About a week go, I was introduced to the idea of mental illness as a good thing.
(Hear me out!)
I have anxiety and depression, and it is no picnic. Unmedicated, there is not one good thing about it, and even medicated, though the days are more sunshine-y, I still drag around the medicinal ball and chain every day.
Let’s back up a little bit, though. Several years ago, depressed and anxious all day, every day, I was frustrated beyond despair that I could not “be the change I wanted to see in the world.”
I had a deep desire to help the homeless, the hungry. I wanted to be seriously involved in politics. I wanted to work with charities or even start a charity. I wanted to be a better human for other humans. My imagination ran wild with ways to save the world.
Except my imagination and reality did not match up. I could not do anything. I was strapped with an unshakable fear of failure, embarrassment, and a laundry list of other irrational thoughts about my abilities. Anxiety does that to a person. I was the cliche incarnate: all talk, no action.
What good am I?
I could not find my niche in the sea of humanity.
I put my philanthropic hopes and dreams on the back burner and worked to pull myself together for awhile. Even so, my imagination still frequently tried to figure out how to make the world a better place despite anxiety trapping me in my own body.
I realized that my destiny is not to help the homeless and hungry or to save the planet or advocate for human rights. My destiny, my only hope (at the moment) to save the world, is to suffer from anxiety and depression and use my experiences to be a candle in someone else’s darkest place. All of us with anxiety and depression have this unique gift. Do you hear that? WE HAVE A GIFT!!!
We are a formidable group knit together by a common struggle. We are each other’s greatest assets. We understand one another like no one else can. We stick up for each other. We let each other know that it’s OK to be sad, OK to be worried and anxious. We build one another up on dark days and rejoice together in the sunny ones. We understand the vast nuances of each individual’s anxiety and depression.
My destiny, my higher calling in this life, is to bring anxiety and depression into the mainstream and make people understand it, embrace it, accommodate it, and ultimately accept it. My destiny is to help others on their journey and come out stronger and more empowered on the other side.
I gladly carry this burden to be a light for those who cannot find it themselves. I believe that working to help others with anxiety and depression is a life-saving endeavor. I cannot solve the hunger crisis, I cannot provide resources and shelter for those without a home, I cannot single-handedly save the planet, but I can help a person with mental health issues move toward brighter days. This is my calling.
I haven’t had much to say on the topic of anxiety and depression lately because I was feeling great. Really great. Maybe even too great.
I wondered if my anxiety med dosage was too high when I noticed I didn’t care one bit about a clean house and absolutely nothing was bothering me. I literally could not be sad. Crying was impossible, even when appropriate. I would like to say it was strange and I didn’t like feeling so unnaturally good, but it just didn’t bother me that much. I was ready to settle in for the long haul of happiness. It lasted a long time and it was so, so good.
What goes up must come down. I, of all people, should know this.
I, of all people, should know that it can’t be roses and unicorns forever. I should know better than to imagine a world where everything is Normal and Just Fine for any length of time. It will not and cannot stay like that. I should know.
Who wouldn’t want to snuggle into a hammock of happiness forever?
If I’m not feeling Just Fine, what am I feeling? Sad and tired. I want to cry for days without stopping. Sullen. Uncertain about things I was absolutely sure of a couple of days ago. Cross. Angry. Insecure. Oh, so very insecure. And of course anxious.
What am I going to do?
I’m going to dial it back. I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do that isn’t completely necessary. I’m not going to decide anything ahead of time, instead I’ll just take it as it comes. And if I can’t make any decisions, so be it.
I’m going to breathe through it. I’m going to tell myself I can get through one more second, one more minute, one more hour, and I’m going to breathe in and out until I make it through.
I’m going to fake it. Anxiety is such an individualized condition with no one size fits all description or cure. It’s difficult to describe and talk about with those who don’t understand, and even with some who do. I especially do not want to talk about it too much when I’m on a downswing, so it’s easier to tell those who care about me that I’m feeling low and fake the rest.
I’m going to cry a whole bunch and enjoy every last minute of pure emotional release. I’ve been waiting all day and I cannot wait to hit the pillow and let it all out.
And I’m going to get through this. Just like I always do. It’s going to suck. I’m going to hurt others with my anger, I’m going to hate myself, I’m going to be a poor friend. But I will put a smile on my face and breathe in and breathe out and one day, hopefully soon, I will be Normal again.
