Hole in the soul

A few years ago I was struggling. I was going through a difficult time, feeling depressed, sad, empty, not myself at all. For a time I was miserable, but over a period of months I came to terms with some of the issues I’d been struggling with. And eventually life was better again; not perfect, but so much better.

Sometimes I remember those months, and what I learned from the experience.

Depression steals your energy. I remember feeling like I just wanted to sleep, to escape. Simple chores were overwhelming. The only thing that kept me somewhat normal was work. Work helped me put on the façade, gave me a reason to get up and get moving. Because I didn’t want to bring drama to my work place, I tried to minimize what I was going through, tried to hold myself together so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed with my co-workers.

Depression steals your appetite. At least that was what happened to me. I lost interest in cooking. I was alone a lot during those months, and it was easy to ignore meals when I wasn’t hungry, and too disinterested to cook. I lost 20 pounds in a few months. Best and worst diet experience I’ve ever had, the only “diet” that was effortless. In the past I’d put on pants or a favorite skirt and realized it was time to lose a few pounds. I’ve never before had to look through my closet for something to wear that wouldn’t fall off me.

Depression steals your interests. I would try to read to take my mind off the things that were bothering me. I couldn’t read. I would try to watch TV. I couldn’t stay engaged. I couldn’t settle myself long enough to accomplish much. I was restless and yet exhausted.

Depression steals your rest. I slept a lot when I wasn’t working. But often in the middle of the night I would wake up and my mind would race, going over and over the things that were troubling me. I was sleeping all the time, but not resting. My sleep cycle was broken by stress and worry, and somehow, the more I slept, the less I rested.

Once I was in the grocery store, walking around like a ghost, feeling the physical impact of depression. I felt like there was a hole in the middle of my body where my stomach should have been. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself with a gap between chest and hips…a hole that only allowed for the churning engine of stress that took the place of my belly…and even though I knew there was no hole, I remember thinking that the gaping emptiness seemed so real, I was surprised other shoppers weren’t staring at me, stopping to ask if I was alright. Because I had a hole in my middle. It was a surreal experience, and I wasn’t even on any medication. I was just feeling the drowning grip of sadness.

I walked around the store, filling my cart, looking normal on the outside, feeling lost and empty on the inside, and so aware of the gaping hole. As I walked around, I began to wonder who else was walking through the store with their own holes, invisible to me, but so real to them. Holes in souls.

That question took the focus off myself and allowed me to stand back and recognize that I probably pass people all the time who walk around with holes. I just don’t see what’s in front of my eyes. I try always to be kind, to be thoughtful. But even so, there are days that I’m wrapped up in my world. I pass people on automatic pilot: kind but remote, polite but disinterested, because I’m busy, and on the run, and don’t really look close enough to see the hole that’s devouring the person in front of me.

Living for a time with a hole in myself helped me realize, in a way I hadn’t before, that a lot of people walk around like that. Walking wounded. They put on the face, just like I did. They go through the motions of living, just like I did. Some get help, and some get relief from a change in the situation that’s causing the pain. That’s what happened to me. Circumstances changed, the skies cleared, my smile came back.

It wasn’t without some effort on my part. I did a lot of soul-searching, made some changes that were within my power to make.

It was a humbling experience. When you’ve always been hopeful, mostly happy, mostly sunny side up, it’s hard to recognize a self who’s drowning, who can’t snap out of it. You begin to look at people who struggle with depression and other forms of mental illness through a different lens. You find more compassion, more appreciation for the struggles that are invisible to the eye, but so real to the heart.

When I remember that time, now I can feel grateful. It taught me a lot about myself and helped me find strength I didn’t know I had. I learned the value of “wait and see.” I learned that the phrase “trust the process” isn’t just something you hear in corporate settings. I learned that life will often right itself, if you work with it.

I don’t want to tempt fate by thinking I’m invincible. I’m not, and the truth is, no one is. If there is a next time, I think I’ll manage my hole a little better. I think I’ll know to trust, I’ll find my smile a little faster, a little easier. The reward for weathering the hard times is being better prepared to face whatever comes, and knowing, knowing, that you’ll survive, and thrive, and grow above. Eventually, assuredly.

Once you’ve worked through a hole in your life, you’re never quite the same. You’re scarred, but you’re wiser.

