A Virtual Book Club - What are YOU reading?!

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Why DO I write here anyway?

“We need to talk.” It’s probably the last thing you ever want to hear from a close friend or family member, right? Sends shivers down anyone’s spine! But we do and don’t worry, it ends well!

About my last post, if you haven’t seen it, you can read it HERE, but all it really says is “Why do I write and post here?” I thought about it all weekend. I’ve thought about it before and I’ll probably think about it again (mostly because I have a cute little squirrel brain that doesn’t hold on to things for very long, but it makes things…interesting).

An existential crisis began on Saturday morning when, in an attempt to catch up on writing my “What In The World Is She Reading” newsletter, I opened a book that I had finished a couple weeks ago and recognized none of the text inside. I flipped through the pages reading here and there thinking, maybe that part wasn’t interesting? Maybe I was thinking of something else when I read that short story? I flipped to another page and started reading. Nope. It’s all gone, slipped out of my mind like those planetary systems Princess Leia said Darth Vadar was losing through his grip.

I slapped the book down, piled up my notebook and my laptop, and went to sit on the porch and stare at the desert. I was out there for an hour.

The rest of my Saturday spiraled slowly down into a mild depression. My heart hurt and I held back tears the whole day. My family began to worry. I watched a movie. I cleaned my closet of extra clothes. I laid on my bed and watched the ceiling.

If I can’t remember what I read, what’s the point of reading at all? And then what’s the point of writing about it? I spend a lot of my day reading, making notes, taking pictures, and posting about what I read. Am I just wasting my time? Is there something more important and lasting that could be done?

Maybe I should spend more time knitting. At least I’d have a product at the end of my time. I recently bought a cross-stitch kit thinking I’d like to make some presents, so I spent an hour trying to learn it. In my mental state of the moment, it didn’t go well, as you can imagine.

I continued to pout and get angry all day and well into the evening. My best friend was off busy all day, my youngest son left for work, my husband and oldest son were working on projects in the garage, and here I was…useless. I’m just killing time waiting to die…yep…I heard myself grumbling to myself. I’m a freakin’ bundle of fun sometimes.

At some point, we ended up on the couch watching a tv show and eating leftovers for dinner, when I laid my head in my husband’s lap and poured my heart out. He patted me and gave me some loves. My son gave me some advice that I grumbled about and then I went to bed.

After a good night’s sleep and a long Sunday morning of yard work, I took a hot shower and then sat down at my desk. Picking up the book, I flipped through it again. I still don’t remember much of those stories. I picked up another one and flipped through its pages. Hold on a minute. I remember a lot of that book! What happened? Why do I remember so little from this book?

All of a sudden something important occurred to me. There were a lot of notes in the book I remembered a lot of but the book that I didn’t remember had very few. I opened up Instagram and scrolled through my pictures to find only four quotes that I shared from the book I didn’t remember and ten from the book I did.

My son was right the night before. The advice I grumbled about…stupid kid…doesn’t know anything…you don’t know my feelings! Like I said, I can be really fun if you love sarcasm, dramatic exits, and self-pity parties. His advice was…Mom, you probably didn’t need any of those words, so your brain dumped them. Some day you’ll read that book again and that’s when you’ll remember because you’ll need it, or you’ll know someone else does so you’ll loan it to them. Kids these days!

He also reminded me, when I cried about wasting time, that no time is ever wasted if you’re doing something you enjoy doing. I don’t know where he gets this stuff.

Here’s the thing, my friends. I like reading books, all of them! Each book has its reason for being there. Some are packed full of information that I need. Some are guidance in troubled times. Some help me help someone else. Some make me smile, and some make me cry. Some are just damn fun. I don’t read because I have to and I don’t read things that I’m not enjoying, even if the information in them is important. I just love the experience!

Getting up before dawn, grabbing a cup of coffee and settling into the couch with my current lover…I mean book…is soul satisfying to me. It feeds me.

So why do I write and post about it here? There are two reasons really. The first is that writing about what I’m reading, while I’m reading it, helps me remember what I read. It helps me link other things I’ve read to what I’m currently reading. Organizing my thoughts on the page also helps me use what I’m reading to organize my life. I’m a better person because of what I read and write about and that cup overflows onto my family and friends. Happy reader…happy wife, mom, friend, PERSON!

