could build any armor around my heart and I have a really hard time tuning out the misery of others which means that there are times when the weight is too much to bear. It’s difficult to keep a positive outlook when all you see around you are people being cruel to one another and on such a grand scale. I try to bear in mind that the world has always been a cruel place in some ways, but with those silver linings in human form to give us hope.
Still, there are silver linings even if they are difficult to find sometimes. And I am ever grateful for the love and support of friends and family, as they do make even hard times easier to bear. I am especially grateful for those who understand my need to retreat to my spiritual blanket fort and don’t get irritated with me over it.
And a big “thank you” to my husband for always being understanding about my need to retreat when life gets overwhelming. This photo was taken on a hike we took in Yellow Springs to get away for a few minutes after a particularly rough few days. I love that he “gets” me even when I make no sense to myself.
And on to the gratitude list – this is at the top for the moment. My husband and I went to see Duran Duran and Chic live last Tuesday in Clarkston, Michigan. First of all, if you’ve never been to Clarkston, it’s a neat little town to check out. The main street reminds me a lot of my hometown but because it’s just outside of Detroit, Clarkston is jumpin’. There are some great restaurants and gorgeous buildings to check out and lots of neat little boutiques and such. We stopped at Union Woodshop for some of the best barbeque I’ve ever had. (Yeah, in Michigan! Who’d have thunk?) And then on to the show. I have waited to see Duran Duran my whole life. I mean, it really was a check on the ol’ bucket list. And the fact that Chic opened for them? Absolute perfection. I am an unapologetic fan of disco. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with music for the sake of dancing and feeling good, and nobody does it better than Chic. And they’re just as good as they were in the 70s and 80s. And Duran Duran – what can I say? They lived up to every single expectation in every way. They still have the same energy and vibe and the music is as great as ever. I missed Nick Rhodes not being there, but even so, it was perfection. And a quick getaway with my husband is always good medicine.
This is the KEEP Collective design I wore to the concert. I’m pretty sure the guys could see it from my spot out on the lawn. 😉
On the professional front – it’s been a slow couple of months with KEEP Collective, which is pretty natural in the summer. Everyone’s got plans, myself included, so it’s hard to live up to the stellar month I had in May, but even so I just found out that I earned Level 1 Consistency Club (qualifying 4 of my first 6 months with KEEP) and will get a $75 product credit and recognition at Hoopla (our conference) which is in just a couple of weeks!
Had to take this photo at an angle because of the glare in my bright orange kitchen!
And thank you to my best friend Amanda for this beautiful gift and also for being another person who understands and supports me when things get rough.
And odd as it sounds, I’m really thankful for the whole Pokemon Go craze. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen more kids out on bikes than I have in the last fifteen years and my own grown kids have met people all over the place and had conversations and gotten out in the fresh air and explored our city – all good things in my book. Pokemon fans have caught a lot of shit online from people who I guess have nothing better to do than criticize other people for their hobbies, but to me, it seems like something that’s bringing people together in a fun way, and where’s the harm in that? I should think with everything that’s going on in the world right now, people would see it as a good thing.
Onward and upward, right? One foot in front of the other and looking forward to a good week.
Much love. – Mama Bear
First of all, let me be clear. I am NOT anti-medication, nor am I advocating that anyone else stop taking theirs. Nothing I say here is meant as medical advice and I’m definitely not a medical professional.
But yes, I am off my medications. It’s really not that big a deal at this point in my life; All I was taking was the lowest clinical dosage of bupropion, anyway – far from the cocktail of meds I’ve been on in the past. But I’ve been on bupropion for over 10 years and I finally felt like it was time.
I’ve been on psych meds since I was in my early 20s and I’ve never really liked being on them. It’s not because I view the need for meds as a weakness (I don’t and never have), and it’s not because I don’t feel I’ve needed help from time to time (I definitely have). And when I felt there was a need for me to be on them, or that I was deriving some benefit from taking them, I took them. But over the last several years I’ve been seriously questioning just what the benefits were for me, and I finally came to the conclusion that there just weren’t enough to justify it anymore.
