Overstimulated

The clinking of dishes;

The lights;

The “Mom, I’m hungry.”  “He’s hitting me.”  “Can you play with me?”  “What’s for dinner?”

The piles of laundry;

The overflowing dirty dishes;

The homework;

The crying infant;

The endless varieties of ketchup;

The music;

The shoulder tapping;

The blaring of the television;

If you are a parent, you might be laughing (or crying) right now, because this sounds like typical things encounter all day long.  If you aren’t a parent, though, I am sure you can still relate to the concept that we are constantly barraged by stimulus of every kind all day long.  Everywhere we go, we are we are seeing, hearing and touching things.  In good health, all of this stimuli is just part of the daily routine and we may not even take note of it.  When dealing with severe emotional pain from depression, however, this constant assault on our senses can take our symptoms from bad to worse.

As a mother, I have 4 built-in sources of almost constant auditory, visual and tactile stimuli which originate from each of my 4 children.  I also have the visual stimuli of my environment, which often is in one of the varying stages of getting messy or getting clean.  All of this input was too much for my ill mind but I didn’t really have much choice–I had to live with it.  I learned, therefore, that it was essential for me to be very selective in what additional stimuli I was allowing into my life in order to survive the worst of this mental pain.  I also found ways of doing what had to be done, in the easiest way possible to limit the load on my delicate mind.

If you are in a similar situation with your mental health, I hope some of what I share here will be helpful to you.  Remember, the key here is to lighten the load on our minds by limiting the stimuli our brains have to process.

Here are some things I stopped doing in my life to give my brain a break:

  • I didn’t initiate many interactions with my children, I would let them come to me for the most part. (They did come to me, often–trust me).
    • Along with this, I learned to listen and interact without emotionally extending myself, or in other words, not getting emotionally involved.  I learned to be more emotionally passive in my interactions.  This was essential due the high volume of interactions I had to participate in everyday.
  • Situations where I had to be physically present (such as going to church meetings) I would do my best to tune out whatever I didn’t absolutely have to listen to.
  • I limited my social interactions because these would always increase my pain.
  • I limited time spent listening to loud music as the added noise would often increase my pain.
  • I stopped multi tasking. This was much too taxing for my brain.
  • I eliminated any media that was really action-packed, intense, or loud as this would increase my distress.  In fact, I reduced my media consumption in general.
  • I limited time in “busy” environments, such as the grocery store.

Here are some things I started doing to help give my brain rest:

  • I set aside about an hour each day for quiet alone time. When the kids were home from school for the summer, this meant all of my children had to participate in quiet time when I did. When my older children were in school, I did this while my baby napped. I cannot stress enough how essential this was! It still is, in fact.
  • I had my children do a large share of the family chores. They were all old enough to help. This improved the stimuli from my environment without me having to do it all myself.  (We still do this in our family).
  • I would remove myself from a situation when I started to feel an increase in pain. For example, this meant that sometimes I didn’t eat dinner with my family, because I needed a break in the quiet.
  • I got rid of a lot of possessions, with my husband’s help. I found it difficult to tune out my environment when it was a mess or when excess “things” were constantly assaulting my eyes. I actually went so far as to take most of the pictures and decor down in my house. I just really needed to see blank, empty space. This helped me a lot.

These are not exhaustive lists by any means and many of these of individualized to my circumstances, but hopefully this gives you a starting point from which you can form your own plan to decrease the load on your mind by limiting the stimuli in your life.

Does this make sense?  How have you coped with mental pain from depression?  I’d love to hear your suggestions.

My mental health coping skills (and a story!)

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I read a post that James, the creator of this blog, wrote a few days ago. He listed out his top coping skills and how they’ve helped him navigate through various challenges. Today, I will be listing my top coping skills; but first, a background story.

Prologue

Two weeks ago, I was excited for the upcoming Memorial Day holiday. I was only supposed to work a half day that Friday before leaving for the three day weekend. Fifteen minutes before I was supposed to leave, the HR person called me into her office. She began by explaining that the agency was continuing to experience some financial issues and that a decision was made to eliminate my position as a result. I was laid off with two weeks severance pay.

