Posts in Words Lovely
This is What 'Self-Care' Really Means
pexels-photo-275765.jpeg

I was given this article recently, and here at the beginning of the year I think it's perfect. We tend to think of the consumer version of self-care: some kind of indulgence outside our normal routine. But maybe self-care is pushing through the hard stuff that you know will make life better in the end. 

Here's the full text of the article, written by Brianna West, Nov 2017

Self-care is often a very un-beautiful thing. 
It is making a spreadsheet of your debt, and enforcing a morning routine, and cooking yourself healthy meals, and no longer just running away from your problems and calling the distraction a solution. 
It is often doing the ugliest thing you have to do, like sweat through another workout, or tell a toxic friend you don’t want to see them anymore, or get a second job so you can have a savings account, or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you’re not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time and then needing to take mandated breaks from living in order to do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Marie Claire and turn your phone off for a day. 
A world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick. Self-care shouldn’t be something we resort to because we are absolutely so exhausted that we need some reprieve from our own relentless internal pressure. 
True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake. It is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do. It often means looking at your failures and disappointments square in the eye and re-strategizing. It is choosing not to satiate your immediate desires. It is letting go. It is choosing new. It is disappointing some people. It is making sacrifices for others. It is living in a way that other people won’t, so maybe you can live in a way that other people can’t. 
It is letting yourself be normal. Regular. Unhurried. Real. It is sometimes having a dirty kitchen and deciding your ultimate goal in life isn’t going to be having abs and keeping up with your fake friends. It is deciding how much of your anxiety comes from not actualizing your latent potential, and how much comes from the way you were being trained to think before you even knew what was happening. 
If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot to do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.
It is no longer using your hectic and unreasonable life as justification for self-sabotage in the form of liquor or procrastination. It is learning how to stop trying to “fix yourself” and start trying to take care of yourself - and maybe you’ll find that taking care lovingly will attend to a lot of the problems you were trying to fix in the first place. 
It means being the hero of your life, not the victim. It means rewiring what you have until your everyday life isn’t something you need therapy to recover from. It is no longer choosing a life that looks good over a life that feels good. It is giving the hell up on some goals so you can care about others, or allowing non-decision to make your decisions for you. It is being honest even if that means you aren’t universally liked. It is meeting your own needs so you aren’t anxious and dependent on other people. 
It is becoming the person you know you want and are meant to be - however honest or ugly or painful the self-care has to be to keep you in the right direction. Salt baths and chocolate cake are ways to enjoy life, not to escape from it. 

Happy New Year, my dear! I am excited to roll on in to 2018 with you!

In Memoriam: Elie Wiesel

This is the Instagram feed for #eliewiesel as it is going on right now. So cool. 

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Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, memoirist, professor, and humanitarian, died on July 2. His masterpiece is his memoir of his experience in two different concentration camps during World War II. If you haven't read it yet, or lately, I recommend it. 

I first read "Night" by Elie Wiesel in my high school English class. I grew up in a very small town (of 1200) in the middle of Idaho, and this was the first time I ever remember being punched breathless by a book. At 15, I couldn't EVER have imagined that there had been a horror like this in human history. It widened my world, changed me, haunts me to this day, and I will love my teacher forever for giving me that experience. I will love this book forever for that, too - in that "thanks for the hard lesson and for returning me a handful of my own teeth" kind of way. 

Elie Wiesel died yesterday, and I think the celebration - the mourning of his passing, yes - but the celebration of his eloquence and the weight of his words because of the horror he suffered is a perfect counterpoint to the celebrations we're having this weekend for Independence Day. "Night" is one of the supreme accounts of the Holocaust, and the lifetime of humanitarian work and speaking out for the silent and suffering he spent after his experience is what we can remember. That we must never allow human beings to be treated like this again. 

There are millions of people on earth RIGHT NOW who - while not being herded into camps to die - are running for their lives from hatred, oppression, and war. Are being turned away at the doors of country and city and state. 

We say this weekend, "Let Freedom Ring," and we relish the victory here in our own country. That freedom has its costs (you know, so every jerk with a megaphone can say whatever he wants, right? But so can I, and that's what matters). NO PRICE is too high to pay so that all the world might join us in celebration of freedom - from war, from oppression, from terror. 

In remembrance of Elie Wiesel and our commitment to honor the humanity of every human being, maybe we could do a little something extra this weekend - a little donation to humanitarian relief, a little love for the people around us who are different, a little more love for that flag of freedom, a little longer on our knees in prayer for the silent and suffering. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Wiesel. At long last, be at peace.

Geek Girl's Guide: Giving Speeches

We get lots of opportunities to present our ideas to other people, either formally or informally. I've been thinking about this for a few days, because my beautiful girl Rowen just turned 12, and was asked to speak in church last Sunday. Terrifying, right? Getting up in front of roughly 250 people to expound, even for a couple of minutes, can be downright overwhelming. 

I've given a lot of talks & speeches. I did both speech and debate in high school, and participated in speaking contests outside of school for VFW, Farm Bureau, National Young Leaders, and others. I won prizes. I got to travel. It was awesome, and speaking has become one of my favorite things. I want to share a few secrets I've developed over time. In fact, these are the rules i use every time I prepare and deliver speeches.

image source: colleen simon, opensource.com

image source: colleen simon, opensource.com

divide Your Content into 3 segments

Preparing for and delivering speeches is a LOT easier when you divide up your main idea into a few sub-topics. Sometimes the points are explicitly spelled out ("I'd like to share three ways we can improve our racquetball game."), and sometimes they are implicit, simply by the verbal transitions you make.

