Grace Under Fire

“Give yourself some grace.”

This is a phrase I’ve heard often lately. “You’ve had a rough few months.” “You’re going through a lot.” “Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

I’m eating way too much ice cream.

“You’ve had a rough few months. Give yourself some grace.”

I’m spending way too much time with my bed and Netflix.

“You’re going through a lot. Give yourself some grace.”

Sometimes I just don’t even know what to do with myself.

“Don’t beat yourself up about it. Give yourself some grace.”

I’m giving myself grace, but it’s too much. I just need to say that: it’s too much. Grief is one thing; grace is one thing. Giving up is something else entirely.

Staying in bed on a rainy day when you have no obligations and can indulge yourself by binge-watching your new favourite show is lovely. I’m all for it.

tiny pink clamshell

Staying in bed because you can’t figure out what to do with yourself and can’t summon the — the what? What is it that’s needed to not let depression win? Energy? Strength? Motivation?

Whatever it is, I don’t have it right now.

I stare in the face of JUST DO IT, and I don’t.

It – whatever it is – should be a simple thing, but it’s not simple. It’s a giant chasm, in fact. It’s the difference between maintaining mental health on the one side and just plain not coping on the other. Between staying in bed and getting up to do something. Between eating all the ice cream and not. Between eating, period, and not.

There’s grace and then there’s giving up.

“Perhaps your expectations are a smidge high,” a friend said.

“Just give yourself some grace,” they all say.

“You’ll get through this

Move past it

Be okay.”

“Just give yourself some grace.”

But not too much, I think.

After all, there has to be something left when I come out the other side.

Lost: One Happy Place

Twice in the last two days, completely unprompted and in totally separate conversations, two friends have mentioned that being near the ocean is their happy place. These friends are entirely different from one another, and in fact don’t know each other. But each made this statement so resolutely without even having to think about it.

It made me wonder where my happy place is.

sand bar

I’ve lost it, you see. If you asked me to think of the one place I can be happy, peaceful, content, no matter what else is going on, I’d say… I don’t know. I don’t know where that is. I don’t think I have one right now.

I have places I enjoy, but that’s not the same.

I have places I retreat to, but that’s not the same either.

I’ve been doing more retreating than enjoying lately. Since this.

It turns out you can’t just draw a line in the sand. There isn’t everything before and everything after. It’s more like a Venn diagram – everything that remains untouched from before, everything that will be new after, and all the crap in the middle.

It turns out the crap in the middle is both bigger and crappier than I had expected, and at the moment it feels like I will be in that middle zone forever.

Logically, I know that won’t be the case, but today I came face-to-face with something that has moved from the untouched zone into the crap zone. I should have anticipated it, or known that there would be places from before that would become tainted by the now. But I didn’t and so I ran smack into it and now a place that had good memories…doesn’t anymore.

Another piece added to the middle zone.

Another thing to grieve.

ocean at sunset

Right now I am near the ocean, which used to be my happy place. Less so, strangely, once I moved away from it, but definitely a place I still enjoy.

I ended up in this particular place quite unexpectedly. It has incredible views and amazing sunsets and an abundance of shells.

It’s beautiful here, but right now it’s not managing to be my happy place.

Maybe nowhere is. Maybe the peace and contentment that come with a happy place are elusive when you’re in the crap zone.

Regardless, right now, in this place, the sun is setting on this difficult day.

And for right now, I will simply enjoy the view with as much peace and contentment as it can offer.

West coast sunset 

11 Ways to Let the Light Back In

I recently ended up in a crappy situation and had to scrape myself off rock bottom – possibly the rockiest bottom of depression I have ever encountered. I couldn’t stay like that, literally couldn’t live like that, so I deliberately and thoughtfully found a way to pull myself back up. The beautiful thing was that I did it, and it was hard but also not really that hard. It showed me that even in the crappiest of situations it’s possible to find your strength – even more than you knew was there – and draw on it. It’s possible to let the light back in.

