Thought for the day: The most difficult battle a person can fight is one that resides within them. It's often a multifaceted fight. The battle of what we want, what we need, what we think we should have, what we know we shouldn't have, that which creates anxiety within us, the battle against depression or substance abuse ~ I could go on and on. I know people young and old who battle daily against themselves. Most days they win, but some days they don't… But they wake up the next day prepared to go into battle again!! To the people who battle daily, and to those who stand beside them: You are Warriors! Well done!!
We’ve all had someone in our life that has been less than positive. Many of us have had some that have been down-right mean and nasty! You automatically know the feeling you’ll get when they are around. It’s like a cold, wet and dirty blanket of energy that brings you down and makes you want to go hide under your covers! You are so in tune with that oppressive feeling that you know they are there even before you see them. Sadly, sometimes they never leave your side!
They quite literally drain you of light and happiness until you are only a shadow of your former self. They say things like:
So…Depression! We’ve all heard about it. Most people know of someone who has the dreaded problem… or dare I call it by its real name ~ DISEASE!!! So, you have depression or know someone who does. What now? You might wonder if I have any words of wisdom to share with you. Well, I always have lots to share, but I’m not sure you can call it wisdom. This isn’t a self help story. It is more of a self validation story. I’m here to tell you that if you battle depression daily, or help a loved one who goes to battle against this bully (or any of the bullies), then you are a warrior!
You might wonder how someone with depression can build themselves back up again. How do we grow from an invisible shadow-person back to a solid, here-in-the-present person? I guess it depends on who you ask. Be wary, however, because not all advice is created equal… not even from professionals.
Advice from Friends and family:
People who have never had to battle depression (and believe me, it’s a physical, mental and emotional battle), always have advice they are more than willing to share. Well-intended friends will tell you to try yoga, take a walk outside, be around friends and family or simply just think positive thoughts. They don’t understand that having depression is not the same as being depressed.
How do I know that these friends are well-intended? How do I know that they have no idea that what they are saying only makes us feel as though we are just not trying hard enough to be happy? Well, I have been on both sides of this weak and weather-beaten fence. Before I had my beautiful daughter and tumbled over the fence into postpartum depression’s backyard, I was completely, 100% positive that depression was a problem that could be overcome by simply wishing it away! POOF!! It’s gone… oh wait, no it’s not!
Depression prefers to exist in solitary confinement. It’s not the type of illness where you want anyone taking care of you to help you feel better because you feel like such a loser for not being able to help yourself. You certainly don’t want an audience! When you are alone you don’t have anyone with whom to compare yourself. You certainly don’t want a person who would be the mirror that shows you how invisible you feel.
Keep in mind that these people mean well. We should feel happy that they don’t understand what we are going through. Of course, we would feel happy for them if we could feel… but not feeling anything is part of the problem.
What I know now is that happy people are just a painful reminder of just how different depression makes us from others. Of course, it is exhausting to try to pretend to be happy, so that’s an issue as well. So, if you know someone who is a warrior, don’t feel the need to fix them. Just be there for them without judgment. Let them talk, let them be silent, offer to run some errands, and make sure they get to a caring professional!
TO BE CONTINUED:
Pit of Despair – PART 1
Hello, my name is Cindy and I’ll be your guide as we begin our climb up and out of the Pit of Despair! I know you’ve probably gotten used to life in ‘the pit’, but I promise you that you were not meant to stay there. You were meant for greatness! I realize that right now it’s probably almost impossible to imagine the kind of life where the sun shines almost every day, however, imagination is actually where the journey up and out begins.
So often we sit in our Pit of Despair (PoD) each and every day and think about how hard life is right at this very moment. We might think about how nothing we’ve done has made a real difference. We base our future happiness on our current situation. Since our current situation is pretty dismal, we automatically think we are stuck in this dark place forever. But that’s a big, fat lie!
I’ve visited the PoD more often than I’d like to admit. I have a ‘frequent visitor’ card. That’s OK though. As long as each visit is shorter than the last then progress is being made. If you’re like me, then you know you have your reasons to be down there. Can it be worse? Ugh! Always!! However, hard is hard, and stress levels are all relative (but that’s a blog for another day).
Life can be a struggle on a good day. However, those difficult days can turn into months and those months into years. It’s exhausting! When you are this tired, how do you come upon the energy to imagine that escape is even possible? One thing to keep in mind is that we expend energy thinking. It happens whether our thoughts are positive or negative. So, with a little imagination, we have a choice: We can expend energy thinking about how horrible things are right now and nothing will change; or we can direct our energy to upward movement and positive thoughts so we can take control and change our future.