I recommend that if you're going to spell out your points, that you use no more than 3. The reason for this really comes down to the short-term memory of your audience. You aren't giving a quiz at the end. They should be able to write down a few of your statements, but nobody can be expected to remember more than 3 "topic headings," because these aren't what stick. What sticks in the heart and mind are your stories. Even your most sympathetic audience member will get distracted, even if your speech is only 10 minutes long. 

By your 5th point I'm wondering again what the first one was, and then I'm thinking, ok, they said they had six, so just one more and then we're done! 

I know, not cool of me. But there it is. The exception to this rule is if your speech is accompanied by a PowerPoint that lists all your points and repeatedly refers back to the list as you step through them. Content plus context is king of them all.

Explain/quote/explain

Every great speech has outside references, whether they are specific quotes, scriptures, song lyrics, or more oblique references to world evens or history. Quotations are necessary. Use one in every segment of your speech. Remember from above, that what sticks in the heart and mind are the stories. Each quote is a story. You can even consider framing each segment of your speech around a quote or its main idea. Here's how.

When you're speaking without additional aids (like a PowerPoint), you need to guide your audience carefully through your points using repetition and reinforcement. Think of it like a sandwich: 

  • Explaination #1: In the first explanation, you'll provide backstory, as well as context and a lead-up to the content of your quotation. Do not underestimate the power of backstory.

  • Quote: Deliver your quotation with power, verbally emphasizing the keywords. Do not quote anything for more than ~30 seconds straight. 

  •  Explanation #2: In the second explanation you can provide analysis - why you chose this, as well as the all-important link back to the lives and circumstance of the audience.

Here's an example from a talk I gave this past February, for the explain/quote/explain method as I illustrated the relevance of the hymn, "Onward, Christian Soldiers":


(Explanation 1)

Here are the words of the great Christian battle-hymn, “Onward, Christian soldiers,” The first verse: “Onward, Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe, forward into battle, see His banners go!”

This beautiful song was written in 1865 by an Anglican curate named Sabine Baring-Gould. She needed a song to use as a processional for the town’s children to march to during Whitsuntide - the Anglican celebration of Pentecost - and sat and wrote this song in 15 minutes. It now has a place in Christian hymnals around the world. 

At the height of the second world war, with Britain embattled by German bombing, and just four months before the United States would officially enter, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met to agree the Atlantic Charter. As part of that meeting, a church service was held for which Prime Minister Churchill chose the hymns. He chose "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and afterwards made a radio broadcast explaining this choice:

(Quote)

We sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers" indeed, and I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we were serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high. When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals ... it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation. 
— Winston Churchill

(explanation 2)

Mr. Churchill’s words apply to us beautifully. Just as there in 1941 sat the congregation that represented the hope of the world - allies gathered in defense against a worldly tyrant, so sits here in this congregation today the hope of the world, gathered to the Standard of God against the spiritual tyrants, in the defense of our homes and our families.


The backstory for this quote is fascinating, both the story of the writing of the hymn, and then the story of its use at the height of World War II. in fact, i would say the backstory is what gives the quote its real impact in its implications for us today. I probably did an hour of research after I found this quote, and I am SO GLAD I did - my own life is better for knowing this, and I'm happy I was able to share it. 

Do as much research as you can on the story behind and around your quote. More than just who said it, who were they? Where was this said or written? What other things did they say ore write? what connections can you draw from their life or circumstance? what did other people say about it?

The quote itself, of course is from one of the great orators of the 20th century, so it has power on its own. But when that's spoken with the same conviction it was said originally, hundreds of people can be stirred by it again.

You can see the second explanation is pretty short. Essentially the task here is to provide that final connection between the life and world of the quotation itself, into the lives of your listeners. My goal was to draw a comparison between the circumstances of war as it was fought then, and the spiritual war we're fighting now.

As a side note, this is the beginning and middle of the second of my 3 points in this speech. Transition-by-quote is an awesome way!

like you mean it

It sometimes helps to read or listen to great speeches of the past as you're preparing. There's a reason these are great speeches, and that doesn't dim over time, regardless of how antiquated some of the words might seem. You've been given the rare opportunity to have the undivided attention of your listeners (10 or 1,000, doesn't matter), and you can change them forever by what you say. Connect your words to the WHY and the HOW - to them. 

One of the finest speeches I've ever heard was given by Suze Orman, the author and personal finance expert. She talked about personal finance, sure, but also about self-direction, self-love and perseverance, and I was moved to tears by the end. Not only is she a great speaker, but she was able to connect ideas for me, and sent me home a stronger person for it. And she was talking about checkbooksYour topic isn't dull, and neither are you. Prepare it like you mean it, and say it like you mean it, and they'll remember.

Save the Opening for last

In your preparation, I recommend saving the opening for last. Here's mine:

My 5th great grandparents, Caroline and John Butler, were baptized in 1835 in Simpson, Kentucky. At the Prophet Joseph’s command, they gathered to unite with the Saints in Iowa, and then in Nauvoo. They crossed the plains and finally gathered to Utah, where they settled in Spanish Fork. They faced persecution and poverty, and remained stalwart to the end. So with all our ancestors, literal, or spiritual. It is in that spirit - that legacy of gathering, of love, of unity, that I would like to speak today.

I actually wrote this opening about 10 minutes before I stood up to give my speech (not that I would recommend saving it THAT much). The last line of your first paragraph is the key transition from opening to the core of your speech. Here's where you say, "I'd like to provide three tips on how to improve your racquetball game." I was a little subtler, but connected the small story to the topic right there at the end of the opening. 

Make sure your opening doesn't weaken your speech. If it does nothing but "make the audience more comfortable," leave it out. As far as an opening joke, if your audience doesn't know you well, you have a 50/50 chance of a joke falling flat, and I wouldn't risk it. Your opening should take no more than ~10% of your speech. So for a 10-minute speech, think 45-60 seconds. And now for the most important bit, which I've saved for last.

