Excerpts of Erynn

a blog about… nothing in particular and everything at once

I Got a Tattoo… Two Years Ago July 21, 2017

Filed under: Depression,diary — Erynn Sprouse @ 11:44 pm

Photo Jul 21, 11 19 56 PMToday marks two years of (more) freedom. Today marks two years since I committed in permanent ink in my skin to cleaning up my self-talk. It’s two years of learning, of growing, of progress. Sometimes it’s felt like two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it’s felt like three steps back, for that matter. But I’ve come a long way in my journey with depression and suicidality (for one thing, I can say/ type that word! It doesn’t feel like it holds the power or shame over me that it did… though it still makes me nervous!). Here are some things I’ve learned and worked to ingrain for myself…

  • It doesn’t matter what others think. It matters whether or not I’m living up to God’s standards, and it matters what my husband thinks. Other than that, no one’s opinion matters even one whit (which is not to say that their advice is meaningless, unwanted or useless… but once a decision is made, others’ opinions become moot).
  • Taking care of myeslf is not only okay; it’s necessary.
  • It’s okay to have a down day, and it doesn’t have to be a down day by global standards. Denying a down day only makes it worse.
  • Things don’t have to be perfect to work (see the flub in my tattoo next to the “y”?)
  • Photo Jul 21, 11 17 32 PMAn ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Maybe two. If I keep up my self-care, or at least most of it, things go much better for me.
  • Sometimes self-care isn’t fun, but it’s still necessary. (Flossing? Blah)
  • Word definitions matter. Things get twisted on a blue day. Words that might be harmless one day get redefined, and turned into weapons. This is one of IB‘s best tricks lately. “Silly” means “fun” on a good day, but on a bad day, it means “frivolous and bird-brained” (don’t we say some ugly things to ourselves? I’d never call someone else bird-brained!).
  • I can turn a down day around… at least somewhat.
  • Some of my down days are hormonally related. It seems like since I had my youngest, depression is a PMS symptom for me. So is a SERIOUS hankering for chocolate, and when that time rolls around, I indulge moderately. Chocolate really is medicinal, y’all. ;)

My list could go on and on. But I’m so excited about this progress. There’s a passage in the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand** (it’s not in the movie) about the stranded soldiers in a partially deflated raft with sharks below, occasionally rubbing their backs on the bottom of the raft. The guys on the raft don’t know when a shark might jump over the edge and try to drag them down into the depths… and THAT is what depression felt like. It felt like one wrong move would bring the sharks. I felt the sharks just below the surface always. If they swam away for a moment, it wasn’t a relief, it was a terror that when they struck, it would be doubly hard.

But not so now.

The day after I got my tattoo, it felt like the sharks sank 10′ down. In sight, yes. But not so ever-present. Today, they usually feel out of sight. I don’t think it was the tattoo itself (ink in skin is not an anti-depressant). I think it was the acknowledgement of my problems and issues, and the irreversible commitment to (and thus the major step toward) healing. [I almost put “indelible” instead of “irreversible.” That would’ve been punny. ;) ]

Photo Jul 21, 11 07 06 PM

My hair went from several inches past my shoulders to touching the tops and lots of layers. By the way, some numbers say I’m a millennial, but my selfie skills say I’m not. Haha!

Today I spent the end of the day by myself, out and about. Honestly, it took some pushing from my husband for me to do it. But I’m glad I did. This morning I decided I wanted to celebrate this anniversary, and I knew just how I wanted to do it. I feel like I’ve come a long way in fixing my inner monologue, cleaning up my self-talk, and now I want to shift my focus towards self-care. My plans were along those lines. I wanted to go get my hair cut (something I haven’t done in over two years) and I wanted to sit at Starbucks and reflect on & write about the past two years. Over the course of the day, IB did his best to turn my planned celebration and self-care into a silly self-indulgence. And it worked. Once I handed the kiddos over to Jeremy and was trying to pick out a new hairstyle, the twister’s twisting had done its work. But Jeremy encouraged me to go. And my dear best friend (who always takes his side!! Sometimes I tease her that I need a new best friend who will take MY side every once in a while!!) encouraged me to go. So I did. I got my hair cut. The sweet stylist didn’t even charge me for the shampoo & style that she should’ve, so I tipped generously and was still able to go get some of the products she’d used to fix my hair (in cheaper Walmart-available versions).

