Tag Archives: Hope for depression

A Constant Process of Coming Back

“Holy crap, you’re back! Where the hell have you been?” I blurt.

It comes out too hard, like an air-bubble blast from a ketchup bottle. I groan.

I have been sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop open. My butt has warmed the grooves of my grubby wooden chair, and my heart feels tight in my chest.

I am supposed to be writing, lightening the world and my debt load one essay at a time. But I am not writing. I am drowning.

I have got to get these words moving.

I have banged a title across the top of this document. It is my summoning incantation, an invitation for my muse to come and show me the way out of the crushing pressure in my head.

And she has appeared. I heard the dry tick-tack of her raccoon claws jogging my way. I turned my head, and saw her furry grey form approach.

But instead of relief, I felt a cold flare of anxiety.

My armpits began to prickle. This isn’t the sweet comfort I was hoping for.

That’s when I spat criticism at my dearly-missed friend.

Now, my Dark Little Critter has stopped beside my chair. She doesn’t answer my rude question. Her face is blank.

She cocks her head to the side and stares at me, then rises up on her hind legs and begins to sniff. She puts her paws on my thigh and leans in for a stronger whiff. Her head sways back and forth and her nostrils dilate, sniffety-sniffing, taking my measure.

Finally, she stops, and sits back on her haunches.

“You’re in strange shape,” she says.

“You have no idea!” I answer. “I’m stuck! All gunked up. I can’t breathe. Can’t think. Can’t sleep! Can’t parent, or wife, or write. I’m full of garbage. Where the hell have you been?”

My voice cracks and my heart hammers.

Critter stays seated at my feet, looking up at me. I become hyper-conscious of my face – my cheeks, mouth, and nostrils. They all seem to be snarling. I try to force them to relax, but they won’t listen. There is a numb disconnection between me and my body, and I am awful.

“You’ve been gone for months!” I suddenly cry. “How could you leave me like that? I’ve been floundering without you. Everything is bloated and stiff: every muscle, every thought. I’m in agony. I needed you, and you didn’t come.”

Now, there are hot tears in my eyes.

Critter’s face softens. Her green eyes seem to melt into puddles of mossy light.

Looking into them, I feel like I’ve slipped into the heart of a deep cave. I see a pool of cool water, rippling with light from a source I can’t explain. In this space that should be dark and cold, I feel penetrating comfort.

Critter’s voice brings me back to my kitchen.

“I know it’s been too long,” she says. “You’ve been unhealthy. It’s been hard for me to watch.”

“You were watching?” I ask. “Why didn’t you come?”

“Because you never asked,” she said. “I watched and waited, and hoped you would reach out, but you never called.”

Now I feel sorry. A wave of it rolls over me, dousing my hot blades of anger.

She’s right. I didn’t call. I had felt the freezing stress, rising higher and higher up my body. My toes went numb, my groin screamed alarm, and my chest squeezed blue. I was strangling inside the pressure of fear and despair, but I never called out for help.

I had forgotten that was an option. I lost the words to say and the numbers to call. I went horribly blank.

Two blinders had covered my eyes; one said that I was alone, trapped in a world where no one and nothing could help me. The other said that no one would help me, even if they could, because my darkness was too sticky and gross. I was unbearable to touch.

“So you kept your mouth shut,” Critter interjects, having seen this story scroll across my trembling brow. “How did that work for you?”

“Not good, Critter. Not good.” I admit. I take a full breath and sigh it out slowly, feeling the weight of my mistake.

I didn’t call for help when I needed it. I didn’t open up and give my friend a chance to help. I made her watch me drown, and attacked her when we finally came together. That must have been painful.

This truth, seen directly, is sad, but not crushing. I am surprised that I can fully feel my regret, and somehow draw strength from it. It feels like next time, I will remember this, and I will do better.

I look up at my fairy god-rodent. She is crying.

“I’m sorry, my friend.” I say. I scoop her up and hug her to my chest. It feels like I have shed a chain mail sweater. My burden is suddenly lighter, and there is no more barrier keeping warmth away from my heart.

I bury my nose in the Critter’s thick, coarse coat, and inhale the dusty spice of her body. She sighs.

This is why people love pets, I think, wishing that I wasn’t allergic to real fur. I would get the most intuitive, raccoon-looking cat I could find and love that thing with all my soul.

“It’s not about holding a furry body so much as choosing to open up ,” Critter says.

“Mmm-hmm,” I agree. And it starts with being honest with myself.

I hold my imaginary raccoon for one more breath, letting the warmth of our embrace penetrate right to my spine. Then I let go, and she hops down from my lap.

I notice that the cold pressure around my lungs has released, but a weight has settled down on my lap. It doesn’t interfere with my breath, but it begs to be handled.

I look down, and see the weight take on a physical shape. It is a grubby bar of steel, and there is a number stamped into it.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” I ask Critter.

“That is your work. You need to make something out of it. Take your aching and turn it into something useful,” she answers.

“Oh. Okay,” I say. “But what does this number mean? I can’t quite make it out.”

