A Potato Message

A Potato Instead of a Quote

I’ve told you before how, when my inspiration strikes, I tend to look for images that will go with what I’m talking about.  For the most part, I look for ones that have quotes associated with them, as the quotes continue to jog the creative part of my mind.  Occasionally, however, I come across a few pictures that either make me smile or surprise me.

So the other day I was looking for pictures with depression quotes in them for another post and I came across this:

I'm a tiny potato and I believe in you. You can do the thing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah, I know…not exactly the depression quote that you were expecting. After all, it’s a potato!  When I pointed this picture out to Cheryl, we both had a good chuckle over it, finding it to be a rather amusing image.  Then, almost like a lightbulb moment, she said that it actually made a bit of sense.

Why?  Because it’s a potato.

The Life of a Potato

A running joke amongst my friends is that I’m a farmer because I have a Gloucester/Somerset accent – not a strong one, admittedly, but enough of one that people pick up on it.  I guess that makes it rather ironic that I’m going to talk to you about potatoes but I’m sure I’ll get over that.  Even so, let’s talk about potatoes!

I’m sure we all know that potatoes are grown underground.  Only small tubers go above the soil surface, so that it can still get a little bit of light to give it what it needs to grow.  Reportedly, depending on where you are in the season, potatoes can take between 60-90 days to fully mature.  They spend all that time buried, growing, before being harvested, ready to be sent on for other things.

The Potato Message

As Cheryl and I sat looking at this photo, she explained why she believed it made sense.  This little potato that was telling us it believed we could do “the thing” had a very powerful, very important message to tell us.  Despite it being quite small and somewhat cute, it was still important in its own right.  Why?

Because of its life.

When battling with depression or anxiety or any other mental illness, it can feel as though we’re constantly surrounded by darkness.  It may feel a little like we’re buried alive.  The pressures of life surround us, compress us and leave us feeling hopeless, crushed and isolated.  Like the potato, we spend our lives in that perpetual darkness that we cannot escape.

It’s a horrible thought.  Some people’s worst nightmares are of being buried alive, and that can be the way that depression personifies itself. But let me challenge that thought.  What if that darkness is shaping us? Helping is grow?  Just like the potato, buried until it reaches maturity, what if we are buried so that we might grow?  What if our darkness is merely the place where we can mature and become something else?

When the pressures of life come crashing in around us, we have two choices: we can fight them, allowing ourselves to be crushed in the process, or we can be like the butterfly or the potato and allow ourselves to be shaped, moulded and eventually transformed.

I don’t know about you but that actually brings me a great deal of encouragement.

“I’m a tiny potato and I believe in you!  You can do the thing!”

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Whispers of Hope

Whispers of Insights

This morning, I’d like to give you a little insight into a part of my creative process.  Normally, my ideas and inspiration comes to me late at night. For this purpose, I keep a notepad and pen on my bedside table so that I can capture any ideas I have during the night.  Then, the following morning, I’ll draft them up a little and see how they develop.  Usually, I try and find an image or two or a video that will go with it as well, to add that nice visual flair.

So when I had the inspiration for Whispers of Hope, it had started with an image that had appeared on Twitter the other day.  Now, I come across a lot of pictures on Twitter and normally I’m quite good at flicking through them.  This one, however, resonated with me.  Check it out below:

Hope is the little voice you hear whisper "maybe" when it seems the entire world is shouting "no!"

What do you think?  Personally, I think it’s a very apt and very powerful quote.  As I mentioned, it also set the old cogs in my head whirring and thus the inspiration for Whispers of Hope came.

Noise

The world is a noisy place.  Technology makes it easy for us to be bombarded by information 24/7.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, text messages, emails, you name it, we get it!  So many things demanding our undivided attention that it’s so hard to know what to focus on.  Do we reply to the text message first or check the Twitter stream for updates? Too many choices, too many decisions and, overall, too much information.