I think the final straw came after watching a documentary about the pharmaceutical industry and its relationship with consumers and the FDA. It really opened my eyes to not only my own history with psych meds, but the way they’re marketed and how they’re used. One segment in particular stuck with me. A young man, who happens to be a doctor, told a story of a time when his elderly mother went to her physician after suffering the loss of her husband and partner of 40+ years. Her doctor asked how she was feeling and she said that she was sad (obviously). The doctor proceeded to ask her if she’d like to be put on any medications. She was puzzled and simply responded that she was sad because she’d lost her husband and asked if the doctor didn’t think that was a normal response to the loss.
I’m not qualified to judge whether or not an individual needs medication. But I do wonder at the statistics. A 2011 report from the National Center for Health Statistics stated that antidepressant use among teens and adults rose nearly 400% between 1988-1994 and 2005-2008. And less than 1/3 of Americans who were prescribed an antidepressant had seen a mental health professional within the past year. The implication is that we’re getting the meds in greater numbers and we’re getting them without getting additional mental health treatment. And frighteningly enough, our kids are also getting medicated at higher rates than ever, even though there are dire warnings against giving children and teenagers antidepressants because of the risk of suicidal ideation and behavior.
I don’t really think that the problem is the meds. I think the problem is we’re handed meds as a solution, when they’re only a treatment. Popping a pill is not going to help anyone deal with a traumatic childhood, a shitty marriage, an unfulfilling job, or a stressful life. But if you’re like most people, your insurance is more than happy to pick up the costs of your psych meds, but good luck getting them to cover anything but a few visits to a mental health care professional. And at upwards of $100 per visit, those costs might just put decent mental health care out of most people’s reach. So the solution for most of us is to go to our doctor, talk about how we’re feeling, get a prescription and hope for the best.
That just wasn’t enough for me. And it didn’t work. I counted, and I think I’ve been on about 17 different psych meds over the last 23 years. Part of that is because I was misdiagnosed as bipolar, which REALLY adds a lot of fun to the mix when you’re talking about meds. Some of the meds were antidepressants, some were anti-anxiolytic, some were anti-convulsants, and some were anti-psychotics. Yeah. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? The really fun part is that a lot of that was experimental on the part of the medical community. They call if “off-label prescribing” meaning it’s been approved by the FDA for some other reason, NOT for the reason they’re giving it to you. So no, I don’t have convulsions nor have I ever been psychotic, but when Drug A doesn’t work, why not try the hard stuff? And none of it made a profound difference on my psyche, but some of the meds made my hair fall out, some made me lethargic, a great many of them made me gain a lot of weight, and some gave me tremors and made me incredibly forgetful. The side effects on psych meds read like a horror novel.
I finally rebelled a few years ago and stopped trying to get anyone to listen to me when I said that I didn’t think the bipolar diagnosis was correct. I actually had a psychiatrist tell me that the diagnosis didn’t matter if the meds worked. That in spite of the fact that I was telling him quite clearly that the medicine DIDN’T work and yeah, I’m weird but I think proper diagnoses actually matter. You wouldn’t say that to a heart patient that you were trying to give insulin to, would you? Abilify (an anti-psychotic) was the last straw for me with the bipolar meds. After being on it for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t sit still for more than 10 minutes and I was so jumpy an anxious I couldn’t function. I went off it and stopped seeing that particular psychiatrist. I was still afraid to go off the meds completely, so I’ve stayed on the bupropion for the last few years even though I never really saw much improvement in my depression while I was on it. But it didn’t give me horrific side effects, so I didn’t worry about it too much.