DON'T EVER APOLOGIZE

We were actually in the car on the way to church while she was trying to figure out her opening (hm, did she inherit that?). And I've been thinking for days about this exchange.

I said, "Maybe just introduce yourself, and then go into your first thing."
She said, "What about, 'Hi, I'm Rowen Sprague. I am giving my first talk in church, so I know it isn't...'"
"No. Don't apologize."
She tried it another way, "'Hi, I'm Rowen Sprague, and I don't know why I was asked...'"
She was frustrated when I interrupted her again. "You don't ever need to apologize for what you are about to say."

As women, it's a sort of social instinct to make ourselves less - maybe it feels ingratiating, or polite, or that if we lower ourselves by apologizing for our work, we'll lower their expectations of us. But no. They won't like you better because you told them your stuff was crappy. You own that stuff, you have a right to be where you are, you're prepared for it, and you have a message to deliver. You didn't come share this just for their approval. Don't hide your light.

I mean it. This goes for any time you stand up in front of more than 2 people, write on your blog, post a photo in an online gallery, or talk in a meeting. You can never use any of these phrases ever again:

  • "I know this isn't..."
  • "I didn't..."
  • "I'm sorry, but/because"
  • "I can't (insert some technology reason)"
  • "I did this at the last minute" (or any reference to how little time you had, or even how much time you had, but that it still isn't any good for whatever reason)
  • Blaming your own shyness
  • Blaming your own inexperience at presenting/speaking/showing up "I'm not very good at..."
  • Blaming anyone else, even as a sort of joke (i.e. the boss told me I had to)
  • Comparing yourself or your presentation/material a great master.

Okay, I think you get it. Yes? You are not more by seeming less. You are more by preparing with that audience in mind, and then delivering with conviction. Don't hide your light. And don't ever, ever, EVER apologize for it.

xo

-JS

Song to the Lord of the Vineyard

Song to the Lord of the Vineyard

for H.K.S.

I have carved thee upon my soul,

O Lord of this rustling place.

And here, upon this bowing limb, this breaking heart

I set the seal of Heaven,

and I am formed, and framed, and each leaf counted.

 

And throwing green hair back I exult

with eyelids orange in the sun, and I sing.

mossy with music and surging with sap, I sing,

cannot be kept from singing.

amazed, reply with arms-wide yes - 

to the heart of my own ringed, widening heart. 

 

In the rough of brown earth, where knowledge began,

where nurture began, I delve with spreading toe unseen,

slowly breaking clay and rock, slowly

reaching roots-wide yes. Slowly raising

this trunk of my trunk, bending but never bent.

 

The chaos and storms that have shaken me!

Sent me quivering to the roots.

My leaves shake and fall, my twigs break in the black sky

my delved foot slips as I cry -

 

But always, dear Master of furrow and plow,

I am reached, braced, borne up,

Tended.

and by thee, and for thee,

I am slowly thus made

a sheltering home, carved forever

in Thy likeness.

 

I watched before time a red corner of this own garden

another tree, ringed and broken,

and set on a skull-hill.

And there Thou hung, my own vineyard's Lord,

broken, in blood, and body, and finished.

All our leaves and all our tears rained that day, gasping in sorrow

and breath-held hope.

 

But now - now in this same garden’s quiet

Sabbath corner,

with listening leaf and witnessing bough,

we of the Vineyard see a rolled stone,

and greet an empty grave. 

 

So Before his scarred feet I bow my creaking knees, 

my awed silence pruning words of grief

into resolve, 

that His giving, hanging, breaking, tending

will not go unattended.

 

And my tree-soul straightens, 

remembering sap-deep,

and with low, rustling anthem

that my work - leaf and branch - is now this: 

ever delving, ever reaching

to make of this my bark, my root my worshipping leaf,

An arrow to the to sky he returns to.

-Jessica Sprague

Word of the Day: Begin

This particular topic is HUGE. Vast. I might do another journal prompt with just this image and word again, because beginning is so critical to progression. But today's prompt brought back a story I want to tell. (Or retell, I've put bits and pieces here and there through the years).

I joined the Design Team of the Chatterbox paper company in the summer of 2005. Just before Christmas that year, we were each given an unusual assignment. (Chatterbox was always a company that reached at the heart of scrapbooking - the why as much as the how).

The Assignment: Intentions

Here's our assignment, in two steps:  

  1. Think of something that you've always intended to do in scrapbooking, but just haven't, and then DO THAT THING.
  2. Create a project about what we did, and our experience.

My Take: Ruined Wedding Photos

I thought for a little while of what project I could do, and one morning (December 23, 2005, I remember it clearly), I woke up knowing EXACTLY what I needed to do. 

Backstory. Insert wavy transition and backstory music. "It all began...."

Jared and I got married on June 16, 2000. That was 15 years ago, as of just a couple weeks. He's the man of my dreams and the love of my life. And it was our great honor to be married in the Mt. Timpanogos LDS temple by my dear sweet grandfather, Seth Bills. 

