Saturday, July 30, 2016

Too Many Mountains: A Blog on Depression, Bites, Scars, & Healing

Too Many Mountains: A Blog on Depression, Bites, Scars, & Healing

*Like most of my blogs, this one is quite personal and difficult to write.  However, this one is somewhat "embarassing" as I'm writing about my own struggle with psychological disorders while on the verge of beginning a master's program in clinical mental health counseling.  But, I've always believed that for the most part, the best therapists are ones who have experienced the struggle themselves, though have taken their path to healing.  I figure that I am at least on that path...and have 3 years to get there! (Part of the requirement of the degree includes 30 sessions with a therapist as well).  In the end, I write this in hopes that maybe I can help other's find solace in their struggles, comfort in knowing that they are not the only one, and build the understanding of mental health disorders in society.

(For those who have read Steps to Adventure this is an extension of  Lesson 7)

Part 1: Depression
"Hello my old heart
How have you been
Are you still there inside my chest?
I've been so worried
You've been so still
Barely beating at all"

I have always loved hill/mountain training for running; the physical and mental power struggle to push past the pain and make it to the top of the climb.  But of course, no one can do that every single day without physically, mentally, and emotionally breaking down. Literally, the muscles of the body will deteriorate with out the rest time to rebuild.  Mentally, the workout will no longer be enjoyable and the morning alarm will be a cause of despair rather than enthusiasm for the day and run.  Emotionally, spirits will be broken and negative thoughts of not being strong or fast enough will take hold.  The mind and body can only take so much.

This is equally true for the mountains we face in our lives, the hills we are challenged with on a weekly basis.  Challenges are normal.  They keep us motivated and moving forward.  However, it is a slippery slope when those challenges become stressors that build up amongst themselves and become a mountain of their own. I call this "Too Many Mountains Syndrome".

Anyone, and most people do, can go through a phase of this at one point in their lives, especially those of us who, like myself, suffer from "superwoman" syndrome, thinking she can and should be able to do everything for extended periods.  And do everything with a smile...and then feel guilty when she can't.

Quite obviously, I fell prey (again).

This time through has been "interesting"...interesting in the fact that this time through I was mindful of my depressive and anxious symptoms, even though I was still not able to fully control my emotional reactions or change my negative thought patterns.  (Still, I believe my "mindfulness" was a huge tool in keeping me from falling further in the downward spiral of the disorder).  It was also quite ironic as I read through the text in my prerequisite course, the chapter being on the effect of stress on mental health, and I nearing the breaking point with the build up of stressors in my own life.

As it usually happens, my hills became stress in a gradual buildup as did the symptoms. Finally, it all topped out into a major breakdown of my physical (I actually ended up with severe back pain), mental, emotional, and even spiritual health.

Looking back, I can easily see how the path I was on was not sustainable. 

But my hindsight was not my foresight.  I wilted. My sleep became restless, my body wore down.  My mind never stopped thinking of what I needed to do, what I didn't get done.   Then crept in my old thoughts of unworthiness, then into full blown self-hatred. 

Depression takes on a different form for everyone. but here's how I described mine to a friend:
"...think of a race where you did poorly, where you had the huge expectations for yourself and you didn't even come close. Think of how you felt, how disappointed you were of yourself, how you questioned your abilities, how you felt you failed (maybe you've never had that experience, and if not I'm sorry for the ill example). It feels like that, only I cant shake it off. The feeling of worthlessness grows inside of me until all I feel is a sense of hatred for myself. It is true self-loathing. I don't want to be in my body anymore, I don't want to be myself. It grows and hurts so much until I can't breathe. I panic because I dont know what to do and I cant make the pain stop."

Part 2: Bites 
"Oh, don't leave me here alone
Don't tell me that we've grown
For having loved a little while
Oh, I don't want to be alone
I want to find a home
And I want to share it with you"

Incorporated into my stress was Pacer's own behavioral issues.  And while I rather not talk about the actual event, I will say that I still found profound meaning in the ordeal.  In the view of others, Pacer and I were both outwardly showing negative characteristics.  I was depressed, anxious, and moody while she was fearful-aggressive, and probably too high energy.  Despite this, I loved Pacer just the same and she (from what I can tell) loved me just the same as well.  That doesn't mean I didn't get frustrated with her, but I loved her none the less.  

I know I've talked about unconditional love before in dogs, but I'd like to take it one step further.  You see, while Pacer and I both have our issues, our view of love for each other has always been simple.  She is my dog, therefore I love her.  I am her human, I feed her and taker her for hikes, therefore she loves me.  That's it.  It makes me often have I withheld love from a human because of their outward characteristics and personality traits? Anything I perceive as negative may very well be from a significant life circumstance I know nothing about, have emotions they are holding on to for one reason or another, or may only seem negative because of my reflection of it.  Why can't it be "He/She is my fellow human, we are both here to learn our own lessons and carry out our own missions, therefore, I love him/her." As I delve into the world of counseling, this is something I need to learn to be aware of more often, though is also a practice for daily life. 

