Are You Feeding Depression?

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When you are in that place, that dark inescapable place where depression traps your thoughts and emotions, you feel like you are surrounded in blackness. There are no doors to open. No exits to be found. You’re trapped there until the lies of your mind go quiet and the treacherous confusion clears.

There’s no ON/OFF switch for depression nor is there a quick fix formula to keep it away forever. Is there anything that you can realistically do to make it stop?

Without question you have to speak up and ask for professional help. Beyond that, I believe that one of the most important steps you can take when you are struggling with depression is to ask yourself if you are feeding the monster. Are you helping the downward spiral spin even more furiously?

Those of us who have struggled with depression often do so in the shadows, but we may reveal our hurts in less visible ways. Some people write anonymous blogs that focus on their heaviest of thoughts and emotions. I have read extensive poetry written by people who either love Edgar Allan Poe’s dark style or (more likely) are struggling with their own mental health challenges. There are countless art pieces celebrating the dark night of the soul, and you could pack any home to the ceilings with books about the hopeless feelings of those suffering with depression, OCD, severe anxiety, thoughts of suicide and attempts to take one’s life.

We commend the bravery of those willing to speak their blackest truths as so many continue to stay silent about their mental health struggles in the public eye. We celebrate those who are able to create tangible evidence of those intangible mental shackles.

But it is really healthy to create or celebrate that? From my non-professional off-kilter and utterly imperfect viewpoint, I would say yes and no.

We can’t bottle up the immeasurable pain, slap a smile on our faces, and “fake it till you make it” all away. We need to be able to be honest about what we are going through if we are going to find a way to healing. We benefit from finding a community of people who may be facing different challenges but who can relate to the pain of feeling broken, unworthy, or unwell. Giving voice or visual to our struggles reminds others that they aren’t alone in those times, and we receive the same benefit when we see it from another.

However it takes a very sinister turn once that becomes the predominant or, much much worse, the only voice we have. When we start to focus entirely on hopelessness, giving up, perpetual loneliness, being shattered, feeling worthless, or wanting to die, we poison our thoughts. We energize the darkness and validate the confusion and pain. Those thoughts that dig at the mind become more and more real, and our ability to push them away from center stage decreases.

Attention is attention, and negative attention still fills that desire. Are you being supportive of someone who is struggling or are you feeding the monster? Are you giving voice to your pain or are you inviting it closer?

One of my children is an excellent writer who sometimes drifts into Emo Land. I think it’s good for him to work through the pain sometimes with the writing, but it concerns me when his teachers tell me how much they love or admire his willingness to share those feelings so extensively. I know my child, and this kid lives for teacher praise (nerd!) (but at least he comes by that honestly). If his instructor goes gaga over dark twisty, that theme and tone will pervade his writing. As I’ve seen him run with the “yay for your sad compositions” bait in the past, I now make a point to talk to his writing teachers to ask them to focus their high praise on alternate styles of compositions. I also try to give my child some glimpse into the importance of looking for the light rather than taking a dive into the darkness. It’s too easy to get stuck on that path of despair. I know this first-hand because I was there for many years, too.

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Admittedly this is serious weak sauce for dark poetry, but it’s not my thing anymore nor do I feel like taking much time to hunt through our fridge magnets at midnight.

I struggled with suicide and depression since I was very young. My negative thoughts and feelings became a natural part of everything that I composed including silly stuff like poems I compiled from refrigerator word magnets.

My husband (who was my then newish boyfriend at that time) landed in the relationship emotional intelligence hall of fame when he read some of my dark twisty fridge masterpieces and responded with his unfiltered and resounding review of, “You need to cut that sh*t out now.”

His response was utterly jarring to me. I said nothing aloud in return, but my mind screamed. Didn’t he see how deeply troubled I was? How could he be so cold about my pain? Why would he be so callous about my inner battle that he could never comprehend? What a massive jerk / soon to be ex-boyfriend!

But then I thought about his words. And then I thought about my own. What I was saying on my poor unsuspecting fridge? Why was I writing that stuff? What benefit was I getting from inviting the darkness in and why was I coating my major appliances with feelings that I was trying to escape? In that moment, I realized exactly what I was doing.

I was feeding the monster.

