Choose Your Insanity, Part I

Source: Choose Your Insanity, Part I

Untreated or Under-Treated Depression

Choose Your Insanity, Part I

Untreated or Under-Treated Depression

Image may contain: house, sky, tree, outdoor and natureOver the past 19 years I have learned the consequences of untreated and under-treated depression. And, I have picked up a thing or two about the side-effects of antidepressants. Either can drive you mad.

The first sign that my 30 years of occasional melancholia was turning into clinical depression was in the summer of 1999. It started with what the doctor called, “cluster-headaches.” It was painful and came in cycles of repeated headaches followed by periods without them. The doctor prescribed sunglasses. (He probably gave me a medication, but the sunglasses are all I remember). It may be a cool look to wear shades, but imagine me in church on a Sunday morning leading worship and preaching with sunglasses on. Believe me, it makes eye-contact pointless when the congregation cannot see your eyes.

The second sign began in the fall of the same year. After multiple trips to the hospital and the doctor, it was determined I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The pain was severe and disabling. Nothing I was prescribed helped. I was asked to join a trial study for a medication that reportedly “was the best thing since toilet paper.” Because of some bleeding, I had to have a colonoscopy. Every medical person who was part of the trial study was interested. My procedure became the main attraction of the day with a regular stream of doctors and nurses coming in and out for a look. Hey, bottoms up! After no noticeable change, I was referred to yet another specialist who prescribed a medication that finally worked. But, with the pain gone, the true culprit appeared with a vengeance – depression.

A moderate to severe depressive disorder can have serious effects on your physical and mental health. Besides headaches and digestive issues, depression is often accompanied by back pain, stomachaches, chest pain, achy legs and arms, sleep problems (insomnia or hyposomnia), and weight gain or loss. It can make it harder to get over the flu or other seasonal illnesses, too. Studies have shown that people recovering from a stroke or heart attack and have comorbid depression are at double the risk of death than a person without depression. One study concluded that an “episode of clinical depression is as dangerous as smoking in causing heart disease and heart attacks.”

Depression also affects your brain. Sluggish thinking, difficulty concentrating, trouble remembering, problems making both minor and major decisions, and difficulty focusing are common. Recent studies have determined that untreated or under-treated depression can cause the brain to shrink. In most cases the brain will recover, but it can become permanent if the depression is left untreated over a long period of time. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning has shown that depression is related to abnormalities in the memory center, conflict-resolution area, and the planning and executing parts of the brain.

My under-treated depression was partly my fault. I was inconsistent about going to a psychiatrist or a mental health counselor. After a while, I thought I could forego the travel and hassle of seeing a psychiatrist and let my family doctor prescribe my medications. One general practitioner gave me prescriptions covering a whole year. One annual appointment was really convenient for me, but not healthy.

Finding a counselor with whom I could stay engaged was difficult. On the second visit to the first therapist I tried, she told me that maybe God was finished with me. After my next visit, I was finished with her. Other times I used the miles I had to travel or the money I had to spend as an excuse. You see, I had yet to lose confidence in my ability to handle my own depression. It was not until after four hospitalizations and losing nearly everything in my life that I held dear, that I decided it was time to see a psychiatrist and go to counseling consistently. During that time, I had frequent, long and persistent episodes of suicidal ideations. The first lasted four and one-half years, the second and third one year each, and the fourth two years.

Untreated or under-treated depression carries a high risk of suicide. Thoughts can grow worse with time. My last round of suicidal ideations was so severe that it took every ounce of will I had to not jump in the swift river I walked beside or run and step in front of the train whose whistle I heard. Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and visions of an aimless future gripped my soul. At one point, only the thought of spending an eternity in hell prevented me from completing suicide to escape the pain. Suicidal ideations can also express themselves in reckless behavior, risky situations, and dangerous circumstances.

Relationships can be damaged beyond repair. Family and friends can feel ostracized by your changed mood and behavior. Irritability, isolation, anger, lashing out at loved ones, and a disinterest in most things including sex do not make for healthy relationships. During my under-treated depression, my marriage ended and I became estranged from my children and grandchildren. God seemed far away.