I’ve been thinking about how to do that and there are some strategies that usually work for me, so I thought I’d share them with you (and with myself for the next time I need them, because there’s sure to be a next time).

Here are 11 ways to let the light back in.

11 ways to let the light back in
1. Listen to podcasts that make you think. I like This American Life, Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, and (when it returns) Invisibilia. Two feel-good podcasts are Dear Sugar and Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

2. Read the Brave Girls’ Club.
Brave Girls Club quote
3. Read stories from people who have experienced the same thing you’re struggling with. It will make you feel less alone.

4. Exercise. Just do it!

5. Find something that’s happening in your community that sounds interesting and go to it. Getting out is hard, but helpful.

train tracks
6. Put your phone down and pick something else up – a book, a craft, anything.

7. Related: turn off notifications for Facebook and whatever else sucks you in and allows you to be passive. Don’t wait for other people to post something interesting/inspiring/funny. Passive procrastination is a huge mood killer.

8. Go for a walk and deliberately look. Take pictures of things that make you pause.

art in a garden9. Eat ice cream. Or whatever you like to treat yourself with, but use it as a treat. Don’t make it a habit, or it will contribute to your crappy feelings.

10. Colour. Yes, with crayons (or, my preference, pencil crayons).

adult coloring pages

11. Make your bed. Truly, it helps.

What strategies have you found that help you let the light in?

The Line

I have (very) recently entered a new phase in my life. It feels like I am standing on a beach and I turn around to find that someone has drawn a line in the sand right behind me, and that side of the line represents before and this side of the line represents now. I am standing right on the other side of the line but there’s no going back. It’s not even a big line, but it’s a line. I didn’t really expect it to be drawn there, but there it is.

I did try to erase the line, sort of. After all, it’s just a line, freshly drawn and not very deep. If I fill in the hole, I thought, maybe the line won’t be there anymore.

But it doesn’t work like that.

I can’t explain what this is just yet. I’m not ready, and it’s not entirely about me. I am walking another line as well, one that’s between my desire (and probably need) to write about this and the reality that it’s not time. But please bear with me. It’s a significant, in fact life-changing, thing and I don’t know what to do. But I do need to put it out there as I work through it.

road curving out of sight

In one of her Dear Sugar columns, author Cheryl Strayed (when she was still writing anonymously) was asked, “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?”

Part of her answer included this:

“I talk to my partner and my friends. I make lists. I attempt to analyze the situation from the perspective of my ‘best self’ – the one that’s generous and reasonable and forgiving and loving and big-hearted and grateful. I think really hard about what I’ll wish I did a year from now. I map out the consequences of the various actions I could take. I ask what my motivations are, what my desires are, what my fears are, what I have to lose, and what I have to gain. I move toward the light, even if it’s a hard direction in which to move. I trust myself. I keep the faith. I mess up sometimes.”

That’s what I am trying to do.

I have had many people tell me I am strong and can handle this and am so loved and will be okay. Easy for them to say, I think. What I think is that this is just another thing I have to deal with that might sink me. It feels, on a daily (and in fact moment-to-moment) basis that I can’t do this. I am not equipped. I am clearly messed up and this is just another thing that will reveal that to be true.

I can do this, of course, and I will, but oh, it’s hard.

The irony (truth? beauty?) is that I’m mentally moving through the phases of this fairly quickly. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – the stages of this, at least for me, are pretty much exactly the stages of coping with dying. And just like those stages as identified by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, these stages are not linear. They are messy and they stop and start and sometimes one phase completely overwhelms the others and makes any feeling other than that anger or that depression seem absolutely, undeniably impossible to achieve. And then it retreats, even if only slightly, and something else can start to emerge.

I can’t recall exactly how I came across that particular Dear Sugar column, but like so many things that find their way to me when I need to see them it was an unassuming click on a passing link that led me down a path I didn’t know was there and didn’t know I needed to find until I was standing on it.

