Things I Learned In Therapy: A Self Care Primer

I recently sank into yet another depressive episode - I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I was in a dark place with no flashlight. I finally decided I needed to journal about it, since I wasn’t writing, I was isolating, I had zero motivation, etc. And Lo, when I opened my journal, the following pages fell out. I’d forgotten I’d made them, to be honest, but they acted like a bucket of “wake up” ice water over my head.


The First Page:

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The first page is a checklist of sorts, a reminder that these behaviors and feelings are indicative of a problem. There are 26 items on this list. I identified with 23 of them. Because the thing is, when you’re IN the depressive state, when you’re experiencing the symptoms, it can be difficult to see them. Can’t see the forest for the trees, as it were. But recognizing these things is crazy important, it’s the first step - like finding the flashlight in the dark room

The Second Page

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Ever feel called out? I sure did when I looked at this list. It’s no wonder I was mired in depression! Still, the reason I like it is because it forces you to check in - for real. Not “I’m fine,” but “wow, I guess I haven’t showered in a few days. Did I take my medication? I can’t remember.” Now, just doing the things on this list is a good start towards reclaiming yourself, but Page Three gave me a bunch more.


The Third Page

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My therapist is pretty smart. Together we can acknowledge what I’m feeling and experiencing, but the focus is always on solutions. What can we do to manage symptoms or emotions, how can we grow from an experience, etc. So i appreciate this menu of “Action Items” that I can choose from when I recognize I’m not exactly as okay as I thought I was.


The Fourth Page

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My therapist is big on awareness. Just because a thought happened does not mean that it’s truth. These “no-no’s” are the guidebook to Cognitive Distortions. (and yes, I’m aware I spelled cognitive incorrectly on the page. I was not in an awesome place when I made these cheat sheets for myself.) I do ALL of these things, more frequently than I’d like to admit.


The Final Page

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Personal power. That’s where we’re at here - this is the page of questions that get you to a solution, or at least a less stressful way through the darkness. It includes one of my personal favorites, best summed up by a waitress working alongside Sarah Connor in the very first Terminator movie - “Think of it this way: in a hundred years, who’s gonna care?” This page dares us to examine the thoughts and situations we feel so overwhelmed by, and realize that we have the power to endure or fight them.


Further Revelations

I found this video many years ago, before I truly understood the impact of depression on my life. (I’ve been depressed for a While.) It made things so clear, I was floored.

The idea of Depression as a companion struck me pretty powerfully - I may never be without it, but I can live with it. I can incorporate it and it's needs into my life, hopefully training it to sit quietly to the side most of the time.

I love having hope that I might be able to train it, use the lessons Depression teaches me about myself and my place in the world to actually rise above and succeed where I might not have before.


Important Artwork (by: Chiara Bautista)

I came across this image shortly after coming to my realization I was IN a depressive state. When held up to my long-standing “black dog as depression” belief, it begins to take on a pretty significant meaning, at least for me. The idea of the mask, first of all - there’s the face we show to the world, and the face we are comfortable in, the face that shows when we are intimate or vulnerable. I love that her heart is connected to the black dog, that while it is huge, it is not aggressive. “Mine…” it’s such an image of acceptance. I read it “owning” my mental illness, that even though Depression is vast and complex, it doesn’t necessarily have to destroy me.

Should I magically inherit several hundred monies and the name of a phenomenal tattoo artist, I would get this inked onto my body in a Heartbeep. (as my granddaughter calls it.)

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In Conclusion

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Mental health is so, so important. One of the best ways to manage it (alongside therapy and medication) is through self awareness.

Therapy doesn’t magically fix depression, bi-polar, anxiety, or PTSD. Therapy is like a hardware store - you go there to get the tools you need to make changes in your life.

Medication, that’s the hard hat and gloves and dust mask - it keeps you protected from the worst of the shrapnel kicked up by the work you’re doing.

But the biggest change is in your hands. Just yours. You decide if/how you use the tools available. Your future is Yours, whether you can see it or not. I’ve been in mental spaces where I couldn’t imagine a future beyond the next day, or the next hour.

I got help. I continue to have help in all kinds of capacities, but the real work, the hard work, that’s mine to do. Sharing my process here is another way I can help - and I know that at my very core, that’s who I am. I want to help.

