My super-secret Kansas City adventure: Day One

Just shy of three weeks ago, I made a big decision. It was on the heels of my “Oh, crap. Now what?” post, in which I talked a lot about the fact that I haven’t been great about trusting myself.

I decided I needed proof – evidence that I was going to be just fine. That I really could do anything I wanted. So I decided to remove myself from my comfort zone and learn that I really could stand on my own two feet. Make decisions. Make memories. And finally trust that I am the strong woman I believe myself to be. And removing myself from my comfort zone meant removing myself from my city.

So last Thursday, I embarked on a super-secret road trip. Gone were the days of running a decision by half of my family and my 18 closest friends. I told only one person where I was headed, and only because I believed it was necessary in order for the trip to be a safe, smart decision. But just like that, I was off – headed for a 4-day, learning-to-trust-myself trip to Kansas City.

Why KC? I lived there as a young girl. It’s where I fell in love with sports. And music. And I hadn’t been back since 1989, despite my many conversations about wishing to return to Royals Stadium. After all these years, It was time to go back. And I was off. In fact, I have always dreamed of moving back to the state once again. I saw a few homes in Prairie View at Creekside Woods website that simply took my breath away.

Bon Jovi and Taylor Swift kept me company on the 5-hour drive, though the hours didn’t seem to take as long as they should have. Sure, I’ve done things by myself before. Gone to movies. Even sporting events. But traveled alone? To a mostly unfamiliar city? This was totally new territory.

But from the moment I saw the skyline, I knew something was right. I totally HAD this. All of the things I’d been worrying about for months suddenly seemed so, so small. I was in KANSAS CITY. I mean, if could drive to Kansas City and have this adventure, have this amazing time, without anyone else, is there anything I couldn’t do?? I mean, really?

My first stop was the College Basketball Experience – home of the College Basketball Hall of Fame, along with several unique exhibits on the history of the game. But the best part? The full-size, NCAA-official court, just waiting for me and a basketball.

My eyes lit up when I saw that court. Short of high school PE, I’ve never shot hoops anywhere but my own driveway. And I got to shoot on THIS court. THIS COURT! Regulation, tournament-style awesome. I love winning the game in my head when I play in the driveway, but it wasn’t so hard to imagine that it was real now. Oh, and by the way, those lines on the court are MUCH farther from the basket than they look on television – ALL of them. Free throw line? Miles away. Three pointers? Forget about it.

In the museum’s interactive challenges, I finally had the chance to make that buzzer beating shot, while a recorded announcer questioned whether or not I could. But when I finally sunk it, the crowd cheered, and it was pretty freaking amazing. 60-second free throw challenge? I got 4. Not very many, but not so bad for a girl who’s been shooting for only a few weeks.

After a couple hours of basketball, it was time to face the music – literally. Who knew the Grammy Awards had a museum in the same building as the CBE? Not me, but when I discovered it while leaving, I knew I had to go inside. I played an electric piano, tried my hand at heavy metal “screamo” music, and checked out the Beastie Boys’ classic video “Fight for Your Right to Party.” I remixed a classic Whitney Houston track. I saw Michael Jackson’s Thriller jacket, as well as costumes worn on the Grammy stage by Cee-Lo Green, Justin Bieber, and Rihanna. Plus – Ray Charles’ grammy. The actual award. Seriously.

And yes, there was a light up dance floor where you could shake your groove to Michael Jackson. And if you’re wondering whether or not I hit the floor by myself, even though people were watching, and let it all out, well, yes. Of course I did.

Dinner time. I had no real plan or schedule for my evening meal, but ended up finding my way to the Crayola Café at Crayola Kansas City.

This exists. EVERYONE gets placemats to color and crayons. It’s pretty much the happiest restaurant ever. I’d actually never eaten by myself at a “real” restaurant. I was struck by the silence that’s usually filled with conversation when waiting for your meal. Luckily, I had my placemat and crayons as a distraction.

Crayola2After eating, I explored the rest of Crayola Kansas City,
including the store and their fun exhibits. And then I saw them – right there by the door. As a kid, I’d always wanted one of those giant crayon piggy banks. But I mean, does anyone really ever buy those? Um, yes. As it turns out, they do. (I’m still figuring out where to put it in my house.)