The second reason is you. The book is already read. The page is already written. The photo is already taken. Why not post it all to the internet on the off chance someone out there might need it or at least enjoy it? It’s a little like sending a message in a bottle. I’m out here on my desert isle, writing out little messages, rolling them up and stuffing them inside my empty whiskey and tequila bottles, throwing them as far out into the sea as I can. Hopefully the tide will catch them and bring them to you…although, I know some do get washed back up onto my shores, but I just brush them off and throw them out again!

So here we are. I’m glad you’re here to listen to me rant about these things. I can tell you’re a great listener, so thanks. Let’s get back to books!

What are you reading?

Mind Over Mood

Confession: I love self-help books and videos, especially workbooks.

I started reading this yesterday afternoon in the hopes of getting some help for myself. I’ve taken anti-depressants in the past, had some small semblance of counseling, but in the long run nothing helped but time. Stresses change, kids grow up, relocation; time changes the situations but not my thinking. For a long time, I honestly thought I had changed. I had cured myself, all I needed was some time and space to breathe.

But here we are. And I’m not ok. I don’t deal with stress well at all and I can easily spiral out of control, creating a vortex of depressive thoughts that spin into a storm of angry chaos, destroying everything around me, leaving behind only those strong enough to weather the storm. It’s not fun for me and it’s hardly fair to my friends and family. Something needs to change.

I learned about cognitive behavior therapy years ago and only recently felt pulled toward trying it. Yes, I know…I should probably talk to a therapist too, but if you know me at all you’ll know that just won’t work. I’m a “do it myself” kind of girl! Besides, all they are going to do is say what’s in these books and I can read in the comfort of my own home. They’d also ask questions…which is why this book is awesome. It’s a workbook!

For the foreseeable future, I’ll be spending thirty minutes a day in this book. I intend to read and then sit reflectively with the workbook pages alone.

Yesterday when I pulled the book off the shelf, I flipped it open and found the first chapter is called, “Understanding Your Problems.” I laughed and showed my son as he walked by. That’s when we both laughed. “You’re going to be in that chapter a long time, Mom.”

The fact that my sons are open about reminding me how crazy and confused I am, leads me to believe I can be saved. I may be a bit “touched in the head” but they love me.

I’ll be posting about my progress as I go. Maybe this book will help you, too!

“I Am Enough” Book

This was one of those books I had to add to my Amazon wishlist because I heard her interviewed on a podcast on one of my drives into the city. And, as usual, I can’t remember which podcast! When will I ever learn to write these things down? Probably never. Free-range brain, I guess.

I loved the interview. Her ideas about retraining your mind to focus on positive thoughts seemed like something I could really use, so as soon as I got home, I looked up her book.

I’m taking it in small doses, trying to let the ideas sink in. So far there are some good ones. I’ll be posting my favorites on my Instagram as I go along.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety all my adult life and most of it is because somehow along the way, I got the idea that I need someone to acknowledge what I’m doing and express their approval verbally at every turn. If they do, then I know I’m doing “right” and “good.” If they don’t I must be failing somehow and scramble to fix my behavior.

What if I only worried about what was making me happy? What if I was satisfied with what I was doing and accomplishing? What if I were enough for MYSELF?

That’s what I’m hoping to learn. This book seems like a good start down that road.

Two New Books Started This Week – Happiness & Russians!

I’m so excited about my July TBR pile! It’s going to be an amazing reading month!

The nap was apparently much needed, by the way, and when I got back the movie was over. My son commented that “Indiana Jones” is a much more interesting movie when you’re not four years old. “The sign of a great story. You can watch it again and again and get more each time.” Oh, my heart!

I also started reading “A People’s Tragedy – The Russian Revolution” by Orland Figes this week. I’m so intrigued by the era and have been reading and watching a lot about it.

A few years ago, I read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and I’ve been curious about Russian history ever since. I’ve been meaning to read more history but hadn’t found any recommendations until recently.

My youngest and I are watching “Trotsky” on Netflix on his days off work and we keep pausing it and talking. It takes our family so long to watch TV shows and movies!

And then I read a commentary article in the Wall Street Journal recently about the parallels between the Russian Revolution and our current political climate.