I LOVE my grandparents. They were (and are) two of the Great Trees of my life, and I grew up in their shade right next door. My wedding was a perfect day. My reception the next day in my grandparents' backyard was a perfect Idaho summer evening. Cloudless and warm and golden as the sun set among their beautiful trees and flowers. If you have never been to southeast Idaho in the summer, you really need to go. It is absolutely GORGEOUS. Just be sure to get out before October when Father Winter slams the door again. ;)

Fast forward, and in July 2000 I am living in Minnesota, when I received both prints AND NEGATIVES from our photographer (a thing I still consider to be the best part of this miracle). I wasn't a scrapbooker then (it would be four more years, when Rowen was born), but I wanted to put the pictures someplace special. I bought a really great album with these cool lumpy handmade pressed-cotton pages. Very organic, very cool. Totally not acid-free. Totally water-absorbent. See where this is going? I adhered the photos to the pages with some random combination of photo corners and glue and thought to myself that I'd done a pretty bang-up job of the thing. Well, then I left the album sitting on top of our little bookcase beside the sliding glass door. Our tiny apartment had only a small air-conditioning unit, so we spent most of the (wet, hot, humid) Minnesota summer and fall with that sliding door open.

Fast-forward to spring-ish of 2001 when I pulled out the album again and opened (tried to open) pressed-cotton pages pages soaked with four months of humidity and rain. Most of them were stuck together with water damage, and ALL of my wedding photos were ruined. I cried. I shook my fist at Minnesota. I probably stormed around a bit. 

And then I remembered I had the negatives! I could just get them (all 300 of them) reprinted. Any time I wanted. And anytime never seemed to come.

I intended a few times to get the photos reprinted. I thought about it quite a few times over the next FOUR YEARS at least, and I actually ventured into Walgreen's one day sometime in early 2004 and asked the clerk what it would take to reprint them. Obviously this person didn't want to do the job, so they said, "Why don't you wait until the prints go on sale?" I left with my envelope of negatives, and TRUE CONFESSION TIME they proceeded to ride around in the armrest of my car for the next year and a half. I know. I still cringe to tell it. I completely forgot about the negatives to my ruined wedding photos for another long time.

My Project: Getting Wedding Photos Reprinted

Fast-forward back to December 23, 2005. So it has been FIVE YEARS, right? I have two bitty babies now. I wake up with a start KNOWING what I need to do for my Chatterbox assignment and I have this urgent feeling that I really NEED to get these reprints done. Today. Right now. Get your intention done, you lazy thing! What have you been waiting for?

It was a Friday. I took the negatives down to Sam's Club, which was literally a half-mile from our new townhome, determined this time not to take no for an answer and not to leave until I had figured out how to get my little travel-worn envelope of negatives back out to life again. I said to the clerk at the photo counter:  "What would it take for me to get these 300 wedding photos reprinted?" The clerk took the envelope from me without batting an eye and said, "How about 24 hours?" Kind of embarrassingly easy, huh?

The next day (Christmas Eve, 2005) I went back and picked up my 300 reprints. I couldn't believe it! I spent a great Christmas weekend going through all my photos, relishing the memories of that beautiful occasion. I tasted my life again in all the golden glory that a union of two souls SHOULD be. I saw family and friends from back home, back in what had now become another life, and I cried for the happiness of seeing them again, remembering those relationships.

Just in Time: The Only Two Photos

A week later, on the afternoon of December 30, 2005, I received a phone call from my dad, that his father, my sweet Grandpa Bills, had passed away suddenly in his sleep the night before. I was devastated. I was even more heartbroken that because of distance and our two small children, I could not attend his funeral. I felt so lost and alone in the wintry darkness of Minnesota, wanting so much to be with my family in Idaho, to pay my respects, hug my Grandma, and remember and celebrate the life of this great and faithful man. I was so sorrowful and low, and so desperately sad that I can still taste all those tears.

That night after I'd gotten my babies in bed, I suddenly remembered that among the 300 reprints I had JUST received back, were two photos of me and my Grandpa on my wedding day. They are the only two photos I have of he and I together. Here they are.

Me and my Grandpa.

Me and my Grandpa.

My night was then spent blogging - reminiscing about the things I remembered about him. Was it my own personal vigil? My private memorial? Maybe. My tears didn't disappear - how could they? But they had turned from desolation to a kind of warm bittersweetness that reached down into my heart and gave me peace. 

And I do believe that it was the Intentions Challenge that inspired me - and placed that invitation in front of me to do the thing I'd been intending to do for so long, so that I could have these photos in my hands, just in time.

I learned that night in a way that has shaped my soul, that photos (while always important) can sometimes suddenly become the most precious things we own. Photos, and the stories that accompany them--only increase in value as time goes on. They bind us to our past, help us remember who and what we are, and give us strength and courage to face our days ahead. 

THIS is why I scrapbook. THIS is why I always have my camera out. Why I will always teach memory-keeping. Why I will always make it my life's priority to savor and save. And why I will always cry two times over these two amazing, incalculably precious photos. 

Your Turn

And it's why I'm offering this prompt to you today. What is it that you've intended to do in memory-keeping, that you haven't done? What is it that springs to mind when you hear the word BEGIN associated with what you need to do as you savor and save?

Check and double check? Let me know right here what your intention is, and then you can come back and tell me what you did about it, I'd love to hear! We can keep each other honest. ;)

xo,

-J

 

Word of the Day: Shift

Today's word is Shift.

Now before you go on to read what I have to say, sit and look at this word for a minute. What comes to mind? Memories or emotions, even sounds? Where does the word shift take you?

My take

I specifically chose a bicycle for the background image for this one, because the physical act of shifting is an important aspect of accommodating to the terrain you're on (just like in life). If it's smooth and flat we can shift up and get lots of great momentum. We're in "high gear." 

But when the terrain gets steep, we need to shift down to a smaller gear. This means that we can't go as fast, but we'll make it up that hill. On a bike (and in life, but this is hard to remember), we can't expect to make it uphill as fast, and we can't expect that we won't work harder for it. Shifting is the ability to work with whatever terrain we're given, even if it means going painfully slow (and it is simply painful, too) at times. But the downhills after that climb? They are amazing. More info on bicycle gears and physics right here.