Similarly, I find it’s noisy inside my head as well.  Thoughts upon thoughts upon thoughts all colliding with each other, clamouring for space to be heard.  Sometimes there are so many, I can scarcely hear myself think, which sounds odd, I know.  It’s true though.  Sometimes they are simply just too loud.

Amidst all that noise, the clamouring of my thoughts and the beeps and whistles of my phone, it can be hard to hear the things that really matter.  Especially on days when my tumultuous thoughts are all trying to grab my attention.  When my thoughts are at their darkest, it can be hard to find that little ray of hope, can’t it?

Sometimes it can be deafening.

Whispers of Hope

Seeing that picture reminded me that hope is still there.  Often it gets drowned out by the noise of my phone, my computer, my thoughts and much more.  Occasionally, though, my mind goes quiet enough that I can hear its gentle whispers.  They’re not loud, not by a long shot.  Sometimes I have to concentrate really hard to hear them.

See, the world will constantly shout at us, trying to get our attention. Hope, on the other hand, whispers quietly, gently so that it’s there when we really look for it, when we need it most.  If we listen carefully, we can find hope.

Whispering.

Whispering gently.

Isn’t that something to hold onto?  Those whispers of hope?

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A New Day

Christmas Day!

Merry Christmas Everyone!I’d like to start this post by wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas! From everyone at Pushing Back the Shadows, we hope you have a very good day and, if you’re away for the holidays, a wonderful time!

A New Day

These words have been on my mind a lot for the past few months.  “A New Day.”  It brings a sense of warmth to me.  It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s something that’s unspoilt, unbroken.  It’s another chance, almost like that second chance but with unlimited possibilities.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to get out of bed in the mornings.  As the sunlight creeps through the blinds or the curtains, all you want to do is pull the duvet up over your head, curl up and hide away from the world.  Put the world off for a few more minutes.  Snooze the alarm and have your “just five more minutes” in bed.  Sound familiar?

I’m the epitome of that feeling!

Every morning is a chance to start over.

Even though it’s a morning, I’m a creative person and mornings are meant to be the best time for creativity, I just don’t like facing them.  For me, it’s another day, another struggle.  Another day that I have to put the mask on, face the morning and get through the day without having any incidents.

It’s daunting.

A New Chance

Despite my initial morning thoughts, though, I have been having a think about this whole “new day” concept.  While I might not appreciate them, is there not good in every day?  It’s a new day for attempting whatever I want to attempt.  A chance to start over.  A fresh chance to get it right. Isn’t that a much better way to look at the day?

See, some days are great, where my productivity is on fire, my inspiration is through the roof and my enthusiasm is wonderful.  Other days my motivation and inspiration just suck, majorly.  It’s hard for me to focus on what I’m writing, difficult to work myself up to write anything and sometimes even impossible to get myself to do anything productive.  In short, everything is an uphill climb.

Even on those days where things are difficult and I’m struggling, isn’t there something good in those days?  Is there not something good in every day that we come across?  Whether the day has been good or bad, there’s always something small, something good buried in there somewhere, like a diamond in the rough.  We just have to find it.

2017

Whatever you’re doing today, whether you’re in the middle of opening presents or just finishing washing up after your Christmas dinner or taking a quiet five minutes to let that dinner go down, I’d like you to take a moment.  Pause.  Reflect.  Look back at 2017.  Would you say your year has been good?  Would you say it’s been disastrous?  Take a deeper look.

I’m sure 2017 will have been filled with good moments and bad moments. Some might stand out more than others but there will be a smattering of both in there somewhere.  In terms of Pushing Back the Shadows, we’ve had a wonderful rollercoaster year since we started in May.  Both Cheryl and I have been overwhelmed by the response we’ve had on here, on Twitter, on Facebook and more.  Bringing a light to you all brings a light to ourselves as well.  The community we’ve created…it’s amazing!

