Keeping Myself Safe

I have depression. I have had it for as long as I can remember. It comes and goes, but it never really leaves. It does not mean that I cannot be happy. It does not keep me from living a good life. It is not obvious to an outsider that I have this chronic illness. However, it does mean that I have to do some things differently to make sure I stay safe. Just like someone with severe allergies might carry an EpiPen to keep themselves alive if they are inadvertently exposed to something that can harm them, I do certain things to keep myself alive during an unexpected depressive episode.

I limit anything in my room that I could use to hurt myself. I do not have any long cords in my room. I have one belt that I keep in the back of my closet. I have one pair of scissors that I keep in a box on my desk. I do not keep any other sharp objects in my room. I keep a limited supply of medicine in my room, which is also at my desk. Both my desk and my closet are on the opposite side of my room from my bed. If I really wanted to harm myself, I would have to get out of bed and walk about 15 feet to reach anything that I could use to hurt myself. Generally, when I am extremely depressed and suicidal, I cry so much that it is hard to get out of bed. If I do make it out of bed, I generally don’t make it farther than the floor next to the bed.

Of course, it does not really matter where I keep things when I am doing well. On a normal day, I can walk past or use a million things that could potentially hurt me without any fear. The problem is that I never know when I will feel suicidal. I can go from being completely well and not feeling depressed at all, to feeling extremely suicidal in the space of a few hours. My world is unpredictable because my mind can quickly become overwhelmed by undesirable thoughts and feelings.

Studies have shown that limiting someone’s access to methods of killing themselves dramatically decreases their risk of dying by suicide. I know this to be true. I know there are things I will never do because of my depression. I will never own a gun. I will never have an internet server or other device in my room that requires a corded connection. I will never hike to a cliff by myself. I will never step onto a balcony of a tall building without someone nearby. I will never look over a bridge or overpass that does not have a protective fence. If I feel depressed, I will not go for a walk down the street without someone with me.

These are the things I have to do to keep myself safe. These are the ways I make sure that I have time to think before I can harm myself. This is my insurance to myself and my friends that depression will not win easily.

Sometimes it is not easy to keep myself safe. Sometimes I have to rely on friends to help me out of an unhealthy state of mind. I know that it is hard for the people that care about me to know that because of my depression, suicidal thoughts can quickly rise to the surface of my mind. But my promise to them is to do all that I can to keep myself safe. I do all that I can to make sure that their fears will never come true. I will not make it easy for this illness to hurt me. And I will continue to do everything in my power to fight my depression for as long as I live.

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Too Much

I am kind of an intense person. I am passionate about pretty much everything that I do. I think that a lot of people feel that I am “over the top” in my reactions to life. I am overly grateful. I express my appreciation and love more emphatically than anyone I know. I give too much and love too deeply and feel too strongly about things. I probably come across as a “goody two shoes” in church or in certain situations. I’m too open, too honest, too long-winded in my explanations. I often feel like I am just too much for people.

I feel like I have lost friends because of this. I feel like I haven’t been able to become friends with some others because of this. But I don’t know how to be anything else. I try to tell myself to tone things down, to not be so expressive or assertive, but it gushes out of me. Words and actions flow from me like water bursting from a fountain. 

I have stopped trying to suppress my natural inclinations to say something to another person or to do something for someone else. I have stopped trying to force myself to stay in a box I never fit into. And so, I am left with the alternative of simply being too much.

Be a Weed

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I had a thought today as I was looking at the weeds in our grass. Our sprinklers broke a few weeks ago and the grass has mostly died, but the weeds are still coming up green. As I looked at those weeds (and the other weeds growing between the cracks in the sidewalk), I had the thought, “I want to be like that.”

It is interesting to me that weeds are the plants that are the most stable, grow the best, and stay the greenest longest. Weeds have deeper roots than grass and as such, are very hard to kill. Everything about weeds is great, except that they are weeds. If grass came up without much work and stayed green without much watering and would keep coming back no matter how many times it was stepped on, most people would be delighted.

So what makes weeds so bad?

The short answer is that they don’t fit in. The longer answer is that they look out of place with the rest of the lawn, and they are hard to get rid of, even with weed killing spray and digging deep to try to take up the roots.

Anyway, to get to the point…

Being a weed is not always a good thing, but it can be very good to have the qualities of a weed in a lot of life’s situations. I want to be like a weed because of their resilience. I want to be like a weed because of their boldness in standing out from a crowd. I want to be like a weed because of the deep roots that ground them when life gets tough.

Don’t be afraid to be a weed in difficult circumstances. Be a weed in standing up against injustice. Be a weed in standing your ground when others are asking you to compromise your morals or values. Be a weed in fighting depression or anxiety or health issues or other trials. Be a weed in coming back up when life knocks you down. Be a weed in having roots so strong in what you believe in that no matter how far someone digs, they cannot kill that part of you. Be a weed when your circumstances are not ideal, but you are determined to grow up strong anyway.

And perhaps most of all, be a weed in being okay with being a weed. Be okay with being different. Be okay with not going with the crowd. Be okay with standing up for yourself. Not everyone will love you for it, but sometimes being a weed is the best thing you can be.

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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.

Feelings

I think I feel too much. That is what autism is most like for me. Autism is feeling everything acutely all the time. I literally feel everything. I feel every object in a room. I feel sounds and smells and tastes. I feel words. I feel emotions. I can’t say I feel differently than you because I don’t know exactly how you feel. I have never been you. But I can say that I feel everything physically. And it is exhausting…

I was telling a friend today that I think I love too much. Love for me is overwhelming. It makes my whole body tingle. Love is a burst of energy that penetrates every fiber of my being. It feels like it literally changes my DNA so that I am now connected to a person in a way that they are made a part of me. I love hugs because it feels like the energy inside of me finds a place to belong. Like the love inside of me connects with the love inside of someone else, and for a moment, I feel whole.

