Believe

One of my favorite animated movies (if not my absolute favorite) is “Rise of the Guardians”. There are so many reasons why I love this movie, but one of the things I love most about it is that it revolves around the idea that we choose to believe. The things in the world influence our ability to believe, but in the end, only we can conquer our own nightmares by choosing to face them and bring them to light.

I look at the stars in the sky, snowflakes that freeze on the window, and the hundreds of tiny little veins in a single leaf, and I just think to myself, “how can anyone not believe?” There is so much hope here, so much light. There is so much good in the world.

As someone who hardly knows what it’s like to not have depression, I have seen my share of darkness. Most of my life has been spent trying to find the light in the darkness. But because of that, I see light everywhere. I see light in the darkest corners of people who’s lives have been torn apart by addictions or mental illness. I see light in desperate situations where some will say, “what good could come of this?” And most importantly, I see light in myself. Even when I am in the depths of depression and death seems like the only escape and I ache for any bit of hope to hold onto, I find light in my faith that things will get better, that someone cares, that I am not alone.

People say that light and dark cannot exist in the same space. They are right to an extent. Light cannot inhabit the same molecules as the dark. But there is no room, no area, no place that I know of that has absolutely no darkness. Likewise, it is extremely difficult to create complete darkness. Light and dark seek to inhabit the same space, but darkness wins when light reaches its limit. Darkness is the absence of light because it exists when light is not there. 

Inside of us, darkness exists when we don’t choose to make light. I have always marvelled at how people can be so cruel. I don’t understand how people can hurt each other or become numb to the pain of another person. I guess it makes sense though that if you don’t choose to put light in yourself, the darkness will reside there instead. But I can’t help but see light in even the darkest of people. There has to be some good there, if they would just choose to turn towards it.

At Christmas time it is easy to dismiss the beliefs of children in Santa Claus or even in miracles, but it is that choice to believe that is so powerful. I want to believe in Santa. I want to believe in goodness. I want to believe that there is something better out there. I watch movies like “The Polar Express” and “The Santa Clause” and they make me want to believe in the impossible. I have seen the impossible over the last few years. I have experienced what I never even dreamed could happen.

So I guess my point with all of this is just to encourage you to believe. Believe in hope, in light, in goodness. Believe in something bigger than yourself. Believe that you are not alone in this world.

“All things are possible to those who believe.”

-adapted from Mark 9:23

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Hidden Depression

I don’t normally talk about hidden depression because I talk so much on this blog about depression that I hardly feel it is hidden from anyone. But today I was hiding my depression. And in reality, most days I hide my depression.

I broke down in church today as we started to sing “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.” This song has been a soft spot for me over the years. I struggle with the thought of only the “faithful, joyful, and triumphant” being called to come celebrate the birth of Christ. Didn’t Christ come for everyone, including the broken and downtrodden and depressed? It bothered me so much that  I wrote my own version of the song one year. But today as I sang, I choked on the words. I want to come to Christ. I want to feel his presence in my life. But there are times when I just can’t handle it all. But instead of going to someone and telling them how I felt and seeking comfort, I left and stayed in my car until I could be okay again.

The truth is that I wanted to die today. I went to my car and wanted to drive away into nothingness and forget all the pain that I have ever felt. But I went back inside and talked to people and tried to be as friendly as I could. The problem is that I am depressed a lot. I feel lost and alone and hurt. But I don’t feel like I can tell anyone, perhaps especially my friends. I don’t understand why people are friends with me. But would they want to stay friends if they knew how much I struggle?

I convince myself to be strong. I convince myself that I am strong because if I wasn’t strong, I would never survive. I convince myself that I love life and that I am perfectly content with everything as it is because I can’t handle the pain of wanting anything other than what I have.  The truth is that I am depressed. I want to die. My greatest sacrifice is getting up every day and keeping on going.

I have good days and horrible days. But the real truth is that every good day I have is because I make a constant effort to make it a good day. I choose to constantly look towards the light. I choose to avoid the appearance of darkness because I know how easily it pulls me in. Then, something happens that reminds me that everything is not okay with the world. I am reminded that there are cruel people in this world, or I am reminded of my failures, or I am reminded that there are people struggling and suffering, and there is little I can do to change it. That is when I fall. I fall into the depths of depression and have to work to get back to the light.

