Stupid Sad Snowman

When I got married in 2003 I decided I would buy a “family” ornament each year at Christmas. Our first Christmas I bought a beautiful glass heart ornament engraved with the words “Our First Christmas Keenan and Bonnie 2003”. Unfortunately, the very next year, I spiraled into a depression. My poor newly married husband! I was struggling so deep in an identity crisis. Things I had buried and tried to ignore were surfacing and I thought that marrying the man of my dreams would fix it. It had nothing to do with Keenan. I had not entered into the brokenness of my spirit. I was drinking and eating to numb. Losing my mind and gaining weight. But Christmas was coming, so I went to Kohl’s and looked for an ornament to put on the tree.

The Christmas spirit was everywhere but in my heart. I scanned the selection, finally deciding on a simple snowman. I pulled it from the display tree, bought it, took it home and scribbled 2004 on the bottom of his rump in black sharpie. Box checked. It was a rough start to wedded bliss but eventually through prayer, counseling, medication and a committed husband I began to see the light again. Slowly I emerged from the darkness. I would buy many more personalized Christmas ornaments: Parents to Be, baby’s first Christmas, Our First Home, Family of 3, Baby’s First Christmas, Big Brother, Family of 4, Baby’s First Christmas, Family of 5 etc. Every year I enjoy pulling out each individual ornament and savoring the memory associated with it. But when I get to the little snowman ornament, it’s always the same reaction year after year- I grimace. Sadness. Anger. Pain. What an awful time. An awful memory.

Stupid snowman ornament. (As if he was to blame)

But somehow this year I missed him- probably because my kids like to “help” decorate the tree and the jog down memory lane quickly turns into a sprint. I didn’t see the little guy- or think about him until I started taking down the decorations after the New Year. I was carefully pulling special ornaments off the tree and gently placing them in a sectioned storage box to put in the basement until next year. And when I reached around to the back of the tree, I found him. Tucked away on an odd branch that one of my children must have chosen. I pulled him off and was shocked by my own reaction.

I smiled.

I held this hard piece of plastic- this reminder of a hard time, and I felt… JOY. Deep overwhelming joy. I realized that this tiny little snowman showed up for me in the darkest night with an ever so small light of hope. The hope that in total darkness you can still see a single light. In the middle of sadness and depression he brought me a moment of joy in the aisle of a department store. I was suddenly filled with gratitude. And then I heard my own voice say, “thank you.” It was like in an instant my perspective changed and I saw this sweet snowman in a different light. Not a reminder of pain but a promise of hope. He was a life line during a time that I was drowning. He gave me enough light to see through that year.  Enough light to hold on until the next Christmas when the light would be brighter. Just enough light to hold onto until I could fan the flame into something bigger and until the bright light of friends and family could join with mine. And for that stupid sweet snowman, I am thankful.

Darkness can never fully extinguish a single light.

It may be small, but as long as you’re breathing, it is there. Just hold on. Walk in the light you are given until the path is illuminated and you can walk into the brightness of the dawn. Full of hope and light to share with others who are struggling in the dark.

Coming off the meds

I’m coming off of my medication.

I almost typed I am trying to come off my medicine, but trying isn’t part of the plan. Here’s the thing. In my own research, it has been challenging to find success stories of people coming off depression/anxiety medication. This discovery reminds me of when I was researching positive natural child birth stories. They are out there, but you will find a lot more negative ones. (especially from eager lips- but I digress.)

Now don’t worry- I am under medical supervision by my doctor. I started taking the medicine about a year and a half ago (for the second time in my life) to combat some debilitating anxiety. I am grateful to live in an age of modern medicine, otherwise as I discussed with my husband/human Xanax, I would have to be “put away” for my malfunctioning brain.

At the time, I needed medicine and I am thankful I recognized it sooner than later, because this time around I had three small children who needed me sane.

I did question why my particular medicine treated both anxiety and depression because I wasn’t feeling depressed. I was told (basically) that long-term medicines usually treat both. While Xanax is a short-term somewhat immediate relief of anxiety, it isn’t a medication you want to use often. So, I started my medicine and it took forever to “kick in”. (It took 2ish weeks but it seemed like an eternity.)

What I wasn’t expecting, even though I had been down this road before, was that I would gain weight. Like, fifteen pounds of I-didn’t-ask-for-this weight. Well now this explains why I also need to simultaneously treated for depression because dang it- gaining weight bums me out.

It has been super frustrating because I have done all the physical things and I’m a bit vain. I have been a personal trainer/bodybuilder/crossfitter/ worker-outer ALL of my life AND I would like to look good naked dammit. But losing this extra weight has been near impossible. (P.S. My husband hasn’t been able to keep his hands off of me no matter what I weigh and THAT my friends, is healthy.) When I complained to a doctor (not my doctor) that I had gained weight from the medicine he tried to tell me that there was no correlation. BULL. I know my body.

BUT, the awakening through this journey has been a deeper compassion for women who are on a similar journey. It is dang hard balancing life and motherhood and career and mental health. And some of us, for a time, need some help. I mean, we all need help in the form of people being with us on the journey, but I’m talking about medical intervention. And when “we” do, that is the time to be the most loving and tender towards our fragile selves.

No, I’m not happy that I’ve put on some weight, but I’m proud of myself for taking care of me. I can honestly say that the weight has been worth the relief. The medicine helped me get my head above water so I could take a deep breath. So I could see things more clearly, learn more about what I deeply needed, and to take action steps towards getting better. (BTW-my actual doctor has been fantastic and supportive, even recommending natural supplements to help with the withdrawal symptoms that have hit me hard.)

I have learned SO MUCH about mental health and healing and I would not have if I didn’t go through this AGAIN. My life-coach says, “There are only a few lessons we learn in life, and we learn them over and over, deeper and deeper.” The first time I learned when to recognize the need for help without feeling shame. This time I learned to be gentle with my spirit when there is chaos in my mind that eventually manifests in my body. What a powerful lesson to learn more deeply.

So with a doctors help, a clear vision of what I want, the support of family and friends, and some incredible tools* that I have learned along the way, I am choosing this path of recovery. Armed and ready for my body to fight back, because it already is. (*Things that have helped me: Prayer, self-compassion, vulnerability, renewing my mind with Scripture, meditation, healthy food/drink choices, yoga, counseling, leaning into my incredibly strong husband and being open and honest with my children about my struggle.)

Ravi Zacharias (who is my favorite person on the planet) describes standing on the top of a mountain and looking below at a destination, “If the only path down the mountain winds around it, at times you may actually find yourself farther from the city, sometimes even losing sight of it, in order to get closer to the city.” He wasn’t talking about anxiety, but this is exactly how I feel on this journey. I am getting closer to my goal because I am sticking to the path no matter how much it curves and winds down the mountain.

On this path I’ve learned that so many women have suffered/are suffering from anxiety. My three closest friends have similar pain-in-the-ass anxiety that manifested in unique and frustrating ways. We share the meltdowns and then we lift each other up. My encouragement to you is that you are not alone. My advice to you is a hug. Love yourself down the mountain and let someone hold your hand on the journey.