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How I’m Currently Surviving PUPPP

*Disclaimer: slightly graphic pictures of arms and legs ahead*

Mommy blogs saved me big time on this one. When I was diagnosed with PUPPP at 33 weeks pregnant, the only solution I was given by a health practitioner failed me miserably. But a wealth of information about this terrible rash existed on the interwebs from women who’d actually experienced it; so, I thought I’d join the line of those blessed souls in the hopes of helping someone else who has to deal with it. Be warned: long blog post ahead.

PUPPP, which stands for pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, is a terrible rash something like one in 200 pregnant women develop in their third trimester. It typically starts within the stretch marks on or around the baby bump but—as I found out the hard way—it can spread everywhere else. Think hundreds of huge, angry, red welts that itch and burn with the intensity of a thousand fire ants, ten thousand mosquitoes, and a few rounds of chicken pox all thrown into one. It is a living hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

The fun thing about PUPPP is that a) no one knows what causes it; and b) it doesn’t go away until after the birth of the baby. From what I’ve experienced, not a great deal of knowledge exists in the medical field about it. In fact, I read some blog posts from women who went to their doctors for a solution and witnessed them actually Googling the rash since they had no idea what to do. Literally everyone I told about PUPPP—many of whom had been pregnant themselves—said they’d never heard of it.

For me, it started innocently enough. The week before I was diagnosed, I saw my doctor and complained that the front of my baby bump had been red and itchy for a few days. He inspected the skin and said I had inflamed stretch marks, and that a regular strength hydrocortisone cream would take care of it.

Well, it did, for a time. Not a big deal, right? The skin has to stretch during pregnancy, so I didn’t think anything of it. But then a week later, in addition to the inflamed stretch marks on my stomach, the inflammation had spread to my hips and lower back. To top it off, I suddenly had weird bumps going up and down my arms and legs.

August 6 – Day One

The next day, the bumps were starting to look kinda bad, and the itching got more intense. They were also spreading, rapidly.

August 7 – Day Two

I went back to the doctor. I was 33 weeks and one day along, and my doctor took one look at my arms and legs and said, “PUPPP.”

After explaining what the hell it was (in that no one knew what it was), he said that if I were closer to my due date he’d induce me to stop it. But, with that date being seven weeks away, he sent me to a dermatologist who could look at the rash and prescribe some kind of topical relief.

So downstairs in the building I went, where I had the fun experience of being asked a handful of questions by two beautiful, clear skinned medical assistants while I, the red bumped and sweaty whale, squirmed miserably in my gown. When the dermatologist walked in, she examined me, confirmed PUPPP, and did something that lifted some of the clouds over my head: she assured me that PUPPP does not hurt or affect the baby in any way.

She then offered to prescribe a topical steroid. Fearing the effects of a steroid on my baby, I asked about other methods and she told me I could try Benadryl, Zyrtec, calamine lotion, and sarna lotion, and to call back the next day if those weren’t successful in stopping the itching.

Long story short, they weren’t successful. By the next day, things had gone from bad to worse.

August 8 – Day Three

As we are all oft to do when things go from bad to worse, I called my mommy. While I debated with myself over whether or not to get the damn steroid (I was terrified it would hurt the baby, even though the dermatologist and my doctor had approved it twice-a-day use for ten days), she went on a Google search crusade for all-natural treatments. What she found ended up saving me: (tldr: Grandpa’s pine tar soap, black cherry juice, and milk thistle in addition to Benadryl and Zyrtec (and a few other odds and ends) to get me through the rough parts. I’ll go over all of this in detail below–promise!)

Meanwhile, in desperation I went ahead and got the topical steroid in addition to everything else and tried it only for it to make the rash worse.

August 9 – Day Four

By day five, I thought I was going to die.

August 10 – Day Five

Never in my life have I experienced agony like this rash. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t do anything. I was taking seven, eight showers a day, scrubbing furiously with the magical pine tar soap so many other women had sworn by, but not getting instantaneous relief. I was taking antihistamines, doing the all natural methods others said had worked for them…. nothing. The pictures, mind you, only show my arms and legs. I didn’t take pictures of the rash that spread to my hands and fingers, feet and toes, lower back, hips, thighs, and baby bump.

I whined and cried a lot. I began to wonder if PUPPP was actually worse than the first trimester (now that the worst of it is behind me, I’ve concluded that it was not, but it came pretty close). I began to wonder if I’d make it to the end of my pregnancy with my sanity intact.

But by the 11th (day six), I was down to three showers with the pine tar soap a day, no Benadryl or Zyrtec, aloe vera gel and coconut oil, and the itching had lessened slightly… the natural cures had finally begun to work.

August 11 – Day Six

As bad as the rash looks here on day six (four days after my diagnosis), that was actually my turning day. Things had gone from horrifically bad to just pretty bad. I’d been using Grandpa’s pine tar soap for four days, taking milk thistle three times a day, had drunk enough black cherry juice to sustain a small country, and was slathering on coconut oil and aloe vera gel every hour like my life depended on it.

By the next day, things had gone from pretty bad to relatively bad.

August 12 – Day Seven

The inflammation was starting to die down and I was actually starting to sleep for a few hours a night.

August 13 – Day Eight

By August 16th (day eleven), nine days after my diagnosis, things had gone from bad to okay.

August 16 – Day Eleven

Which leads me to the main point of all of this: a topical steroid didn’t lessen the effects of PUPPP for me. Nothing any doctor or dermatologist could recommend to me worked. So let me tell you what did.

One last thing worth discussing first, and it has to do with my theory about what causes PUPPP based on what I did to reduce its symptoms (it won’t fully go away until after I give birth). It involves the liver.

The liver does many things. Among its jobs is to deal with substances in the body from nutrients and medicines as well as toxins: “Once [these substances] reach the liver, [they] are processed, stored, altered, detoxified, and passed back into the blood or released in the bowel to be eliminated” (source). According to the American Pregnancy Association, pregnancy hormones can negatively affect liver function in that they slow or can even stop the flow of bile: “The gallbladder holds bile that is produced in the liver, which is necessary for the breakdown of fats in digestion. When the bile flow in the liver itself is stopped or slowed down, this causes a build up of bile acids in the liver which can spill into the bloodstream” (source).

In a nutshell, during pregnancy, we are expelling not only our own toxins but the toxins of an entire other human being. So if my liver was already struggling to detoxify substances in my body due to pregnancy hormones slowing down my liver’s natural functions, it would have become even more overtaxed trying to detoxify substances from my baby’s body, too.

Now, because I’m not a doctor, I can’t say with 100% confidence that my rash and an overtaxed liver were connected. All I know is that the toxins had to go somewhere.

When my doctor first saw my rash, the first thing he did was poke at my liver and ask if it hurt. It didn’t, but what he was checking for was cholestasis, a liver disease pregnant women can get that involves very itchy skin and that does negatively affect the baby. What’s happening within the skin – our largest organ – can reflect what is happening on in inside of our bodies.

Hence my theory of why perhaps in my body, the toxins in my body tried to release themselves through my skin in the form of awful welts.

Do I know this for a fact? Of course not. All I know is that natural liver detoxifying supplements and foods I consumed during my week of PUPPP hell made my rash fade.

So without further ado, let’s dive into what worked for me and what didn’t.

One last disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I have never studied medicine, nor do I have any authority to give advice other than my personal experience. Please talk with your care provider about the following treatment options if you want to attempt any of them. 

Things That Worked For Me

Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap

This stuff is number one. This stuff is a freaking lifesaver. When my mom googled PUPPP and said this soap was what had worked for a lot of women with PUPPP, I just went and bought it, no questions asked. I swear by it, worship it, have fallen in love with it and will vouch for it faithfully forevermore. Not at first though. Take note: it takes a few days to kick in. 

Also of note: You’ll also smell like you’ve been eating beef jerky by a campfire for three days and nights. Worth it, I promise you.

