Just Breathe

Tomorrow will be better.

It’s something I tell myself on the bad days. The rough nights. The moments when I feel like absolutely nothing is going right, or when my brain decides to do its own thing and goes barreling through that fun, fun tunnel of darkness. (Spoiler alert: it’s not fun.)

Tomorrow will be better.

And sometimes that’s a lie. I don’t know it at the time, of course, but I’ve become well aware that tomorrow isn’t always better. But it gives me that tiny little bit of hope I need to keep going until I fall asleep. And hope? Hope is a major driving force, not only for those dealing with depression, but for anyone. Because the bad days don’t discriminate.

Hope is powerful. Hope is that tiny sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, the light that you strive to reach. Hope is the better day, the clearer mind, the more peaceful heart.

Tunnels are long. But they don’t last forever. And no, tomorrow isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s not even the next day, or the next. But one thing is for certain: I have a pretty good track record at getting through the bad days. And if you’re reading this, I’d venture to say that you do, too.

The sunrise brings new chances. New beginnings. New opportunities. New surprises. You may feel the same way you felt yesterday. You may feel like you’re going through the motions, but the utterly amazing thing about this world is that there are always new ways to be surprised.

Life is kind of awesome that way.

And so I’ll leave you with something that’s probably incredibly clichéd, but it reminds me to relax, even for the briefest of moments. And if you’re yearning for a better tomorrow and it just doesn’t seem to come, I hope this serves as a reminder for you, as well.

Breathe. Just breathe. Because it will get better. We’ve done this before. We can do it again.

Why I Keep Talking About “It”

While chatting with someone yesterday, the topic of depression came up. I mentioned (very casually, might I add) something about my own experience, and this person asked me a question that really caught me off-guard.

Why do you keep talking about it?”

The person may not have meant it this way, but their question came across as an attack rather than genuine curiosity. But in case they (and anyone else reading) are actually curious, then I do have a few answers.

– To let others know that they’re not alone.

– To let others know that it’s okay to admit that they’re not okay.

– To let others know that, while depression is a daily battle, there is hope.

– Because it helps me heal.

Prior to my own diagnosis, I had no idea that depression was so widespread. I had no clue that so many people suffered in silence, that there were so many others who felt at war with their own minds. And so I talk about my own experience so that maybe, just maybe, it helps others see that it’s not just them. That there is a light at the end of that excruciatingly long tunnel. And yes, talking about it helps me. Hiding depression is like hiding a secret that eats away at you, slowly, slowly, slowly, until there’s nothing left but the pain, the loneliness, the downright agony. Being a shell of a person with nothing but the ache inside is no way to live. Being honest with myself, and with others, frees me of that.

Sure, the openness makes me vulnerable (especially to people who attack me for speaking out), but it’s also brought me so much closer to others. I’ve received messages from people I’ve known for years, saying, “Yes. This is me. Right now, this is me. Thank you.” And for that, it’s all so very worth it.

To New Beginnings

I’m going to tell you guys a story.

It’s the story of a girl who slowly, slowly, slowly drifted into the darkness of depression–so slowly that she didn’t realize what was happening until she was at the bottom of the pit. This girl struggled. She collapsed onto a cold bathroom floor countless times, wondering if there was more out there for her. She needed to know that there was something beyond the ache of emptiness. The agony of loneliness. She cried, and cried, and cried, until it felt as if there were no possible tears left.

And then, she cried some more.

After a while, the depression convinced this girl that there was nothing more—at least, not for her. That this, this pain, was her destiny.

But the girl was so, so wrong. Because depression is a bold-faced liar.

If I could see that girl again, I’d sit beside her on that cold bathroom floor. I’d take her hand. And I’d tell her that yes, the nights could be so very dark and long, with no end in sight. But I’d also tell her that morning always comes, no matter how dark the night gets. That each sunrise brings new chances. New beginnings. That each breath is a declaration that she’s still here, and that she’s still winning this fight. She may feel beaten and rundown and defeated, but every breath is its own victory. In the battle against depression, we celebrate each and every victory.