Photo Jul 21, 11 21 48 PM

Then I took myself out to dinner, and did some journaling while I ate, and now I’m sitting at Starbucks in the warm July (amazingly bug-less!!) night air… writing this.

 

Before I sign off, I want to make something very, very clear. I am NOT saying that what worked for me will work for everyone. I am NOT saying that I have found the solution for depression and suicidality. I am saying that this has really helped me, and I’m glad, and I’m inviting you to be glad with me. That’s it. If any of it helps you, too, fantastic. But I have no way to know whether it will or not, so if you need help, then please, please, please GET HELP. Get whatever help you need, and the sooner, the better.

**I really enjoyed the book Unbroken, BUT… you’ve heard of cussing like a sailor, right? Well, sounds like some soldiers in the Army aren’t much different in that regard. There are definitely some R-rated things in there.

Part One: I Got a Tattoo
Part Two: Bad Day
On self-care/ prevention/ helps: What to Do on a Blue Day

Advertisements
 

What to do on a blue day October 27, 2016

Filed under: Depression,diary — Erynn Sprouse @ 10:31 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve written here before about my issues with depression… though, to call it “depression” somehow feels grandiose, like an overstatement. I suppose the label doesn’t particularly matter. Whatever it is, it’s gotten better (so much better!) and less frequent, too. Still… there are days like today. On days like today, I feel… fragile. Scared. Anxious. Small. Incapable. Wilted. I second (and third) guess everything I do. Everything feels much bigger than it really is. A cloak of sadness, melancholy, blue hangs on my shoulders, wraps itself around me, mutes all the colors, casts a fog over my mind, and makes everything difficult…

But it’s just a blue day. It’s nothing like these days used to be before I got my tattoo. It would be hard to express just what an amazingly effective and positive tool my tattoo has been. Even on blue days, I don’t have thoughts of ending my “sentence.” I’m not scared of myself or what I might do. I’m MUCH more in control. And I know the blue will pass (I can say that it’s just a blue day).

Another huge difference between then and now and is that I’ve learned what to do. It isn’t exactly that I’ve learned how to help  dig myself out, but I have learned some things that help me cope, get along, not sink… and I drew this to help remind myself of the tools I can use. I hope it’ll be of use to someone else, too.

 

The first thing I do when I start to feel that cloak settling down on me is to eat. Something. Anything. Usually, if I think about it, I realize that I haven’t eaten in some time. The next thing I do is either sing or put on some music. Then I text my best friend. From there, it’s survival mode. If I were sick with the flu, getting better would be the focus of my attention. It’s kind of like that with a blue day. I’ve learned to give myself permission to shift focus from getting stuff done to meeting basic needs (mine and the kids’). Sometimes the blue cloak comes out of nowhere, but usually I find that it comes when I’ve been neglecting self-care. If I use my tools constantly and consistently, I can pretty much keep the blues away.

If you read this and have questions about any of this, I’d be happy to help in any way I can; just leave a comment with your question or if you’d rather talk privately, just say so, and I’ll contact you by the email address you register with.

In HIS service,
Erynn

 

 

Bad Day (Or… I Got a Tattoo, pt 2) September 8, 2015

Filed under: Depression,Uncategorized — Erynn Sprouse @ 11:08 pm

I Got a Tattoo, pt 1

I knew this day would come. I knew that one day IB would be stronger than I could handle with three little words. When I was relying on a bracelet, these are the days when IB declared victory by practically ripping the leather from my wrist. If it had been anything weaker than leather, IB would have shredded it, sending the message that there would never be a day when he was not reigning.

And today was one of those days.

Love was not prevailing. I could find no love for myself, only fallings and flaws. Could find no patience for my husband, only failings and flaws. There is a victory here, though, because even with IB so very loud today, I did not yell. I did not have a single outburst. I found love to give to my children. I saw them smile, cherished their laughter, participated in their sillies and even made time to read to my little redheaded ray of sunshine.

But inside me, inside my head, it was dark today. Even now there is so little hope. And really, that’s why I’m writing. There is a little hope. And I want to capture it, want to fan it.

I knew this day would come and so I took measures to prepare against it.

