This Roller Coaster Called Life

Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly our emotions can flip, flop, turn around and change. Saturday morning I was feeling sad and lonely as I thought about my first Christmas as a single mom, how my kids were going to be spending most of the next week with their dad. Then, that afternoon I took my kids to a Christmas party at my aunt and uncle’s house that my cousin had invited us to. They gave us a delicious meal, talked and laughed with us and even had presents for all three of us. I sat there, feeling so overwhelmed, holding back tears. I hadn’t even seen my aunt and uncle or most of my cousins and their kids in years, and yet, they welcomed us in with open arms, and I suddenly remembered what it was like to have a family, to be accepted as I am, to not be judged and condemned because of perceived imperfections. I left feeling so incredibly blessed and happy.

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Sunday was a good day, as well. I got to play a beautiful arrangement of What Child is This/Coventry Carol on my flute at church. That night my kids and I read a couple of Christmas books, then read about Christ’s birth straight from the scriptures. My six-year-old even shared his first real testimony of Jesus with us which had my heart swelling with pride and joy. I’ve always loved staying up on Christmas Eve to wrap “Santa” presents. Yet, after I’d finished and put everything under the tree and sat there looking at it all, I felt sad and alone again. I had no one to share in the joy with, no one to go to bed with. I felt cold and empty inside. Then I looked up at the picture of Christ above the tree and remembered my Savior, remembered all He has done for me. Again, I was overwhelmed, thinking of how blessed I am for the hope I have in my religion. I do believe that Christ was born for us, that He suffered and died for us, and that He lived for us—to give us an example of how we should live our own lives.

Some people might think that belief or faith in a religion will take something like mental illness away. It doesn’t. Just like it doesn’t take any difficulties in life away. Bad things happen in life—sometimes for no reason other than that that’s simply a part of life, just like sometimes good things happen for no reason. It is all a part of our experience here on this earth. But for me, my faith and hope in Christ does bring a sense of peace and comfort, a light and warmth that gives me reason to keep going even when I’m sad and lonely, even when life gets dark and depressing.

I think life is a roller coaster for everyone, full of constant ups and downs. Sometimes it’s a steady rise or decline, other times it’s a speedy ascent or sudden drop-off, but the one constant for myself is my Savior and my Father in Heaven. For that, I am always grateful.

Still Hoping

There are so many things I want to write about, so many ideas crowding my head just waiting to be set free. I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

I’ve been plagued by memories recently. Memories of happier times, simpler times. Not that right now isn’t good. I’m still feeling better than I usually do at this time of year, and I recognize and acknowledge the many blessings I have to be grateful for. I know this, but sometimes it’s just hard to feel it.

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It’s my first Christmas as a single mom, and I will admit that I’m feeling incredibly lonely right now. I know I have friends, family, neighbors who are there for me, who care about me, but I still feel lonely and sad, especially when images of good times in my marriage surface in my memories. I still haven’t found a way to look at those times and just be happy about them, grateful for what they were. It’s like there’s this big, black slash through them now, marring the happiness that should line the memory. Maybe one day I’ll get there. For now, I look at my life, reflect on the memories and wonder how this is where I am right now—so far from where I thought I would be, nowhere close to where I wish I was.

I have plans, and yes, even goals, for my future, but they’re still vague and general at this point. Maybe because I think I’ll fail once I set that goal for myself. It seems as though I’ve failed at so many things in my life, that I’m never quite good enough, and I don’t want to fail again. I know there are people out there who want to see me fail, who can’t wait to shove it in my face, and I’m so tired of that. Yet, despite it all, I still see this glimmer of light in my life, in my future. Hope. There are times when I don’t want to hope anymore because I’m afraid of being let down, afraid that my whole life is nothing but smoke and mirrors, and when you take them away there’s nothing real left. Somehow, I can’t let go of it—of hope. It trails me, bursts in front of me, and I can’t help but cling to it.

The Masks We Wear

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I started wearing masks when I was in high school. Actually, I probably started wearing them sooner than that, but high school was when I consciously made the effort, knew that I had them on. I’ve discovered a lot of people who dealt with mental illness for a long time—like many years—before actually being diagnosed with it. For me, it was closer to six months, maybe. Before hearing a doctor say I had depression, I didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t know why I felt so sad, didn’t know why everything felt so difficult, didn’t understand the darkness that had washed over my entire life. I just knew that I felt different, and in high school different is bad. It means there’s something wrong with you, and I didn’t want to let people see that. So I put on a mask.