I drove to the hotel. When I crossed the state line into
Kansas, I burst into tears. It was like I was finally home. I didn’t know Kansas was home – I’ve never really been able to claim anywhere as my hometown because we moved so much growing up. But suddenly, all was right with the world again. Everything was as it should be. It got me thinking about moving back to Kansas, I could go on BROOKFIELDRESIDENTIALKC.COM and check out their properties… I’m very tempted.

As I drifted off to sleep, I realized something. In general, I spend a lot of time talking about “the girl I used to be.” But what if, underneath it all, underneath the past mistakes and the old pain – what if that little girl was still inside? The one who loves her Kansas City sports teams, wants a Crayola bank, and still thinks it’s awesome to dance to Michael Jackson? What if I’m not so far from the old me after all? What if little Ally has just been waiting for her cue? Waiting for
her time to know it was really okay to shine?

What if, indeed. It was something to think about, and something that would continue to be on my mind – and heart – for the next four days as I explored the city I once called home.

And that, my friends, was just the first day.

On the blog tomorrow: Day 2, including my trip to see the Royals play ball for the first time since I was a kid, an encounter with animated characters that pretty much rocked my socks, and learning to roll with the punches when things don’t go as planned.

The power of a thought.

It started about six years ago. It was a very typical morning. I was getting ready for work. I’d woken up late, as usual. Why can’t I do anything right? I looked in the mirror to evaluate my appearance. My skin is gross. I hate these bags under my eyes. I’m so ugly. I couldn’t find my keys. Why am I so disorganized? I finally made it into the car and headed to work. And then I realized that in the hour I’d been awake, I’d basically done nothing but criticize myself all morning. And it’s any wonder that I ended up having a bad day.

I’m not sure when this started for me, but I know that for a lot of people – especially women – it’s not uncommon. We’re taught to believe we aren’t good enough, or beautiful enough, or perfect enough. And we take these lessons to heart, tearing ourselves down at every opportunity.

I remember thinking that I’d been raised to treat others like I’d want to be treated myself. And yet, I was treating myself far WORSE than I’d EVER treat another person. I’d never walk up to a friend – or even a stranger – and say “Wow. You look pretty disgusting today. And I bet you’re
never going to meet that deadline at work, since you’re so disorganized and stupid.” But I was saying it to myself almost every single day.

I decided that something had to change. A few years earlier, I’d heard about the concept of affirmations – repeating positive statements to yourself in order to make them true for yourself. To be honest, I thought the whole concept was a load of bunk. But I was done with beating myself up, so I decided to give it a go.

I ended up purchasing the audiobook 101 Power Thoughts by Louise Hay. I decided to play it in my car on my commute to and from work, every day. So for 30 minutes every morning and evening, I heard that I was beautiful. Powerful. Wise. Capable of making excellent choices. That I was bringing positive energy and people into my life. That I had everything I needed, and that I was safe.

The results were almost instantaneous. Within days, I felt more alive than I’d felt in years. Within a week, my husband asked what had changed – that I seemed so much happier and less stressed. After two weeks, my boss commented that I seemed to have an extra bounce in my step and commended the extra effort I’d been putting in at work.

ALL of these changes in my life came back to one thing. I’d decided to change the messages I was telling myself. I listened to that CD every day for 3 months, until thinking positively became a habit. When I found myself thinking “you’re so weak,” I’d immediately say instead “you are so strong.” “You’re so ugly” became “Woman, you’re beautiful!”

Did I always believe myself back then? Of course not. Did it feel silly telling myself how fabulous I was? Absolutely. But it worked. It made a difference.

And it still does. These days, six years later, talking positively to myself has become something of a routine. Yes, I still have days when it’s hard to feel good about who I am. I am still learning to trust myself, and I am a work in progress. But I also know it’s important to remind myself of what I have learned to be true: I am strong. I am uniquely me. I am beautiful. I am brave.

And so are you.

While I don’t need to listen to my power thoughts CD every day any longer, I love to surround myself with positive statements. Whether it’s word art on my walls or a handwritten note stuffed in my purse, keeping reminders of what is real and true about myself helps bring light into dark days. It pulls me up and out of bed and into the world.