My top coping skills

  1. Giving myself time to process before reacting: As I listened to the HR person explain the lay off, I’m pretty sure my brain went into auto pilot. I was somehow able to communicate as if the sudden loss of income wasn’t an issue. I packed up my office and texted my wife the simple message, “I just got laid off.” I knew right away that I needed to allow myself to enjoy the long weekend as planned before beginning the job search. Living with an anxiety disorder, my tendency is to react rather than respond; however, this usually leads to me making impulsive decisions, becoming very anxious, and/or experiencing increased panic attacks. Allowing time for it to sink in was best.
  2. Positive self-talk/ reframing: I also sent an email to my licensure supervisor (a person who oversees my clinical work until I get my full counseling license) notifying her of the lay off. When she asked, “what happened?” I was able to state the facts while also becoming aware of the positives of the situation. First, I hated my job and dreaded going to work every day. Recently, I’ve been having more panic attacks than usual and there is no doubt that my job was a primary trigger. I reframed this lay off as an opportunity to find something better. I reminded myself of my strengths and talents. This gave me the confidence that I would need to go out and find a better job. Also, two weeks of severance pay? What I heard was, “two weeks paid vacation!”
  3. Music: Music has always been a coping skill for me even before I knew what a coping skill was. It’s a chance to listen to someone else’s story, to relate, and to turn your mind off for a while. My go-to album as I drove home from the office that day was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
  4. Binge watching TV: Being that I was temporarily unemployed, I had a lot more time at my disposal. While I don’t recommend making binge watching a lifestyle, there are times when it’s therapeutic. Like music, diving into someone else’s story is a way to take your mind off of your situation, to laugh, and to pass some time. Ugly Betty is my go-to TV show for any occasion.
  5. Exercise: I’ve written in the past about how exercise is a great mental health coping skill. In fact, as I write this, I’m on a stationary bike at the gym. Exercise makes me feel energized and confident.
  6. Sleep: Sleep is something I have been trying to make a priority in recent months. I’ve noticed that my anxiety and mood are best managed when I’m operating on at least 8 hours of sleep.
  7. Blogging: One of the things that I disliked about my job is that I was underutilized. I’m trained in mental health but would often be left with a lot of idle time. That is actually why I started my blog, Perfectly Imperfect. It was a way for me to interact with the mental health community. In the idle time at work, I was able to write several posts that not only gave me something to do, they made my idle time more meaningful. Being able to talk about things that I’m passionate about has been very therapeutic for me. In the past two weeks, I’ve used some time to interact with the WordPress community, to share ideas, and to get new ideas. It’s been great.

Epilogue

Obviously coping skills alone didn’t make my problem of new-found unemployment go away. After allowing myself the three day weekend to chill and to process the situation, I hit the ground running on Tuesday. I applied to a ton of mental health positions on Indeed. Fortunately for me, being a black male in the mental health profession is helpful trait in securing employment (There are very few mail POC clinicians and therapists where I live). Within 24 hours of starting my job search, I was on my way to an interview. I got several interviews last week and this week. When it was all said and done, I accepted a clinical director position that conveniently starts right as my two weeks of severance pay runs out. Oh yeah, and the job pays $10k more annually than my last job! I knew from the beginning that the lay off was an opportunity for me to find something better. I am grateful that I was able to find a job so quickly without any financial disruption, as I know this isn’t the norm.

Conclusion

As always, thanks for reading! This is the first time that I’ve shared about the lay off situation in writing and it was helpful to both process the past two weeks while sharing the coping skills that have been most helpful to me. Feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Zyon, my dog. He’s enjoyed having me home during the day, as he’s usually alone while my wife and I are at work.

To Be(er), Or Not To Be(er)

“Please Drink Responsibly” is the phrase slapped across every product you must be twenty-one years of age to purchase in the United States. Alcohol has been, is, and always will be one of the most controversial matters in history for many reasons. Our grandfathers’ fathers made it hidden in the south eastern mountains to provide for their families in the most lucrative way they could. A tradition has been made out of its’ recipes and stories of bootlegging and prohibition. It’s the one thing that even the United States government couldn’t stop.

