Coping Vs. Managing

THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST ARTICLES I’ve read on how to manage depression. I really loved the distinction she made between coping and things that actually help. It’s made me think of how I can make my coping mechanisms work better for me.

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One thing I thought of was playing my flute. I have been playing the flute for almost 25 years now. It is something I love and that always makes me happy. Just a couple of days ago I was feeling pretty depressed so I took my flute out and played for ten to fifteen minutes. It helped a little, and it’s always nice to play. But I think I can and need to use it as more than just coping. I need to take time every day to play—even if it’s just for five minutes. Doing that one thing that makes me happy every day might help me manage my depression more than just cope with it.

I encourage any of you that have depression to think of something you use to cope and how it can become more than that—how it can transform into something that helps you manage your depression and helps you get more fulfillment out of your life, despite your illness.

 

Mountain Therapy, Music Therapy

This past week has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve had some high highs and some very low lows. Last night I watched Hulu for hours and hours and feasted on waffle fries from Chick-fil-A for dinner, along with diet Coke and a whole six pack of raspberry-filled donuts. And I sobbed. A lot.

Today, I realized I couldn’t allow myself to engage in such destructive behavior again, so I thought about what might help me. I’ve talked about it before, but I will again—one of the tricky things about mental illness is that there’s no one set cure. Different things help different people. What works for one person might not work for someone else. I’ve dealt with my mental illness for so long that I’ve come to know what helps and what doesn’t—or at least what hasn’t helped so far. Two things that do help me are mountains and music. So I decided to take a drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon, while listening to music from my youth.

The drive was so good for me! Drinking in the towering granite cliffs with their varying shades of gray, black, blue, white. Being mesmerized at all the waterfalls I passed. It has been the second wettest spring on record here in Utah, so there were more waterfalls than I’d ever seen, and the river was raging harder than I’d ever seen. It made me downright giddy! And rocking out to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Collective Soul and Soundgarden—that was what I needed. That was my therapy.

Last night I was feeling pretty hopeless and defeated. I have those moments. We all have those moments. Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to remind me that I don’t have to stay there. I’m a fighter. I will get back up and soar above that rock. It may be hard, it may be painful. I may stumble and falter as I scrape my way up, claw my way out, but I won’t stay down. And when I get up, I will be stronger than I was before. I will be able to look back at what I’ve learned and use it to propel me forward. Doesn’t mean I won’t get on anymore rollercoasters. Doesn’t mean I won’t have anymore lows. Doesn’t mean my mental illness will be gone. But it does mean I can keep going. It does mean there is still hope.

My Own Life Lessons

I’ve been reading Life Lessons in the Band Room, a book my high school band director recently published, just after he retired. So far I’ve been loving it and highly recommend it. You can check it out here.

The book has brought back so many memories from my time in marching band, things I had completely forgotten about and probably would never have remembered, otherwise. This morning I read from chapter 6, The Power of Choices, and from within the chapter, Choosing Hard Things. For those who have followed my blog from the beginning, you could probably guess that this section of the chapter spoke to me. I’ve written before about doing hard things. My own personal mantra or saying for my life, ever since I gave birth to my first child, has been, “You can do hard things.” In reading this chapter, I realized that marching band was probably one of the first lessons I really got in realizing that I could, indeed, do hard things.

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In the book, Steven Hendricks describes how hard marching band is. “. . . can you play that well while marching around a football field? Can you play while concentrating on moving forward, backward, and sideways? Can you play and successfully navigate through a drill that requires you to memorize eighty-plus coordinates? Can you learn to separate your lower body from your upper body so you are an athlete and a musician at the same time? Finally, can you do all of this and trust every other kid on the field to do his or her job so you don’t have to worry about running into someone or falling over a prop that was misplaced? Marching band is hard!”