Careers can become a casualty of moderate to severe depression. Accumulating sick days, unproductive efforts, lack of energy, and diminished concentration is not a recipe for a good employee. Both of my careers – pastoral ministry and counseling – were lost and are now unrecoverable. Students can lose interest in or find it difficult to study. Class attendance can be sporadic and assignments are late if they get turned in at all. Aimlessly sitting around thinking about your symptoms, sadness, and misery can interfere with decision-making and make matters worse.

Substance and/or alcohol abuse, addiction, and self-injurious behaviors are possible.

Yes, untreated or under-treated depression can put you into a sad and worsening state of affairs. Psychotic breaks from reality, catatonic features, catalepsy, posturing, echolalia or echopraxia, anorexia, obesity, and leaden paralysis are possible.

Is there any hope? There is always hope. Proper treatment can go a long way toward restoring a new normal. However, that “new normal” can come with its own challenges and its own brand of insanity.

Come back next week for a look at the common side-effects of anti-depressant medications and the issues they cause.

A Tribute to A Difference Maker

Image result for images of Densel BallThe news of my old college friend, Densel B’s, accident and subsequent death hit me hard. Memories of him came like a flood to my mind. The smile that lighted up his face and illuminated all those near him. His honest and sincere eyes that gave people confidence in him. His easy manner that made others feel safe around him. And, his kindness to all that made him precious to anyone who met him.

I observed while people posted pictures of themselves next to Densel. They did it with pride and a desire to say, “I knew Densel B. and he touched my life.” The tributes to him on his Facebook page show how much one man can move thousands of people, one person at a time. Stephen K. wrote, “If you want a lesson on how to be a good pastor, or really just an amazing Christ-follower in general…just go over to Densel B’s Facebook wall and see all the amazing things people have said about his ministry and what he did and how he helped.” The following are excerpts from posts on Densel’s wall.

“Densel was my beloved pastor. He faithfully planted God’s word in my heart and lived it out daily.” (Fran F.)

He was a true and kind servant of God, and “one of the most caring pastors I have ever met.” (Johnathon R. )

It would be hard to find “a more enthusiastic, on-fire-non-stop man of God.” (Jessica K.)

“He changed my thinking … and taught me how to become a better man of God.” (Ig G.)

He “helped me to see that not all Christians are hypocrites.” (Sarah T.)

“I never felt accepted in a church until I met” Densel and our church family. (Autumn T.) Pastor D. was “truly an example of what it means to love God and love others.” (Sheralyn S.)

Allison G. recalled meeting with Pastor D when he asked, “Have I done enough?” “The outpouring of prayers, love, and support from all across the country and beyond is proof that Densel B. did more than enough,” she said.

He was known as an encourager. “Densel had such a happy, energetic spirit. He always wore a smile and had a word of encouragement for everyone.” (Charlotte F.)

“His messages always impacted me and encouraged me so much.” (Daniel H.)

“He made an impact on every person that crossed his path.” (Laura R.)

Jennifer M. summed up how Pastor D. was perceived by all who came into contact with him, he was not only a great pastor, but also a great man.

Densel touched the lives of his co-workers. He was “truly a pleasure to work with and one of the sweetest people I have ever met in my life.” (Tami D.)

“The world lost a wonderful man. He exuded kindness, compassion and love. I had the pleasure of working with him at D for a few years. Besides family, He was the only person that I cared to talk to on the day my grandmother passed. He was so comforting and loving.” (Carla E.)

“Although we didn’t work closely together we would exchange pleasantries in the hallway when we saw each other, but when my child was diagnosed with leukemia, our relationship changed. I vividly remember coming back to work after that. Densel stopped me in the middle of the hallway and asked how I was, how K was, and how my family was. Then, right there, he grabbed my hands and started to pray. I was a bit startled, but that happened time and time again and became something I looked forward to each day.” (Cory S)

“I met Densel at work. No matter how stressful it was, he was always smiling and thinking positively. I’ll be forever grateful to him for sharing a little bit of his life, his kindness, and demonstrating how to take care of others.” (Zach R.)

