Finding your way, like finding yourself is a never-ending journey. A journey filled with ups and downs, constant new challenges and adventures. The most fulfilling life in my experience is one of exploration and constant growth. By exploration I don’t mean you have to spend thousands travelling the world. Exploration does not require jet setting around the world, although if travel is one of your interests it would make sense you try to take a few trips in your lifetime. The truth is exploration can be found in the everyday.
Exploration of the simple or small details can be as equally rewarding or beneficial to your health as any grand adventure. Something as simple as trying new foods you’ve been afraid to try, switching up your morning routine and swimming laps at the local pool instead of just watching the morning news over breakfast, taking the back roads into work instead of the busy highway, even though it takes a little longer, signing up for a rec league sport, or visiting a local gallery or art exhibit. It can be as easy as picking something from the closet you have been too nervous to wear, or a new piece of clothing from the store that screams trend, or changing your typical hairstyle for something different, just taking a risk no matter how big or small can be rewarding. Taking time for yourself is important too, book that massage or mani-pedi, take a solo walk through the park and relax with a book surrounded by beauty, volunteer at a local shelter, or enjoy one of the many local fairs or events in the area. Get on a ride you haven’t experienced since you were a kid, or enjoy the live music, or the meal which the proceeds go to charity. The list is endless; something as simple as changing your morning coffee to something fun once a week can be the treat you need to boost your energy. What’s the worst that can happen, you waste two dollars and decide that coffee is not for you. Big deal, there are hundreds more to choose from, keep tasting, keep trying, keep exploring. Just because these things are not raved about to friends or family, aren’t celebrated or publicized, does not make them any less important to your mental health and happiness.
Through simple everyday experiences we challenge our minds, our intellect, emotions and creativity, and through these experiences we grow. We learn what we love, what we think, how we react, we discover new things, tastes and places, we discover things we could live without, we meet people who we want around and others that are best to let go of. Through these challenges, triumphs and discoveries, we experience, we overcome and we grow, making ourselves feel proud, an improved individual and gaining the skills that will help get us through the next set of challenges and adventures to come.
What I find most amazing about life is that it is a constant cycle of growth. Every time you overcome a fear, survive, struggle or embrace a new adventure or outlook, you are preparing yourself for the next cycle of challenges or adventures to come. Life’s journey is never-ending, and when you stop embracing the future, stop carrying forward and experiencing new things, is precisely the moment when your life becomes daunting, flat or overwhelming to the point you’re unable to deal. In many ways you need to live in the moment, but find that balance of safety and planning, when you find a perfect balance of responsibility mixed with youthful spirit, life will flow, grow and expand, and you will be better able to deal with the stresses and struggles of life. Live in the moment as much as you can, but be sure to stop and give yourself time for you. No one can run twenty-four-seven, so relax, enjoy and discover whenever possible.
In my personal experience, during the time after the loss of my niece, and even during the greatest struggles in my relationship, was when I slowly began to recede and shut out the world. For me I thoroughly enjoy moments of solitude and time to reflect, I need it to survive as much as I need to be around people. For me there is definitely a fine balance there. I need my space, but when I was slipping into depression and moments of anxiety, I used my typical need for solitude as a way to block out the world completely, taking it to the extreme. I need more quiet, relaxed time than the average person, like time with a book, or writing, or gardening, just being with myself and that is ok, that is healthy and keeps me centered, but taking it to the extreme, using it as a way to block out every moment outside of my home and recede from life out of fear was not good. My need for ample solitude, typically a day a week, and maybe a few nights in after work on weekdays, grew to every day, every evening, and the further I receded the more difficult it became to get out bed, out the door, or out for the evening. At that time I thought I was protecting myself, healing, and dealing with grief, but in truth I was hiding, I was sinking and I was losing the battle against my depression.
