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 Sublime Nature of Grief

Since the loss of my grandmother my life has been full of a lot of conflicting emotions. I’ve dealt with the loss as best I can, trying hard to honor her memory and move forward. One thing that is always painfully obvious when we lose someone close to us is that everyone deals with loss in their own way. What works for one person may not work for another, and one loss may not affect us the same as another. No matter how you handle the situation, sooner or later you will come to a time when you have to not only face the loss, but yourself.

This week I took some time on a particularly hard day and tried to do that. In an attempt to connect with myself, God, nature, and my grandmother I went to a local dam and nature area for some peace and quiet. If you’re unfamiliar with the summer season in the Appalachian mountains, we often have very hot days in the month of August. A number of summer afternoons often see some good thunderstorms or at least a nice passing shower or two. This, of course, can lead to amazingly beautiful foggy conditions. So much so that there is an old wives’ tale my grandmother used to remind me of often; if you count the foggy mornings in August that’s the amount of big snow events you’ll have that winter.

One of my favorite things in life is to find myself in the midst of a heavy fog, pondering the sublime mystery of the shrouded world around me. Is anyone else in the fog? Am I completely and utterly alone? What do the shadowy figures in the thick cloud represent? The feeling of floating in a cloud, the world around me oblivious of my own ideas and presence is marvelous. One of the best moments of my life has been in conditions like this. To say it has a special place in my heart and soul is a definite understatement.

When I arrived at my destination that evening, I had no idea the fantastic occurrence that awaited me. As soon as I rounded a curve in the road and my eyes fell on the river I was greeted with an amazingly thick, ghostly fog floating about a foot above the water. It snaked across the surface of the river like a living, breathing cloud. It rolled and swirled with the breeze, twisting like the spirit of the river itself. After a quick visit to top of the dam, I returned to the riverside and crossed a bridge to an island in the river, an island surrounded by fog.

I found a bench in the midst of this beauty and sat by the riverside, letting the sublime consume me. I communed with nature, God, my grandmother, and myself. I spent probably just under an hour there by the riverside, fog rising and rolling around me, taking photos and trying to find relief from my own strained internal presence. By the time I was ready to leave the fog had risen higher and was rolling over the top of the bridge that was my pathway.

Crossing this bridge, I was able to stand in the middle of the fog and feel the cool moisture settle on my skin. I breathed in the earthy mist and watched the world around me become veiled and reemerge anew over and over as the cloud rolled by. A sense of peace settled on me as this happened, bringing me some relief and allowing me to just enjoy the cool evening. It was a superb experience, and one that I won’t soon forget.

Before the loss of my grandmother, it had been years since I lost someone close to me. I haven’t dealt with loss in a way that other people do, depression and stress affecting me in a serious way. Because of this I feel like being able to express those issues and have experiences like I had this week are very important. If it has taught me anything it is that we all must find what works for us. Avoiding the mourning process and not allowing ourselves to grieve the way we need to is not helpful. It isn’t healthy. One thing that we have to admit and be aware of is that we may sometimes need more time than others to get over a loss. We may need time alone, or time with others, or even a mix. Whatever it is that you need in order to cope, you have to figure it out.

Embrace yourself, the world around you, and whatever helps make you more you. The things that bring you back to feeling like yourself are the things you need to cope with the loss. Don’t allow anyone, especially yourself, keep you from that healing magic. It can truly be life-changing. Honestly, it can be the difference between your own life and death.

Reach out to someone. Never be ashamed of your feelings, your hardships, your needs. Find the relief you need and make sure you are getting enough of whatever it is to help you return to the you you want to be. Accept yourself, accept your loss, but don’t let the grief and mourning consume you. Life can go on, if you find out how to let it. Happiness can return. Even if it’s just one step at a time.

Although I will never truly be over the loss of my grandmother, I now have an idea of what I can do to help me cope when things get tough. I will do what I can to make sure I am allowing myself the proper time and space to be able to let myself, and my grandmother’s memory, continue on.