Anyway, during the worst of the rash I took something like seven or eight showers a day in cool water and scrubbed the hell out of my skin with this soap. This is important: make sure you let the soap sit before you rinse it off. (And at my mom’s advice, after each shower I’d put coconut oil on, too – more on that below.) As the rash died down and my need for showers became less frequent, I’d put the soap in a Tupperware container by my bed with a washcloth. When I woke up during the night due to the itching, I’d rub a little of it on the worst spots and it helped.

I found this magical goodness at my local Vitamin Shoppe but you can also find it on Amazon. If you do nothing else, y’all, get this soap.

Cool Water

Worth mentioning here is that warm or hot water absolutely destroyed me during the bad days. cold water, as cold as you can stand it, is your friend.

Coconut Oil

After each shower with Grandpa’s pine tar campfire-smelling goodness, I put coconut oil on my wet skin and pat myself dry with a towel. Coconut oil is a great antioxidant (it contains vitamins A and E) and soothed my skin immensely. You can find it at any grocery store in the baking aisle – I recommend just getting the cheapest one!

Aloe Vera Gel

Sometimes, even the soap wasn’t cutting the worst of it and the coconut oil didn’t help either. A little bit of this was so soothing. I found mine at CVS , though I saw it at Target and my local grocery store too, usually with the sun screens. Though if I could have found an aloe vera plant and chopped off part of it for personal use I would have.

Black Cherry Juice

My mom said with any kind of inflammation, it had to be treated from the outside in. In other words, just stopping the symptoms wasn’t enough. I had to treat the cause of the rash, which – as I mentioned above – we related to an overtaxed liver.

Black cherry juice, among its other properties, is supposedly drunk to reduce inflammatory diseases. During the worst of the rash, I probably went through a half a gallon a day in the hopes of reducing the inflammation in my skin. I found mine at my local Vitamin Shoppe as well as my grocery store.

Note: if you get the concentrate, make sure you dilute it with water and not pound back a small glass of it like you’re taking a shot only to gag and realize you’ve swallowed the equivalent of syrup like I—*cough*—I mean, like someone I know did. And if you find the regular juice too gross (like I did for one particular brand), dilute it with water, take a deep breath, and chug.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle, for me, was very gentle in that I experienced no side effects in taking it three times a day. It is an all-natural supplement that is used to protect and strengthen the liver and studies have shown that it can reduce liver inflammation (click on the link to see the studies).

Now, as a precaution, I’m down to twice a day and I’m convinced it is helping to keep the worst of the rash at bay.

Benadryl and Zyrtec

Desperate times called for desperate measures. For a few days during the worst of the rash, I went hardcore on the antihistamines, taking two Benadryl in the morning, two in the afternoon, and a Zyrtec at night. They helped for sure. I know this, because I was actually able to sleep for a few hours at night because of them!

(I stopped taking them as soon as I could possibly bear to go without them. I hated that my baby didn’t move as much after taking them since they made her sleepy!)

To reiterate here: be sure to talk with your doctor if you’re considering using either drug. The dermatologist I saw confirmed both were safe for pregnancy, but your pregnancy could be very different from mine.

Things That Didn’t Work For Me (but might work for you) 

Triamcinolone

This was the topical steroid prescribed to me by the dermatologist and approved by my doctor. I was an emotional wreck deciding whether or not to use it because in my every Google search I came across the phrase that it should be used “only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus”. But, desperate, I tried it.

The very first time I used it, it seemed to help a tiny bit. But the second time, my skin literally felt like it was burning. It was so strong, that within minutes of me slathering it on I was in the shower desperately scrubbing it off.

That said – everyone is different. It may work for you! You do need a prescription though. A doctor or dermatologist should be able to call it in to your local drugstore. With my insurance, I think I paid like $12 at CVS.

Hydrocortisone Cream

This is technically another steroid cream, though over-the-counter and easier to get. For me, it just aggravated the itching. However, it did work for a short time on my inflamed stretch marks prior to my diagnosis, so there is hope that it would work for you!

Oatmeal Baths (and warm water)

Warm water was my arch-nemesis during my battle, but so was oatmeal, for some reason. I tried an oatmeal bath both in warm and cooler water and both times I only lasted a few minutes before getting out of the tub and jumping into the shower to scrub with my pine tar soap instead. Oatmeal, however, has anti-itch properties and it could a life saver for you! I tried both putting oats in a sock and letting it soak in the water and pouring oats directly into the bath.

Things That Kinda (?) Maybe Sort of Worked?

This is the big question mark category: a list of things that I tried in desperation along with the many other listed things. I’ve got inconclusive evidence to suggest that any of the following singlehandedly stopped my PUPPP from getting worse, but they are worth a mention here in the chance they help you:

Calamine Lotion

This was recommended by the dermatologist I saw. It’s hugely successful in combatting bug bites, but I’m not convinced it did a whole lot for my hives from hell. Worth mentioning is that for a few days, I was trying a thousand different things each day that probably just canceled each other out after a certain point. But calamine lotion is worth a try if you can leave it on your skin without adding anything to it. It may help! Any drugstore or grocery store should sell this.

Aveeno anti-itch concentrated lotion

Actually, this was the very first thing I bought for the inflamed stretch marks on my baby bump, the week before the rash spread and the crap hit the fan. For a few days, it did the job, until it didn’t. Still didn’t stop me from spreading it everywhere in the hopes that it would do something-anything-for the itching. I don’t think it helped during the worst of the rash, but if it brings temporary relief, then it’s worth it!

Ice Packs

These I will say actually did help a bit. When things were at their worst, in desperation I’d use ice packs on the really itchy places. For some reason during one of the bad days, my feet were the worst of all: they were red and nearly bleeding from scratching and for a few hours, making them numb with cold was the only thing that helped. As a whole, ice packs weren’t solely responsible for reducing the rash – but they sorta helped.

Things That I Didn’t Try But Might Work For You

  • Dandelion Root Tea – another supposedly gentle method of boosting your liver’s function.
  • Sarna Lotion – the dermatologist recommended this to me but I never tried it. 
  • V8 Juice – okay, actually this I did try, for like a second. But drinking pure V8 juice was putting myself through another type of hell that I just couldn’t do (I switched to V8 Tropical Splash, which I’m sure isn’t as effective but you win some, you lose some). However – I’ve read in a few other blog posts about PUPPP that V8 juice really helped.
  • Witch Hazel – somewhere I read that soaking a cotton ball with witch hazel and dabbing it on the itchiest parts of the skin actually helped, but I never tried it.

Other Random Bits of Advice

Here’s the big one, y’all: communicate with your doctor. Please don’t try to self-diagnose. Intense itching and rashes in pregnancy can mean a number of other things other than PUPPP such as cholestasis, which I mentioned above. And even though PUPPP isn’t harmful to the baby, my doctor still ordered a blood test to make sure everything else was okay.

Other Tips:

  • Don’t wait. If the front of your bump itches – get thee to a doctor. For me, that was the first sign that PUPPP was approaching and I really wish I had known more in the off chance I could have started treating it sooner. In fact, if your bump is itchy I would recommend just buying the soap and scrubbing with it as a precaution, if nothing else.
  • Eat lots of detoxifying foods. I tried to eat lots of walnuts and blueberries and drink my water with juiced lemons, all good methods of natural detoxing since a full blown liver detox while pregnant was out of the question.
  • Drink lots of water!
  • Try – very hard – to not put processed foods into your body during the worst of it. For me, this meant staying away from my beloved Pringles and cookies while trying to focus on fresh fruits and veggies and lean meats. Now, don’t get me wrong: if I had the odd craving for some kind of junk food during this ordeal, you bet your ass I got that and stuffed my faced with it. PUPPP sucks. Don’t make yourself more miserable than need be. But if you can, try to mostly give your body the nutrients it needs to fight the inflammation.
  • Stay positive. This was hard for me, so I’m a bit of a hypocrite saying it. But take it from me: it gets betterI promise.