Part 3: Scars (& Love)
"Hello my old heart
It's been so long
Since I've given you away
And every day I add another stone
To the walls I built around you
To keep you safe"

In the midst of my depression came the final blow, the one that caused me to hit rock bottom.  Interestingly enough, I had predicted the event 11 days earlier in my journal:

"What really hurts is knowing this relationship isn't going to work out and it will be entirely my fault. Even marriages where one partner is depressed usually don't work out (in addition to the already high divorce rate), let alone a few month period of dating.  I'd end it...(skipping a sentence or two)...but the idea of him kissing someone else like he kisses me, well, that thought is currently too much to bear."

You see, during the past few months I had let myself fall for a boy. It was new, exciting, and he was everything I could have wished for.

Unfortunately, the timing was, and always had been, off.  Mother Nature disagreed with our relationship from the beginning,  The day of our "first date"(aka see if we actually liked each other) we were supposed to hike up Mt. Sanitas.  There was a snowstorm that day, leaving behind several feet of snow.  It had been 70 degrees the day before.  

But it was my depression that came in and truly buried us under the drifts.  How could I ask anyone to date me when I knew I would never want to date myself?  How could anyone love me when I didn't love myself?

For a brief (personal) view of where depression gets you in a relationship:
  • I was doing some type of reverse's not that I was seeing what I didn't like about myself in him, but instead I saw someone I wished I was more like and, therefore (in my current state), felt extremely insignificant.
  • While I usually don't give myself credit for being creative, the stories I can create in my head are quite fantastical.  Still, many of the stories I made up where based on poor self-esteem and past hurts that I should have communicated.  
  • Then, I tried to convince myself I didn't want "the label"...but I really did want to use the term "boyfriend".  Of course, this meant I was not good enough to have the label of "girlfriend".
Still, it didn't hurt any less when the time did come to end.  It was a pain that started in my heart and then radiated through my whole body, leaving me screaming and sobbing into Pacer's fur and then my bed sheets when she had enough.  

(As a side note: Yes, it hurt worse, or maybe as much than breaking up with Steve.   With Steve there an ache, with this end a sharp pain. While I loved Steve, and will always love him, our relationship had been over for sometime before the actual split and I was no longer in love with him-some will judge me for this, and that's okay, I still love you.  This time, I was splitting from someone I was still in love with.)

This was my rock bottom.  Love had caused it.  What i once considered "girly" and below my tough, independent exterior.  With this, everything had become too much to bear.  Actually, as I was wondering to myself how I could possibly continue to take on the weight of so much pain, I realized the there was only one thing I could to do at the moment:  I prayed.  I asked Mother Nature to take some of the pain, because I couldn't handle it all myself.  Eventually, the tears stopped.  In the next few days, I grew a little stronger...and a little happier.  My darkness had cracked and was finally letting in a few rays of hope.

Part 4: Healing
"Hello my old heart
How have you been?
How is it, being locked away?
Well don't you worry
In there, you're safe
And it's true, you'll never beat
But you'll never break"

A guy once told me that he preferred to date younger women because they weren't as jaded as older women.  This comment annoyed me (as it should have) but I understand it now. Every inch, every millimeter of my heart wants to scar over, to cast itself in a black steel case and protect me from future wounds.  But...I've promised myself to live life to it's fullest.  If I shut off part of my heart, I know I could very well miss out on one of the greatest parts of life. So my heart will remain open to love and be loved.  For now though, my heart needs a break.

With that, it's amazing how quickly one realizes how strong they are when they have no other choice, when no one else is there to tell them "it's going to be okay".  When I had to start doing this for myself again, I remembered my power...and my beauty.  I also had to affirm the heck out of myself!  Constantly I was saying to myself "I love and approve of myself".  Eventually it started to kick in and, not for the first time in my life, I let go of the knot that I had tied myself, let my wings open up once again; and let the clouds sink beneath me.

After a week and feeling nearly like myself again, I finally opened up to my spiritual teacher as well, not for new information but for reaffirming what I already knew.  Sandi reminded me that even if I don't know why things happen or what will happen, that everything does happen for a reason.  It went in line with my new daily mantra "I trust the Universe".

I took this mantra "I trust the Universe" with me on my 6 hour drive to Bighorn National Forest with a dead phone, and again a storm threatened to blow away the tent Pacer and I was sleeping in at some 10000 ft.  And once again, I reaffirmed my strength, beauty (the kind of beauty you feel...despite not showering for 3 days), and power in Mother Nature.  She not only share with me her love, but I shared my love back, ready once again to share it with the rest of the world. 

"Nothing lasts forever
Some things aren't meant to be
But you'll never find the answer
Until you set your old heart free

Until you set your old heart free"
(The Oh Hellos)

This Thursday, I will be setting off on a new journey, beginning my degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy.  My first 10 days of "class" will be a Wilderness Intensive with my cohort in the the Colorado back country. 

1 comment:

  1. Trust the Universe, trust your faith, you have always had a strong moral compass.

    The guy who said he rather date younger girls was confused and needed sometime to grow up.