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.