25 February 2020

The Dark Side


AUTHOR'S NOTE: The following blog post was written in 2014. I didn't initially remember writing it (or creating the great motivational photos!!!), and I don't know why I didn't hit "publish" back then, but when I stumbled across it last weekend, the message was so powerful, I decided it's still very much worth sharing. I hope everyone who reads it will know they are not alone, and they are loved.

I recently had a very strange dream. I dreamed I was back at the turn of the century and my heart was broken all over again, but in my dream it happened in front of my kids, and I hid so they wouldn't see me cry. I cried for about two hours. I wrote poetry, and I ran mile after mile. The intense sadness and inability to find joy anywhere felt so real, just like it had felt in real life. Yet I kept trying to find something to smile about.

Two hours later in the dream, I was fine. When I realized I was fine, I got down on my knees and thanked God for helping me get over it so quickly, as if I knew in the dream it could have been far worse –- WAS far worse in real life. When I awoke, it didn't feel like a dream. It felt real.

I laughed into my pillow. Oh, if only real life could have been that easy!

If only happiness could be that easy.

As I cuddled in my quilt trying to make sense of the dream, I pondered the depression I've experienced this winter for no apparent reason. Very real, very incapacitating. I'm doing my best to not let it get the best of me.

What's different now? What makes me better able to fight depression I could not conquer 15 to 20 years ago? Am I doing something now I can share with others to help them survive sadness, too?

There is one huge, gigantic difference now. I mean, besides being married to my best friend, which I believe is another huge factor. When I worked in college and newspaper darkrooms, I literally was in the dark eight to ten hours a day. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) did not have a name until 1984, and I don't think I knew about it until a good two decades later.

Daylight plays a huge role in my life now. I no longer work in a darkroom, and now I know about SAD. I understand how darkness affects me now, and I try to bask in daylight every chance I get. I have a daylight lamp in my office in an attempt to successfully wage combat during lengthy sun-stealing storms. (And annual fourth quarters when work stress and demands form a more fearsome army than any dark cloud.)

Light Up Your Life

I also didn't know before about 2003, following the suicide of a very dear loved one, plus all the training leading up to my first Ride the Rockies, how big a role endorphins play in my own personal mood swings. Staying active not only helps me fight diabetes while keeping me creatively in tune, pedaling my way through a day supplies me with my daily required allowance of feel-good molecules.

Another big difference between now and age 20, when I should have been at the height of my youthful exuberance, to about age 42, when my world came crashing down in a series of tragic blows, is the continual back pain I endure now. Chronic pain can be one of the biggest triggers of depression, and I'll confess, there are days when it literally takes the best of me. My initial back injury happened two years after I worked my way through the deepest, darkest abyss and then was magnified by another injury two and a half years ago.

I have no doubt endless pain would have taken its toll had it occurred before I learned and developed tools to effectively fight depression. For the last 12 years, I've been on the upswing, even with injuries and pain.

Spread Sunshine

The tools, undoubtedly, make the difference.

What are these tools? How do I stay happy now in the face of chemistry inside me I didn't ask for and can't always control?

Although I suffered depression as a teenager, I didn't really understand it or know it had a name for about six years. Those initial years, I was embarrassed by what I felt. Back then, it was common to judge anyone who needed a therapist as incompetent, selfish, immature, crazy and even stupid. Therapy wasn't available on every street corner, and there definitely wasn't money to pay for it, especially for those suffering secretly.

I believe having someone to talk to candidly about my feelings would have been a tremendous help.

You Can Talk to Me

Back then, I would write poetry. Sometimes it helped; sometimes it made it worse. One day, my high school locker was broken into, and my book of poetry (among other things) was stolen. Back then, I felt as though my whole world had ended. Not only was something precious to me gone, but someone might read it. I tiptoed through the next several years assuming everyone who looked at me "knew." That probably didn't help my depression at all.

Writing definitely was a good thing and something that shaped my future. Again, having someone I could confide in may have made a difference.

Back then, I also listened to a lot of sad ballads. I felt the singers could relate to what I felt. But this did not boost my morale at all and often made me feel worse in the long run.