As with anything however, where there are pros, there are cons. As with anything, if enjoyed in excess there are many debilitating effects it can cause on your health and the health of others. Poor judgements and decisions are made which can impact many people for the rest of their lives. If you live just below the Bible belt as I do, don’t be surprised if some mega church preacher attempts to release you from the grasp of the Devils’ nectar as he lovingly embraces you while reaching for your wallet and groping every square inch of your wife with his eyes.

The point I am trying to make is that we live in a society that welcomes the use of alcohol like an old family friend. It’s as American as apple pie, baseball, McDonald’s, and this messed up obsession we all have over reality television. So if no one else seems to have a problem, and it all just is a natural part of life, do I really have as big of a problem as I think I do?

If you have followed me or my blog for any amount of time, you may have stumbled across my introduction or several works about alcohol and my battle with the bottle. Today I want to give you a little background about it, as the subject weighs heavily on my mind lately. I have been drinking since I was fourteen years old. It started out as simply as it typically would. Tall bottles of Smirnoff Ice which eventually led my curious tongue to tall cans of malt liquor. I drank A LOT of gut rot, gas station specials as an early teenager such as Steel Reserve 211 and the likes, until I finally calmed down into normal domestic beers.

At around the age of eighteen I began to indulge in liquor. Trying a little bit of anything I could get my hands on, I quickly discovered that vodka and gin were two of my least favorite liquors. As stereotypical as it will sound, I was a bourbon guy through and through just like my father. The smoky taste, the warm burn of eighty proof tingling down your throat, and that decadent smell of oak as it swirled around in my glass could make my mouth water with every sip. I had made it my mission to become a connoisseur of bottom shelf bourbon. Even when I moved out on my own, the only things I had to my name were a few pots and pans, a record player, a futon mattress, and most importantly… a bottle of rye whisky.

It wasn’t until last year in September that a panic attack made me really look at myself and question my life. Once I began my journey for better mental health, I realized I was using the alcohol to self medicate my anxieties and possibly even some of my bipolar tendencies when I look back in retrospect. I made a lot of changes to my lifestyle with help from my wife. I decided to not keep beer in the apartment we share and she agrees because she feels it’s a waste of money. We agree to only drink when we go to restaurants or concerts and I stopped buying liquor all together because if it’s in my reach, I will drink it.

It’s not uncommon for me to become my own worst enemy. I am my worst critic, my worst judge of character, and the last person I ever want to have to confront. Lately if I’m out somewhere and decide to have a beer, I look at myself in shame and feel regret over my decision. I feel as though I’m letting myself down and even you down. Even though I don’t drink for the same reason anymore, enjoying one beer throws so many questions into my mind, it almost makes me wonder if it’s worth it. On the other hand, I’m not drinking for the same reason anymore. I enjoy beer as a craft and a beverage. Taking barley and hops and creating a flavorful masterpiece is a skill I am honestly envious of. There are so many good things about beer that go far beyond alcohol content.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a situation that is different. I am not writing this to sway someone who is struggling with addiction to drink. If you are someone who is on the fence, I encourage you to please take the plunge and reach out to your local alcoholics anonymous program or outpatient rehabilitation center. What I am writing this for is to tell my story and to pose a question to my friends, the readers.

With the habits I continue to follow, I find myself wondering if I really have as big of a problem as I think I do. Am I more in control than I realize? Am I blowing this entirely out of proportion? If no one else seems to have an issue, then what is my problem? I am fine with not buying liquor, but am I wrong if I buy beer from time to time? What are your thoughts, and do you struggle this as well?

Self-Harm and Seeking Attention

For a long time, I tried to hide my self-harm scars. Luckily my arms are fairly hairy, so they aren’t quite as obvious as they might otherwise be. My upper arm is considerably more noticeable (the deepest scars are there), but I generally don’t wear sleeveless shirts. In fact, I used to wear long-sleeves throughout the year, which in the heat and humidity of a New Jersey summer can be pretty miserable.