My hidden depression is not so much hiding it from everyone else as hiding it from myself. I don’t usually show others how depressed I get, but I also don’t show myself how depressed I can be. I put myself in a bubble and protect myself from all the pain I don’t want to feel. I have been doing well, and I know I will feel well again. But I also know that I can only stay well as long as I stay in the light. Each time I fall, it is tempting to stay down. It is tempting to stop trying so hard to be okay. But people need me. I am needed and wanted, so I must become okay again. That is why I keep hiding depression so that it won’t block my light.

 

Light in the Dark

“Service activates the light”

-Tim Ballard

I went to a devotional tonight where Tim Ballard spoke about finding light in the darkness. Tim Ballard started the organization, “Operation Underground Railroad,” which exists to rescue children from sex trafficking. His job is basically going into the darkness and saving people from it. What he said tonight really resonated with me.

I don’t know why I took things so hard growing up. My life really wasn’t that bad. I’m pretty sure my siblings didn’t see things the same way as I did, or at least it didn’t affect them the same way. I’m not exactly sure what triggered in me all of the thoughts and feelings that followed.

What I do know is what I learned from it all. I learned to take care of people. I learned that everybody hurts and gets stressed and afraid. I learned to protect the people I loved and to bring light to the lives of the people around me. Serving other people is so ingrained in me that I literally cannot stop myself from trying to help someone.

My world growing up often felt chaotic and unfriendly. Part of it was autism and anxiety and depression, part of it was circumstances, part of it was past experiences, but I felt like I was fighting off darkness. I kept putting out light though. I tried to help and serve and do good to others. I remember tutoring people all through high school, joining clubs and participating in activities that helped others, doing things around the house to help my parents. As long as I was doing something for someone, I felt good. The darkness set in at night when the world was quiet and I found myself alone, but as long as there was someone to help, there was light. Like Tim Ballard said tonight, “Service turns the light on.” For me, service was my light. It gave purpose and meaning to my life.

I struggle with being myself. I struggle with loving myself. I used to think I was a horrible person. I used to hate myself. I used to think I never did anything right. Over the last few years, I have been able to change those thoughts. But they still come back. I still struggle to see my worth. I know I need to be good to myself. I know I need to love myself like I love other people. I know it is important for me to take care of myself. I’m just not good at it.

But serving people, loving people, helping people? I am good at that. It is hard to fight the darkness, but service gives me hope. Seeing light go into someone else gives me hope. When I can’t see light going into others, I lose hope. Someday I hope I can put light into myself, too. But for now, I am glad to realize that helping others can be my light in the dark.

It is an Illness

**Warning: This is a difficult post to read and it does get a little graphic at some points of explaining how I felt.**

It has been about 7 months since I fell into the worst period of depression I have ever experienced. It was so difficult that I wondered if I would ever be okay again. It got to the point where I told my friend, “I have one more night left in me. That’s all I can promise to be safe for is one more night.” I couldn’t trust myself to be safe anymore. I was in such a desperate place of darkness that I decided I needed to take time away from life until I could handle things again. So I spent a week with my sister, hoping to get better and return to normal life.

Things didn’t get better. Although the week was beneficial in that I was able to sleep and rest quite a bit, it made me realize just how bad things really were. I had bad dreams nearly every time I closed my eyes, even naps were filled with unpleasant dreams and thoughts. Days were not much better. I saw myself being hurt in every way imaginable. I pictured killing myself in multiple ways. I could be anywhere, from church to work to driving on the freeway, and I would see blood running down my arms or see myself hanging from ceilings or other similar circumstances.

The darkness was so thick, so debilitating that I told my boss that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to return to work. I told my church leaders that I probably couldn’t teach anymore. I told my friends that I might need to be hospitalized if it continued much longer. I wasn’t sure where life would take me or what would happen next, but I knew that I was nowhere near being okay.

I had been taking an antidepressant this entire time. I didn’t know if it was helping, but I wanted to give it a chance. I wanted to really see if it could help me. I stopped that medication a week ago. It has taken this last week to get the medicine out of my system, but I started getting better slowly. The nightmares and images were less frequent, less severe. It wasn’t so hard to smile anymore. I started seeing light where there was only darkness before. I had felt like I was drowning, but then it progressed to feeling like I was trudging through deep mud, to feeling like I was treading water, to finally feeling like I was on solid ground again.

I can’t tell you how relieving it is to finally feel okay again. I can’t tell you how excited I was to wake up this morning and feel like I was able to breathe. I can’t express how exhilarating it was to sing in church today and feel the music running through me like a beautiful, positive energy. Last Sunday, I couldn’t even sing because it hurt too much. The words wouldn’t come. I just starred at the hymn book and wondered when I would see the end of all the pain. Today was the complete opposite of last Sunday. Contrasting the two shows me that I will never feel that bad again. Maybe I will still struggle with depression, but now that I see the difference, I can have the reassurance that that is not how I am meant to feel.

