Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Have a Good Day ... Tomorrow

NOTE: This story is absolutely true and happened to me late summer 2016. I wrote this months ago for a different blog but the owner of that blog took a break so it never got published. It's time to share it.

I'm a person who suffers with depression. When I say depression, I don't mean slight blues or occasional sadness. What I mean is full-on, can't do anything about it, senseless, deep emptiness that leads to thoughts of suicide. Everything in my life could be going just fine then—BAM—I become depressed and am suddenly teetering on the edge of a very deep, dark abyss. I'm on medication for this but still have problems occasionally. I've dealt with it my whole life and learned the warning signs and symptoms, as well as how to see logic in the midst of something that is extremely illogical. In short, I am somehow able to see the truth in those times, even when darkness is doing its best to hide that truth.

Let’s talk about the truth: the truth is the depression will pass. The truth is not everything is horrible in those moments, even if it feels that way. The truth is it’s a chemical thing I have no control over and I am not alone in it. Millions of people know exactly how I feel and for us, it’s all very normal. But the truth is also an oxymoron. The truth is during the time that I feel that way, everything in me screams the opposite: that the feelings will last forever, everything sucks, and that something is terribly abnormal and wrong with me to feel so low and desperate for no apparent reason. In understanding the truth, I know how important not making one single decision while I'm in that space is. And the truth of that is that the choice to not make a decision can and will make me feel like I'm trapped in a tiny cage with no way out, which compounds the depression all the more. I made a meme of my mantra in those moments and I look at it often:

Experience has shown me, if I can just make it till morning, I know I'll be okay.

The world has become very self-centered. As such, it is not uncommon to be out in public and have someone yell obscenities at me for making a mistake or for no reason at all. For example, I got every curse word in the world yelled at me in a church parking lot once because I apparently ‘stole’ someone’s parking space. It didn’t matter that I offered to move and apologized. It also didn’t matter that it was a public parking lot and no one owned any of the spaces. Another time, I got blessed out in my own driveway by a woman walking her dog by my house (on the wrong side of the road, mind you). I was pulling my car out of the garage to park it in my driveway so I could wash it. She was walking by and thought I was going to pull out into the road so she yelled, afraid that I might hit her. Of course, it was her choice to continue walking forward instead of pausing, even though a car was backing out. Yet, she saw it as MY fault that she was scared, and that gave her the right to yell obscenities at me on my own property, even though I did not one thing wrong. Another example is when someone who was in a hurry got in line behind me at the grocery store and told me I was holding him up. There were lots of other lines he could have chosen. I only had nineteen items and was in a regular line, not an express line, yet the fact that the world aligned itself in a way that he was in a rush and I happened to make it to the line before him was somehow my fault. These may seem like small things, but I will get to the reason they aren’t in a moment.

The last few days have been rough. A bout of depression hit me out of nowhere and I could tell it was going to be a bad one. I knew my medications were working, yet this depression struck me for no reason I could fathom. I don’t really want to admit the strength of it because I don’t want the people who love me to worry about my mental state, yet I will be honest and say it was the type of depression that made me wonder if I was in fact going to allow myself to make it to the next day. I made sure not to make any decisions. I made sure I spoke to people I trusted. And I did my best to wait it out, hoping it would be gone in due time, even though it felt unchangeable. I reminded myself many times not to make any permanent fixes to a temporary problem.

I needed to go to the store, but I was afraid to be in public because I knew I was in a mental place where a stranger's unkind remark could have easily taken me over the edge of being able to hold myself together to make it to tomorrow. Thoughts of suicide were teasing me and tears were hard to contain. On my way to the store, I said a prayer asking God to protect me from any unkind words a stranger might toss at me, because I knew they might be a game changer.

I went in, picked up my few items, and headed to the check-out line. No one spoke to me and I was glad. I kept my head down and tried to be invisible so I could make it out of the store without any confrontation.

Finally, it was my turn and the cashier looked at me with a smile. She said, “Hi, how are you today?”

I’m sure the look on my face told her all she needed to know, so I was honest with my answer. I said, “Meh, I’m okay.”

She didn’t say anything else to me, just did her job, told me how much I owed, and I paid as she bagged my items. As she handed me my receipt, she said something odd. It was 7:30 p.m., so there were still several hours left in the day, and the conditioned response at that point would have been for her to say, “Have a good evening.” Instead, she spoke as if she could see the do-I-want-to-live-or-die war that was raging in my head. She looked me in the eyes and said, “I hope you have a really great day… tomorrow. And I mean that.”

Tomorrow. What an odd thing to say. It struck me hard as I left. Tomorrow. I walked away wondering if I would have a tomorrow.

