No Longer Hiding my Emotions

Over the years I’ve become extremely good at hiding my emotions from others.

I grew up with the belief that sadness & tears made me weak so I did my best to never cry in front of people.

I believed that my problems didn’t matter because out there in the world there was someone else with bigger problems than mine.

I believed that people wouldn’t care about what I was going through or that I would be considered a burden.

These beliefs have stayed with me up until this very day. While I’ve gotten more & more comfortable sharing my emotions & problems with others, it’s still something I struggle with today.

This has probably been one of the most difficult habits for myself to break because it’s become natural for me to just hide my emotions & bottle them up never sharing with anyone.

My entire life I’ve done my best to remain strong through all the difficult situations I faced up until now. I didn’t let others see or know the true pain I was in. There were periods where I would spend many nights crying myself to sleep at night. I didn’t want to dump my own problems on anyone else because I didn’t want to be a burden. I ended up not only carrying my own weight of problems, but the weight of those closest to me as well. I put off working through & healing my own issues, to help the ones I loved most.

It’s taken me up until now to realize that it’s important to take care of our own selves first. I neglected my own healing & stuffed my emotions deep down inside of me. In order to be of service & help to others in our lives, we must heal ourselves from within as well.

Because of the difficulties & pain I’ve faced, I never want others to feel alone or feel like they’re a burden. I am here for anyone and can be that shoulder for you to cry on. Never feel like you are a burden to others or that your problems don’t matter because they do! No matter how big or small the problem you’re faced with, it still matters.

Six Months of Silence from You  

Maybe I should be grateful you’ve disappeared from my life. Though it’s hard to think that way, you’ve been a friend since we were pre-teens. Our lives both treacherous, though yours more so. A horrible mother who abused you, a stepfather who cried when he saw you because you reminded him of his dead daughter, a sister who turned everything into gold.

I wanted to be there for you, and as kids, I helped you escape. We’d run through tunnels under the highway to play in the stream on the other side. Take boxes from the back of the supermarket to make forts as big as mansions. I helped you write Mike a note and put it in his mailbox so he’d know how cute he was. Then I ran with you when his mother caught us and yelled, “I better not see you girls messing around here again!”

High school divided us. Our social circles drastically changed and pulled us apart, but we still kept in touch. The first time you were sent to the “nuthouse,” as you called it, I got a phone call. I pictured you behind bars eating nothing but slop. I wanted to come to get you, but at fourteen there wasn’t much I could do but hate your mother alongside you. Before you were able to return to school your parents moved three hours. You vanished. It might as well have been the moon.

Silence grew between us for over a decade, but we reconnected on a random night at the beach. The crowd was rowdy and you hated being pushed around, so you left. I knew where to find you, walking alone on the beach. That night I knew we’d always been friends, even when we had distance between us. Off and on we’d see each other after this, and often email several times a day/week, depending on the reason.

We shared our anxieties and fears. The difference was I sought help and you remained in denial. I wanted to tell you what was working, but you wouldn’t hear of it. I let this slide, because I loved you.

At times you’d disappear, but I knew you’d come back when ready. We’d read each other’s stories and talk about the horrible and good things our husbands did. You’d tell me how proud you were to raise two boys, even though you never wanted kids. I cried to you when I couldn’t conceive, and you did your best to understand.

The years went by like this. We’d hug once or twice a year in person, your smile infectious and warm. Then it was all taken away when I saw you at your worst.

Paranoia struck you so hard. You called me in a panic, your voice quivered and you spoke with no brakes in your sentences. I’ve heard this before, only on mentally ill people that have gone beyond an immediate return point. The flags were waving, I begged you to go to call, email, text a professional for help. You continued to lay it on me though. Claiming stories so bazar I felt lost. I called in our mutual friend, who pushed you harder than I would to get help. You needed her, not me, but you didn’t want either of us. You claimed she wasn’t who she said she was, and that you would report her to the police.

My own anxiety rushed through my veins, tingling and frightening every second of my day. I absorbed your delusional ride and let it take me down until our mutual friend dragged me back.

We made a pact without you. We told ourselves we would give it one more push, involve your family, give you resources, but then we had to walk away. You were being so vicious I didn’t know you. I told myself it was your illness; I still know it was.

That was five months ago. I didn’t know where to go after that. You didn’t trust who I was. I walked away saving myself. Now I know nothing about you and every day it kills me.

On February 8, 2019 I wrote. How Do I Get My Friend Help? She read it and in rapid-fire sent emails attacking me. She found my bruise and pressed her thumb into it, twisting and poking. From the day we met she brought up things I don’t remember; assaulted me as a mother, wife, friend, and human. I couldn’t read the entire emails, though I saved them. I don’t know why I’ve saved them. Maybe to remind me not to contact her? I want to though. At least to know how she’s doing. To see if she’s alive.

