A Way Out

Hospitals.

Year after year.

Month after month.

I don’t even have to R.S.V.P. There is a revolving door.

In and out.

In and out.

In and out.

So suddenly the depression drags me to the bottom. So close to Hell have I come.

I am drowning.

I am suffocating.

I am lost.

There seems to be hope. I always come back to reality.

But is that enough?

Can I live with a mental illness?

Does the disease hold me hostage?

The true answer – only if I let it.

I can scream.

I can punch.

I can fight.

It is so exhausting.

Sleep encroaches on me and I struggle to keep my eyes open.

Oh! How the eternal sleep calls.

I need to keep fighting.

I cannot let the illness win.

I am stronger than that.

I have support from those whom I love.

It is time to stop visiting the hospitals.

It is time to thrive with my mental illness.

Yes, thrive.

I have had experiences to last two or three lifetimes.

I can help somehow.

I am still looking for the way, but there is a way.

There is a way to give back to my community; to replenish all that I have taken.

I have fallen countless times, but there has always been someone to help me get back up.

It is time that I return the favor.

I will find a way.

There is always a way.

My Safe Place

A safe place can look like anything. A cloud, an ocean, an island…My safe place is the mountain trail my dad and I first hiked together. Jones Gap. The trees are tall and wide. The water whistles in the background as we trudge through the crumpled leaves. The texture of the earth is sawdust, worn down by each foot that has trodden upon the path over the last century. The clouds above push the blue sky up into oblivion. Sunshine escapes through a single tree; there is a shadow in the dim woods. Looking above my head, the leaves of trees are woven into a maze of brilliance. I can see some birds faintly as they pass overhead. However, the birds that sing are invisible. They hide in plain view.

Silence slices through the air, yet there are still people among the foliage. We walk among rocks and fallen trunks, careful not to slip on the moist surfaces. People pass and smile with a “Hi” upon their lips. Then they are gone as fast as they came. A gentle breeze calmly brushes against my face. Sweat rolls gradually down my back, my shirt soaking in each drop separately. I keep moving, waiting for our destination: Jones Gap Waterfall.

Counting my steps carelessly, I tell my dad about the latest story I read in class. The words flow surprisingly easy. If I wasn’t in mid-sentence, certainly I would have been speechless.

As we approach the waterfall, silence falls suddenly among the woods. Stepping into the light, a wondrous spectacle of water appears. Sound returns as the water splashes among the rocks and boulders. I stand in awe at nature’s beauty.

We find a stump to sit on as we munch on dried fruit and nuts. Unspeakably, we watch the magic of the smooth liquid as it tumbles to the pond below. I sigh, content and relaxed in God’s woods.

The Path

Walking down the same old path. The leaves are crushed and sown into the ground. Branches are broken and trodden on. It is an easy path to navigate. It is a cold path. It is a dark path. But it’s familiar and comfortable.

Slowly, this path becomes destructive, violent, and a mess. It is still easy to follow because it is comfortable. But the wind blows strong, forcing bodies to sway and bend, and break. This is the only path known. There seems to be no way out.

Then there is a small light off to the side. It is faint and struggling, but it remains strong. Stronger than the wind and surrounding chaos. The glimmer can’t be swayed. Turning towards the light, the trees are tall, overbearing; the bushes consume the way. It looks almost impossible to go in that direction. However, the shining light gives a twinkle of hope. Leaves try to block the light, but the light will not be deterred. Turning toward the glow is a breakthrough moment in life.

The light grows brighter. It is easier to see in the dimness. Shining, it begs for further exploration. But what about the debris that’s in the way? How can this light be reached?

An idea occurs. Why not push the trees and bushes aside? It takes time to cut through the leaves and tall grasses. But it can be done. It is possible. The dark clouds above drift to the side. Walking high and pushing the natural growth away, a new path begins to form.

Having to travel down this new path is difficult and time consuming. But the light keeps on shinning. It is calling. So, every day the path is traveled on. The leaves are slowly flattened. Bushes move out of the way. The sun begins to shine and the wind dies down. The air is clean and it has calmed from the violence once exhibited within the old way. Soon this path will be the one comfortable to follow.

