Categories
depression Hope Mental Health Resilience Worthiness

Glimmer of Sunlight

“Nobody can protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away our punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was build by your own desire to heal.”

~Cheryl Strayed

We all run as far as we can from suffering. Feeling the pain is unbearable, so we do everything we can to run in the opposite direction. That’s natural, that’s human nature. After all, who likes pain and suffering?

Here is my secret : I want mental peace so so badly that sometimes I want to die to get there.

At times, I want the anguish, guilt, physical pain, anxiety to HALT in its tracks and take me out of this life.

I feel at times that I would break the hearts and crush the souls of loved ones to get what I’m after- for the pain to stop.

We all have our way out, often times that way is self-destructive. For some, it’s drugs and alcohol. For me, I eat and eat, mainly sugar and processed foods. I eat so much that I cry from stomachaches. I eat it when I’m happy because I want so desperately for the positive feeling to last, I want to chase the bliss. Also, I eat to numb my suffering. I head to the grocery store to get a cart full of cookies, pretzels, ice cream and doughnuts, when I sense that achey feeling in my body.

What is that achey feeling?

It’s the knowledge that this life will not last forever. It’s the realization that there is unspeakable suffering that takes place in this world.

Maybe depression is being unable to separate from that sense of suffering.

Everyone says “it’s okay to not be okay” or “feel the hard feelings,” but no one says how.

One day I was driving and I saw a dead deer on the side of the road. Chunks of its body was strewn around everywhere, but I could tell it was a deer because of its head. I felt deeply saddened and disturbed by this image, this dismemberment. For a few seconds I couldn’t help but imagine how much pain that deer endured. Tears erupted down my face.

Other times I feel blissed out by the world that we live in- babies growing inside mothers, seeds sprouting up into trees, examples of human compassion, like people helping other people out with nothing to gain for themselves. All of this reminds me that miracles do exist.

Normally I feel like I’m swimming around in this great big beautiful ocean. I pass dolphins and angel fish, I feel the sunshine on my back. Life feels utterly lovely. Then a storm comes and I get swept underwater. Pain seems to surge through every pore. Whether or not I thrash around or stay still, I’m held under the surface in the murky darkness. One thing I can count on is that the ocean will always spit me back out. Soon enough, I feel the sun on my back once again. I splash around again and everything goes back to normal.

But then a big storm comes and I’m swept away in the current, caught in the undertow. Moments pass, but I have faith that I’ll return to the sunny surface once again. Then hours and hours pass. I’m in the Depths of Despair. It feels unfamiliar…it feels unknown.

This time I go deeper and deeper. The water is so frigid that my skin turns blue. I see the monsters of the abyss feeding on lost hope down in the bottom. I begin to relate to them because I am losing hope that I will ever surface again. I’m deeper then I’ve ever been and I’ve been down here for way to long. I lose faith…

This is the new normal and it’s lonely and awful down here, in the Depths of Despair. Pure pain, total suffering.

And then seemingly out of nowhere, I surface. The goose bumps evaporate as the sun’s rays hit my skin again. I take a sigh of relief. No matter what I must never lose faith again.

But then another storm comes in…

It keeps happening over and over again, but each time those ominous, dark clouds roll in, I go under and this time for longer and longer. Attempting to surface feels like swimming through some gunky combination of molasses and glue. It’s too heavy, it’s too much, and it’s too hard. I’m sick of fighting. People say things like…

  • “Don’t give up. Become a fighter. You can do this!”
  • “Attitude is everything! Change your attitude and perspective and you can overcome anything.”
  • “It’s really not so bad. Do all of the things you love and you’ll start to feel better.”

I believe all of these things. But the problem is, when I’m down here in the blackness of the ocean floor amongst the bottom-feeders and real-life nightmares I’ve lost all faith, all hope, my strength, my identity, my passion, my will to live.

I lay in bed, watching reality TV, guzzling coffee and munching on chips and cookies. I don’t move for hours and hours, glomming onto any fraction of an endorphin rush. When I was sad before, I released the emotion through tears or sweat, but now, it feels impossible. It’s as though a dam was built, blocking me from letting the pent up emotion and energy course through my body. Instead it stagnates into a cesspool of filth. It’s become a breeding ground for lost hope, apathy, numbness, self-loathing and hatred.

If you haven’t guessed, this is what depression looks like.

When you’re down in the Depths of Despair for too long, your brain gets used to it. You begin to wonder, “Is this the new normal?” All of the surfacing and drowning again feels like too much to bear all alone.

