Darker Shades of Blue

Depression is life in a dense fog. Colors become muted, our skin no longer absorbs the warmth of the sun. We no longer recognize or enjoy the aroma of our morning cup of coffee. In fact, simply making it has become a burden. We drive to work and collect every last ounce of energy in order to apply the mask that says we are okay. The smile that says “I am happy, too.” Maybe if we fake it for long enough, we will believe it. But it is hard to believe anything anymore.

Depression is a silent pain. If it speaks, we fear judgment, stigma, isolation, loss. So we surrender. Our bed becomes our safe haven and the time away is spent lifelessly representing that person the world still thinks we are. The world sees the breathing, functioning shell, and that is good enough. But the shell is empty. The spark that once fueled our joy is dimmed. Our heart hasn’t grown cold, it has run dry. The comforting insulation of love and laughter has become something existing only in movies. Tomorrow is no longer a new day, but an extension of our suffering.

Depression becomes our worst enemy while also acting as our biggest comfort. We become complacent in our misery, accepting the false belief that our life will never be better than it is today. We accept depression as our only reality because it is the only voice we hear. It is the only power influencing us how to think, how to feel, how to act. On our worst days, we cling to the memories of our brighter days. We believe that we have felt all there is to feel. At the beginning of life, we were granted so many good days, and we have used them all up. We long for the days when our smiles were real and we met each sunrise with clarity and rejuvenation. We long for hope while simultaneously handing it over. On our best days, we just don’t care. The only reprieve is sleep, the only time that depression rests. When we are asleep, no one can ask if we are okay. No one can see that we aren’t. No one can tell us “you will get through this” or “your life is worth so much.” No one can shove our blessings down our throat and make us chew on the guilt of seeming ungrateful.

Despite the heavy weight and vicious toxicity of depression, the human spirit is incredible. Our darkest days relentlessly ask us why we are here, and then at some point- days, weeks, or even years later, we will discover the answer. And then just like a muscle-days, weeks, years of pain, suffering and deterioration will allow us the opportunity to rebuild on a foundation that can only support something stronger than what was once there. The challenge is waiting for that day to come. The bigger challenge is believing that it will.

The resiliency of the human spirit is often underestimated, discredited, and wasted. Resiliency allows us the ability to use our struggles as building blocks rather than the wrecking ball that finishes us. Then, not suddenly, not dramatically, not with bells and whistles and lightbulbs all igniting at once, we feel okay. We feel better. And gradually, subtly, we will find happiness again. We might find it in the kind words of a friend. We might find it in the unstained enthusiasm of a child. We might find it when we notice for the first time in years how beautiful the sunset is. We might find it when we smell our morning coffee again. When or where we find it makes no difference. What matters is in that moment we remember what it means to feel. More profoundly, we acknowledge that we are capable of feeling. We have found the colors to paint over even the darkest shades of blue.

These moments might be few and far between. We might look for them in every corner and often times come up empty-handed. But as our hearts thaw from the catatonia of depression, we will find them more and more. We will treasure the act of rejoicing because we know the aches of despair. We will hold onto our happiness tighter and longer because we know the darkness of its void. We will be able to see the sadness and pain in the eyes of a stranger. We will be able to recognize when the smiles of our loved ones only serve as a costume. We will be able to look at the darkest, emptiest, most trying days of our lives as nothing more than stop signs in our rear view mirror. We will serve as pillars of hope for those who are tapping their breaks. We will drive the cars of our lives knowing that we navigated the twists and turns in the road. And just as such, we can pick up those who are struggling to find the way on their own.

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With Honor and Reverence: My Reflections on September 11th

“It’s been said that patriotism is not a frenzied burst of emotion, but rather the quiet and steady dedication of a lifetime”

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12 years. Over a decade has passed, yet the anger and horror is just as fresh, at least for me. Coincidentally, I entered on duty for the Federal Government on May 8, 2011, just a week after one of the most monumental days in intelligence and military history-the UBL raid. I didn’t think it was possible to feel a more potent and overwhelming burst of patriotism than I did the night our President announced the death of the world’s most heinous terrorist. But, I was wrong. The day I promised full commitment and dedication to the government by raising my right hand and signing on the dotted line was the most inspirational and defining day of my life.  I knew the death of UBL did not mark the end of terrorism.  Although it was appropriate to celebrate this victory, I knew the fight for our freedom and protection did not cease on May 1, 2011.