One of my very favorite things to do is create art. I started as a scrapbooker, and now consider myself a scrapbooker/mixed-media artist/painter/poet. Translation? I enjoy seeing the perfectly imperfect results when I get out the paint, paper, glue, and whatever other craft supplies strike me at the moment. (And I remember to keep the judgment on the shelf.) Last night, I sat down in my craft room and created these bookmarks as a way to share just a few of the statements that have helped me stay strong.

Do yourself a favor. Go have a peek in the mirror and take a second to let yourself know how truly fabulous you really are.

Little victories

I didn’t write much last week. In fact, I didn’t do quite a bit last week. There was bombing in Boston. Then shooting. Then flooding here in Iowa, and more flooding in Chicago – which significantly hit members of my family and a few close friends. Then explosions in Texas.

There’s a reason I don’t often watch the news. The negativity, the heartbreak, the sadness. It weighs on me so heavily that it makes it harder for me to move forward and harder to see the light. So usually, I just turn it off. But last week, our nation’s heart was heavy, and it was hard to avoid.

PlayingthegameBut lately, there’s one thing that seems to make a difference. When the going gets tough, I do what anyone would do – I play basketball.

I play because I need a win. Even just for me. A chance to say “Yes. I did that.” For about an hour a day, playing basketball
lets me turn off all the noise in my head. There is just me. One ball. One hoop. One goal.

And since I play solo – nothing is standing in my way.

In the midst of grief, of loss, of trauma, victories are important.
Whether it’s giving yourself a high five just for leaving the house, celebrating a met deadline, or simply being stoked for that fabulous hair day, give yourself credit. You’re moving forward. You’re trying. You’re overcoming. You’re taking the shot. A lot of people need to understand that these little victories are so important, they really do keep you going. Finding a way to cope is vital. For me, it’s basketball. That’s why one of my friends suggested getting a few friends together and organizing some sort of motivational speaker night to keep us motivated. She said she’d previously used Sports Speakers 360 before and they were able to book Magic Johnson for a motivational speech. Perhaps that’s just what some of us need. An inspiring talk from an NBA legend. Maybe I’ll see if anyone else would be interested!

When 2013 began, I declared it would be my best year ever. Because in the aftermath of 2012, didn’t I deserve something better? You bet I do. But four months in, things have not really gone according to plan. I have had some great highs, but there have been some incredible lows, including the loss of a cousin to cancer.

I’m learning that my best year does not mean my easiest year. I must keep showing up. Keep trying. Keep going for it, and trust that the payoff will be worth the work I put in.

When I’m playing basketball, there is nothing quite like that moment when my shot hits perfectly – nothing but net. All of a sudden, I’m in the NCAA tournament and it’s going to be me in the “One Shining Moment” video montage, winning the game with the buzzer-beater. (I’m not sure they even do that montage for women’s basketball, but that’s not really the point, is it?)

In life, I know that I just have to keep showing up and putting myself out there. These days, that often means going it alone. Sometimes the stakes are high. Whether it’s leaving a job, traveling out of my comfort zone, or simply acknowledging my true feelings, I know that I have to learn to trust myself. So I go for those little victories. The completed to-do list. The published article. The day where, when I felt like I couldn’t, I found a way to get out the door. And yes, I go for those perfect, nothing-but-net shots with a basketball in my driveway – always believing the game is on the line.

And though it may not feel like these little victories matter, when you can pile up enough of them, all of a sudden, there’s a whole pile of proof that you’re just going to be okay after all.

Living on a prayer.

In the words of August Rush, “I believe in music the way that some people believe in fairy tales.”

For years, I lived with a guitar and a pen in my hand, writing a song to handle every emotion that came my way. As a high school student, I was assigned an essay about “home” – I wrote about an empty stage. And to this day, when I purchase a new album, I listen to it slowly, deliberately, paying attention lyrics and songwriters and instrumentalists.

Nothing heals me like music. And if a song on the radio can help when my heart is bruised, it’s live music that helps when I’m torn apart.

Sunday night, I headed to Des Moines with my friend Michelle to see Bon Jovi in concert. I expected an amazing show from a history-making band. Bon Jovi delivered.

What I didn’t expect – though I should have known better – was to be so wrapped up in the music that everything else seemed to disappear for a while. There’s just something about singing along to hits like “Bad Medicine” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” with thousands of other fans that can turn a bad day around pretty darn quickly.

What struck me most, however, were the songs from Bon Jovi’s new album What About Now – none of which I’d heard prior to the concert.