When we allow ourselves to focus on the problems and not the solutions, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. We are dooming ourselves to setting up permanent residence in the pit. Here’s my tip: When sitting in the ‘Pit of Despair’, make the choice to climb out every time. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME!! It will be worth it. Remember, you can better control where you end up when you use your energy to climb. When you choose to use your energy to plummet back into the pit, who knows where you’ll end up. Control your actions and thoughts!
Pit of Despair - PART 2 Follow Me Out ~ I’ll Be Your Guide
A friend asked me if I just wake up thinking these thoughts. Honestly, these thoughts usually reveal themselves over a period of time. Sometimes they are years in the making because some pits are deeper than others. Sometimes, darn it, I’ve almost been ready to climb out when back down I fell for one reason or another. I usually fight a good fight and I never ever give up. However, even when you win most battles, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t exhausted you. So, here I was again, falling to the bottom of the pit. My view of the sun was slowly being blocked by the craggy, gray walls and I was feeling hopeless. It was past the time for me to make a move! But I didn’t know it yet. Everything was dark so there was no contrast to catch my eye.
So, what changed? What prompted me start the climb once again? Someone shone a flashlight down into the pit. It made me realize just how dark it was there. The contrast of light and dark that I needed came from my family at our Fourth of July picnic. Everyone was enjoying themselves taking turns in the kayaks. They wondered why I wasn’t interested. I explained that I wasn’t sure. It didn’t even seem like an option. I decided to shake myself out of my hopeless mood and I chose to get up and enjoy myself.
So, I climbed into the kayak and used the oars to push off shore. Before I knew it I was gliding through the water in the middle of the lake. It was peaceful and it calmed my mind. It allowed me the clarity to dream for a moment. Suddenly, this amazing idea snuck its way into my thoughts: What would it be like if I could kayak at least once a week? What if I could share this amazing adventure with my kids as well! I let my hope rise to the surface. Ten minutes on the lake and I had already used my imagination to build on a dream. Once I had a happy focus, I was able to begin my climb out of the pit. It was amazing how easy it was once I took action.
Well, don’t you know… the doubts set in: How will I ever be able to kayak once a week? It’s ridiculous! I don’t have the money or the time for this type of activity. I felt myself stumble and my climb was halted. My negative thoughts were pulling me right back down while I was in the middle of that beautiful lake. The rays of light were gone! How dare they steal my light! I would not consent to their bold request that I willingly journey back to the bottom of the pit.
I allowed them to make me focus on what I didn’t have instead of what I could have. So, I had to delete those thoughts instantly the way I delete those pop up ads that sneak past my pop-up-ad-blocker. When I went back to the positive thoughts, I felt my soul smile again! Suddenly, I saw a sliver of light come back into my line of vision. I was back on the lake imagining ways that I could make this dream a reality. Now that I knew the way, I could help others avoid any pitfalls (no pun intended… OK, maybe a little bit intended) along their journey.
So, follow me if you will. I’ll be your guide out of the Pit of Despair. I can only offer suggestions that worked for me. Some are so small that you won’t even think that they’ll make a difference, but they do. Trust me, I’ve had lots of practice climbing, slipping and beginning the climb all over again during my life. I don’t pretend to be an expert, just a skilled climber.
Here are a few tips:
So, I’ve recently figured out that my front door is wide open, the lock on my gate is broken and my Neighborhood Watch group has fallen asleep on the job; uninvited guests are running around my house like they own the place! OK… so, I’m speaking metaphorically… the front door to my house is always locked and I don’t even have a gate. Truth be told, there isn’t even a real person I’m trying to keep out. So, you must be wondering what locks and gates have to do with anything. Well, it’s a strategy I’ve used for keeping only well-meaning and productive thoughts in my head and the less-than-desirable thoughts out.
Back in the day, I would entertain all sorts of negative beliefs. I pretty much left my front door wide open. Sure… Come on in! Mi Casa, Su Casa! It was like every PG-13 movie when the parents go away and the unsuspecting teen has a party for a ‘few friends’. We know darn well that it’ll be a free-for-all sooner than later. That’s what happens when we don’t self-monitor our inner conversations and feelings. We end up entertaining all sorts of cruel thoughts. Once they have free reign in our head, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.
Over the years I’ve learned to personify the negative thoughts. I began to see them as separate from myself. It’s so much easier to win a battle when you can ‘see’ what you are fighting. Once I was able to visualize that these attacks were coming from someone who was intruding on my peace, I realized that I no longer had to allow them the courtesy of space in my head. No more entertaining the unwanted guests! You know the saying: Party’s over folks… you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!
I realize that it’s hard for us to admit, but I’d wager that most of us have had negative internal conversations that no one else is even remotely aware of… unless, of course, you’re like me and you’re comfortable taking your comedy routine on the road (or on the page).
