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.

Bookmarks
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.

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.

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.

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.

Time for the truth.

If you’re reading this, you know me already. Chances are, you came here from my Facebook page. You might be an old friend from Illinois, or even Maryland or Kansas. You might be a crafty friend or someone who read one of my earlier books. You might be one of my closest friends. Even a member of my family. Regardless, I owe you an apology. See, I’ve been lying to you – and it’s time to get real.

There’s a good chance you know a lot of my story already. A year ago, I was happier than I ever thought possible. I was totally in love, I’d moved to a beautiful new home, and I had plans for a family and a future. On June 26, 2012, everything changed. My husband unexpectedly committed suicide. Just like that, my world was shattered. And suddenly everything was so, so different.

From the very beginning, I decided I would be strong. Because I was still here. To give in was to lose my own life, too, and I wasn’t willing to accept that outcome. I was determined. I would find a way. And even though I spent much of those first few months face down on the floor, I did
find a way. I put my brave face on. I was back at work in less than two weeks. I listened to everyone tell me how strong I was, how great I was doing. How proud my husband would have been, because he loved me so much. But if he loved me so much, how could he do this? It took time for me to realize that his death had nothing to do with me. That he was hurting in ways that were far beyond anything I could understand or comprehend. I found comfort in the fact that he was finally at peace. With God. But again, I was still here. And what on earth was I going to do now?

I pressed forward. In a lot of ways, life had already prepared me for this. This was not the time to lie on the couch and cry. Goodness knows, I’d spent enough of my life doing that already. Years of battling clinical depression in my teens and early 20s gave me tremendous coping skills. I’d beaten darkness once, and I was determined to do it again.  

So I tried new things. I went to hockey games and ballets. I started playing piano. I attempted kickboxing. I painted. I danced. I started volunteering. I even left my day job to pursue my life-long goal of being a writer on my own terms. These were all great things, but in so many ways, I was really just going through the motions. I was still so very broken. But all I could hear was everyone telling me how proud they were that I was doing “so well.” Perhaps most significantly, I could see the relief in their faces. They were just glad I was “okay.”

I think this is when I started lying to you. I really didn’t mean to. But I was so very tired and I just didn’t want you to worry anymore. I didn’t want to disappoint you. And I think I thought if I didn’t say how much I was still hurting, that it might not be true.

So I told you that I went to California. I shopped on Rodeo Drive, hugged Mickey and Minnie, and visited the set of Pretty Little Liars. I went to a Dodgers game to cheer on his favorite team. But what I didn’t tell you was that while looking at a sales rack full of Dodgers merchandise, I burst into tears and ran out of the store. And then I just stood there in the middle of the street, crying into my cousin’s arms, unable to comprehend how I could possibly go on like this.

I told you that I gave myself a great new home office and painted it bright yellow. I painted inspirational messages to myself on the wall before applying the first coat of paint. I even let you vote on whether a quote from Lewis Carroll or Wayne Gretzky would adorn the wall. And I told you that it’s most I’ve ever loved a single room in my entire life. But what I didn’t tell you was that cleaning out that room was the single most painful thing I’d had to face since when they had become too painful to look at. And now I had to sort through all of them – his clothes, our memories. A stick of deodorant that still smelled like him. Hand-me-down clothes from my sister’s children for the child we never got to have – the child that was supposed to grow up in this very room. Each stroke of yellow paint represented a bright new future, but it was also a reminder of the hopes and dreams that I’d now never realize.

I told you that I went on a cruise with my best friend. We laughed. We swam with dolphins and rode horses in the Caribbean Sea. We basked in the sunshine and spent hours doing nothing at all. I told you that it was the best vacation of my life. And it was. But what I didn’t tell you was how seemingly every live musician we encountered – on the boat or on the streets in the Caribbean – chose to play my wedding song as I walked by. I realized then, through tears, that there is no escaping this story. I became afraid that as I carve out a new life for myself and even look toward loving again, this pain might always be there, lingering in the background waiting to gnaw at me when I least expect it.

I didn’t tell you these things because I didn’t want you to worry. I wanted you to be right when you would tell me how great I’ve been doing. And truthfully, I just didn’t want you to have to know how horrific it really was.

It seems, however, that it’s time for a change. Time to stop pretending that every single day is a great one. Time to be a little more real.  Because here’s the thing:

You’ve asked me how my new work is going. Do I enjoy writing every day? Am I excited? And I smile, and put on my brave face, and what I don’t tell you is that I haven’t made much progress. Until today. Because the writing I dream of? It’s not fiction. It’s this. It’s about emerging from depression and grief to find ways to shine against all odds. It’s sharing my story with the hope that I can help others get out of their dark places, too.

And I’ve come to realize that if I really want to make a difference, it’s not enough to share just the good stuff. Yes, I choose every day to be a person who lives a life of joy. Yes, I’ve become a person who finds the silver lining in any situation almost automatically. I am able to see the sunshine brightly because I have seen the darkest places this world has to offer – and I reject the idea that I must stay stuck in them. But if I’m not real about those dark places, if I’m not willing to share the rough edges, then none of it means anything. If I truly want to be a person who can inspire others to get up and out of bed, even when they feel like they have nothing left to live for, then I absolutely must be clear. I have been there. I get it. I know what it’s like to lie paralyzed, so consumed by darkness that the idea of even lifting up your head from the pillow seems like an impossible task.

But I also know how to get up. Over and over again, even on the worst of days. And while it’s always easier to remain in bed, I will never stop believing that the world has more to offer. That my best days are ahead of me. That the future holds more beautiful moments than I can possibly imagine.

And so I will continue to press forward into my brave, beautiful, bold, and finally authentic life.

Because I am determined to shine. And if you are, too, I think I can help.