Then slowly, over the last year or two, I began to realize something. Perhaps there is no magic pill for me. I started to pay attention to patterns and what I noticed was that there were specific actions I could take to help myself feel better. It wasn’t that they made the depression disappear; but it was at least manageable. And the knowledge that there was something that I could do to help myself was so empowering. And I began to realize that there have been things that have happened in my life that have given me legitimate reason to be sorrowful and to grieve and to be depressed. Hell, if I weren’t sad about some of them, then there’s definitely something wrong with me! I stopped trying to run away from the pain and came to the realization that it wasn’t going to kill me to sit with it and try to find a way to cope with it. There’s no medication on earth that’s going to make me stop missing my dad, or my grandma or my mom. There’s no pill that’s going to make up for what I suffered as a child. I am always going to have wounds that no amount of medication will heal. So what do I do?
Well, I do everything I can and everything that works. I exercise, I try to eat well (and sometimes I even succeed), I read lots of books on the subjects that will help me – trauma, abuse, depression, anger, parenting, happiness – you name it. I write. I get plenty of sleep. I am kind to myself. And I fight every goddamn day to stay well and to chase off the negative voices that play in my head (no, not real voices – just that negative “demon voice” that’s always ready to tell you you’re not good enough). I remind myself that my thoughts and feelings don’t have any real power and they are transient things; they’re not going to stay around forever. And I did all this before I went off the meds, and now that it’s been two weeks, I’m doing all the same things and I feel good. Not great, but good. It’s a lot of work but it is so worthwhile.
So yeah, the 20+ year journey with meds wasn’t a pleasant one for me. It was painful and disappointing but like any experience in life, it taught me a lot. And the biggest lesson I learned was that I have to do the work. No pill is going to do it for me. And in many ways, I got really lucky that the side effects weren’t permanent (except the weight but we’ll see how that works out). At the very least, I know that I have the skills to make my life better and that has made a tremendous difference for me. And the moral of this story is – take the meds if you need them, but educate yourself about whatever you’re taking. And definitely, whether you’re on meds or not, get the help and support you need and take good care of yourself because you’re worth it.
Much love. – Mama Bear
Back from a long hiatus – sorry about that, folks. Allow me to explain, or at least try:
Recent world events and the social media and real-world response to them have kicked my hibernation urge into high gear. Actually, they’ve exacerbated a depressive episode I was already knee-deep in. My tendency when I get depressed or overwhelmed is to just hibernate and go inward. I spend a lot of time deep in thought, trying to counter the negativity I see on the news, on social media, in the world and even in my own head, with lots of positive thinking and a healthy dose of self-care. What I don’t do is reach out (usually) and or write – at least not anything fit for public consumption. We all know how that nasty bitch depression works – it saps every bit of energy and drive that you might be able to muster up and on top of that convinces you that a) nobody cares b) nobody wants to hear what you have to say and c) things aren’t going to get any better. Now that I’m blogging about positivity and happiness, I have the added burden of feeling like a total impostor when I get depressed and can’t summon the usual antidote to my gloomy “demon voice”. I’d like to say the clouds have passed, but they haven’t. I’ve just finally struggled out enough to change my perspective a little bit. I know depression’s never going to leave completely; it’s just how I’m wired. So I choose to look at it as a relative that I’m forced to live with but really can’t stand the sight of. Since neither of us has the luxury of moving out, I’m just going to try to go about my life and deal with it the best way I can. It’s like those old sitcoms where the roommates drew a line down the middle of the apartment. I know at some point that bitch is going to cross over on her own side again and until then, I’m just hunkered down trying to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing. But I have resolved to try harder to keep up with the blog, in spite of my “roommate”.
Now, on to “16 in 2016″…
I picked up the phrase in one of the Facebook blogging groups I belong to (not sure which one). A fellow blogger was inviting other bloggers to join her in setting 16 blogging goals for 2016. I loved the idea, but as I am a great lover of lists, I decided to expand on it a bit and apply it to my life in general. So here are my 16 in 2016 (Note: these are not resolutions because I always break those; that’s why I chose “goals” instead.):
16 BLOG/CAREER GOALS
- Write at least 2 posts a week on each blog in addition to my weekly features.