When I began recognizing that sad music made me feel sad and happy music helped me walk with a bounce in my step, I did not totally give up heart-jerking lyrics, either listening to them or writing them, but I did try to choose more upbeat music most of the time. These days, I listen primarily to music that helps me keep a steady cadence on my bike, and most of it is instrumental. I also don't require background noise now, as I did in my youth and young adulthood. I can go days without any noise at all, and the inner peace silence brings now is precious.

Let Music Heal Your Soul

Back then, about the only "tool" I knew was to take my camera and go for a walk. I could take pictures that allowed me to express what I felt, and I didn't have to tell anyone about the turmoil raging inside. I vented, but suffered no consequences other than running out of film and often not having enough babysitting money to pay for processing, which, by the way, took a whole week back then.

This is still an effective tool for me today, but I've expanded my creative horizons. Creating and designing will take my mind off of just about anything, and I often reward myself with creative time-outs crocheting, knitting, sewing, quilting, photographing, writing or even just playing in Photoshop.

One day when I was about 24 years old, I sat alone in my car after getting off work and contemplated driving onto the railroad tracks just the other side of a curb in front of me. A train was approaching. It would be over just like that. No pain. No sorrow. No mess for anyone to clean up in the trailer I called home.

The only thing that stopped me was something my grandmother used to tell me. "He who taketh his own life shall burn in the fires of hell."

Back then, that was the gospel truth to me because my grandmother said it. Now, I don't believe there's any such scripture; if there is, I've never come across it. But for a good decade more, that was what I believed, and back then, I thought, "If this is bad, just think how much worse hell will be." That was motivation enough not to follow through with any of the temptations I experienced through the years.

That day in front of the train, though, something clicked. I realized this is depression, this is what depression does to people, and this is why people hang themselves, shoot themselves, suffocate themselves, overmedicate themselves or drive off cliffs or into lakes. As much as I didn't like what I was feeling, I didn't want to let those feelings win. I didn't know why, but I knew I had to find a way out.

Fight for Your Life

A few days later, the same unwelcome and overwhelming feelings and temptations seized upon me once more, and I decided on a whim to make a list of everything for which I was thankful. I was writing in a brand new journal when this volcano of darkness erupted, and many blank pages thirsted for ink in a rainbow of colors. I decided to fill some of those empty pages, rainbow style. Maybe later I could come back and make them rhyme...

I made a list of 306 things for which I was grateful. Writing the list didn't change what I was feeling, and nothing on the list busted through the cocoon of sadness imprisoning me, but composing the list kept me busy. It kept me busy enough long enough to fall asleep, literally on top of my journal, pen in hand. It would be many, many years before I learned sleep deprivation can contribute to depression, and even more years before I realized the two – sleeplessness and depression – feed off each other. For that night, however, I slept. The next morning, I felt a little better.

For several weeks, I would pull out that list and read it, attempting to cheer myself. The actual list never had soothing power, perhaps because I knew I'd created it out of sadness. I did learn from the experience, though, that staying busy helped me fight depression. I transformed. I became busy, and I stayed busy all the way up to now. It's a way of life. Although sometimes I'd like to take a deep breath and stop doing anything every once in a while, idleness is not something that comes naturally to me anymore. And really, that's not such a bad thing, as long as I don't let unreasonable deadlines, expectations and commitments cause: STRESS.

Stress. Probably the most powerful weapon in my enemy's arsenal. That's precisely the razor-sharp dagger I've tried to build the best defense against for the last decade. While trying to recover from emergency back surgery and aftereffects, I learned stress affects my health, my decision-making ability, my sleep, my attitude and the close encounter with nerve damage and arthritis that followed surgery. Stress probably has been a factor all along; I just didn't know.

The easy solution is to eliminate stress. If possible. For me, totally eliminating stress is not an option. But, the way I react to it IS a choice. I can't eliminate stress, so I choose how I react to it.

Don't Let Problems Get the Best of You

As an example of how I'm trying to best manage stress in my life now, allow me to illustrate a few highlights.

Other than the unexpected deaths in my immediate family, the worst experiences I can recall are the challenges my adopted special needs kids experienced and caused. I've always believed my kids' problems are not my dandelion seeds to scatter in the wind, so I will not detail anything other than the end result. Both took unauthorized field trips. (Eight months apart, they each ran away and did not come back.) Although I now believe I did the best I could raising them, given what we knew then and what resources I had access to, back then I allowed myself to believe I was a failure, God hated me, and God was punishing me for something I didn't know I'd done.

