Reclaim Yourself

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope November is going well for you all. So far this month has given me quite a few twists and turns, but I can’t deny even for a second that things are looking fantastic. Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and with it comes the knowledge that things are very different for me than they ever have been. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My life has gone through some pretty significant changes in the last year. Of course, a little over a year ago I lost my grandmother to complications from long term illness. Shortly after that my mother grew sick and was hospitalized many times around the holidays last year. My personal life also took some attacks, from self-doubt and a lack of self-care, to bigger issues. As life took its twist and turns it eventually dawned on me that I was having even more difficulty facing my situation because I wasn’t there. I had disconnected. I was 100% not myself, and it was causing me even more trouble.

In the last few months I made an effort to change that. I started, piece by piece and day by day, to take back my situation and bring myself back in. I saw where my problems were and I made efforts to fix them, until the solution was staring me right in the face. I had completely let go of who I was. The Damean Mathews I knew and loved for more than two decades had gone into hiding. I was someone else. And that was not a person I liked very much. One day in October I woke up and took matters into my own hand. I decided I was going to take an adventure to the 2nd highest mountain peak in my state, something the old me would love. To say it changed my life is something of an understatement.

I arrived on Whitetop Mountain shortly after 3 p.m., after a leisurely drive through the surrounding county and found myself automatically feeling better. I was alone, 5,500 feet up, looking out over three different states in the early Autumn day, and peace was bountiful. The incredible views of the Appalachian Mountains were breathtaking. The hazy blue visage of the Blue Ridge area rolling in the distance, racing forward until it lay in farmland below my vantage point, tumbling right up the slope in high grasses and bent trees until it ended at my feet was nothing short of miraculous.

I spent the rest of the day and part of that night on the mountain, going so far as to build a small campfire and stay until the moon was high in the sky. I talked to God, I looked out over the scenery, I wrote in a journal, I read a few pages of a book, but most importantly I allowed myself to just be free. I truly reconnected with the person I had lost, and it was the best decision I have ever made. I allowed myself to wake up from the slumber I had been in and renew my soul in the blessing God had provided. But I didn’t stop there, of course. After leaving, I made decisions for myself and my life that I hadn’t done in a long time. I refreshed my desire to write and to publish my work, I started reading even more and finding new adventures to go on, and I reconnected with someone from my past who has boosted my happiness to levels I hadn’t imagined.

In the midst of life changes, confusion, and a lack of self-care, I made a decision that opened doors for me I thought had been closed for a long time. And it started with something as simple as getting in my car and taking a ride – doing something for myself. Since that day my life has improved significantly, going above and beyond my wildest dreams. Happiness has flooded my every waking moment, and I am blessed beyond comparison. My point is simply this; sometimes you have to do something for yourself. It really is OK to think about you. Sometimes it’s more than just OK, sometimes it’s necessary.

Life can absolutely attack us with tough times, scary days, and downright exhausting situations. But that doesn’t have to destroy us. There is nothing in life so bad – or so good, for that matter – that you should be forced to let go of yourself for it. You know who you are, what you want, what you need to be yourself. I’m here to tell you that you absolutely can’t let that go. You should never compromise yourself and who you are for any situation, any other person, any goal. Each and every one of us is a unique person under God’s grace, and that is not something we should ever be willing to give up.

So often in life, the things we want and do take a bit of us with them. Sometimes it’s a little piece that can grow back, something we won’t even miss while it’s gone. But sometimes it’s bigger. Sometimes it’s your very essence, part of what makes you you. Those things are the hardest to get back. You don’t want to wake up one morning and look in the mirror, or inside yourself, and not recognize the person there. That’s terrifying. But even if that happens, it’s not too late.

If you feel yourself in that situation, whether you’re just starting to stray from your true self, or you’re so far from the person you were that you can’t even see them anymore, the way back is simple. Take a moment to examine who you are, and who you want to be. Think of something that person would want to do. Something that would make them happy, and give them the freedom to be themselves. That can be one thing, or it can be a list. Personally I have an ever-changing list of goals and dreams that I have started achieving. Regardless of how many things you can think of, tackle one. Put everything else aside and take charge. Whether you want to go sit on a mountainside alone, go on a road trip, or even just go get a coffee from your favorite cafe, go. Do it. What are you waiting for?

Don’t take another moment to hesitate. Don’t spend another second being someone else, not being true to who you are. You never know which second is going to be your last. I put away everything that was holding me back and went after something I wanted. I made decisions on that day in early October that have brought me to an amazing place in my life, put a smile back on my face, and brought me back from where I had lost myself. There will be, of course, much more discussion of these things in the future. The point of this entire post is that you have to put aside the worry, the fear, the doubt, and take a leap. You know what you want, what you need, and who you are. Don’t spend another second not being true to that. You are the only person who decides how you spend your life, and the last thing you want to do is wake up one day with regrets.