- Read through my mountain of blogging books/articles/worksheets/workbooks on how to improve my blogs.
- Find at least one seminar, workshop or conference to attend.
- Find a way to monetize each blog.
- Develop a product for this blog.
- Reach at least 500 subscribers for each blog.
- Find a side hustle that’s a good fit for me.
- Make my personal monthly financial goal by the end of 2016.
- Schedule guest bloggers for each month.
- Find a good platform for scheduling posts, content, etc.
- Work on my blog roll to help other bloggers get exposure.
- Submit to at least 5 websites.
- Host at least 2 giveaways on each blog.
- Take a grammar refresher course.
- Write something every single day, even if it’s just for me to read.
- Get more freelance work.
16 GOALS FOR MY HEALTH/BODY
- Size 14 by June 14!
- Reach my Fitbit steps goal at least 5 days a week.
- Cut out soda.
- Cut down on sugar.
- Cook at least 4 nights a week.
- Find some kind of fun, physical movement that I can do every day.
- Start using that damn CPAP more regularly.
- Make sure to keep up on all my yearly check-ups.
- Don’t beat myself up for the days when I’m not perfect at all of this.
- Drink more water.
- Get more sleep.
- Get outside more (except during allergy season).
- Keep up the regular gym visits!
- Less TV/cell phone/social media and more reading.
16 GOALS FOR MY MIND/HAPPINESS
- Stop saying “yes” to things that make other people happy and start saying “yes” to more things that make ME happy.
- Just stop trying to make other people happy, period. If it happens naturally, that’s awesome.
- Realize on a cellular level that not everyone’s going to like me. And be okay with that. And stop chasing the ones who either don’t like me or won’t treat me right.
- Try to reach that Goodreads Reading Goal this year, and start with all the unread books I already have.
- Finally get that damn Paris scrapbook done! (And the other ones, too!)
- Pay more attention to how extra time is spent and try spending it on things I want to do rather than letting mindless tasks suck it all up. Prioritize.
- Finally figure out how the hell to use Adobe Photoshop.
- Stop debating politics/religion/etc. and limit exposure to social media/news/etc. Seriously. Stick to that.
- Stop being so fucking serious!
- That to-do list about organizing your music collection and photos and keepsakes and such? Get on that.
- Mindfulness – work on it.
- Journal every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
- Those places that you always say, “I’ve always wanted to stop there but just never did”? Go!
- Check off some of those items on your genealogy to-do list.
- Start the Guerilla RAK and Little Free Library projects.
- Spend more time volunteering.
Now, here’s where you come in. I want to see YOUR list of 16 in 2016. It can be any list of goals you want to share. You can post them in the comments here, or you can post them to my Facebook page or come join The Happy Tribe group on Facebook and share it there! Or if you’d feel more comfortable just sending it to me, send it to email@example.com. I’d love to read it!
Much love. – Mama Bear
I have that exact magnet on my refrigerator, and I’ll tell you why…
This weekend marks the sixth anniversary of the beginning of a period of dramatic change in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the beginning of one of the roughest periods of my life as well. It began when one of our pugs, Coco, who was only 5 years old, died suddenly in our home. Just four days later, my dad was involved in a DUI that was so bad that the EMTs and police were sure that it was a fatality when they arrived on the scene. I actually drove by the scene as they were cleaning it up but had no idea it was my dad until the following day when my husband heard through it through the grapevine and had to come home and let me know. I was fairly certain I was going to lose my mind at that point. I was so shaken up at the idea of nearly losing Dad and so angry with him for not letting the emergency workers contact me to let me know that he’d been hurt. He was so concerned with keeping the fact that he’d been drinking from me that he couldn’t understand why I was so hurt.