Tonight I stood beside my bed, mid-diaper change, and wept. Sobbed. My little daughter stared up at me, unsure of what to do and, as even babies will do, wondered how to fix this. It was all there on her little puzzled face. She smiled tentatively, her eyes searching my face… and my face smiled, but my eyes did not. I could find nothing positive about me or my training of my children or my service as a child of God or my role as a wife. And for a moment I wanted to give up on this whole only love idea. And I started to say to myself… or rather, IB started to tell me… “‘Only love today’ Hah! Not today. No love today. That dumb tattoo doesn’t work. Nothing works and you’ll never win.” And that’s when I heard the lie. The tattoo does work. Because I CAN’T give up on trying, on striving for love for me and love for those around me. It’s still there, IB. My pledge is still there. I promised more than just that I wouldn’t end it all; I promised I would try and try and try, that I would strive and I would fight. Yes, today was hard. Yes, today all I see is the wrong and the failings and the flaws and it all seems cracked. Yes, today it seemed that I live in a perpetual state of cards thrown up in defeat.

BUT I DON’T.

I gave that up.

I gave up giving up. I quit being a quitter. I released myself from all of that. I don’t do it any more. I keep on. I trudge on. I promised I would and I sealed it with ink on my body where I see it every day, nearly every moment.

But today I had a bad day.

IB wants to tell me that I don’t get to have a bad day. It wasn’t a found-out-a-dear-one-died day. And it wasn’t a hurricane-destroyed-my-life day. And it wasn’t a fleeing-violent-war day. It wasn’t even a got-a-bee-sting day. IB wants to say that today wasn’t a bad day, that I’m just a baby. He wants me to believe that since nothing bad happened that it wasn’t a bad day and I don’t get to claim it. Because if it wasn’t just a bad day, then this is my life. The failings and the flaws and all the cracks… if this wasn’t just a bad day, then these are my life.

But he lies.

It was a bad day.
But he’s right, also. Or partly right: the failings and the flaws and the cracks are part of my life.

But that’s completely okay. Perfection is not required. Keeping on, trudging on… those things are required, and those things I can do. I promised to do. And you know what? It isn’t a bad day now. IB went quiet when I called him on his lies.

The tattoo was a good idea.

 

I got a tattoo August 10, 2015

Filed under: Depression,diary — Erynn Sprouse @ 1:01 pm

Recently I told a friend, “You’re going to think I’m joking, but I’m not. I got a tattoo.” Despite my warning, she thought I was joking. Maybe you’re waiting for the punch line too… but there isn’t one. I got a tattoo.

I’ve shared my reasons with my nearest and dearest and decided I wanted to write an explanation that I could point people to as needed. Really, I don’t owe an explanation to anyone, but sharing the reasons I got my tattoo is part of the reason I got it (that makes sense, right?).

So here goes.

There aren’t many facts about me or my life that are secret– I’m not a very private person– but perhaps the depths of some of the facts are. It’s not secret that depression has been an issue for me, but I’ve painted a far rosier picture than reality, even for my sweet hubby and, really, even for myself. Like Impressionism vs. Realism. The depth of it, the reality of it starts with “attempted” and ends with… well… it didn’t. Could’ve ended. Almost ended. But didn’t.


Let’s have an aside for a moment.

First, please excuse my vagueries. It makes a difficult subject, a difficult confession a little easier. I feel exposed enough. Forgive me hiding behind turns of phrase.

Second, if you know me and you’re reading this and feeling like you should’ve known, like I should’ve told you… you might be right. Maybe I should’ve. But that’s the nature of the thing, isn’t it? It lives in the dark, flourishes in the dark and withers in the light. Like any other thing with a mind of its own, it has a sense of self-preservation. And so I didn’t tell you because it wouldn’t let me. And in those moments when it didn’t have a grip on me, I suppose I was embarrassed & ashamed. For that matter, I am embarrassed and ashamed now… but I’m learning not to be. I’m determined not to be.


