Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On Rare Occasions I Can Be Serious

It might help to read this first. I wrote that a year ago, and it ties into what I have to say below. I'll be back to more of my usual tomfoolery on the weekend.

Growing up, there were the odd occasions we would take a trip up to cottage country, the area called Muskoka, here in Ontario, sometimes for a few days of vacation, sometimes just for a day’s drive. On one of those trips, we were staying at a campground, and we took a drive over to a scenic tower near the village of Dorset (great place to visit, by the way). It had once served as a fire lookout, but now was open to the public. I must have been ten or eleven, and I had gone up that tower before. Going up this time, however, something went differently.

Halfway up I froze in place, unable to move up the steps. It wasn’t quite the heights that were an issue, so much as it was the sensation that I was going to fall. It was fear, a physical dread of something tangible- if you can call distance, empty air, and the notion of falling tangible- happening to me.

So there I was, frozen, one of my brothers on the stairs with me coaxing me on, and my mother down on the ground wondering what was going on. It might have been that someone would have had to physically help me back down to the ground- I have seen that since on subsequent visits to that tower, that someone just freezes up on the staircase and has to be helped down. The fear was there, and it could have kept me frozen, but I realized on some level that I’d just have to push past it, keep going up those steps despite that fear.

Scenic Tower, Dorset, Ontario

And so I did. I reached the top, to the viewing platform. Then I went down, came back up, went down, and came back up, and so on, until the feeling passed. I was fine at that point, and pushing past it had been the right way to confront a fear. In doing that, the fear vanished; I’ve been up that tower since, particularly when my parents spent several years in the area, many times, so many times that I lost count, and there was never the same problem. I have climbed, and there was never the same issue coming up. Confronting a fear head-on obliterated it.

There are less tangible fears. Things that are more elusive than the standard phobias, for example people scared of heights, snakes, mice, spiders, that sort of thing. I understand these less tangible fears too, but that’s something that I have come to understand through the therapeutic process. I have struggled for some years with depression. It is something I live with each day. I’m one of the one in five people who cope with a mental illness at one point in their lives, and this one can be managed. When I think of something else, something like schizophrenia, which afflicted a friend and requires more drastic and intensive therapy, I consider myself lucky- I don’t even need medication. Most days these days are okay- I’m feeling fine, but every once in awhile I have what I call a black wall kind of day. Or days. Churchill called it his black dog, and I do like that- there are times I’ve envisioned it as a dog, growling at me from the corner of my eye. Still, I’m a climber, so for me, it’s a black wall.

There are ways to deal with it, to push back against it, to tell it to go away. I’ve learned that through therapy.  The right kind of music helps (I recommend Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Fourth Movement, which is pure joy, or Duke Ellington’s Take the A-Train). So does recognizing the signs that it’s there, that it’s becoming a problem- you can consciously tell yourself to push it away. Being among friends helps. So does being out in nature. To learn these things though took time, a lot of working through issues, and the right person to talk to. I think of how far gone I was back when I was at my worst, and that’s what scares me: the idea of ever going back to that dark point of my life again. It’s a less tangible fear than if you have a fear of beetles or mistletoe or ravenous cannibalistic groundhogs (hey, it’s me, I can’t be completely serious), but a fear nonetheless.

 I have made enough progress though that this feeling is not something that makes me freeze up. It has required the resolve to never let myself fall that far again. It’s also required me to put up boundaries and make decisions about what I can tolerate. The two sisters who were responsible for much of what I’ve gone through have never changed, and never will. I made the decision that my emotional well being, something that I’d allowed to get shredded to pieces keeping my mouth shut all to keep them appeased, had to come first. They were not worth the cost, and I will never again allow them to bring their toxic abuse back into my life. Setting those boundaries had to be done, and I’ve never regretted it. I’m not going back to that dark place in my life.