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk :P

In Defense of Sensitive Content

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Dear readers, writers, reviewers, and other humans:

I am writing this not because I want a reading landscape full of explicit, traumatic, and triggering fiction, but because I don’t want a landscape utterly devoid of real, flawed characters, genuine conflict and consequence, and legitimate representation for everyone and their experiences.

Let me begin by saying I am no stranger to trauma.

If my life were a TV show, it would have an NC-17 rating and like, 14 trigger warnings. Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel couldn’t even show it. Multiple psychiatric professionals have been rendered speechless by the sheer “wtf-ness” of my personal history.

Through everything I experienced, I read to escape - the library was my second home, the librarians were my other family.

I went to Whangdoodleland and Narnia and Middle Earth and Oz and Wonderland and Shannara. I helped Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames solve mysteries. I vicariously rode Black Beauty and sailed with pirates and ran away with the circus and escaped from a tower with rope I braided from napkin threads. I read Agatha Christie and Stephen King and Clive Barker and a hundred others I don’t remember. I read fantasy and scifi and mystery and romance and true crime … I read it ALL.

This was back when the only content warning was the librarian saying “this book might be a little old for you.” It was a time when encountering something gross or uncomfortable in the story meant you skipped a few pages ahead - or stopped reading and went to another book if it kept being a problem.

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The thing is, sometimes I wanted to keep reading. If the character was going through something familiar - something maybe uncomfortably similar to my own experiences - I wanted to see what happened to them. Not all the time, but sometimes. I wanted to know that things could get better, that justice could be served, that damaged didn’t mean worthless.

I want to find myself in fiction. I want to find fat characters not trying to lose weight. I want asexual romances and characters living with depression or chronic pain or repressed trauma or all of the above. And I want them to get a decent ending not in spite of their trauma, but by moving into it and finding the gift of it all.

Since my fantasy trilogy, Melody’s Song, was picked up by Cobble Publishing in 2018, it has remained under the proverbial radar. The publisher believes in the value of this story as much as I do, but we didn’t account for today’s ultra-protective reading circles when we brought Melody out into the wide world.

Melody is not in those circles for one overarching reason: Book one, Awaken, contains a single, brief scene of sexual violence. That one page, those few paragraphs, have kept her story - the story of a sheltered young woman thrust without warning into the magically intolerant civilization she has been raised apart from - away from a huge potential audience.

To be clear, there are three entire books to balance out those few paragraphs. Characters develop and grow and change over the course of the story. Things happen. They make good, bad, and morally gray decisions. People are good. People are self-serving. People are evil. Things continue to happen. Characters persevere through multiple challenges, ranging from a bounty on their head to overwhelming grief, from defeating an ancient evil to escaping a terrible relationship. There is action. There is love. There is sacrifice and magic and faith and triumph.

But one scene - an essential scene - in one chapter of one book bars the entire trilogy from traditional small-press avenues for promotion. The vast majority of review sites and promotional groups will accept anything EXCEPT sexual violence. They cite trauma, triggers, and creating a safe environment for reviewers - which I understand. I do.

I did not tell this story to traumatize anyone. The violence isn’t glorified. I told this story to show that trauma doesn’t have to define us, that we can step into our power and do amazing things. We can be broken AND powerful. We can be damaged and still love, we can be weak and still be strong. We can be betrayed and still trust. I feel like that is an incredibly important story for survivors of any kind of trauma to read.

My thought is that maybe, just maybe, one or two of those reviewers on the other side of the No Sexual Violence wall could use a story like that. Maybe someone reading this could use a book like that, but has never heard of Melody’s Song because she isn’t welcome in so many internet circles.

The story isn’t ABOUT that one scene in that one book. The scene doesn’t exist to motivate a male character, there are no refrigerators. It’s just a story - a three-book story packed with ups and downs and pain and joy and zombies and magic and giant spiders and singing. There’s even a bit with a dog.

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In Conclusion, thank you for coming to my TED talk.

The more you share this post, the more likely a reviewer or book promoter is to read this - and maybe bring Melody past the red velvet rope.

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Should that happen, should any reviewers or book promotion people see this article, agree, and want to connect with the goal of getting Melody into a wider world - bring it on.