Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"...How Honest Do You Want To Live?"

I love this quote by the remarkable Robin Williams and in light of his tragic death, I have been pondering a few things.  Scary things.  Things that I would prefer to never let out.  Things that are sensitive and raw to my soul.  Things that I feel are important for me to share, even though I desperately want to keep them hidden, but the question is, "...how honest do you want to live?"  Because I believe that when we live bravely and honestly, we help each other get through our tough spots.  I also believe that we are given tough spots in order to develop understanding and compassion, so that we can share with those in similar situations as our own.  So I'm going to be brave and share something that is difficult in the hopes that my perspective will give hope to those who are struggling and understanding to those who have different struggles than mine.
If you ask anyone who knows me well, you will learn that I am a non-fiction reader.  I will choose non-fiction over a novel any day.  I love true stories and learning how things work and my subject of choice is learning the power of the mind.  I love it and I believe in the power of positive thinking.  I have read them all.  I am surrounded by inspirational quotes and I use positive affirmations.  I was raised from a young age, being taught that the mind is where it's at when it comes to creating a satisfying life.  I am a walking encyclopedia of positive thinking. 
I am also a very blessed woman.  I have a loving, understanding, and supportive husband, who I know would move mountains for me.  I have two amazing kids and even though I recognize that I am biased because I am their mother, they really are AMAZING!!  They are both miracle babies and I'm grateful everyday for the opportunity to be their mother.  My parents are incredible, as are my siblings and their families.  There isn't a woman on the planet who has better friends than I do.  The people in my life are the best.  Really, truly, the BEST.
I am also a spiritual person.  My deeply held beliefs are a treasure to me and I know that I am loved by a Heavenly Father who wants the best for me and provides me experiences to learn and grow.  I pray.  I study.  I sit in a pew on Sundays.
If you simply look at my photo albums on Facebook or look at my artwork, you might think that you have a complete picture of my fabulous life.  You might even want to live my fabulous life instead of your own, but behind the smiling family pictures and bright colored paintings, I have a secret.  I am a master at keeping my secret.  There are people close to me who don't even know my secret and I've kept it a secret because there is a stigma attached to it.  I have cautiously let in a few people but they were frightened by my secret and couldn't understand and a distance was created.  I have heard comments, felt judged.  I reacted like I had been burned and backed away, keeping my secret.  Plus, I really like giving the impression that I have it all together.  I don't like having to admit that THIS is my secret.  But here goes..
...I suffer from depression.  Not just the loss of interest in fun things, Eeyore feeling, suppressed appetite, kind of depression, but we're talking deep, dark, suicidal depression.  Which, when it first reared it's ugly head, caught this positive thinking, bright colored, completely loved, art girl by surprise.  "How can this be?," I would think.  "I have it all."  "How did I end up here?"  "This is NOT who I know myself to be!"  And yet, according to my doctors, this is how my body chemicals and brain are wired.  Do my thoughts enter into the equation?  I believe that, yes, they certainly do, but I also know about the depths of despair and how your thoughts betray you there.
Now, I don't presume to know what thoughts have gone through Robin Williams' or any other's head as they travel through dark places.  I can only tell you what thoughts go through mine and I tell you this not because I am looking for sympathy but because it is my desire to promote understanding and help someone else who is in a similar struggle.
Since the beginning of April, I have found myself back in the dark place after struggling for months with depression.  So far into that space that it scared me.  After doing everything that I knew to do, I sought out help.  It was all I had left in me.  I was unable to eat, unable to even decide what to make for dinner.  I had the focus of a fruit fly, which made reading, rational thinking, decision making impossible.  My typically well run home was chaotic and I had no clue how to get myself out of this spiral.  And that's when I found myself in a place that I didn't want to be...the couch of a therapist.  I wanted to do this on my own.  If I just thought some more positive thoughts, set some goals, painted something, prayed harder, I could get myself out of this mess...why can't I get myself out of this mess?  I begrudgingly sought help and I was MAD about it!  I felt like I was taking money away from my family to pay for a therapist.  I felt awful for not being able to come up with a dinner plan or remember that I put laundry in the washer TWO DAYS AGO.  I hated that I felt so distant from my husband and kids and I worried that because I couldn't feel their love for me, that maybe they couldn't feel my love for them.  I began to feel like a burden to those I love most.  I began to have visions of myself in a boat rowing towards the island that was my life, and the harder I worked, the harder I rowed, I only became further away.  I was completely alone while being surrounded by people who love me and would do anything to help me.  I began feeling that the kindest, most loving thing that I could do for my friends and family would be to end my life.  I would do anything for them, including sacrifice my life, even my eternal happiness, in order to make their lives better.  This is, of course, a ridiculous thought, but rational thinking isn't exactly a trait of the severely depressed person.  So in a fleeting moment of clear thinking I called the therapist.  
My therapist is great, but there just aren't enough of them in the world, so they are incredibly busy and there can be long stretches in between visits until you can get into the regular rotation.  So in an effort to do whatever I could do to help my situation, I started walking.  I took my dog to a beautiful path in my city and we walked it.  In the beginning, I focused on putting one foot in front of the other because that was all I had, but there is one teensy little obstacle on my walk...actually two of them...and they are called bridges.  These two bridges I crossed every day go over the Snake River and each and every day that I crossed them, I pondered jumping into the current that I knew to be unsurvivable.  I would have to remind myself that I was not doing my family a favor by jumping, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other, following my dog...every day...Every. Single. Day.  My dog would drag me out of bed, I'd put on my shoes and we would walk.  He was my therapy dog.  We became well known on the path.  My dog is like Norm from Cheers...everyone says "Mick!!!"
I also have become a regular on the couch of my therapist and am very grateful for her.  She is a good fit for me.  I still don't like the stigma of having a therapist and I fight against it but my therapist told me a little something that has made seeking help easier for me.  She told me that when she was in grad school, in one of her classes, the professor asked them to create a blended family.  They had to decide what issues each of the imaginary family members came into the family with and they came up with quite the combination of obstacles for this group...drug addiction, divorce, alcoholic, trauma of all kinds, jail, the WORKS.  This was one catastrophe of an imaginary family.  If there was an issue, then this fake family had it.  Then the professor asked the class, "Who's the healthiest person in this family?"  The class was stumped.  This was an imaginary family.  They didn't have enough information.  There was no way they could come up with the "healthiest" person in this mess of a family.  Then the professor said, "The healthiest person in the family is the one with the phone in their hand."  The person reaching out for help is the healthiest.  "Huh," I said, "I would have thought that they were just the craziest."  My therapist insists that that is not true and I really don't think she says that just because I pay her.  It is a story that I find helpful when I am ticked that I have to have help.  So much so, that I had to include it in my journal and I share it with you in the hopes that you, too, can be "the healthiest person in the family" if you find yourself in the dark place.
Often when I leave my therapist's office, she asks, "Who's the healthiest person in the family?" To which I respond, sometimes through gritted teeth, "The one with the phone in their hand." 
A few weeks ago, after putting at least 250 miles on my walking shoes, I walked across the bridge and realized that, for the first time, I didn't ponder jumping.  It's getting easier to focus.  I was able to read a non fiction book for the first time in a long while.  The lies my head tell me are becoming less and less frequent and are being replaced with rational thought again.  Do I think that I won't go back to the dark places?  I wish I could say that I won't but the fact is, I just don't know.