Here’s the odd thing, and I could only see it in retrospect. Coming like that when it happened, having this all come apart on me and falling apart.... it had to happen sooner or later, and in a strange way I’m grateful for it. I needed to hit rock bottom, to come apart in that dark, bad place, to be so tangled up in depression... to see that I needed help. Too often we tend to think of therapists and counsellors as professionals only needed by crazy people. That’s not the case. Most of the time they’re who we turn to because we need help sorting through a problem in our lives, something we have to deal with. And they’re professionally trained, objective, and able to ask the right questions to get us through those things. I got lucky- the rapport with mine was good right from the beginning, but if it’s not working with one, you can always move on to another therapist or counsellor.

We deal with stresses, turmoil, and struggles in our lives, and they can seem overwhelming. They can seem impossible, and it feels like no one understands. We might even feel that there’s no way out, and we’re just drowning in that situation (believe me, I understand how it feels to be drowning in depression). One of the many things I’ve learned along the road is that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength to recognize we can’t do everything on our own, and that there are times we need help. Reaching out and accepting that is a show of strength. 

And in the end we'll be the better for it.


  1. This is a beautiful account of your journey and you're right on in every way. Thank you for sharing such intimate details. I've a fear of heights and have long ago learned I don't need high places so I don't go there. Ever!

  2. It shows how much progress you've made that you can write about it in such a public manner; I can remember a time when you couldn't talk about it at all. You've come so far, my friend. I'm proud of you.

    Too often, we put up with people or situations in our lives that are toxic. I learned the hard way that you sometimes just have to walk away.

  3. No, it's not a sign of weakness at all. The strong ones are the ones who ask for help and are able to push through because they got help.

  4. Recently read Jack London's White Fang, as you already know and he talks about silence on the tundra feeling tangible so I know what you mean about air and fear and phobias. Very creative writing and I hope you remain a friend through my climb.

  5. We definitely can't do it all and must at times reach out for help. Sounds like you've come to an understanding of yourself that has made you stronger.

  6. Thank you for sharing this with us. Well done, and I also enjoyed the cannibal bit. Funny. And true, we can't always be serious.

    Great post

  7. @Lowell: these days heights suit me just fine.

    @Norma: it's been a hard lesson to learn.

    @Kelly: that's true.

    @Eve: it's been awhile since I've read that one.

    @Cheryl: I have.

    @Whisk: thank you.

  8. My fear of heights extends to even being in a car going over a bridge. I understand, I DO!
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. The old saw about getting back on a horse when thrown definitely applies. The other is a much harder fight that many people lose. Keep your fists up and enjoy Beethoven! Hugs.

  10. Yes, yes and yes, a thousand times yes to this post. I too am getting to the point of asking for help, but it's one of the hardest things to do

  11. I try not to talk about my problems too much especially with the x but that said...... to not speak or talk about or to someone makes anything more important than it is. And it grows to overtake everything.
    I am happy to see that you can and did meet what ever is toxic head on.
    Good for you !

    cheers, gayle

  12. Depression really is an evil beast. I like the black dog comparison. I've seen it take out so many people in family, especially those close to me, and it's so hard to deal with sometimes. I'm grateful you're doing better!

    Cannibalistic groundhogs, lol!

  13. Asking for help
    Getting rid of toxic people (Well, maybe not getting rid of them but getting them out of your life
    Walking through the fear

    It's a good combination. Hard to do it all at once but with practice it becomes more natural, and you can hear the music better.

  14. Good for you to come so far and be able to talk about this, William.
    (I'm partial to Beethoven myself)
    We all suffer, from time to time, with depression. It get so deep that for some help from a therapist is the best answer.
    Have a good day, my friend!

  15. Really great post, William. I know how it goes too. Luckily I've learned how to control it very well, thanks to therapy. It's definitely something that has to be pushed back constantly. I really like what you said about resolve. That's exactly how I've remained healthy in regards to firmly resolving to never get to that low point where it becomes overwhelming.


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