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It really is hard! I remember being so excited to start marching band. I had neighbors and friends of my brother’s who had done it and all loved it. Summer band was okay. Most of the time we marched in a straight line, and I could handle that. But learning the field show for fall competition season just about killed me! And I was a pretty decent flute player! I had sat first or second chair throughout most of junior high band, but I struggled so much with being able to play and march at the same time. I remember being embarrassed at how much help I needed from my section leader at band camp. As the season wore on I got better. I could play a little bit while marching. But I wasn’t going to give up. I loved band, and I loved playing my flute. By the time our very last competition came that year I was able to play the entire field show while marching the show at the same time. I was so happy! And by the time my junior year of marching band came, I had no problems. It’s strange to look back on it now and wonder why I struggled so much. I even went on to become the flute/piccolo section leader my senior year. Even though it was easier by then, I can still say with complete honesty that marching band is hard! But it was so worth it. I still look back on it, nearly twenty years later, and can say it was one of the best experiences of my life.

In the same chapter, Steve talks about how people often choose easy things over hard things. This was definitely me for much of my life. I always did really well in school, got good grades, graduated with high honors, got scholarships to college. A huge part of that was because I worked my butt off, but some of it was also because I chose the easy way within my classes. I chose to read books or write papers on subjects I knew would be easy for me. Then, during my third year of college, for some reason I decided to challenge myself.

Instead of a final test in my Native American Lit. class we had a final paper to write. I automatically thought of the easiest thing I could write. However, I figured I should go out with a bang. I had known since I was in ninth grade that I wanted to major in English. There I was, at college, starting my upper division courses in English, and I realized it wasn’t right for me anymore. So I decided to change schools and change my major. This was going to be the last Lit. paper I ever wrote. So I chose to go with a tougher topic, using a literary theory I didn’t feel I understood super well, but that I knew my professor appreciated. Writing that paper was harder than any other one I had ever written. It took so much time, and I stressed about it so much. When I finally finished and turned it in I decided I would be happy with a C on it. I couldn’t believe it when I picked it up during finals week and saw a 90 on it. I got an A-! It was the hardest paper I had ever written, but it was the best paper I had ever written as well. And my professor had seen that. I still am just as happy today as I was then that I chose the hard over the easy. It yet again proved to me that I could do hard things.

Probably my favorite quote from Steve in this chapter is when he talks about all the kids who make the choice to do marching band despite how hard it is. He asks why we choose to do hard things. “We do them because the reward for doing hard things is so much greater than the reward for doing easy things. We do it because it prepares us for the hard things that will inevitably arise in the future.” I know this is true. I know I wouldn’t have felt the sort of accomplishment I did on my paper had I written something easy. There are so many things I wouldn’t have learned, experiences I wouldn’t have been able to cherish, had I given up and not continued doing marching band, something that was hard. And I know these experiences do help us. We can allow ourselves to grow and add upon what we’ve already been through.

Giving natural childbirth to my daughter a little over eleven years ago was the hardest thing I had ever done up to that point in my life. Giving natural childbirth to my son a little less than four-and-a-half years later was even harder. He was a lot bigger! Even though it was painful and so, so, so incredibly hard, it was so, so, so worth it! Those were the two best days of my life! Not just because I had brought these beautiful beings into the world, but because I had chosen to do something hard, and I still use those experiences to help me do hard things to this day. Whether I knew it at the time or not, I now believe choosing to do marching band, choosing to stretch and challenge myself with that lit. paper, helped me believe that I could do other hard things, like giving natural childbirth, which helps me do hard things now.

As I’ve said before, doing hard things, such as dealing with mental illness, might not be pretty. Trust me, giving birth, whether natural or not, is never pretty! With my son, I screamed, and I cried, like I scream, and I cry through some of the difficulties life throws at me now. That’s okay. You don’t have to do those hard things in a pretty or perfect way or in any certain timeframe. You just have to do them. And you can. You can do hard things.