I’m now 36 weeks pregnant and while I’m occasionally itchy and have some splotches of welts here and there, the difference between a few weeks ago and now is night and day. I can function again. I can eat and sleep and go places. 

As of now, I wash with Grampa’s Pine Tar Soap once a day and stick to that one shower a day since I think any more would continue to really dry out my skin and make the itching worse. I still put on coconut oil but follow it up with St. Ives hydrating lotion. And I also still take milk thistle twice a day. And as I said – the difference is incredible.

August 29 – three weeks and one day after diagnosis. I didn’t even take a picture of my arms since the rash is basically faded!

So – I hope this is helpful and hopeful to you if you are in the midst of a battle with PUPPP! It sucks, and I’m sorry. At the end of the day though, the ultimate prize is a baby… and I would relive my worst day of PUPPP every day if it meant I got to hold my happy, healthy daughter eventually.

Best of luck to you! You got this, mama.

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Ferri Light Candles

Growing a human has only been one of several projects on which I’ve been working these past few months. I’m very excited to announce the impending launch of my own small business in the fall!

Ferri Light Candles is a company based on quality, sustainability, and community. Candles have always been a big comfort item for me, and I have spent the past few months teaching myself the art of candle making in the hopes of sharing this love!

My candles are 100% plant-based soy, sustainable, renewable, and cruelty free. They are in recycled glass containers or steel tins and contain lead and zinc free wicks. My supplier ships items to me with a carbon neutral option, a concept used by companies in that they calculate the amount of CO2 released by shipping and purchase credits (projects that prevent CO2 emissions or remove it from the atmosphere) to offset 100% of those emissions.

I also believe in giving back and am passionate about watching lights shine both literally and figuratively in this world. The brightest lights are those of children, and among the many things in life they need to get a good start is a quality education. Due to the underfunding of public schools, most particularly in low-income communities, too many teachers currently pay out of pocket for supplies they need to run their classrooms. That is why 10% of every candle purchase will go toward the purchase of school supplies for classrooms in need in Arizona.

I am hosting an open house on Sunday, July 28th from 1-4pm to launch the first batch of my candles and I invite each of you to come check them out! I’ll then be making more and taking orders throughout August before taking time off in September, October, and November to focus on my baby girl before officially launching on November 29, Black Friday.

Product list and pictures to come! In the meantime, if you’re interested in swinging by during my open house, please message me for my address and mark your calendars for July 28th!

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Announcing….

Lucy’s next gift is the greatest one we’ve ever received.

It is with so much joy we announce that Baby Ferri is due in September! We’re in love with this precious baby already and are dreaming of the day he/she is finally in our arms.

This family of nearly six is so, so blessed.

Rise II: It’s Time To Talk About Depression

Over a year ago, I published a blogpost about anxiety in which I wrote about the stigma surrounding mental illness and described what anxiety is like for those who might not understand it.

The response I got blew me away. For weeks afterward, friends, coworkers, volunteers, family, and even Internet strangers told me how they too managed to live with anxiety, that they felt like someone else understood their struggle. I had included tons of resources and – judging by the responses – they seemed to help my readers as much as they had helped me.

That blogpost and its subsequent reactions only furthered the thought I had when I first wrote it, which was that we as a society need to talk more about mental illness.

Mental illness – which the American Psychiatric Association defines as a health condition related to changes in thinking, behavior, and/or emotion – is stigmatized even today. One common misconception about mental illness is that it doesn’t really exist; people with one of the many illnesses are either making them up, trying to get attention, or not trying hard enough to be ‘normal.’

Without getting into scientific articles about psychiatric reviews or necessary diagnoses (which do exist, if you are so inclined to look them up), mental illness is real. Just as a physical disease affects the human body, mental illness affects arguably the most important part of our physical buildup: the mind. Most importantly, they are treatable.

One of those mental illnesses is depression.

This is probably a good place for me to post ***TRIGGER WARNING*** so those of you who don’t want to read about depression can go somewhere else.

It’s difficult to find a place to start. I wasn’t really sure what exactly I wanted to say when I began this, other than having a general desire to a) explain depression to those who might not understand it; and b) provide help and resources for those who live with it.

I initially kicked things off by writing the sentence: “Depression is an incredibly personal journey.” My intention was to dive a little bit into my experience with depression that occurred during a good portion of my teen years and arose again several months ago.

And that description didn’t seem right, because journey gives the idea that depression is a heroic quest, during which the hero is saddled with a task only he/she can accomplish through action and heartbreak and bravery and the triumph over evil in the end. Like depression is a means to finding one’s true self and going on the adventure of a lifetime.

Then I wrote: “Depression is an incredibly personal odyssey.” That gave the impression of a heavier, scarier, darker version of a journey, which seemed a bit more fitting.

But even that wasn’t right. An odyssey is a lot more complicated than a journey (especially in The odyssey, where complexity is usually synonymous with dumbassery), but it still gives the impression that things happen. Friend and foe are met. Battles are won and lost. Lessons are learned. Tasks are accomplished. Odysseus comes home to his family.

With depression, there is nothing.

 

 

 

 

Emptiness.

 

 

 

 

Darkness.

 

 

 

In the last post, I likened anxiety to a Something. Depression is a Nothing.

 

 

 

Sometimes, you get both. If you’re among the 50% of individuals with depression who also have anxiety (Morin, 2018), the Nothing is punctured only by the ebb and flow of the Something – a harrowing, terribly unpredictable path.

Depression alone is a mental illness that affects 300 million people all over the world (World, 2018). In the United States alone, 16.2 million people suffer from depression and every year, 44,000 of them commit suicide (Morin, 2018). Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for everyone in the U.S. (Morin, 2018).

And yet there’s still a stigma around depression. People feel the urge to hide it, to push it down, to put forth an image to the world that they’re fine, everything is fine. Only one in five people with depression receive treatment “consistent with current practice guidelines” while 37% receive none at all (Morin, 2018).

Some people wait years before getting help. Some people don’t know help exists. Some people don’t know what they have is treatable.

And then we get stories like this one.

Or a close friend or a relative or a neighbor or a coworker is gone without warning.

Or maybe – just maybe – one night, from the depths of the long-lived Nothing in your mind comes the thought that you would be better off dead.

Over the past few months I have seen a number of stories and posts about the seriousness of this disease, and we need to continue to bring depression into the limelight. Not so we can glamorize it, not so we can make #IHaveDepression a trend on Twitter.

So we can understand and combat it.

Not everyone understands what it is we’re understanding and combating here. That is why I’m writing this, a Part Two to my last post, if you will.

And as was the case with Part One, I don’t want to write this.

I need to.

I lived with depression for over three years, from the time I was fifteen to nearly eighteen years old.

Then, several months ago, my mental health once again spiraled almost completely out of control.

Some days, all I could do was curl up in my bed and stare at the wall.

Functioning as a human being became a nightmare. Every day I could barely do my job or keep my little household running. Saying words to people in a way that made sense, walking around on my own damn feet, even getting out of bed in the morning became suffocatingly, painfully difficult.

And those were the days that thoughts I’d had when I was sixteen came billowing back, unwanted, unannounced, into my brain:

There’s no point to any of this.

Nothing matters.

I don’t matter.

When my alarm went off in the morning, I would wake up feeling heavy. After days, weeks, a month, I couldn’t feel anything but that weight. Honestly, some mornings the only thing that got me out of bed was knowing my two cats and my horses relied on me.

I spiraled for many reasons, none of which need to be writen here.

And one night six, seven weeks ago ago, the whisper returned.

The whisper that came from the Nothing that took over my life then and was creeping back now.

The whisper that I’d heard when I was sixteen, when I’d Googled where to buy guns and at what part of the head one should aim.

And that night, I knew I needed help.