I have giant, big dreams. Dreams of writing. Dreams of making a difference. This brand new blog is really only a tiny spark in that plan. So when I heard the song “Because We Can,” in which Jon sings “I don’t want to be another wave in the ocean / I am a rock, not just another grain of
sand / I ain’t solider but I’m here to take a stand / Because we can,” it was fist-pumping time. YES. That. Exactly what I needed to hear. Because it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say.

There’s little I love more than that moment when you hear a song for the first time and it just explains everything you’re feeling. It’s like suddenly, you’re not so alone after all.

And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, there was this song:

“Army of One.” Welcome to my life. Every day, I wake up fighting. Sometimes at the end of the day, I’ve been victorious, and other days, the battle takes its toll. And while there have been so many people in my corner (more than I realized), when push comes to shove, this journey of grief and healing is mine alone to take.

“I’ve got a voice / That’s all I need / A beating heart / Inside of me / I’m an army of one / I’m a soldier”
“Never give up / Never let up / Ever / Never give in”
“I know that life’s a battlefield / When times get tough / I’m a soldier”

Songs like this drive me forward. Prove that there’s a reason to try today. Get me back on track when my 3 rules didn’t give me the push I needed. Because I am, indeed, an army of one. And I will never, ever stop fighting. I titled my blog “Determined to Shine” because I believe it’s determination that makes the difference. It will always, always, always be easier to stay down. But I will never stop getting back up.

And this is why I love music – especially live music. Because long after the show is over and all I have left are some blurry photos of the stage and an overpriced t-shirt, it is the memory of being wrapped up in a melody, lost in a lyric, that stays with me long after the final note is played.

The show ended, naturally, with “Living on a Prayer.” A song I’d heard hundreds of times. But on this Sunday night, when my heart had been so tired for so long, the song had new meaning.

“We’re halfway there / Living on a prayer / Take my hand / We’ll make it I swear”

I’ve come so, so far from that awful day last summer. But I still have so far to go. Dreams to chase and phrases to turn. Halfway there, indeed. Here’s to the journey. And somehow, yes, I know I’ll make it. Because every day of my life, I am living on a prayer.

Press pause.

I had a fun post planned for you today. But as I was finishing up the edits this afternoon, I heard the news from Boston.

Explosions. 2 fatalities. Many injured. Blood on the sidewalk.

And at least at the moment, no one knows how. Or why.

So stop for a moment. And if you’re the praying sort of person, take a second to lift up the husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers who are hurt.  Those who are the family and friends of the ones no longer with us. Those who are still trying to find out if their loved ones are okay.

At the end of the day, very few things really matter. Love. Kindness. Joy. Hope. Life can change in one horrible blink of an eye. Let’s not miss the time we have.

So please quit worrying about whatever it was that was on your to-do list. Hug your spouse. Call your mom. Tell that special someone how you really feel. No more waiting. No more excuses.

And even if just for a moment, please take the time to hold those people in Boston in your heart today. Trust me – they’re going to need it.

Love big, people. Love big.

Making the list.

It was a bad day in the middle of February. It was freezing outside and snow was everywhere. I was tired. I was grieving. All I could focus on was what a mess my world had become. I was not feeling very hopeful about my Brave New Life – in fact, I was just plain missing my Boring Old Life. I remember saying out loud that I just hated every single thing about my life and that I couldn’t think of one single good thing that had happened since I’d lost my husband. And almost as quickly as the words were out of my mouth, I realized what a huge, horrible lie that was.

Because there had been good things. And actually, plenty of them. When stuck in depressed-grief land, it’s sure hard to see them, but they’re there. As I’d already learned, life was going on – with or without me as a willing participant. And life, by nature, can bring thousands of wonderful moments, if only we stop to notice them.

So I decided to notice. And write them down. I was going to make a list of 100 of my favorite moments, people, and things that had come into my life since that day last June. And as I started paying attention, and began writing them down, I began to see the evidence I needed.

Now, I’m one of those people that believes in the gratitude journal. At the end of each day, I write down 3 of my happiest moments from the day. And that practice has helped me maintain a positive attitude for the past several years. But this list was different. It wasn’t just about day-to-day gratitude.

The list was about recognizing that since the day of his death, from the very first traumatic moment, there have been good things. I just had to be willing to see them.

