The Rollercoaster: Surviving the Ride
I FEAR rollercoasters! Therefore, despite the title, what you are about to read is in no way about riding amusement park rollercoasters. The rollercoaster I’m talking about is the journey of ups and downs of everyday life and ways to survive the ride.
I think I was born neurotic. An anxious child, I was constantly afraid of getting into trouble or of something hurting me. My mother often said I would come to her and ask, “Will this hurt me?” I recall frequently washing my hands as a girl. Growing up outside of a small, rural town, my family was one of modest means. Having only one vehicle which my father drove to work, we went nowhere unless my Grandmother took us. If I ventured to ask about joining any after school activity, my father said it “wasn’t necessary.” My fear of being in trouble at home and ridiculed at school drove me to study hard and earn good grades which was about the only thing at which I excelled during my school years. As a result, my world revolved around school, church, and home.
As a girl, I spent much of my “fun” time reading, watching tv, playing with Barbies, and writing and illustrating short stories. I was probably one of very few young teen girls with a “Baby’s Book of Names” in my book collection! I would enjoy picking out some unusual name then building a character for my story. Most often I wrote character descriptions and drew illustrations and never got around to writing the story! An avid horse lover, I had an extensive collection of model horses and drew horses more than anything else (I never owned a horse, only cats, dogs, and even a raccoon!).
It wasn’t until during my college years that I began to truly step out of my comfort zone despite that, by then, I had become a wife, mother, factory worker, and supermarket cashier. I think that those years flew by due to me being so busy studying, writing research papers and doing projects, working my work-study jobs, juggling being a single mother (I was divorced from my first husband), etc. It was also during those years that I first began to seek help for my depression and anxiety. I seemed to be constantly exhausted but I would strive for perfection in my college work. However, I was far from being a perfect mother; thankfully, my daughter and I had the benefit of lots of support from my parents and grandparents.
By the time I became a CPS, my daughter was herself a college grad, and I had worked as a TSS/MHW for a behavioral health agency working with children and teens, school bus driver, public school paraprofessional and “lunch lady”, daycare teacher, and private duty personal care aide. I was also headed for my third divorce. Years of working multiple part-time jobs requiring constantly “switching gears” had taken their toll (I often worked as many as three part-time jobs in one day and, for a time, worked six and seven days per week!). The two-week CPS training spent in a motel in Bradford was like a vacation for me! However, due to low self-esteem, I was the only one in my training class who wrote out word for word and read my “recovery story” for the first week of class and “How the training will help me as a CPS “ for graduation because I couldn’t make eye contact with the audience without my mouth going so dry, my teeth stuck to the inside of my mouth and I would lose my train of thought.
Looking back on the ups and downs of my life, I realized how I coped before I knew what a coping skill was. As a child and young teen, I lived in a fantasy world of books, tv, writing, and drawing (after out-growing my Barbie dolls). As I rode our slow riding mower for three hours each week in the summer to earn my allowance, I was especially engulfed in my fantasy world (daydreaming about guys I liked). As an older teen and as a non-traditional (older) college student, I worked hard to achieve recognition for being an exemplary student. As a single mother who was either working, in college, or both, I was often too distracted with surviving all the many challenges I faced each day to feel the depression (anxiety was more often my enemy in those days). All throughout my adult life, I enjoyed working on planning for special occasions (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, mother’s /father’s days) to bring joy to my family. However, now that my grandparents and mother are gone and my daughter is married, most of the planning for special events in my life are over. Today, I cope mainly by working at my “personal ministries” (hoping to help others) and by trying to “re-capture” my creative self (though, I must admit, just struggling to keep up with the daily demands of work, home, and life in general often results in my creative self being neglected).
Because I believe that low self-worth/self-esteem is a major “driver” for making poor life decisions (relationships, school and career choices, etc), passing up opportunities, and refusing to try new things, go to new places, or meet new people, I strive to help my peers build their sense of self-worth by volunteering to help others, engaging in mentally challenging and creative activities, and exploring other opportunities for success. And, if a peer is agreeable, I help them learn to find their self-worth by learning more about their Creator and His purpose for them as part of His Creation through Bible study. My primary source of my own recovery is my faith in God and in learning to separate my feelings of depression and anxiety from His facts that He chose to create me to be a part of His Creation here on Earth in this temporary life and to give me the opportunity to become a part of His Eternal Kingdom. The positive affirmations found in The Bible and the examples of how the Bible heroes overcame their life challenges inspire me that I, too, can overcome my own life challenges. The Serenity Prayer is one of my main “go to” coping skills that helps to keep anxiety from “picking me up and carrying me away” like ants carrying a crumb of bread back to their home to be devoured. Listening to contemporary Christian music turned up so loudly it seems to “wash over me” helps to lift me out of the depths of despair when intrusive thoughts overwhelm me (for example, such as when the group Casting Crowns states in its song, East West that “I cannot live by what I feel, but by the Truth Your words reveal...I’m not holding onto You but You’re holding onto me....” It is this song that inspired in me the concept of learning to separate Fact from Feeling).
To anyone riding the rollercoaster of depression (the downs) and anxious agitation (oddly enough, the ups), I encourage you to try coping by distracting yourself with staying busy: helping others/ working on productive activities such as projects (whether attempting to learn something new that you’ve always wanted to learn to do/ planning a special event/ spring cleaning ( you’ll feel a satisfying feeling of accomplishment!)/ creating something that positively expresses yourself)/ and immersing yourself in the faith of your choice. And taking better care of yourself by engaging in healthy lifestyle choices of eating healthier, getting more exercise and more rest, and even splurging on yourself for a mini-makeover can do wonders to boost your sense of self-worth and keep you mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy! Perhaps one day you’ll disembark the rollercoaster of Ups and Downs and enter a sailboat for some smooth-sailing!