I hope everyone who celebrates has an amazing Thanksgiving. Eat hearty, be merry, and make sure you love deeply. Feel free to share with me any situations where you’ve reclaimed yourself and tackled the difficult situations you faced, and share this post with anyone who could benefit from it. I look forward to hearing from you all.

It Isn’t Just a Word.

Each year millions of Americans are plagued by symptoms and feelings related to depression. From feeling alone, angry, sad, hurt, and like you don’t belong, feelings of depression can come in many forms. Some people find themselves feeling lethargic and separated, others feel so affected by it that they have thoughts of suicide. Some, sadly, even attempt to commit suicide. Others, still, succeed. Some statistics say that as much as 15 percent of those affected by depression will attempt or commit suicide.

I have no shame in admitting that I am one of those who faces depressive thoughts and feelings. I have no shame in admitting it, but I can’t pretend I haven’t had some hesitation about writing this post. I’ve told you all before that I had bouts with depression in my past that were none too pleasant. In the time following my grandfather’s death, I was a very changed young man. Depression attacked me from quite a few angles, leading me down a path of upset and confusion. It was only when I put pen to paper and began to allow my creative abilities to flow that I found how to combat those feelings of depressive displacement. In short, as I’ve said before, writing saved my life. Never would I imagine something could hit me so hard that even writing would have trouble combating it.

That was before I lost my grandmother.

In August, after a long battle with a myriad of health issues, my grandmother went home to be with God. My grandmother was a woman of untold love, amusement and happiness. Throughout my life she was someone who was always there for me, working to make sure I was safe and happy no matter where I was. Losing her was nothing short of devastating for me. In the two months since her passing I have fought myself tooth and nail to avoid what I knew was sitting just below the surface. With each passing day I became more and more depressed. Anger, sadness, displacement, loneliness, uselessness were among the things boiling in my very soul.

I tried as hard as I could to fight it, but just ignoring the issues do not work. I found myself feeling that nothing was right. I wasn’t right. Work, home, reading, writing, driving, sitting, sleeping, waking. It was all wrong, and I was wrong for doing it. I couldn’t think about her, and I couldn’t not think about her. If I remembered her, I was certain it wasn’t good enough. If I tried not to think about her, I was disrespecting her memory. How could I work knowing she passed while I was at work one night? How could I not work, knowing her work ethic was so strong she worked well beyond the age she should have retired? The thoughts affected every part of my life.

The tricky part of this most recent bout of depression is that it wasn’t constant. It wasn’t an insistent, unavoidable pain. It came and went. One day I would be so low that I couldn’t possibly get any lower, and the next week would be fine. Some days were just as sunny as they could be, all my memories good and my heart soaring with possibility. But recently the good days have been few and far between. The depression grew and grew until it came to a head earlier in the week, forcing me to face the truth, even if I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

I’m depressed. I’m sad. I’m in a place unlike any I’ve found myself in before. And that is OK. That is something I can handle. My writing, which has brought me through more than even I understand, has been affected by this as well. Ordinarily, it has been something that brought me to new levels of life and helped me through anything, but it hasn’t been able to do that this time. Yes, it has brought me through some of it. I have found myself able to cling to my work, produce new ideas, and work on old ones, distracting me from the worst of the pain, but I left a very crucial part of the matter out. I didn’t face the problem.

Rather than allowing myself to feel the depression and the loss, I tried to shove it aside, thinking if I didn’t admit it to myself, then it couldn’t hurt me. Obviously, that isn’t the case. The pain and depression I’ve dealt with, the pain and depression that so many of us deal with every single day can not be ignored. I think that is the real secret here. So often in society, in our own minds, and in the view of the greater world, ignoring problems is one of the biggest false solutions presented to us. If we don’t admit that we’re depressed, if we don’t admit that we’re in pain, if we don’t admit that everything is not A OK, then it will go away, right? No.

I’m writing this post just as much for myself as for anyone else. Just by writing these words, by admitting that I have been depressed, I feel the hold of the sickness lessening. If there is nothing else I can stress in this post, nothing else that you will all take from this, I hope it is the message that you have to face the issue head on. You have to look your depression in the face and tell it that you absolutely will not stand by and let it take you. Admitting that there is a problem is the first step in conquering it. We’ve all heard that for any number of issues, and I finally understand how true it is.

Having an outlet is exceedingly important in the fight against pain and depression. Without it, even admitting the issue is there will not bring an end to the pain. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers here, but after dealing with this for so long and in so many forms, I think I’m beginning to understand more than I ever wanted to be necessary. I can’t speak for everyone who is, has been, or will be depressed. Of course I can’t. But what I can say is that, for me at least, admitting you are depressed is one of the most important steps you can take to combating the depression. Once you realize the problem is serious, and is not going away, you will have more than enough freedom to find a way to combat it.

At this point in time, after realizing that I wanted to write this post and actually going through with it, I feel more like myself than I have since my grandmother died. The inspiration to write is really coming back, and I think doing so will actually begin making a difference in helping me get myself and my brain back to normal.

