Hidden Hope, In Plain Sight

I realize that this is the second tattoo-related post on my blog in recent weeks, but bear with me.

I recently – finally – got my tattoo.  I’ve wanted it for years, but the timing was never great, and I was waiting for the right design.  Then I ended up traveling for work to a location that seems to have as many tattoo shops per capita as Las Vegas has casinos.  One evening, as several of us were eating dinner, one of my coworkers called the shop across the street from the restaurant (after scoping it out on Yelp) and, before I knew it, I was in the shop getting the details worked out.

The artist joked that my design was really four tattoos in one: a butterfly, a semicolon, a heart, and a cross, and, well, he wasn’t wrong.  But their individual significance gives way to a larger meaning when put together in this way.  They each hold something special, but they are more than the sum of their parts.

The butterfly has long been important to me, especially after doing the Chrysalis weekend (Walk to Emmaus) when I was in high school.  It symbolizes new beginnings.  It represents change.  It is new, radiant, beautiful life on the other side of what the caterpillar can only imagine to be darkness and pain.  The old, quite literally, is gone, and the new has come.

If you’re familiar with Project Semicolon, you know that the semicolon is associated with mental health and suicide prevention.  In writing, when an author wants to end a sentence, he or she will use a period.  But if they have more to say, if the sentence shouldn’t end yet, the author can use a semicolon.  My semicolon says that I have thought about ending the sentence, the story, the book…but I chose not to.  I have more life left to live – more to write, more to sing, more to experience, more to be.

What I especially love about the semicolon in this tattoo is that it would be easy to not notice it; it doubles as the body of the butterfly, and one could be forgiven for not even realizing the semicolon is there.  That’s exactly what my struggle with mental illness is – it is a part of me, subtly present, but never my defining feature.  For it to be part of something that symbolizes new life is even better; I carry my struggle into my new life because, while my story doesn’t define me, I can absolutely use it to offer a light in a dark place to someone else.

The heart and the cross are somewhat self-explanatory:

Love.

Love conquers fear.  It overcomes and forgives our worst.  It inspires our best.  Every single thing I do needs to be done in love, and the cross represents the greatest act of love humanity has ever had the opportunity to witness intersecting with the greatest need humanity would ever know.  It is sacrifice, humility, courage, and hope.

Ah, there it is.  That thing I talk a lot about if you’ve spent any time at all reading this blog.  Hope.

I debated simply tattooing the word on my wrist, as much a declaration as a plea, but I wanted to do this differently.  Instead, each of the four symbols within my tattoo is a variation of hope:

The butterfly’s hope is that new life, that “hanging on” in the darkest of experiences, the transformation revealed when it leaves the chrysalis.  The caterpillar’s entire existence might have been over, lost to the darkness, but it continues in a vibrant, bold way.

The semicolon’s insistence that the story isn’t over is hope’s quiet resolve.  There is more to be writtenIt must be written!  Everything is incomplete without the rest of this story.

Love, at its core, is hope.  We often pour out our love for others, willing to overlook and overcome their darkest moments and shadiest corners, because we see potential – we have hope for what can be, and we love them enough to not give up on them while they get there.  Can we reserve that same kind of love for ourselves?  Can we see the potential of who and what God created us to be and believe that we’re worthy of that potential?  Love gives us a place to transform.  Love lets us be caterpillars, with a ridiculous, outrageous hope for the butterflies to come, without giving up on us in the cocoon.

And oh…the cross.  Jesus came face-to-face with humiliation and pain and betrayal.  He could have ended the torture and the spectacle, and the angels – who were perhaps watching in abject horror – would have come to His aid in the blink of an eye.  But He endured the worst because the best was yet to come.  He knew that his sacrifice, and His subsequent resurrection, would mean that hope would not only be forever present, but it would be accessible.  To you.  To me.  To all of us, no matter how dark our past; our futures could be something different.

So each of my tattoo’s symbols has a very specific meaning, but there is hope hidden in each of them.  Hope hidden, but in plain sight.  Where do you see hope today?