This whole experience has reassured me that depression is an illness. It is completely the same as any other illness, only with its own set of symptoms and treatments. You are not in control of how your body feels. You cannot think yourself out of mental illness and no amount of exercise or eating right or positivity can cure you. You are simply not well and until you become well again, whether that is by taking medicine or getting off the wrong medicine or simply time passing, you cannot ignore the symptoms of what you are experiencing.

At the end of all this, I can say that I am grateful for the experience. It was hell. It was the worst, most desolate, desperate, despairing time of my life. I went to bed every night praying for the end, hoping to not wake up in the morning to the pain I experienced every single moment. But now I know. I know what it is like to wake up in the morning and be unable to get out of bed because it hurts so bad. I know what it is like to try to breathe your way through panic attacks that happen at seemingly the most trivial, daily stresses. I know what it is like to say, I do not know when I will be okay again.

But most of all, I am grateful because I can say that I know what it is like to trust someone when you feel like that. I know what it is like to be completely vulnerable with someone to the point where they know exactly what you are going through and how hard it is. They may never understand, but they know the darkness. People I never would have trusted or reached out to were able to be a part of my healing because the darkness was so bad that I would have trusted anyone who took the time to listen. No, this trial was not easy and I hope I never go through it again, but it showed me what I was made of and how understanding and wonderful other people can be. And that is something to be incredibly grateful for.

Don’t Take Away Your Light

I was casually perusing Facebook a couple days ago when I saw this picture:

you-are-my-sunshine

Pretty normal picture, well-known song, nothing out of the ordinary… But that day, it hit me like it never had before.

I think of suicide on a regular basis. It is just how my mind works. But as I read the lyrics of this song, I heard each member of my family, each friend, each person that I have ever made laugh or smile, say, “please don’t take my sunshine away.”

The next time you wonder if you are worth staying around, if life is worth the heartache, remember that you are someone’s sunshine. You make someone happy when skies are gray. You may never know how much they love you, but please don’t take your light away.

Grateful for Stars

I grew up in southern California. It’s not quite “the city of lights,” but it’s pretty close. I remember lying on our trampoline in the backyard and looking at the stars. The only constellations we could see consistently were Orion and the Big Dipper.

Now that I live in Utah, I feel so grateful to be able to see so many stars every day. Just driving around is like a star gazing excursion. It’s amazing to see so many stars in the sky, and even more amazing when I’m up in the mountains or farther from the big cities.

I think I love stars so much because they are lights in the darkness. Even when you don’t see them, their light is still shining. Some people have said that many of the stars we see have already burnt out, but the light travels so far that we still see it. I love that thought. That’s how I want my light to be. I want the hope and light I have shared to keep shining long after I am gone.

I love that the stars give me that hope. I love that they are lights in the darkness. I love that I have the opportunity to see so many stars right now. And I am so grateful for their light and for the light of the many people in my life who shine like stars in the darkness.

Christmas

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays. I’ve never really cared much about getting presents, but I love the feeling of Christmas. I love all the lights and that people are usually happier and more giving. The thing I love most about Christmas is that it gives me hope.

I love the lights because they bring light to the darkness, I love the spirit of Christmas because it shows that peoples’ hearts are still good. And I love that people turn to Christ because it helps us remember that the best gifts are the ones of love.

This year I am very excited about Christmas mostly because I feel like I have awesome presents for people and I can’t wait to see how they like them. I love that we get a rush from giving presents that we think people will like. I wonder if heaven had that kind of rush when Christ was born. Maybe that’s why angels went to the shepherds to declare “glad tidings of great joy”. They couldn’t and didn’t want to hold their excitement in that Christ, the Savior of the world, was born.

I can’t imagine how excited I would be that the Savior was born. I don’t talk about religion very much on this blog, but Jesus is a very big part of my life. I don’t think that I could have made it through life with autism if it wasn’t for God. I don’t think autism is a horrible thing and I wouldn’t change that I have it, but it is hard.

I’ve spent many lonely nights crying myself to sleep because I just wanted to be like everyone else. I just wanted to be able to make friends or say hi to someone or let people know how I felt about things. And the only thing that kept me going through all of that was that I had a God that was listening and that understood. I know not everyone believes in God, but I hope that this Christmas season gives you hope like my faith has given me.