One day, this new road will be easy to walk. The old, dark, fierce trail will grow into a massive tangle of trees and bushes. It will no longer be accessible. The only way is to move towards the light.

Peace at last.

Reality???

Looking in the mirror, a stranger stares back at her. A fog floats around, covering all sense of sanity. Reaching out, she keeps trying to capture the moment. But time slips away, creeping along the wooden frame of the glass. As she turns to walk away from her detached body, she stumbles into numbness. Her vision begins to blur and her heart races around the horse track.

As the beat goes round and round, her head starts spinning out of control. Suddenly thoughts invade. The war has begun.

What is real? Certainly not her.

What is that she sees? Fog and disorder.

Memories? Some happy, others sad.

Are they true? Nothing is what it seems.

How can anyone live in reality? Reality is only a vision of imagination.

Knowing information will not create any sense of security. Knowledge only confuses the authenticity of this world. Truth does not exist. Only chaos.

Someone is there next to her, trying to reach into her mind. They are invading. The enemy is everywhere.

How can she escape? She can’t.

Stuck in the quicksand, she is struggling to breathe, unable to move. What will become of her?

The Breakthrough

In her beginning, it is total darkness. No sunshine painting the sky with courage and passion; no stars shinning to reflect light and honor. It feels like a safe place. Comfort wraps her in a warm blanket. She is a small seed in the universe.

As she sits, images develop in her mind. Scenes of what could be if she only took the risk to rise above the soil. The warmth of bed keeps calling to her; however she finds the idea to grow intriguing. Curiosity is an interesting tool.

Wanting to become whole with what lives above her head, tenderly she reaches out. But a thunderstorm is brewing and clouds encamp the sky above. She looks around bewildered and afraid. The rains begin to fall hard, crushing her towards the earth. She cries out, but continues to fight back. The battle is brutal; she rises only to fall over again. The only thing keeping her alive is faith.

Peering from behind the clouds, the sun sees how much this little one has endured, refusing to give up her life. The storm backs off at the sun’s request, allowing for life to continue its journey.

At one time she was only a seed. Encountering the war brought her wisdom and courage; the kind that only faith can provide. Allowing herself to grow, she sees the world above the ground. A world of color and passion. Other followers join this seed in becoming an extraordinary garden. They never allow each other to fall alone and continue to support their neighbors when times are hard.

This tiny seed has turned into a rose.

Here’s a Smile…Pass it On

I never thought I’d change the world by risking a simple smile. It was the Christmas season. Joy filled the air as the snow fell gently to the earth. Boxes withholding secrets were wrapped in shiny paper and cluttered the living room floor. But not everyone was happy and cheerful as the holiday implies. I, for one, was miserable. Suffering from depression and anxiety had put a toll on my emotional health and my body. Headaches hammered my skull. A loss of interest invaded my spirit. I didn’t want to participate in any activity or engage with anyone. All my relationships were strained. Eggshells covered the ground by my feet. At age fifteen my life was wearing me down. The damage appeared on the inside and on the surface. Intense emotions hollowed out my being. I ate to compensate for the feelings of loss and distress, bringing my weight up to nearly 300 pounds. I wanted out. The idea of “peace on earth” and “goodwill to all men” played no effect on my heart. I was lost.

To combat some of the urges to isolate and hurt myself, I often accompanied my mother shopping. Sometimes it was a grocery store or a clothing department. This particular time it was the local mall. On this day, Christmas Eve, we were completing our Christmas shopping. The walkways were crowded. It was the last minute for people to grab good deals on items and the whole world had decided to go out looking for gifts. At least it seemed that way. Lines passed through the doors. Men and women rushed through the stores, dragging whining children behind. Somehow baby’s lungs grew stronger as we walked, piercing and overwhelming. Occasionally the sound of shattering glass filled the air along with a few choice words. Whose idea was this?

Drained and soar, mom and I meandered into the food court. Hunger and shopping do not mix well. Of course there were no tables, so we waited a moment. I swear that even over all the commotion, everyone heard my stomach growl. Pain gripped my sides and my feet were about to fall off. Finally, we spotted a small clearing in the crowd. I rushed over and with greedy hands grabbed the table. Victory!