Densel and I “worked together for a couple of years at D. After I transferred to another office, I found myself struggling. Densel prayed with me. This meant more to me than I can describe. He was so selfless and warming.” (Jonathan G.)

John S. “worked with Densel 10 years ago at W… Bank and stayed in touch over the years.” He stated that Densel’s life weaved a beautiful tapestry for all to see and as a result he will be greatly missed.

Finally, Mary C. felt like Densel would be overwhelmed and grateful for all the outpouring of love, but he would say, “Let’s pray for others,” and ask, “how are you doing.” A more “genuine and caring man” I don’t believe I will ever meet.

Densel “was a great friend, a friend like so many of us will never know. When we met, he would greet me with an embrace and put a ‘holy kiss’ on the side of my face. It never bothered me. Rather, it made me feel valued. God became more genuine to me because of the life Densel lived.” (Bob W.)

“He never failed to say he loved me at least once in every conversation. He expressed interest in my family and me, and always closed our time with ‘How can I pray for you?’” (John L.)

“Before ending our phone call or parting from each other’s presence, he prayed for the specific situation that concerned us.” (John F.)

“To this day, I think of him when I pray with others. My friends and I used to say, ‘let’s pull a Densel,’ and we stopped all conversation and prayed with people.” (Anna K.)

“I am beyond blessed to have called him friend. Thank you, Densel, for living out your faith, loving with abandon, and showing me what a true Christ follower looks like.” (Michelle L.)

“I am grieving deeply the loss of a friend. A man of God. A Christ follower. A relentless giver. Although our friendship was brief, I have met few people who have impacted my faith to the degree that Densel did. I was privileged to share fellowship and prayer with a man of character and caliber. He had unrelenting integrity and passion for God’s mission.” (Reid H.)

“There is a big family that will miss a great man. Densel B. loved everyone He was a great son, brother, husband, and father.” (Casey H.)

Before he passed, his parents spoke by phone to him. He was unable to respond, but it brought them comfort.

His brother, Frank, sat by his side and wrote of a “dear precious brother.” He saw a face reflecting the glory of God as Densel took his last breath.

Image result for images of Densel Ball

Densel’s son, Ty, left this tribute to his father, “I thank God for the time I was allowed to spend with the best dad in the entire world. I treasure every moment. Dad was the funniest, kindest, most handsome father ever. I loved him so much. I loved it when he called me ‘champ’. It is such an honor to be named for him, Densel III.  Wow, I’ve got some big shoes to fill! I thank my dad for teaching me how to live a godly life.”

His informally adopted little sister commented, “The tears will not stop flowing! He was a wonderful brother to me (even though not by blood) and I am so thankful to have had him in my life! He was a true, blue friend…through thick and thin and Dad and Mom and I loved him as much as if he was ‘blood’!” (Shelly P.)

Space does not allow me to include tales of him mentoring and guiding others, his leadership skills, and his involvement in helping save children from sex slavery around the world. He humbly called himself a “West Virginia hillbilly,” and loved the Mountaineers. But, we all know that he was so much more. He was a difference maker.

I do not know who to credit for the “Do a Densel” campaign, but I want to pass the challenge on to you.

Image may contain: 1 person

NOT A CHANCE!

Image result for no chanceWithin the past couple of weeks someone asked if one could function normally and have severe depression. I responded with an emphatic “No!” There is no way one can go about his/her day without “a change from previous functioning” if they have a major depressive disorder. Even a person with dysthymia or a mild-to-moderate depressive disorder will have some impairment. However, severe depression is in a different league all together. In no way am I trying to minimize depression in whatever form it may take, but by definition severe depression severely interrupts one’s routine. According to the Diagnostic Criteria from the DSM, severe depression is marked by “several symptoms in excess of those required to make the diagnosis, and symptoms markedly interfere with occupational functioning or with usual social activities or relationships with others.” In order to meet the criteria of a major depression diagnosis, one must have at least five of the nine symptoms for a minimum of two weeks and have a change from previous functioning. Severe depression requires eight or all nine symptoms to be present. A depressive disorder is not to be equated with sadness, grief, or a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

Four years ago this month I wrote the following attempt at a poem.