I would hide my scars in the same way that I would hide the cuts themselves, back when I was actively self-harming. It was a compulsion, an addiction, and it came with questions from anyone who saw the marks. I didn’t want to talk to people, I didn’t want to interact, and I certainly didn’t want the false sympathy and blank stares from people who didn’t, and couldn’t, understand.

I don’t worry as much about it anymore; it’s been over fifteen years since I last cut myself. The scars are as healed as they’ll ever be, and what’s left (dozens of raised, deep ones; hundreds of smaller lines) are a permanent reminder of what I used to feel, and who I used to be. I’ve come to terms with it, and I no longer care what people think. In fact, as I’ve started moving into a realm where as an author of books about depression I need to more actively talk about these subjects, I find it actually helps bring light to a condition that needs desperately to be talked about more frequently.

But not everyone is like that. I know people who tattoo over their self-harm scars. I know people who simply cover them year-round. And I know people, of course, who still actively hurt themselves. And what I’ve found is that, for the most part, those who hurt themselves do it in secret. They do it surreptitiously. They do it with the hope that no one will ever find out.

I bring this up because there is a common misconception about self-harm that it is, at its root, an attention-seeking device. That the people who do it are subconsciously crying out for help, trying to get people to pay attention to them, and doing it in all the wrong ways. I actually think most of us self-harm for a very different reason.

I was never interested in attention. I never wanted people to see my cuts. I was happy if I made it through a day and no one spoke to me, or even saw me. Instead, I cut for a singular, simple reason: I needed to see blood. There was a compulsion in watching the pure white flesh beneath my skin split open, well with blood, and trickle down my arm. It was, to me, aesthetically pleasing, and felt good to watch.

Believe it or not, I didn’t particularly enjoy the pain. The pain was something to be endured for the sake of seeing the blood. After I cut, after I saw the blood, my anxiety would be reduced. My stress would be relieved. I could settle down in the comfort of my bed and sleep, pass from the world, and forget I ever existed.

Now of course, there are people who also cut for the pain. For the sensation, to relieve the numbing nothingness that is depression. Physical harm, of course, releases numerous hormones and chemicals throughout the brain and body, many of which are pain-relievers. This in itself can be an addiction. The sense of peace that comes from self-harm may easily be attributed to this.

There are people who cut because it gives them control. Too often we feel like the world around us is beyond our control, beyond our ability to influence, and hurting ourselves is something we are in control of.

And often, we can’t help it. Because it is an addiction. It becomes a compulsion, something you can’t help and can’t control. They do it day after day because, like smoking or alcohol, you simply have to.

There are also people who self-harm in other ways. Cutting is common, but there are people who burn, who scratch, who bang their head against the wall and throw themselves down stairs.

And none of this is to seek attention. Sure – there might be people who do it subconsciously because they’re not getting the attention they need from the people they need it from, but honestly, I think this falls into the minority. Most of us hurt ourselves because we want to, for ourselves. Because we have to. Because there simply isn’t any other way to cope.

Lastly, it’s also important to recognize that self-harm and suicide are not the same thing. The vast, vast majority of people who self-harm have little to no interest in actually killing themselves. Whilst I have had suicidal moments in my life, the cutting was never correlated with it. And I never cut to die.

So for all of you who self-harm, know that there are people in the world who understand. There are those of us who truly know what it’s like, and why you do it. And we understand you might not be looking for attention, or wanting to kill yourself. I can’t say I condone self-harm – I think it’s important to seek help if you can’t control it – but I understand it.

And you aren’t alone.

Stabilize

I sat in the waiting room clutching papers in my hand. For two weeks I had prepared to tell my doctor that I finally began seeing a therapist and that the diagnosis from her standpoint was leaning towards bipolar disorder. Awkwardly I gathered my things together once my name was called and followed the nurse for blood pressure and weight checks. Weighing in at 210 pounds threw me off guard at first, but I suppose that’s what happens when you stop drinking every day.