I love lists. Half of my time spent online is wasted reading lists. I’m a real sucker for neatly packaged articles on single topics. I may be what is wrong with America.
Speaking of America, did you know I visited our nation’s capital recently? No? Well, let me sum it up for you in a list.
It was actually very hard to narrow it down to just 10 best experiences in Washington DC, but here they are in no particular order.
As we approached the National WWII Memorial, a WWII Honor Flight was assembling for a photograph at the same time. I did not get a chance to look at the memorial because I was transfixed by the Honor Flight veterans before me. There they were, about 25 vets from Colorado, real life war heroes, visiting a memorial in their very honor, perhaps for the first time. I wanted to know every single one of their stories, but my feet were glued to the sidewalk, tears streaming down my face, as a group of children shook hands with them one by one, thanking them for their service. I will never forget that moment.
2. Our first “official” stop in DC was the Founding Farmers Restaurant, a project of the North Dakota Farmers Union. Being NDFU members and also generally starving, it seemed an appropriate place to begin. It was a busy place, a fun atmosphere, a nice menu, and served great beer. I had the salmon and it was fantastic, but I was blown away by the corn bread. It’s a little corn bread cake baked and served in a little cast iron pan. It was sweet with bit of corn in it, and it literally melted in my mouth. I’m not even kidding: melted.
3. The National Cathedral is an overall sight to behold, its size, height, detail, and grandeur almost unreal. I’ve never before seen anything like it outside of a book. For a few moments, I felt transported to Europe and the great cathedrals dotting the landscape there. I started photographing all of the windows, but eventually realized it would be an all-day affair if I kept it up. There were way too many to study and document. So I ordered a book.
4. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial starts out quite unassumingly, with a tiny sliver of a wall and a couple of names, then grows, inch by inch, into an unbearably tall wall with thousands of names from top to bottom, names belonging to those who gave their life in the Vietnam War. It was staggering to imagine the many thousands of families, of grieving parents, brothers and sisters, friends, extended family, and communities suffering the loss of a single loved one. Times over 58,000. I ran my fingers over hundreds of names along the length of the wall, feeling the chiseled edges of each name between tiny sections of smooth granite. Then I found a last name, “Peace,” and I knew I was meant to find it in all those thousands of names.
5. We got an extra-special capitol tour through Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s office. We went a few places the regular tours don’t go, including the Senate Appropriations Committee Room, the (Democrats) Cloak Room, and the Senate Floor. No photography was allowed in these areas, so I’ll set the scene. The Cloak Rooms are narrow L-shaped rooms tastefully decorated with some sofas and phone cubbies where senators can relax and get out of the view of the cameras. The Senate Chamber was a smaller-than-anticipated room with an actual aisle dividing the Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats sit on, obviously, the left side, and the Republicans, the right. The desks are the original desks from the first senators, but the chairs are custom made for each senator. Fun fact: each political party has its own secret stash of candy located out of the view of the C-Span cameras.
6. The most unexpected memorial on the Mall is the Korean War Veterans Memorial. It’s not one of the big ones featured in all the tourism books, but, as silly as it seems, I felt connected to it because I’ve watched every single episode of MASH. There is a granite wall, similar to the one at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with hundreds of pictures etched into it of soldiers from the Army, Air Force and Navy, the medics, chaplains, everything. The pictures are scattered across the panels, depicting the rough terrain of Korea. Aside from the wonderful visual and beautifully executed symbolism, I was most touched to see a group of people from Korea on a guided tour, a silent ‘thank you’ radiating from their little huddle.
7. I love military ceremony. I once attended a Naval Ball and seriously considered officer’s training as a result. The changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery was in my top three things to see in DC and it did not disappoint. How long can one girl stand a watch a soldier walk back and forth? Forever. The sun was in my face and I felt safe and warm, hypnotized by the soldier’s perfectly timed slow march, the clack of his boots at the turns, the precision with which he moved his gun from one shoulder to the other, the anticipation of the next turn, all framed in a spectacular green and blue backdrop. The crowd was totally silent, solemn.
8. Camera in hand, we hit the Mall after supper at the Founding Farmers Restaurant on the first night in DC. I was minding my own business, taking in the sights, surprised by all the trees and crowds and runners and by the size of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and I turned around and saw an almost full moon rising behind the Washington Monument. It has long been a dream of mine to capture a moon rising on camera, but never have I actually been holding a camera in my hand at the moment it happened.