Then just two weeks later, I got a call letting me know that my beloved grandma Dorothy was dying. I’ve talked about her before – she was my heroine, my role model and really, the only mother I ever knew. Even though it scared me, I stayed there in the room with her and my other family members as she passed. I’ve since come to realize that it was a profound gift to be there with her when she left this world, even though the pain of losing her was almost unbearable.
Over the next year or so, I lost two more family members. I never felt like I healed from any of those wounds before the next blow came. Then in February 2011, I went in for surgery to repair herniated and blown disks in my neck. While I was healing from my surgery, I found out my mom, who was living in New Mexico at the time, was gravely ill. She’d suffered a stroke and some other health issues right before I went in for my surgery, but it seemed that she was healing, albeit slowly. Within a month, she was gone. Even when my brother came to my house to prepare me (he’d gotten a call letting him know that Mom wasn’t going to last the night), I kept thinking he’d come to tell me that she was improving. Up until we got that final call, I still didn’t believe it. Her funeral services are a blur to me – I had a friend ask me recently if she’d attended Mom’s viewing, and I honestly can’t remember for sure. Those days I could barely get out of bed and the only thing that kept me from absolutely breaking apart was my family and Xanax. A bunch of drama blew up after she passed, but at that point, I didn’t even care.
Then in May, my grandpa Chester passed away. He’d been fighting Alzheimer’s for years, following a series of strokes and heart attacks, but he always seemed so strong even in spite of all that. The shock of losing him never fully set in – I had become so numb from all the other loss I think my mind just shut down at that point.
Soon after all this, our two oldest children moved out on their own. I wasn’t prepared at all for how that would affect me. They only lived an hour away, but not seeing them every day was just one more loss I wasn’t prepared to deal with.
Things were quiet for awhile and then in April of 2012, we found out my father-in-law George had lung cancer. Within 7 short months, he was gone. Even when the nurses said he only had 3 weeks to live, I thought they were full of shit. This was a guy who should’ve been retired but could never sit still long enough to enjoy retirement. He was still working, still mowing grass, working on the house, helping all of us out with various projects around our houses. George was a do-er. He was a man of steel. Invincible. And then he was gone. I didn’t even know how to help my husband and children grieve his loss at that point. I remember seeing my dad at the viewing, shaking my husband’s hand, giving me a hug, not knowing what to say, feeling so helpless. I knew how he felt.
Three months later, Daddy was gone. It happened so suddenly, and the circumstances were just horrific. I still have no idea how I got through the week leading up to his funeral. My dad wasn’t married, so it fell to my brother and I to do all the funeral planning, which I think was actually a lifesaver. It kept me busy enough that I didn’t have to think too much or feel too much. The day of the funeral came and I remember feeling so angry. Angry that I’d lost him so soon, angry at all the stupid, pointless things people say in those kind of situations, angry with myself for being angry at people who were just trying to be nice, angry that I hadn’t had a chance to say good-bye, angry that I wasn’t there with him when he died. The funeral itself is a blur. I remember getting hysterical at one point when they handed me the flag from his casket, but I don’t remember much else.
Six months after Dad died, his brother Doug passed suddenly. It was like losing Dad all over again. I hadn’t even begun to start grieving my dad when I lost another family member. At that point, I was just pissed at the entire world. Sick of funerals, scared to death to answer my phone for fear it was bad news, and convinced that I was cursed somehow. I really felt that life was testing me – pushing me to see just how much it would take to finally break me. I was terrified that something would happen to my kids or my husband because I knew that would be the thing that would send me over the edge.