 

Guest Post: The Watch & The Tattoo

Alyssa Montague is one of the gutsiest people I know, and I am honored to have her share her heart and thoughts in this guest post for If I Knew Not Midnight:

Multiple high profile suicides this past week have left me with a lot of thoughts and feelings. This morning I wrote some of them down. I’d like to share them with y’all if you’d indulge me.

I adore the Kate Spade brand and it’s meant a lot over the years. The brand’s simple, sophisticated femininity speaks to me and it’s always a bit of a moment when I let myself have a Kate Spade. A few weeks ago I bought myself a present at the Kate Spade outlet near my dad’s house. It’s a watch that straddles the line between practical and whimsical in a way that feels so very me – a scalloped leather band with enough sparkle on the face to be pretty and fun without nearing gaudy or pretentious territory. I love it so much. Today I put it on, and I paused as I turned my wrist over to fasten it. There, under my Kate Spade watch, was my tattoo. I got this tattoo a few years ago to both honor my fight against depression and suicide and, more personally, to provide a very pointed reminder. At the last minute, I will always be reminded to keep fighting.

Seeing my tattoo juxtaposed with this symbol of celebration and joy, my heart broke. My soul has lived the foggy weariness that claimed Kate Spade and others, and I thank anything divine I’m not there right now. But I know so many are still there, wandering in grey, muted desolation and rapidly running out of hope.

Because you might be one of those people, I want to be open about my struggle in the hope that you will know you’re not alone and you’ll know it’s okay. But in case I haven’t been clear, I am mentally ill.

Let me say it again, louder, for the people in the back. I am mentally ill.

There is no reason or catalyst. It’s just part of my beautiful, amazing brain. Most days I function just fine. Some days I don’t. My medication helps and so does my pupper. Therapy had been invaluable to me. And oddly, running. None of those things are magic on their own, but I’m using all of them to make it. And I’m surviving. No, wait. Actually, I’m THRIVING. I have an amazing life with incredible family – both the one I was born to and the one I’ve found and built. I own the anxiety and depression that has impacted me so significantly, but I refuse to allow them to define the core of who I am.

If, like me, you are living with mental illness, I offer you this: you are not alone. Sometimes you feel broken, and that’s ok. It. Is. Ok. It’s not all of you. Not even a little bit. You are a magical sunfish or an opalescent tree shark (™ Leslie Knope). You, in all your brokenness, are beautiful and magical and brilliant. I love you, and I ask you to stay and keep making the world better by being you. Because I promise you are doing exactly that, and we need you.

They Showed Up

They showed up.

From across the country and around the world.

They showed up.

To listen to live music. To relax. To sing along.

They showed up.

To bid farewell to the fading summer and welcome the hints of fall.

They showed up.

To meet with friends and connect with strangers.

And then he showed up.

Revelry turned to panic in a shower of bullets as the worst kind of history was made under the lights of the Vegas Strip.

They showed up.

Concert-goers became protectors; humans became shields.

They showed up.

Picking up, running with, carrying out the scared and the injured.

They showed up.

First responders, running toward the horror, focused on saving lives.

They showed up.

Doctors and nurses in blood-stained scrubs fighting for the lives evil had tried to take.

They showed up.

Trauma counselors answered the call for volunteers and met the scared, broken and distraught whose lives were forever altered.

They showed up.

They filled chapels and churches to keep their promise to pray.

They showed up.

Waiting for hours, even overnight, to donate blood.

They showed up.

Filling other needs to capacity – food, water, hygiene products, and clothes.

They showed up.

Surpassing funding goals for people they might never meet.

They showed up.

They brought hope. They shared life. They sat and cried with the hurting. They demonstrated that humanity’s darkest moments cannot hold sway when love shows up.

Whether a natural disaster or an act of terror, courageous hearts full of hope and action will always win. These are the moments when that divine spark shines brightest because love is so much bigger than anything any force can throw our way.

Love showed up. Hope showed up. Courage showed up. Life showed up.

And it will every time.

The Love Letter

A couple of weeks ago, To Write Love On Her Arms challenged people to write a love letter to themselves, and my first thought was clear and concise:

Nope. Buckets of NOPE.