Your Turn

What does the word "Shift" mean to you? 

Word of the Day: Exhale.

Yesterday's post about the language in The Lord of the Rings got me thinking about words. Words in general, and verbs in particular. I love their evocativeness, and the layered meanings they can produce. So today's word is: Exhale.

Now before you go on to read what I have to say, sit and look at this word for a minute. What comes to mind? Memories or emotions, even sounds? Where does exhale take you?

Here's my take

There's something really beautiful about breathing out. Somehow focusing on this cycle of in-breath and out-breath connects me - roots me to earth, to the space I'm in. I'm brought back into the present moment. Focus. And for me, there's an aspect of letting go - letting go of held breath, letting go of held emotion, letting go of held worry and fear. Just an exhale, out into the world, and a space inside waiting to be consciously filled again. 

Your Take

What does exhale say to you? You can write it here, or on your own blog and link back! Be sure to pin the image so you can collect them. There'll be more. :)

This One's for My Sis.

I have a beautiful sister. Her name is Julie. She is one of the most well-read and most sharply intelligent people I know. She served an LDS mission in New York City (speaking Spanish, no less), and has a master's degree in Education Administration. She is teaching at an amazing charter school in AZ called Great Hearts, and I am stinking proud of her

Tolkien is the Man.

She and I have a few things in common, and one of them is an unabashed love for all things Tolkien. I think it's only she that probably beats my record for the most hours spent dived in to the lore and - especially - the language of the Lord of the Rings. The words that Tolkien puts into the mouths of his characters have a bone-deep ring to them that transcends time and distance, and even race (speaking here of hobbits, dwarves, and elves, of course). 

And the girl even got a tattoo in Elvish. So badass. So nerdy. So nerdishly badass, which is even MORE badass than just plain badass. That's right.

And so it was that she told me one of her favorite lines, from a speech given by humble Samwise Gamgee, friend and servant to Frodo, and companion on his long journey. A gardener by trade, he's the stalwart and sturdy and earthy one, and the one who in this case speaks of hope in a gorgeous metaphor.

And so I did what any good Photoshopping sister would, and made her a poster like so, and surprised her with it:

Here's the entire piece from the book:

It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

For me, the most touching part of this, is that of all the amazing lines in that trilogy, this is the one that she chose as her favorite. I won't go into details on her life, of course, but I will say that she's had it rough in a lot of ways.

But she hopes.

She hopes fiercely, like Sam, in the knowledge that future goodness, just like the rising sun, will arrive to banish the current darkness. And when that darkness DOES disappear, how bright the sun will be! 

You can grab this Tolkien quote poster from my Etsy store if you'd like to put one in your own home. It ships flat, and is unframed. 

Your Turn

Do you have a favorite line from The Lord of The Rings? Post it here! You might just see a poster of it! 

Doing Good.
Set in  Trend Slab  by Latinotype

Set in Trend Slab by Latinotype

All is well.

Thank you, so much for your amazing comments and emails and love. I have been moved to tears by your support, not only of me, but of the people in your life (maybe you?) in whom you might recognize some of what I said. I hope with all my heart that something might have resonated - that something might have provided help or hope or comfort.

As I've been re-reading, I realized that I needed a follow up to my last post. I need you to know about the success. And perhaps the darkness I explained and the urgency I expressed overshadowed what really matters:

It absolutely does get better. So much better.

It gets so much better that when you get back up to the ridge and the sunlight comes it is indescribable. The shock of the difference between the depths of the valley and the joyful journey with my little caravan on the ridge is so overwhelming that even I can't find the words to describe it, but just have to lift my face to Heaven and feel the bright sun and let the tears of gratitude fall. These are the reasons I'm on my knees at night, not in agony, but in gratitude to the God who gave me life, and challenges - and yep - even allows me to experience darkness. But also, because of it, the brightness of hope. 

It is no small miracle that I've arrived on earth when there are so many resources that make "normal life" (picture air quotes there, because come on, right?) possible. I knew I was going through the motions in my life when I began the search several years ago, for what it would take to truly feel better in a long-term way. If not to fix, then at least to patch the holes I felt. I was asked what percentage I thought I was "running" at - essentially how close to my real capacity for happiness | stability | potential | energy. Was it 60%? Let's start this med. 75%? What if we tweak this dosage? 80% now? And approaching that target has been my goal ever since. For me it's a more tangible way of identifying what I feel in relationship to my own potential.

I feel really good. Hopeful. And with that hope comes my desire to share the hope. 

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi talks about the brightness of hope as he urges us to follow the path forged by Jesus the savior of the world: 

 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. 2 Nephi 31:20

Today, right now, and for weeks and months honestly, I'm on the ridge, learning how to stay here as often as I can, learning how to tell when my feet start to slip. I love my life and I count my blessings and snuggle my family and I'm grateful. So grateful for the absolute miracle it is that I've arrived on earth in a time where there is SO MUCH hope for feeling better.

Living a gorgeous and colorful life in spite of depression is possible. 90%, 100% is right there, possible. It's so much more than damage-control or one more night without the agony.

It's rising up to the ridge where you should be, and to greeting the sunlight.

Through the deep waters.
Photo by Selover from Pexels

Photo by Selover from Pexels

In memory of Robin Williams, 1951-2014. 

Whose work made me think, and laugh, and try harder, and whose hidden sorrow and untimely death brings me here, in the hope that together we can save a few.

Rest in peace, Lonesome Robin. 

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. 

-Isaiah 43:2

I don't talk about depression very often around here - or specifically about my depression. I'm actually not that sure why, except that, especially here, I choose to focus on happiness, optimism, my blessings. And laying this stuff out there is hard, I'll be honest.