“That is the number of people you need to help. You don’t need to know how many just now, but I’ll tell you, it’s a lot.” She explains.

“Whoa,” I say. “I think I see five digits!”

“Yep. But don’t worry about that. Just start working, and start helping.” she says.

“Okay,” I say. My chest is getting warmer. This feels right. “What happens when I hit that number?”

“You’ll see,” Critter answers, and her eyes sparkle.

I really want to know what is making her smile like that, but I know damn well she’s not going to tell me. It makes my eyebrow wrinkle, but I give it up for now.

“Alright,” I say. “One more hug, then.”

“Of course,” she says. “Then, get to work.”

And now, I am.

Today, I want to leave you with a few thoughts:

First, we are all drifting in the same ocean. No one is so wretched that the world has created an entire, extra-horrible ocean just for them. The universe is way too busy maintaining the physics of every atom, planet, and star system to single out one pitiful human. We are all in this mess together.

That means that you are not alone in your darkest times, even though your weather may be stormier at the moment than others’.

If you feel like you’re drowning, reach out your hand.

Ask for what you need, and try not to blame people for not reading your mind.

Apologize when your fear makes you mean. Get back on track.

Find people you can trust to listen and help you get oriented when you’re lost. They may be friends, professionals, or figments of your imagination. Call on them as needed. Allow them to support you.

Return the favour when someone you love falls into the ocean.

And most of all, never stop trying until you grasp salvation. It is near, even when you can’t see it. Remember that. And find it.

Cue Musical Montage: Dark Little Critter is Lacing Up for Mental Health Bootcamp

The Critter and I have been battling against a hulking springtime depression. We’ve been in the ring with it for over a month, and we’ve had enough. It’s time to knock this greasy sucker down and get out from the stench of its presence.

Throughout this grisly matchup, my shadowy friend has been in my corner. Every time I flop onto the bench, she wipes blood from my nose with a soft cloth in her tiny paw and says,

“Don’t just stand there, blocking with your face. Do something.”

“I am doing something,” I mumble through the hamburger that used to be my mouth. “I’m taking refuge in Being.”

She raises a racoon eyebrow and answers, “I think you’re doing it wrong.”

She may be right. I have been trying to shake this bad boy off through avoidance. I have traded writing for reading, walking for baths, and real food for these chewy marshmallow bars made with various kinds of sweet garbagey cereal.

It has been interestingly crunchy, but not productive. I can’t really enjoy these mental getaways, because I spend them dreading their end, anticipating the cold wad of despair that will resettle in my lungs the moment I turn back to my obligations.

What has made things worse is that my kids and I have been taking turns getting sick since January. At any given time, one of us has been either aching, whining, and spewing sticky geysers of mucus, or cramping, whining, and spewing stinky geysers of ew-ness.

This has been not only disgusting, but also a surprisingly potent threat to my mental resilience. Our family germfest has blown away my survival routine. I’m self-destructing without my thrice-weekly visits to the gym where I can sweat, write, and get the hell away from the river of, “Nos!” and “Mommy I wants!” that make me want to slowly push a smelly marker all the way up my nose (right into the old Crayola oblongata, just like Homer).

Now, when I’m at my messiest, my husband has left town for work. The next couple of weeks are going to have me chained with one small, complaining child on each ankle.

It’s like this hideous depression is about to tag in a fresh new harbinger of hell.

I decided I don’t want to go to hell. I want to come back and be here, available for my kids. And for the love of everything sweet and chocolate and holy, I want to start tasting my snacks again. I need to get my brain back online.

I am ready to win this round, to climb out of the ring laughing and be done being a sporting victim.

Therefore, I’m starting on a Mental Health Bootcamp.

Like a strength training program for the brain, this curriculum is going to provide structure and move me through techniques that work.

It is based on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and will involve daily exercises to strengthen the neural pathways that create calm and clarity.

MBSR has been studied extensively since 1979. In numerous university and hospital trials, it has produced measurable improvements in mental and physical health for people suffering from anxiety and depression, as well as heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain.

Starting today, I will be following the Free Online MBSR program at PalouseMindfulness.com, and sharing my experiences here on this blog. You all are going to be my accountability team, so thanks.

If you are curious about MBSR, or if you can feel something furry tickling your ear with a whisper of, “Doooo it!”, then I invite you to join me.

You don’t have to purchase anything, input personal information, or send the first toenail clippings of your third born daughter. Just check out the videos, talks, and readings.

Here’s how to get involved:
– Visit palousemindfulness.com to explore the program or try it for yourself.
Like Dark Little Critter on Facebook to have new posts, updates, and additional resources show up on your newsfeed.
– Send me a Private Message on Facebook to be added to a Bootcamp Discussion Group where we can talk about our experiences, mindfulness, and recovery from depression.

If you are terrified of cracking under the weight of stress, and think you should do this someday, do it now. There is no reason not to.

There is no cost, no travel, and no schedule. You can make it work with whatever time you have, even just a few minutes before you go to sleep each night.