While my kids were growing up, I was able to fight off thoughts of suicide with my sense of responsibility toward them. If I was gone, who would take care of them? Who would keep them other than me? Who would have patience with them and love them unconditionally besides me?

When they left, I suddenly didn't have those good reasons to keep living, and I had to fight the bad thoughts continually.

One of my friends asked, "Who is putting those thoughts in your head?"

Think Happy Thoughts

It was a wonderful question. But a severely depressed person is not able to process that kind of logic. All I got out of it back then was, "See, I'm so worthless, the only voice I hear is the one I shouldn't be listening to." No help.

Fast forward a decade or so to any of the difficulties either of my now-adult kids have faced or caused on their own, without me around to influence and/or nurture them. There was a time when I dreaded seeing the red message light on my phone at work because I instinctively knew it would be bad news. They say time heals all wounds; now when I see that red light, my first thought is, "My son called!" or "My daughter called!" It may still be bad news, but I'm choosing now to be happy to hear from them rather than agonizing about what they've done this time. At least they still call. There are parents, birth and adoptive, in similar circumstances who never hear from their wayward children and literally don't know if they are alive or dead.

Having troubled children may sometimes serve as the ignition to depression, but having troubled children also provides the opportunity to help someone else, and that's a welcome factor in my progress. Part of my stay-busy quest involves serving others. I highly recommend service toward others to anyone experiencing any negative feelings. One of the best cures for ho-hums is making someone else smile.

Besides, being childless was much more difficult to endure emotionally than trying to figure out why my daughter would paint her hair blue with spray paint or why my son would hide all the dirty dishes in the bottom of his closet.

Be Strong

In my own family, I was the first kid in my family to buy a car. I was oldest. I did lots of things first. First cars, however, often aren't the most reliable vehicles on the lot. My first car (and my second car, and my third car) broke down all the time, and if it wasn't breaking down, I was breaking it down with minor fender benders due to lack of experience and self-confidence.

Back then, when my car broke down, once again, end of the world. How would I pay for repairs? When would gremlins cease picking on me? Why couldn't anything ever go my way?

About six years ago, I was asked to be the official photographer for a 35-mile youth trek on foot. Because I have a reliable, dependable mode of transportation now and because I have a spotless driving record for the last decade or more, I also was asked to be a driver to transport some of the teenagers and their gear to the Trek starting point. Huge honor. Great way of reliving the past without reliving the past. I was excited and happy.

Two days before the Trek, my car broke down. It wouldn't be fixed in time for me to serve as driver. I took a long walk to shoot the sunset and chase away the blues and sprained my ankle. The next day, I kinked a nerve in my neck and was unable to move for hours. As I was lying motionless on my stomach, waiting for the ibuprofen to do its thing, I sobbed a prayer of frustration.

"God, why are you letting these things happen to me? Don't You want me to take pictures these kids can remember the rest of their lives?"

Push Forward

A very soft, calm whisper settled in my brain and in my soul.

"Would you prefer these things to happen to you during the Trek?"

Out in the middle of nowhere? No, absolutely not. The old way of dealing with letdowns and disappointments was eager to take control and cause depression so paralyzing, I would not be able to fulfill my duties. That whisper, however, turned my attitude about-face, and I've tried to remember that lesson each time something goes wrong now.

More recently, during the last ten months, I've had, among other things, a tooth crack the day after vacation, a popcorn hull get stuck in my gums at the end of a vacation, and my wonderfully reliable and dependable but aging car break down three times immediately after or at the tail end of a vacation.

These were not pleasant experiences. All were financial burdens. Each time, I had the choice of allowing the sour moment to ruin my vacation or laughing off the twist of fate. Each event, I was able to quickly acknowledge the advantageous timing.

Although it is very difficult to smile when the nerve inside a cracked tooth is sending shockwaves to your brain in jackhammer fashion, once the four ibuprofens kicked in I was able to make jokes about munching on pistachios and almonds during our hike to The Wave and cracking a tooth two days later while eating a piece of soft, soggy grocery store pizza. Deep down inside, I knew if I had cracked that tooth while en route to The Wave, I would be 600 photos short of paradise this year. I would not have been able to finish the hike, I would not have seen The Wave 2, and worst of all, it would have robbed my dear husband of his Wave experience as well.