Every day, as I walked the 4 ½ blocks to school, I got sicker and sicker, until I felt like I was going to vomit, thinking about being surrounded by people I had to pretend for. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t normal, but as soon as I got to school I put up the mask that said I was. It was torture each day. And each day, sometime after I got home, I would go into my room and cry. Then at night, I would cut my arms and shoulders. It felt so good to distract my brain from the mental pain I was suffering and focus it on a physical one.

As time went by, and I discovered there were other people like me, that I wasn’t as alone as I thought, that there was a name to what I was going through, I was able to throw away some of those masks I wore. I didn’t hide my scars. If people asked what had happened, I told them. If they judged and condemned me for it, I didn’t care. I let the vibrant colors inside of me show through in the tie-dye t-shirts I wore, the peace necklaces hung around my neck, the beads on my wrists and rings on my fingers. And yet, I could never completely break free of the expectations people held for me. I knew the person they saw me as, and even though I didn’t feel like that was me, I felt like I had to pretend to be that person. And so, on February 2, 2001, my senior year of high school, I wrote a poem about it. I entered it into a poetry contest my school held each year and got an honorable mention.

I still wear masks sometimes—I think all of us do. But lately I’ve learned to be happy with who I am, whether anyone else is or not. Part of trying to educate people on mental illness has meant completely opening myself up. I don’t hide who I am—in real life or on this blog. I am Tacy Stine, I have mental illness, and I’m going to be open again and share my poem. I look at it now and don’t think it’s one of my best, but is still one I treasure. Here it is.

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And the Moon Can Dance
by Tacy Stine

The music’s pounding in my head as the pain thunders in my gut,
and I just can’t take this monotony anymore –
the same old room, the same old bed, the same old scene.
Sometimes, I just wanna tear out my hair and scream!
Then rip off all my clothes, jump out my window
and run around naked in my backyard during the cold winter night.
My bare feet would prance over the old, hardened snow,
and I’d dance with the bright, yet waning moon – ’cause the moon can dance.

Have you ever seen the moon smile over Central America?
The moon is just different there as it dances their dances
and reflects their smiles.
So, I wanna rip my hair out and cha cha naked with the moon –
but there are conventions and expectations of society.
There are conventions and expectations of me . . .

So I wonder, what if I threw a chair and a table over
at my friend’s wedding reception amidst all the boring small talk?
What if I answered questions in class with intellectual ease
or became a talker with words on my mind,
because they’re always there – I just don’t say them.
Why?
Expectations.
What eyes would bulge if I came to school dressed like me – a hippie?
Would conventions condemn me?
‘Cause I wanna throw the chair; I can answer the questions; I am a hippie;
and the moon can dance!

To Pessimists

Sometimes it pays to be a pessimist. Bet you never thought you’d hear someone say that! I am a pessimist. I know this, and I will never deny it. Normally, it’s not a good thing, and other people tend not to like to be around pessimistic people. But I discovered once that it can have its benefits.

Awhile back, I had a dentist appointment at noon. My ex-husband (we were still married then), who worked close to home, said he would come home early for lunch to watch our son while I went to the dentist’s. Quarter to, he hadn’t gotten home yet. I decided to call him just in case, but he didn’t answer. I didn’t panic because he often didn’t pick up his phone. But after a few minutes had gone by and he still wasn’t home, I got anxious. I called again. No answer. Heat rose in my stomach. I assumed he had forgotten because it wasn’t uncommon for him to forget things. The reason I was upset was because we had had a conversation/argument about it the week before. I’d told him I understood that he was forgetful—so was I, which is why I took steps to help myself remember, like setting alarms all the time. I’d hoped it would make a difference to him, but now it seemed as if it hadn’t.

Ten to twelve and I needed to leave for my appointment. I called him again. Went to voicemail. So I left a rather angry message about how I had to leave and would now have to take our five-year-old with me.

When I was almost there he finally called and said he was coming home. I told him he was too late. He said he would come pick up our son at the dentist’s office. Okay, whatever. A few minutes after I’d been taken back to get my teeth cleaned, he showed up and took our son home with him.