I love writing, and I love encouraging people to love themselves, so the intensity of my reaction caught me off-guard. This seemed like the perfect little assignment, so what exactly was my problem?? I sat there, dumbfounded and more than a little uneasy. I could dig deeper – which could get ugly – and figure out what was going on, or I could totally pretend that I hadn’t seen TWLOHA’s challenge and just go on about my day. I went to scroll down to the next item in my feed when I realized that I couldn’t unfeel that visceral reaction; this wasn’t going to go away. I grimaced and grabbed my journal and some coffee, sought out a quiet corner, and began to process.

Why did writing myself a love letter bother me so deeply? Did I love myself? Sure. I mean, I thought so. I didn’t hate myself, and that was a world away from where I used to be. I at least liked myself enough to think that I’d want to be friends with me…if I wasn’t already me. So if love wasn’t the problem, what was? This picture popped into my head of me writing a letter, the cursive flowing across the page as I filled up lines with adjectives talking about how great I was. That was the moment that it hit me; writing a love letter felt exactly like writing my annual performance report at work. Those performance reports are always wordsmith-ed to make it sound as though a person not only walks on water, but they led 500 other people in walking on water too, and they saved the organization enough money to pay off the national debt in the process. Writing my performance report makes me feel like I’m selling myself, and I tend to want a shower afterward, because gross.

I didn’t want anything I wrote to myself to be remotely like that. Love letters are beautiful, almost magical things. To string words into sentences that somehow communicate why a person loves another is a spell in and of itself. Maybe I didn’t feel worthy of that magic, or perhaps that kind of enchanted communication seemed meant for two hearts and not just one writing to itself.

I realized that I would believe every word of a love letter written to me by someone else, but I would feel arrogant and conceited if I did the same for myself. Could I trust my own words? What if I wrote the wrong things? What if I loved myself for the wrong reasons? Were there right reasons to love myself, and did I know them? If I knew them, did I actually love myself for them? The line of questioning became absurd and vaguely familiar, and as I asked them, my face suddenly became very hot and my chest tightened a bit. The word iridescent flashed across my brain as I realized this wasn’t all that different from trying to figure out the “right” favorite color to have as a kid. I recognized the sensation immediately, and I was stunned when I made the connection: to write a love letter to myself felt risky, and the potential to somehow be wrong in what I wrote drove a feeling of shame before I had even jotted down a syllable. It was fine to encourage others to love themselves; it was fine to be loved by someone else. It was even totally acceptable to say that I loved myself. But get into the details about why I might be worthy of that love, and I might be wrong. Wrong. Bad. Judged. Shameful.

That was it. The source of my adamant refusal to write myself a love letter had been discovered. I didn’t feel better; instead, I was livid. I wasn’t sure who to be mad at, but the fact that shame existed in this context seemed like a valid reason to be angry. But being pissed off wasn’t going to solve anything, and it wasn’t going to make the weird Shame Monster go away. So I did the only thing I could think of.

I flipped to a blank page and started to write…

**********

Dear Me,

First, I love that on the spectrum of smoking hot messes, you are downright radioactive. That’s part of your charm. You are real and honest about your mess, and you’d walk away from this sweet career you’ve built if it ever demanded that you be anything less than your messy, authentic self.

I love that you bare your scars – some deep, some weathered, some so fresh they might still be wounds. You show them unreservedly, so that others might avoid scars of their own or at least be unashamed of the ones they have.

You’re a forced extrovert by day but a confirmed introvert at heart. In spite of your need for time to yourself, you cannot bear the thought of anyone feeling alone, lost, left out, or hopeless on this journey called life. If you could spend every waking minute telling people that they aren’t alone and that hope absolutely exists, I think you would do it.

I love that you experience life and feel emotion in ways always amplified with the same adverb: too much, too deeply, too greatly. You put those feelings on a shelf to do your job, but you inevitably circle back to take them down, unwrapping the dubious gift left by and for your heart and soul. Profound feeling is your birthright; to be any less would be a betrayal of the very essence of who you are.

