S is for Snow Cotton. Winning Against Depression & Anxiety

We had family visiting a few week ago, and on Saturday we all worked outside together. The Midnight Gardener and myself, our four children and our parents who were visiting were cleaning up our yard and gardens. With everyone pitching in, I was thrilled to see the pace of progress as it happened all around me. What a great feeling for a mom to see all her kids working together without too much of a fuss (unusual–yes)! When we were finished the yard looked–well park-like, and the vegetable gardens were nearly ready to plant.

Now, fast forward to last week when a windstorm came and littered every bit of the property with tree branches, twigs, leaves, and seed pods. Grrr! There was no time to clean up because of a family trip over Memorial Day. While we were away, the half-dozen cottonwood trees in our yard exploded with fluffy white cotton. Thankfully this snow storm only lasts about two weeks each spring, during which everything outside is cotton-dusted like a Western Washington snow storm–dusted with just a skiff, but enough to make a mess. After the combination of the storm and the “snow,” my yard is covered in this.

After all that work we get to start over again, but this time without help from our parents. Yes, eventually the yard will be park-like again, but not until we use rakes, a leaf blower, pick-up lots of debris and mow the grass. Warning! We know we will have to repeat this process often!

This quote should be cherished by every gardener: “Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.” Is it not true of our own lives? Every day we wake-up, clean-up, eat, sleep and then repeat. Some days are clean and free of challenges (debris) other days we have so many challenges (debris) that we feel overwhelmed and are confronted with the thought, “Is this all life is?”

After I began to recover from lung cancer and all tests were showing that I was going to survive the year, I thought I should have felt elated, overjoyed or even just plain old happy. I didn’t. The cancer-affected tissues were removed, I’d been thoroughly radiated and chemo-ed, and in a sense I was all cleaned up, but my inner self was cluttered without hope, or joy. I just felt, “Is this all life is?” “I wake up, take care of my children, go to work, cook, take care of my children and go to sleep?” Repeat it all day, after day, after day. Yes, I used to be one of those uninformed people who believed that people experiencing depression should just buck up, put on a smile and do something different! Well, I learned my lesson! That expectation is just not a reality for those with depression. I am sorry to myself and to everyone else who suffers from depression. Conquering depression is an everyday battle.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but chemotherapy can cause chemical changes within the brain which in turn can result in depression or anxiety. Following those treatments, I have encountered both. Recently, I am feeling more like my normal self, but it has taken 2+ years to make that progress. May I share with you the incredible amount of work it has taken? Here is my big list of things that has worked for me:

  • Humbling myself enough to know I could not do this alone and asking others for help, then being willing to take the offered help
  • Prescription medication (Patience is needed to find the right fit, and it could be as much as a year or more, plus don’t talk yourself out of taking it–you chemically need the medicine. Yes, there are some side effects but you will find one medicine where the benefits far outweigh the side effects. Keep trying!)
  • Mental health therapy (again patience is needed to find the right person for you)
  • Turning to God and Christ through daily prayer and scripture study
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Handwritten journaling (I have experienced noticeable progress using this planner Inner Guide Planner 2017)
  • Writing for my website
  • The passage of time
  • Changing my sleep habits
  • Eating foods from my garden
  • Avoiding too much sugar and processed or fast foods
  • Aromatherapy with essential oils (peppermint really helps me, there are specific oils that were created with anxiety and depression in mind but they are not scents that were comforting to me).
  • Hot baths
  • Spending time with family and friends (You are going to feel like isolating yourself–but avoid doing it too often, I could often be seen in my bed, covers over my head with my CPAP mask on).
  • Avoiding over-using media and being careful not to compare myself to people who might appear perfect in the media.
  • Really shutting down the negative “it” inside my brain (For example: “Why did she say that to me?” “I think she must hate me!” or “I am a bad person.” I hate myself”)
  • Learning to love myself and seeing “me” as inherently awesome.  Being gentle with myself and others. Saying instead of “I hate myself for doing that.” “I love myself for doing that and I am going to learn this lesson and not do it again.”
  • Sunshine & Vitamin D
  • And of course lots and lots of garden time

I am finally feeling like the “dusting of snow” is being lifted and cleared away. I am able to see purpose in my life again and I am wanting to accomplish goals.

You know what I am going to say don’t you? These steps will need to be repeated over and over again for the rest of my life! Of course, I am not perfect (not even close) in following through. I sometimes forget my medicine, don’t want to talk to a counselor this week or cannot tell “it” to shut-up, but I am trying and I refuse to give up. Remember also that your list will likely be different than mine, that is normal and awesome. When, and if your life gets dusted with snow and littered with debris, remember that it is the process of good habits and repetition that we add years to our lives and life to our years.

Note of compassion: please if you or someone you know suffers from depression or anxiety please share this blog post. Depression and anxiety can be beat. Never give up hoping, praying and working.

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