But man. For the second time in two days Mr. Robin Williams has propelled me to step back out. So I will provide fair warning: heavy stuff ahead.

Yesterday I cried.

I cried for Mr. Robin Williams, along with the world's world's cries of shock and bewilderment and sadness. But I also cried a little harder for him. Because for me, it is terrifyingly easy to imagine the level of pain and loneliness and darkness that surrounds such a decision, such a deliberate act as suicide.

And so here I am talking about it. And please, If this post gets to you somehow, consider it a sign:

Do not end it. 

I was first treated for depression when I was still in high school. So let's say 20 years, give or take. And on and off until about 7 years ago, when I went on (treatment) in a long-term way. Like a for the rest of my life kind of way. I've had a long time to assess the situation, a long time to figure out and accept three things:

  1. Depression is not our fault. Not weakness of will or lack of faith or lack of nutrition or effort. It can be deadly, and should be treated and monitored like any chronic physical illness.
  2. Depression is so, so much more than melancholy, or a passing squall of grief and tears. It can be deadly, and should be treated like any other life-threatening illness. 
  3. Depression is treatable, but it's like walking on sand. It changes states and degrees over months or even days, evading 'cure' and requiring (for many) lifelong treatment and vigilance. 

Depression is Not Your Fault

I've experienced a lot of misunderstanding in the last 20 years of dealing with, suffering through, and accepting the fact that this simply IS a part of my life. And I will say that it takes a really long time to come to the point where you can look yourself in the mirror and say, this is not my fault. This dark and desperate and powerless way I feel, this going-through-the-motions-of-life way I feel isn't because of something done or undone. It is a rock to carry, your rock to carry, and possibly to carry on and on, stumbling til you lay it all down in the end. The hills ain't going away, and the rock gets so, so heavy. Other people have other rocks, and this one is yours. That must be said with acceptance and not with despair, and that's a fine, fine line.

And I will say also, that YEARS of careful self-acceptance can be undone by a single breathtakingly insensitive comment like, "Well, maybe if you could just pray a little more?"

Or, "I'm sure if you just get moving then it isn't so bad? More exercise? Vitamins? Positive thinking?"

And this: "Maybe you're getting TOO MUCH sleep and that's what's wrong?" 

No. That isn't what's wrong. 

That isn't what's wrong. What's wrong is that I need real help and I'm reaching out because I'm hurt, and I'm being insulted in return.

Nothing but the fact that you have depression is ever what is wrong. Put away the lie that you have mental or moral weakness, or that you simply don't have enough willpower or that you were born to be a terrible housekeeper. What's wrong is this outsider perspective that sees depression as something that can be "powered through." That can and should simply be sucked up with gritted teeth. Like walking on a sprained ankle, maybe. Maybe you put a brace on it, walk it off, it'll be fine. 

Major depression is really like diabetes. Your body doesn't make enough of something it needs, or isn't using what it has in a way that works enough. There's no permanent fix. You get really, really sick if you don't treat it, and so you must spend a lifetime handling with great care and constant vigilance. Management, not cure. Support and not scorn.

And I cried for Mr. Robin Williams yesterday because his decision to end his own precious life full of humor and influence highlights a terrible misunderstanding in our society: That untreated or poorly treated depression cannot be as lethal as untreated diabetes. Do not ever doubt that we're talking about something as serious on either hand. No one in their right mind would tell a diabetic to suck it up or power on through, and chronic depression is no different

So if you are privileged to be one of the Trusted Ones that your person reaches out to, (depression is still a pretty embarrassing thing to admit to out loud, and it takes an immense amount of courage for a grown-ass, independent woman to admit to needing help), please, for the sweet love. Put away the thoughts of the ankle brace and focus instead on just listening. And do not walk away until you're sure your person is safe back to the shore.

So Much More than Melancholy

I've been sad a bunch in my life. We all have. Shocked or grieving or hopeless or blindsided or betrayed or wandering through a desert of doubt. Everyone wades through dark water, everyone. And it's the worstFather Lehi says in the Book of Mormon, that our trials on earth teach us the difference between joy and sorrow - that there actually isn't any song of joy to sing at all without its accompanying bag of rocks to carry. That's the way the world and mortal education just works. And we come back out of the deep water and find our way to some joy again, so grateful that we know the difference.

And then there is chronic depression. Major depression. Bipolarity. The long-term stuff that sends your psyche into a tailspin a thousand times worse than any other doubt or dark water, because it seems endless, the rock infinitely heavy.

What It's Like: My Journal

In my personal reflections I like to hand-write a journal, that I don't share with anyone, and wouldn't normally share here. But it seems important to tell what really is in my mind during one of the dark times. Don't ever let anyone tell you that psychic pain is any less exquisitely painful than broken bones or a severed artery. Or that it isn't real because it can't be seen.

This is from October 29 of 2013. It's also very, very tear-stained.