The intensity with which you feel and love and live makes you an open target, and while you still feel wounds far more deeply than you will admit, you haven’t closed yourself off. You have consciously chosen to risk those wounds rather than become bitter. It doesn’t always make sense – from a self-preservation perspective, it makes none – but I’m not sure you could actually survive if you boarded up that beating heart of yours. Again, you certainly wouldn’t be you, and I love that you are so recklessly committed to being you.

Part of your unfettered feeling comes from a desire to be an example to your daughter. I love that you want so desperately to be a good mom, and you worry constantly about how your choices will impact her. Here’s the reality: you’re a good mom. Some days, you’re a great mom. Your daughter is secure in the fact that she’s loved, that you believe in her, and that you’re proud of her. She’s happy, healthy, and resilient. You’ve spent the last few years walking through fire to make sure she’d come out unscathed, and you’ve done a pretty good job. Don’t sweat the small stuff; you’ve got this.

I love that you seek out beautiful things and that sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, and starry nights still make you cry. You’ve been storing up and holding onto these encounters with beauty for years, unsure of how to express the raw joy and awe that comes from such things. But you’ve been finding ways to channel all of that into creating. You have shed that people-pleasing skin you’ve been walking around in your whole life, and your creativity has blossomed. You don’t always belong in the analytical corner you’ve painted yourself into, convinced that creativity was the domain of the free-spirits in your life. You can be both – you are both – and that happiness radiating from you when you are making music or writing is telling. I love that you’ve found it; don’t bury it, but by all means, share it!

I love that you are fiercely loyal, often to a fault. I love that your faith still runs deep after all these years, even if you no longer fit the church girl mold that you once did. That’s ok. Jesus loves you anyway, and so do I. And maybe that makes it ok for other people who don’t quite fit the picture-perfect Christian model either. If Jesus loves you, He most certainly loves them!

You’re insecure about so much of your body; you always have been, and there are some molds you just won’t ever fit into. But your eyes – those are my favorite feature. They are shades of brown that resemble different hues of honey, depending on your mood, and they betray your every deeply felt emotion. (You are a terrible liar because of this, and that’s a wonderful thing.)

You’ve come a long way down a hard road, and I couldn’t be prouder. You don’t have it all figured out; you never will. But your heart is still open – to others, to yourself, to faith, to love, to hope. I love that. I love you. I love you. I love you. Don’t forget that.

Always,

Me

*********

Friends, do you have it in you to write your own love letter to yourselves?

Hope

“I’m just…I’m just running out of hope.”

I read the words on my screen, but I heard them in my head in her voice.  Tired.  Drained.  Defeated.

I asked the uncomfortable, necessary question; she told me she was not suicidal at that moment.  She let me know that she had an appointment with her doctor the next morning, though, and she was determined to see life through until at least then.  We chatted throughout the night – a comfort for her and a reassurance for me that she was still hanging in there.  When an ocean and a handful of time zones separate you, you do what you can with limited options.  Dawn came, and with it, her morning routine.  She promised to send me a message after the appointment to let me know how it had gone.

I thought back to her statement, typed with such sad resignation: “I’m just running out of hope.”  What was hope, exactly?  I mean, I echo the Bible when I say that it is the anchor of my soul, and I echo To Write Love On Her Arms when I also say it is the anthem of my soul.  But what does being an anchor and an anthem of my soul mean?  Was hope as my friend saw it – some kind of finite resource, invisibly measured by a gauge like a tank of gas in my car?  Was it like a staple that everyone empties grocery store shelves of before a snowstorm, like bread and water?  How do you run out of something you can barely define without a dictionary?

As I pondered and processed, I took to my various social media accounts and asked people to finish the sentence: Hope is _______.  Most answers were abstract; others were more concrete, and some…well, let’s just say that I was trolled by a few friends.  There were answers grounded in faith, there were multiple Emily Dickinson quotations about “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” and there were several answers that defined hope as a belief, a feeling, or a mindset.  Some mentioned what hope is not: blind optimism or a course of action (more on this one in a minute).  By and large, the answers were great but still somehow intangible.  So what does hope look like?