What I do know is that when a person ponders suicide, they are not necessarily looking for "the easy way out" or "being selfish," or any of those other catch phrases that you hear people say when the subject comes up.  They may actually even WANT to live but their thoughts betray them.  They may just believe that they are helping those they love.  They may think that they are doing the courageous thing by sacrificing themselves for their families.  The fact is when a person ponders suicide, rational thought has already left the building.  Someone else cannot begin to know how they convinced themselves that suicide was the best option...even someone who has been there.  All that we can know for sure is that a person with a clear mind would never even begin to ponder the things that pass through the brain of a suicidal person.
My hope in sharing this in such a public way, is to remind us all to just be kind to each other.  Try not to see another's situation through eyes that cannot possibly begin to understand.  Try not to judge.  Just love each other.  But really my greatest hope is that if you are reading this,  and you find yourself somewhere that you don't want to be, that you will do the courageous thing and reach out and just keep reaching out until you can begin to find the best way for you to heal.  No two people have the same path but I know there is always hope, even when your mind is not convinced.  And remember, "Who's the healthiest person in the family?"  "The one with the phone in their hand."  Be the one with the phone in your hand because you are so loved and worthy of the help you need.


  1. "Who's the healthiest person in the family?" "The one with the phone in their hand...courageously offering it to another suffering soul." You may have saved a life today! We love and admire you and pray for you everyday! You are simply amazing!

  2. Thanks for sharing, Jolene! This is great insight. I have a dear friend who also went through a very dark time. She always tells me that the most brave, most courageous people are those who are struggling and can find the strength to reach out for help. I appreciate posts like this because I too think more and more people need to understand what depression is and how to deal with it or how to effectively support a loved one who suffers from it. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks HayB!!! They are brave and courageous when the reach out for help because, despite my therapist's advice to have the phone in hand, depressed people are often terrified of using the phone AT ALL! We just have to look out for each other and I'm sure your friend is so grateful for you. I know I think you're pretty dang swell!

  3. Thank you for expressing so well what I have been too scared, too ashamed, or in it too deeply to say. I want to be healthy.

    1. I think there is a common misconception that people with depression are depressed because they want to be miserable. I LOVE that you remind others that you "want to be healthy." That is AWESOME! I don't know why people assume that we are having so much fun in depression that we want to stay there. Remember, sweet girl that you are needed and that no one else can fill your shoes on this planet so just keep the phone in your hand until you find the right help for you...a sometimes long and frustrating process, I know, but so worth it. Keep on fighting the good fight. Hope is always there...even when we can't find it.