Chinese food was the verdict. Mom went up to order while I kept a close eye on our bags. Staring at the table became old quick. I did not want to think about what might be lurking in the grooves of the mental frame. However, looking out among the people was a scary thought. There might be someone I know. Or worse, someone was sure to be judging the way I sat or how I was dressed. My self-consciousness was at full throttle. I was on edge, getting ready for whatever would happen next. However, nothing could prepare me for what occurred at that dinner hour.

Deciding to look up, I scanned the area. Then a feeling came over me. There were no words to describe exactly what happened. I just had the notion to look to my right. The feeling was so fast that it was gone quicker than it came. I noticed a woman sitting by herself a few tables over. She looked lonely. Maybe fate caused her to look up at the same time I did. Perhaps it was God nudging me to encounter this woman. Whatever the reason, something clicked. A smile crept up on my face. It was the kind of smile that I thought only said “Hi,” nothing more. My head turned back quickly. Mom had returned with our food.

Gradually, mom and I became engrossed in conversation, discussing what we had bought and which stores to hit next. We were so tired but the excitement in the air kept us moving along. The two seconds I spent greeting a complete stranger passed from my mind completely.

Suddenly, I heard a voice trying to talk above the raucous. “Thank you.” It was the woman I had exchanged respects with a few moments ago. Shock drained color from my face. This woman came over to thank me for my smile. She told me she had been shopping the entire day while her feet ached and her back hurt. Today was the only day she had to purchase gifts. Her son was coming in from out-of-town and the job of collecting Christmas presents was overwhelming. She had so much left to accomplish and felt incapable to the task. But my smile, she announced, changed her mood. This woman claimed that she gained strength and cheer. Her day changed from wretched to pleasant. She found the strength to carry on inside a simple smile. My smile.

A smile seemed to be such an insignificant part of my life. It was only a few muscles rising in my face. What was the big deal? But I learned on that day by raising the two corners of my mouth, I could change the world. How unbelievable! I had such power to change a woman’s outlook on the present moment. Despite my depression, I had influenced a person’s day. Although I did not realize at the time (actually not for a few years) two lives were affected by my action. The smile, in turn, changed my disposition. The clouds parted. Weightlessness lifted up my bones. True, the feeling eventually ceased. However, I will never forget the day when I risked a smile and transformed my life.

I need to take one day at a time, but my smile will last forever.

So, here’s a smile…pass it on.

Tears

The tears run red, burning down her cheek. The salty drops releasing emotion – painful but required. The flood of thoughts passing through her mind are overwhelming. She can’t figure out what she wants or what she needs. The atmosphere surrounding her is a foggy fire; ashes falling like rain. Confusion clouds her judgement. Which path to take? Who to talk to? Who is safe? She realizes that she must take risks. Pain from the tears create doubt. Doubt of the present and doubt of the future. Which way to turn?

Many roads appear before her tear-stained eyes. Some look dark and dangerous; others are bright and sunny. Also, mediocre trails wander through these woods. Anxiety grasps at her chest. There is no way to decipher which turn is the true path; the road to peace…if there is such a road. One would think that the lighter paths are the safest ways to go, but she is still afraid. What if there is a trap? Who stands at the end? Is this a trick? It is so tempting to take the easy path, but too often, it seems, that life does not work that way. All roads have shadows.

Studying the trails individually is a daunting task, but the tears will not cease until she picks which way to travel. Taking a step forward and diving into the mess, she begins to make a decision. But is it the right decision? Only one way to find out…

She takes a step back, breathing in deep. Slowly she moves her muscles to let in air. The unknown is still frightening, but she has to grow. She balks as tools, once foreign, are now available. She finds that it is alright to be capable; to stand up for what she needs. Courage that she never knew before slowly seeps into her bones.

Knowing that the road ahead has speed bumps and potholes, she takes the first step. This is the first time that feeling and expression are possible. But the thoughts do not match the emotions. She remains weary. What if a mistake was made? No…the only way to go is forward. She must be brave.

It’s a new day.