In my own life, when I am spiraling into a dark depressive episode and I choose to short-circuit the spiral by calling it a night and going to sleep, I do so with the hope that the sun will come up tomorrow.  And if it is raining in the morning and I can’t see the sun, my hope is that the colors of everything the rain touches will be magnified as they normally are when wet, bold against the gray.  My hope is for beauty in the bleakness.

Hope is knowing that sunrise will come, even in the midst of the darkest night.

Hope is searching for that sunrise.  Hope is finding starlight in the waiting – maybe only a single star – and hanging on because where there is a little light, there must be more.  Hope is finding no light but remembering starlight, moonlight, sunrise – and where light has been before, surely it can shine again.

In my work, anytime someone says “Hopefully, such-and-such happens,” it is common to remind them that “hope is not a course of action.”  In the military, the details matter and have to be accounted for; hoping things come together without a plan for them to generally results in mission failure.  So from a work perspective, I totally believe that hope is not a course of action.  From a life perspective, I believe that hope may be the greatest course of action we could possibly have.

Hope is audacious, bold, defiant, and daring.  It flies in the face of everything negative and refuses to give ground.  Hope expects.  Hope is action, even if that action is simply to breathe in, breathe out, and put one foot in front of the other.

Hope is choosing not to wall yourself off from people, feelings, experiences, love, and life because you have been devastatingly hurt.

Hope is communicating to someone that you’re having a tough time and could use some help.

Hope is answering that message with a message of its own: you are not alone.  I am not alone.  We are not alone.  And isn’t that what we want so desperately to know?  That we aren’t all by ourselves in this life?

Hope is not an island.  Or if it is, it is ever-expanding and making room for others.  Hope shares hope.  Hope is sitting beside someone in their darkness and offering light.  You may simply be a candle – a tea light, for crying out loud – but have you ever seen what a tiny candle can do in the darkest of places?  Hope shares hope; light shares light.  Does a candle lose anything by lighting another candle?  No, but the darkness sure does.

Hope is many things, but the intangibleness of it somehow drives the most tangible actions.  To live is hope, my friends.  Deep, crazy, wild hope.

My friend went to her doctor’s appointment and was put on some new meds that should help to get her brain chemistry into a better place.  She’s still hanging in there, as am I – and many of her friends.  We are those persistent (read: pain in the rear) friends who won’t let her give up without a fight, and I think that candles are being lit.  Her hope tank is slowly filling, and she’s finding a new reason each day to keep going.  Like I said, to live is hope.

Live big.  Hope big.  And share that stuff everywhere, with everyone.

My Story

As a reader pointed out, perhaps it isn’t entirely fair to ask you to tell me your story, to beg you to see how important you and your story are, without embracing a little vulnerability myself and telling parts of my own story.  I say “parts” only because some of the questions I asked last week could be blog posts in and of themselves, and they may well develop into those someday, but for now I will offer up a look at some of the things and experiences that help make me…me.

My favorite color is purple.  All shades, but I’m especially fond of lavender.  Why?  No clue.  It just is, and I love that reality.  There was a time in my life when I would have told you my favorite color was white because it symbolized purity and innocence.  At least, that seemed like a good church girl answer, a right answer, and Lord knows that I was always looking for the right answer – even to questions that didn’t – shouldn’t – have a right answer.  Someone told me once that their favorite color was iridescent, and I distinctly recall feeling this overwhelming sense of shame at not having come up with that one first, in spite of the fact that one shouldn’t have to “come up with” their favorite color in the first place.  Being a people pleaser has been part of my personality for as long as I can remember; it’s practically written into my DNA, but when you’re looking for the “correct” favorite color and a suitably good explanation to match, something is wrong.  Years later, my favorite color is unapologetically, inexplicably purple, and I’m quite happy with that.

I don’t have any scars to remind me of childhood misadventures.  My heels are covered in scars from the blood gas tests done on me as an infant born three months too early.  I have burn marks on my arms from handling pizza pans still hot from the family’s pizza oven.  There’s a fading scar by my right elbow from the night at the Weapons School when we were all too tired and too giggly and I fell off my ever-present stepstool and sliced my arm open on the wooden edge of a 3D map.  And I have four significant scars from biopsies, as cancer is a very real threat in my family.  Even without childhood misadventures, my scars can tell you quite a story in and of themselves.