And…here I am. It’s all so fascinating.

Should I Stay or Go? – The Verdict

So my kind and wonderful reader, I hate to say it but I still don’t have an answer about social media. My thoughts over the past few weeks have sat firmly on, “If this is social, I’m not sure I enjoy it.” And if I’m not enjoying it and it doesn’t serve my life, what’s the point of being there? Would I keep going to a party filled with people that I don’t enjoy being around? Would I keep working at a job that brought me only stress and no income? Would I continue a relationship with a person that only made me cry?

Of course, I wouldn’t, but is that what social media is doing to me? No. In the past, the negatives were buried far beneath all the positives. Logging on each morning and scrolling through the “gossip pages” (that’s what we should really call it) brought me a bit of joy: my friend from high school got a new job, a cousin had a baby, my mom went fishing, etc. There was a bit of news from around the world. My writer group and my inspiration pages posted some tidbit of joy.

I’d share a piece of my life there as well and feel a connection with friends and family as we bonded over the jokes, photos, or articles we posted.

The negatives? You know what they are. A new medium always brings out the weird in some people. Social graces, manners, and rules of etiquette have to be reestablished. And there are always things that people share that you just didn’t want to know about them. It was easy to ignore the minor squabbles and navigate around the things I’d rather not discuss. “To each his own.” I’d think and move on.

This month, as we all are very well aware, has been different. Our lives have been abruptly changed by outside forces and we’ve all had to suddenly adjust. For me, the biggest hurdle hasn’t been the change in lifestyle but has more to do with dealing with people’s reactions online without the important benefit of physical and emotional context.

I’ll admit, which I really didn’t want to do and why I took a pause over the weekend to think about it, I’m struggling. I’m struggling to hold on to my compassion for others. I’m struggling not to withdraw and be fearful of others. I’m struggling not to lash out in my fear and anger.

Like someone threatened with drowning, I have to make a choice. Do I push people off my raft because I know they’ll pull me under? How do I stay alive without losing my humanity in the process? It sounds so overly dramatic but mental health is like that. No, I’m not threatened with immediate physical harm. There is no one with a gun pointed to my head or a mob at my door with a rope, but here I am with my heart rate up and my breathing rapid. Our minds are awesome and terrible things.

What’s your point, Michelle? Where are you going with this?

I’m getting to that. Hold your horses.

Human nature makes us do crazy, stupid, and terrible things to each other when we’re scared. I am human. I don’t want to add to the chaos, so I withdraw my participation. BUT, I also don’t want to withdraw my own point of view from the world outside my own four walls. I have joy and peace to share, experience and insight. I love my friends and family that I only see through social media. I love my readers, my fans, and my followers. You all add to my life in a very wonderful way. I don’t want to push you off my raft!

So what can I do? I’m still not really sure but I know what I’ll try. I’ll keep posting my joy and peace. I’ll continue to write and think and share what I’ve found and learned. I’ll allow you into my digital world to do the same as I want for myself, take what you want and pass on the rest.

“Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams to another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted with words half spoken
And thoughts unclear

What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain
Wind and water
Believe it if you need it
If you don’t, just pass it on

Sun and shower
Wind and rain
In and out the window
like a moth before a flame”

“Box of Rain” by The Grateful Dead

Down Days

“Witness your emotions without acting on them.”

Interesting.

This came up in my meditation app this morning and I wrote it down to remember it.

I’m not having the best of emotions today. I feel pretty damn crappy actually and for no reason at all, which makes me feel worse than if I had something to be unhappy about. I’m unhappy that I’m unhappy and that makes for a pretty shitty day.

Am I acting on them? I’m not sure. I’m not changing anything. I’m not calling to tell people how crappy I think they are. I’m not on social media making the snarky comments I want to make. I’m not canceling all my plans.

I am making myself busy though. I stopped around noon today and thought (as I mindlessly scrolled through social media feeds, one right after the other), “This is a nasty feeling, maybe I should do something about it.”

Or maybe I shouldn’t.

I can’t always be thrilled to be alive. There isn’t always a reason or a trigger for a bad mood. It just is and no amount of tortilla chips and Pepsi is going to make it better (but I did get some anyway, just in case).