A note about the pictures: They are pictures of pictures. That tells you how old I am! My high school marching band days were before the era of digital cameras, and my scanner isn’t working. So pictures of pictures. The first one is a shot of us on the field at a competition my senior year of high school. The second one is of me leading a sectional before a competition when I was section leader. Such good memories!

Remember (Part 3): The Explanation

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I still vividly remember the night I wrote Remember, sitting on the floor in my bedroom, papers strewn around me, furiously scribbling on the page. It was one of those out-of-body experiences where I looked down at my hand and thought, “Wow, look at my hand writing.” It was as if I were looking at someone else. Remember wrote itself. I didn’t even think about it as my hand penciled in the words. It was kind of surreal.

When I finished and looked at it I had the most distinct thought that it was a story about me in the future. That didn’t make sense, though. If I knew it was going to be me in the future I could take steps to make sure it didn’t happen to me. Right? And yet, the thought remained. This was a story about me, a story that had written itself.

I suppose it came from a family vacation almost a year and a half earlier. On our way to Reno, Nevada we passed by this exit sign for Painted Rock. I didn’t know if it was a town or a ranch or just a trail, but the area along I-80 next to the Truckee River was beautiful and inspiring. We spent time at Lake Tahoe, the Redwoods and the Oregon Coast over the next week. It was a return to nature after a difficult year as a sophomore in high school. Less than six months before this trip I had been diagnosed with depression. My greatest solace in those dark days came from writing poetry, listening to music and being in nature. It felt so liberating and inspirational as my mind filled with stories. I swore I would one day go back and explore the area, as I wanted it to be the setting of some future novel. It was hard coming home, going back to normal life after this vacation.

Time went by, and sometimes I would think about this story and poem I wrote. I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t let the woman in the story become me. I would keep exploring, keep feeding my soul with nature, keep writing.

More time went by, I had a baby, and I was thrown into the pit of postpartum depression. I was lost. The real Tacy became lost. For years it felt like someone else was inhabiting my body. Everything changed, and I stopped writing. Life was so hard, and I forgot about Remember.

Then, one day a woman in my church randomly asked me if I liked to write. It took me a second to answer I was so caught off guard. I finally managed to tell her that I did like to write, that I didn’t do it much anymore, but wished I had the inspiration again. She told me about a writers group she was in and invited me to come to their next meeting. Curious, I went. I didn’t take anything with me to read, but I left that meeting, went home and started writing. Just going to a single meeting inspired me to start writing again.

Not long after, I was going through a notebook I had created of all my poetry and short stories from high school and when I was first at college. And I saw Remember. Truly, I had forgotten. And I suddenly saw how I had, indeed, become the woman in the story—not to an absolute T, but close enough. It hadn’t been ten years, less than that, and it wasn’t work, but mental illness that had stolen my memories, my dreams, the yearnings of my heart. Knowing that the story had come to pass, just like I had originally thought, hit me to my core. It was . . . unbelievable. And, yet, it had happened. But I was still stuck in this certain way of thinking and living. I started feeling more like myself three years after my daughter was born, but then my marriage was falling apart. We got help, things seemed like they were going to work out, then right as they started going downhill again I got pregnant again. The pregnancy was miserable, I got postpartum again, life was up and down until my marriage hit the point of no return and last year I got divorced and became a single mom.

Throughout the years I have continued to write—sporadically. I have had moments here and there to enjoy the beauty and inspiration of nature. This last year has definitely had some very low times, but I feel stronger than I ever have before. I have a plan—goals, even—and I see a path I can take that will give me the freedom to take the reigns of my life and get what I want out of it. I will no longer be the woman who gets lost or who forgets. I will be the woman who knows where she’s going, who always remembers.