I no longer have an engine of stress running in my stomach, or feel like there’s a hole in my body. But I can empathize with those who do. I don’t talk a lot about this experience…just doesn’t come up in normal conversation. But now and then I see an opportunity to speak up, to share, to encourage, to say, “I’ve been there.” It’s a powerful thing to look back at a challenge and know you’ve overcome. And it’s a powerful encouragement to someone else to hear a first-person story, to know someone else really gets it.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out now. I’m not even sure why I’m sharing this, except that I suddenly wanted to.

I’m not sharing to get sympathy. I’m sharing to give hope.

I started my blog during those months, started it to stake a claim to the positive person I knew was somewhere inside. I was determined to find my way to that self again. And I did. I had help from a few significant people who knew what was going on, and some of the conflict in my life subsided.

After the worst of it was behind me, I noticed I was singing again. I noticed I was interested in food again. I noticed I had a renewed sense of grace, of redemption, found a new sweetness to life that stays with me. I sometimes have small setbacks, and I sometimes feel discouraged. But I’ve never gone to the depths again. I’ve learned the signs to watch for, and the steps toward healing.

I think I’m a better person than I was, in part because of what I went through. It changed me, grew me. And though the details are not important now, I can share this much: to anyone reading this who is lost and despairing, don’t give up hope.

Do something to get yourself moving, literally. Get off the couch, do the smallest thing, and let that lead you to the next thing, and the next. Action inspires hope, and hope is the lifeline to healing. Reach out; there are probably more people than you could guess who understand at least some of what you’re experiencing. And give yourself time. Time can be your ally, and in time, you can look back and see that you’ve come a long way from your lowest point.

You’ll find your smile again. You’ll hear yourself singing again. You’ll sleep through the night again. And you’ll know you’re healed.

 

Wounds

 

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Wise words

I am a seeker. I seek inspiration for my day, motivation for the work at hand, and wisdom to guide my steps. Sometimes I find these things in the actions and character of people. Often inspiration comes through words. These are some of the words that encourage me today:

Keep trying!

How I want to see myself as successful! I admit, the first illustration is what I expect. The second seems more realistic!           

Happy Saturday, and may you find wisdom, courage, and hope for the day!

(All images from Pinterest)

Cheerful vs happy

“I’m not happy. I’m cheerful. There’s a difference. A happy woman has no cares at all. A cheerful woman has cares but has learned how to deal with them.”  Beverly Sills, American opera singer.

I saw this quote recently and was immediately charmed. By this definition of happiness, could anyone really claim that state? Is there really anyone who has no cares at all? Not in my experience. But I know many people who regularly demonstrate grace under fire, grace under pressure, grace in the face of real life struggles. To some degree, life is all about perspective. If things are generally good, even a small disappointment can take on greater significance. A flat tire or lost cell phone can feel like a small tragedy. I have to acknowledge that most of my life has been blessed with health, children, friends, relationships, love…the kind of life that is easy to take for granted because it is stable.

I am increasingly aware that no life is simple, that even the people around us who look whole and happy have their cares, their own quiet battles. No one escapes some form of life challenge. Sometimes the issues are of our own making, sometimes not. Sometimes the stress is personal, sometimes it is from the heartache of watching a family member or friend struggle, and only being able to stand by and watch.

So what is the answer? Even in times of stress and heartache, life  goes on. How is that possible? It’s difficult to rise above grief, above loss, above pain. But the attempt to be cheerful is important. Is this just the “fake it till you make it” attitude? I think this is different. I think the message from this quote is that we acknowledge our troubles, we confront them, we choose life. We continue to embrace life. We look for the good to offset the bad.

I’ve sometimes been accused of being the proverbial ostrich, burying my head in the sand. And anyone who know me knows that I never seek confrontation with others. But I see a subtle difference here. When I have difficulty in my life, my confrontation is less with someone than with the issue itself. What can I do to make a difference? How can I overcome? After all, I can’t change another person, I can only change myself. I can only choose for myself. I can only be cheerful for myself.

I choose cheerfulness. I am not always able to claim happiness. But I can breathe deeply, I can focus on the good in my life, I can enjoy the comforts of the day: now in early December, a warm fire, a cup of hot coffee, twinkling lights, an early Christmas card from a friend. I choose to be a light in the darkness. Doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with this at times: of course I do. But with the help of faith in the power of God, faith in the power of good, faith in the power of hope, I will be cheerful. I will overcome.