In recording these experiences, I have realized I had to change my overall attitude to develop the ability to see a choice between happiness and sadness, and then practice, practice, practice until the happy option became habit. This process didn't happen overnight, and there are still times now when I have to work harder at it. But generally speaking, I try to look at the bright side of every experience now. Sometimes, it just takes a little longer to find a bright side.

Open Your Heart

One of the most important changes I've made since I stopped using depression as my middle name is when I got a new last name. Having a best friend who understands, doesn't get angry when I'm down and who believes in me even when I have trouble believing in myself has made this burden easier to bear. I know that's a cruel thing to say to anyone who is single and without hope of ever finding a soul mate. I was there just 12 short years ago. A good period of my life was spent believing I didn't deserve someone who would treat me with respect.

Before I found my Mr. Right, I had to be somewhat whole in order to be a good member of a couple. If I had been a basket case when The Lizard and I found each other, would he have been interested? I don't know, and I'm glad I don't have to know. I'm very thankful I did not miss out on the best thing that has ever happened to me.

That means some of the healing and recovery began BEFORE I met him. Maybe the tiny baby steps in the right direction began when my kids were still living at home and driving me nuts on a fairly regular basis.

Both kids were in therapy. Sometimes the therapists would make time for me, too, because they could see I was overwhelmed. Perhaps this instilled just enough self-confidence and trust in others for me to actually talk to my own therapist after both kids abandoned the nest. I had only three sessions; that's all I could afford. But perhaps it was enough to show me it's okay to tell a close, trusted friend when things are rough.

Be a Friend

Good friends are another powerful tool in the fight against depression and the ugly thoughts that accompany it. I was surrounded by co-workers who had watched me go through traumatic things without asking for help but offering help when others needed it. Once I learned to trust these precious people, they extended every hand available to help me regain and maintain my balance.

Finally, God is a big part of all this. I had to be retaught, and I had to reteach myself that God isn't punishing those of us who have trials. We are violins in the Master's hands. He is perfecting us and making us stronger.

Trust God

I remember the day I had to call in to work for the fifth or sixth consecutive week to apologize for being late because of a kid situation I was forced to deal with immediately. I was crying. I was way over the edge, and the boss I reached could hear it.

This Jewish boss does not have the same spiritual beliefs as me, but it didn't matter. Never has. I wept as I confessed I could not do this anymore; I didn't have the strength or the will to keep fighting the good fight. This boss told me, calmly and resolutely, "Oh, yes you can. You are a strong woman, and you will overcome this just like you have overcome each of the previous times. Perhaps God is trying to make you stronger."

"But I don't want to be any stronger!" I wailed. "Tell God to leave me alone!"

"Look down in the sand where you are walking," my boss calmly responded. I wasn't in the sand. I was on the sanitized linoleum floor of a facility where I didn't want to be because of a child. "See the footsteps down there beside you? That's God, and He's not going to leave you alone. He loves you."

Never Give Up

I didn't believe that statement that exact moment, but you can darn sure bet I kept hearing it over and over throughout the next couple of hours. When I finally got in to work, my boss hugged me and told me he knew everything was going to be all right in time.

"Just be strong," he said. "Just keep being strong, and don't ever give up."

I'm glad I was listening. I'm glad I was able to internalize his words. I'm glad I stuck it out, because in the end, it was all worth it.

There are many things I wish had never happened. There are many things I wish I'd never said. There are many things I wish I'd never felt.

Those sorrowful times make me better appreciate the happiness I feel now. Maybe I am a little bit stronger now, and maybe I am a little more patient and a little more tolerant. Maybe all those lessons really were for my good.

And perhaps I'm handling life in general better these days because I survived the dark days.


How did I get here?

Laugh. Love. Give. Speak. Listen. Hope.

And most of all, don't ever give up.

Look for the Bright Side


  1. Wow, sure powerful indeed. That is great words from the boss to help. One little step sure can get things in the right direction, even as one is always trying to fight through. And yeah, chronic pain just plain sucks, but keeping on is the way. Even better when you have your best friend beside you.

    1. Thank you, Pat! I couldn't believe I didn't publish this back when I wrote it. And truly, nothing better than having your best friend at your side through thick and thin!


Dusty words lying under carpets,
seldom heard, well must you keep your secrets
locked inside, hidden deep from view?
You can talk to me... (Stevie Nicks)

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