And every day I’d pass by that goddamn magnet. I’m pretty sure I nearly threw it away about a dozen times. I’m absolutely sure I flipped it the bird a time or twelve. “Keep going”?!? Like I had any other choice! I cried and ranted and raved and broke things so many times and yet I kept going. I didn’t know what else to do. Lucky for me I’m stubborn as all hell.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s not for sympathy. And it’s not to one up anyone who’s gone through their own hell. It’s to prove a point, and that is this: that stupid magnet is right. The only way to get through hell is just to keep going. If I’d stopped at any point and let all that shit catch up to me, I’m not sure I’d be here right now. If I’d allowed myself to climb into a beer bottle or a bottle of Xanax to cope, I’d be stuck right in that same hell. I had to keep going and I was determined not only was I going to keep going, I was going to somehow create a better life for myself out of all the wreckage. And I have. It’s been years of progress and setbacks, of soul-crushing depths and also moments of heartbreaking beauty. It’s been a dirty, nasty, knock-down-drag-out fight, but I survived it and I used it to make the life that I have now. And my life now is pretty damn good.
Does any of this make me an expert on depression or grief or recovery or any of that stuff? No, not at all. It just means when I talk about changing your life by changing your thinking, I know it can work. It means that I know that it’s not easy to overhaul your entire mindset with positive thinking and self-care, but I know it can be done and I know that it’s worth it. It means that I’ve been through hell and clawed my way out of it. I’m not saying this as someone who’s had a rough day here and there and decided I wanted to write a self-help blog full of perky quotes. I think that there’s a bigger “why” in all of this and I think I made it through not just so that I could finally have a peaceful, happy life, but so that I could share what I’ve been through and hopefully make others see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train! I’m not someone who’s necessarily comfortable with showing all my scars, but I don’t think that any of this matters unless I’m honest and open about why I’m passionate about what I’m doing.
So if you’re going through hell, keep going. And trust me when I say that it’s worth the fight. YOU’RE worth the fight.
Much love – Mama Bear
I’ve been kind of quiet lately. I’ve been really busy, I’ve had some health issues that I still haven’t solved to my satisfaction (the next doctor that says the words “menopause” or “at your age” is gonna get punched), and to be completely honest, I’ve been struggling a bit. I’ve made some life changes that weren’t really accepted as well as I’d hoped, and while it didn’t surprise me all that much, it still hurts. That’s not something I’m always comfortable admitting, especially to people I don’t know really well. I’ve started to write a couple of times, but I would stop midway through a post and think, “Nah, I’m not going to go Debbie Downer on everybody.” Then I realized that maybe being totally honest is exactly what I should do since it’s pretty much my entire reason for starting this blog.
I don’t beat myself up for my need to hibernate anymore. I used to be so critical of my need to hide from the world and lick my wounds when things got tough. Now I have come to realize that it’s simply my way of coping. I also used to have people in my life that criticized me for it – for “hiding from the people that wanted to help me” – and even lost a few friends along the way because of it. But y’know, I don’t criticize other people for the way they handle things, and I don’t try to change them (unless of course, they’re involved in something that involves self-injury or self-medicating) so there’s no reason I should expect any different from others, or from myself. So yeah, I’m an introvert. I’m not really comfortable with people “helping” and I’m not always really open with my life and my problems and you know what? That’s okay, because when I’ve had my much-needed mental hibernation to mull things over, I come out and I talk it out with the ones I love most. And they know me and understand that about me.
I tend to get overwhelmed when my life gets too busy, even when it’s busy with happy things. I’ve felt like I’ve been meeting myself coming and going lately, and I know without a doubt if I don’t slow it down for just a little bit, I’m going to pay for it. I’ll wind up worn out and my immune system will pay me back by making me susceptible to everything that comes down the pike. So before it gets to the point that I’ve picked up bubonic plague from someone at the grocery store because I’ve let myself get run down, I’m learning that it’s okay to say “no” every once in awhile and take some time to recharge my batteries. And that’s exactly what I plan on doing this week.