I don’t have a “thing I do” when I drive through a yellow light, but I used to kiss my fingers and then tap the dashboard twice and the windshield once.  It was a college thing, I think.

I drink my coffee the way my mom drinks her coffee: two sugars and a dollop of flavored creamer.  Coffee is a special thing with my mom and me.  Sitting down and chatting over a cup of coffee is a tradition we’ve had for years now, even across the miles.

Growing up, I went through the gamut of scientist phases – I was going to be an astronomer, or a paleontologist, or an archaeologist.  I even majored in archaeology at one point, after I decided that I didn’t have the stuff to be an investigative journalist like Woodward and Bernstein.  I then realized that archaeology was a lot more than doing digs, so I moved on to majoring in Communication.  My dream job at the time would have been to become a communications coach, teaching business people how to effectively communicate their ideas – especially in front of large groups.  During my last couple of years of college, I was dead-set on going on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and doing campus ministry; God clearly had other plans, and I ended up enlisting in the Air Force.  12 years later, I have a commission, completed Weapons School (with a cool scar), and I’m in a career I love.

While I watch a variety of TV shows, my favorite is Supernatural.  I discovered this long-running show this summer, and I binge-watched 12 seasons in my spare time.  I love the show because very rarely is anyone all good or all bad; these are people with broken pasts, broken hearts, and broken lives trying to make the world a better place than they found it.  That’s probably a pretty good description of any of us, and I love that they’ve taken a show that mirrors many of the struggles and drama faced in the real world and managed to couch it in a supernatural setting.  The actors themselves are phenomenal, but also down-to-earth and out to make the world a better place too.  The fandom – or the Supernatural Family / #SPNFamily – raised more than $300,000 in a matter of days for Hurricane Harvey relief through a CrowdRise fund set up by Jensen Ackles, and Misha Collins’ Random Acts organization has been finding real, solid, meaningful ways to help and change the world for years now.  Jared Padalecki’s Always Keep Fighting (#AKF) campaign really opened doors to depression and suicide awareness, and I’ve talked to more than one person who has said that his openness about the struggle is why they are still here today.  I love that a single show with some amazing people can have a ripple effect with a global impact for good.  Don’t we all hope for a legacy like that?

The movie that I loved that I’ve only seen once and will never watch again because I cried all the tears was P.S. I Love You.  I am a profoundly hopeless romantic, and that movie did me in from the moment it started.

I like pineapple on my pizza if the pizza is Hawaiian.  The flavors meld so well.

The first concert I went to was Jars of Clay.  I spent the entire evening waiting for them to play Flood, and it was awesome.

I’m divorced, but I have a little girl, and she is my entire freaking world.  My daughter tends to spark my creativity in new and exciting ways, so you’ll probably read more about her in the future (with her permission, of course).

For years, I have painted myself into a very analytic corner.  Always good at academics and very logical, I would wistfully look at my creative friends and wish that I could be more like them.  For some reason, I associated free-spiritedness with creativity and assumed that they were mutually inclusive.  Only in the last few months have I begun to embrace the reality that I am a creative as well.  I love to write – can’t you tell?  I’ve been singing for years, and making music really makes me happy.  I was a theater kid in high school, and while I don’t act anymore, I am ridiculously excited for my friends who are pursuing that art form…because I get it.  Making something where there was nothing before, or where there were just words or notes or colors, that sets my soul on fire.

Something else that sets my soul on fire is advocating for mental health.  Although I just wrote this blog entry, and it has nothing to do with mental health – and it has everything to do with mental health.  As someone who has struggled in silence for years, I have found my voice and my will to fight for myself and others as we walk forward in this.  Depression is something I’ve known every single day for as long as I can remember; it is truly a thread interwoven in the fabric of my life.  But it isn’t my entire story.  It may have shaped part of my story, and experiencing it may have been the spark that set fire to this passion of mine, but I am so much more.  So are you.

