Two Poems, One Year Apart

I. 2018

How long can I hold my breath

in this murky, underwater state?


Life moves in slow motion.

Here, strange fish glide past-

feathers mark them as birds

in a different world.

There, tall grass sways

in the current.


My lungs are screaming-

-breathe in

-breathe in

it’s only air.


II. 2019


my head above water,

I begin to swim

towards shore.


I get fatigued-

my body’s heavy,

still waterlogged,

and yet-


Clear air

and sunshine-

kiss my face

each day.


I was recently flipping through a journal and came across the first poem. I remember writing it. I was sitting on a bench outside, feeling utterly defeated by depression. I had gone for a walk on a trail I’d paced a hundred times, but felt foreign on the path and in my own body. Everything heavy, I sat on a bench and looked numbly at the world around me. All the parts of being outside that I love the most- the sun, the animals, the plants- seemed wrong. The sunlight was flat, the grasses moved unnaturally, and the birds seemed oblivious to my presence- as if I had already faded away.

These days, I still walk the same trail. Sometimes it feels like a chore, and sometimes it feels just right. I listen to the meadowlarks sing and the prairie dogs yip, and moving forward is easy. One foot in front of the other, I let the motion of my legs carry me without a thought. Other days, the weight of depression demands my attention. When that happens, and I’m overwhelmed by the sense that I shouldn’t be here- I shouldn’t be anywhere- all I can do is breathe, and wait for another good day.


Your brain

There is Always a Choice

TW: self-harm and suicide

I wrote this in my hospital journal towards the end of my stay. A few days ago, I published a post about self-compassion. The two seem to go together, in my mind.

drawing of landscape with tree and river and words about self-compassionThere is always a choice. Two therapists have told me this independently. It took a little while for the meaning to sink in after the first therapist said it. I had gone a few weeks without self-harm at that point, and I still felt utterly controlled by it. The question of whether to do it or not didn’t seem like a choice; it seemed like an inevitability. Over time, the less trapped by it I felt, and the more sense that statement made. Although the choice of whether to self-harm might have been stacked in favor of doing it, the choice to take steps to change that was still mine.

I relapsed and eventually ended up here, in the hospital. On the surface, I’m likely to view all of that as a failure. However, I didn’t make the wrong choice. I experienced the symptoms of wanting to self-harm and having suicidal thoughts. I made the choice to be honest and to go to the hospital. I’m making choices every day to participate in groups and to work towards stability.

Was cutting a choice? Yes, but it’s about more than that. It’s about larger choices. When my disorder makes resisting those urges and thoughts too difficult, agency over my life as a whole is still mine. I can decide to work towards taking back control in all areas, however slowly I have to do that. It’s about the choices I make to be honest with my loved ones, to go to therapy, and to take my medication, that will affect my recovery from an illness that makes me want to hurt myself, that makes me want to disappear, that tells me that I don’t matter.

I do matter. I choose to work towards self-love.

There is always a choice.


Your brain

Acceptance, Self-Compassion, and Growth

The other day, my therapist gave me a handout on self-compassion. My “assignment” is to read through it and make some notes on what stands out to me. Since she reads my blog, (Hi, J!) why not expand my notes into an entire post?

A Definition of Self-Compassion

Self-compassion has to do with accepting that we are not infallible and treating ourselves gently when we’re suffering. Just like you’d extend understanding and compassionate support to someone else, we can strive to do the same for ourselves. As humans, we’re going to make mistakes; our imperfections are not only part of what make us unique, but their existence is also a common element shared among all humans. The handout encourages readers to stop fighting against the reality that we are imperfect beings.

Here’s my initial reaction to that bit of advice: but if I stop fighting it, I’ll stop improving. 


drawing of woman surrounded by plant growth

I worry that if I stop fighting the reality that I’m going to make mistakes, I’ll end up stagnating. If you also hold this belief, I wonder if we can change it by convincing ourselves that the components of success don’t necessarily include criticism and harsh judgment. You can like yourself and still be motivated to grow and improve. (This is what the Dialectics in DBT is all about; two seemingly opposed things can be valid at the same time. It’s about finding the middle ground.) Not to mention, you don’t need to beat yourself up for your mistakes in order to learn from them.

Acceptance vs. Resignation

At the heart of it lies another DBT concept, the difference between acceptance and resignation. Acceptance is the ability to recognize and come to terms with the reality of a situation. It leaves room for you to change it. Resignation doesn’t. When you’re resigned to something, it’s like putting blinders on. You see the reality of what’s in front of you, but not the opportunities to your left and right. With acceptance, you can understand that something is the way it is and still take steps to change it.

Depression’s Symptoms

Here’s where I run into trouble. Depression comes with behavioral symptoms that can get in the way of my productivity. When I sleep too much, for example, it somehow feels easier to be hard on myself than to accept that my illness causes these symptoms. Why? Probably because it gives me a sense of control. If I take responsibility for things that are out of my control, I don’t have to face that they are, in fact, out of my control. It scares me to feel like a victim of my illness. I’d rather be hard on myself for something that’s not my fault than relinquish my (false) sense of control over my actions. I think the key issue is that I’m not distinguishing between acceptance and resignation. I can accept that depression causes me to experience symptoms. If I accept that (not resign myself to it), then there are actions I can take to combat those symptoms, and practicing self-compassion will be easier.

Keep in mind I said “easier“. I’ll be honest, self-compassion is something I’m really struggling with. How can I hold myself accountable for working to get better without being judgmental when it’s not going to plan? It seems like a delicate balance, but my current strategy is not serving me in the way that I’d like. I guess it’s time to invest in a tightrope.

Are there times when you struggle with self-compassion? How do you remedy it? Share your tips in the comments!