So this is our last post for 2017.  Wrapping up the year, so to speak.  Now we can turn our eyes to the next few weeks before the New Year, taking each new day as a chance to start over, a chance to get it right.  Every new day is a gift, it’s up to us what we do with it.

Let’s make the most of it!

Happy Christmas, guys!

Alex

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Waiting on a Miracle

Miracles

 How often do you find yourself waiting for a miracle?  Perhaps you’re stuck in a dead-end job with no prospect for advancement.  Maybe you’re in a bad relationship or friendship and can’t take it much longer.  Or maybe, like me, you’re gripped by the claws of mental health struggles and you want relief from that.  Whatever your situation, I’m certain all of us have wished for a miracle at some point.

Bruce parts the tomato soup from Bruce AlmightyHave you ever seen a miracle?  If you’re religious, you may think of a miracle as those miraculous healings that you hear about – the blind who can see or the deaf who hear again.  Maybe that’s your perception of a miracle but is that the only definition?  I don’t think so.

Miracles are all around us.  We just need to see them.

Waiting on a Miracle

 It’s so easy, isn’t it, to get caught up waiting for a miracle to come.  Change is never an easy thing to deal with, so we avoid it, waiting for the miraculous event that will change our lives.  That lottery ticket that brings in thousands or millions.  The promotion or raise that comes out of the blue.  Meeting that stranger who could change our lives, whether through work or romantically.  Waiting on those is easy.

But do we get trapped?

Do you, like me, spend so much time waiting on that miracle that we miss the miracles that happen right in front of us?  Like a fighter pilot who gets target fixation, do we become so focused on that miracle that we’re waiting for that we don’t notice all the everyday miracles surrounding us?

Do we get stuck waiting on a miracle?

Everyday Miracles

 I believe there are miracles happening in our everyday lives.  They’re not the big miracles accompanied by blinding flashes of light like something out of a magic show.  They’re the little, everyday things that crop up that we might miss.  An unexpected phone call.  The surprise visit.  A much-needed hug out of the blue.  An invite for coffee with an old friend.  Those are the everyday miracles.

See, a miracle doesn’t have to be something newsworthy or incredible.  It can be something that changes the day of the person receiving.  Those small gestures that mean a lot.  They are the ones to watch out for.

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Be One 
What prompted me to write about miracles?  Well, as I’ve mentioned before, music plays a big part of my life.  It should come as no surprise that music influenced this post.  I was in the car listening to the radio, as I almost always do while driving, and this particular song came on.  Be One by Natalie Grant is a wonderful depiction of what I’m talking about today.  If you haven’t heard it, I’d recommend a listen but, in short the chorus says this:

It’s time to get our hands dirty.
Be love there’s a whole lot of hurting.
Calling all hearts, calling all hands, calling all feet to take a stand!
Why sit around and wait for a miracle to come,
When we can be one?

We can be a miracle if we want to be.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re big or small, young or old, fat or thin, we can all do something.  We don’t have to do it publicly, it can be something private.  Simple.  After all, miracles don’t have to be incredibly amazing; as I said: they can be something small, something that will be significant to the person receiving them.

Be the Miracle

As I write this, I’m reminded of a particular moment from the 2003 film Bruce Almighty.  God (Morgan Freeman) gives Bruce (Jim Carrey) his powers after Bruce complains that God doesn’t do anything.  The story then comically unfolds where Bruce does whatever he wants for a bit before realising that there is more to using those powers than he first thought.

Partway through the film, there’s a conversation between God and Bruce concerning miracles.  The quote came to mind as I was writing this and I wanted to share it with you:

 

“Parting your soup is not a miracle, Bruce. It’s a magic trick. A single mom who’s working two jobs and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says ‘no’ to drugs and ‘yes’ to an education, that’s a miracle. People want me to do everything for them. But what they don’t realise is *they* have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.”

So, you see, we can all be a miracle.  It doesn’t have to be something magnificent.  As God said: you want to see a miracle – be the miracle.  We can all do something, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, to make someone’s day that little bit brighter.  All of us.  There are no exceptions to that rule.