It is a very empowering place to be. I’m liking the view from this vantage point.

How does this help?

Several years ago I had a moment of ephipany. I was having a difference of opinion with someone and suddenly realized that what I was saying wasn’t helping us come to clarity or resolve the disagreement. I realized that my approach was not helping my cause. And suddenly the thought came to my mind, “How does this help?” If I had a goal, an outcome in mind that I wanted to reach, and my approach wasn’t bringing me to that outcome, how was it helping? It wasn’t.

That began a practice for me to filter my words and actions through that question. When I find myself in conflict with anyone and we don’t seem to be progressing toward resolution, I silently frame that question to myself. It helps me to step back, hear my words or see my actions through the other person’s ears and eyes. Obviously, if my persuavie argument isn’t working, it must not be so persuasive. How does that help?

I don’t mean that this approach should be from a manipulative perspective. If manipulation is the motivation, you may get what you want, but manipulation is always ultimately destructive and self-serving. No, this question should be framed from an unselfish and honest desire to seek the best resolution to conflict or difference of opinion. Only in that context can you truly seek the best for both sides.

Asking the question, “How does this help?” doesn’t guarantee that the problem will be resolved. Some conflicts don’t have resolutions that are positive for both sides. And no matter your approach, the other person may not be willing to put aside the conflict. But asking the question will help you honestly evaluate your words, your methods, your motivation. Asking the question is a filter that will help you seek other solutions, other persuasions, or perhaps, ultimately, change your own mind, see the other person’s point of view. And that can be an invaluable gift to both people.

It can be difficult to be honest about this, especially when your point of view seems like the only point of view possible. How can you step back, re-frame, look at a question from another perspective when you know you’re right? But that’s the point…the issue is not about being right or being more persuasive. When you’re trying to find resolution to differences, sometimes the solution is more about approach, method, and understanding. Sometimes it is about compassion, about empathy, rather than staking a claim to being right.

Sometimes I even come around to an opposite opinion from where I began if I have long enough to think before I rush to judgment. There are right and wrong absolutes in life. I believe that. There are some things that are never right, always wrong. But woven among the absolutes of life are many gray areas, and I recognize that more as I get older. When I was young, life was easy to define in absolute terms. But age, some wisdom, my own mistakes and missteps, and a lot of grace has taught me that things are not always what they seem at first glance. It was a long lesson to learn, but now it is ingrained in my thinking. It has become more natural to me to ask the question, and I am open to hearing the answer that comes from that honesty.

Try asking yourself, “how does this help?” The answer may surprise you.

Do you know “Flylady?”

I can already hear my family, and maybe even a few of my friends, begin to groan: not “Flylady” again! I first became acquainted with this site several years ago when I saw an article in a Denver paper profiling “Flylady” and her mission.

Let me explain: this is a site designed to help people who are challenged with self-organization in every way. If your home is cluttered, Flylady is for you! If you have difficulty getting your bills paid on time, Flylady is for you! If you are looking for exercise or encouragement to eat more healthy meals , Flylady is for you! This is a site that offers gentle and positive messages to people who need help overcoming self-defeating behaviors.

One of the nicest things about all of this encouragement is that it is free. There are various products that the site offers for sale, but there is no requirement to purchase to be an email subscriber. I don’t follow all the recommendations offered, but I have picked up some great ideas, and I love the positive attitudes of the people who host the site, as well as the enthusiastic subscriber comments. It’s a great virtual support group and members have the ability to be passive observers or as active as they choose.

Flylady is very family oriented and incorporates ideas for children as well as adults. The tools and suggestions work for everyone:  married, single, young, old, empty nester, or in the thick of child rearing.

One of my favorite phrases from the site is “Progress, not perfection.” There is an anti-perfection message at the heart of the Flylady system that emphasizes the crippling nature of that spirit. The goal is to recognize that doing your best is doing enough, to respect and value what is being accomplished rather than to focus on what may yet need to be done. This is the positive, hope-filled, and an empowering message of the site. Look beyond the graphics (a bit corny for my taste) and let me know what you think.