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.