I never told him that he was right (a tradition that I continue to uphold whenever possible in our marriage to this day), but I did take down the festival of sadness as soon as he was out of view. He wasn’t asking me to pretend that I was happy when I wasn’t, but he didn’t have any interest in my parading around that level of negativity like it was fine art either. Until he pointed it out, I did not recognize how that I was validating and emphasizing the very feelings that I was trying to shake. I had been viciously chumming the water while simultaneously praying for the sharks to leave.

This is a tremendous problem on social media. If you have ever searched for #depression, #mentalhealth, or #suicide, you can find horribly dark and sad posts and photos with thousands and thousands of likes. They aren’t focused on healing. They are focused on pain. And to be clear once more, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to feel that way or even that it’s wrong to talk, write, or create art about mental health struggles and crises. But don’t go out of your way to embrace and celebrate them. Don’t cover your fridge in sadness and don’t spend your hours devouring and liking the pain of others.

If you want to heal, look for those who talk focus on getting better. If you want to step out of the darkness, look for the light instead. If the negativity of the news is making you feel hurt or angry, change the frickin’ channel or better yet turn it off altogether and go for a walk. And perhaps most importantly of all, if your fridge is turning all dark and twisty, invest in twelve dollars worth of sasquatch-themed word magnets. They are worth every penny, and that is one monster that you are welcome to feed (no offense intended to Bigfoot or lovers of said scientifically unsubstantiated ginormous critter).

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Again not my best, but it’s 1 am so you get what you get.

Always remember that whatever you take in feeds some part of you. If you want to feel better, nourish the good and offer that to your heart, mind, and soul. Your worse case scenario is twelve dollars down with a kick ass set of fridge magnets waiting in the wings.

Don’t get in your own way. You are healthier, stronger, and more incredible than you possibly know. Look for that and celebrate it. You got this honey. It’s time to let the real you shine.

Big hugs to all.

Jo Price  🙂

The images below will take you straight to Amazon if you feel like jazzing up your fridge. The sasquatch pack is hilarious, but they are even more fun if you add the Lumberjack addition to the mix. If you do buy these, please take pics of your art. We fall out laughing everytime we see these. 😉

How Deep is the Water – A Flood of Anxiety

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A dear friend of mine has a daughter who just began her new life at college. It’s not in Houston, but it’s only about an hour’s drive away. No biggie. She’s a good kid, a strong student, and the type of person whom you know will be successful. Life has dealt her some very hard kicks, but she is resilient and will not be defeated by the adversity that confronts her.

But she is drowning in this new world of college. The days have barely begun, and all she can focus on is getting back home. Her separation anxiety is off the charts, and she is missing her family to the point of being locked in place and utterly inconsolable. She feels like she is going under and sheer panic has taken hold.

I understand this feeling far too well. My husband and I went on a trip overseas many years ago. While we were there, I badgered him into taking the hotel’s Cliff’s Notes version of scuba (a.k.a “An Inappropriately Brief Summary of How Not to Die While Swimming Deep in the Ocean”). An 18 year old trainer gave us the ten minute speech (that in reality should have been explained in a classroom over multiple days of training), slapped some tanks on our backs, and plopped us into the resort pool.

 I. Freaked. Out.

We are talking a complete and total meltdown. Massive claustrophobia. Unimaginable terror about being unable to get enough oxygen. Horrific fear about drowning. All of it. I was very literally hyperventilating into my regulator and tears were streaming down my face inside my mask. It was absolutely terrifying.

My husband had been swimming a few feet away from me and immediately recognized that I was circling the mental drain. In his old soul wisdom, he knew that he had to intervene and proceeded to do something that truly saved me. He grabbed my shoulders, pushed me up out of the water, and said with a seriously annoyed tone, “Dude – Stand up.”

In my terror (a.k.a. complete doofus attack), I had literally forgotten that we were in the most shallow of shallow ends. Of a frickin pool. At a hotel.

The water was maybe 4 feet deep. Probably more like 3.

Embarrassing. So so embarrassing.

The anxiety attack was immediately gone only to be replaced by an “I’m a dumbass” attack. As I was too humiliated to continue showing my face above water, I dropped into the pool once more and of course knew from that point on that I was a-okay. Later that day I did a 40 foot dive without batting an eye. A couple of years and multiple certifications later, I went to almost 140 feet. But this isn’t about that kind of depth.

We sometimes feel like we are drowning in a flood of debilitating fear when we are in unfamiliar surroundings. We lose our sense of safety and control, and we begin to spiral wildly. The trick is to recognize when the depth of terror is of our own making. Sometimes it takes another person to jar us out of our anti-fantasy, but ideally we learn to find a way to recognize the delusion so we can then snap ourselves out of it.