  4. Jolene,
    Thank you for writing this! You are an amazing person! I have always looked up to you ever since being friends with Jessie. I too have suffered with severe depression and anxiety and even though it is an awful thing to go through, I am grateful for the understanding it has given me. Keep fighting. Keep reaching out! You are very talented and your art and your writing will help many people!
    With love, Lisa

    1. Thanks sweet Lisa! You are wonderful! Love you!

  5. I don't know you personally, but I know your sweet mother. She is a wonderful woman. You must take after her. This hit very close to home, thank you for your honesty and bravery. I struggle with depression as well as many people in my family. In March my husband attempted suicide by shooting himself, he survived missing his heart by an inch and a few weeks ago is 28 year old brother committed suicide. Depression is a battle I've become very familiar with. You've touched my heart and soul with your words. ♡♡

    1. I'm sorry to hear that you have such a relationship with depression. Depression doesn't care who you are, how much money you make, where you live (although I'd be willing to test out living on a tropical island, you know, just to prove the theory), or how many Academy Awards you have. We all just need to love and support each other and when we find ourselves in trouble, be the one with the phone in our hand. Of course, the irony is not lost on me when I give advice about calling for help as depressed people are generally in fear of making phone calls at all. When even calling to order a pizza seems impossible, I know the courage involved in picking up a phone and asking for help. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story here and helping me get to know you a little better. You words alone tell me that you are a SUPERWOMAN.

  6. My Mom has depression and I have suspicions, that I have it myself though it is not constant. Lately I have been researching the condition in ways of reading articles and blog posts such as the one you have so courageously posted. I am trying to find ways to help better my understanding of what my mom is going through and in that way help her. I am very grateful that you have chosen to share what must have been some of your darkest and hardest trails and struggles. Thank you for sharing you perspective so perfectly and bravely. If we didn't have people like you who are brave enough to post this not for themselves, but for a chance to help others, I would have nothing to go off of excpet wikipedia text book definitions that are good for knowing what depression is with lots of big words, but big words won't help me understand how my Mom is feeling and thinking sometimes when it might be the hardest. So if you haven't already heard it enough in the previous comments of grattitude above, and if you feel like you have accomplished absolutely nothing today, just know that you at least succeeded in helping just one more person out. So for one last time (I promise haha) ,Thank you for sharing experience and out look. Even though we don't know each other, it means a lot.

  7. Jolene, Thanks so much for your very well written thoughts. It is helpful for those who suffer and those who are trying to better understand those that do. Is it okay to print and give to a friend who is in that dark place right now? Karen (Time Out for Women Friend)

    1. Absolutely TOF Karen, you may print it.

  8. I really really ,enjoyed reading this.When I think of picking up the phone to get help I feel I have failed in my life in some way.Labelling myself in my family as the one who struggles.But now I will feel differently.Your story has given me hope.One foot in front of another to begin my path out of a long dark depression.One step at a time.Thank you for sharing.

  9. Very courageous and I imagine somewhat cathartic, Jolene.
    Sometimes it feels good to throw it all out there and see who's still around you when the dust settles.
    I've walked the same path you have, several times in my life.
    A couple of years ago, I had a fairly detailed exit strategy worked out and was teetering on the edge of testing it.
    Actually, there would've been no real testing needed, because the plan was thoroughly drawn out and just needed that final signature.
    I won't go into details on why I stepped back from the ledge.
    The whole thing's still a little more personal than I feel comfortable throwing out to the world.
    I just want to say that you did an incredible job with this entry and I totally get what you're laying down.
    Many people wonder why you just can't quit feeling sorry for yourself and cheer up. Sometimes they give you a nice hug, tell you you'll be fine and then you don't hear from them for a few weeks. Sometimes they just tell you that you're weak.
    Here's a little exercise for the people who have never been initiated into the club -
    Imagine the worst day you've had in your adult life.
    Don't think about what happened during that day, just think about how you felt at the end of it.
    Now imagine thinking into your future and the only think you can focus on, is feeling that miserable way for the rest of your life.
    Convince yourself that there's nothing to look forward to, nothing to gain, you just hang out and hurt until the time comes when you're finally fortunate enough to be able to cash your chips in.
    It's not right, but that's exactly how it feels.
    It wears on you day by day, drains you, and digs you deeper into the pit.
    Finally, some people just give in.
    I was nearly one of these people.

    As Jolene mentioned earlier, I'm not looking for, nor do I want any sympathy.
    I'm just trying to put a little dent in a whole lot of ignorance.

    Jolene - You totally rock, dude!

    1. DAVE!!! Thank you for sharing this. I remember this time...my husband was always worried about you. I'm grateful that you are willing to put in your little dent. Unless we speak, we can't expect others to understand what seems impossible to make sense of. And Dave-You totally rock too, dude!

  10. Jolene, wow you are amazing. I had no idea, figured it was always the fibromyalgia that was keeping you home. I thought that is what you were talking about. I have had my own depression but nothing as bad as this. My friend Kate has and has walked where you have been. I am so glad that you sought help. The world would be a greyer place without you in it. You are so courageous to write this post. It will help so many and I am sure it has helped you to unload. I now have wonderful visions of you and Mick walking the greenbelt. If you ever want company just say the word. I am there for you. Hugs


  11. This is a great message, Jolene. Thanks so much for sharing your story. As I read I could relate sooo well.