For those of you who know me or who have read my blog for any length of time, you know that I do my best to be stubbornly positive, honest, and uplifting in what I write. Sometimes I’m positive past the place where I should be perhaps, but I am hardwired to try to turn things- no matter how bad they may seem- into a positive, or at least find the lessons in them. Sometimes, however, even I have to admit defeat and just flow with the river of life. Maybe defeat is not the right way to express what I mean; maybe it’s more a realization that life is filled with tangled grace. Writing about those tough things is important to me, too, as I always hope that if I can be brave enough to write about them that maybe one person who is struggling and needed to know they weren’t alone would be encouraged.
I went in for my annual physical yesterday morning with a list of concerns that I wanted to discuss with my kind and compassionate doctor. Along with keeping me healthy physically, she has helped me through some tough times over the years that challenged me emotionally, as well. She asked me to tell her what has been happening since she saw me three months ago…
Well, in just over two months, we lost our cat of thirteen years, I had a total hysterectomy, we lost a very dear friend who was like a brother, and we lost the only dog I’ve ever raised from a puppy suddenly two weeks ago. I have a big conference performance and lecture in a couple of weeks, and I feel out of focus and overwhelmed. I find myself avoiding interactions with people and feel like I’m walking in cement boots, and the tears are always just under the surface.
As I finished the litany of loss, the tears came. I had thought I was doing better with it all, but suddenly the emotions were overwhelming, and I resolved to share with her what I had been thinking. I told her that I felt deeply sad and am not sleeping, that I had been doing everything I could to help; daily exercise, writing about my feelings, talking about things with Dan and friends. I told her I’d tried to get an appointment with the wonderful therapist who helped me through Mom’s death, but she wasn’t available until August. I told her I didn’t know what else to do, and that I wanted to discuss the possibility of going on an antidepressant for a period of time to help me get on a more even keel. She agreed that it was the right thing to do.
I grew up in a family that I have no doubt has threads of depression. I saw my mother go through dark periods, and other family members, as well. I went through treatment for depression during the end of my first marriage, and it was life-saving. I know that some people view seeking help for anything emotional or mental as a weakness, but I don’t. I believe it takes courage to look deep inside yourself and admit you need help, to believe that you deserve to be happy. I want to live a happy life- I do live a happy life. But with the emotional challenges that have come my way in such short succession, I am finding it more and more difficult to pull myself from that dark place.
Many people would be surprised to hear that; I most always have a smile on my face (hence all the wrinkles). I post happy and positive things daily on Facebook. I do my best to help others who are going through tough times and to always be a cheerleader for my students and friends. I am a big believer in “Act your way into a new way of thinking”; do the things that happy people do, and you will grow into a happy person. That usually works really well for me, but right now that mindset is helping, but not pulling me out of the mire of depression. I want to be proactive and deal with this before it becomes debilitating. I already am having a difficult time leaving the peace of our home, having to force myself to get dressed up and get out some- something I know is good for me to do.
I realize that it is still early in the grieving process, and I know from what I went through with losing Mom that time is really the only thing that can truly lessen the pain of loss. I’m grateful that the fall semester doesn’t begin until later in August, and so, while I have to somehow be up and ready for my upcoming international conference in less than two weeks, I don’t have to go into the office every day as I normally would. I can work at home with Sophie by my side in the quiet, as her gentle presence is such a comfort to me, especially now. I have to admit that I live in fear that she will be taken from me, too. Irrational, I know, but it’s the truth.
I don’t share all of this for sympathy or to complain; so many people are going through much more challenging things than I am every single day. However, the things that have happened have wounded my heart and dampened my spirit. I want to face each loss, wrap my head around them, honor them, and work on letting them find the places where they will live in my cracked heart. And then, as a friend shared with me a while back, those cracks will be where the light comes in. The day will come when I can look back and smile in gratitude at the gift of having had those loved ones, instead of being overwhelmed at their loss.
I have so much to be grateful for as I navigate this- a loving and supportive husband and a peaceful home that heals me. A sweet old dog who wants nothing more than to be at my side. A wonderfully loving and supportive group of friends who are there for me. A career that I love, one that challenges me and inspires me to be better. I have access to great healthcare, both physically and mentally. I have music to heal my spirit, exercise to heal my body, and writing to help pave the way to better times.
I write this to get it out, to be honest with myself and others, and I write it for those who may need to read it. I write it for my students, several of whom have faced depression over the course of my teaching career. I want them to know that I have compassion for them in what they face, as I have been there, too. There is no shame in depression, no shame in talking about it. The great thing is that there is help out there- many, many layers of it, and much of it free.
In all of this, I see the tangled grace; difficult things and sadness intertwined with lessons and with a certain beauty. It is life, and life is never promised to be easy for us. In fact, it’s the challenges that make the beauty and the good stand out. I have never asked for or expected an easy path- only the strength to move forward…and the strength not to be embarrassed when I need a helping hand to lift me back up on the journey.