I’d tell her that there’s a place for her here. And that while she may not be able to see it just yet, her place in the world cannot be filled by anyone but her. You see, this girl loved to tell stories. I’d let her know that no one could tell her stories better than she could.

If I could see that girl again, I’d tell her that even though things felt like they were falling apart, they were actually falling into place.

If you’re struggling, if your pain is crippling, if the tears just won’t let up, I hope you hear me when I say that while the world can be a beautiful place, it’s so much more beautiful with you in it. The night is dark, but I promise that the morning always comes, bringing with it a new beginning. Life is full of these new beginnings, some being much larger than others. Those beginnings aren’t always easy, but they’re so, so very worth it.

I love National Suicide Prevention Week and World Suicide Prevention Day, because they bring awareness to silent suffering. But every day is an opportunity to tell someone that we love them. That we’ve got their back. That we’d really miss them if they were gone. And that if they ever needed us to, we’d sit beside them on a cold bathroom floor and hold their hand.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24/7): 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Lifeline (24/7): 1-866-488-7386

 

An Open Letter: To Those Who Fight

To Those Who Fight,

I get it. I know how hard it was to get out of bed this morning. I know how your heart clenched when you glanced in the mirror. I know how taking one step felt like trudging through a mud pit. And people expect you to take step, after step, after step. They expect you to keep going, even when you’re so very tired.

Life’s already hard enough. Depression makes it even harder.

You may be dwelling on the mistakes. On what happened yesterday, or last week, or three years ago. On the what-ifs, the could’ves, the should’ves. For some reason, the negative thoughts are so much louder than the good ones.

I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. I’m not going to say that life is perfect, that you’ll be surrounded by unicorns and rainbows and glitter. I’m going to tell you that it gets tough. That some parts downright suck. That some days make you wonder why you exist in the first place.

But I’m also going to tell you that there’s a reason you’re here. The beat of your heart and the air in your lungs means that you’re still here, and you’re here for a purpose–your purpose. It’s unique, and it’s meant for you, and you alone. You may not know what that purpose is yet, but you do have one. The catch? You’re the only one who can discover that purpose. Which means you need to stay.

And we want you to stay.

There may be nights when your heart aches and your stomach’s in knots and your head is clouded with the mistakes, with the what-ifs, with the could’ves and the should’ves. But I hope that you hear the voices of others, the voices that are screaming for you to stay. They’re screaming that you matter so very much, that your story is only beginning.

And I hope that you realize how strong you are. That you are here. And that someone out there loves you–dear goodness, they love you.

It still won’t be easy–climbing up a mountain never is. But when you get to the top of the mountain? It’s so very worth it. And the view is breathtaking.

Hope is possible.

Healing is possible.

Forgiveness is possible.

A future is possible.

Your story is far from over. And I can’t wait to hear that story.

~ Michelle

National Suicide Prevention Week begins September 8th, and September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you or someone you know is suffering, there are people who care, and who want to listen, and who want to help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7)

To Write Love on Her Arms

The Trevor Project

The Trevor Lifeline:  1-866-488-7386 (available 24/7)

When All You Can Do is Sit

Today was rough.

One of the sucky things about depression is that it doesn’t care if the sun is shining, or if you’ve had a great morning, or if you just don’t have the energy to fight it off that day. Actually, I think if depression were a person, it’d be a jerk who loves to kick others when they’re down.

For me, days like these can go a number of ways. Sometimes a walk helps. Sometimes a scroll through Pinterest will brighten me up. Sometimes all it takes is the perfect song. Today wasn’t so easy, though it wasn’t nearly my worst–it ended with me sitting on the kitchen floor, listening to my kiddo play happily in his room and watching the dog sling around his stuffed dinosaur while dinner cooked. It’s been a while since I’ve hit a moment like that, when all I was capable of doing was sitting there, staring.