Change is terrifying, and staring into the unknown rattles us all. But more often than not, the water is nowhere near as deep as we imagine it to be. In most cases, we truly just need to remember to stand up.

The floodwaters of anxiety cannot be allowed to overpower you or steal your hope and joy. Stand up so you can see who is standing by your side in support. Stand up and be willing to distinguish what is a true threat versus what is simply unknown. Stand up and realize that you are okay in this moment and that you can release the panic that distracts your mind and obscures your purpose.

And after you have regained your confidence and maybe even laughed at the comedy of your overreaction, you can dive in once more and at last begin to see the world of wonders just waiting to be discovered. ❤️

Big hugs to you all.  Jo

Back to School Anxiety (Mine, Not Theirs)

It all begins once more tomorrow. We went through the various outfit options, prepped the lunches and backpacks, and multiple kids got in big trouble before it was over. So all in all, it was a standard school night kind of evening. I already know that I will be terribly sad in the morning when I drop them off, and then I will be even sadder when I come home to the deafening silence of an empty home. Thankfully that pile o’ dishes and crumbs that will greet me upon my return will most definitely be awaiting me will remind me of their close proximity. Part of me is being sarcastic, but a bigger part of me is genuinely grateful for everything they leave scattered in their collective kid wake.

The good news is that if history is any indicative of future performance (which it is NOT in finance – please see attached disclosures), I may be luxuriating in the quiet after I get past my initial adjustment period. Although my favorite part of the day will always be when we are all together once more, maybe a few minutes of solitude won’t be the worst thing either.

Back to school Monday feels like a pretty crappy week starter at the moment, but I have a stockpile of work spreadsheets and truckloads of laundry that are betting otherwise. I guess we shall see.

Whether you are back to school, over school, past school, or just rejoicing in an endless  summer, I send you wishes for a lovely Monday and a beautiful week ahead.

Big hugs to all.  Jo

Parenting Struggle – Is Conformity Helpful or Harmful?

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This photo comparison cracks me up. It’s a perfect reflection of both sides of the coin that make up this funny beautiful awesome girl of mine.

As one who tends to preach owning your individuality, I find myself feeling more than a hair hypocritical that I struggle with the concept of conformity when it applies to my children. On the one hand I genuinely want them to stay away from running with the herd and just focus on being themselves whatever that may mean. However the other parenting part of me – the part that (likely incorrectly) assumes that their childhood challenges will be the same as those I faced – worries that their exclusion from that group will lead them to being trampled by it.

In my mind, the word “conformity” has always taken on a shadowy pejorative connotation, but LA at wakinguponthewrongsideof50.wordpress.com/ at wrote a post that got me thinking (her posts have a fantastic way of doing just that). Is conformity really as bad as I have made it out to be?

Are there times when we should encourage some level of conformity for the sake of finding a moderate level of acceptance and comfort within one’s peer group? Could this be particularly true in the case of my comical kid (photos above) as she heads to middle school? If I said nothing, she would probably head of to school in full 80’s gym / wolf cub chic style. ***Please refer to this ridiculous yet true post on my primary blog for wolf cub reference clarification  —> so-i-just-waxed-my-daughters-leg.

The honest truth is that I believe that my daughter would be more than okay with either photo opp kind of look because she would never be a conformist no matter what she might be wearing. The perception of others has never defined my kids, and ultimately, the issue is not theirs. It’s mine.

Quite ironically, I really do recognize the error in my thought process. I just can’t seem to get that mama bear protection instinct to go gentle into that good night. I look for in style clothes that they like but that they also find as cool as the mismatched hole-riddled outfits that they already had in their drawers. I try to get them to fix their hair in moderately non-dorky ways and bug them about taking care of their teeth so they won’t reek of monkey butt breath. The non-monkey butt breath mandate is one subject that leaves me with zero mom guilt because seriously – nobody wants in on your stank breath action. No. Body.

Breath funk aside, I do want my kids to feel free to be themselves fully. I just fear the pain that comes with their not being accepted and the hurt that is inevitable when you are ridiculed or excluded. Many of us still wrestle with these same social challenges as adults, but we also have greater control over whom we will allow into our world. We get to decide who we want to spend the bulk of our days with and release those who are hopelessly toxic (or let go of the icky as Mer the rockstar extraordinaire might say – merbearsworld.wordpress.com/).