Since crossing that line a mere three weeks ago, I have had a few glimpses of my “best self” – the one that’s generous and reasonable and forgiving and loving and big-hearted and grateful – and I know she’s in there. At this stage she’s being drowned out more often than not by my not-best self – the one that’s angry and hurt and sad and scared and disappointed – but she’s in there.

It’s early, though. It’s early days on a very hard journey and I’m going to mess up sometimes, but I’m trying to keep the faith and continue on.

After all, it’s only a line.

footprints in the sand

Robin Williams, Suicide and the Effect on Others

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the few days I spent in my friend’s basement suite in April 2011. I don’t know why that time keeps coming to mind, but I think about it as I walk up the stairs, as I sit at my desk at work, when I walk the dog. I don’t remember much about the period of time when I hit rock bottom, but I remember exactly what those days felt like.

alarm clock

I remember sitting on the couch until 2 or 3 a.m., writing or watching movies or just sitting in the dark trying to breathe. I (not a night owl) stayed up as late as I could, then took the pill that knocked me out cold for 12 hours straight. I know a lot of people find nighttime really hard when struggling with depression, but for me it was easier than being awake during the day when everyone else was functioning like normal our take on Sizegenetics review human beings and I couldn’t. I remember seeing people walk around the grocery store one day as if everything was completely normal when it so clearly wasn’t.

I don’t know what has caused those days to be so present in my mind lately. Maybe it’s because life hasn’t been entirely easy lately and I remember when it was so much worse. Or maybe it’s because at that point every moment was devoted to getting out of that horribly dark place and these days the struggle is just an item on the agenda between commuting and putting kids to bed, between brushing my teeth and thinking about what to have for lunch. It’s there, almost all the time, sometimes less, sometimes more, but I don’t have the luxury of focusing solely on what to do about it.

The thing that’s different between that time and now is that then I thought the struggle was temporary. It was an enormous, pothole-laden hill that I had to get up and over, but if I got over it, I thought, I’d be in the clear. Now, I know it doesn’t work that way. At least not for me.

Lately I am reminded, on an almost ridiculously regular basis, that this is my lot in life. I’m fine! I think, and then I wake up one day and observe I’m a little bit less fine than I thought. I find strategies to feel okay, and then realize those strategies are fine when I have the house to myself for a weekend but a lot less realistic when there are three other people and a dog there. I rail against the permanence of this struggle in my life but figure I’m making it through and one day things will probably be easier.

And then a celebrity dies by suicide after battling depression for years and all those things I think I believe seem a little less true.

I saw the news about Robin Williams as soon as I got home from work yesterday, and suddenly it was hard to breathe. I cried a lot last night, and this morning, and I know I’m not the only one. But as much as I loved him as an actor, I’m not really crying for the loss of the man; I’m crying because I know how he must have felt and the simple truth that I could very well end up feeling that way again is staring me straight in the face. And it’s not wearing a red clown nose to soften the blow.

I didn’t go to work today, because I needed to not be sitting at my desk trying not to cry and having to explain that, no, I’m not that sad about Robin Williams, it’s just that it makes my ongoing strategy of just treading water feel a little bit hopeless.

I think I have more to say about this, but there are already so many posts about what this all means and how we should react to it. I don’t know that I can contribute anything useful to that conversation, so while I think about how my story—and all our stories—can best help keep this conversation going, I’ll leave some links to perspectives I especially appreciated:

Be The Light – Finding Walden

When Reaching Out Isn’t Enough – Truthfully

We Lost One of Our Own – Learned Happiness

Put On Your Happy (Yet Sometimes Really Depressed) Face – That Tam I Am

A simple but true graphic: Nest (Because honestly, sometimes this is the only thing we can think of that will help)

And Huffington Post put together a piece called What Facebook Statuses Would Say If We Were Honest About Mental Health. They asked me to contribute, and I did, gladly.

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