I have never felt like my depression was the haywire-brain-chemistry kind and medication isn’t my thing anyway. My depression has always been due to ugly self-talk from a vicious inner-bully (IB) who, like a skilled gardener, thrives off of as well as feeds my poor self-care habits. But I have been unable to stop the barrage… until recently. A while ago, I came across the phrase “only love today” on a blog called Hands Free Mama. At first, in my literalist, perfectionist mind, I balked at the phrase as an impossibility, but earlier this year, I guess I was desperate. It seemed like depressive episodes were coming more often and hitting harder. One incident really worried me. Whenever other people (besides my husband and kids) are around, I’ve never found it hard to shut down IB, be genuinely happy and enjoy my friends and family (it’s one of the things that tells me mine isn’t a clinical depression). But this was different.

cool dudes with Evelyn\
Thoughtful friends had gifted us with a photography session and the photographer wanted to come to the house. To my very messy house. She was going to be looking for a place to photograph the kids… inside my very messy house. I cannot explain the level of panic that set in. It is no exaggeration to say that I was non-functional. I could.not.stop.crying. Bawling. Crying so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. That had never happened before. When it came down to the wire, I could always at least fake a smile. But not this time. In a moment of strength, I texted a friend who had also dealt with depression and explained my situation. She offered to come over, and in a moment of superhuman strength, I hushed IB long enough to accept her kind offer. The day worked out, the pictures are lovely (and were taken outside!), but I was scared. It was as though my depression had entered another stage. Like cancer gone from stage three to stage four.

IMG_4904So I decided to try this “only love today” thing as a way to quiet IB. It worked pretty well, actually. So well that on a self-indulgent whim, I bought a bracelet off the Hands Free Mama site. When it came, I started wearing it nearly constantly. It worked better than I’d have ever thought possible, and soon it was almost a good luck charm or talisman. I would see the bracelet out of the corner of my eye and automatically read it, check my inner monologue and nearly always find that IB was whispering ugliness and spreading gangrene. But the words were right there and I would say the simple phrase to myself… “Stop. Only love today…” And as if a spell had been cast, IB would hush. Most of the time, anyway. The bracelet had one flaw: impermanence. On days when I forgot it after dishwashing or showering, I didn’t have the reminder I needed. And a time or two, IB was too strong and took it off so as to reign supreme. Overall, though, the difference was astounding.

Meanwhile, I came across something else interesting and powerful: “Project Semicolon.” The tagline is “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” Honestly, I don’t know much about this movement beyond the tagline, so I wouldn’t say I’m one of them, but what an idea! I think what they’ve done is clever, simple and elegant. They’ve turned a basic punctuation mark into a symbol imbued with hope and victory. A quick google search will turn up tattoo after tattoo people have gotten of semicolons in support of depression/suicide/mental illness awareness. I wanted one too. “But I couldn’t,” I thought to myself. “What would people say?” And that’s when I recognized IB’s philosophy: what other people think of you is most important.

could. And I could fix my bracelet’s flaw as well.

2015-07-21 21.37.35Soon I was doodling designs, researching tattoo shops, first tattoo tips, and asking a few trusted, godly friends if they thought it was a good idea or not. Almost universally, as soon as I explained what I wanted and my reasoning, my friends agreed with me… this could be a really powerful tool. Everyone cautioned against haste and Jeremy asked me to draw my design on my wrist for a while to see if I really did want to make such a permanent mark. He’s a wise man and his request made me all the more attached to the idea. So… three weeks ago, on a Tuesday night, I drove to AJ’s Ink in Stephenville and got inked (which is how we tattooed people say it. I guess. Haha!). It’s much larger than I had planned. The tattoo artist advised me that the way I had it planned, the ink would run together and it wouldn’t be clear. It had to be bigger. Made me nervous and I almost backed out. But I’m so glad I didn’t because it has been the tool I’d hoped it would be, and more.

FullSizeRender-4

… in my handwriting… because it’s MY declaration. My declaration of so much.

The semicolon part of my tattoo is a permanent declaration, a promise, a vow to myself and any who might see it that a voluntary end is off the table. Non-negotiable. It’s a promise to keep fighting and it’s an identifier for anyone who might know what the semicolon stands for that they– that we– are not alone. The “only love today” part is both goal and reminder. It is a goal to be loving toward myself both in my head and in my actions. Love is an active thing, and it reminds me that I must take care of myself. It is a reminder of my goal to let love rule my interactions with others. It is a reminder not to let things penetrate my heart that don’t come from love; the things that people say aren’t always born of love. The way the tattoo is designed, it also reads “only today,” and it reminds me that today is all I need to worry about.