If you are mourning, grieving, or otherwise in any emotional need, reach out to someone. I’d be more than happy to listen to anything you need. Find your method and make sure you’re returning your soul to its necessary health.

Goodbyes and the Road Ahead

This week has been one of the hardest of my entire life. Monday night/early Tuesday morning I got word that my grandmother had gone on to her Heavenly reward after a long struggle with her health. Phyllis C. Mathews was a woman like no other. I can’t think of anyone who has ever been so amazing and lovely.

She lived a life many would call laid back, quaint, and old-fashioned, spending a good portion of her life raising my mom and uncles while my grandfather worked as a farmhand. As her children grew up, Mamaw decided she was going to get a job and became a CNA. With her loving and giving nature, she worked in a nursing home for about 25 years, using her great personality and nurturing abilities to help countless people.

Throughout my life, my grandmother was always someone I knew I could count on, no matter what was happening in my life. If at all possible she would drop everything she was doing to help me, or anyone else, any way she could. She absolutely loved life, she loved her family, and she loved living in the Appalachian Mountains.

One of the hardest parts of the whole thing for me is knowing how different things are going to be now. My grandmother has always been a huge part of my life. From family vacations, to weekly visits when I was a kid, to holidays – we even lived with her for a while – my grandmother was a part of most of the significant parts of my life. I have so many memories of her that I can call on that it’s almost hard to find many where she wasn’t present, or at least thought about.

My grandmother was, in many ways, my rock. She supported me in all my endeavors, and was especially proud of my writing. She would share it with everyone she could and often asked me how it was going. Her encouragement got me through more than a few rough patches, and I owe my progress, in part at least, to the encouragement and love she gave me. She was laid to rest beside of my grandfather, the pair of them overlooking an area of the mountains where they used to live. Over the last few days, I know she has been looking down on us all, trying to comfort us any way she can. After myself and five other family members carried her to her final resting place, she even made sure to send us one more bit of comfort. A solid black cat wandered through the crowd that gathered by her grave and stayed with us through the service. Without a doubt, this was meant to make sure we all knew she would be with us in the future to comfort and support us any way she could. That is a thought that comforts me greatly.

As I move into the post-funeral portion of my life, I have to admit that I am not at all sure how to handle things knowing Mamaw isn’t going to just be on the other side of the phone line when I call. Looking ahead, I honestly can’t imagine the holidays without her. Every year for the last 27 years I have been able to celebrate with her. As many of you know, the time of year between October and January is my absolute favorite. My grandmother shared that love as well. We shared many of the same interests, and we both especially loved celebrating Christmas. As I look ahead to the upcoming season, I just don’t know how things will work this year. I can only hope our family will be able to continue working together in love and remember fondly the matriarch that we lost this week.

Beyond anything else I could even try to say here, I just want to express that my life will not be the same without my grandmother. I know she is happy and pain-free alongside my grandfather in Heaven now, and the fact that she isn’t suffering anymore is of great comfort to me. I will always remember the great times we had, and I will strive to keep the loving and caring nature of my grandmother alive. I hope to be an inspiration to others like she has been. I hope to be able to improve the lives of those around me in the way that she did. Above all, I hope that I make her, my grandfather, my mother – and especially God – proud of the man their influence has molded me into.

As I trudge forward through life, I will be sure to keep the memories of those I have lost alive. I will strive to succeed in all I do, and continue to reach for the stars. Mamaw, I love you, and I miss you. I will never forget you. Enjoy your Heavenly reward, and be sure to tell Papaw we all miss and love him, too. We’ll see you again one day.

The image attached to this post is one of the images of my grandmother I’ve always loved. Taken at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in 2012, it depicts just a hint of the fun-loving nature of the woman I knew. This was taken before her health began to decline much, as well, which makes the memory even better.

God bless you all, and thank you for reading this. Be sure to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you, and keep your eyes open. Don’t let life pass you by. Enjoy every minute of it.