I’ll tell you my story:

I’ve had some hardships in life- my father lost custody of my sister and I when I was ten or eleven due to his drug use and then died of a drug overdose when I was twelve. I had panic attacks as a teenager and went to a therapeutic boarding school my senior year.

Still, I’ve also had an overwhelming amount of support from my amazing mother, doting grandparents, sister, and my mother’s partner. I feel eternally thankful for their unconditional warmth and love.

I’ve seen the magic of life when riding my pony, hugging my mom, skipping through wildflowers, and catching glimpses of the twinkle of lighting bugs. But I’ve also grieved an immense loss and felt unspeakable pain. When my dad died, my heart changed for a long, long time. It went from a solid and sturdy organ that reverberated trust and lightness in the world into a heavy one that sank and pulsed with absence and grief.

Things seem to be going so well, but then I begin to have strange thoughts: I imagine myself at my own funeral, when I walk outside I imagine my body hanging from trees. I obsess about it all of the time and I begin to feel heaviness, I go under. First it’s for hours, then days, and then weeks.

When this happens, I tell my mom that I’m feeling unstable and then I go home and seek therapy and medication, which always helps.

One time I let it go on for over a year. I told myself, “This time will be different.” This time you’re in sunny California where the waves of the ocean evoke feelings of bliss and joy, where the Redwood trees bring a sense of tranquility, peace, and calmness. I remind myself that back when I was 23 I went a whole year without these weird thoughts, without feeling low and unstable. I hula hooped at festivals and hung out with my best friend everyday. Life felt simple and easy.

Here I was in California once again, paradise, heaven on earth. And still, it came. I felt the clammy hands of Despair beginning to pull me back down. I kept oscillating between feeling happy, social, receptive to the beauty of the world and then feeling true gnaw-at-your-skin deep depression that slams into you and hits you in your core. I told myself that I would be okay, I could handle these shifts.

But really, I wasn’t okay.

I wanted to jump off a bridge so the pain would end. That’s my dirty little secret that I’ve never told anyone.

I felt like a fool. Here I was without a problem in the world in California, living in a cottage beneath the gorgeous Redwoods for crying out loud with my boyfriend that I love to the moon and back, with a writing job that allows me to be creative, and still, still I feel this pain. What the hell is the matter with me? Why can’t I snap out of it?

Here is the thing-

Sometimes you can be beneath the surface for so so long that it rocks your world. It nearly shatters you.

But then, you surface again, and you feel the warmth of the sunshine. Oh, and look, there’s a pod of dolphins that makes your heart leap. All of a sudden, you hear a faint sound. It’s the chorus of loved ones at the island nearby cheering you on.

Moments like these make all of the unbearable darkness worth it.

If you’ve ever felt like me, get help. This is your depression, not your identity. There is help for you- be it therapy, medication, a shoulder’s friend to cry on, a beloved pet, or what have you.

But let’s get back to that Cheryl Strayed quote about suffering. There will be hardship and pain. You will suffer because of it. These are just the facts of this unpredictable life. Unfortunately, that gnawing achey feeling will return and you will be swept under the surface again.

If you let the years roll by, life teaches you how to live it. It’s about maintaining hope and faith. It’s not about turning blindly from suffering, but is instead about your journey.

Your journey and your life is meaningful, even if you may not think so right now.

When you get the help you need to get off your bed for a second and move through your emotions, maybe you’ll be able to express them. Maybe even share them.

Trust me, someone will benefit from your story. You’re not alone in this. That’s the fatal flaw: depression makes us think that we’re all alone. We’re not.

When the storm comes in, you’ll suffer, then you won’t, then you’ll be happy, then you’ll thrive, then you’ll go under once again, then you’ll come up once again- that’s life.

Don’t let your brain trick you into believing that you’re stuck- that’s depression. It’s all a trick. You’ll never ever be down there forever.

I can promise you this, that glowing morning sun will continue to rise each morning.

With love,

Annie

Categories
Gastrointestinal Problems Mental Health

Food Poisoning (Part 2)

Hey guys. Where we were?

Let’s see, I was livid with the gastroenterologist specialist, staying up at night googling worst case scenarios, drinking soup, reading novels, listening to my stomach make noises that resemble a barnyard animals, watching a lot of Netflix, and spending 50% of my time on the toilet? That sounds about right!