The rock is heavy tonight. It is both infinitely weighted and invisible, so when I look inside all I can see is just flatness. No desire. No love. No hope that doing anything will make it better or make any difference. 
Tears - hot shameful tears of self-pity and self-loathing and hopelessness, and - I think - grief - for lost years and all my stuck-ness and suffering and battle against something massive, invisible, impossible to describe. It is formless and so only feels like emptiness. Only feels like failure, and such deep, deep mourning. 
So here I am at the bottom - nearly as far down as I ever get, only hearing echoes in my head and not comfort, or answers, or peace. Only more tears. 
Eventually the tears will go quiet and I will go quiet, and stop writhing in invisible pain, and just sleep. It's the only answer I've found to get on by and back up the hill a bit. Back up to a place where I can at least believe in the sun even if I can't see it - too far down and all hope if light gets swallowed up in the unending, unfathomable, suffocating dark.
Drink the bitter cup and be strong. There is a Savior who went before me, who bore this grief and carried this nameless abyss of sorry, and who even if He will not or cannot take it from me, will at least tread down the long dark road with me, until the higher ground comes and there's a hope of sun on the horizon. 
I know at some level it's the devil's lie to think they're better off without me, that ending my own suffering would end theirs, too. A convenient and easy-to-belive lie that always surfaces during the worst of the psychic vulnerability when the idea of disappearance sounds so, so appealing. Rest. Anything to stop the present pain, bleeding like an amputated limb, collapsing like a deflated hot air balloon. And in the ashes around me, ashes of dreams and hopes and curiosity and desire, now all seemingly, everlastingly burned away - just giving up, turning off the cold dark path and lying down forever right over here.
Perhaps my people up on the ridge won't notice and come looking to shake me out of my stupor of living death, for what is life without hope?
 Perhaps they will move off into the distance, my bright little caravan, capturing the joys of their life together and no longer weighed down with watchfulness hoping that this time I can stay out of the dark valley. Disappointed, maybe, that I return here again and again needing rescue. 
I'll be rescued, if I wait it out. Time and sleep and some chocolate and maybe a bath will ease me back to life, back up the ridge to carry on. But my footing's unsure, and my rock's a tricky and unbalanced weight. So the real rescue - a permanent place among the caravan on the ridge is a hopeless dream. 
That's ok. The times on the ridge - out in the sun with a little warmth and perspective help me leave the valley to itself for a time. But tonight, among the ashes on this dark and familiar and neverendlingly infinitely dark road I want to lay down and disappear among the ashes. To not need the immense amount of effort of simply trying anymore. But I will and I always will, sometimes more and sometimes less. More's the pity. So I'll sleep while it's dark and hope for a bright morning.

Depression Is Like Walking on Shifting Sand

One of the things you might have noticed there is that I've known about this and been in treatment for this for two decades. Intensive treatment with therapy and meds for more than 7 years, and yet that journal entry from the abyss of darkness, that frightened me even as I copied it down, is from less than a year ago. That's because depression is a shifty bastard. No other way to put it.

See, the truly sucky part (there is no word to describe the level of suck, actually) about depression is that it requires not only vigilance (taking its daily toll as though collecting the cover charge at the door of every morning), but it requires that you be rescued - not just once, but over and over again. As if asking for help once weren't excruciating enough.

And despite all your care and vigilance it'll just happen and you won't be able to control when or for how long, or how bad it will be this time, no matter what you do. That's what that journal entry means. Seven years in, twenty years in, good meds and therapy, and still it happens. It is what it is. But what I do know, is that the chances of feeling better in the long term increase with meds and therapy in combination. It's uncertain and slow, kind of like going to the eye doctor for new glasses, but it takes a year to get anywhere close to a prescription that works. "Do you see better with A or B? Come back in a month and we'll check on it." Depression is all the more painful because treatment is so difficult. And what worked a year ago, might not be entirely working now. 

If you're like me, it'll never truly pass, and that shadow will live there all your life, sometimes growing and sometimes receding. Meds and therapy. Sunshine. Prayer. A text to a friend. Getting out of your damn bed even though you need a running start. 

Don't disappear. Please. 

I'm not gonna lie, 2013 was a beast. It was a near-daily struggle with physical and mental illness, imbalance, confusion. I was helped through it - rescued from that instance of it - by a very kind counselor (who at one point during last summer, made me do daily suicide watch check-ins). It isn't my fault. Meds and therapy. And it will get better.

I know this is seriously heavy stuff. Frightening, actually. But I need for two things to happen by sharing this:

  1. If you are suffering, I'm over here, ok? I know a little of what the valley is like, and how excruciating the pain is. And how lonely that desolate place can be. When the rescue comes, recognize it for what it is, ok? Sit tight and wait for it.
  2. If you love someone who has been in the valley, or who has gone there again and again, they need your strength. They need your hand in a practical way, and it's impossible for you to be too concerned about this. Say "here, tomorrow I'll sit with you while you call a mental health center. Tonight I'll bring you the laptop so you can email your therapist that we'll be at their office first thing. I see you and your suffering, and I'm here." You'll be the rescue. 

On Rescue From the Valley

Every time I've been in the valley, I've been rescued by something, or someone, that pushes me back up toward the ridge and into the hope of sunlight again. Here are a few.

In an Emergency: Call the Hotline

This is really important, okay? If it is really bad, and you are thinking concretely about pills or ropes or your car's exhaust or whatever, stop whatever you are doing, ok? Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Call right now 1-800-273-8255. Right now, man. I mean it. Please, do not end your infinitely precious life. 

Step 1: Call A Mental Health Clinic

Go online or to the phone book and look up a local Mental Health clinic, call them and ask to see a psychiatrist. They're MDs who can evaluate, prescribe, and recommend what additional therapy is needed. And they'll become your Someone if it ever gets really bad and you need to go somewhere to get safe. 

Make the phone call right now. Not tomorrow, or after your other to-dos are done, okay? You know you've already put this off too long. Your life will change forever when you do this step, I pinkie-swear.

Reach Out

And while you're waiting for your appointment, which honestly should be less than a week away or you need to call someone else, text a friend just to say hi. I've been rescued by Heidi, Kristen, Tori, Tristina, Erin, Sherrie, Heather, my dad, another Heather, Greg, Carol, and a lot of others. And of course, my soulmate Jared. Rescuers all, and they probably don't even know it. They represent contact with the world, a tie and a touchstone that says yep. If I reach, only reach.

