Hawaii honeymoon

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 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.

Whole for Whole

A little over a year ago I started taking a new medication. I’d had a blip, and I was pissed off about that, and I really didn’t want to have to start another medication. But I took it, and aside from feeling drunk and having a very weird middle-of-the-night conversation on the first night I took it, I hardly noticed it. Except not long after I realized it had one profound effect: It finally, miraculously allowed me to control my anger.

This was revolutionary for me, in the holy-crap-how-is-it-five-years-later-and-I-am-only-figuring-this-out-NOW sort of way. A pill to control anger? Sign me up!

It does have some side effects, though, one of which being that it masquerades quite nicely as a sleeping pill. Which is fine, except it makes mornings sort of drowsy, and that’s not helpful when you have two small children who are awake at an ungodly hour, and it especially wasn’t helpful as I prepared to go back to work after maternity leave. So after talking to my psychiatrist I went down to half a pill.

For the better part of a year, I dutifully cut that little round, orange pill in half and popped that half every single night. But mornings were still a little rough, so I started taking the pill a little earlier in the evening and planned my activities around the hour and a half I had before it was nearly impossible to keep my eyes open.

And so it went, and things were mostly pretty good.

And then, after a while, they weren’t.

railroad tracks

Since late spring (maybe, in fact, for longer) things haven’t felt quite right. I’ve been blipping too often and struggling with the great why and generally feeling like c’mon, please, for the love of all things holy, there must be a way to manage this. And I was angry about that.

I was angry about a lot of other things too, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

And then one day something happened and I got really mad and my husband pointed out that I was angry all the time and we had a rager of a fight and I decided I needed to do something about it. So I stopped cutting the little round, orange pill in half and started taking the whole thing again.

I think (though I haven’t verified this with my husband) that it has made things okay. I still get mad, but the thing about this medication is that it allows the normal, sane version of me that still exists inside my head to stand off to the side and point out that the anger is irrational and I should probably just let it go already. Sometimes I still get mad, but I have the ability to choose not to react. I have the ability to control my reaction. Control! It’s a wonderful and quite helpful but often elusive thing. I look back now and realize that lack of control has made the road I’ve been on the last few years a pretty rough one.

So no, I didn’t want to start another med, and yes, it does have some side effects, but I got over it and the side effects are quite manageable. So I take medication for anger, because the benefits outweigh my pride and the challenges of drowsiness and put me back in a place where I can (mostly) act like a rational human being towards those around me. And perhaps (dare I say it) even more importantly, it puts me back in a place where I am me. Where I am more whole. And the implications of that are many and far-reaching and something I will share with you in another post sometime soon.

11:11

Alone in a room in a friend’s house in a city that is not my own (anymore), I listen. The house sounds quiet and I think maybe no one else is home. Downstairs is breakfast and a cup of tea and some quiet time and I should get up. But downstairs is also the door to the outside world, and the weight in my chest and I don’t feel ready for that just yet.

I look at the clock: 11:11.

Isn’t catching the clock when it reads 11:11 supposed to be good luck? I see this time frequently. It feels like all the time, in fact, and I certainly don’t feel lucky. At least not today.

clock face

In a mind-over-mind sort of way (there’s certainly nothing matter of fact about it), I get up.

Downstairs is quiet, and my aloneness is confirmed by a text from my husband that both boys are asleep on swings at the park (that’s what happens when you wake up when the clock says 4:58, I guess).

I put the kettle on for tea and open the cupboard looking for a mug. There in rows on two shelves are mugs in three colours. White. Black. Red.

I reach for a black mug and then hesitate, reconsidering. I have a choice, and I make it.

I choose a red mug.

Maybe it’s a sign of my willingness to push the darkness away. Or maybe I’m just feeling lucky.