The nurse handed me the same GAD checklist that gets filled out each visit. I hadn’t seen my doctor in a little over a month so my numbers were up higher than in previous visits. As I would fill out “More than half the days”, I could feel that I was getting beside myself again. I should’ve been better than this. I should’ve been normal.

The doctor came in the room almost as quickly as the nurse left it. Before I could even allow the “hello” to escape her lips, the paperwork was extended in her direction and I told her I had gone to a therapist. “We think I may have bipolar disorder. I’m not throwing chairs or anything like that but after reading off the symptoms, a lot of things make a lot of sense. The high sex drive, the huge interest in hobbies only to drop them within a week or so, the days of not being able to make myself get off of the couch, my lack of focus and excess of indecision, it’s all here and then some.”, I said while pointing at the bipolar information sheet.

“Well I had my suspicions, but getting a second opinion from a therapist definitely solidifies a treatment option. Let’s try weaning off of one of your antidepressants and adding a mood stabilizer.”, she said.

I want to be clear by saying that I’m not glad that I am on another medication, but I am glad that I may be one step closer to finding a way to live life without my life getting in the way of… Well… My life. The problem I have with my mental health is that I wake up with either no motivation to get anything done, or so much motivation that I run errands and still not get anything done. I can have a great day until a derogatory comment is made to either me or a friend, and it sends my mood into a sullen, sarcastic, and depressing cloud for either hours or the rest of the day. I feel as though I have never had any control over my sensitivity or emotions, even as a child.

It has been four days since I have begun the process to stabilize. The new medicine I am trying is called Topiramate and if it’s anything like my Lexapro, it probably is something that will take time for my body to chemically register before a difference is noticed. Honestly, the biggest side effects I feel today are lethargy and extreme dizziness. It is as if I have hit the bottle hard enough to have woken up drunk and held onto it. This medicine is also used to treat seizures as well as migraines, so I feel that it plays with a different part of the mind than I am used to, so hopefully a change will come soon. According to other articles, it takes around five to six days for the side effects to dissipate.

This is only the beginning of this journey, and I write to keep you in the loop about this process in case any of you ever go through the same thing. If you feel as though you need help with mental health please reach out to someone. You are never alone. I am available for contact via social media if anyone ever needs an ear to listen. You can find my contact information as well as my other blog posts at www.outtodry.blog.

Take care everyone!

Introduction

If you have ever ridden a roller coaster, you understand the excitement and fear that courses through your mind and body as you burst through the track. You experience such an intense jolt of so many emotions as your breath is stolen from falling and you only have enough time to take another breath as you ascend. In a lot of ways, bipolar disorder seems to share many similarities. It seems to change a person drastically in mere moments and can even span episodes for days at a time. You never know how you will feel when you wake up in the morning. You never know what will happen to send you spiraling into a depressive episode. I often like to call it a “Jekyll and Hyde” effect in my personal blog.

I am Shelton Fisher and recently I have been given the privilege to be a contributing writer for The Bipolar Writer. I am a 25 year old with a full time job, an amazing wife, and the two best dogs in the world. I used to be a decent musician and writing has become a passion of mine. Amid the wonderful things that life has provided for me, I have mental health issues that fight me tooth and nail on a regular basis. Anxiety has been a familiar part of my life since I was a child, but alcoholism and panic attacks made me realize that I needed to finally address these problem medically. In September of last year I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and began a regimen of serotonin inhibitors and recently I have began seeing a therapist. After several sessions addressing my childhood behaviors and my current behaviors, we have discussed that I may be bipolar and the symptoms honestly surprised me.

As I continue the journey into my mental health to confirm a diagnosis and discover how to live a better life, I want to include you through personal stories, free verse poetry, and the occasional informative post. I am not a professional by any means, but I am living proof that mental health is a war to be won. If you have ever been afraid to speak, afraid to make a move, lost motivation and hope, hurt yourself because you couldn’t find the right words or felt trapped inside your body, screamed at the top of your lungs with tears rolling down your boiling red cheeks, self medicated with alcohol or drugs, fallen into depression for no apparent reason, or just want to know how I am handling things, my posts are for you.