Ode to Despair

What can you say when there are no words to express                                    The pain, the sadness, and the foreboding hopelessness.                  Statements, remarks, and speeches reverberate like a round                       That goes on and on without end in meaningless sound.

“Due despair and agony on me, deep dark depression,                          Excessive misery,” is an all too common sad expression                                  For the weary and worn who go through life damaged,                           Hidden, misunderstood, in anguish, wounds un-bandaged.

“Who can deliver me from this body of death?” I shout,                                   But only an echo returns with scorns and mocks all about.                        “There is no help for him in God,” I hear as trouble multiplies,              Gloomy and cheerless, I want not to live and am afraid to die.

“It is enough! Now LORD, take my life,” I earnestly pray.                             “What are you doing here?” the LORD whispers in the fray.               “Forsaken, torn down, killed all the day through,” I reply.                              GOD listens with compassion HIS grace ready to supply.

Strong winds tear at mountains and break rocks into slivers.         Earthquakes alter the contour of the land and courses of rivers.                   Fire purges the grass from the field and fells the trees.                                    But, the LORD passes by gently and speaks to my needs.

As you can infer, I was severely depressed. As a Christian I could not end the poem in absolute despair, so I included a stanza of hope. To be truthful, it was not how I felt at the time. Death, I thought, would be a relief.

I had all the symptoms – depressed mood, diminished interest in activities, weight gain, hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation, fatigue, diminished ability to concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of death with suicidal ideations – of a major depressive disorder. To put it succinctly, I was a mess. Depression had been hounding me for a year as I spiraled downward into a bottomless free-fall. And, for the next eighteen months I trudged through a morass of thick, endless darkness with no hope of escape. Normal functioning? That was an unknown cloud in cuckoo-land. Severe depression destroyed everything I spent my life building and it very nearly destroyed me, too.

Thank the good LORD I have been in partial remission for over two years. Although I have accepted the fact that I will never be “normal” again, I find that life is well worth living. I have hope, fulfillment, happiness, and contentment. If you can function normally, thank God, address whatever is troubling you, and march on toward health and wholeness. On the other hand, if you are falling and cannot seem to right yourself, there is hope. Reach out to a professional who will help you begin to heal.

The peace, mercy, and grace of our LORD be with you. Amen!

*image from 123RF.com

Wonderful Peace

(Note: This is a re-post of parts of last week’s post)

Tree lined country lane at Linslade - Bedfordshire, England

Closing my eyes I imagine all the goings-on of a large city. People are walking here and there with determined purpose taking little notice of others or their surroundings. Cars, buses, and trucks rapidly move through one light only to be stopped by another. The whine of mechanical machinery delivering heated or cooled air into attached buildings and the hum of electricity traveling from transformers to illuminate and power the equipment of endless offices and retail shops join other obnoxious noise makers in a city. I am driving in the midst of this organized chaos attempting to leave town. The interstate is backed up and moving slowly. Drivers dash from lane to lane trying to gain an advantage while others creep along in the fast lane impeding progress.  A couple of enraged drivers speed dangerously along access and exit lanes and use the breakdown lane in an effort to run from or catch the other for some unknown offense.  Eventually, traffic thins as weary travelers take exits away from the madness toward hoped for tranquility. The city shrinks from my rear-view mirror and the road sheds some of its lanes as I follow my escape route away from the hectic pace of crazy metropolitan life.

Finally, I exit, too, away from the rushing interstate onto one of the four lane federal highways that still exist apart from the characterless freeways. The pace slows as I travel past open fields, lone standing businesses, and single family dwellings imprisoned behind shrubs and trees. A small town closes shops and rolls up sidewalks as I creep through the unwelcoming community. Parks are mostly empty; windows are shuttered against the coming night. The only signs of life is the seemingly ubiquitous convenience store and gas station assaulting the skyline with its brilliantly illuminated and invasive lights.