During the worst I still considered myself a strong person, and looking back after dealing with and overcoming depression, I believe I have proven that I am. I did however, realize that in the beginning I was in fact quite weak. My need for extreme solitude and hiding from the world, my need to use my strength and deal with all my problems on my own just dug me deeper and deeper into a hole of sadness and despair. I was stubborn and convinced I could handle everything on my own, a family trait I believe I inherited, and to this day I consider my stubbornness to achieve and overcome challenges a great strength and I always will, but its ability to create blindness to the true dilemma I was facing, the severity of the depression and my stubbornness to never ask for help, only led me further off course. Many, including myself at that time, consider needing or depending on others in times of struggle, to be weakness. Now looking back on my experiences it has shown me to see it as quite the opposite. It takes more strength to bear your soul and your weakness to others, than it ever does to pretend to be strong. Letting people in, asking to be accepted and aided when you are presenting your fears and lowest life experiences is difficult beyond words. None of us want to be seen as weak, but know when you stand up, reach out to those around you, ask for help and learn from their guidance and lessons; this is the truest show of strength a person can experience. When in times of crisis you are vulnerable to those you ask for help from, and maybe they won’t be able to help in the ways you need, and that is ok. Remember if at first you don’t find the right help, there are always many around you waiting for you to ask and give you the support and love you need. If I have one plea to those reading this, never ever be afraid to ask for help. Take the good advice and lessons to heart, trust in the wisdom of those you trust, and reach out to anyone who can aid in or help you find your way back to your true path in life.
If friends and family are not enough to pull you from your slump, although I’m sure you would improve through some of their experiences, don’t be afraid to take additional steps to get you back on track. Find a social worker or therapist to speak to, look into your insurance coverage as many companies cover this in their benefit packages. Some employers have hotlines setup specifically for their employees. As more and more people step out into the spotlight showing depression as what it really is, an illness anyone can suffer from, not a personal defect, employers and people alike are taking their employees and people’s mental health far more seriously. You can talk to your doctor, and remember if you’re battling with yourself over the idea of these actions with social workers or doctors, don’t! I encourage you to make an appointment and just hear what they have to say. The first visits are about understanding you, your needs and your options, no decisions have to be made at this time. They give you advice alone, recommendations or natural remedies that could help you, people you could talk to, techniques to calm anxiety, and they better help you understand you and what you’re dealing with. For many, and for myself included, the first appointment was the hardest to get to. I struggled with the idea of how people would see me, how I viewed myself. I beat myself up at the idea of how weak I must be, because I couldn’t even be happy. Who doesn’t know how to be happy!?! Well, it was me, and I stubbornly gave myself and my husband every excuse in the book, as to why I didn’t need to talk to someone. And then I hit rock bottom, I had a bad day, a very bad day and I realized in that moment I need help outside of myself, my husband and immediate family.
I began researching local social workers until I found one I loved, as I scrolled past her picture I felt at ease, she could probably pass as my sister. I looked at the picture and for some reason felt as if I was staring at a friend, she appeared kind, genuine and safe, and that first impression made every bit of difference. As I read further I confirmed that she was younger than most of the social workers in my area, and that appealed to me, feeling as if she would better understand my daily life and experiences. Her youth or less time working in the field did not deter me, she was still older than I, fully educated and had ample years experience. Her specialities were right on par with my troubles, the list seemed to mimic my exact struggles nothing was missed, nothing understated, and I was officially sold. I emailed her, and received a quick, sweet and caring response. I booked my initial appointment with her and never looked back. I was fortunate to have coverage through my work and my husbands work and was able to visit her weekly in the beginning, something I desperately needed. Financially I know everyone cannot afford to visit a therapist or social worker every week, or every other week for that matter, but I suggest that you do it if and when you can. Even if you can only visit once a month, just having that outlet, that person to speak to who understands you and is there for you, is invaluable! I would not be where I am today without her. For me she was my main outlet, a person to vent to and be real with, whether to laugh, cry, cry so more, or some more, a person to be silly with, bounce ideas off of or just to yammer to about my stresses. She doesn’t take sides, nor does she judge you, she just keeps you focused and on a healthy path, and teaches you how to maintain that path. She noticed and told me things about myself that were so true, yet obvious when pointed out, but I had never noticed until then. She made me feel safe, respected, and not alone. She made me feel real, normal, and not “crazy”. One of the biggest hang-ups I had when I viewed what depression meant to me. She was amazing, she was my saviour, and she lead me on a path to find me and what I needed. She gave me something I had lost for a long time, a that was HOPE! Although I visit her rarely now, I still drop in from time to time to stay on the right path and keep my focus clearly in sight. I do feel proud that I do not require my visits as frequently and that I have shown improvement, but I do admit I miss them, as I enjoyed them so very much and always left feeling better and thinking so clearly. I felt so strong, sure and happy after our appointments.