Part of the way I deal with things is by pondering them and then writing about them, preferably in storytelling-format with lists and charts and figures and references and color coordinated bullet points. That’s the type-A perfectionist in me. My professors loved my papers in college almost as much as I loved writing them.

And so this post is just as much about compiling a detailed explanation of depression from the point of view of someone who is currently fighting it as it is about offering some resources for those who might want them. (Spoiler alert, to rid you of any concern right away, I am getting professional help in addition to sitting over here making my lists.)

I’m not the only one who has gone through this, far from it. And before I went through it, I certainly didn’t understand it.

And so, we go to the part of this post where – hopefully – I pass on some facts about depression that will better explain its seriousness and complexity, sans color coordination. There are charts and references, though.

~

1. Depression and sadness are not synonyms.

In the same mindset that stress and anxiety are not synonyms, it is important to understand that sadness is not one and the same with depression.

Depression does not mean extreme misery all the time. At least, not after a while.

See, when you’re falling into a depression, at first you feel things too much and all at once. You have too many feelings and processing them is a challenge, if not an impossibility.

And suddenly, at the peak of when you should be feeling all the feelings, you don’t.

You shut down.

You lose your ability to feel. To care.

You feel hollow, empty, void of any direction or purpose.

I wish I could make that sound less melodramatic, but there’s no other way to explain that depression is the true essence of Nothing.

Sadness is a temporary feeling that is a normal reaction to a situation. Depression is not normal. It is longer-lasting, deeper, and accompanied by feelings of poor self-image, being overwhelmed, or feeling a general hopelessness – all of which is hidden behind a mask.

~

2. There are several causes – and signs – of depression.

I won’t get into details of brain chemistry here or anything like that. Suffice to say that depression strikes people in different ways and for different reasons, and sometimes that reason is – seemingly – no reason. Certainly some people are more susceptible to it than others based on their experiences or genetics. But it is important to understand that anyone can experience the following:

Anyone can also experience any of the following known factors that can contribute to depression (taken from PowerofPositivity.com)

  • substance abuse
  • poor self-image
  • isolation or rejection
  • being overworked
  • compassion fatigue
  • trauma or grief
  • physical health conditions

The point here is that – similar to other diseases – depression manifests itself for different reasons, and in different ways, for everyone.

More on this later, but I find it important to note here that it can be extraordinarily difficult to detect signs of depression in other people.

At the end of this blogpost are tons of resources and among them is an article or two about how to catch signs of depression from friends or family. I encourage you to read them.

~

3. I don’t want to write this one.

*** Trigger warning: suicide ***

Skip down to number four if you need to.

I’m just going to say it. Suicide is a card that’s either in your hand or facedown on the table when you have depression.

In the past few months, suicides have struck the news with alarming proximity. Everybody knows someone – or knows of someone – who is deceased due to suicide.

And I always hear the same question from everybody left to pick up the pieces after they are gone: “Why??”

Here’s my answer to that question. And I’m sorry to go here, really. But it needs to be said.

People suffering from deep depression don’t want to kill themselves. They just don’t want to be alive anymore.

A drug addict doesn’t want to shoot up heroin. An alcoholic doesn’t want to take another gulp of vodka. They want – need – to fuel their body’s craving.

It’s a means to an end.

If depression gets bad enough, suicide might be viewed in a similar way.

It’s not that we want to die.

It’s that if we don’t get help, if we don’t pull ourselves back or get pulled back from the Nothing, we don’t want to live.

As George Washington says to Alexander in Hamilton: “Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”

~

4. Your “just be happy!” attitude is insulting and hurtful.

I get it. People mean well. They want to help and not comprehending how depression works can lead to some ill-placed advice or insensitive comments.

I’m here to say, any insistence on us turning a magic switch to become sunshine and rainbows is about as tactful as dangling a piece of candy over the head of a five-year-old and insisting he reach up to grab it.

Of course the five-year-old is going to jump up as high as he can with his arms in the air. He wants the candy. But like the child, those with depression are physically incapable of accomplishing a task at hand, be that eating a Snickers bar or suddenly becoming joyous and cheerful.

When I was a teenager, back before I knew what I had was depression, I remember getting so frustrated for not being able to turn a dial in my brain at the request of my family and be happy. “What’s the matter with you?” I heard. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

If I was ever pressed for more detail about what was wrong – be it from my family or others – I could only come up with the description of feeling empty. And the number of times I’ve been told – then and now – that maybe I just need to try essential oils, or do yoga, or meditate, or eat clean, or exercise, or start a gratitude journal, or smile (just smile!), or volunteer at a food bank, or take a bath, or focus on the positive….

Yes, all of those are great contributors to a healthy, positive lifestyle. I’m not denying that. But – depending on the cause – depression requires more aggressive treatment that can range from many types of therapy to many types of medication. You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to go smell flowers rather than take her insulin. You wouldn’t tell someone in a coma to snap out of it.

Please don’t tell us to just be happy. Trust us, we would if we could.

~

5. We feel like a burden on others.

This is as straightforward as it gets here. Because we feel like our mess of non-emotions is a burden on others, we feel the need to hide depression from our loved ones, strangers, the world.

For me, part of that desperation to hide depression was denial. See, if I admitted something was wrong, then I would have to face it head on.

Also, because parts of society are lacking of understanding about depression, it is a hell of a lot easier sometimes to just swallow back the Nothing. Sometimes it’s a hell of a lot easier to let someone think they’ve helped, when in reality all they’ve done is cheerfully informed you that you just need to see the sunshine and rainbows.

Here’s the main takeaway: don’t assume. Ever. You’d be surprised what lurks beneath the surface in a lot of people.

And I’ve found that usually, those who seem like they have it all together are the ones falling apart.

~

6. Asking for help isn’t just hard, sometimes it feels impossible.

In June, on the same night I admitted to my husband that I didn’t want to be alive anymore (which took more out of me than I could describe), I agreed that I needed help and promised him on the spot that I would make a call to an EMDR therapist, one my boss had recomended.

I didn’t call for almost a week after that night. Every day my husband asked if I’d done it and I made excuses.

Finally, one late afternoon he came into our room where I was laying in bed, staring at the wall, and asked if I’d called.

“No,” I said.

“You should call her now.”

“It’s a quarter to five. She’ll be in a session or on her way home.”

“Why don’t you leave a voicemail?”

“I’d rather call during her regular hours.”

“She’ll get back to you if you leave a voicemail.”

“I’ll call tomorrow.”

Silence. Then, gently, lovingly, from him:

“You said you would call.”

He wouldn’t call for me. He could support me, he could encourage me to do it, but if I wanted to get help, I had to be the one to ask for it.

My hands shook and my heart rate rose as I finally picked up my phone and dialed. I swallowed the lump out of my throat and tried to steady my voice as I left a voicemail for the therapist. She called back half an hour later and after talking for a long time, we scheduled my first appointment for within the week.

And when I sat down in the waiting room to fill out the paperwork on the morning of my first session, blinking back tears, it took all my courage to not run out the door as fast as I could.

Here’s why it’s hard to ask for help: the only way out is through.

Getting help means we have to wade through the darkness and confront it. The way out is painful and terrifying.

We don’t know how long it’s going to take. We don’t know what we’re going to face.

Help us get help. Be understanding. Be insistent. Be gentle. Help us be brave.

Which leads me to this:

~

7. Please don’t give up on us.

We are doing the best we can.

~

The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life is live when I’ve wanted to die.

I wish I could soften that, somehow make it less shocking or upsetting.

But I want you to know – yes, you – that if you have ever felt this way, you are not alone.

Since the end of June, I’ve been going to an EMDR therapist weekly as well as making some changes in my daily life that are turning the consuming Nothing into a manageable Nothing.

But help looks like a number of things. Because depression is different for everybody, as you can imagine, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan available.

The first thing – the most important thing – is this number.

1 (800) 273 – 8255

It’s easy for me to say please call this number if you are having thoughts of suicide. It’s easy for me to say that is the first step towards recovery.

I know it’s hard.