I am changing, in lots of ways, and I’m far happier than I was even a year ago but I realize I still have a long way to go. Depression’s not going to let go that easily. But the good news is, because I’ve taken the time to learn more about depression, how it works for me, and to become more accepting of myself, I don’t doubt anymore that the sun is going to shine again, even on the darkest days. Because I’ve learned that self-care is important, and have devoted time to taking care of myself, I’m rewarded with more sunny days than cloudy ones. And even when my changes aren’t popular and are misunderstood, I’m able to get through it because I’ve built a solid foundation of self-love and self-acceptance and have worked hard to surround myself with people who love me just as I am and accept me, warts and all (I don’t really have warts).
So what’s my point in all this? Well, my point is, however you need to cope, as long as it isn’t hurting you or someone else, is okay. If being quiet and binge-watching Netflix with your phone on silent is how you get through a rough spot, do it. If you need to sit and cry for an hour and then get up and dance in your undies a la “Risky Business”, do it. If you need to call someone at 1 AM and rant senselessly for a bit, do it. If you need to write or paint or dance or drive or pet a puppy or go to the zoo or go shopping and it helps you, do it. Don’t max our your credit cards. Don’t eat until you make yourself sick. Don’t call someone that’s not going to help you or be accepting of you. Don’t have risky sex or binge drink or take pills or drive like a maniac because none of that is going to help you. And don’t kid yourself that it will. My point is, do what helps you. Like the kids say, you do you. And if someone can’t understand or accept that, well, do it anyway. And here’s some Kevin Hart because he makes me laugh my ass off every single time.
Take care of you. – Mama Bear
Sometimes the worst part of being depressed are the tricks your mind will play on you. And one of the worst tricks your mind plays is telling you that you’re the only one feeling this way. No one else could possibly understand because there’s obviously something wrong with you, and just you. You’re damaged goods. You’re crazy. You’re not good enough. No one wants to be with you because all of this is patently obvious to the rest of the world and they’re probably just humoring you by pretending to care about you anyway. You are alone. Any of this sound familiar?
Well, I’m here to tell you every bit of it is complete and utter bullshit. How do I know this? Because right now, roughly 350 MILLION people in the world suffer from depression. I’m not making that up – that figure is straight from the World Health Organization. Think about that for a minute. That means roughly 1 in every 20 people suffers from depression, just like you do. Odds are, you know a dozen or more people who are dealing with depression just like you. Not only that, but a lot of famous and highly successful people throughout history have had depression. Here’s just a few:
Jon Bon Jovi
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ken Griffey Jr.
Sir Anthony Hopkins
Edgar Allen Poe
John D. Rockefeller
Charles M. Schultz
Vincent Van Gogh
I’d say we’re in pretty good company, don’t you think? And those are just the people that we know about. There’s no way of knowing how many millions and millions of people suffer from depression and never seek help for it.
We’re not alone. You are not alone.
I think that’s a very important thing to bear in mind, especially when your mind is telling you the complete opposite. But that’s the entire point – depression turns your own mind into your worst enemy. And not only that, the stigma that still exists concerning mental illness makes us less likely to talk to others about our struggles or be completely honest about how we feel, even with those closest to us. That feeling of isolation, of loneliness, will make us feel worse and more alone when all around us, we have a community of people who are going through much the same thing that we are. The trick is to realize when your disease is trying to isolate you from others, trying to make you feel alone, and fight back.
And that’s why I’m here, and hopefully why you’re here. To share our experiences, to be part of a community of people who understands what we’re going through, who can share insights and ways to help one another. Just to not feel so damned alone. Because we’re not. As a matter of fact, we’re in pretty good company! And our honesty about what we’re dealing with, our stories, will help fight the stigma and help people understand what depression is.
So the next time your mind starts in on you, telling you you’re the only one, remember those 349,999,999 other people who are right there in that same boat with you. And remember that long, long list of famous and incredibly successful people – some of whom are still struggling and fighting right alongside us. Think of their accomplishments – those are presidents, artists, actors, writers – people who changed the world. They managed to do all of those wonderful things while fighting the same disease that you and I are fighting. And you can, too. The sky really is the limit because remember – you’re not alone.
Take care of yourself. – Mama Bear