Many people are remembering 9/11 today. It's hard not to remember. So many of us can recall exactly what we were doing when we first heard the devastating news - for me it was that a plane crashed into a building in New York City. I remember a group of students gathered around a TV screen in one of the Social Work buildings. It was one of our first day of classes. I wasn't sure what they were watching, but I cruised right by already late to class.
We moved our desks into a circle. There were a few people frantically pushing numbers on their cell phones. The instructor had the affect of someone trying to maintain calm. It turned out that several of my classmates' families were in New York and my classmates were trying to reach them. As the beginnings of the story of 9/11 unfolded, we exchanged looks of shock. Our professor asked that we stay for the full 2.5 hours of class. We thought she was crazy.
I remember going home and watching the news all day long. I remember going to bed terrified. I couldn't snuggle in close enough to my husband and I finally fell asleep wondering what kind of world I was bringing my firstborn into as I thought about him sprouting from a little seed inside my belly. Earlier in the day I had wondered if our new insurance plan would cover my pregnancy - we had just moved to Michigan from Arlington, Virginia. That seemed like a non-issue at bedtime. I couldn't stop thinking about how I had driven past the Pentagon every day on my way to work when we lived in Arlington. I couldn't begin to make sense of what had happened in our country - the land of the free and home of the brave - that day. Nobody could.
It is National Suicide Prevention Week. I saw a post on Facebook yesterday about a group call To Write Love On Her Arms. According to their mission statement, this is a "movement is dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide..."
Yesterday's call was to write the word "LOVE" on your arm to help raise awareness. So I did that, knowing that finding hope and help for these issues specifically is a cause that I hold close to my heart.
When I woke this morning to stories of 9/11 and LOVE on my arm, I began to think about graduate school and how I had diagnosed myself with almost every mood disorder I learned about in class. It was actually quite liberating to learn that there was an entire vocabulary for the feelings I had struggled with my entire life.
In a different Facebook post yesterday, someone I know shared a picture of LOVE on her arm. She included a note to her dad - I gathered he had committed suicide. I thought about my dad's sudden death about 3.5 years ago. He didn't commit suicide, but before we knew the cause of his death, the possibility that he did commit suicide wasn't out of the question. With drugs and alcohol, he certainly found other less severe ways to escape the pain he felt in his life.
After his death, I pretty much fell apart. With three little people to care for and my husband back at work, I knew I needed help. I decided to take anti-anxiety medication. While my grief intensified my anxiety and symptoms of depression, it is true that living with anxiety was something I had been doing my whole life. I didn't have words for the constant feeling that something could go wrong at any second until I learned more about anxiety and depression in graduate school. I thought I was "too sensitive" while the truth was I felt things really deeply. Maybe more deeply than other people. When the pain was too much bear, I looked for ways to hide it or dull it.
When I finally decided to take medication for my anxiety it was in part because I remembered a friend saying to me "Anna, you don't have to live this way" referring to my constant state of anxiety. I never wanted to take medication, but at that point - after my dad died - I didn't think I had time for therapy and I knew from my studies that it would help me. It was a very small dose, just enough to take the edge off and not enough to keep me from crying my way through a year's worth of contacts in way less than a year's time.
The thing about living with anxiety and depression that is so hard, and can be debilitating even, is that you feel so alone. So hopeless. So isolated. And on top of all that, you can feel ashamed of feeling that way. You think the only way out of the pain is to stop it. People try stopping the pain in all kinds of ways.
I would never, ever tell anyone that the key to happiness is to take medication. That is a choice you have to make for yourself based on your own history and your own present situation. What I would do is to say what my friend said to me - "You don't have to live like this." You have options.
See, I have come to realize that while there is immense pain and suffering in this world - and while I am not immune to any of it - we are not here on Earth to suffer. We are here to enjoy our lives and to live them peacefully. I don't know what that means for everyone, but I know that it is true. I don't have any proof, you'll just have to trust me.
Sometimes I wish my medication would numb me to the pain I feel, and that's when I know that it is time to take it up a notch in other areas of my life. When I want to escape what I'm feeling, I have found that writing helps me to feel more grounded. Yoga reminds me to breathe and helps me to stay present. Meditation helps me to quiet my "monkey mind" - the what-ifs that can spin out of control if I don't stop them. Being outside soothes my soul. Taking walks and running (or trying to run...) helps me to clear my mind. Spending time with people I love helps me remember who I am - not a condition, but a soul doing its best to enjoy this human experience. When I can return to myself and what is most important to me, I can better handle whatever life throws my way.
For me, art is a cure-all. Creating connects me to my core, the Creator, and all things created. I try to create something every single day. Sometimes it's just dinner (usually it's not dinner...). I have been keeping a Blessings journal for a while now and I love it because I can do just a little bit of creating very easily every day AND reflect on the things and people for which I am grateful.
Yoga, art, and meditation are some of the tools I use to get to break away from the every day and get back to what matters most to me.
We all have those tools - those things that can help us to slow down and re-focus on what matters. For a lot of people prayer will do the trick. No matter how much pain you are in, you must remember that life is not about the pain. Life is about JOY and you have the right to live in peace.
So, how do we get back there? What will it take to get you back to the peace? Here are a few steps you can try to take...
- Think of one thing that brings you peace
- Take one step, make one stroke, write one word, recall one memory, or reach out to one friend at a time - whatever it is that will take you to peace
- Keep breathing
- Keep going
- Get there
The only way through anything is to go through it. Seriously. Sit in it for as long as you need to. Feel what comes up for you. Yell, scream, cry, stomp your feet. Get as angry or as sad as you need to be.
And then remember that you don't have to live there. You don't have to stay in the darkness. Let it - whatever it is - flow through you, then you too can go with the flow. You can move through whatever it is. It might take hours or days or even years. Choose one thing that brings you joy or peace and take one little step in that direction whenever you can. You will make your way out of it. And, know you're not alone. If you need help, reach out for it. It's okay to ask for help.
This world - one where true heroes sacrifice their lives to save others, where slowly we are raising our voices around issues like depression and suicide, where communities come together in times of despair to help one another, and where we recognize that we are all connected - this is the world I brought my now eleven year-old son into. It is a world filled with war and hate and hunger and pain and suffering, and it is a world filled with beauty and peace and joy. We have to learn to live with the good and the bad. It's not an either/or proposition.
When you are suffering, you don't have to stay there. You don't have to live like that. You have options. My hope is that we all choose PEACE and JOY and do whatever it takes to get there.
With all kinds of love and big Anna hugs... xoxoxo