Melisa Peterson Lewis is a blogger at Fingers To Sky with over two-hundred personal essays on book reviews, her writing process, gardening, and soul searching. Follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash

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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?

You Have to Pull Yourself Out of Your Darkness and Here’s How

Mental illness – whether it is depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or any disorders thereof, officially diagnosed or not – create darkness. I used to picture and liken this darkness to the bottom of a barrel, where you can’t go deeper, and you know it, but you can’t climb back out, and you don’t want to. That last part – climbing back out – is where I believe mental illness really defines itself. All of us, at some point or another, have metaphorically landed at the bottom of our barrel. But what draws the line in the sand between darkness and just a bad night is the climb up; and through my own experience and recounted stories of others, I’ve discovered that climbing back out – even if you can see a speck of light above – takes more energy, effort, and willpower than the person has or is willing and able to give. And this reiterates the point – we have to want to climb out; and when we don’t, that darkness becomes a frightening moment for a very long time.

We’ve heard the cliche – you have to want to help yourself. Truer words have not been spoken, and I stand by this mantra with full support. But I don’t think that using this as motivation or advice is enough. Yes, you have to want to help yourself, because relying on others to help lift you up, if all you want to do is fall, is hopeless. No one wins in that situation. But that cliche is simply the intention. It’s what open the floodgates and lights that proverbial fire under your ass that says yes go! It’s time to climb the hell out of this thing! But that cliche is not how we treat our mental illness, and I think one of the biggest challenges in what we face is figuring out how to start the climb at all. And once we start, it’s pushing ourselves to keep going.

The climb up is not a race; it is not even a marathon

It’s work. It’s incredible, difficult, manual, mental labor in the Arizona summer heat. It’s your Mount Everest on steroids, and all you have is a walking stick, some days. And while that may carry zero inspiration as you read this, what I’m saying is meant to give you perspective. Most importantly, it’s meant to give you reality. Diving into our psyches and unleashing anything and everything that we’ve stuffed down there is a journey from which we don’t just stroll back into easy-going living. Dealing with mental illness on any given day is a struggle that no writer ought to put into words, nor try, because those words won’t be enough.

What I’ve learned from my own experience is that climbing back out of my darkness is a one-step process. Every single day, I take a step. Some days, it’s a step up, and I can joyfully laugh and toss any caution to the wind and truly live in the moment with family, friends, and my cat. There aren’t weights pulling me down into the same mental alley where I get mugged and punched by depression and loneliness. Other days, it’s a step down from where I was the day before, and I can feel my heart sink because I was so much closer to the top. But that’s the rhythm of this – the ebb and flow of life are the same for everyone, but with mental illness, that ebb and flow can either take you one wave closer to the shore or to the rocks.

The climb up is a challenge we take on every single day. There are no breaks, and there are no days off. And if you thought that this article up until now has been a wretched downer, please stay with me. You are worth the work. There’s not going to be a single person at the bottom of your barrel with you, and that’s by design. You have to do this. You have to put one foot in front of the other every single moment and believe that you are handling your life. With your action, whether it kicks you down or lifts you up, you are facing your darkness and handling it. Some days, you win. Other days, you learn. There is no loss. Your mental illness does not define the core of who you are, and it most certainly does not change what you’re meant to do – and we’re all here for something.

You have to pull yourself out of your darkness, and it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it will be the greatest and the single most profound thing you’ve ever done. How you do it is by taking the first step, and then always one more. Smile when you’ve done it, and celebrate these feats. If you get knocked down, pause and learn from it. Don’t ask why can’t I do this? Instead, ask what did this teach me? And then keep going. Always keep going.

We are strong enough, but first, we have to decide to be

At the bottom of my own barrel, I remember sitting and waiting for a sign. I wanted to receive something divine that would guarantee that everything would eventually work out and that I would be lifted up to my own light on the wings of simple and thoughtful prayer. And I sat at the bottom of that musty barrel for what seemed an eternity; because signs don’t work that way.

What my depression taught me, in the crudest of ways, was that I had the choice of trudging through mud and mire to climb out of my darkness, or continue sitting, praying, and wishing to be air-lifted out. And even when I fell down, worn out and pissed, the alternative to staying in that solace was reminder enough to make me try again. At the end of the day, that’s the proverbial fire – try again. There are no expectations that our climb needs to be done in one day; we falsely create that goal in our head, pinning our very selves up against the wall. Don’t. Lay down these presumptive ideals that our healing is on an expressway path to eradication. The path is anything but short, but it’s there. It exists. And it’s for our taking.

Try again. And always keep going.

Pulling ourselves out of our darkness does not make the darkness go away. It makes us strong enough to decide that we don’t need to live in it.