Be brave.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

If therapy is an option for you, please know there are many types available. This is a great infographic that breaks them all down. To repeat what they say, please consult a trained professional to determine what therapeutic route would be best for you.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

Help also looks like self care. One little change in your day that makes something easier, or brings in a little bit of brightness. Maybe it’s telling someone no. Maybe it’s canceling plans. Maybe it’s eating a piece of chocolate cake.

Whatever it is, as long as it’s not physically or mentally harmful to you, do it.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

And while I can’t find an infographic on medication, please know that antidepressants help millions of people around the world. If it is an option for you, contact a mental health professional or your doctor to better discuss what is available.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

~

In the same fashion that I didn’t know how to start this, now I don’t know how to end it.

I titled Part One to this “Rise” after this song. I was surprised by how much I loved it, given I’m not a fan of the artist’s usual work (sorry, Katy!). But the song holds a great deal of personal meaning to me as I heard it for the first time in August of 2016 when my anxiety worsened for the first time in years.

I listened to it all through those hard months. I hummed it while I powered through the last semester of my master’s degree. I sang it to my mare in her dying days. I think it to myself now as I struggle to found her legacy.

I listen to it again now – with a new challenge in front of me – and find such power in the chorus. Maybe you will, too.

When the fire’s at my feet again

And the vultures all start circling

They’re whispering, you’re out of time

But, still I rise.

This is no mistake, no accident

When you think the final nail is in, think again

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

If you’re been reading this, and have thought to yourself you relate to something I’ve written, please know you are not alone. Please know that someone is here for you to stand in your corner while you fight. Whether we’ve met in person or only know each other via the Internet, whether we are good friends or acquaintances, I care about you.

Rise. Keep going.

One of my favorite books has a quote by which I live:

“The weakest step toward the top of the hill, toward sunrise, toward hope, is stronger than the fiercest storm.” ~ Joseph Marshall III.

Sometimes it’s easy to consider one step in the right direction a measly, useless little effort. That’s what the Nothing wants you to think.

But the truth is, you don’t have to be looking at the top of the hill. You don’t have to make a heroic charge towards sunrise. You don’t even have to have an abundance of hope. Only a scrap will do.

Just take one more step. Just a little one.

That step is stronger than you know. You are stronger than you know.

Rise. Keep going.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

You are enough.

You are always enough.

Rise.

And keep going.

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

~

SOURCES

HERE are facts and statistics (used in part for this blogpost) from The Anxiety and Depression Association in America.

The American Psychiatric Association breaks down what mental illness is HERE.

For those looking for easier reads, my personal favorite post about depression is from Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half. Her comics are so articulate and acurate, with a little humor attached, and it is very informative. Here is both PART ONE and PART TWO.

THIS ARTICLE shares some ways you can help a loved one with depression. Similarly, here are 15 SIGNS SOMEONE IS SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION what NOT to say to someone with depression and what to SAY INSTEAD.

THIS ARTICLE discusses the important distinction between depression and sadness.

Finally, HERE is the website for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

CITED WORKS

Morin, A. (2018, March). How Many People Are Actually Affected by Depression Every Year? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/depression-statistics-everyone-should-know-4159056

World Health Organization. (2018, March). Depression. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression


Honeymoon 2017: Part One – Washington, D.C.

At some point during this trip, I thought vaguely about taking my laptop out to blog about each day of our honeymoon. I’d done that every day in London, after all.

Then I laughed and thought, “Nah.”

I decided to live out each moment of our honeymoon instead of worrying about writing each day. Besides, as you’ll read here soon, we were super busy the whole week! Not quite as busy as we were the week or two leading up to the wedding, but running around making memories nonetheless.

Before I forget, stay tuned for a series of vignettes that I am dubbing the Ferritale Wedding Stories. I’ll be using our official wedding photos to highlight moments and details from both the day of the wedding and the planning process – special moments that I always want to remember.

In the meantime, please enjoy a very long recap and lots of pictures from the Ferritale honeymoon! First up is part one: Washington D.C.! [Read about Philadelphia and and New York City next!]

Monday: November 6, 2017

I don’t like to sugarcoat things. The trip started off badly. The excitement, nerves, anticipation, stress, and exhaustion from the wedding and all the days leading up to it were still in retreat – in my head, anyway – and so my first several hours were spent in anxiety. I felt awful: sick to my stomach over having to fly, guilty over feeling sick, tired, and – of course – just excited to finally be married, all of which is a mess to feel at once.

My new husband could not have been more amazing. As we walked through the airport to our gate, me fighting through an anxiety attack, he took my hand and asked me questions. I’d told him long ago that when my anxiety peaks, one of the things that gets me through it is to ground myself by seeking out all five senses. “What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? Taste? Smell?” Pause. “What are you most excited about seeing in D.C.?”

Seriously though. I married the right guy.

Once we were finally on the plane and in the air, I felt better. I always get scared to fly and then once the plane takes off, I realize that everything is going to be fine. Naturally, we had to take a selfie with Paddington Bear, who accompanies me on all my trips.

By the time we landed in Chicago, I was feeling better and actually looking forward to the week. I also like airports – for some weird reason – and it was fun wandering around hand in hand. We got some food then walked to our gate while we waited for our next flight. And as we ate, we talked about our wedding, laughing together and reliving every single moment and just giggling over how we were actually finally married. We ended up doing this a lot over the next week!

When it was time to get on the plane and we entered the jetway, the icy Chicago air hit us and we realized our jackets were in the carry-ons we’d checked at the gate in Arizona. Oops. We were freezing, and I was actually glad to get on the plane!

We landed in D.C. two hours later. As we waited for our bags in Reagan National Airport, I guess we were a little too heavy on the PDA because at one point, a lady came up to us and – beaming – said, “I just have to say, you guys are the sweetest couple I have ever seen.”

“We’re on our honeymoon,” we said, and she beamed and congratulated us. So kind and unexpected! Honestly, we were in a daze and weren’t aware of anybody around us.

We got our bags, got on the D.C. Metro, and one rickety ride and two blocks of walking later we found our Airbnb. It was an entire, remastered first floor (which on the East coast are often partly underground, as was the case with ours) complete with a private entrance and patio, a kitchen, living room, bedroom, closets, a washer and dyer, bathroom… everything! I wish I had thought to take pictures, because our host was an amazing decorator.

On the Metro

Ever on the quest for food, we grabbed some groceries from Safeway down the street so we’d have food for breakfast the next few mornings, then my husband introduced me to the beauty of Uber Eats. It was cold and we were exhausted, so pigging out at the table on hot food was literally the best thing of the entire day. Well, that and sleep that came later!

Tuesday: November 7, 2017

The next day, the 7th, we bundled up and braved some seriously cold wind and rain to go see the National Mall. After navigating the entire city of London by myself for eight days, the map of D.C. was almost too easy to follow. One glance and we knew exactly where to go. And so, wearing all our sweaters and coats, we set out on our short 1.3 mile journey from our Airbnb to the Mall, stopping into CVS first to get an umbrella, then rejoining the D.C. pedestrian traffic on the streets of one of the busiest cities in the U.S.


And let me just pause here briefly to tell you that East coast traffic is seriously insane (more on that later). At one point as we were crossing a street, some guy in a Jeep nearly hit us and slammed on his breaks literally two feet from me. Instead of being apologetic, he started yelling, which only triggered my temper and I shouted out some beautifully placed swear words before he drove away. Ah, well. Karma’s a bitch.

It was drizzling as we walked . Alex insisted on holding the umbrella so I could keep my fingers warm in my sweatshirt. Chivalry exists, people.

We passed the White House, which – given its current occupant – wasn’t all that exciting to see.

Eventually, we made it to the Mall, which is one of my favorite places in the world.

I’d only seen it in the summertime before, so experiencing it in the cloudy, cold was certainly different, but beautiful nonetheless. Seeing it all with my husband was even better, even if we were huddling together to keep warm.



