Thanks mom!

So yesterday my post was a little bleak and a lot dramatic. I won’t apologise because it will happen again – the perils of being an artist and prone to depression!

 This morning I chatted on the phone to my mom, which is one of my favourite things to do. She makes me laugh at the most ridiculous things (like her unruly dogs, her fat cat and her dramatic quilting escapades), she gives me a fresh perspective when I need it, and she reminds me of the hope and beauty of this thing called life. Her wisdom is incisive and always comes with a spoonful of sugar (It makes the medicine go down according to Mary Poppins).

Today I am thankful for my mom, who loves me and loves guinea fowls (in no particular order). xxx

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Aside

Alone (Edgar Allan Poe)

Depression can be a very lonely journey. It is hard to let others see the dark parts of my soul – there’s shame, embarrassment, mistrust, fear. And every time I write on this blog I battle those emotions. How much more so when I share with someone face to face?

After a break of three years, I made an appointment today to see a psychologist. The emotions well up and I brace myself for the exposure that is to come. But I choose to welcome it. I choose to say that I am not coping and once again I need help.

Alone – Edgar Allan Poe

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then- in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life- was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Not Normal

And in the wise words of the infallible Johnny Depp…

Here’s to being totally NOT normal! Happy weekend everybody!

Depression: surrender to what is.

1239599_601706519872049_1288766969_n (1)I saw this on facebook yesterday and I can’t get it out of my mind. Such a simple piece of advice that I wish I couId make a natural part of my life.

But if I had written this quote to reflect my current state of mind, it would probably have looked like this:

“Resist and fight against what is. Cling to what was. Have fear and anxiety for what will be.” Haha.

Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming 🙂

 

 

Dear students…

Grammarly has got to be my favourite facebook page 🙂

 

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Sometimes, it just plain SUCKS.

It’s been a tough week or so. Most of the time I have been either fighting off sadness/despair or simply wallowing in it. Sometimes I am just so tired of fighting, just so tired of trying to pick my way through the tangled mess that is my emotions.

Have you ever reached for a chain necklace just before you are about to leave the house, only to find it has a big knot in it? So you quickly try to undo the knot but the harder you fuss with it the worse it becomes. Your nail breaks but you keep fussing. And you end up, 15 minutes later, strewn  across your bed gasping in exhaustion and defeat. No? That’s just me? Well, anyway, that’s what it feels like sometimes, trying to decipher my emotions.

I even feel tired just trying to write this post, trying to put into words the extremes of emotion I am capable of feeling in just one week. And I feel the pressure to be profound or offer some sort of solution, but sometimes it just plain sucks. IT JUST PLAIN SUCKS. And I hate that there is no real reason (except chemicals?) to feel THAT sad and THAT depressed.

I realised I was coming out of my funk today when I was walking through the shops and I noticed people were smiling at me. You see, when I’m depressed, every stranger’s look seems like a scowl and a judgement. It feels like everyone can see right through me to the heart of darkness and it’s one of the reasons I hide away. So when I’m noticing the smiles, I’ve turned a corner and I’m surfacing above the clouds.

At last.

I feel like I’ve survived some trauma – shell-shocked, relieved, grateful. Yet it’s all happened in the confines of my mind and those around me are none the wiser.

Depression is not a weakness

In sporting events we often stand in awe of athletes that face adversity and yet still summon up the courage and tenacity to “finish the race”. I mean, if the final scenes of “Cool Runnings” (when the Jamaican bobsled team carries their sled over the finish line after crashing) doesn’t move you, I don’t know what will.

And then what about that famous clip of the runner Derek Redmond at the ’92 Olympics? (check it out now!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nifq3Ke2Q30) No-one would have blamed him for not finishing the race. While the winner was crossing the finish line, he was hunched over on the track holding his injured leg. But then he gets up and starts to limp his way round the track. His father comes up alongside them and together they finally cross the finish line to deafening applause. It still gives me goosebumps and. I won’t lie, I just watched it now and cried again. That’s the power of the human spirit right there.

A person suffering from depression fights against real pain and despair everyday. It isn’t physical pain, but it might as well be for the crippling effect it can have. It’s like they have fallen down face down on the track of life and they have to summon all the strength they possess to stand up and limp through the day. That takes big-ass courage.

And often they have to do it alone. Because the people that could be supporting them over the finish line, applauding their bravery, are shrugging their shoulders at their “weakness” or shaking their heads at their “failure”.

If you are a sufferer of depression, congratulate yourself for every time you have dragged yourself out of bed when it seemed impossible. Pat yourself on the back for every time you did reach out for help when locking yourself away forever seemed so much more appealing. You are a hero.

And if you know someone who suffers from depression, please don’t be the one who kicks them while they are down by labelling their strength as weakness. Be the one who cheers from the sidelines and sees their small, everyday victories for what they are – courageous triumphs of the human spirit.

Why me???

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not” – Henry W Longfellow

Every now and then, I fall into a  self-piteous hole where I ask that most useless of questions: “Why me?”

I found myself asking it this weekend. Not because the weekend was bad. In fact, it was really, really good. It was a long weekend here in South Africa and Friday was a double whammy – both Women’s Day (yay us!) and Eid-ul-Fitr (my boyfriend is Muslim so it’s a significant day for us). We ate too much good food and then went for a long stroll along the Sea Point promenade as the sun set over the ocean. It was one of those moments when you realise: “I am truly happy”. On Saturday we drove out to the West Coast National Park and took in the azure water, the scrubby hillsides and the carpets of spring flowers. The day ended with a nap in the afternoon sun on Langebaan beach followed by another beautiful sunset.