Being depressed is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something that signifies weakness. And it is definitely not something that can be ignored. I understand that now. That’s the real difference between my life then and now. When my grandfather passed I was open with myself about the issue but, until now, I’ve told myself and others that I’m fine. I’m not. I see that. Depression is a very real issue, and it is something that must be accepted and honestly dealt with before it can be dispensed. I have been dealing with, or rather not dealing with, depression since August. But today, for the first time since I got the news about my grandmother, I honestly feel like things will be OK. I am depressed, but I can accept it now, and deal with it. I might be going through a rough time, but it is not the end of the world, and already the days ahead look a bit brighter.

Are any of you dealing with depression? Have you felt yourself slipping away, becoming someone else, becoming something you aren’t? I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. This isn’t all there is. If you’re depressed, there is more out there you can do. Reach out to someone who can help, someone who cares. Accept that you are having an issue. Find your outlet. That is the real step. Once you’ve accepted that you are depressed, you have to find what works to fight it. And then you stand strong against it. Get back to yourself. Be true to yourself. Depression is something we all face, but it does not have to be all we know. I’m always open to talk if someone needs a shoulder to lean on.

I want to thank everyone who encouraged me to write this post. It has been a real battle for me, and I have finally realized why. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want anyone to think I was weak. I finally realize that battling depression is one of the strongest things you can do. And I will never forget it again. Thank you all for the support, and please – please – do not let depression win. Find what works for you, and stand strong against the pain of depression. You can do it, and you’ll be stronger than ever if you do.

The Gift of Leap Day

It takes roughly 365.2421 days for the earth to make one full cycle around the sun. The traditional Gregorian calendar, based roughly on the Julian calendar, was originally made having only 365 days a year – every year. Those extra six hours might not seem like they are a very big deal, but after ten years of leaving six hours out of our calendar, we would be roughly 60 hours behind the earth’s true location in its path of orbit. So in the 1500’s we listened to the Egyptians and Leap Year was created, adding an extra day to the end of February once every four years so we could more accurately monitor our trip through space. What does this mean for us? Extra time.

For many writers and artists, our craft, our passion is something we do on the side, spending our typical work day in a 9-5 average job in order to pay our bills. By spending our lives in this fashion it is very easy for us to get bogged down in our jobs and in the every day activities therein and allow our passions to fall to the wayside. This is a terrible thing, we know, but what can we do? After all, there are only 24 hours in a day and we’re only one person. If only we had more time…. Well here you go, people!

Once every four years there is 24 extra hours added to the calendar year that  (assuming we can take one day off of the standard 9-5) can be used purely for our craft. I’m aware that doesn’t seem like a lot, but believe me, it can make a huge difference. Let’s assume that in one hour you can write about 2,000 words – and yes, that number definitely varies, but this is just for example’s sake – and on this particular day you can set aside ten hours to write. That gives you somewhere in the ball park of 20,000 words that you didn’t have before. That’s almost the size of a novella. That’s a very sizable short story. Basically, that is one heck of an accomplishment.

Too often we use the excuse of time to prevent us from doing things that make us happy, that might make us successful, that might literally make our very dreams come true. Why? I think Jack Kerouac may have said it best with a quote that, although altered in many different ways says, basically; “Climb that damn mountain. Because in the end nobody is going to remember the time spent mowing the lawn or working in an office.”

If that isn’t a powerful thought, I really don’t know what is. We allow ourselves to do the day in and day out monotonous crap while we’re younger because we want to pretend that we have forever to do something else. We put off so much because we say that we just don’t have the time, don’t have the money or just aren’t ready. So many excuses keep us from achieving our dreams that it’s almost shameful to admit it. The bottom line is that we’re only here for a little while and if we keeping putting everything off until that fabled and ever busier “tomorrow” we may wake up one day and realize that “tomorrow” is never going to come. So make the most of TODAY, after all it only comes once every four years. Even if you put everything off for another four years and decide to make Leap Day your “whatever the hell I want” day, that’s a start, right? So drop it all. Pick up the pen, the paint brush, the clay, put on the boots and the jacket, get on the surfboard – do whatever it is that you feel is going to make you happier and improve your life in even the smallest way. Be it eating a new type of food or discovering a new type of plant because you decided to take a hike in a new part of the forest, you deserve it.

Life is short, people. We need to remember that. If we have a passion, a desire, a talent, we need to embrace it. We deserve to embrace it. Take the time out of life to make yourself happy, no matter how small the task is that will provide that happiness. Even if you decide to literally only take one day every four years to dedicate to yourself, it’s a start. And if you dropped the ball this year, you’ve got four more years to make the plans. Leap Day of 2020 is on a Saturday, so there’s even more reason to make it awesome. Plan out that book and start writing, buy paints and canvas, buy new hiking gear and request a day off of work. Whatever it takes to accomplish the goal, whatever it is. Just stop making excuses and climb that damn mountain before you wake up one day and realize it’s too late.