Just beyond the sleepy town I turn off the federal highway onto a tree-lined, two lane, narrow, state road. Straight stretches are rare along this want-to-be highway; curves and winding ways are plentiful. Deeper into sparsely populated areas and forested hills I travel. Another world from the distant past begins to reveal itself. On a curve is an old store, narrow and long, with an inviting porch and benches to support the rest of friends and the occasional visitor. Unpainted and plain, it seems to exist not for profits, but for community. On an empty spot along the road, the remnants of a small town exist with a lone bank and feed store staring at each other across the road. The town has stayed alive for the single purpose of hosting a multi-acre flea market and nationally sponsored muzzle-loading contests twice a year.

A few miles past the village I turn off the state highway onto a county road. It is a “no-fault” road. The usual white lines along the side and yellow lines in the middle designating lanes are absent. Fields of pasture and crops lay on either side surrounded by fences and posts that mark my progress. Pavement gives way to gravel as I draw near another turn. Slowing down considerably I am careful not to miss the dirt road covered in a canopy of trees. I have entered an area where ghosts of pioneers past inhabit the hills and valleys and where time stopped about two hundred years ago. The path meanders along the bank of a creek. I always smile at the cardboard cutout of a man staring out the window of a cabin that hovers near the road intimidating all who pass. A little farther down I have to judge the depth and swiftness of the ten yards wide creek before crossing through to the other side. Safely navigated I climb the opposite bank and leave the heavily forested hills and swiftly moving creek behind to enter a wide and welcoming opening in the trees.

Stopping in front of a gate I pull out a key to open, drive through, and close the out-of-place barrier. I have arrived at my “happy place.” Car windows come down and welcome the scents of clover and alfalfa mingled with wild flowers and blooming trees. The pleasant aroma fills my car conquering the stale and odoriferous smells of the city. Mist from the nearby creek moistens and freshens the air. The lane passes through fenced in fields. On the one side is a finishing pasture and on the other a hay-field. Beyond lies open ground and in the distance newly planted corn waiting to break into the light. Trees cover the surrounding hills on all sides eager for an opportunity to claim the emptiness. An unnamed creek steadily babbles past the property flowing first west and then south to continue its journey to an unknown destination. A low fence, hand-made with rocks harvested from the creek, line its bank for over a hundred yards.

Nearby is a barn supported by adze hewn girts joined together by mortise-and-tenon joints and wooden pegs. An original one story log cabin, built with Block House Ends corners supported by large rocks stands alone in the middle of this pastoral setting. Blond chinking make for alternating dark and light stripes decorating the outside walls. A “good sittin’” porch faces north and bids all to come and rest awhile.  Inside the house you are greeted with an enormous rock fireplace, a single bedroom, and a loft for sleeping. A primitive outhouse stands a few steps out the back door. All the material to build this ideal place was harvested from the land it sits upon.

Resting on the porch as the darkness swallows the light I hear the sounds of nature. Crickets are rubbing their legs together and bullfrogs are croaking, both in hopes of attracting a mate. Other wild lovers join the trumpeters of the night. Clear skies open to a panorama of the stars. The moon reflects light in an attempt to penetrate the night. The peaceful setting rocks me into a sound and invigorating sleep.

Drinking morning coffee on the porch before the break of the dawn, I listen as the sounds of the forest come alive to greet me. Chirping squirrels and cawing crows break out with other animals in a melodious chorus. And the wind causes the trees to sway in unison and musses my hair with tender approval. Contentment and peace hug me tightly on this perfect morning.

Behind the barn is a deep spot in the creek sufficient enough to submerge and bathe. The cold water of early spring shocks my body awake and intensifies my senses. Oh, how glorious and refreshing is the feeling of being alive. Walking through the forest discovering anew my surroundings, I am willingly lulled into a fully relaxed state. Every tree, bush, vine, and flower I pass reach out to tenderly caress and welcome me. I feel safe. While running my hands along the hewn logs that make up the house and barn, I indulge my imagination to make myself a skilled craftsman participating in building this farm in all of its order and raw beauty.

The food I prepare in the open-hearth is glorious. Sweet and tender morsels dance on my tongue and succulent bites melt in my mouth. Pure water from the deep well cleanses my system. Occasionally I pluck a blade of grass or another early green plant to chew and add to my stew of satisfying tastes.