But you don’t get to pick the kids who surround your children in middle school, and more often that not, a handful of big-mouthed self-designated mob bosses run that show like lord of the frickin’ flies. I am saddened by my own memories of that time period in my life, and I want desperately to keep my children from carrying those painful experiences throughout their own lives long after their school years have passed.

So I push more than I should. I nag about their needing to change their look instead of smiling and snapping another pic for the embarrassing wedding video down the road. I search for ways to help them blend in or try to direct them toward focusing on their unique characteristics that would be appealing en masse. My intentions are good, but I don’t know about the actual execution.

Parenting is an endless learning process, and you never really know if you get it right until you are past the moment when you get to pick your move. No matter what you read or whom you try to emulate, there is no conformity when it comes to being a mom or dad to your kids. We all do the best we can in our own funky individual ways just like our parents did with us. We found our way and our kids will, too.

As far as I’m concerned, the herd can stick it. My sweet-breathed kids are incredible individuals who are meant to shine in their own ways. No matter how much I worry, my well-meaning but off-kilter advice will never be able to hide their light. With that said, I still believe that the proper use of a hairbrush does go a long way. I’m just sayin’.

😉  Jo

Winks from the Universe

Do you ever get the feeling that the universe is sending you little divine winks to confirm that you are heading in the right direction? I think that I often miss them, but I suspect that this is not indicative of their absence.

I don’t believe in an inherently right or wrong path as there are innumerable choices we can make in every minute of each day. But even within those countless shades of possibilities that endlessly color our moments, I do experience times when I feel like I’m truly resonating with something important – like I’m making contact with the part of my soul that is so much bigger than my day to day life. I feel like I’m following a course that will allow me to spread the wings I innately have that are uniquely my own. The moments come and go in a flash, but when they happen, they leave a beautiful imprint on my spirit.

When I’m in that place, I find myself noticing funny little happenstances that only I would recognize. It can be a friendly text coming in from a person dancing around my thoughts. Sometimes it’s a surprisingly well-timed song on the radio. And this evening, it was bumping into a friend and having him unexpectedly share with me that he enjoys reading my writing – a surprising confession and a beautiful compliment.

Please note that I’ll be the first person to tell you that this isn’t earth-shattering stuff. Nevertheless those little unexpected moments reinforce the significance of the positive thoughts and actions we enact. They remind us that although we may be surrounded by a boundless universe and are mere specks of matter in the grand cosmic equation, what we do matters and who we are matters. These winks confirm in the most personal of ways that no moment of our existence is inconsequential.

So this is my little wink back to the universe. A hat tip if you will. Thank you for encouraging me forward. Thank you for reminding me once more to release more of the fear and place more of my energy in trust.

Thank you also to my friend for his kind words. I appreciated them more than he could possibly know and needed to hear them more than I could have realized. Truly – thank you.

Big hugs to all. Jo

Spreading Your Wings

I fall down when I walk. All. The. Time. Either my feet are mysteriously surrounded by unusually dense air or there is some kind of invisible trip wire system perpetually in my midst. These are the only viable possibilities as there appear to be no other culprits for my non-existent level of grace. Yes – having the inability to walk normally is yet another fabulous piece of the rockstar package that is Jo.

So given that the whole “one foot in front of the other” gig has proven to be a strangely complicated task for me, the idea of spreading my wings to give the wind a try is more than a little daunting. Admittedly I’m speaking metaphorically here, but I fall flat on my face in the figurative walk of life, too.

I worry about failure. About rejection. About judgement. I’m afraid that my time and effort will be wasted. That my words will fall flat. That I will flop. That I will crash.

These concerns afflict countless people. We focus heavily on endless negative “what if” scenarios that we conjure in our minds. Taking it a step further, let’s actually imagine what would happen if those worrisome maybes actually did turn into realities?

In the vast majority of cases, the world would keep turning, and life would go on anyway. Our personal anxiety or embarrassment would be a mere blip on other people’s radars and would quickly be forgotten. In the meantime, we would likely learn a lesson or two (or five), and we would then be that much wiser when taking a revised approach in another attempt down the road.

So what’s your worst case scenario? What if it (whatever your “it” might be) doesn’t work out the way you hope? What if you don’t succeed? Can you keep going? Does life go on for the rest of the world?

If we can say yes to those questions, (and in the universe of chasing your dreams, we almost always can), then we are our own obstacle.