By the time I got home, some of my annoyance had worn off, but I still asked him what had happened. He said he was in a meeting that went longer than expected. “I set an alarm on my phone,” he said, “but left it at my desk.”

Okay, so he had learned something from our conversation, but it still hadn’t done any good.

“What’s the point of using the alarm on your phone if you’re not going to keep your phone near you?” I asked.

“I didn’t know the meeting would go so long. They usually don’t last that long.”

And that’s when I realized that sometimes it’s good to be a pessimist. As a pessimist, you assume that everything is going to go wrong. This is the way my life has rolled for so long that I’ve learned to plan accordingly. If I had been in his shoes, I would have assumed that something would go wrong with the meeting or something would have interfered with what I was supposed to do, so I would have absolutely kept my phone with me to be sure I heard the alarm go off.

Being a pessimist is one of the things that has driven me to be a preparedness freak. I admit that sometimes this can get annoying. Like when we go on vacations I always overpack—just to be safe. Even when we go on day trips or hour-long trips I pack the car full of stuff (jackets and coats, shorts and pants, tons of snacks and water) because I assume the weather is going to change on us or the kids are going to get hungry or thirsty and complain up a storm. That’s not to say that optimists don’t know how to prepare, but when you assume everything is going to be just fine, you don’t need to over-prepare. And let me tell you, there have been so many times that I’ve been grateful for my over-preparedness! So, here’s to all you other self-proclaimed pessimists—or perhaps I should just call us realists. Carry on, my friends. Carry on!

Hendrix Helps, Too

I was feeling a bit sad this morning, thinking of someone who hurt me, still confused as to why it all happened. So I turned on some Jimi Hendrix. There’s just something about Hendrix, about his music, that stirs my soul. It’s pretty much impossible to be depressed when rocking out to Jimi!

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Heat and Light Therapy

I’m experimenting with a new treatment for my seasonal affective disorder—heat and light therapy. This place has a sauna, a hydration bed, red light therapy, a hydro-massage bed and more. I try to do at least one, hopefully two, and possibly three of these services three days a week. I’ve only been going for a few weeks now, but I’m already noticing a difference.

Normally, at this point in the winter I stay inside, away from the coldness, as much as possible. It also gets pretty hazy where I live. We get an inversion that traps the cold air, with all of its awful pollutants, under a layer of warmer, clearer air. It’s incredibly depressing. Yet, last Saturday I motivated myself to brave the cold and walk along a trail at Farmington Bay, near my home. Yes, it was cold. My ears froze, my nose ran, but it was so incredibly beautiful! Peaceful. Still. Needed.

I took a bunch of pictures, I was outside, moving around, feeling happy. I even saw a bald eagle! As I walked back along the trail to my car the sun reached this perfect angle. All of the tall, yellow grasses glimmered golden in the light; the reflection in the frozen water, clear and mesmerizing. I actually felt good, happy, confident. It’s not the sort of thing I normally do in the winter, and I’m not suddenly gleefully happy all of the time, but I do think the heat and light therapy is helping to keep me more optimistic and motivated than I usually am. I’ll have to do an update in a couple of months. February is usually when I’m at my worst in the winter. Hopefully the new treatment will continue to help. It feels so good, like a weight lifted off my shoulders, to finally find something that is helping after so many failed attempts with medication and lack of funds for other therapies. But that’s why you keep trying—until you find something that works or at least helps.

Nostalgic

This time of year tends to make me nostalgic. There’s not much else to do in the cold, dark winter than reflect on the past. I wrote this poem sixteen years ago when I was first away at college.

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Nostalgic

A firm bed in a small, but comfortable room.
Beaming faces of friends and family.
Rough, wet tongue from the dog washing my face.
Splashing in curbside puddles.
Dancing barefoot over old, crusted snow
in the chill November night with the fingernail moon.
Bathing in tingly, salt-scented raindrops
that feel like millions of little kisses
smothering the bare parts of my body.
Romping through the knee-high, amber grass
while drinking in the warmth of a sunny June day
that tastes of freshly squeezed lemonade.
Listening to a solitary bird sing from the silence
while watching the sun lay her head
to rest behind distant western peaks –
the sky above a mixture of swirling pastels.
Gulping down the brine shrimp odor
of the Great Salt Lake on a gray-clouded March afternoon…

Clinging onto memories – letting them make up
for a current life of mere survival.

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