So I started writing. Started listing. What’s on my list so far? Big things, small things, silly things. Things like this:

2. I rekindled a friendship with a college friend. We now talk all the time, and it’s meant a lot to me to have him in my life again.

13. I hung tacky ceramic vintage owls on my office wall. The husband never would have approved.

21. I bowled over 100.

29. I saw Rudy, my favorite movie of all time, on the big screen for the first time, thanks to Theatre Cedar Rapids’ vintage movie nights.

30. I went to Shrek: the Musical. And bought Shrek ears. Because really, who doesn’t need Shrek ears?

33. I got 5 high scores in a row while playing Just Dance 2.

37. Gracie (my Beagle) still knows when I need puppy kisses and cuddles.

45. I wore an ugly Christmas sweater.

49. I did the Cupid Shuffle while waiting to use a port-a-potty at an Iowa Football tailgate.

51. The best friend still listened to my heartache today. I’ve realized she isn’t going anywhere.


55. I bet this guy $5 that he wouldn’t eat a dead cricket. And lost.

60. I sang really badly at karaoke night – and had more fun on stage than I could have possibly imagined.

61. After my previously scheduled plans went awry, I did what any normal girl would do – I decided to go play Skee Ball.

And the list keeps going. I try to add to it every week, and while I haven’t quite hit 100 things yet, I don’t plan to stop there.

I love the idea that maybe five years from now, even ten years from now, I’m still adding to this one list. I can imagine opening it up and adding item number 2,714. I have no idea what my future holds for me. Right now, it’s hard to predict beyond the next two months, let alone the next two years.

But what I do know is that if I keep adding to this list, the goodness in my life can only grow. And knowing that all of that good started after my very worst day is the most important piece of all. Because nothing can ever change what happened that day. But it’s my hope that years from now, I can look back at it, at all of this, and know that it was that day that gave me strength. Courage. Eventually, even hope. And that while that day was most certainly horrific, my life is most certainly not. And my list is all the proof I need.

Oh, crap. Now what?

Most of you are probably familiar with the five stages of grief. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. In the 9 months since losing my husband, I’ll admit to experiencing all of these multiple times before eventually landing in the world of acceptance and healing. But I’ve noticed something. With no offense to Ms. Kübler-Ross, I think a 6th stage was inadvertently
left off the list. So meet grief, stage 6: Fear. Also known as “Oh, crap. Now what?”

Immediately after my husband’s death, there was just so much to do that there simply wasn’t time to mess around with fear. Arrangements had to be made. Services to be planned. Then things like deactivating cell phones and converting joint bank accounts. And in the months that followed, I spent a lot of time bouncing around between Anger, Bargaining, and Depression. I
followed my 3 rules and I did my best to get through each day. And eventually, I realized that
while I still had hard days, I’d come to terms with his suicide, and I was moving forward with life. Unlike the other stages of grief, stage 5 snuck up on me. I just realized I wasn’t angry anymore. Welcome, Ally, to the world of Acceptance.

Except it seemed it wasn’t meant to last. Almost immediately, this newly discovered stage 6 was upon me. Welcome, Ally, to the world of “Oh, crap. Now what?”

Now, those who know me well know that I can struggle with making decisions. I second guess myself a lot and I like to have a second opinion. On pretty much everything.  As a married person, this wasn’t often a problem. My husband got pretty used to weighing in with his opinion regarding whether or not I should go to that movie. Take that class. Have green beans instead of corn with dinner. Buy that color toothbrush. Or those post-it notes. (Seriously, everything.)

After his death, I found myself fully independent for the first time in my life. I started dating my husband when I was 21 – still in college and pretty much reporting to my parents (though I’d have told you otherwise if you’d asked at the time.) I realized I could do anything. And so many things entered my mind. All of a sudden, I could do whatever I wanted:

  • Watch 10 episodes of Gilmore Girls in a row without annoying anyone!
  • Leave the dishes in the sink overnight!
  • Buy that Dooney & Bourke purse I’ve wanted for two years! (Best. Decision. Ever.)
  • Move to Australia! (The best friend nixed that one pretty quickly.)
  • Take a cruise! (Did that. The best friend came along!)