That’s what I’d expected and planned though. What I didn’t expect was the feeling of freedom I had the morning after I got my tattoo. I think that’s when I finally grasped how dark things had really been. I hadn’t realized how very afraid I had been, how scared of myself I had felt… until I wasn’t any more. I was Dr. Jekyll freed of Mr. Hyde.

Of course, depression isn’t solved so easily as getting a tattoo on your wrist. It’s a process. Sometimes a long process. It has been long for me, but I’m so pleased… so VERY pleased… to be where I am and I feel like I’ve taken such a leap forward. I rather doubt others will notice; this has been such a private struggle. But I notice. And it bears repeating… I am so VERY pleased.

And while I am still embarrassed and a bit ashamed… I’m so pleased to share this with you. Joy is best shared.

Update: I got a tattoo (part 2)

 

I’m not the Preacherswife May 29, 2010

Filed under: Depression,Uncategorized — Erynn Sprouse @ 3:41 am

It’s been 29 years and one day since I decided to grace the planet with my presence. Okay, it wasn’t exactly my decision… but here I am… and what does the world have to show for it? What have I accomplished in these 29 years?

I’ve learned to walk. Learned to talk (I’m really good at that). I’ve even learned how to talk with my hands… and not just gestures, either. I can feed and dress myself and I can even ride a bike.

Seriously, though, since my 23rd, I’ve tried to sit down on each birthday and take stock of where I’ve been, where I’m at, and where I want to go. Usually it’s been pretty shallow stuff. The kind of thing you would write on a goals sheet in a college class they make you take your freshman year: get married (check). Start a family (check check check check). Learn another language (check). Travel abroad (check)… Usually it’s been an opportunity to look around and see how blessed I am… externally. This year is a bit different because the blessings I’m counting this year aren’t tangible and probably no one but those closest to me even see them.

First a bit of a rant…
If you’re reading this, chances are you know me at least in the virtual world. You probably know that my husband is a preacher and you probably picked up on the fact that we’re very much in love after nearly 11 years. Nevertheless, I’m not always crazy about being married to a preacher. Not because of anything to do with him, but because of the expectations that get put on me because of who he is, or rather, because of what he does.

Frequently, when someone from our congregation introduces me to someone else, they’ll say something like “This is Erynn. She’s our Preacherswife” (no, that’s not a typo. All one word… capitalized… as though it were a title or a position). I hate it because of the expectations, the stereotypes, the images that come with it. Sometimes when I meet people on my own, I avoid the topic of what my husband does. It’s not because I’m ashamed of what Jeremy does. I’m proud of his choice and even more proud of who he is and what he’s overcome to do the work he does. The problem is the change that people take on when they hear Jeremy is a minister. The lady who had a sailor’s mouth two seconds ago is now telling me all about how she teaches Sunday school and never ever misses a service. Or worse… someone with a real problem who was opening up to me and who I might have been able to help suddenly clams up because they think I’ll judge them for being short of perfect. The biggest problem I have with the whole idea of the Preacherswife is internal though.

Against my better judgment, I bought into this Preacherswife notion and because of it, I lost me. I decided that I needed to fit into that mold and that anything else wasn’t okay… might even be sinful. The Preacherswife is proper, an excellent chef and baker, dresses well, wears her full-face of makeup even to the gym and has perfectly coiffed hair 24/7. She listens to quiet jazz, hosts tea parties, and does cross stitch while she sits in her favorite chair singing hymns. She merrily pops out of bed at 5:30 sharp every morning, and has a perfect spread of a meal on the table at 5:00 every night. Her house is always company-ready, her children are always in perfectly pressed outfits. In short, she is perfect… … … but I am not.