But even as the sun was setting on Saturday evening, I felt the familiar prick of emotion at the sides of my consciousness. Was it too much sun? Not enough sugar? Need for sleep? N’s driving? As usual I scrambled around for something to pin my plummeting mood on.  In the end, it was the same old story – all of it and none of it. Simply time to face forward and endure the storm.

The sadness stayed with me all of Sunday and I tried to fill the time with small self-loving acts: stay in bed with my novel, walk on the beach, paint, avoid arguments. The cloud had passed by Monday morning and as I wrote in my journal, these words flew out of my pen: “My God, why does this happen to me? Why should I feel such sadness after such joy? Sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair.”

It’s not fair. But then I started to think of so many of the dear people in my life and the secret burdens they carry.  I thought of Buddha’s provocative statement that “Life is suffering.” I thought of a documentary I had watched about the slums of Delhi. And finally I thought of our precious ailing statesman, Nelson Mandela. 27 years in prison for trying to make the world a better place. How many times, I wonder, did he ask himself, “Why me?” Yet he emerged with such a strength of spirit, such a generous, expansive and loving heart, and led our country into democracy.

So it seems I face a choice when my own personal burden feels too heavy. I can let self-pity and bitterness eat away at my soul until there is nothing left but withered spite – many make this choice, and let’s face it, who can really blame them? Or… I don’t think there’s a better way to say it than with this excerpt from Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom:

Morrie was an elderly man with a  terminal illness (ALS)

I [Mitch] asked Morrie if he felt sorry for himself.

‘Sometimes in the mornings,’ he said. ‘That’s when I mourn. I feel around my body, I move my fingers and my hands – whatever I can still move – and I mourn what I’ve lost. I mourn the slow, insidious way in which I’m dying. Then I stop mourning… I give myself a good cry if I need it. But then I concentrate on all the good things still in my life. On the people who are coming to see me. On the stories I’m going to hear… Mitch, I don’t allow myself any more self-pity than that. A little each morning, a few tears, and that’s all.’

And there are so many “good things still in my life”: so many victories to celebrate and adventures to look forward to. If the price of these is a few days of sadness now and then, so be it. “Every man has his secret sorrows” and this is mine.

A poem

A young boy

standing on a playground ladder

going nowhere.

“Hello birdies! Whatchya doing? ”

He stares

into the branches of a tree

stark against the azure sky.

He looks around

for his mother?

 

There she is

standing at a comforting distance,

watching.

“Whatchya doing birdies? Huh?”

He listens

and turns his face upwards,

grins into the winter sun.

The birds chatter on,

answering?

 

I stopped listening years ago.

But I find myself

grinning too.

Can I trust my emotions???

Let’s face it, emotions can be a real bitch. They can cloud our judgement, convince us to give up, or make us want to roll up in the fetal position in the middle of a size-ist clothing store (Can ANYONE actually fit into that???) and sob like a baby. The one minute we can conquer anything, the next we feel like wimps wasting oxygen.

I have been reminded of this recently because I happen to be going through some difficult life circumstances and I must tell myself daily that a certain amount of negative emotion is normal and healthy. Emotions are signposts that can reveal very important information about the state of our souls, if we know how to interpret them and act appropriately.

As a depressive, it has always been tempting for me to  chuck out emotions altogether. Emotions became equal to danger. They were forceful intruders that lied to me and they could never be trusted. They were to be avoided at all costs.  They told me I was useless, a failure, hopeless, out of control. They told me happiness could not last and one day everyone would know what a fraud I was.

So I tried to avoid them. My favourite methods were sleep and workaholism, but I know others who use alcohol, drugs, sex. Anything to numb the emotions, really. But for me, numbing the emotions has never been the solution. In fact, the more I tried to suppress negative emotions, the greater the explosion when they eventually came out. And this was my exhausting life – swaying between bouts of numb isolation and episodes of intense, violent emotion. I knew I had to find a better way to deal with my emotions but I didn’t know how.

As I have mentioned before, my healing and hope began after a particularly dramatic explosion about 5 years ago. I saw a number of experts – a psychiatrist, psychologist, and even a dietician – and they helped me to see that, with the help of medication and a healthy lifestyle, I was going to have to learn to acknowledge my emotions without allowing them to disable me. Easier said than done, but worth the effort!

Thus began the baby-steps process of being honest with myself and others. When faced with a powerful negative emotion that threatened to spiral me into despair, I had to learn to take a step back and see it for what it was – a sign that there was a conflict to be resolved and I just needed to methodically determine what it was. And sometimes, I have discovered, the conflict is as simple as a dip in sugar levels and all I need is a healthy snack!

Still, Even after many years I  catch myself feeling terrified of my emotions. Instead of acknowledging a negative emotion when I experience it (eg. “What you just said makes me feel angry because…”), I hide it in my heart and pretend it is not there until an accumulation of little emotions becomes a complicated, festering tumor that says, “You obviously don’t love me and I am worthless”. This is when the Birds of Sadness really settle and instead of being a sign that there is a conflict to be resolved, the emotions become confused and debilitating. And then I want to scream because I have let it happen AGAIN!!!

It is a humbling walk, this pathway through depression, and no matter how many strategies I employ to use my emotions wisely, there are days that I still really fluff it. But that’s okay. On those days I need to give myself a LOT of LOVE, and reassure myself that tomorrow will be better, and it often is.

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