As Natalie Grant said: calling all hearts, calling all hands, calling all feet to take a stand.

It takes all of us.

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Listening to Music

Comment your favourite song so I can listen to it.Music Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I shared this picture on my Facebook page, asking people to comment with their favourite song or piece of music.  If you haven’t already done so, please leave a comment below with your favourite song, as I’d love to hear some of the songs that get you through the darkest days.  Those songs might encourage others as well.

Music and Me

Music is a big part of my life.  I’m always listening to music or making music of my own with my guitar and voice.  A lot of the time I’m singing along to the songs that are playing. Even when there is no music on, I’m singing or humming something or my feet are tapping to a song that’s playing in my head.  As I said: music is a big part of my life.

In my post Before the Morning, I cited music as my inspiration for starting blogging.  Josh Wilson, a Christian singer and songwriter, wrote the song Before the Morning as a manifestation of someone else’s story to bring his followers encouragement and that song resonated with me, really bringing me the encouragement.  The chorus says this:

Would you dare, would you dare to believe
That you still have a reason to sing
Cause the pain that you’ve been feeling
It can’t compare to the joy that’s coming
So hold on you gotta wait for the light
Press on and just fight the good fight
Cause the pain that you’ve been feeling
It’s just the dark before the morning

Needless to say, I love the song.  It brings me encouragement when I’m down and there are others in Josh Wilson’s playlist that speak to me, bringing me further encouragement.  I’d encourage you to check out his stuff, even if you’re not a Christian.  He has some great songs!

"You only hear the music when your heart begins to break."Why Music?

As I said, I get a lot out of songs.  There is something about it that really stirs my mood.  Certain songs can speak to how I’m feeling at that point, whether that’s happy and joyful or down and depressed.  At other times it can bring me out of the darkness, giving me encouragement or a boost that I needed to lift me.  It doesn’t always work, granted, but most of the time it has that effect.

I believe music connects on such a deep level because it’s so personal.  People can connect through writing, pictures and other things like that,  but songs…songs go that much deeper because it’s a direct outpouring of someone’s soul.  In my opinion, words in blog posts or books go so far because they come from the brain but music, that comes from the heart. From my own experiences as a singer/songwriter, I’ve found using music to convey what I want to say transcends the normal connections, making a deeper connection almost instantly.  I suppose that’s why I have spent a lot of time writing songs and performing them for people, because they map out my journey clearly.

Another beautiful part of music is that it connects straight to your soul but, depending on how you’re feeling, you get different things out of it.  For me, when I’m feeling particularly joyful, I tend to focus on the melody and tune of a song.  When I’m in my darker moments, I hear the lyrics.  It’s only when my heart begins to break that I focus on the lyrics more.  Is that the same for you?

Drop Me A Comment

Does music connect with you on a similar level?  Do you have a favourite song that you’d turn to during your darker moments?  Leave a comment with your favourite song so I can have a listen and find some encouragement from it.  Who knows, other people may like the same song or they might find a new favourite based on what you share!  To start us off, I love Before the Morning and Pushing Back the Dark by Josh Wilson.  How about you?

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Glowsticks – a Light in the Dark

As I sit at my computer this morning, I’m reminded about glowsticks and an important message they carried for me.  A few months ago I came across a picture from TobyMac and it really spoke to me.  Unsurprisingly…it was about glowsticks!

GlowsticksIt's ok to be a glowstick; sometimes we need to break before we shine.

I know, glowsticks seem to be a random thing to write about but check out the picture to the right. It’s the TobyMac one that appeared on my news feed on Facebook all those months ago.  (This would have been roughly November 2016, in case you were wondering!)  The pretty colours combined with the black background grabbed my attention, so I read the quote on it and was quite pleasantly surprised.

