Crazy to think, huh? That the worst lows of your life can actually be a blessing? But what they say is true: You can’t experience happiness without sadness. And, to take that one step further, what I’ve recently figured out is: You can’t experience high levels of bliss, thankfulness, and self-awareness without feeling nearly dead while still actually living.
In October 2017, I decided to move out of my husband’s house in an effort to send our swiftly-declining marriage a much needed wake up call. It would be the hardest time of my life with the deeeeeeepest depression I have ever experienced. (And, for me, that’s saying something.)
A few months later, in snowy, cold, desolate January, I bleakly melted out of bed feeling a tad more hopeful than the wretched days that had come before. My severe stress and depression had brought on physical illness. I constantly felt nauseous with extremely painful body aches and a headache/migraine that would end up lasting almost five months. (No, I’m not exaggerating. At. All.) At that time, writing and reading (in addition to binge watching Netflix) were super therapeutic. I spent most of that particular morning looking at my new book “The Bucket List” (which listed 1,000 different things an adventurer should experience in life) and journaling my thoughts and feelings in between loathsome trips to the bathroom. (TMI… Sorry…)
I had already downed one Excedrin Migraine. (Usually, I took two each morning.) That day, I thought I’d take one to see if it would take the edge off. Unfortunately, I just ended up making my way to the kitchen in search of that second pill.
When I made it to the kitchen, I got my second pill and walked past some bagels sitting on the counter. “Those look kinda good,” I thought, so I popped one in the toaster and waited… I don’t do good at waiting… Just standing there not accomplishing anything? Nope, doesn’t work for me.
I gently turned around. There were a few dishes in the sink. “I’ll wash those while I’m waiting,” I thought. I slowly moved towards them. Because, with severe depression, I couldn’t move fast. Each step was an independent action all its own. Picking up the dishcloth, turning on the water, picking up a glass to wash… each movement I completed without crumbling to the ground in a heartbroken heap was a success. So… feeling completely hopeless but trying to keep my mind occupied to avoid bursting into tears, I washed a few dishes.
As I existed there, I felt a blank stare emerging from emotionless eyes that were connected to an even more emotionless body and soul. And then I looked up… I saw a beautiful site that warmed my heart and brought a little lesson of thankfulness to me that day. For a couple minutes, I discovered happiness…
I found myself staring out the window over the kitchen sink of my childhood home. The scene from this window always struck me as magnificent. Some people say Highland County is the Montana of the east coast. Most people say its Virginia’s Little Switzerland. While I haven’t been to Switzerland (yet), I have been to Montana, and I couldn’t agree more. Highland County truly is big sky country, a little Montana, and it was capturing and demanding my attention at that moment.
The strong, rolling, ice-covered mountains boldly dominated the expansive, white pastures as puffy, cotton clouds adorned a creamy, blue sky. A bird flew by, and I took time to admire the gleam of sunlight that bounced off its ebony wings. A quick, nostalgic glimpse of good memories from my childhood flashed through my mind as I looked at the vast, snow-covered pastureland spreading out in front of my home. And for a moment…I remembered how uncomplicated happiness is to achieve, how simple it can be. It was right there waiting for me. All I had to do was make the decision to enjoy it.
As I looked out the window, I held the dishcloth taking note of how it felt on my fingers. Wet, mushy, and soft. Then, I caught a smell, an essence that somehow forced its way through the wrinkles of time to visit my nose at the very second I needed it – one of those scents that reminds you of adolescence. My mother. Cooking dinner in the kitchen. At Christmas. The 12-foot Christmas tree set up in our living room. Music playing in the background. That scent, that memory, found it’s way back to me when I needed it most. I closed my eyes and took a slow, deep, relaxing breath. I felt peacefully happy for the first time in the few longest months of my life.
What a sweet gift given to me in the midst of so much despair, agony, and sadness. That simple moment gave me strength to carry on for the next hour. (And with severe depression, a gift like that can make all the difference in the world.)
Just then, the toaster gave an excited jolt telling me my bagel was ready. I grabbed some cream cheese out of the fridge, and viola! Food I actually wanted to eat! (A HUGE milestone!) I savored each bite of that bagel while looking out that window trying to hold on to my euphoric recollection as long as I possibly could.
My headache was starting to soften. But then I remembered…. I had forgotten…. I looked over my shoulder. There sat the second pill right where I’d left it before those bagels distracted me. Waiting silently by itself on the counter. I realized, among all the current sadness, happiness was still there. I just had to actually see and recognize the blessings that were right in front of me. I had to make the conscious decision and effort to get over myself and enjoy life. I smiled… I knew future days were still going to be hard, but I felt strength in knowing I’d learned a valuable lesson that day, a lesson that would continue to help me over and over again, and a gift I would not have received without navigating the hideous depths of depression.