My favorite spot in D.C. is standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, with the reflecting pool and Washington Monument laid out in front of us.

And naturally we had seek refuge in the Lincoln Memorial as well, partly because it was cold, and mostly because it’s perhaps the most incredible monument in the area.

Naturally, Paddington Bear had his moments.

Next we visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is always otherworldly but even more so on that day.

It was raining, gray skies overhead. Because of the weather, it was eerily quiet. The only sound as we stood there in the memorial was the sound of volunteers reading name after name after name of each soldier who had fallen during the Vietnam War. Without knowing it, we’d visited the memorial during the 35th annual reading of the names.

I’ll never forget that experience. We were silent in the memorial out of respect, but when we were far enough away we talked about the significance of seeing your reflection in the names of those who were killed in the war. If you’ve never been to that particular memorial, I can’t stress enough how meaningful it is if you make the journey in your lifetime.

Our next stop was a visit to a unique-to-D.C., once-in-a-lifetime authentic experience – a Starbucks. We got some hot drinks and as we shivered in the shop, Alex said point-blank he was not walking a mile back in the rain, to which I heartily agreed. So, we Uber-ed it back to the Airbib where we got into our warm pajamas, made dinner out of leftovers and another Uber-eats delivery, snuggled up on the couch, and watched Mad Max on T.V. It was so cozy, eating hot food in the warm Airbnb while the rain came down outside!

Wednesday: November 8, 2017

On Wednesday the 8th, we had plans to go to the Smithsonian – well, turns out there are a bunch of them! We decided to go to the Museum of Natural History, and I am so glad we did. It’s truly an amazing experience.

We bundled up again and headed out to discover it wasn’t nearly as cold as the day before and there was no rain. Win! And better yet, on the way to the museum, we came across something I’d been dying to see – Ford’s Theatre!

For those of you who don’t know its significance, it was at this theatre John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln in 1865. I’m always amazed when I see these sort of staples of history with my own eyes and stand on the same ground upon which those in the history books stood with my own two feet. Alex and I gazed at the theatre for a few moments and talked about what it must have been like, to be standing right where we were one dark night over 150 years ago, and to hear the gunshot that eventually took the life of the president.

Eventually, we moved on and made it to the Museum of Natural History.

Paddington Bear naturally tagged along.

The museum is so cool. There’s the human origins exhibit, the Ocean Hall, rooms and rooms dedicated to mammals, an exhibit on dinosaurs, and the Hope Diamond among other things.

I didn’t take too many picture – I was too interested in what I was seeing! I did take a few of the narwhal exhibit:

and the dinosaur display:

and I loved the famous elephant on the first floor (plus its exhibit on the second)!

We quickly went in to see the Hope Diamond, which was stunning!

And before we left, we saw something totally cool (to us, anyway) – a piece of the meteorite that fell to Arizona which carried my favorite stone – moissanite!

Some background: when we were looking at engagement rings, I knew I wanted a clear stone but wasn’t crazy about a diamond since – unless they are ethically sourced – you never know if you’ve purchased a blood diamond. Alex found a stone called moissanite which I fell head over heels in love with. It was discovered in 1863 in a crater in Arizona (of all places!) which was caused by a meteorite that landed something like 50,000 years ago. Because moissanite came from the meteorite, the stone is literal stardust. And it’s stunningly beautiful. I should have held up my engagement ring to this rock – its original source – for a picture!

Our plan was to go to National Archives next but upon getting to the building, we saw a line that went literally around the block, full of what looked like an entire middle school on a field trip. It was easily an hour wait into the building, maybe two. So, we cut our losses and decided to pass and headed back down to the Mall instead.

We walked to the Mall on the same path I’d walked over four years ago, on my study abroad trip to D.C.

The same crosswalk I’d used countless times at the end of my school days to get to the Mall

I’d been to Washington D.C. twice prior to this trip. And walking hand in hand with my husband, thinking back to both of those times, I just felt amazed at how fast and crazy life can be. The first visit in 2008, I was a high school student. The second in 2013, I was in college. And this time, in 2017, I came back as a married woman. Who would have guessed??

We walked just south of the Mall to explore the Martin Luther King Memorial then, shivering, decided to opt out of the long walk around to the Jefferson Memorial. We waved to it, and I told Alex about the time I’d been in it at nighttime. Someday, we’ll go back to D.C. in warmer months, because going to the memorials at nighttime is an experience that is truly out of this world.

We did hit up one of the most underrated but definitely one of my favorite memorials in D.C.: the District of Columbia War Memorial.

To end the night, we’d made reservations at Founding Farmers, which our friend Google highly recommended. Plus, we figured we’d be grown ups and actually go to a restaurant at some point during our honeymoon and not just do Uber Eats each night!

As night fell around us (it gets dark early on the East coast in the fall!), we walked to the restaurant and ended up getting there something like 30 minutes early just to warm up. We both got chicken pot pies, because we’re 12, and also because seriously they’re amazing.

Shameless ring shot during dinner

After dinner, we tried to catch an Uber home, but some event was taking place downtown and we got stuck in traffic for 15 minutes before we called it and got out to walk the rest of the mile home. We were so glad to be back in the warmth!

It was at this point during our trip we started to seriously laugh at ourselves for choosing a honeymoon that involved a lot of walking and cold weather. But what can I say – we like to keep things interesting. And besides, cold weather means more excuses to hold hands and snuggle as we’re walking around! 😉

Next up – Part Two: Philadelphia and Independence Hall!

 

The Final Countdown

Single digits.

After nearly fifteen months of wedding planning… we’re down to single digits before the big day.

Screaming The Muppets GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

http://gph.is/2rXB951

We’re nine days away from The Wedding (note the capitals), and – while simultaneously answering emails, confirming vendors, sending out final deposits, preparing our honeymoon, finalizing signs, going over the final seating chart, sending off notes to our photographer and D.J., finishing my vows, cleaning our apartment, helping my mom with favors, and trying to breathe –  I’m sitting over here trying to figure out where the hell the time went.

Seven years and seven months of knowing each other.

Six years of dating.

One year, two months, and eight days of being engaged.

And now, before we know it, we’ll finally be entering the biggest transition of our lives.

One of my favorite shots from our engagement pictures – taken ten months ago!

It’s a good thing we didn’t know the true magnitude of wedding planning going into this, because if we had, we might have just eloped. Between the actual venue plus catering, the cake, my dress, the wedding party’s dresses and tuxes, hair and makeup, flowers, decorations, save the dates and invitations, photographer, D.J., videographer, honeymoon planning, and a million other details that fall into the cracks, managing this celebration has truly been a wild ride.

Actual footage of wedding planning:

I never thought I would be one to go the whole nine on something like this. The most important part of any wedding is – after all – that one small part where the couple says, “I do.”

But honestly? Seeing the rising excitement from all our family and friends who will be there to celebrate with us – many of whom are flying from all over the country – and knowing that we’ll never have another chance to gather every single person we love so much together on the same day… I wouldn’t trade this for the world.

Our wedding will be a party that celebrates not just us, but everyone who gives our lives meaning. And for that, I simply cannot wait.

And dammit, I’mma have everything look pretty too.

After all, we only get to do this once.

Now, admittedly, I’d like to see some of the stress go away. Lots of the stress.

What has truly been incredible, though, has been my transition from What is happening to Oh, that is why I feel so scared to Dude, I’m so ready for this.

After getting engaged, my anxiety returned with a vengeance and it took me months to fight through it. I’m still fighting through it, to some degree, but I understand more clearly why it is completely normal for brides-to-be to feel a sense of loss, growing panic, fear, or depression about their wedding day in addition to the joy and excitement and happiness:

It’s because marriage is a transition in life that has been de-ritualized in Western society.

Everything is about the dress and cake and flowers and centerpieces while very little prep is done for the couple as they prepare for such a sacred bond. Moving forward, the old person has to fall away to make way for the new. It’s a scary, thrilling, uncertain, and beautiful process.