Moments later, my kiddo ran into the kitchen, a huge grin on his face, and plopped into my lap. Within minutes, I was smiling and laughing along with him.

And then I realized that, while it’s great to have someone help you to your feet, having someone who’ll sit with you on the kitchen floor is even more powerful.

It’s not as simple as dusting yourself off and getting back up. So if you’re reading this and you’re suffering from the ruthless depression jerk, I hope you have someone who will sit with you during your rough moments.

You Are More

You are more.

You are more than your past.

You are more than the choices you’ve made.

You are more than your mistakes.

You are more than the scars on your arm or on your heart. You are more than the tear stains on your cheeks. You are more than the ache of depression.

You are a person. You have hopes, and dreams, and aspirations. You have people you love and who love you. You have air in your lungs and blood in your veins.

And because of these things, you have a purpose. There’s a reason for the beat of your heart. There’s a reason you’re still here.

Life isn’t easy. It isn’t always fair. Sometimes we suffer, we cry, we ache, and we bleed. And more than anything, I wish I knew the reason for that pain. But in a way, I get it. It’s because of that pain that we’re living testimonies to the strength inside us.

You may not feel strong, but you are. I know you are. Because you’re still here. You may have fought tooth and nail to make it through another night of heartache and tears, but today, you are here. You are alive. And that makes you strong. It makes you a fighter.

The beauty of a new day is that it brings a new opportunity to move forward. To breathe. To live.

You are more than your past. You are stronger than you realize. You are here today. And that is beautiful.

If you’re struggling in any way, there are people who want to help.

The Trevor Project’s 24/7 lifeline for LGBTQ youth: 1-866-488-7386

National Suicide Prevention 24/7 Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

To Write Love on Her Arms: http://twloha.com/blog

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

I’m not always okay.

It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable saying those words in general, let alone in public. I wasn’t even going to post this, but I got to thinking (as I so often do). Since opening up about my depression about a year and a half ago, I’ve become more and more outspoken about taking care of yourself when you feel yourself slipping. Depression is a very slippery slope, and if you don’t grab on to every rock you can while going down that mountain, you’ll plummet to the bottom in the blink of an eye.

You have to grab every rock, every crevice, every edge that you can possibly reach. Even if you can’t reach it, you need to try. But sometimes . . . sometimes, you don’t even feel like trying. I’m not at that place–I’m trying, I swear to you–but that point sneaks up on you like a thief in the middle of the night. It blindsides you, hits you when you least expect it.

A key part of managing depression is being proactive, which is almost incomprehensible when you’re in the thick of things. This can vary from person to person: medication, regular exercise, staying away from certain foods (some foods are actually triggers for me), therapy, etc. One person may just need meds; another may need all of this, and then some.

I have a confession: I stopped taking my meds a while back. I know, I know–huge mistake. I did this under the supervision of a therapist, who agreed that with exercise, dietary changes, and proper sleep, I was thriving. Then, I stopped seeing my therapist–another huge mistake. For almost a year, I’ve been going at this alone. There have been ups and downs, and I just thought that hey, I’ve GOT THIS. Sleep. Eat. Exercise. Repeat.

Sleep. Eat. Exercise. Repeat.

Sleep. Eat. Exercise. Repeat.

…and then, those things weren’t enough anymore. A couple months ago, I started slipping again. I could feel it. That’s the good thing about accepting your depression: you’re more in tune with your warning signs. And mine were shining brighter than the freakin’ sun.

Step 1: Today, I saw my therapist for the first time in nearly a year. Step 2: Appointment with my doctor to discuss medication options. Step 3: Don’t try to go at this alone anymore.

Which brings me back to why I’m posting this. I talk a lot about seeking out the care you need, about taking care of yourself, about believing in yourself and in your story. For a while, I lost sight of that. But I’m trying. I’m really, really trying to be the Michelle that I know I can be.

I’m not always okay. But I will be.