So there you have it – part of my story.  There’s certainly more to follow, and as this blog continues, the story will continue to be written.  The point is that we have stories, and they aren’t defined by our struggles.  The fact that I’m still here writing, and the fact that you’re still here reading means that hope is the other thread that’s been making its way through the words, through the painful parts, through the fall-down-laughing hilarity.  Because hope is as real as any of it, and hope is my story.

The Struggle Bus

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had more than a few conversations about The Struggle Bus.  This is a term that we often apply to just about anything involving some semblance of difficulty — a morning where the caffeine just isn’t kicking in, the concept in school that you just can’t wrap your mind around, or one of those days when parenting is really, really hard.  In these recent conversations, however, The Struggle Bus was the term du jour for the ongoing fight with depression.

One of my friends voiced how tired he was of The Struggle Bus, a sentiment that I shared and understood.  For some people, trips on The Struggle Bus are episodic; they come and go with relief in between.  For others, years have been spent on the journey, and they are worn down from it.  Regardless of how often or how long, time spent on The Struggle Bus isn’t fun; it’s exhausting.  That exhaustion plays a large role in many people’s decisions to end the trip permanently.

That’s not the right answer.  It’s never the right answer.  But in the midst of the fight, what keeps us going?  What keeps us from giving in?

Hope.

Hope that this ride will be short.  Hope that getting out of bed, taking a shower, and putting on clean clothes will be the first steps in a day that improves from there.  Hope that the depression won’t be defining.  Hope that the depression won’t get the last word.  Hope that there’s still music to make and stories to write and sunsets to be in awe over and stars to wish on.  Hope that there’s more, and it is vibrant and beautiful and better.

Hope.

I think there might be another layer to this, though.  Have you ever kept hanging on because you knew someone else was hanging on too, and if they could do it, maybe you could as well – even just for today?

Here’s the thing: we need each other.  We isolate ourselves, but we need each other.  We feel alone, but we need each other.  Do you understand me?  We need each other.  In this fight, it’s a Struggle Bus — not a Struggle Unicycle.  Take a look around; there are other people on board this thing.  We all believe that we’re by ourselves and staring out the window into the grayness, but there are other people riding, and they need encouragement and hope as much as we do.  We have the chance to bring that to them.

I know, I know.  Before you put me on blast and tell me that you’re barely getting through the day as it is and how can I possibly expect you to find what it takes to help someone else, hear me out.  Sometimes, giving hope and encouragement to someone else looks exactly like getting through your day.  Someone else might choose to hang in there because you did — no extra effort, no special words, nothing more cosmic than what you’re already doing.  And trust me, I know that there are days when just functioning should earn you a ticker tape parade.

Just living – and encouraging someone else and giving them some hope to keep going – has a way of flipping the script on depression, even while riding its Struggle Bus.  Depression – insidious beast that it is – tells us we’re alone, that we’re worthless, that we matter to no one.  But if the very act of living is giving hope and encouragement to someone else, that flies in the face of the lies depression wants us to believe in our darkest moments.

There’s one tiny catch, however. You have to speak up. You can’t encourage someone else by getting through the day if they don’t have a clue how unbelievably difficult it can be for you to do just that. I’m not saying that you have to announce your fight on social media (although if you want to continue to take down the stigma that way, be my guest).  But tell someone.  Move seats on The Struggle Bus and sit next to someone who was convinced they had the whole place to themselves.  For starters, if you’ve been suffering in silence, I want you to know that you don’t have to do that, and telling someone makes the burden a little lighter.  But telling someone also opens the door for that person to glimpse hope on your good days.  And I pray for a lot of good days for you.

If you are watching someone else, and you know their struggle, and you are encouraged by them, speak up.  Tell them.  It doesn’t have to be flowery, and it doesn’t have to be awkward. But finding out that choosing to stay and live and fight is a choice that is giving hope to other people can be a shot of adrenaline for someone.  You can give that to them.  You.  Who doesn’t want to know they matter in the life of someone else??

For the record, you matter. If you’re riding The Struggle Bus, you aren’t alone.  There are days when I might be sitting right next to you.  I keep riding because I have hope, and I keep riding because I want to give hope.  It doesn’t make the journey less exhausting, but it sure makes it worth it.