9. If I don’t show up at work someday, it’s because I moved to George Washington’s Mount Vernon and I am gardening there. Mount Vernon is a gardener’s (and a photographer’s) paradise. Two large, enclosed gardens sit on either side of the property, one for flowers, another for fruits and vegetables. The gardens are divided into sections with rustic brick walkways and trees trained as fences in between. It was drizzling the day we toured, making everything greener and brighter than usual. I was in so much heaven. So. Much.
10. I have so much respect for Presidents of the United States. No matter how good or bad their terms in office are, they work so hard and make difficult decisions that affect a lot of people for better or worse. We requested and were granted a White House tour and four security checkpoints later we were standing in the White House, in the very halls that many a president had walked before and continue to walk. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, all of them. The White House is beautiful, inside and out. Even as we exited, I couldn’t help but comment that we were standing on the White House lawn!
Bonus: The Library of Congress gift shop felt like home to me. I wanted to buy all the books and all the postcards and journals and stationary and t-shirts and bags. It was a reader’s paradise. I bought myself a bag I will be proud to carry always. It says, “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.” (Francis Bacon)
I don’t remember if I mentioned it (ha!), but I was recently in Washington DC on the trip of a lifetime with my father and my sister.
I may not be as well-traveled as some, but I believe travel to be vital to the human existence. The benefits of travel are myriad, but I find my travel falls into two main categories: relaxation or education.
Washington DC fell firmly under the umbrella of education. We did not relax much as we raced from one thing to the next, cramming as much as possible into five days, though it was relaxing in the sense that I didn’t have to do any housework, kid work, or work work.
In addition to education and quasi-relaxation, Washington DC had another side effect on me that I was not looking for or expecting: personal growth. I am not the same person I was as we careened toward the runway into Reagan National Airport. Fortunately, I lived to tell about it.
The ways I am changed since my trip to DC:
I am an out and proud Democrat. Anyone could have guessed it, but I am now broadcasting this fact with assurance and confidence. Why? Because I fell in love with FDR and I saw the actual ‘aisle’ referred to in “…this side of the aisle…” and because I soaked up so much political history that our forefathers would weep if they knew there were people out there who couldn’t commit to democracy because it was just too controversial.
Over the years, I have become increasingly concerned with making sure we take care of our less fortunate neighbors, but I was doing very little in the way of actual help due to my own finances or timing. In DC, my dad and I handed out fistfuls of dollar bills to the homeless and it felt so good! We couldn’t buy them a house, we couldn’t pay for their rehab or mental health treatment, but we could give them a dollar or two to get them through another day of being homeless. DC taught me that I can live generously every day. Find the need and fill it. It’s that simple.
I felt so alive in the presence of history, drunk on every new sight I took in, goosebumps at the very thought that Martin Luther King Jr stood in this spot, that George Washington sat in this office, that Thomas Jefferson held these books in his own hands, that Lincoln’s assassin traveled this very route, that President Obama and almost every President before has walked these halls, sat in these rooms. I had to be pried out of my state of awe more than once for the sake of time. The takeaway, the result of being in the presence of greatness, for me, is that I need to strive to be great. Our forefathers were the agents of change in their time and now it’s my turn to get busy being the change I want to see in the world.
I am inspired to learn more than ever before. After the vacation hangover finally ended, I found myself giddy to explore history, poetry, literature, music, art, EVERYTHING, and make sure my kids are taking it all in, too. I’m going to make a much stronger effort to avoid my usual mindless distractions and use the time to improve myself, my family, and my world.
Most importantly, Dad, already a hero to me, achieved sainthood in my eyes. We chose to go to Washington DC because we shared common interest in history and politics, and I could not get enough of Dad’s factoids and stories. He knows everything about everything, which I knew, but I did not realize it would actually come in handy someday. Never in my adult life have I spent so much undivided time with my dad. It was amazing, I wanted it to last forever. He strutted around Washington DC with his two daughters like he was the luckiest man on Earth. I know we are the luckiest girls on Earth.
I’m glad to be back home with my family and sleeping in my own bed. I will never be the same person I was before, and I will most certainly be going back to Washington DC with my family as soon as they are old enough. It am now convinced that it should be required travel for everyone.