As a little background into my story, in November I was struggling a lot.  My depression was really set in, I wasn’t coping very well at all.  I’d started under Home Treatment and was receiving treatment for my depression but I was still plagued by unwanted thoughts of hopelessness, despair and numbness.  Those thoughts manifested themselves into my journey with self-harm and that slowly got worse.  November was definitely not a good month for me.

I remember journaling a time when I’d crashed.  Regardless of whether my day had been good or not, I’d ended up sinking deep into that pit of despair and turning to the one thing that I knew would help me: a blade.  While now I can use computer games, TV episodes or music to try and pull me out of these spirals, back then none of these things worked for me and self-harm was really the only option that seemed to work.  So I’d crashed.  Feeling useless about myself, feeling like a failure, I remember thinking I was broken.  After all, what sane person would take a knife to their body?

Then I found that TobyMac picture two days later.

Glowsticks and Me

Seeing that quote, remembering how broken I felt, something connected inside of me.  It gave me a little bit of hope, a little light in the darkness.  Maybe I was like a glowstick: I had to break before I could shine.  Then something unusual happened.

It's ok to be a glowstick; sometimes we need to break before we shine.I found the picture to the left.

On a completely different page within a few minutes of seeing the TobyMac one, I found exactly the same quote.  How weird is that?  Two separate pages – TobyMac, which is Christian encouragement and quotes, and My Depression Scars, which is depression quotes – both gave me the same message within minutes of each other.

It gave me chills!

Looking back, I didn’t realise it at the time but I did need to break before I could shine.  If I hadn’t gone through my darkness and downward spirals (which I am still going through as I write this to you today), I would never have founded Pushing Back the Shadows, nor would I be trying to encourage you in your struggles today.  Why would I?  I would have had no experience of it whatsoever.  Thanks to my struggle and my brokenness, I am able to channel my curse into a gift of encouragement for you who suffer similar conditions and experiences.

I broke…I am still broken…but now I shine through my brokenness!

Glowsticks and You

Do you feel broken today?  Maybe as you’re reading this you’re thinking “Yes, that’s me.  I’m broken.”  If you are, I’d encourage you to persist.  Just hold on because you have a purpose.  Stay strong through your storms and allow your brokenness to turn into a light for others.

If you’re struggling with feeling broken, I’d encourage you to reach out.  Browse my story, have a look at some of the low moments I’ve been through.  Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and share some of your experiences if talking about it will help you.  We are here for you and we want to help you.  We are almost always around, so drop us a message.

Stay strong.  Just hold on.  Be a glowstick.

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Before the Morning

Sitting at my desk, I want to tell you why I decided to start blogging.  Before I do, I need to tell you two things about me:

  1. I really love music.  Whether I’m doing chores, working or relaxing, there is almost always music on.  For me not to be listening to music, something must be wrong, as my dad will tell you.  I’m always listening to it.
  2. Music speaks to me in so many different ways.  It’s one of my main sources for inspiration, one of the best ways I can connect to the deepest parts of me.  I love it!

Right, with those two key things out the way, let me tell you about the inspiration behind the blog!

Before the Morning

This is the title of my original blog that I started back when my journey started.  Not long after the official diagnosis, I felt a strong desire to start blogging my journey so people could get updates as to how I was doing, but also encouragement from someone going through a similar struggle.  I couldn’t begin to explain that feeling but it manifested itself into Before the Morning and, later, into Pushing Back the Shadows.

I distinctly remember sitting at my desk, staring at an open blog template, wondering what to call this blog.  As always, I had music playing in the background and a song came on, a song that others had shared with me over the few weeks I’d already been struggling.  It’s title: Before the Morning by Josh Wilson.  Let me tell you about that song.

Tim, Paula, Josh Wilson and Me

“Do you wonder why you have to feel the things that hurt you?  If there’s a God who loves you, where is He now?  Or maybe there are things you can’t see and all those things are happening to bring a better ending.  Some day, somehow you’ll see…you’ll see…”

Josh Wilson penned this song around 2012 and it has meant so much to me during some of those years.  To use his words, he wrote the song about “the frailty of the human heart, the struggles that people face but also about hope”.  It’s about two of his friends named Tim and Paula who were expecting their second child and when they went to find out what they were having, doctors told them that there was a problem with the baby’s heart and that he was missing the entire left side of it.  They were advised to have an abortion as they wouldn’t be able to afford what was coming.  They said their son would never have a good quality of life.  They didn’t know what to do.