And while this freedom took some getting used to, eventually it became pretty overwhelming. And I began to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to run every single decision by the best friend, my mother, my sister, or anyone else who was going to listen. I was really going to have to do some of this all by myself. Seriously? Oh, crap. Now what?

“Oh, crap. Now what?” started to appear pretty quickly. Sometimes, it was just a matter of learning to trust myself on the little things.

“I don’t know what to have for dinner! Oh, crap. Now what?” Chill, Ally, you like pasta. Make some
pasta. It’ll be ok.

Other times, it was about learning how to handle the things in life that my husband used to manage.

“My grass is getting super long and I don’t know how to use the lawnmower! Oh, crap. Now what??” Dude, at least 10 people have offered to help you with yard work. Call one of
them and ask him to teach you.
Check. (And thanks, again, Todd!)

“My grass is long AGAIN and I KNOW how to use the lawnmower, but I can’t get it to start! I’m not able to pull the cord hard enough! Oh, crap. Now what? Oh, crap. Now what? (Frustration builds.) OH, CRAP. NOW WHAT?” I cried. I went inside. I tried again later. I found a man outside down the street to help. I mowed the lawn. I chose to invest in an electric-start lawnmower.

Over and over again, the life of a widow is filled with “Oh, crap. Now what?” I could decide to have steak for dinner, but I didn’t know how to use the grill (Oh, crap. Now what?!) I’d decide to hang a new picture, but I didn’t know where he left the level. (Oh, crap. Now what?!) I’d lose my cell phone and remember that there was now no other phone in the house from which to call it. (Oh, crap. Now what?!)

Eventually, I found my way through these small things – all of which, at the time, felt like very
big things.
You see, I was with my husband for 10 years. 3 years of dating. A year-long engagement. And just shy of 6 six years of marriage. Those 10 years made up the bulk of my adult life, and navigating it without that second opinion took some getting used to.

These days, I don’t tend to freak out over the little things anymore. But even now, I still live life with a case of “Oh, crap. Now what?” almost every day. Because life is constantly moving forward, and it’s taking me along for the ride.

“I want to go see Iowa play in the National Invitation Tournament, but I can’t find a friend to go with me! Oh, crap. Now what?” That one was easy. I went by myself. Turns out, I’m pretty good company.

“Okay, the tree shedding 1,000 branches into the front yard every time there’s a tiny bit of wind is getting old. Fast. He always liked yard work, but I CAN’T STAND THIS. Oh, crap. Now what?!” Suck it up. Or have the tree taken out. Either way, time to quit complaining.

“It’s been 9 months and I STILL don’t know where he left the extra key to the car. Oh, crap. Now what?” Time to call it a loss. Go get another one.

“I got asked on a date! OH, CRAP. NOW WHAT?!?!” Breathe. And call the best friend. I know you’re trying to be empowered and figure all this stuff out on your own. But seriously, she’s there for a reason.

So I’ll keep moving forward, and while I’m certain I’ll continue to freak out along the way, I maintain that it’s better to face the fear than to lie down and take it. And if my best days are truly ahead of me, I’ll be facing down a case of “Oh, crap. Now what?” for quite some time. And maybe, just maybe, that’s a good thing. It means I’m growing. Moving outside my comfort zone. Finding my way into this Brave New Authentic Life. Getting out of bed. Living.

“I launched a blog. And I’m telling everyone my secrets. I even admitted that I went on a date! Oh, crap. Now what?” Calm down, woman. You totally got this.

My inbox runneth over.

And over. And over.

Today is Day 5 in the life of this little blog, and I couldn’t be more overwhelmed by the response. Approaching 1,500 page views already, with many positive comments here, and tons over on Facebook. But what’s really blowing my mind is the state of my inbox. Dozens and dozens of messages – most of which I have yet to reply to – and over and over again, the message is the same.

“Me, too.”
“I’ve battled depression for the last 7 years.”
“I lost someone to suicide, too.”
“You never knew this about me, but I’ve been depressed my entire life.”
“Thank you for saying what I’ve never been able to say.”

These messages have me thinking. Why do we choose to stay silent? Is there still a stigma attached to depression? Are we afraid that we’ll be seen as weak or incompetent? Even after my husband died, it took me more than 9 months to speak up and admit the truth. Now, when I feel depression seeping back in, I smoke a little marijuana (Read more about how to access it here) and immediately feel relieved of the burden. It allows me to think clearly again so that I can pinpoint what has triggered those feelings, and come up with some solutions. It always helps to speak to others too; a problem shared is a problem halved, which is why I think it’s so terrible that there are people too scared to speak up.