I focused on getting busy. I got one corner of my livingroom cleaned up from Christmas. I’m attempting to declutter the whole house and I did mutter “someone just burn it all down and help me start over” as I sorted through the old and broken ornaments. The dishes are done. Dinner is in the crockpot.

Maybe I’ll go for a walk in a bit. Or get me a nice shot of tequila on ice!

I know one thing. Bad moods don’t last forever.

It’s The Little Things

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Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash

Today I noticed…

The build-up of a manic episode. The first sparks that light the fire. The fire that can warm and cook to perfection, or burn out of control and destroy.

Thoughts race, mood lifts, creativity flows. Words race out in text, building up fantastic castles in the air.

Projects are conceived and begun. Materials gathered.

Commitments are made. Parties planned.

People are contacted. Apologies made.

It’s a mental spring after a dark winter. Warmth comes from within and dares to spill out into the world of reality.

These are the good days. The days that so much seems so possible, so achievable. But will it last?

Can I build a useful fire? A controlled and sustainable burn?

A feeling that always escaped me in the past, never noticing the build-up until it has begun to burn me.

It’s a start.

Letter to My Grumpy Self

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Dear Me,

I know you’re tired and grumpy. I know you are frustrated with yourself. I know you want so badly to do better, to complete more tasks, to be more organized, to eat better, to be stronger and healthier.

I know you want to run out into the world screaming obscenities. I know you want to connect with other humans on a deeper level, to spend quality time with real friends, and to run away and hide at the same time.

I know you’re thinking, last week was so good, why does this week suck so bad? Why can’t I stay on track? Why can’t I keep up the pace? Everyone else seems to be able to do so much and here I am grumbling. You feel lazy and “out of sorts.”

I know you don’t want to hear this but you are enough right where you are. Your house is clean enough. Your family and friends love you just the way you are. You honor your commitments. You love people unconditionally. You do your best.

Life is a big series of cycles, ups and downs that keep things interesting. Imagine how boring it would be if every day you got up and felt the same way? Even joy starts to get depressing if its all you ever experience!

The kids are distracting you. Embrace them. They’re teenagers. They’ll be gone soon, just like the exhausting babies, the disruptive and messy kids, and anxious and annoying preteens they used to be and that you miss so much when you see those old pictures.

The weather has changed, and you can’t go outside and do the thing you were doing last week. Notice and enjoy it. Remember last month when you sat there crying for cooler weather?

You’re feeling blue and less than productive. Look at the amazing week you had earlier this month and the not so productive one you had before that. It’ll come back. It always does.

Don’t ruin today worrying about tomorrow or lamenting yesterday. Find something positive to focus on. Or, even better, make the conscious decision to enjoy the moment instead. Grab a cup of tea, your book, and find a place to hide for a bit. Sing along with those crazy teens practicing guitar in the middle of the living room where you were trying to vacuum. Write out some words of encouragement to yourself and post it. Forget dinner and order a pizza. Harass your husband to go for a walk, even though it’s cold. And be thankful for what you have, who you have, and what you can do.

Take care of yourself, love. I love you, every messy, tired, pissy, and confused piece of you.

Love,

You

It’s Friday, My Friends Episode #10

This has been one of those weeks. One of those “What in the freaking world am I doing?” kind of weeks. Yesterday was a kicker so I’ll share it with you. Scrolling through my Medium stats, looking at old articles, I’m thinking, “You know, I think I’ll make files on my computer of my articles by subject. It might make them easier to shuffle through and find what I’m looking for.” I lose things. They’re just filed by date right now, like journal entries. Sometimes I randomly open a file and read one wonder if I should edit it and repost.

So there I am, scrolling down all the “not distributed” and “0 views – 0 reads” when I see “6K views – 3.2K reads.” What? Hold the phone! I look at the title, “What’s the difference between a porn star and a prostitute?” I open it up and read it. Oh yes, I remember that. I was listening to a podcaster talk about putting a camera in a brothel and suddenly it’s legal because…well…they’re making a porn film. I had to write about that and I did. I never received a like or a clap, but lots of people read it. Weird. Weirder still that a paragraph I put little thought into and posted on a whim got so much attention (and no feedback) and the posts I spend hours on and pour my heart and soul into…well…my family reads those.

