For decades, anxiety, depression, impostor syndrome, self-doubt and low self-esteem have been issues of varying degrees for me. They have ranged from a little voice I try to ignore to the inability to get out of bed, eat, or even feed my children. I’ve seen many counselors, tried medications… albeit briefly, and tried to just force myself “out of it.” And while I am not an expert, I have come to learn that there are five things that I need in my life to help keep things in balance.
- Animals. I need animals in my life in a meaningful way. My cat, Bec (whom I’ve chronicled in a blog), saved my life many times during the tumultuous years of college and early adulthood. I have no words to explain the impact of her passing three years ago after 21 years together. Our two huskies, Luna (also in the blog) and Maverick, our rescue from Husky Haven of Florida, are often the only reason I get out of bed. Their headbutts, face licks, and sighs serve as gentle – and sometimes not so subtle – reminders that life doesn’t always have to be so complex. When I was deep in the throes of post-partum depression after our first child, my hour-long walks with Luna were the only thing that I could bring myself to do each day.
- Physical activity. Shortly before our new reality, I started taking weekly Soulcycle classes that helped me shed all the fear, tension, and weight of the week. Just closing my eyes, singing at the top of my lungs and peddling was the best therapy I could get. Even, or maybe especially, on the days I didn’t have the energy, the toxins that poured out of me with each push and pull of my clipped-in feet felt like a purge. But when the world stopped, I went back to an old favorite – running. Back in Atlanta, trail running was my church. These days, it is simple road running. Just putting on my On Running watermelon-colored shoes (they are technically guava and dustrose) raises my spirits. The minute I step outside and put one foot in front of the other, I can breathe again, which is ironic because I live in Florida, and breathing while running during the summer is actually really hard to do.
- Nature. Part of the reason physical activity is one of my top five is because nature is also in my top five and often my activity is going for a run. Not everyone feels like this, but when I am in nature I feel grounded. I was once told that anti-anxiety medicine is like an open window in a room with a trapped bird. The window doesn’t make the bird disappear or stop the bird from coming back in, but it helps the bird have a way out. That is what nature is for me. Sometimes it is the exertion of a run or hike that makes me let go, but other times it is as simple as looking out at the ocean, feeling the wind against my face, tasting the salt in the air, or closing my eyes to hear the break of a wave. The two best places to be “in” nature for me are the mountains and the beach. The mountains can be any time, any way. The beach is a little more specific. Usually, to feel the healing power, it needs to be at night or in the winter. My choice to live in Florida means that I have learned to prioritize getting to the mountains whenever possible.
- Music. Listening to almost any music instantly takes me out of my thoughts and into my emotions. My mood is 100% based on what I am listening to. I’ve come to realize that my deep depressions in my late teens and early 20s were as much a result of breakups and seasonal affective disorder as they were my penchant for listening to sad songs. These days, two artists are my go-to when my tank is dangerously close to empty – Rob Thomas and NeedToBreathe. Their music is honest and empowering. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I smile, but always I feel more aware of what is really going on inside.
- Writing. Ever since I could write, writing has been a path to introspection and healing for me. From my first published poem as a fourth grader that helped me realize I had potential, to my novel about Billy the Kid to help me cope with teenaged lovesickness, to my story about rape that helped me express anxiety and feelings of loneliness, to almost 100 forlorn love letters while living through a year-and-a-half-long long-distance relationship, writing has always been the way I distill my feelings into thoughts I can express to others. When I make space for it I feel better. But making space for it is hard, often impossible when my other lighthouses are not present.
There are other things that work for other people, and there are definitely other things in my life that bring me joy, but after 43 years, I’ve learned that these are the five things I need in my life to fight off the darkness that creeps in. What are your lighthouses?