 

A Little Bit of Hope

In May 2012, I planned to kill myself. But at the last minute, I didn’t. You hear about these moments of clarity that seem so fictitious and ridiculous and too good to be true, but they actually exist.

On paper, nothing was “wrong” with my life. In fact, my life was pretty ideal to an outsider looking in. But my head? My head was in a dark, dark place, a place that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Depression is a silent killer. It eats away at your soul, bit-by-bit, until there’s nothing left except for the shell of what you used to be. It hurts. Some days, it’s a physical pain. Others, it’s the pain of simply knowing that you’re still stuck in the world, making the lives of those around you miserable. That day in May was one of the latter.

I’m not writing this post for pity, because I know that’s what some may be thinking. I know others may be rolling their eyes because they think posts like this are attention-seeking. That’s okay. I used to think the same thing about those who “suffered” from depression.

(By the way, I used quotation marks because once upon a time, I didn’t even believe depression was a legit thing. Funny how the universe sets us straight, huh?)

I’m not writing this to brag or seek attention, and I most definitely don’t want pity. In fact, I hesitated to publish this because I know some people will never look at me the same way again. I posted this for three reasons.

1)      Awareness for the ones who believe suicide victims are “selfish.” I can see the logic behind that statement. Those left behind after someone takes his/her own life are left with the questions, the grief, the suffering. But from an insider’s point-of-view, I can tell you this: The person who took their life likely suffered with grief every day up until their last moment.

2)      To let others know that they’re not alone. Up until I was diagnosed with clinical depression, I’d known that something wasn’t quite right. What I didn’t know was that, despite what I constantly told myself, I was not alone. There were others out there who didn’t believe anyone would care about what they were going through. There were others who thought the “light at the end of the tunnel” was a crock. To those people, please hear me loud and clear:

Your brain is lying to you.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are people who care. There are people who want to listen.

The Trevor Project

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

To Write Love on Her Arms

JK Rowling said, “And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” The accuracy of that quote has me in tears. It also brings me to number three.

3)      To let others know that there’s a reason for your rock bottom. Because if you don’t go through the valleys, you’ll never truly understand the beauty at the top of the mountain.

Wordy Wednesday – A Light in the Darkness

Monday, September 10th, marked the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week. I recently blogged about my own struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide. I’m lucky that I received the help I needed just in time. Some people aren’t so lucky.

From a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health:

Jean Ko, PhD and coauthors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, GA, found that more than 1 in 10 women ages 18-44 years had a major depressive event during the previous year—representing about 1.2 million U.S. women—but more than half of those women did not receive a diagnosis of depression and nearly half did not receive any mental health treatment.

121 million people worldwide suffer from depression. 121 million. That number astounds me. And you know what’s even more staggering? 2 out of 3 people that suffer depression never seek treatment for it.

Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide, and suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. Source

So, what can we do? Well, talking about it is one thing. So many people suffer in silence because there’s a sense of shame that tends to come with a diagnosis of mental illness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, though. Some people just need a little more help than others. When will we, as a society, realize that?

Another solution? Love. A simple, four letter word that can make all the difference. Love each other. Care for each other. Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you see someone is struggling, help them.

Depression is a disease in which most people suffer in terrifying silence. In that silence, the brain has a chance to go into overdrive with feelings of guilt, of hate, of sadness. And if given enough time, those feelings can manifest into, “What can I do to make this go away?”

Remember that statistic? Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide.

A little bit of understanding, of love, of hope, goes a long way. If you can even spark the tiniest bit of hope in a person’s life, do it. The bullying has got to stop. The shaming of people with mental illnesses has got to stop.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide, here are a few links that will hopefully help a little. To Write Love on Her Arms is a mission that I adore. I’d say the world can use a little more love, yes?

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

To Write Love on Her Arms: To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

The Trevor Project: The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.

Wordy Wednesday – I’m Okay. Really.