The Difficulty of ‘Normal’

If you were to meet me in the street, or at a party, or maybe at work, it’s unlikely you’d suspect anything. I’d seem like a bit of a hipster, long hair and beard(ish), maybe a little socially awkward, but outgoing, polite and smiling. I’d shoot the breeze, talk about little things comfortably, and most likely put you at ease.

And it’s quite possible that, at that moment in time, I might feel just like that. ‘Normal.’ Nothing wrong with me, nothing to see here.

But that wouldn’t be the deeper truth. It wouldn’t be reality. Because, of course, I suffer. I suffer from depression, from bipolar, and a chronic lack of belief in myself. And most days, it’s a struggle to find the motivation to get up in the morning, to go to work, and to do the things that are considered just that – ‘normal.’

There are two aspects of this to understand. The first is the obvious one: that people who suffer inside don’t always show it on the outside. I might be miserable, desperate and wanting to crawl into a hole, but I’ll still paint that smile on and interact, because I know how to hide. I know how to fool. There was a period when I didn’t know how to do that, and waaaay back in school everyone knew exactly who – and what – I was. I was the freak, the loner, the outcast; I was the depressed kid who cut himself and hid in the toilets.

In the many years since, I’ve honed the art of the façade to a fine skill, and rarely is there a day when I can’t make you think I’m just simply fine. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel rotten and awful inside, because I usually do. But you’d never know.

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But there is a second, more subtle aspect to this duality that I think should be understood better. Sometimes – just sometimes – I really do feel okay. I feel just fine. In fact, sometimes I feel great, like I’m being productive, getting things done and making people happy. I feel like a normal person.

What I think is often misunderstood here is that when someone feels good, it’s usually taken that since that can feel that way, there’s no reason for them not to all the time. After all, there are people in the world who just feel fine every day, who weather the worst with a smile, and find the positive in every scenario.

Sometimes I even fool myself, and this is, of course, dangerous. When I’m in a high, I feel like I can do anything, accomplish anything. I’ll set myself on tasks that are impossible, make promises I can’t keep, and take risks that are far more dangerous than their reward. And sometimes, I feel so good I wonder why take my medication anymore? I clearly don’t need it – I feel fine.

Should I stop taking my medication, of course, I crash; abruptly, destructively and completely. But even if I don’t, the truth is that I can’t maintain that high forever. The period of intensity will end, and I will return to the abyss. Whether I want to or not.

This is the difficulty of ‘normal.’ A lot of people will assume that if I seem normal, I am. And worse, that if I truly feel normal, there’s no excuse for the aberrant behavior that comes with my illnesses. In the end, I can only make it through like one day at a time, and some days are simply going to be better than others.

So please don’t assume that a happy person is happy all the time; don’t think for a moment that there isn’t a raging battle deep inside them. Instead, cherish the moments of positivity that rise from the muck of despair, because they might not come again.

Photo Credit:

unsplash-logoIgor Ovsyannykov

unsplash-logoIlya Schulte

Grief and Time – It Doesn’t Get Easier, But That’s the Point

What we want to do is put grief in a box. “Package it up, tape the bitch, and put it somewhere where we can see it.” That’s what we say. With this, we get control over our grief. We can watch it and make sure it doesn’t fly out of the box, ripping at the edges, scrambling over to catch us in meetings and during someone else’s happy moments. If we can contain it, we can control it, and we’ve falsely believed – for quite some time now – that we’ll dis-empower it this way over time; that one day, that grief will cease to exist because we’ve made it smaller by cramming it into something with crippling limits.

