the depression chronicles: radical self-care

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I was doing all right. The day had been a little lighter than the ones that had come before it, but anxiety was knocking at the door again, a bit of darkness pressing its face against the windows, and I knew that I was going to have do something a bit bigger, a bit stronger, a bit more radical.

So I hauled myself out the door. First things first: get out of the house.

I didn’t have a plan. I headed to the mall, thinking I would run some errands, but as soon as I set foot in the cool, echoey interior, I knew it was a mistake. Malls are depressing places; I rarely ever see people smile there. I hustled out as fast as I could and headed to my go-to happy place: the library. But I knew that I had too many books at home to read, and the growing pile, far from giving me pleasure, was starting to feel like a chore. Instead of heading inside to peruse more chores, I stopped at the threshold and went into Second Cup instead. I bought myself a green tea lemonade and a croissant, plonked myself down at a window table, and enjoyed my snack. I didn’t pull out the book I had stowed in my purse, nor did I pull up the Feedly app on my phone. I answered a few texts, but mostly, I just sat, and ate, and drank.

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When I was done, I headed back out into the sunshine, with the vague notion that I would head to the river valley and find somewhere shaded where I could sit and write for a while. The previous day, in my counselling session, my therapist and I had talked about grounding techniques: take your shoes off and walk in the grass, literally hug a tree, put your hands in the dirt and let it sift through your fingers. She laughed a little, and apologized if that sounded too hippy dippy for me, but it sounded exactly right, and I thought that now was the time to put those ideas into action.

Walking past the imposing Fairmont Macdonald, I noticed there were some flowers out front that I had never really noticed before. I cut back across the street I had just crossed to check it out, but the benches were all full in the sun, many of the flowers looked like they hadn’t been watered in weeks, and there were three or four people sitting around, smoking. I try to avoid secondhand smoke at the best of times, but now that I have someone else to worry about, I am militant about it. This was not where I was going to rest.

I continued on past the hotel, to a staircase I had never ventured down. It took me down into the river valley, to my favorite path, which I have not been on much over the summer. It is my running route, but I haven’t been running for the past three months because of my leg injury, and I hadn’t realized how deeply I missed it. Not only the act of running, but the location. A huge smile spread across my face as I meandered past the trees, occasionally stopping to press my hand against the rough bark of one.

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Eventually, I slipped my shoes off and put them in my purse. The pavement was hot under my feet, almost unbearable, but the shock of it, the here-ness of it, brought a huge smile to my face. Sometimes, when I am very depressed, it feels like there is a wall between me and the world, a wall that I cannot break through or knock down, no matter how hard I try, and so I cannot feel anything. I can see the world, but I don’t feel part of it. I can objectively feel the air and smell the smells and see the sights, but there is no subjective experience attached to it. Here, curling my toes against the hot asphalt, feeling the roughness of the tiny pebbles against my skin, I came slamming back to reality with such force I am surprised I managed to remain standing.

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I went on like this for nearly two and a half hours. Turning left when I usually turn right. Breaking into a near-run, skipping whenever I felt like it. Not only returning people’s smiles, but actively seeking them out. At one point, I wanted to go down to the river, so I found a little path that took me to the edge of an incline, which I slid down on my butt, and found myself just a few feet from the water. I sat on a tree branch, so knobbly that my derriere was asleep within minutes. But I sat there for nearly half an hour, taking pictures, drawing, and writing in my notebook. My shoes squealched in the mud, and I watched as four or five ducks swam in front of me, circling and quacking and completely oblivious to my presence.

After a while, I had to head home, because I was ill-prepared for my adventure and had neglected to bring either water or a snack. As well, I have to pee about every five seconds nowadays. But I went home with the biggest smile on my face, having immersed myself in pure joy for the afternoon, a kind of radical nowness, and it was exactly what my soul needed.

How do you practice radical self-care?

the depression chronicles: radical self-care

Snapshots: Zion National Park

My favorite thing that we did in Vegas was actually the thing that took us furthest from the Strip and all its craziness: we rented a car and drove the 2.5 hours to Zion National Park. And it. was. amazing. I had no idea what to expect. Bryan was really gungho about the idea and orchestrated everything, including getting up early on the day and taking a cab to the airport to pick up our rental car, as well as returning it amidst the chaotic traffic on the Strip later on (my hero). I was basically tagging along because he was so into it.

But oh God, this place was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It reminded me of the mountains, but not. Everything was so red. Even the road. The asphalt throughout the park was stained red from all the rock dust, I guess, and I thought that was so cool. Every twist in the road brought some new thing to take our breath away.

We decided to do the Canyon Overlook hike, which is a really easy, one mile round-trip hike with incredible views at the end. It took us almost two hours because we stopped every five feet or so to take pictures, and I don’t regret a minute of it. We got a bit lost trying to find it, which is quite the feat, since there is literally only one road to follow, but we eventually made it there. I tried to cull these down but just couldn’t decide on any to cut, so here, you get to enjoy them all. 🙂

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Snapshots: Zion National Park

Snapshots: Moraine Lake and Lake Louise

Canada Day found Bryan and I in the mood for a wander. Originally, we thought that we would head out to Canmore, but as we approached the town, something pinged in my head. My dad had mentioned going to Lake Louise, and I said, “Hey, I’ve never been to Lake Louise before, why don’t we just keep going?” Both of us had already been to Canmore on a number of occasions, whereas Lake Louise was a new adventure. Given that Lake Louise wasn’t much further along, we went for it.

There is something about the mountains that soothes me in a way that nothing else I have ever experienced. Any little hairline fracture in my soul seems to heal when I am surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, and as we drove through the towering peaks, I felt my whole body expanding into the immensity around me. We had lunch at the Lake Louise Station Restaurant, which was pretty pricey, but the food was yummy and they were kind enough to offer us vegetarian options from their dinner menu even though it was only lunch. From there, we decided to head up to Moraine Lake, which we had both seen pictures of and wanted to see in person. The road up there is about two minutes outside of Lake Louise, and it is windy and steep and lacks a guardrail – the exact kind of mountain roads that I set my heart to pounding and my anxiety into high alert. But we made it safely to the top, and were greeted with some of the most incredible mountain beauty I have ever experienced.

We wandered around the lake for more than two hours, laughing and snapping photos and breathing in the freedom of being surrounded by nature. It was pretty busy, it being Canada Day and all, but the crowds were never bothersome in the slightest. We all just seemed to peacefully coexist. Maybe it was the magic of the mountains. 🙂

After , we headed back to the town to actually make our way to the eponymous lake and the famous Chateau. It was beautiful there, too, but not nearly as impressive as the green-blue gorgeousness of Moraine Lake! On our way back, we stopped for dinner in Banff, at a little restaurant called Coyotes that we had eaten at the last time we were in town. I was so happy that we found it again, because the food is great. We had the most delicious wildberry crumble sour cream pie for dessert, then headed home, completely sated.

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What did you do for Canada Day?

Snapshots: Moraine Lake and Lake Louise