That’s when I started to wonder why in the hell I actually bother writing any of this. But you know why I do? Because I want to. It helps me remember what I have read. I feel like I’m writing my life story as it happens. Yep, maybe it’s boring to the rest of the world, like the rest of my life is, but I like my life. I feel like I’ve made choices that make me happy. I’ve done the things that matter to me. I’ve raised my kids. I’ve loved and cared for my husband. I’ve honored my parents the best way I know how. And maybe I’ve made a few friends along the way.

Yes, there’s nothing to see here. Just an ordinary person, moving along through an ordinary life. On with the show.

Thing I learned: I’m honestly not a people person in real life. I think I am. I want to be. But I’m not. I like superficial relationships with lots of space, hence the reason I’m so fascinated with social media. Sorry to disappoint the world but it’s who I am.

Thing I’m reading: An amazing book on reading like a writer by Francine Prose. I think it’s hilarious that her last name is Prose and she is writing it. The book is interesting. She talks about noticing all the things that I never do, all the things you’re supposed to learn about reading literature in college. I read books because I love the stories or I want the information. I pull out tidbits and I’m well aware that I’m leaving a lot of meat on the bone. I don’t need it. The book is making my novel reading list longer and longer, which is a nice bonus!

Thing I heard: My son recording his music. That makes me happy, hearing him work on songs and record them, even though he won’t let me share.

Thing I want to do: Run away into the wilderness, never to be seen again! Don’t worry, I won’t. I’m too insecure and addicted to feedback from others for my existence to actually do it. I need you, dear reader, Facebook friend, and Instagram follower. I’ll be here begging for attention for years to come!

Picture of the week: The screenshot of the Medium anomaly that has added to my list of “WTF?” things in the world. This will continue to amaze me. It’s kind of like framing my first dollar, even though I earned it by conning a fool.

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Dangerous Roads

She sits and stares.

The desert in the summer can feel like a snowstorm that barricades you inside your house and forbids your exit for days at a time. There’s nowhere to escape to, at least nowhere outside. The sanctuary of an air-conditioned house, car, or movie theater all seem like fine alternatives to most, but what if you desperately crave to be outdoors? Early in the morning, before the sun completely rises, or late in the evening after it sets, are the only times one can feasibly be outdoors and even then, it’s still so hot. It’s oppressive after awhile and she dreams of hooking up the trailer and driving north until the weather is more to her liking.

Staring out at the desert landscape, she wonders…this would be a good time of year to read more. Then it starts…yeah…read more and write more…waste more time. Great.


It’s that feeling again. The one that scares the crap out of me. The one that I know scares the crap out of anyone I express it to. It’s like drowning, you want to reach out for help, but then…maybe you should just let yourself drown. You’re worthless anyway.

I write in my journal on these days. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it only relieves the pain for a few moments, like taking ibuprofen for a headache that’s not just a headache.

When I was younger, the feeling used to last for weeks, sometimes a month. Now…it’s usually a day or two before I’m climbing back out of the basement of my soul, shaking my head and wondering what happened. I read the previous days journals filled with angry scribbles and marvel at it. Who was that woman? I worry about those entries. What if my family found them and realized how sick I really am? What if I scared them with my darkness? What if I inadvertently influenced them into thinking they may have inherited this from me?

There are times when I sit with my phone in my hand. What if I just texted someone? What if I just said, “Hey friend. I’m feeling like a miserably worthless piece of crap. I’m a big fake. Nothing I do matters. And if anyone found out who I really am, they’d walk away forever (and rightly so) and warn everyone else to run the other way when they see me. I’m afraid of myself at the moment. And I need something. I’m not sure what that is. Can you help?”
Can you imaging getting that text? What would you do? Send platitudes of reassurance?

“You’re not. You’re wonderful. We all love you.”

“Have you considered getting professional help?”

“I’m worried about you.”

All of which only make the feeling worse. Now I’ve shared the misery. That’s how wonderful I am!

You know what does seem to help? Confirmation. In these moments, I crave just one person that is strong enough to throw the ball back when I lob it at them.

“Yeah…life can really suck. What’s the point of any of this shit? Let’s go get a drink!” Knowing I can be the ugliest me to someone and it doesn’t make them sad or want to run in the other direction? Priceless!