I’m not proper; I’m loud and a touch crazy. I’m sarcastic and I like to think I’m witty too. I do happen to be pretty handy in the kitchen, but no one will accuse me of dressing well. I dress in clothes I like or just happen to have. The concept of an “outfit” is a bit beyond me. If I bother with makeup at all, it’s the bare minimum of eye makeup and lip gloss; that’s just the way I like it these days. And perfectly coiffed hair hasn’t seen my head since my wedding. My hair is generally either a mess or in a pony tail. Quiet jazz will never be my thing. I like jazz, but I like it raucous with Louis Armstrong blowin’ those cheeks out, Wynton Marsalis wailin’ away all fast-paced and frenetic. I want my tunes loud, heavy on the beat, a strong attitude, and a good message… but a bit of nonsense in the lyrics is just fine too. I love a good slow, sappy romantic song and I crank the french horn solos every time I hear them. If I hosted a tea party, it would be more for a laugh and an excuse to make those cream cheese mints than anything. We would dress up in hats and lacy white gloves and use our best British accents. I would definitely sit in my favorite chair, knitting and belting out my favorite hymns… actually, that sounds like a really lovely afternoon. So the Preacherswife and I have that much in common, but that’s just about it. She may pop up at 5:30AM, but the only time I see 5:30 in the morning is if a kid is up or I haven’t made it to bed yet. A perfect spread of a meal isn’t beyond my skill set, but by 5:00 is… and so is the “every night” bit. My meals more closely resemble tricks than recipes. They’re healthy and they’re usually yummy but perfect they are not. It’s an eclectic mix of foreign with classically American. They’re one dish meals with as much stuff jammed into one pan as possible and chances are really good the pan will still be there empty and dirty come morning. My house company-ready? Hah! Only with hours and hours of cleaning. And about those kids… if their outfit doesn’t smell and isn’t visibly dirty, that’s good enough for me. Out the door they go.

Feeling the need to jam my square peg into that Preacherswife mold is how I lost me and spun myself into depression. You can see that there’s a lot of square corners where hers are round. We’re nearly polar opposites. I know women who are like her and I like them very much. They are really admirable women… but they’re not me.

And finally, what I’ve accomplished this year…
I’ve spent this year (two years, really) picking up the pieces of myself that I lost and fitting them back together. I’ve spent it trying to undo the effects of buying into the Preacherswife. I’ve spent it learning that it’s okay to not be the Preacherswife and accepting that I am not. It’s not an easy project and it’s not much fun either… but the results are.

I’ve learned that I have to take myself where I’m at and move on from there. When you’re lost, the first thing you have to do is figure out where in the world you are and then you have to accept it. You can’t stand in the middle of the desert and deny that’s where you’re at. If you pretend you’re in Michigan when you’re really in Arizona, you’re going to stay lost. Only when you know where you’re at and accept it can you get where you’re wanting to go.

So I’ve spent the last year or so being honest with myself about where I’m at. Admitting I have a selfish streak that’s a mile wide in places. Recognizing that I am downright lazy sometimes… maybe most of the time. Seeing that I can be a very successful manipulator. And those things aren’t pretty when you see them in the mirror, but you have to accept them. I have to accept them… or I can’t move on to change them. The trick is not forgetting the good things. It’s remembering that my selfish streak is just a streak and that my generous side is pretty big. It’s not being afraid to accept a compliment because yes, I do earn them from time to time. The key is having sober judgment (Romans 12:3). More than anything, though, the key is handing those flaws over to God and asking Him to help me change them. It’s not a surgical procedure where I can just cut these things, these traits and habits out… it’s a process of rehabilitation. It’s hard and it’s work and it requires time.

This post is getting really long and I want to wrap it up, but it wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t acknowledge the help I’ve received in growing and learning. The obvious first bit of gratitude goes to God. All strength, all good things come from Him. Without His support and without the scriptures, none of this change would be taking place. Jeremy is the other obvious person. His unfailing, unflagging love and devotion to me is amazing and often undeserved. After that, the order gets fuzzy. My best friend (besides Jeremy) has been my support more times than I can count. She has educated me, heard me out, told me when I’m wrong and has loved me even though she sees me clearly. Alex, another friend, dug up from the past, bonds of friendship and sisterhood renewed again, has been utterly indispensible to me. My sister Hanna has been my sounding board, my shoulder, my sanity check and my entertainer. My eternal and inexpressible gratitude goes to Master Cruz and Miss Sheila for sharing their time and passion and for doing it with the discipline and understanding concern for others that is so very evident. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if not for what I’ve learned in Tae Kwon Do.

Really, I could be here all night long listing out who has helped me and how, but it’s time for bed. Pure and simple.