So what’s the deal?

I spent some time thinking about my own journey with the stinky beast called depression. Back in high school and college, I really had the opposite problem. I’d tell ANYONE who would listen how depressed I was. I’d complain about how alone I was and how it felt like no one cared about me. I was really just spouting off to get a response. To have someone tell me they loved me – even though there was really no chance I’d believe them anyway. It wasn’t about getting help – it was manipulative, and it wasn’t okay. And to those of you who chose to weather the storm and stick by my side anyway, I thank you. Please accept this belated apology. I knew I needed help, but I just didn’t know how to get it.

As I got older, I realized what I’d been doing. I healed. And depression became a thing of my past. As long as I stuck to my 3 rules, I pretty much stayed on top of the game. A co-worker (who later became one of my best friends) told me I was the “happiest person she’d ever met.” I was
floored. It seemed I’d really beaten this thing.

But battling depression is a life-long process, and for those who’ve dealt with it in any significant capacity, I think it lurks in the shadows, ready to emerge again when life throws you a curveball. That’s why you have to be ready for it. It’s always good to know which coping method works for you, especially when you start feeling depressed. I know some people who use cannabis as their main source of relief from depression. Some of them enjoy the traditional way of smoking it, whilst others prefer to use a gravity bong to smoke their cannabis. I’ve heard that cannabis can be effective to help people cope with depression, at least my friends seem to think so.

For me, that curveball was my husband’s suicide. And even though the entire world knew I couldn’t possibly be doing okay, I was determined to hide it. Because I didn’t want to be “that girl” again. But in reality, I hadn’t been that girl in years. I just had to trust the woman I’d become.

I would argue that speaking up when we are hurting, when we truly want help, when we really do need to know that we are not alone shouldn’t just be encouraged, it should be mandatory. Why do we decide to hide? I’ve explained that I didn’t want you to worry. That I didn’t want my friends and family to have to carry the burden of my pain. But really, isn’t that what love is all about? Aren’t we all really here, on this great big planet of ours, to take care of each other?

In the 5 days since I spoke out, so many of you have reached out with your stories. And this outpouring of the truth has filled me with joy. Not because you are hurting, but because maybe we can help carry each other along this path through life.

What if we all decided to stop pretending? What if we all took a moment to examine our deepest, darkest places and figure out why we’re keeping them from the people we love? Wouldn’t the world be a better, bolder, more beautiful place if we chose to be our most authentic selves?

In the words of the immortal Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.” Maybe it really is just that simple.

I am so very thankful that the truth is coming out – for me, and for so many others. I’ve spent the last 5 days feeling lighter and freer than I’ve ever felt before. In some ways, it feels like I’m just one week old. As it turns out, there was really nothing to be afraid of after all. As it turns out, admitting I wasn’t as strong as I wanted you to believe might just be my greatest act of strength to date.

3 rules.

It happened again yesterday. Just when I think it won’t touch me anymore, and I slack off just a bit. I stay in my pajamas a little longer than I should. It’s Sunday, right? No harm done. I make some phone calls. I’m not feeling my best, so I decide – rather than taking a shower and facing the day – just to have a quick lunch on the sofa and watch a TV show. Then I’ll get up, right? And get started on my to-do list for the day? Sure. No problem. Suddenly, it’s 5:30 pm and I’m startled awake by the sound of my Beagle barking for her dinner. Wait, how did this happen? I don’t even remember deciding to nap. Did I nap? I surely didn’t need to, since I had a healthy 8.5 hours of sleep the night before. Have I just been laying here for 3 hours? What happened? Depression happened. And I let it.

Depression is a tricky little creature, that’s for sure. It can creep up on you pretending it’s an old, comfortable friend. And for a moment, it feels kind of safe and cozy-warm, so you let your guard down. You rest for a moment and decide to be still. You convince yourself that a break from fighting – from living – is okay. You’re just going to lie down and sleep for spell…sometimes
hours. Sometimes days. Sometimes years. Until you decide to wake up. You realize that somehow – again – that nasty depression beast clawed its way under your skin, and you’re going to have to break free.