As I mentioned in my previous writings on depression, the negative thoughts in our heads can be dangerous and horribly mean! They say things to us that are completely false. They take our greatest fears and ‘perceived’ shortcomings and make them seem as if they are our reality! They pretty much ‘suck’! It is obvious by the abundance of memes available on this topic ~ that I’m in good company.
Keep in mind that these negative thoughts are not mutually exclusive to people with clinical depression. They can show up uninvited to anyone’s door just like those unwanted party guests. I consider myself a positive person. I am a glass half full type of gal. Keep in mind that just because you have negative thoughts running around in your head doesn’t mean you are negative. It simply means you have intruders!
I used to be well trained in spotting a negative intruder a mile away. OK… so maybe not a mile away, but at least 50 feet away. I had learned to spot the negative thought before it came anywhere near me. I learned to be ‘on the lookout’ for the mental and physical warning signs that told me that if I wasn’t careful, soon I’d be entertaining unwanted guests. I was so good at it that as soon as the negative thoughts came close to me, I’d feel ‘out of sync’ and I’d know it was time to protect myself by not only locking the front door, but also going a bit further to lock the gate that leads to the front door. I even made sure to have a good view of the street so that I’d spot these negative thoughts as they walked toward my house with their arrogant attitudes! That’s the trick ~ you need to see them coming. You need to be prepared and proactive!
Well, I will say that I believed that I had made it a pretty permanent habit to keep an eye on the comings and goings of the thoughts in my head. I should have seen the warning signs. I should have felt an unwanted presence tip-toeing its way back into my daily thoughts. But, sadly, I didn’t!
Apparently, I’d become careless and had let my guard down! It happens to the best of us. As time goes by, and we become comfortable with our surroundings, we forget that we need to lock the doors. Sometimes it takes a rude awakening to shake us up enough to bring back the ‘neighborhood watch’ mentality.
The other day I was at the gym when suddenly all hell broke loose both mentally and emotionally! Of course, on the outside, I just looked like a woman on the twisty Ab machine, but inside the battle of ‘me against them’ had commenced. The little negative voices in my head (we’ll call them Martha and Penelope) were having an all-out brawl to see which of them could break me first!
Honestly, if I look back now, I can admit that I’d heard them whispering for quite a long time. I guess I was too busy to pay attention to them. But today they did not speak in whispers and I had no choice. Today they were not trying to hide their judgment of me. They were going back and forth deciding my worth and my future! If I wasn’t careful, soon their opinion of me would be my dark new reality.
The first voice I heard was Martha as she yelled, “She’s wasting her time working out! Why does she even bother? It isn’t helping her at all.” Then Penelope chimed in and said, “You do know, don’t you, that she has actually gained weight over her 6 months of working out… look at her! What a pathetic mess!” Martha jumped back in to add two more cents, “For goodness sake, can she even see the girl on the treadmill in front of her. Now, that girl is obviously more dedicated to her work outs because she can actually wear shorts that are above her knee. LOL!!!” Of course, Penelope had to get the last word by saying, “She seriously just needs to go home and sit down with a bowl of popcorn and a glass (or two) of red wine because she’s hopeless! This just isn’t for her. She’ll just have to face the facts that it’s all downhill from here!” They went on for quite a while, but nothing else is appropriate to share right now.
So, there you have it!! BAM!!! They were back with a vengeance. Negative thoughts are pretty sneaky like that. They sneak in quietly through the back door. One minute you think you’re a champ at defending yourself against negativity, the next thing you know you’re knocked on your backside!
As I twisted back and forth on the Ab machine, I had a choice to make. It had to be now at this exact moment. This was nothing that I could wait to tackle later. I had to step up and fight them immediately. I had to find a way to stick up for myself and tell them they were wrong. But, they were so strong and it was almost impossible. I tried and tried, but they always had a snarky comeback! I was on the defensive, but if I wanted to beat them and send them away, I had to be on the offensive.
This is one time where fighting fire with fire wouldn’t work. Every time I defended myself against their words, they’d just throw more at me. It was a vicious cycle. They’d say something demeaning and I’d tell them they were wrong. That obviously wasn’t working. They had no conscience, and they were fighting for their existence. I had to find another way to get rid of them.