But as my mom has always told me for as long as I can remember, “Sometimes we have to let go of the good to make way for the great.”

Cinderella GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Cinderella: my favorite princess and my first hero.

After we get back from our honeymoon, I’ll probably write out some of the stories this planning process has brought. Memories and special moments that I will cherish forever: The story of my ‘miracle’ dress. The sudden change in management at our venue and how lots of mishaps sorted out my priorities. How finding our invitations gave me a message from above. How my vows came to be after months of struggling to write them. How my wedding shoes came to me out of nowhere.

I think what has truly been my favorite part in all of this is spending so much time with my mom.

Every Thursday for months now, we’ve met at her house to talk about everything wedding. We’ve talked on the phone almost every day. And over the months, she has not only helped me with corresponding with vendors and keeping track of our weekly to-do list and doing about a billion things all at once (shower planning, out-of-town bag making, favor making, keeping in touch with my dressmaker and our designer, etc. etc. etc.), she’s kept me sane and focused on the only thing that truly matters throughout all this: my upcoming marriage.

Over the weeks and months, we’ve laughed and cried together and she’s shared so many words of wisdom and motherly advice that I never knew I needed to hear, passed onto me with so much love. Looking back at it all, part of me doesn’t want this process to end, just so I can keep going to her house every week to listen to what she has to say. I think I’ll always have questions for her and always need answers.

Honestly, the love that has been poured into this event by my family (and Alex’s!) and dearest friends in the world absolutely blows me away.

It’s the final countdown to a day that will change our lives and gather our loved ones together, and a year ago, just the thought of the wedding made my stomach tie itself into a knot. Today, the thought of it brings a smile to my face.

Nine more days.

Single digits now.

And then we have the rest of our lives.

 

[This song though.]

Monument Valley + Hovenweep National Monument + Southern Utah 2017

“The Earth is my sister; I love her daily grace, her silent daring, and how loved I am how we admire this strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered, all that we know: we are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget what she is to me, what I am to her.” ~ Susan Griffin

Last week I made it my personal mission to get out of the Valley for a few days after surviving an extremely busy month.

My destination of choice? Monument Valley again.

I’ll never soak in the beautiful land enough, from its sweeping canyons to the stillness of the rocks that tower to the heavens yet free the observer.

I drove to Monument Valley for the first time last May, and it absolutely blew me away. This time, I wanted to go back to experience the irreplaceable awe of the Canyonlands and also to do a little more exploring than I had the last time I drove north.

So I booked a hotel for two nights, packed up my RAV4, and started my journey on Wednesday around noon after I was done with work.

Paddington Bear accompanied me.

The destination of a road trip – or any trip, really – is never the most important. It’s the journey that really counts. And the five hour drive between Phoenix and Monument Valley is an incredible one. I am forever astonished at the differences in terrain that exist in Arizona. Our state literally has everything from the iconic Sonoran Desert to red, painted canyons, from dipping valleys to grasslands that span to the horizon, from towering mountains to tall, thick forests.

Every time. Exploring this state amazes me every time.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 30TH.

The MapQuest, Google Maps, tourist-approved way of getting to Monument Valley is to take the I17 north until it ends at Flagstaff, then the 89 north up to the 160 which veers northeast through Tuba City and a few other smaller towns. Then, around Kayenta, you take the famous Monument Valley road – the 163 – due north.

The Sonoran Desert fades away on the first leg of the trip as you rise in elevation on the way to Sedona and even more on the way to Flagstaff. Once I was past Flagstaff and onto the 89, the forest thinned and the changes in scenery were more drastic.

Entering Flagstaff

Past Flagstaff

Entering canyon lands

Before I knew it, I was turning onto the 160. And here’s something weird, but noteworthy:

I’ve traveled a decent amount. A few months ago I went to London solo. I’ve done a lot of driving all over Arizona: to Sedona, to Flagstaff, Tucson, Tombstone, Williams, Kingsman, literally every suburb of Phoenix… but never have I felt as genuinely scared in any area – no matter how remote or new or unfamiliar – than I have in this ten or fifteen mile stretch of land leading into Tuba City where you turn onto the 160 off the 89.

It is unwelcoming, bright red, stark, and – to me – terrifying.

That stretch of land gives me a precarious, bone-chilling, unsettled feeling that I can’t describe or justify. I felt it last year on my way up to Monument Valley for the first time and Wednesday was no different. The moment I turned on that freeway, for ten miles or so onward… I didn’t like it one bit.

It sounds crazy, I know. All I knew is that I couldn’t drive past that stretch of land fast enough. At one point I drove past a sign that read, “Home of the WWII Navajo Code talkers.” I still plan to Google that, and read about it.

I was glad to see grass again.

More driving. At one point my car asked me if I wanted to take a rest. Rest I did not, because by the time I was on the 160 it was late afternoon, and I wanted to reach my hotel before dark.

I passed Kayenta and merged onto the 163 that would take me due north. And finally, as the golden hour began to settle over the plains of grass and high buttes and rocks, I saw the blissfully familiar landscape.

At one point in this area I stopped in the visitor center just outside the official entrance to the park to pee and get a sandwich out of my cooler. I had to laugh because when I pulled in, I was one of maybe two or three cars, one of which could have passed for a legit kidnapper van. I got out of the car, but took my knife – blade out – with me. Far better to be paranoid than sorry! Girls, if you travel alone, carry a weapon at all times.

The 163 is the well known Monument Valley road, and the famous view of Monument Valley is looking south on the 163, from the Utah border looking in. Luckily my destination of Mexican Hat (20 miles north of Monument Valley, population 34) meant I got to drive way out past the monument to take some killer pictures. There were a couple of other tourists parked in the scenic pullouts taking pictures too.

Derp face

Then, as the sun officially began to set, I headed even further north into Utah to my hotel, the Hat Rock Inn located in the tiny town of Mexican Hat. When I said population 34, I meant it. The town has one gas station, something like four restaurants, two motels and a hotel. And a handful of small houses for the Navajo residents that run the town.

I checked in, unloaded my car, then sat on my bed looking at the Utah brochure on my bedside, wondering if there were any other cool things I’d be able to fit in the next day. I came across Gooseneck, the Rainbow Bridge, then one park called Hovenweep National Monument I’d never heard of before but sparked my interest.

Eventually I slept. I never sleep well away from home, but sleep is overrated anyway.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 31ST.

Monument Valley

I started my morning with English breakfast tea, courtesy of my room’s Keurig, which made me think of my many mornings in London while I got ready to drive into the Valley. I have to be at work so early that I am always in a rush to get out the door, so while I had the option of taking my time I was wired to just get outside!

Pro tip: Get a cooler for your road trips! You’ll save a ton of money on food and drinks.

I filled up Adelaide’s (my RAV4) tank at the only gas station in the town before leaving Mexican Hat in the early morning.

My hotel

The majority of Mexican Hat captured in one picture!

And then, that view.

Paddington Bear naturally partook in some of the picture taking.

Later, when I was driving away from Monument Valley in the early afternoon, I pulled over, opened up the hatchback of my car, sat in the back, and just gazed at this view for a long time.

It’s such an iconic American area and I think despite who gazes upon it we all feel the same thing. We feel a sense of adventure; a curiosity to explore what is within the rocks and beyond; the spirit of the American west that was won but not completely tamed. This Navajo tribal park draws people from all over the world – as evidenced by the many languages I heard while out in about within the park’s visitor center – and yet we are all the same in exploration.

Finally, I made it to inside the park. After a quick stop in the gift shop, I turned my car onto the red, dusty road and ventured into the wilderness. And just like last time, I was transformed.

There are little tourist “stations” that follow a map they give you at the toll booth. The Mittens. The Three Sisters. Artist Point Overlook. It’s almost insulting. To cast labels upon such magnificence, such sacredness, seemed otherworldly to me out there.