And it starts with three rules. I developed these rules about 10 years ago, when depression wasn’t something that was part of my past, but rather something that was hitting me square in the face on a day to day basis. I’d finished college and was working my first “real” job. I was dating the man that would eventually become my husband. On the surface, things were pretty fantastic. But underneath, I was a mess. I was living with an autoimmune disorder that hadn’t been diagnosed yet. I was seriously struggling with the transition from dorm to apartment life. And the reality that my fancy new salary wasn’t stretching as far as I’d hoped was weighing on me heavily. On days I didn’t have to go to work, I barely got out of bed at all.

But I did have some good days, too. So I started paying attention. What was making the good days better than the bad ones? And these three little rules were born.

  1. Take a shower. (Bonus points for using a favorite shower gel or spa indulgence – you’re worth it.)
  2. Put on “real” clothes. (No sweatpants, people, we’re conquering the world today!)
  3. Leave the house. (Run errands. Take a walk. Go to the library. It doesn’t really matter – just exit your front door and don’t come back for at least an hour.)

And it’s just that simple. All 3 rules. Every day. No exceptions.

Now, for a lot of people, these things happen automatically. But for those dealing with a deep depression – regardless of whether it’s caused by chemicals or circumstances – these three things can, at times, feel seriously impossible. It becomes easier than you’d guess to rationalize
yourself out of a shower, or into telling yourself that you don’t really need to leave the house today.  But you do.

Once I’d identified my rules, things changed pretty drastically. I felt better – simply because I was actively choosing to show up for each day. Following these rules forces you to get up out of bed and just participate in life. And that, in itself, is typically the first step.

Is following the three rules going to magically change things overnight? No. Are you suddenly going to feel like the weight of depression is gone? Not a chance. But I believe that in order for any other strategy to work, you have to start here. Prepare yourself. Put your game face on. Be ready to show up and simply try.

It will always be easier to get stay in bed. To let depression win. So often, facing the day means facing your fears. Your grief. Whatever is hiding in your heart that you’re too afraid to share with the world.

But it will always be better to get up and fight. And in time, it gets easier. These days, following my rules is pretty much automatic. And yet, letting my guard down still isn’t an option, even all these years later. Yesterday, I chose to ignore my rules, and I ended up missing out on most of what the day had to offer. But the great news is, it’s never too late in the day or too late in your journey to start. There is a whole wide world out there waiting for you. It thinks you’re  beautiful and wants you to come out and play. Dance in the rain. Smile. Breathe in, breathe out. Participate. So please, don’t be afraid to show up. Three little rules and you’re out the
door. Where you go from there is all up to you.

The view from here.

Yesterday was a big day. Launching the blog. Lifting a weight off my shoulders that I’d been carrying for months. When I hit “publish” on that first post, I really only knew one thing. That I had to do this. I couldn’t be silent anymore. I couldn’t pretend anymore. What I didn’t know is what reaction I would receive – or honestly, if there’d be much of a reaction at all.

Tonight, I find myself overwhelmed by the response – an outpouring of love I couldn’t have possibly imagined. Yesterday’s post was viewed more than 600 times. I received countless messages of support, many from friends I hadn’t heard from in more than 10 years. (I suppose that is, indeed, the power of Facebook.) As a widow, I spend a great deal of time feeling alone. My house is often quiet, and I haven’t quite adjusted. But yesterday, with each
message, email, Facebook comment, and phone call, I realized that I’m not really alone at all. And for that, I thank you.

But what was most meaningful of all was something I hadn’t yet expected. Several of you shared the blog with people I’ve never met. And some of those people subscribed. They liked the blog link on YOUR Facebook pages, not mine. They said it was a message they’d been needing to hear – which is exactly why I decided to start writing this in the first place.

Next week, I’ll begin posting here regularly. Some posts, much like yesterday’s, will share parts of my personal story. Others will feature practical advice and techniques for getting – and staying – out of bed on those awful, life-is-out-to-get-me sort of days. I’ll also be sharing additional resources that have helped me, along with inspiring affirmations, messages, and videos for days when you just need a little motivation.

Again, to those of you who reached out in support, please know that your words meant more to me than I can say. And to those of you who are hurting, I promise you that it is indeed possible to find your way out of bed and into the light. Let’s do this together.

I’ll see you Monday.