Sit Still

Sometimes, some of us are only rescued from desperate acts by putting ourselves in a place where we can't act - we can just ride it out. Lock up the pills. Get in bed. Get in the (empty) tub. Lay in your closet. Squeeze those eyes shut and sleep or ask for a milkshake or for someone to hold on to you til the pain gets easier.

Also, if you get to this place, you should have calls or emails in to your professionals.

A Beautiful Sermon: Hope is Never Lost

I was rescued by a just-in-time sermon by Jeffrey R. Holland from the LDS Conference in October, which I'm embedding here because maybe it will rescue you, too:

Put Pen to Paper

Write. Write write write. Get a pen. Sob it out. It sucks, it hurts, oh sweet baby Moses in a basket it hurts. But if your pen is on the page and your thoughts are here, they aren't over there where the water is a little too temptingly deep. And when you get back to the lighter place, maybe a few weeks or months from now when the meds and therapy are making it easier, you can read that thing and know, if you go to the valley again, you'll come back out. Your little bright caravan on the ridge will not leave without you. If they didn't back then, they won't the next time. Proof.

Find Hope in Music

Get a song or two that really speaks to you. I have been rescued by the great Pioneer anthem Come, Come Ye Saints more times than I can count. I can picture those stalwarts there on the plains, walking and freezing and dying for their cause, and echo, 

Why should we mourn, or think our lot is hard?
Why should we think to earn a great reward, if we now shun the fight,
Gird up your loins, fresh courage take!  Our God will never us forsake!
And soon we'll have this tale to tell,
All is well! All is well!

Incidentally, here is that very hymn as sung by the magnificent Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Take a minute to watch it, ok?

So. We are called, sometimes, to go through the deep waters. To tread down into a valley that seems only full of desolation, and the most exquisite pain imaginable. And we may go there over and over again before the journey's through. 

If you're there in the valley or you find yourself nodding to the journal entry above and you haven't gotten help, get help. I hope that I can be proof that hope and help are there. And I want you to know that I know what real courage is: taking the step. You don't have to go through the motions anymore. There can be a day when you don't need a running start to get out of bed. And when the light comes again, it will be breathtaking.

If you are a Trusted One, fight the urge to lecture or suggest, or judge or become impatient. This particular rock is excruciatingly heavy at times, and although it's probably completely baffling from the outside, all you need to get right now is that your person is hurting. Call in the troops. Get those wagons of mental health professionals circled up around them. Your bright and beautiful person will come back up the ridge, and you can carry on into the dawn together.

With so much love,

-JS

And YOU may contribute a verse.
Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Just now. Like, five minutes ago, I was shocked out of my bloggy silence by the news of the death of Robin Williams. I know, people - and even celebrities - die all the time. But this one, this news? Was the signal that I really need to end the silence I've held here for so long.

It isn't that I haven't thought about writing here in my blog. It's been my journal for years. It isn't as though I haven't laughed at something or thought of something and thought - I should ... but for all this time it hasn't gotten further than that. 

Confession: I've been hiding. 

Granted, lots of things have been going on this summer - with getting the kids out of school, the agonizing experience of selling our cute house (44 showings. That's right. 44.) Organizing endless repairs. Visiting grandparents in Idaho and Oregon for 2 1/2 weeks. Finding a new house to move to. Getting the kids settled into their new year-round school. Trying to make a list of all the stuff we have to do before we close on August 28 (my birthday!). And pain. And the always, always tiredness.

Whether they're reasons for silence, or excuses, the fact still remains: I've been hiding. It's so much easier to just disappear, don't you think? You don't have to talk to anyone, be responsible to anyone, and if you set no goals and account to no one, you don't have to face failure. Oh, failure and guilt niggle in the back of the mind, of course, but if you hide, nobody can see. And if you don't blog, you don't have to think about it.

Part of this has been the confusion and turmoil of slowing down teaching classes at JessicaSprague.com. If I am not this anymore (or not all the time), then what am I

Cue identity crisis. The resulting tailspin. The desire-and-yet-not-motivated-enough-to-overcome-the-fear of finding (creating?) something new in myself put on hold over and over again. And instead of facing the lack of answers with humility and care, cue hiding. From you. From myself. A lot of knitting. A lot of Sudoku. And a lot less introspection.

And then, (Mr. Keating) Mr. Williams. And one clear call for me. 

Is there anyone here who saw Dead Poets Society and whose life wasn't changed forever? I know Robin was talented (they're saying it all over the world now). And I know he played other roles. But his performance as Mr. Keating changed me. He was Mr. Keating, he inhabited that role. And as terrible as it is, his death made me remember: 

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. 

How, in the face of this, can I stay silent? How can I keep from singing?

I've only got a bit, a little bit of life (relatively speaking) - to be on the stage, and I've been pretending I don't exist, hoping that people forget and don't look for me too closely. Well, just like always, no matter what I've ever done, there comes the point where I can't pretend anymore. Where the words and thoughts, the beauty and poetry and patterns and photographs and fonts have build such a pressure behind my heart I have to let them out, have to write it or glue it or cut it or edit it in Photoshop. Have to make the marks. Risky business, that. But it is the creative life. It demands attention, and it can never be completely ignored. (And I'm not the only one, mama: you feel it too, don't you? And if you ever doubt, please watch this video. As many times as you need to. Take two, call me in the morning.

And so I'm called up by this today, called to come back to the creative well and dip in again:

You are here ... life exists, and identity; ... the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. ... The powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

After so long afraid of whatever the answer to this might be (or maybe even more afraid that I actually had no answer), I've decided I don't care. Doesn't have to be great or grandiose, or even worthy (this whole idea that what we write has to be worthy of a post has held a lot of us back, hasn't it?) It does have to be spelled right, and it does have to be honest and earnest. here I am.