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Where I Belong

A few days ago, as I was writing "Savor Each Moment" with Thanksgiving already on my mind, I began to write myself a list of people, places, and things I am thankful for.

Early on in therapy, I was told that I should write myself a short list of my blessings, as well as a list of my challenges and another of a few simple, achievable goals to strive for each day. In spite of my inability to see the full value of these three simple tasks at the time, I pushed myself to do them anyway. Even then, I knew that a lot of what made my life seem so impossibly gray and purposeless had to do with my perspective. It matters. I've said it before and I will say it again because it is very useful to keep at the forefront of my thoughts during my recovery from depression. Remembering that my point of view isn't always reliable makes it easier to deal with self-defeating impulses, anxiety, stress, and intolerable emotional strain.

I mentioned that I have a few mantras I use to clear my head before I get out of my truck and head into work each day. I also have a few others that I employ every once in a while. My therapist calls it positive self-talk, and no matter how 'crazy' I feel doing it, I have to admit that it usually does help. In trying times, such as when I make a simple mistake at work and begin to feel like everyone noticed and thinks I am useless and unworthy of the job, instead letting myself sit there believing this self-destructive lie, I tell myself something like "It isn't necessarily as good as it should be, but it's definitely not as bad as I think."

Little tools like constructive daily lists and positive self-talk are definitely on my list of people, places, and things I am thankful for, but they are nowhere near the top. I'm coming to that.

There is a place not far from my home where there is an incredible view of a valley of apple orchards and lush vineyards. The good people who live in the house there have set aside a small seating area, just a bench big enough for a family of four, perhaps, to come and take advantage of the views. They are spectacular regardless of the season, but this time of year... upstate New York in all its autumnal glory... it is breathtaking. I go there, sometimes, ever since my dad brought me there once a long time ago. I was very depressed at the time, having recently had some heartbreaking stress in my marriage, and I needed a reminder that the world around me can be so beautiful if I am only willing to open my eyes and see it for what it is.

I truly believe that place helped me, then, to pick myself up and become a better man, a better husband, and a better person in general. I remember sitting there alone many times during that summer, staring down into my hands at band of gold on my left ring finger, and asking myself, over and over, "where do I belong?" I realize, now, that I was using positive self-talk all the way back then without even realizing it.

I am so thankful for that place, and for other places that have reopened my eyes to the potential beauty of the world, but as great as that place is, it is not at the top of my list of the people, places, and things I am thankful for. It's getting close, though.

There are two gentlemen, brothers separated by only a year and a half or so, who have been great friends of mine for over 25 years. We had a strange start, though. The older of the two was in the same class as me a few years before we inexplicably became friends. He was, quite frankly, a bully to me. When we met once more after a few years apart, he was a different person and so was I. He admitted he was wrong for mistreating me as he had, was humble and genuinely contrite. He and his younger brother invited me into their home, and through the years, countless times, and in indescribable ways, they proved to be some of the most supportive, caring, steadfast friends anyone could imagine. I consider them brothers, and I always will be thankful for them... but as high up there as they are, they are not at the top of my list of people, places, and things I am thankful for.

It's not a race or a competition, but if it was, as amazing as so many people have been, so many places I've seen, and so many things I've known, learned, and loved are, there is only one who is somehow, by some strange, glorious miracle, decided to be my wife.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife and I met in February of 2002. We found each other online, at a time when that was still quite rare. Each of us had posted a personal ad on Yahoo, because this was before matchmaking sites like eHarmony or OkCupid, or Tinder, or whatever is in use these days. Each of us had an ad with a small, grainy, early-digital-camera picture of ourselves, a brief description of our interests and personality, and the qualities they were most hopeful to find in anyone who happened to find our ads and answer them. We both found one another's ads. We both answered them on the same day in early February. I didn't find her. She didn't find me.

We found each other.

I was surprised to find a message from this beautiful young woman when, just a few moments before, I hit 'send' on a reply to her ad. She and I chatted online for a few hours, then called one another and spoke until the sun came up. Neither of us could believe how perfect the other sounded for them. Neither of us expected to find the love of their lives that day. Neither of us believed in 'soul mates' until we found proof of them in each other.

We met in-person the following day, spending every moment we could with one another, and lost track of all the doubts we had about ourselves due to the love and affection we so freely shared. If this incredible person, so funny, so bright, so pretty and so, so very out of my league, could love me, that meant something. She made me feel amazing about myself in a time when I was certain I was unlovable and meant to be alone forever. My personal ad was my 'last chance.' I told my friends (the same two brothers I mentioned above) that I was trying to meet someone online, and this would be the last time I would bother trying because I had become so certain I was wasting my time and everyone else's.

But I wasn't wasting my time, and I wasn't meant to be alone. I was meant to be hers. I will always be hers, and she will always be mine. That is what I am most thankful for. She is, and always will be, at the very top of every list of good, sweet, kind, giving, caring, smart, powerful, brave, faithful, funny, patient, soft, loving things on Earth.

Our wedding took place in May of the same year we met. We married on the beach of a country club in St. Thomas, standing together with the Caribbean crashing against the sandy shoals and iguanas eagerly awaiting nibbles of our wedding cake. She had lilies in her hair. She always does in my mind, when I close my eyes to think of her. She was so ready to start a life with me, and I with her, that we got swept up in each other and just held on with all our hearts. It was the best day of my life when, under a tropical sun, we began our new lives together.

Life was never going to be 'easy,' and over the years our marriage has been tested and survived every challenge; we always emerge stronger and closer, and our faith in one another never falters. You might ask how someone with so perfect a partner in their life could possibly be depressed, and I ask myself that same question every day. Major Depression isn't an assessment of life as it really is, but rather a gray veil drawn over that life, perverting the truth into a self-damaging lie, making the sufferer lose sight of the beauty of the world around them. At my lowest point, my brother knew that by promising to talk to my wife, I would have to keep that promise no matter what, and that when I did, being there beside her, holding her hand and hearing her voice, would pierce that gray veil just enough to let the light of hope she represents shine through.

Thank you, Bee. You're where I belong.

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Shania Ardiel
Shania Ardiel
29 nov 2020

This is such a sweet chapter!

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