On a side note: My six-year-old son is really into favorites. He loves asking what your favorite—whatever is! He asks me what my favorite color is, my favorite food, favorite number, favorite thing to do. And he often asks me what my favorite word is. “Perspective,” I always tell him. Perspective is my favorite word. “What’s your second favorite word?” he’ll ask. He does this with everything, often getting to my sixth or seventh favorite of whatever it is. I have always loved the word perspective because I believe life is all about perspective. But my second favorite word is remember. It is a powerful word, though it’s dependent on how you choose to respond to it—like everything in life. One of the things that keeps me going in life is the fact that I can remember the good things that have happened. I can remember and be grateful. Remembering can propel me forward through the slumps. That’s why I love it. Remember.

Remember (Part 1)

A few times in the last several months I have felt prompted to share something I wrote as a senior in high school. I was never sure why, so I kept putting it off, but the other night, as I was driving, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man came on, and I again was struck with the thought that I should share.

Letting others read what you write is always hard. It makes me feel extremely vulnerable. A beta reader, supposed to be giving feedback on a novel I had written, once said that she wanted to stab herself in the foot with a fork my book was so bad. Obviously this statement did nothing to help and everything to make me feel completely worthless and want to give up writing altogether. But I’m someone who picks myself back up, and here I am, still writing.

The truth is that I’m a much, much better writer now than I was in high school, so it’s difficult to allow myself to be this vulnerable in sharing this with you. A lot of what I wrote back then was very ambiguous. But I didn’t write Remember for anyone else. As a matter of fact, it sort of wrote itself—for me, in a way, but I’ll explain that later.

I’m going to break this into three parts. First is the poem, then the story and finally the backstory and an explanation, I guess you could say.

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So, here’s the poem:

Remember

A tear torn loose from your saddened eye
joins those the October sky is crying
from thinning gray clouds that are nestled deep
into crevices and secrets of the eastern mountains
that loom above you in the near distance.

Autumn has slowly crept up and soon the race is won
as golden leaves dot thinning green trees
that attempt to hold fast to their ground, but fail.
A bitter coldness has slowly crept up and soon the race is won
as a lasting droplet, full in glistening shape,
falls to your cheek, hitting a tear full of glistening memory . . .

 

You steal a penetrating stare from the full moon;
the darkness plays around your essence
as you hear the southern men1 sing
about being simple—someone you can love and understand.
And you wonder how you can ever have this
in a city full of lights and confusion.

But don’t you remember the glow of the moon
and the first time you danced under its pale luminescence?
An Irish voice2 sings of her hopes
of finding those memories she left behind—
and so should you plead.

There’s a black, serpentine road leading to your destination,
for there is still a painted rock3
waiting for you in the hot Nevada desert—
waiting for you to answer a call;
and you cry as the moon reminds you.

The stories flood back in a tidal way of memory,
hitting you with full force, without any suspicion,
but how can you accept them in all this light and confusion?
Oh, how you’ve desperately ached to accept them,
how desperately your fingers have itched
to paint them in a stream of penciled words,
but you are young and condemned accordingly—
and you see the last piece from your crystal ball shatter . . .

 

The autumn rain pauses for a moment and for a moment alone,
but one last droplet, full in glistening shape,
finds its way crawling down your cheek
with your tear . . . a tear full of glistening memory . . .

 

1Lynyrd Skynyrd

2Enya. I used to listen to her a lot in high school, and would sometimes sing her songs as I would swing on the swingset or dance in the backyard at night under the moon.

3This refers to Painted Rock, Nevada, a little town I drove by on my way to Reno, NV on a family vacation to the Redwoods. The landscape surrounding the area inspired my imagination and the seeds of a story were sown because of that. I always wanted to go back and explore the area more, but never have.

Coming Back to Hope

There are so many thoughts racing through my brain right now. I hope I can get it all out in at least a semi-coherent way.