I stopped outside to text my husband and another woman who worked there came over next to me. She was talking on her cell phone and was obviously on break. Once she was off the phone, she asked me the same question. “How are you today?”

I looked at her blankly and replied with the same answer. “Meh, I’m okay.”

One of her co-workers came out and they chatted for a moment while I sent my text.

Once the two of us were alone again, she started talking to me about the weather. I didn’t say much, other than to agree that the breeze was nice. I was ready to leave so I said, “Have a nice night,” as I began to walk away.

Her words stopped me in my tracks. “Can you do me a favor, please—”

I turned and looked at her.

“Be good to yourself tonight.”

Again, I was floored. What an odd thing for a random stranger to say yet—perfect.

I nodded my head then headed to my car as tears filled my eyes. I hope you have a good day tomorrow as in, ‘Hang on lady, you can do this!’ and Be good to yourself tonight as in ‘Don’t use a permanent solution for a temporary problem’. To me, they were the words of God spoken through the lives of two random strangers and, in that moment, those simple phrases changed everything. The words made me sure—tomorrow was going to be a certainty.

I truly am embarrassed to admit that my emotions dipped so low that hurting myself was a thought in my head, but that’s what depression does to a person. It’s not something that can be controlled; it’s not something that we can just choose to “buck-up” from. It’s real and it’s painful. Luckily, I have learned to live with it in a way that I don’t have to be its slave anymore. While I can’t control my emotional response to it, I can choose to work hard enough on the inside to control my physical response to it—at least to an extent.

On the other side of embarrassment is the gratefulness I feel for having a God who knows what I can and can’t handle. In addition, He takes me at my word when I admit my inability to function in the face of something unkind. Those words the store employees shared with me, well, God not only protected me from the unkind, He gave me a reason to believe in the good. A reason to have hope for tomorrow.

I would like for you to think about your last really bad mood. I mean, really bad mood. Now, imagine me, in the state I just explained to you. Got it? Okay, now imagine we cross paths at the post office and I accidentally step on your foot. I immediately apologize as your bad mood combines with my internal fight for life. How would you respond?

“Watch where you’re going, idiot!”
I already feel worthless and ready to end it all, but I’m fighting for a reason to stay. This statement could possibly be the last thing I ever allow myself to hear. That I’m an idiot because I made an error and my life has no meaning. It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back and I finally decide—I can’t do life anymore.

“It’s okay, accidents happen. Are you okay?”
This response lets me know that you recognize that I understand I have made a mistake and I’m sorry. It shows me that mistakes are forgivable. It validates me as a person who is worthy of forgiveness and it takes things a step further and shows me that if a stranger can care even a little, then maybe things will be okay. That statement helps me see good in tomorrow despite the lack of hope I feel.

Do you see what I’m saying here? Your words have an amazing amount of power. All of them. Power to make or break. Power to salvage or destroy. Power of hope or demise. Had I experienced the unloaded bad mood of a guy who thought I stole his parking spot instead of the simple reminder that tomorrow was full of hope, I may not be sitting here right now typing. Did you realize you had that kind of power? Do you understand that the woman you crossed paths with yesterday and darted a dirty look to because she cut in line may have just buried her only son that morning? Are you aware that the annoying man sitting in front you on the bus who is bouncing his leg madly might have just found out he has terminal cancer? Did you know that most people who commit suicide have a smile on their face not long before they do it? Well if you didn’t, now you do, and you have no excuse to be nasty.

What are you going to do with the power you hold? While it is impossible to always be nice no matter what, make no mistake about this, it’s a choice to spew darkness on a person when the truth of the matter is, it’s just as easy to be silent. Silence is sometimes best—for everyone.

I want to quickly address something about suicide. While it is super important to be compassionate and supportive to people who are showing signs of depression, the truth of the matter is that if they are showing outwards signs of their ‘fight for life’, they are in fact fighting for it. It's the truly depressed who hide it so well that no one knows how they are feeling that we need to care for more greatly. Why? Because the whole reason they aren't showing their fight for life is because they AREN'T fighting anymore. They are done with the trouble of life and their plans to end their pain will come to fruition because no one can stop them when there aren't any signs. How do you know if someone has lost their fight if they are hiding it so well? You can't. So what do you do? How about this; treat everyone with compassion. Use your power for good because your compassion in the right moment just might make them change their mind and decide the extremely difficult task of fighting for life is worth it. Yes, it's a responsibility, and we all carry it as humans.

In closing, I would like to say two things to every single one of you, meant from the bottom of my heart…

I hope you have a great day… tomorrow.
As for tonight, do me a favor and be really good to yourself.