Meanwhile, I was losing so much weight that I was becoming malnourished. A naturopathic doctor gave me some powder that I mixed with water to keep me healthy. They insisted on running all of the tests again. Blood work, urine samples, stool tests, allergies, etc.

At one point I somehow made it to Florida with Mom and Matt. I couldn’t actually go to the beach because I couldn’t predict when the urge for diarrhea would hit me. I remember sobbing one day, as Mom and Matt packed up their beach chairs and headed to the ocean. All alone in the dark corner of my room, I got down on my knees and prayed. I begged for mercy. That was one of those wall-spinning moments that I will never forget. I’ve only ever felt that low a handful of times in my young life. Once was when my father died and once was when I left home when I was seventeen. 

Over the next twelve months, I got 30% better. Instead of having diarrhea 12 times per day and pooping my pants at work, I only had diarrhea 6 times per day. Initially, I felt happy about this progress, but then I adapted and soon felt discouraged once again.

 “So, you’re better?” friends and family asked gleefully. Sure, sure, whatever helps YOU sleep at night. Eventually, they stopped asking. I was both grateful and resentful.

Many doctors had competing views on treatment. Some straight up didn’t believe others. “Those test results aren’t worth the paper in which they were printed on,” one doctor told me about a certain food allergy test. He told me to never bring this paperwork into his office again. Great, I guess I’ll scrap those.  One doctor who was supposedly the most knowledgeable person at the clinic told me to go on the BRAT diet, but then said apples had too much fiber and may cause more diarrhea.

“Oh, and don’t eat toast because it has gluten.”

“So…bananas and rice?” I asked. Was this some sort of sick joke?

“Yeah. But don’t eat too many bananas in one day.”

Great.

Friends had all sorts of advice for what to eat and what not to eat. I stopped listening to people’s strange anecdotes after awhile. So-and-so stopped eating this and it really helped her. Maybe you should try to stop eating this or that because it helped ME. I tuned everyone out.

I learned that if you eat a certain food it can take up to three days before you get an adverse symptom. Also, it can take weeks before certain foods leave your system. Apparently, the amount of food you eat matters. When it comes to food issues, it’s pretty complicated!

One doctor advised against the naturopathic route. He said that naturopaths will do a bunch of tests and find something that is wrong, but it won’t have anything to do with the actual problem.

Still, I couldn’t give up, right? It took weeks to hear back from these tests and the results were negligible. Get your thyroid tested. Have you heard of SIBO- Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth? Maybe you have leaky gut. I wasn’t really looking forward to going down those rabbit holes.

I moved to Boulder to start graduate school and needed to find a new doctor. It took weeks before he could see me. He wanted to run all of the same tests because of course, certain tests couldn’t be trusted.

I was put on six or seven supplements that I had to take a few times per day. I had to take some on an empty stomach and some with food. One supplement- that looked like gunky lip balm – made me gag in my mouth every time I took it.

I decided I was finished with doctors for a while. Screw them and their condescending attitude. I’m sick of dealing with the emotional rollercoaster. Maybe this person will be able to help me. Maybe my life will finally get better! No thank you, I’ll just have my diarrhea 6 times per day in peace.

It dawned on me that five medical workers had failed me. This sent me sent me into a tailspin. When medicine and science fails you, your mind goes to a dark, dark place. Is this how it’s going to be forever? Will I have diarrhea on my wedding day? Will I have to pull over as I drive my kids to school and have diarrhea in the gas station? Will I be able to eat at restaurants with my family or will I continue to have to have powder water forever?

I wallowed in despair. Graduate school was sucking which definitely didn’t help things. I couldn’t even go on hikes up the beautiful mountains because the altitude made me scream in pain. My classmates had to counsel me down the mountain. Luckily, we were all aiming to be therapists. Hah!

If it hadn’t been for my boyfriend that I met at a coffee shop in Boulder, I think I would have lost my mind. He was my saving grace, my bit of joy in the sea of despair.

I decided that maybe I should try out a nutritionist. I found one in Boulder that greatly helped me. She immediately told me to stop taking the supplements that were mimicking antibiotics, saying that my gut needed a break. She gave me supplements that would help my mucosa lining. She told me to get a crockpot and eat soup for every meal. Everything I ate needed to be soft. I was eating baby food from a jar at this point, so soup was a welcomed delight. She gave me information on a probiotic enema, castor oil and heat applications, and told me to eat way way slower. All of this helped me heal another 50%.