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I spent the evening looking for new cars. I came home to an empty house (my kids are with their dad), and I hate the feeling of being here all alone all evening and night, so I went to a movie. It was almost midnight by the time the movie got over, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go home. Instead, I drove around the streets of my home town with the windows down and the music cranked. Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden are some of the bands that came on the radio. Music from my youth. It was so nice just cruising around, belting out my tunes. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to have someone there with me. I tried not to dwell on that, knowing the loneliness that would ensue could overtake me, and I didn’t want that. Dating/relationships are hard. I think it’s harder now than the last time I was doing it, before I got married. Add mental illness on top of that, and it adds even more stress to the equation. Maybe I’ll talk about that later. It’s one of the things I’ve been wanting to write about, but right now, before my tired mind unravels (like the sweater in that song by Weezer—yeah that came on, too!) I’d like to focus on the idea of hope—again.

Last night I was talking to a friend, who has also been divorced. I told him it had been a year now. I’ve been divorced/a single parent for a year. He told me the first year is always the hardest. “That’s good to know,” I said. “That means I can make it.”

I have hit some of the lowest points of my life this last year, but I have also had some incredible highs. Overall, I think I’ve grown more this last year than I ever have before in my whole life. I was thinking about a saying—the one where you pick yourself up and dust yourself off. I do believe in picking yourself up and continuing on. Sometimes I’ve had to lay in the mud and the muck for awhile before I could do it, and even when I did get up, I had to trudge through with pain, like dirt, still clinging to my clothes. I’ve dealt with some anxiety and OCD again recently, but for the most part I’m still doing really well. I don’t know what the future holds. Right now I can’t try to look too far into it or I’ll go mad. I’m having to live each day as it comes, but I’m doing my best to keep each of these days good.

I guess what I want everyone to know is that you can keep going. Even through the most bitter of trials, the most painful of experiences you can learn and grow and find peace. You can even find happiness. It’s never completely gone. It’s never completely out of reach. Despite my often-times love/hate relationship I have with hope, I always come back to it. I can never completely let go of it. And I’m glad of that right now.

Conquering My Anxiety

As stated in a recent post, I’m doing really well. I haven’t noticed any of my OCD tendencies in 5-6 months, and my depression has been completely gone since the weather got warmer/nicer a few months ago. My anxiety has been very minimal since then as well. It has been absolutely amazing!

Yesterday, my kids and I were in a car accident. I was sitting at a red light fairly close to my house when I noticed a truck in my rear-view mirror barreling toward me. A second later he tried to swerve, but slammed into the corner of my car anyway.

It wasn’t super bad. All three of us had seat belts on and my kids were sitting in the back where they were supposed to be. I did feel some pain in my neck and back. My daughter got the brunt of it because it was her side that was hit into. Her head and neck hurt as well as her knee which hit into the seat in front of her. It wasn’t too bad, though—just a tiny scrape. However, as the hours wore on the pain intensified until I decided to go to the Urgent Care. They took x-rays which came out looking fine, but the doctor prescribed some ibuprofen and muscle relaxers and said I should get some physical therapy. I definitely feel blessed that it wasn’t worse.

I knew I needed to take my car into a repair shop to get an estimate on the damage. All day I put it off, anxiety beating its way back into my life. Even though the accident wasn’t that bad, every time I thought about getting in my car, driving my car, the anxiety would hit, making me sick to my stomach, making it harder and harder to breathe.

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Last night I talked to a friend about how I was grateful, in a way, to be going through this as a single person because it’s teaching me to be independent, to learn and do things I never had to do before. She told me that it was nice because it was empowering. So, despite my anxiety, I got in my car and drove. I again felt incredibly sick and nauseous, breathing was laborious, but I put on some music I like from Audiomachine and Two Steps From Hell, and it got slightly easier. I became less anxious as I continued to drive. And you know what? I did it. I made it. I conquered my anxiety and my fear.

I don’t know if that means it’s over. It has been so nice not dealing with any mental illness the last few months. It was definitely easier driving home, but even as I write this, I feel the anxiety simmering on the surface of my emotions. Of course that could have something to do with waiting for the insurance adjuster to call me back—after having left 3-4 messages and a couple of emails. It’s just a stressful situation, but I know I can do it. I know I can fight through and make it to the other side. I’m strong, and I can do hard things.