She also helped me find the strength to walk through the door of my doctors, and those first steps through the door of my social workers office, and those into my doctor’s office were the smartest steps I have ever made. Here in that first appointment at the doctor’s office I learned more about myself, and my options, I discovered the severity of my depression and anxiety, and walked away feeling no longer completely hopeless. I had a wealth of options and I went home and discussed with my husband and consider a long time on my own before I chose my course of action. If you can overcome the stigma society has wrongly created and take those first steps, the doors to your future and your life will reopen, and you will see a light at the end of the tunnel. All of a sudden the darkness will seem not so dark for the first time in a very long time.
My opinion with my family doctor is the same, he tracked my progression and growth in a difference way, but in a way I could visually see by stats, whereas with a social worker I could feel my growth. Both were equally as important, and both can help many. My doctor also recommended free anxiety clinics I could go to in the area, although I was unable to attend them personally due to my work hours. The options were endless and my doctor and social worker always had plenty of helpful hints to share. For example, St.Johns Wort is a natural supplement that can be taken and is considered to have natural antidepressant properties(be sure to discuss this option with a pharmacist, doctor or naturopath) they suggested breathing exercises, muscle memory exercises, stretches, meditation, yoga, sports, clinics, classes etc, and my doctor even suggested an anti-depressant or anti anxiety medicine. I have always been strong-willed and wouldn’t even consider medication until I had explored all avenues… and that I did, I explored, I struggled, I learned, I grew, and I continued on. For me after months and months of struggling, dealing not only with depression, anxiety and even post traumatic stress, I decided to ask for additional help even though I was already progressing. Despite the progress I realized I couldn’t make those final steps on my own. Making the move to anti-depressant/anxiety medication was difficult for me, but I stayed strong, focussed on my end goal, and to be honest they eased me over the final hurdle to gaining full health and wellness again. My dose is quite low, and even though I was embarrassed by the idea of anyone finding out I had taken antidepressants, I now see it as a blessing. This stage will not last forever, only for six months to a year, and even if it did last for forever, I don’t mind. I am no longer embarrassed, I don’t feel weak or ashamed, and if anyone were ever rude enough to say anything to me about it, I would gladly laugh it off and feel sorry for them for having such a closed-minded view.
Whether you struggle with depression or don’t, whether you have ever taken, ever will, or never take any form of antidepressants, know that you have nothing to be ashamed of, your choices and decisions to improve your mental and physical health are positive choices made of strength and determination. You are not crazy, there is nothing wrong with who you are, you are not defective in any way. Thank you for being strong enough to realize you deserve to be happy, and for realizing that no matter who you are, at some point everyone needs help in one way or another. No one is happy always, you are not alone, and be proud of your strength to recognize and make a change for the better.
My favourite idea on this matter is simple; you eat well, exercise and try to take care of your body the best you can. When you feel sick or have a flu, when your body hurts, over heats, aches and you are not feeling well, what do you do? You go to the DOCTOR! You get looked at and you get a PRESCRIPTION to fix the ailment, and when time has passed, you’ve healed and are well you stop taking your medicine and proceed on, happy and healthy. Your mental health is equally as important, and dealt with in the same way. You try to nurture your brain with rest and nutrition, you exercise your brain with reading and writing, and learning, and when you brain is rundown, tired, sad or not feeling or working at its best, you go to the doctor for a check up. Your social worker is like a physical therapist for your mind, they understand it, they exercise it, they care for it and nurture. They get you to realize your mind is tired and sluggish, and they get you to use it, to work it and get it back to peak performance. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you along the way, to help boost the healing process, and once you are back on your feet, once you are operating at full capacity and your feeling a hundred percent, you to will ease off your medicines completely and continue down your path of health and happiness. Your brain is as important to take care of as your body. Don’t harm one to heal the other, care for them equally and they will thrive in unison.
No matter what stage you’re in in healing, self discovery, overcoming loss or insecurities, your path is your own. You decide which help, which route, medicine, class, doctor or exercise is right for you. I encourage you to make appointments, learn and educate yourself, even if the idea seems daunting or too difficult. With the proper information you can develop the best path for you, with the love and support of your spouse, friends, family, doctors, support staff and social workers, who will aid you along your journey of healing. Please, please remember to not let fear control you or your decisions any longer. Fear cannot forbid you from seeking help!
Next week I encourage you to learn, and to grow. I encourage you to ask questions, get answers and open up to those you trust. With every piece of wisdom shared, story told, advice given, and appointment made, I hope it bring you leaps closer to your finish line of happiness. I will be cheering you on every step of the way.