I was only thirteen on September 11, 2001. I remember how I felt, and I remember how that day went. I remember the sadness and shock that permeated every inch of space for a long time.  I remember the sound of each plane flying overhead, a sound which previously went unnoticed, but suddenly evoked feelings of panic and fear. As each anniversary came and went, I  understood with greater perspective the impact of that devastation and what it meant for our country. When I began my career ten years following, I met people who lost spouses and siblings in the 9/11 attacks.  I met care providers who responded immediately and witnessed ground zero before the dust had settled.  One of my colleagues told me that despite many decades of training as a psychologist, nothing could have prepared him for what he experienced at ground zero.  The physical remnants and unprecedented breadth of destruction transcended all logic. The scenes he described made my eyes full, but I needed to hear it. I needed to be reminded of how horrific and gruesome that day was. I think if every American saw what he saw, they would think about life a little bit differently.  Lastly, I have met officers from all walks of life who have dedicated their time, energy, and passion to the security of our nation, operating with a momentum and vicious courage that has fueled them for 12 years.  The impact that I make is minimal, although I am still proud of it and honored to contribute in the smallest of ways. However, it is the ferocity I see in the eyes of my colleagues and the selflessness of the heroes who serve in the shadows of anonymity that inspire me in a very unique way. As George H. W. Bush said, “It is an honor to stand here and be counted among you.”

The attacks on September 11th proved to us with striking clarity that unspeakable evil exists in this world. But it also reminded us that we live in a country made of men and women who are nothing less than heroic. They aren’t the kind of heroes who catch a ball in the endzone, they are the fierce patriots who risk their lives in the bravest way by facing danger and fear void of hesitation, certainty or praise, not just on September 11th but throughout our nation’s history and the 12 years following the attacks. In addition are the silent heroes who dutifully fulfill their roles behind the scenes day after day, night after night. These silent heroes consciously realize the ever-present threat upon our nation and work tirelessly to ensure that we never experience that kind of barbaric violence on our homeland ever again.  When we sleep soundly and safely at night, it is because of them.

At 8:46am on Wednesday, I hope those who are reading this will take a moment to sit in silence with reverence, setting aside their opinions regarding current events or foreign policy.  At the absolute least, we live in a country in which people go to bat for each other, not just for their loved ones, but for people they never have or will meet. The terror that weighed heavily on our hearts and minds has gradually been lifted because of the people who, regardless of political affiliation, rank, or reward, put the needs of Americans before their own.  These people hand over their lives with less hesitation than some of us would hand over our phone records. These people should be thought of as symbols for what it means to be an American and should inspire us to serve with similar loyalty, pride and dedication in whatever role is specific to us.  My mother taught me, “any job that is worth doing is worth doing well”, whether it be defending our country, teaching in our schools, or staying at home with our children.

September 11th is always a very somber and emotional day for me, as it is for so many. My heart is blended with anger, sadness, but also with the motivation to continue pushing against the evil things in this world.  We have been shown that this evil is not limited to the radicals abroad, but can be seen at home through domestic acts of terror, violence and hate.  Our world is undeniably a scary and confusing place. I can’t comprehend what brings people to act with such maliciousness, but what I do know is the demand for love, acceptance and compassion has never been higher.  My personal goal is to be a source of light inside and outside of work, even when it is difficult, always remembering that no job is beneath me, and no act of kindness is unwarranted.  Just as the quote at the beginning of this entry states, my burst of emotion that occurred on May 1, 2011 has turned into the steady desire to serve my country in a way that I never could have predicted or envisioned when I was thirteen.  I am reminded every day of the sacrifices that are made in defense of freedom and during this time especially, I am proud to be an American.

*Written in honor of the innocent lives lost as a result of terrorism, and of the American heroes who selflessly devote themselves in pursuit of a safer, stronger, and happier world.