Joy is like that too. Joy is like a spring inside of me. It makes me feel like every particle in me wants to jump up and down. This is why I flap and jump up and down and smile like crazy, because the joy in me has to have somewhere to go. When I am “flapping happy”, I feel like I am flying. It is like the joy inside of me has come out of my skin and when I jump or flap, I’m releasing that joy into the world. It feels like the joy springs from me and dances in the air, and when it lands, it becomes peaceful, like it is lying on the ground watching the clouds on a cool spring day.

Unfortunately, depression and darkness are also things I feel acutely. Depression is like millions of tiny weights hanging from each hair, each skin cell, weighing me down with an enormity that cannot be seen from outside. And if the weight wasn’t already enough, it feels like there is a black hole in my chest. Opposite to the feeling of joy wanting to come out of me, depression feels like it sucks everything into me. It is a constant sucking force that seems to suck all of the air and light out of a room, making it difficult to breathe and to see anything other than the darkness inside of me.

Fear, joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and every other emotion that ever lives inside of me all have their own physical feeling attached to them. Each one is so powerful and all-consuming that I can hardly do anything else because my body is overcome by the feeling of each emotion. I think that this is why I shut down sometimes, because constantly feeling everything wears me out. And after feeling so many strong emotions, sometimes it is simply painful. Pain for me is like an exploding of every emotion. It confuses me, and I don’t know what will come out. I feel like Cyclops from the X-men before he learns how to control his powers. Everything comes out and I don’t even see what I’m destroying until after it’s done.

“Watchman, what of the night?”

I cannot sleep tonight. It’s the first night since I’ve been better that I haven’t just drifted off in peaceful bliss. One rough night doesn’t mean that you have slipped back into depression, but when depression has been such a constant in your life, one night can bring back so many reminders.

My mind is like a floodgate. Once the gates of self doubt or anxiety or depression or feelings of worthlessness open, the thoughts come bursting forth like giant waterfalls flowing along the well-worn paths they have carved in the landscape of my mind.

Half the time, I don’t even know what I’m thinking because I’m thinking so much that I can’t even process it. My thoughts choke me. They suffocate me. I gasp for the peace and reassurance I felt just a few hours ago. Where did it go so quickly?

There’s this scripture I love in Isaiah that says, “Watchman, what of the night?” It basically means, “how long will the night last? When will the morning come?” Sometimes the night seems to last so long, but morning always comes. Tonight, I am asking, “when will morning come?” But I know that it’s there, just on the other side of the darkness.

A New Person

It has been about a month since I last felt depressed. Realizing that I am not a bad person had a lot to do with that. Most people who know me would probably think it is strange that I would think of myself as a bad person, but it was the one belief that overpowered everything else in my life. It influenced every thought, action, and relationship. It ruled my life for so long that I hardly even recognized its influence because I was so accustomed to thinking that way.

I feel like a great weight has been lifted off me. I feel free. I used to be so scared all the time. I was scared of doing good things because I felt like a bad person so doing something good seemed hypocritical. I was also scared of not doing good things because I did not want to be a bad person. I was scared of getting close to people or making friends because I felt like it was just a matter of time before they found out how terrible I really was.

Looking back, my thoughts seem so strange. They did not make any sense. How could I be a bad person if I did not do anything to be mean or malicious or disrespectful? How could I be so bad if all anyone else saw in me was good? I guess that is how mental illness works though. Your thoughts are not inline with reality. Your thoughts directly contradict reality sometimes, but at the same time, your thoughts are reality. The way you see and think about the world is your reality, even if it is not true from the outside.

Now, I can look at how I used to think and see the flaws. I understand how I came to those beliefs and why I believed I was a bad person, but it is still difficult for me to believe I felt that way for so long. I mean, you would think that I would have noticed earlier. You would think that I would have recognized that these thoughts ruled my life. I guess I did recognize it to some extent, but I did not know how to change it. I would tell myself that my thoughts weren’t true, but I didn’t believe it. I believed my thoughts, not whatever I tried to tell myself.

I am not exactly sure what finally changed my thoughts. I had been going to therapy for a few weeks, and we were working on recognizing mental distortions.  I sat down one night and drew out my life and realized how and why I came to see myself as a bad person. I talked to my friends about it, and briefly to my therapist. Then one day, it was like all the pieces fit together in my mind. I recognized the lie and saw the truth, but, more importantly, I believed the truth.

I have felt like a new person since that time. The world seems brighter, more friendly and happier. I feel at peace with myself and everything around me. It is like clouds of darkness that had been there for years finally dispersed, and I can see the sun again. The strangest (and possibly most wonderful) thing is how I see my past now. I used to see hurt and sorrow and loneliness in my past. There were good times in the midst of that, but my general feeling was that the past was too painful to remember. Now, I see so much hope and light in past experiences. Even in the darkest times, I see the brightness of hope that was just beyond my view back then.

I am the happiest I have ever been! I wake up every day with a newness of life! The world seems wonderful and amazing! I see the beauty in everything! To someone that has been depressed for the majority of my life, it seems like a fairy tale and I am waiting to wake up or climb out of a rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland. But this is real! The feelings are real because I have been freed from beliefs that weren’t real. It is not that I stepped into a better world, but rather that I stepped out of the darkness. I stepped out of a prison cell I did not know I was keeping myself in. Now I have a chance to be free, to find out what the world is really like without distorted lenses. I can’t express how truly excited I am to be alive now! The world is a beautiful place, and I am so excited to experience that beauty for the first time without anything distorting my view!