In my opinion, my situation doesn’t compare to this.  Perhaps in its own way it can seem as colossal as this news but I still find I draw strength from this song.  Being diagnosed with depression, even though I had long suspected it, my first thought was “why”.  Why did this happen to me?  What had I done to deserve it?  Somehow through this I managed to hold onto my faith and think that somehow I would be able to get through this. On discovering the meaning behind this song, it reinforced the feeling that I could get through this.

Despite what the doctors were saying, Tim and Paula decided to have the baby and soon Jacob was brought into the world.  The doctors kept him wired up to various machines, held him in intensive care and kept him under observation to try and correct the problem.  They said Tim and Paula may not ever be able to take him home…to expect three months. Then, fourteen days later, the doctor walked in and said “We don’t know what’s going on but you’re gonna take your son home today.”  Admittedly my eyes got a little damp when I heard that.  God took that situation, a broken child with a broken heart, and made him new and it made me think.  What if He can do the same for me?  Can He fix what I feel like I’m missing?  Well…yes.  I don’t know why I’m going through this just like Tim and Paula didn’t know why they went through what they went through, but I know I’m not forsaken, just as they knew.

“Would you dare would you dare to believe that you still have a reason to sing?  That the pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.  ‘Cause the pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.  So hold on, you gotta wait for the light.  Press on and just fight the good fight.  ‘Cause the pain that you’ve been feeling is just the dark before the morning.”

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Just Hold On

Just hold on

It’s a lot easier said than done, isn’t it.  More often than not, when the depression hits it hits hard and we’re left just clinging on.  Buffeted by the storm raging all around us, holding on is sometimes all we can do.  It’s hard.  Very hard.  Still, we can do it.

Many times over the past few months, I’ve felt as though I’m just holding myself together.  More often than not I’ve found myself running on fumes, having barely scraped a couple of hours’ sleep.  When you manage 5 hours sleep in 72 hours, it doesn’t give you much energy to fight the problems.  Caffeine and sugar quickly become best friends to keep me awake so that I can simply try and make it through the day.  Not quite healthy but I suppose it could be worse.

Breathe

It’s days like those that you don’t want to climb out of bed.  You don’t want to leave the house, you don’t want to see people, you don’t want to eat or drink or do anything or be anywhere but you know what?  That’s OK.

That’s right: I said that’s OK.

Even if all you did today was breathe, I’m proud of you.  On my worst days, simply making it through the day has been a trial.  Productivity, enthusiasm, motivation, all these have gone out of the window and it feels like all I’ve done is breathe. That’s alright, though.  I’ve made it through.  It might have been by a fingernail’s grip or I might have been holding on tight with both hands, but I still held on.

That’s the point, isn’t it?  It doesn’t matter how well we cope or how tightly we hold on, how close we are to reaching our limit or anything like that as long as we hold on.  Fall seven times, get up eight.  If anything, that’s the secret to making it through.  Believe me, I’m not out of the woods and sometimes I doubt I’ll ever be rid of this depression but I keep holding on to hope.

Just Hold On

If you’re reading this and if you live with that dark cloud hanging over your head, please continue to hold on.  So far you’ve made it through 100% of your bad days and I’m sure there are plenty of people cheering you on.  They might not say it – they might not know what to say – but I’m sure they are.  Even if they aren’t, I am.  I believe you can make it through.  Amidst all that darkness there is a little light shining.  Hold onto it.  Whatever you do, just keep holding on.

You are not alone!

I’ll say it again: you are not alone.

Remember: breathe.  And just hold on.

Hold on.

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