I decided that everything they said about me was either based on a past experience or something that hadn’t yet happened. That was their secret weapon. I had to fight them in the present. That was my secret weapon. I had to look at my own reality based on what I was doing in this moment. I had to be in the ‘present’. So, instead of defending myself against their words, I came up with my own. I shouted loudly at them (inside my head of course, because contrary to ‘their’ belief, I was NOT giving up on the gym or myself, so I had to hold it together). I allowed my inner voice to rise up and shout:
So, once again, the doors are locked. That’s awesome, right? I’m all set! Well, yes… in theory. However, it takes practice. You have to start small. You will begin by noticing how you feel throughout your day. Are you at peace in your own skin? If not, then it’s time to check the locks on the doors. Begin to pay attention to that which you allow to enter into your conscience mind. It’s great to evaluate which thoughts bring you joy and which thoughts bring you pain. Eventually, you’ll be able to fine-tune your ability to evaluate your thinking so you’ll be alert and proactive when even the weakest of whispering starts.
Keep in mind that the negative thoughts, your personal intruders, will always try their luck again. They want to catch you unaware! If the gate is not locked, they’ll smile as they walk (slow motion) up the sidewalk to your front door. What do they look like? What are their names? Keep in mind that they will not be all too happy when they realize that the door is locked. They can knock on the door all they want because you are not letting them into your happy place. Send them away! They will have to find lodging somewhere else! Only positive thoughts will unlock the doors!
With faith and belief,
On my 50th birthday I decided to start to take better care of myself. My days were dedicated to my children (ages 14 and 11), all the chores associated with home ownership as well as my two+ jobs. I actually had negative extra time, but I was not happy with myself and had to find a way to manipulate the day for my benefit. I began small by remembering to take my daily supplements and medications. I then worked to remember to eat at least 3x a day... most days. Who hooo!! Now I was on a roll!
It was time to add in, dare I say it… some exercise. I’ve never enjoyed exercising! As a matter of fact, I sort of hated it! So it was with a hesitant heart, and body, that I decided to begin a new workout routine. I wanted to be a healthy and happy person. I worked hard every day for everyone else; I felt that I deserved a better me, as did my loved ones. So, I documented my starting weight so I could track my weight loss. I knew that since exercise was not ‘my thing’, I’d need proof of my progress to motivate me to keep moving ahead.
Day after day I pushed myself. Day after day I felt more proud of how much easier the workouts had become. Day after day I’d work a little harder so I would be sure to ‘make it effective’! I only weighed myself sporadically in the beginning because I wanted to give it enough time so I could see a difference on the scale. After my first month of working out at least 4 times each week I decided to put some numbers on paper to document my progress. I knew I felt a difference and I couldn’t wait to see my proof! I stepped on the scale and looked down at the numbers. All the pride I had felt in a ‘job well done’ had vanished right in front of my eyes. I was so very discouraged because I had actually gained 4 lbs after one full month of eating right and working out every other day! How could all of that effort not have paid off? How could I have actually gained weight? It didn’t make any sense! I was so disheartened! I opted to give myself a mini pity party, but because I don’t enjoy these types of events all that much, I didn’t stay long. I’ve learned that if I’m going to spend my limited time on any activity, it has to move me toward my goals.
So, like other difficult times in my life, I moved forward and worked with faith, belief and hope. I decided that even with my negative numerical results, I would keep going... Day after day I jogged farther and farther. I did more squats and more lunges than ever before. I even added in a tricep workout as well. Finally, after 3 solid months it was time to step on the scale again. I was bound to see a difference. I drove home from the track, ran in and ... hopped on the scale to weigh myself. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I did lose some weight, but only exactly enough to get me back to the weight at which I had started when I began. After all that work I had only broken even. Was I right back to the person I was before I started, though?
I had to look away from the numbers on the scale to decide if all that time working out had made any difference at all. My scale did not give me any scientific proof of change, but that’s when it hit me that proof doesn’t always come in the form of that which I can see. Sometimes proof comes in the form of that which I can feel. The scale told me that I wasn’t any different than when I began three months previous. However, I could 'feel' the difference. I had to allow that to be enough for now. I had to have faith that I was on the right track, so to speak!
Hope, faith and ‘feeling’ there was a difference is what kept me moving forward with my routine. It is now many, many months later. Am I where I want to be? No… I’m not even close. However, I know I’ll continue to do my best. Sometimes things cannot always be proven with numbers, but that doesn't make them any less real! Sometimes you just cannot see far enough into the future to realize that the steps you are taking now are getting your one step closer to where you want to be. My original goal was to get healthy. If I looked inside myself I could clearly feel that I was healthier. I was the one who set the goal, but then looked to the wrong measurement tool to see if I’d reached it. So, I’ve decided that I will continue to do my best each day and try to get a little better each time. I have chosen to continue to walk toward my goal with faith because one day my steps will bring me to the goal that is hiding right around the corner.
Walk in faith!!!
Cindy Gagne Teixeira
Just like you, I wear many hats. I'm a mom, a teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and a writer. I choose to laugh (and talk... and write) about my problems because crying takes too much time.