I’ve discovered, in the wake of my own grief with loss and depression, that grief in a box is like a tumor. Just because we don’t allow it to grow outward and free, doesn’t mean it will disappear through the existence of time and us not paying it any attention. That’s not how it works, but who am I to tell you how it should? Here’s my experience, and you decide for yourself:

When my grandfather died, I isolated. I knew other coping mechanisms existed, but I didn’t care for them. I didn’t want to reach out to my family and grieve with them because we all isolated from each other. We didn’t create spaces in which to come together; we looked for spaces in which to hide from each other so that we could “process in peace.” And I put that sentence into quotes because, in my family, there is no peace in grief. None found none sought. What we do – successfully – is we push aside the human choice to sink into our feelings for the other choice to rack our brain for a way out: a way out of grief, out of sadness, out of crying in front of one another. We look for a loophole, mentally. And when we find one – whether that is keeping busy, averting eye contact, or making ourselves think about literally anything else – we latch onto it and use that runaround as an escape. “We’ll never think about loss again, and we won’t let grief pull us under.” That’s what we think, but rarely ever say. To my mom, that was a sign of strength. Her Herculean feat was to establish her ground as a no-crying badass who never looked at herself in grief as pieces she had to put back together. She was going to live long in the belief that nothing could break her. To my dad, that was an end result he chased but never attained. Contrary to my mom, he was and still is an emotional opportunity, to actually sit with his feelings and ACTUALLY process them in peace. But that doesn’t work when you’ve been fed the “life’s shit toughens you” mantra for decades. After a while, you start to think that being a no-crying badass in the face of grief is supposed to be a proud staple of who you are. And then there was Me in the middle, the neon-colored sheep of the family. I believe grief is different.

Even though I still run to hide in spaces where I can process in peace, I am aware of my running. Losing someone or living with depression are some of life’s hardest phases through which to maintain this awareness. I was recently inspired to read a writer’s beautiful and accurate description of grief. He likened it to waves in the ocean. I think this is a far better description than the box because the ocean is expansive and sometimes when you look far, infinite. That’s how I imagine grief to be. It’s not this small thing we can hold and stuff into a tiny space when it begins to hurt. It’s the opposite of that. So when we’re faced with the beginning stages of grief – in those first hours and days – it feels like the waves are coming in non-stop. One right after the other. Never-ending. And they come crashing down hard! I mean, “face in the sand, tumbling on rocks” hard. Everything we have gets thrown off track, and everything we control is now no longer up to us. It’s scary! There is no space or time between those waves where we can stand up or stick our heads out long enough to catch a full breath. Everything feels rushed in the slowest way imaginable.

This is how I felt when my grandfather died when my favorite singer died when I went through a hard breakup. A loss doesn’t have to mean the end of life. It’s the end of something. Sometimes, it’s the end of some part of yourself. And in those first few days, I was underwater. You literally have to throw your hands up in the air and allow the flood to blow everything to pieces. And you watch yourself get thrown into the tumult with it all, and I’ve noticed that the more you scramble to stay on top, the more grief kicks you down – like it wants you to get to a point where standing up is no longer even an option for you. I liken this to your own metaphorical death; because when you lose someone, you have to die a little with them, too. Something of yourself has to pass on so that you can understand how grief works so that you can teach your scared and running Herculean family that this death is also OK.

I don’t believe that time heals all wounds. I think that’s bullshit. I think that’s what we’ve been led to believe so that we’ll stop talking about our grief with people who pretend their wounds are just little scars. I also don’t believe time heals all grief. We’ve adopted the mentality that time is an action. And maybe for some things, it is. But for this? Time is just space. Space between those waves where we can finally stand up and take a full breath in without feeling like our lungs are collapsing. Time is space – no matter how brief – where we can get out of bed, or have a normal conversation, or smile just because. And this space exists between crests of waves that are always going to be there because grief doesn’t end. It doesn’t get easier or better. We just get stronger. And we gain more space in which to see the waves approaching, and we can prepare. We can anticipate that it’s going to hurt when we remember their smile or hear their voice in that one song or remember how much they loved to fish. And the only time in which Time will ever give us healing is when we begin to welcome those waves, not as torture, but as perspective.

If I’ve ever learned anything at all by being who I am in a family who is the polar opposite, is that grief and loss and depression are topics of conversation that should exist, freely and wholly. When we share our stories and give words to our thoughts and feelings, we learn. I am not anyone who has stumbled into this knowledge and advice because I’m smart or wise. I am here because I’ve found that carrying the burden of remaining silent is too heavy, and not for me.

I hope you give your waves a voice, unapologetically and without reserve.