As the second day passes into evening I see a figure approaching. It is my dad stirring from his six years of rest to visit with me, listen to my story, and share his wisdom. Watching him drift back into the night and his silhouette carried away on a whiff of wind strangely leaves me comforted and reassured.

The morning finds me preparing for the trip home. Passing through the gate onto the single lane path I carry the effects of my “happy place” with me in my mind and spirit. In and out of the creek I begin to retrace the steps of my journey. The card-cut-out man faithfully watches from his window and waves a friendly “goodbye.” Onto the gravel road and past the grazing animals and recently planted fields, I feel rested and revived. The paved county road falls behind me as I turn onto the state highway.  On the other side of the two-door town, I stop to patronize the little store. I am blessed with a hearty welcome, friendly banter, and make a courtesy purchase of something that looks promising. Before I merge onto the federal highway I acknowledge the contentment I feel and give thanks to my Creator.

As I pass through the little town, it demonstrates its vitality as Sunday afternoon pleasures and activities abound. Moving past the nature guarded homes and not-so-lonely-after-all businesses; I make my way with confidence toward the busy interstate. It feels friendly today as I confidently glide with the traffic. The city welcomes my arrival and home embraces my entrance. All is at peace.  All is at rest.

above photo from – onepinkgoose.blogspot.com

 

RELAX ALREADY!

Image result for cabin and barn in the woods of southern indianaLast week I promised to write about relaxation techniques. The three I mentioned – systematic muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, and guided imagery – come from the field of behavioral sciences. These routines help me to achieve a modicum of serenity when the noise overwhelms me or claustrophobia threatens to box me in. Although the methods are borrowed from the behavioral sciences, my application of them is unique to me.

Systematic Muscle Relaxation                                                                                                              Many people use muscle relaxation unconsciously at bedtime to prepare for sleep and discharge the pent-up anxiety of the day. It is a means of releasing the tension that builds up in our muscles when stressed. One of the advantages of muscle relaxation is that it can be used discreetly in public without being noticed or thought strange. I like it, too, because muscle groups can be relaxed separately or in conjunction with the whole.

First, sit in a chair and put your feet on the floor and your hands on your legs. (You may also do this standing or lying down.) Begin with curling your toes tightly and keep them in that position for a few seconds, but not more than five, and gently and slowly release them. Next do the same to your foot muscles. Follow this procedure with each individual muscle set –calves, thighs, buttocks, waist, stomach and lower back, chest and upper back, fingers, hands, forearms, biceps, shoulders, neck, and face – always working systematically toward your face. If you cannot do the whole body, you can work up from your toes to your waist, up from your waist to your face, torso only, arms and hands alone, or simply the neck and face. Systematic muscle relaxation is very adaptable to nearly all situations.

When each set of muscles releases, you will feel the stress and tension recede from your body. The situation may not change, but the physical bonds that imprison your body can be loosened.

Deep Breathing                                                                                                                                        Deep breathing has the same advantages as muscle relaxation. It really helps me to regain control of my emotions, especially anger, when I am out-of-sorts. The preparation for this exercise is the same as for the above.

Take in a long deep breath through your nose. Deep breaths come from your diaphragm and fill the lower portion of your lungs. If your chest and shoulders move significantly, it is a shallow breath. With a deep breath your stomach expands and your chest and shoulders barely move, if at all. If it is hard for you to do sitting or standing, try it while lying on your back. Your body automatically reverts to deep breathing in that position.

So, take a long deep breath through your nose and hold it for the slow count of three. Then slowly blow it out through your mouth like you would gently release a balloon of its air. When done correctly the exhale will last for nearly ten seconds. Repeat and count to two. Finally, repeat and count to one. You can repeat this exercise in groups of three as many times as you need.

Guided imagery                                                                                                                                      With this method you need a quiet and comfortable place where disturbances can be kept minimal. It may help to do some muscle relaxation and/or deep breathing exercises in preparation. Come go with me as I journey to and from a special place.