At the famous John Ford Point, I saw a sign that said for $5 you could get your picture taken on a horse. Uh, sign me up.

Taken before my heels were fully down – argh

Does the black and white offset my equestrian tan?

His name was Spirit – such a lovely boy.

It was exhilarating to be on a horse in the middle on Monument Valley and it took a great deal of self control to not just squeeze my heels into Spirit’s sides and gallop off – not that he would have, as the poor boy looked totally bored. Because they had brought Spirit out specifically for me (I had to ask as he was in his nice little stall), a crowd of tourists gathered around us, seemingly interested in getting their pictures taken after me. When I dismounted, one woman clapped her hands and called out in Italian, “Bellissimo!”

What few amazing moments in time.

Before long I came to my absolute favorite part of Monument Valley: the Totem Poles.

Last year, a Navajo man and his wife were selling jewelry at this particular stopping point on the map (Navajo sales are very common up there) and he told me about the Yei-Bi-Chei, a sacred dance performed at the foot of these incredible spires to heal the sick.

On Thursday, I stood out on the edge of the risen rock that overlooked the valley leading to the Totem Poles, just gazing at them and imagining such a dance. Such wildness, such undauntedness.

As my thoughts intertwined and roamed freely I thought of my Sonora, who I lost four months ago and for whom my heart aches each and every day. I thought of her galloping through that land – red mane flying, legs kicking out against the ground, tossing her head in eagerness to run free of pain – and smiled.

The Totem Poles

I made my way through the rest of the loop, drinking in every moment.

At one point I was so acutely taken by the dry, thirsty cracks within the ground.

Finally I found myself making the final stretch and leaving the stillness of the Valley behind me as I joined other tourists on the road.

Love the red dust!

Then, after a few last looks, it was time to journey onward. As I left, I found myself so grateful for the chance to see such an incredible place again.

And as I turned my car north again towards the open road – full of possibility – I was determined to see even more.

Hovenweep National Monument 

I’d decided after Monument Valley, I’d make my way northeast towards the Colorado border to see a monument called Hovenweep.

Honestly, I could have never reached Hovenweep National Monument and I would have still had an amazing time on the road. Just like Arizona’s scenery seems to change with each turn of the road, so did southern Utah’s.

A great deal of the time I was the only one on the road. For all I knew, I was the only one in the world.

About an hour and a half into the journey I came across what is perhaps the best thing I’ve ever seen so close to my car: a herd of wild horses.

They took my breath away. The far left bay stared me down while the rest of the herd kept grazing, looking up to glance at me every so often.

There was a little black yearling I wanted to look at forever.

Finally, I continued onward, only to promptly discover a herd of cattle on the side of the road, too!

It couldn’t have been a more incredible drive. I almost never wanted to reach my destination. I wanted to stay on those roads, under that huge sky, roaming forever until there was no horizon left for me to chase.

Eventually, though, I did get to Hovenweep.

Hovenweep was a prehistoric village of Ancient Puebloans – a Native American civilization also called the Anasazi – who lived somewhere less than 1,000 years ago: between 1,200 AD and 1,300 AD. In the brochure I’d read the night before, I’d been so fascinated by the still-standing structures and couldn’t believe I was about to see them with my own eyes.

Hovenweep is a pretty remote location so it doesn’t see a lot of traffic as evidenced by the fact I was the only one there!

I checked out the visitor center first, which was a good thing as I got to it ten minutes to 5 and it closed at 5. After picking up a book and some postcards, I set off on the trail, which was open until the sun went down.

There were a few different trail options, but as eager as I was to see everything, I opted for the fifteen minute walk, the shortest one.

Colorado mountains in the background

Laid out in front of me were the remains of a people who survived almost 1,000 years ago.

I was so deep into the wilderness that the silence was overpowering. It was different from the profound stillness of Monument Valley. There was simply no sound, as though the land itself was remembering those who had once thrived upon it and was waiting forlornly for them to return.

At one point, I thought I heard a woman talking somewhere in the distance. Turned out, it was a bee.

At another, I thought I heard the wind rustling all around me.

It was my breathing.

I was so moved, seeing the little cracks in the stone sealed with clay. Whose hands had built those walls? What people lived within them?

Eventually, after gazing out at what remained of a settlement for what seemed like hours (but was perhaps only ten minutes), I turned to leave.

What greatness it was, to stand on the grounds once walked upon by the Anasazi.

Then, snacking on food from my cooler, I slowly made the two hour drive back to my hotel.

I was tired, but so, so happy I’d gone. Earlier, as I was deciding whether or not I wanted to make the drive to Hovenweep, I wondered if I’d simply be exhausted trying to cram in too much in one day. In the end, I thought of the famous saying:

“It’s better do regret the things you’ve done rather than the things you didn’t do.”

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 1ST.

Going home is always the hardest part of traveling, but I was determined to make it fun nonetheless.

So on Friday morning, I woke up early, loaded up my car, dropped my hotel keys off at the office, and headed north into Utah up the 163, which curved towards the 191 south that would bring me down into Arizona a different way than how I entered it.

My journey home through Apache county and Navajo country

At point point on the 163, the elevation is high enough that you can look behind you and see Monument Valley in the far distance. I kept trying to look, knowing it’d be a long time before I could see it again.

And as I strained to catch every final glimpse I could, I had a realization wash over me.

I’m always going to want to look behind at the amazing experiences I’ve had in life. Why shouldn’t I? I’m lucky to have lived them.

But what I ultimately have to remember is that I’m in a car driving down a windy road and if I’m going to make it to the final destination in one piece, I have to keep my eyes on the path.

What’s ahead – unknown though it may be – must be met.

And it might be better than what I’ve left behind, or I might find myself wishing for what I had before. Both are okay, because they are different. And different experiences mean different opportunities to grow.

So I took one last look at Monument Valley and turned my eyes to the road ahead of me, not knowing what to expect, not knowing what I’d see, but knowing one thing: it was time to keep driving.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I drove through the Utah/Arizona border into my home state down the 191, but looking back, I should have known I’d be going through Navajo country and that I’d be seeing some very eye-opening things.

There’s no way I would have ever known what the small villages I passed through were called unless they’d shown up on my phone as I took pictures. But each of these little towns – some a handful of small shacks, farms, and abandoned cars and a few boasting a population of 1,000 or more – is populated by the Navajo people.

I found myself wondering a great deal about the communities in each of these little places.

Was everyone friendly with one another? Do the residents help out at one another’s farms? Did the kids all visit each other’s houses after school?

Did the townsfolk see white tourists every often, and if they did, what do they think of us?

Did they want for anything? Envy the world beyond their borders? Or were they grateful that they could keep to themselves?

Burger Kings and McDonald’s’ are very scattered up north so the nearest one is made a big deal

Further south I drove, eventually leaving Apache county, watching the trees become visible then grow.

As I neared Payson, I got the briefest of looks at the greatness of the Mogollon Rim (though I didn’t get that great of a picture!).

Simply incredible.

Finally, I made it back to the Sonoran Desert. As I entered familiar territory, I knew my trip was over.

After I finally made it home, I sat in memories of sweeping canyons, grasslands that stretched to the horizon, different kinds of trees and ancient ruins and towering red rocks and an enormous sky up above. It’s easy to look back on where you’ve traveled and long to experience it again. I’m certainly guilty of that.

But nothing is ever experienced the same way twice. Nothing remains the same, which is neither good nor bad. It is simply the way of life. And we are never meant to spend our lives traveling the same road.

Around the bend, across the valley, beyond the horizon… there’s always the next one.

Beauty before me, with it I wander

Beauty behind me, with it I wander

Beauty before me, with it I wander

Beauty below me, with it I wander

Beauty above me, with it I wander

Beauty all around me, with it I wander

In old age traveling, with it I wander

On the beautiful trail I am, with it I wander

~ First Song of Dawn Boy, a Navajo prayer