This time the feeling took me quite suddenly after weeks of positivity. There were so many productive days in a row, weeks even, and then so many wonderful people experiences to go along with it. Then one morning…bam…a text before I wanted one, a positive comment on Facebook…and I’m headed down the rabbit hole with Alice, looking for trouble.

Weird the things that trigger it.

Years of struggle have taught me one important point. It is not logical. It has no rhyme or reason. It is not reality. That realization is what has seriously quickened my turnarounds the last few years. I have reminders everywhere.

“Depression Lies To You” on a paper bracelet I wore for a few weeks years ago, sits on my bathroom counter.

“Watch for the fork in the road.” On a Post-It note above my computer.

“Look at actions not words.” Watching the acts, not the words people use usually makes me happy.

This time I will add “It’s all temporary.” And “Take a deep breath and wait for it to pass over you.”


“A scene change is needed,” I think as I wash the dishes after lunch. Staring out at the bright sky and hot sand outside my window, “But where?” I glance at the thermometer. “107” it reads. Sigh. I need to be outside! Suddenly it dawns on me and my heart brightens just a bit.

“Hey babe?” I holler into the bedroom office as I grab a towel for my hands and head back there. Why do I do that? I know he can’t hear me.

“Sweetness, what time will you be done working?”

“Half an hour or so. Why?”

“Maybe we should drive up to the mountain and take a hike as the sun starts to set. It would be cooler and then we could get something to eat together before we head back. A date!”

He looks up from his laptop, his boots up on the table turned work desk. “I had planned on kegging my beer after work so that it’s ready for the party on Saturday.”

Sinking heart again. “Oh yeah!” I say brightly. “Well, maybe tomorrow.” And I go back to the dishes.

As I’m drying off the last plate and wiping down the kitchen sink, there he is, “When did you want to go? Maybe I can hurry and finish?”

Ahh, my sweet love. He’s always trying to make me happy, which sometimes makes me feel worse, but not this time. An hour later, water bottles in hand, a few nut bars in a bag, and we’re driving across the desert in the direction of the moutains.

“Babe. I have something to scary to say that I need to say out loud, but promise me you won’t be scared or sad. I’m ok. It’s just something I need to voice.”

“What’s that?”

“I think I understand why people with severe depression kill themselves. I can feel it. I feel worthless, like everyone around me would be much better off without me.”

I get the look, the worried one, the one that makes me not want to share the feeling, to keep it inside where it rots and festers and gets worse every day until I explode in anger and frustration about something completely unrelated. Why would I torture the ones I love with this feeling? Better to just sit with it and hope I suddenly die somehow. Then no one needs to worry about how to fix it. But this time, I keep talking. If I can’t share my burden with this man, the man that has loved and supported me for the last twenty years in ways I cannot possibly explain, then there is no hope.

“I know it’s an irrational feeling. I know it’s in my head. I know the reality is far different. I sit with it and look at it from every angle. I have no idea what triggers it but I’ve learned what helps me stop it. Sometimes I write and that helps. Burn those journals when I die, by the way. Or maybe I’ll write a disclaimer on the top of the box!

“The truth is that I what I really want, what I think will really help, is to say it out loud. I want to be able to say all the ugliest things, the things that scare me, the stupid, angry, nasty things I feel about myself at those moments, and have someone just say, ‘I can understand that and I love you anyway.’

“I don’t want you to fix it. I don’t want you to worry. I don’t want sympathy or ‘No, hun, that’s just not true.’ I want agreement, acknowledgement that these feelings exists and that they suck.”

We talked and laughed all the way up the mountain, an hour’s drive of open communication and joy, punctuated by me trying not to get car sick on the winding mountain road. By the time we started walking, I was already feeling so much better. At the top of mountain, standing on a rock overlooking the valley, I took a deep breath. “This is what I needed. Just to speak it out of me. Walk in the sun. And be surrounded by trees. And you.”

It was the change in scenery, the acceptance and love of one of my favorite people, and some exercise that stopped the downward spiral this time. I know next time it may not work, but I know something will and know who I can grab when I need help.

For you out there, depression sucks ass. I love you. I know it sucks. Let’s go yell from the top of a mountain, “This too shall pass.” Even when Gandalf says none shall.

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