The exercises won’t be easy (I know because I’ve done this type of thing before), but they will be productive. Within a week or two, you will start to feel stronger, steadier, and freer. As you build the relaxation muscle in your brain and body, it will change the way you move through each day, the good ones and the bad.

You can change your brain. You can take whatever you are doing now, whether it is self-management through exercise and diet, or getting help through counselling or medication, and add this piece (the program recommends that you let your counsellor or doctor know you are participating so they can monitor how it affects your therapy).

If it feels right, go for it.

There are a million right ways to get better. I know that MBSR is what I need right now. By the time my husband comes home from his trip, I will be waking up with lightness in my chest.

Whether you join me, or take your own path forward, the Critter and I hope to see you rise up lightly, too.

There is Always a Way

My oldest daughter, a four-year-old so opinionated she will probably launch her own blog before I get this one off the ground, recently had her first nightmare. At least, it was the first one she shared with me.

The dream involved volcanoes. As she related it, several things struck me. First was the sense that this moment was critical, my first attempt at open surgery on her anxiety. There was a hush in my ears that blocked out the breath of the furnace and other murmurs of the night. I wanted to be there and get my reaction right.

Second, I noticed my little one’s tone. It wasn’t hysterical or dramatic, like I would expect from a small child confronting the limitlessness of imagined fear.

Her voice was quiet, and surprisingly sad, like she was resigned to a crushing inevitability. I realized that she had not come to me for comfort after her bad dream. I might not have known about it at all, if I hadn’t been woken by her baby sister and noticed her sitting awake as I passed.

“Mommy,” she whispered when I asked what was wrong, “I’ll never go back to sleep. Never.”

I took her in my arms and could feel the weight of sadness, her chest pressing into me with more than her little body’s mass.

I held her close, rocking her, breathing words into her hair, willing the warmth of my chest to radiate into her. Her trunk was stiff and her limbs were limp. It felt out of sync.

I pushed my worry down and pulled my knowledge up, all the things I knew about childhood emotions, managing anxiety, and the role I wanted to play in her growth.

I listened quietly until she was done. I reflected back the feelings she described, and admitted that sometimes, I had bad dreams, too. I said I knew a trick that helped me feel better, and would share it if she’d like.

She sat on my lap, turned her back into me, and looked out into the darkness. Then, she nodded.

I said, “My trick is to close my eyes and imagine the dream again, but this time, I imagine myself solving the scary problem. I might fix it with magic, or by talking, or fighting, or calling someone who can help me.

Maybe you could wave your hands like Elsa and make all the hot lava get frozen, so it’s not dangerous anymore. Maybe you could make it turn into chocolate syrup, and eat it all up. Or maybe you could imagine a great big butterfly that appears and picks you up and flies you to safety.

All you need to remember is that there is always a way to get safe. Every scary dream has a way out: a secret door, or magic spell, or fairy godmother who will come to help when you call her. No matter what, there is always a way to get safe.

When you wake up and feel so scared and can’t get back to sleep, start telling yourself, ‘There is always a way to get safe.'”

We repeated the words together a few times. At first, my girl was reluctant, then she got into it, and finally, she started to seem a little bored. She rubbed her eyes.

“Great job, Honey, “I said, kissing her soft hair, “I’m so proud of you.” I laid with her a little while, and when her breath got slow and even, I crept back to my own bed.

Ironically, now I couldn’t sleep. I was happy with how we handled her fear, but bothered by what I saw behind it. That quiet shift she made, from fear to hopeless resignation, bore the signature of my personal monster. That is depression, in a nutshell.

This was my biggest fear, the reason why I didn’t want to have kids. I hated the idea of bringing someone into the world who would grow up tormented like me, and many others in our family.

I felt tangled in smothering blankets of guilt, shame, and doubt. I looked ahead and saw my gorgeous girl struggling, growing up emotionally stunted, sabotaging herself both purposefully and unwittingly. I saw her in my place, fighting dark urges that never completely go away, especially when near a high railing.

I sneaked down to the bathroom, where I could tremble and cry without disturbing my husband. I did that for quite a while.

What finally brought my breathing back was a particularly sharp slice of shame. It poked me between the ribs, harder and harder until I could barely breathe. When I finally paid attention to it, I realized it was not just garden-variety shame at my brokenness, but something more focused: it was shame at my hypocrisy.

I realized I would never be able to sell the whole, “There is always a way to make things okay,” shtick to my anxious daughter unless I lived it, too.

My nose stopped gushing and my chest stopped heaving that very second.

I won’t say that I haven’t had any moments since then of sorrow and fear for the journey ahead of my sensitive kid. I have. However, I can say honestly that recognizing the need to take my own medicine in order to help my child has made me ready to commit with all my soul to winning the war inside me.

Fighting depression through every strategy imaginable has dredged a rusty ton of useful tidbits from the bottom places of my life. The knowledge is there to help me and my girl; I just need to trust it and use it, to wave my magic hands and call upon the wisdom to resolve each nightmare as it comes.

If you see me looking in the mirror, or watching my star-bright, complex little girl with a smile on my face but a wrinkle in my brow, you will know that I am whispering to myself, “There is always a way.”

And there is. For you, too.