My boyfriend, Eric, and I bought a crock pot and a giant sand timer and began chopping up our soups each night. I was so grateful to finally feel some relief. Ahhh, it felt so good to be able to go through the day without having diarrhea. I’m so thankful that I have made almost a full recovery. I was overwhelmed with love for my boyfriend that he would eat soup with me at home instead of going out on dates.

Thank you for reading my blog post on my health journey! Chronic pain is not easy. I often grappled with the question of, “Should I give up hope?” I thought back to a time when my dad died. There was no hope that he would come back. I had to accept my new reality and learn ways to cope in his absence. I wondered if reaching an acceptance would help me finally move forward. This way, no one could let me down. I would get my hopes up so high, and then I would have explosive diarrhea yet again. This emotional rollercoaster killed me. Maybe I should give up hope….

Yet, I could not.

I could not accept the limited life I was living.

There is always hope for you. Hope can be healing. Nothing in life is stagnant. Days, weeks, and months of suffering can go by but this does not mean that you’re going to feel this way forever. Eventually, the winter ends, the sun comes out, and the flowers bloom once again. 

Annie

Categories
Mental Health Resilience Worthiness

Introduction Post

I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will…I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself.”

Amy Schumer

Dear reader,

 I want to remind you that you are worthwhile. You are enough. You are beautiful. You know what helps lift my spirits when I am deep in the pits of a major depression?

Reading inspiring accounts of human resilience. I read memoirs of people who have been through absolute hell and back, and they still want to live. They might be hanging on by a thread, but they still muster up the strength and courage to share their story and live their true purpose.

After days of peeling my dirty, crusty hair off of my face and force-feeding myself some bone broth so I don’t keel over, I give up on cutting myself with the serrated kitchen knives. I drive to the nearest Barnes and Noble and scour the non-fiction section in hopes of finding a relatable memoir. In that instant I decide to make one choice driven from self-love rather than self-dread. Why?

What compelled me to change my usual pattern of self-destruction to an action that could be beneficial? I am not sure, but I know that if I can do it, you can do it too.

Once I get my hands on this memoir, I know that it will feel like getting chicken noodle soup in bed when I am sick. It’ll feel like getting a teddy bear to snuggle with during a nightmare or a hug from my mom after I slipped and scraped my knee back when I was little. I love that seemingly serendipitous act of opening a page to read about a relatable character.

This person gets me. They get me! Me! Sloppy-Total-Mess-Me.  And that connection is hard to come by. I can’t wait to purchase it and get the hell outta here! I want to go back into my bed and read about somebody else who gets it.

I want to feel less alone in this world. Doesn’t anyone get what it’s like to want to die? Not all the time, just sometimes. There are times when I am tired, so tired of being beaten down with what feels like the weight of the world.  I want peace.

But let me tell you, there are other ways to finding peace besides offing yourself. I promise you that this is true. Think back to a moment in your lifetime when you felt happiness. If you felt happy then, can’t it be achieved again? Nothing in this life stays constant. Even in the midst of immense anguish, there has got to be one thing, it can be tiny, that brings a smile to your face. Dwell on that for a few moments. I know it’s not that easy though.

You deserve peace. I am writing my story in hope of finding my own peace. I know that my true calling is to share my story and write every day. If my story helps one person feel like they are less alone, than I have lived my true purpose.

I will say this again for those who didn’t quite get it the first time, you are worthwhile no matter what you say or do or don’t do. No matter what. I know that reading some random person’s book won’t necessarily change your mind, but imagine what it would be like to live in a world where you felt like there were no contingencies on love.

You are worthy of love even if you’re imperfect; even if you ate way too much last night, didn’t do your homework, messed up your last memo, didn’t buy your mom a Christmas present, did some drugs last weekend, got in a bar fight, broke a promise to your friend, cheated on your partner, you are still worthy of love. Should you change? That is entirely up to you, but shame has absolutely no motivating influence.

Be yourself, your true self. Find what you are meant to do and go for it. Go all in. There will always be excuses, but the time to live the way you want to is now. 

 I see that you have suffered deeply. I don’t know exactly what it’s like but I can imagine that you have been in pain. It’s okay to feel however you feel. You can be resentful, angry, bitter, and you’re still lovable and worthwhile. Even if no one else thinks so, I think so. I know so. How do I know? Because I have been there.

I believe that you and I are not so different. We’re all just trying to find our way in this world. There are things in this life that bring to mind deep sorrows and heartbreak and there are things that remind us that life is a miracle and a gift. I hope my blog serves as a glimmer of hope.

With Love,

Annie