Trigger warning: suicide
Years have a habit of surprising me. If you would have taken my hand at the stroke of midnight 365 days ago, led me to a chair, and explained that I would end 2018 single and living alone with a dog, I probably would have laughed it off and suggested the bar tender cut you off. At the beginning of the year, I would have envisioned myself spending this night with the person I had vowed to spend the rest of my life with – a kiss to ring in the new year and then passing out drunk on alcohol and love.
Instead, I find myself sitting alone in an almost silent apartment, save for the sound of my dog chewing his new bone to death. His slobbery kisses are the only ones I have to look forward to as I say goodbye to 2018 and take my first of many deep breaths in 2019. Perhaps it is good that I’m alone. Perhaps it is good that there is no music, booze, or distractions. Nothing is there to stand between me and quiet reflection.
Oh wait. Quiet reflection. Sorry. 2018 sucked.
I got up at the reasonable hour of 3:30 this morning to make the ten hour drive from Home to my current residential location (I will always have a difficult time calling anywhere that’s not Colorado “home”). Ten hours in a car with nothing but a sleeping dog for company can be heaven or hell for someone who suffers from chronic anxiety and depression. It’s basically a ten hour imaginary session with a therapist. Except I am both the therapist and the patient. You can see how it gets crowded very quickly in my head.
Today’s deep thinking session was brought on by a conversation in the Louise Penny audiobook I was listening to as I drove the never ending path that is I-80 through Nebraska. Nine hours into the book, A Fatal Grace (Penny, 2006), a character name Emily discusses her experience with nearly ending her own life after her family was killed. “At some point I was standing in my living room unable to move forward or back. Frozen. That’s why I asked about the snowstorm. That’s what it had felt like for months and months – as though I was lost in a white out. Everything was confused and howling. I couldn’t go on. I was going to die. I didn’t know how, but I knew I couldn’t support the loss any longer. I’d staggered to a stop…lost, disoriented, at a dead end…” When another character prompts her by asking what happened, she says, “The door bell rang. I remember trying to decide whether I should answer the door or kill myself. But it rang again and…I don’t know…maybe it was social training, but I roused myself enough to go. And there was God… He was a road worker. He wanted to use the phone. He carried a sign… it said ‘ice ahead.’” The other character again prompts her to continue by asking how she knew it was God. She replies, “When does a bush that burns become a burning bush? My despair disappeared. The grief remained of course, but I knew then that the world wasn’t a dark and desperate place. I was so relieved. In that moment I found hope. This stranger with the sign had given it to me. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but suddenly the gloom was lifted…” After some more back and forth between the characters, Emily says, “My life’s never been the same since that day I opened the door. I’m happy now…content. Funny, isn’t it? I had to go to hell to find happiness.”
“I had to go to hell to find happiness.”
I love how she describes depression and grief. In this conversation, I see how the end of 2018 must go, as well as how I must begin 2019. First, I must recognize that I’ve been to emotional and mental hell and back again in 2018. I’ve had to face my demons of anxiety and depression. I’ve gone nose-to-nose with feelings of insignificance. I’ve fought battles that were, quite literally, life threatening. I do not say these things as if the war has been won and my demons are permanently conquered. I say these things as a survivor who is slogging through each day, hopeful that although my demons will continue to haunt me, I will continue to survive each day like I survived the day before. I may be battered and bruised, but I am still here.
My sister asked me yesterday if I have any goals for 2019. I told her I have one goal:
I do not offer this answer lightly. I very nearly didn’t survive 2018, so I feel it is both a lofty and yet attainable goal. And in that survival, I hope to find the same sort of peace and happiness that Louise Penny’s character, Emily, found. I have had my own burning bushes in my life this year, all of which have come in the form of people who have stepped into my life and showered me with a love so wide that it has inspired me to learn to love myself just as deeply. I am worthy. And in that self-worth, I will find a greater capacity to reach out and love those around me. I know I am here for a reason and I am fighting to wake up tomorrow and fulfill that purpose.
In that same audiobook, Louise Penny (2006) describes a character who “could see the future and it didn’t look good. It never had. Even in the best of times, Mother had the gift of seeing the worst. It was a quality that hadn’t served her well. Living in the wreckage of the future sure took the joy out of the present. The only comfort was that almost none of her fears had come true – the planes had never crashed, the elevators never plummeted, the bridges had remained solid spans. Alright…her husband had left her, but that wasn’t exactly a disaster. Some might even say it was a self-fulfilling prophecy – she’d forced him away.”
“Living in the wreckage of the future sure took the joy out of the present.”
In this I find another goal for 2019: Don’t be consumed by a catastrophic future that will likely never happen. If I envision only negativity, I will build a web of negativity into my life. If I reach for positivity and light, perhaps that focus will usher in the life for which I have been too afraid to hope. I know that I will always struggle with anxiety and that I will always be the worst of catastrophizers (it’s who I am at my core and I cannot change this!), yet I can make it my goal to actively seek out the positive on a daily basis. Slowly, but surely, I might be able to retrain my brain to jump to positive conclusions more often than it does currently.
I know there are so many others who have struggled and fought battles in 2018. I hope and pray that you too find peace, hope, and light in this new year. What do you say? Let’s walk into 2019 knowing we have the strength and courage to face our demons, to conquer our fears, and to come out on top. Let’s walk into 2019 with our eyes wide open – life may throw us more curve balls, but that doesn’t mean we will crumble and fall. We have each other. We have our common struggle. We have our own significant and worthy selves.
Hello, 2019. Namaste.
Penny, Louise. (2006). A Fatal Grace [audiobook version]. Macmillan Audio.
Photo credit: http://www.unsplash.com