You must overcome your fear of falling if you ever want to soar. Maybe we will find ourselves flopping back to the ground if we attempt to fly, but we definitely won’t be able to rise up if we aren’t even willing to try.

If you fall, you fall. But then you get up, you keep going, and you never ever stop trying.

Don’t allow fear to chain you down or keep you from sharing the beautiful gifts you were given. We are compelled to spread our wings for a reason, whatever those wings may be.

It’s time to release the fear, look to the skies, and give those divine beauties a run. ❤️

Big hugs to you all. Jo

Learning to Accept What I Can’t Control

As one who has minor (ginormous) challenges with slight (immeasurably large) control issues, I have yet to find a way to master my emotional response to situations that don’t turn out according to plan (that I created in my mind regardless of anyone else’s plan or reality). While I am aware of this flaw in my thought process, I struggle deeply with disentangling my personal feelings from the scenarios that upset me even when I recognize that I can’t change them.

A few months ago, we moved to a unique suburban area that offered over-sized lots with a small forest of trees blanketing the back of the yards. My oldest daughter and I discovered a shared passion for wildlife photography (especially of the feathered variety). We have always loved birds, but we were clueless about the vast array of species that would appear when we shared a little space with a grove of native trees.

In addition we have since found countless animal tracks trotting across our yard (inside our entirely enclosed fence). Our family and friends have been entertained over and over again with photos from our game camera as well as our evening animal stakeouts (a.k.a. sitting together in the dark in my room while we all stare out the windows with binoculars in hand and wait for our eyes to adjust and the nocturnal zoo to reveal itself).

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This level of nature may not be for everyone, but it’s an absolute paradise to my crew.

So when I woke a few mornings ago to the sickening crack of massive trees being felled a few feet behind our home, I felt an indescribable sadness. Our lot backs up to a tiny creek that separates our property from the lots behind us. Despite having a massive lot and a huge amount of space available for any castle / pool / soccer field the a new resident might need, the builders bulldozed tree after tree to the ground. The birds flew madly and many pairs could be heard wailing madly for hours as their nests and chicks were stolen away from them.

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This was the view from our lot a few days prior. We were upset with our own builder for clearing the back of our lot, but we were confident that the green space would be maintained.

To be clear, I’m not an unrealistic person nor do I live in a tree house of my own. I understand that even if it isn’t exactly what I want, many trees may have to come down to make room for a home, pool, and significant yard. But if you buy a massive wooded lot, why in the world would you ever destroy such natural beauty that took decades (or longer) to grow? Why come here at all? In addition, it was a clear violation of everything that we had been told about maintaining the larger trees. Although we rallied with the other neighbors beside us to get the builder involved and stop further mindless clearing, the damage was already done. The builder feigned confusion about the excess of clearing, and the destroyed trees were piled into an 18 wheeler and hauled away.

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This quickly became our view as the bulldozer began to tear through the trees. They did significant additional clearing after this photo was taken, but I couldn’t stomach taking another picture of the decimated habitat.

There was a pair of great horned owls that lived in one of the trees behind us that is now gone. We used to see a thick forest when we looked across our back fence but now see power lines and electrical boxes running along the other street several hundred feet behind our lot. I feel so sad and I don’t know how to let that go. I can’t control their choices nor can I fix the damage they caused.

All I can do is pray that the sadness will fade and that hope will find a way in the end.

I can’t change what has been done, but I humbly ask that you please consider planting a very small native tree or shrub near your home, school, or park. Any home improvement or garden store should be able to offer basic advice regarding appropriate plant species. If not, google might have one or two (thousand) suggestions. People constantly asking us how we get these beautiful species in our yard, and the answer is truly so simple. They just need a little bit of help.

We can’t control the situations around us nor can we go back in time to undo a hurt once it has happened. But we can make better choices when others can’t or won’t. We can rise above the pain. We can recognize that anger may be warranted but cannot define our existence. And we can choose hope and prove that it’s more than an idea.

As Willy Wonka beautifully said, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dreams.”

And it’s true. Regardless of what is occurring around you, find your song and celebrate your dreams. Never forget that the smallest light can brighten the darkest room. Don’t let fear, hurt, or anger extinguish your brilliant glow. Find that beautiful spark that is an innate part of who you truly are, take positive action of your own whenever you can, and show the world what it’s like to shine.

Hugs to you all. Jo