Music Mondays: Music that Heals…

I love music. All types of music. There’s something about how artists (at least the good ones) are able to take emotions, experiences and energy to communicate powerful messages. In my darkest moments I tend to listen to songs that are able to transport me to a different space. Over the next two months, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite songs with you, songs that have spoken to me in my times of need. I love the meaning that can be found in popular music. Many of these songs are not religious but they offer profound messages and let me know that I am not alone. It’s like the music has provided healing…

It may be corny. It may be simplistic. But it’s been helpful for me. Maybe it will be helpful for you.

Love,

Me

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Why am I so SAD?

This time of year is always difficult for me. I don’t think I paid much attention to it before the Great Fall of 2001. I love the holiday season – Thanksgiving and Christmas – because I get to spend time with family and friends. I love the smells. I love the food. I love the meaning of the Christmas season. But I hate the cold. I hate the short days. I hate the dark. I am the person who wishes that we could do Christmas in July every year. So you might say that I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year.

I start noticing my demeanor shifting after Labor Day. When it starts getting cooler, I spend more time deciding what I am going to wear. It takes me longer to get out of bed. I go into work later. I’ve even been known to call in sick just because I can’t stand the thought of leaving my house. I now know that a major part of my depressive reality is Seasonal Affective Disorder.

When I was talking to a friend who is a mental health advocate and all around know-it-all when it comes to these issues, she said that many people use the SAD label who don’t necessarily suffer from the disorder. It has been found that those most prone to SAD are those who already have mental health issues, especially those with depression. I’m realizing that I have to be more vigilant during this time of year. I have to pay attention to the signs and be proactive in caring for myself.

It’s hard though. I feel like sadness lurks just beneath the surface and there really isn’t any rhyme or reason. I want to cry all the time. I am more aware of my emotions and feeling like I’m alone – even though I logically know I have an amazing support network. My tendency is to hibernate and re-emerge when Spring comes. Except, it’s impossible to live one’s life only two seasons of the year and take off the other two. So I am on the journey of figuring out how to live with my reality without feeling ashamed or guilty. My plan for today is to put one foot in front of the other, to focus on the things I have control over and to let go of those things that I cannot control. Just for today…

Love,

Me

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

This post was originally written by me and posted on Band Back Together, an amazing blog with resources for those dealing with mental disorders.

Depression is a bitch of a disease.

I’m sure this could be said about any number of illnesses, but depression has proven to be the thorn in my side. I fully embrace that I suffer from depression and anxiety.

This wasn’t always the case.

I always knew that something was… off… not quite right… hovering just beneath the surface. My anxiety showed itself at a very early age, through my need to be perfect, organized, neat, clean and…you name it. I was obsessed with anything outside of myself.

I’m sure this had some root in my biological parents separation, my mother and step-father’s divorce. It probably had something to do with the incest and other taboo behavior that occurred within my family. All of these traumas, coupled with genetic leanings I’m sure, led to anxiety and depression.

My depression revealed itself in other ways.

The mind is a powerful thing. I never felt like I was good enough. In fact, I knew that I was inherently bad, which I know is simply ridiculous. I never felt like I fit in or belonged – I looked for meaning in other ways. I felt like an outsider.

There were times I can vividly recall being so sad for no tangible reason. The sadness overwhelmed me. In middle school, I fantasized about killing myself. I considered slitting my wrist, but the anxiety wouldn’t let me do it:

Think of the mess it would make! Would I really be missed? Who would care? The men in my life didn’t seem to value me and life would go on.

So why not end my life?

I’m not sure why I never attempted suicide. I like to think that fear and anxiety got the best of me. Maybe it was God. That explanation brings up all sorts of other questions: why would God save me but not others who have committed suicide?

Looking back, I see that I’ve cycled; times when my depression took over. The first time I was seriously depressed was when I realized that the sexual child play and molestation was a reality; that I perpetuated this cycle within my family. I came to the realization that this was wrong during 4th or 5th grade. Then guilt took over and I lived with self-loathing, shame and anger at myself until the summer of 2010.

The next major depressive episode came about during my junior year of college. My plans and college career hadn’t gone as planned. I attended school I hated and living with a friend. This arrangement eventually led to the demise of our relationship and I couldn’t seem to get myself to go to class.

My life was falling apart.

This was the year of 2001, and September 11 hit hard. A younger cousin, who happened to be the same age as my younger brother, committed suicide.

My grandmother was sick again. Alcohol, sex and marijuana became my refuge. I flunked out of school and began a journey of wandering through the wilderness.

I moved home, unsure of what I was going to do with my life. I should’ve sought professional help as I’m sure that my mental illnesses would have been formally diagnosed. I could’ve begun the process of learning, healing, while learning to live with my mental illness.

I didn’t do that.

It took me two years to get back to feeling like myself.

In 2007-2008, I think that I had a mini depressive episode. I moved to Philadelphia for grad school and be with the man I would eventually marry and divorce.

Life was extremely difficult. I loved school and my community of friends but I hated being so far from my family. I hated the city. I hated certain aspects of my relationship and I grew resentful.

Once again, the dark cloud began to overwhelm me. But I sucked it up. I threw myself into activities, into my marriage, into school and refused to give in.

My health paid the price.

I gained 30 pounds. My blood pressure shot up. Things weren’t going well even though I’d convinced myself that I was handling it so well. The one bright spot was that I did enter counseling. Initially, it was for my marriage but it became very apparent that there were some things I needed to confront that were literally killing me.

In the summer of 2010, I moved from Philadelphia to Atlanta, having decided to separate from my husband. In August of 2011, I moved out of our apartment. In October, my grandmother died. In November, I found out my father was sick, going on disability and in need of a lung transplant that, at the time, he refused to get. My work situation was becoming untenable.

I was crushed by the weight of it all. I couldn’t get out of bed. I began to isolate myself. I slept all the time, telling people I was working from home. I didn’t clean, eat or bathe. I hit the bottom below the bottom.

That’s when it all began…

My friends recognized that something wasn’t right with me.

I was called out and surrounded by a loving community that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. My boss gave me time off to get better. My colleagues helped develop a plan of care that included finding a therapist that specialized in depression in women and helping me pay for her services. My physician, working with my therapist, put me on course of closely monitored medications.

I came clean with my family, letting them know how I’d struggled and what was going on with my mental health. My friend, who I lovingly refer to as my “sponsor” made me a part of her family, even relinquishing her guest bedroom so that I didn’t have to be alone. She made it possible for me to put one foot in front of the other. I had a virtual community of friends that intentionally checked in on me and allowed me to share my thoughts in ways that I didn’t realize were possible. I began to take care of myself physically.

Things slowly progressed.

I embraced my reality of being a young, single black woman who struggles with depression and anxiety. Instead of hiding it or running from it or ignoring it, I embraced it. It’s a part of me. I won’t lie and say that things are all better now, but I am probably the healthiest I’ve been in a long time. I know that mental illness will be a part of my life. But it’s not all of my life.

The best thing I can do for myself is to be honest about my struggles and share my life with those who have committed to love and care for me. They’ve been with me in the valley and have showed me what it means to go from death to life.

For me, prayer, meditation, therapy, medication and other forms of self-care have created my healing. It’s my hope that others like me will know that they are not alone and though all seems hopeless to remember that someone made it.

And that means? So can you.
Love,

Me