She’s the girl that has a huge smile on her face. She’s the one that laughs loudly – sometimes too loudly – at your jokes. She’s the person you go to when you have a bad day because, hey, she’s always in a great mood. She must have all the answers, right?

What you don’t realize is that, you don’t truly know this girl. If you did, you’d see that her smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes. Her laugh is forced. She radiates optimism because she desperately wants others to have it, even if she doesn’t.

What you don’t realize is that she’s dying inside.

It sounds dramatic, maybe even too much so. But depression is a tricky thing, you see. Some people don’t even realize how depressed they are until it’s too late. I was almost one of those people.

A little over two years ago, I had a perfectly healthy, happy, bouncing baby boy. I had an amazing husband that worked his butt off to support our family. Everything in my life was perfect, except for me.

Postpartum depression hit me like a ton of bricks. The problem was that, I didn’t know what it was at the time. I was told I was experiencing “baby blues,” and that my issues were completely normal. I walked out of the doctor’s office baffled. It was normal to cry at the drop of a hat? It was normal to think that my baby hated me? It was normal to think that he and my husband would be better off without me?

So, I continued on with the daily routine. I kept a smile on my face, and when asked if I was okay, I’d respond with an automatic, “Just fine.” Let me tell you, keeping up an appearance when you’re slowly deteriorating inside is exhausting. I saved my tears for the shower. For when my husband went to work and the baby slept. I never let anyone see me cry, because I didn’t want to be more of a burden.

I lost weight. I’ve always been on the thin side, but at my lowest, I was under 100 pounds. It wasn’t that I was intentionally starving myself – I just had no desire to eat at all. I withdrew from my husband, and had little-to-no bonding with my son. There were times when things were looking up, of course. Those moments, while few and far between, were what kept me going. Looking back, those were the moments that kept me alive.

I was good at existing. Living? Not really.

I did this for two years, y’all. A few months ago, I was going through a “bright” phase. And then, one night, it was like a flip switched, and my world came crashing down. I curled up in bed and cried for hours after my son went to sleep. My heart ached – literally ached. My brain was swirling with thoughts I hadn’t had in a while, thoughts of how much better off my husband and son would be without me. Thoughts that told me to “just do it. Just put an end to the misery.” People often view suicide victims (yes, victims) as “selfish.” But what those people don’t realize is that the victim usually isn’t even thinking of his/herself in that moment. So, what did I do?

I went into the other room, where my husband was watching tv and oblivious to the torture taking place inside my head. He looked at me with wide eyes and asked, “Are you okay?” And for the first time, I said, “No. I’m not okay.”

And that’s where my recovery began. Because in order to claw your way out from that dark hole, you need to admit that no, you’re not okay, and that you need help. And Lord knows, I needed help more than ever.

I saw my doctor the next day. I started an anti-depressant the day after that. I began therapy the next week. And every day, I thank God that I was able to admit that I needed help. Because I wouldn’t be here, writing this, if I hadn’t. My son would be without a mother. My husband wouldn’t have a wife. My parents would have lost their daughter.

I’ve gained ten pounds in the past month. I’m exercising daily. I’m HAPPY, you guys. For the first time in years, I’m able to say, with confidence, that I’m okay.

Really.

I’ve wanted to write this post for a while now. I know there are others who have suffered far worse than I have. But I want to drive one final point home.

I’ve seen people say that depression is “all in a person’s head” and that person needs to “get over it.” I say that’s the biggest crock of BS I’ve ever heard. And I kind of want to punch people for saying crap like that. You can’t possibly know just how badly depression can grip a person’s very soul. I lost myself for a long time, guys. I didn’t do that to myself on purpose. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

If you know someone who’s depressed, love them. Hug them. Tell them how much they’re loved and cherished. They may not believe you at the time, but those words? They’ll linger in that person’s thoughts forever.

Trust me.

There is no magic cure for mental illness. This is, and likely always will be, a daily challenge for me. But for now, I’m better. That’s a start, right?