I close my eyes and imagine all the goings-on of a large city. People are walking here and there with determined purpose taking little notice of others or their surroundings. Cars, buses, and trucks rapidly move through one light only to be stopped by another. The whine of mechanical machinery delivering heated or cooled air into attached buildings and the hum of electricity traveling from transformers to illuminate and power the equipment of endless offices and retail shops join other obnoxious noise makers in a city. I am driving in the midst of this organized chaos attempting to leave town. The interstate is backed up and moving slowly. Drivers dash from lane to lane trying to gain an advantage while others creep along in the fast lane impeding progress.  A couple of enraged drivers speed dangerously along access and exit lanes and use the breakdown lane in an effort to run from or catch the other for some unknown offense.  Eventually, traffic thins as weary travelers take exits away from the madness toward hoped for tranquility. The city shrinks from my rear-view mirror and the road sheds some of its lanes as I follow my escape route away from the hectic pace of crazy metropolitan life.

Finally, I exit, too, away from the rushing interstate onto one of the four lane federal highways that still exist apart from the characterless freeways. The pace slows as I travel past open fields, lone standing businesses, and single family dwellings imprisoned behind shrubs and trees. A small town closes shops and rolls up sidewalks as I creep through the unwelcoming community. Parks are mostly empty; windows are shuttered against the coming night. The only signs of life is the seemingly ubiquitous convenience store and gas station assaulting the skyline with its brilliantly illuminated and invasive lights.

Just beyond the sleepy town I turn off the federal highway onto a tree-lined, two lane, narrow, state road. Straight stretches are rare along this want-to-be highway; curves and winding ways are plentiful. Deeper into sparsely populated areas and forested hills I travel. Another world from the distant past begins to reveal itself. On a curve is an old store, narrow and long, with an inviting porch and benches to support the rest of friends and the occasional visitor. Unpainted and plain, it seems to exist not for profits, but for community. On an empty spot along the road, the remnants of a small town exist with a lone bank and feed store staring at each other across the road. The town has stayed alive for the single purpose of hosting a multi-acre flea market and nationally sponsored muzzle-loading contests twice a year.

A few miles past the village I turn off the state highway onto a county road. It is a “no-fault” road. The usual white lines along the side and yellow lines in the middle designating lanes are absent. Fields of pasture and crops lay on either side surrounded by fences and posts that mark my progress. Pavement gives way to gravel as I draw near another turn. Slowing down considerably I am careful not to miss the dirt road covered in a canopy of trees. I have entered an area where ghosts of pioneers past inhabit the hills and valleys and where time stopped about two hundred years ago. The path meanders along the bank of a creek. I always smile at the cardboard cutout of a man staring out the window of a cabin that hovers near the road intimidating all who pass. A little farther down I have to judge the depth and swiftness of the ten yards wide creek before crossing through to the other side. Safely navigated I climb the opposite bank and leave the heavily forested hills and swiftly moving creek behind to enter a wide and welcoming opening in the trees.

Stopping in front of a gate I pull out a key to open, drive through, and close the out-of-place barrier. I have arrived at my “happy place.” Car windows come down and welcome the scents of clover and alfalfa mingled with wild flowers and blooming trees. The pleasant aroma fills my car conquering the stale and odoriferous smells of the city. Mist from the nearby creek moistens and freshens the air. The lane passes through fenced in fields. On the one side is a finishing pasture and on the other a hay-field. Beyond lies open ground and in the distance newly planted corn waiting to break into the light. Trees cover the surrounding hills on all sides eager for an opportunity to claim the emptiness. An unnamed creek steadily babbles past the property flowing first west and then south to continue its journey to an unknown destination. A low fence, hand-made with rocks harvested from the creek, line its bank for over a hundred yards.

Nearby is a barn supported by adze hewn girts joined together by mortise-and-tenon joints and wooden pegs. An original one story log cabin, built with Block House Ends corners supported by large rocks stands alone in the middle of this pastoral setting. Blond chinking make for alternating dark and light stripes decorating the outside walls. A “good sittin’” porch faces north and bids all to come and rest awhile.  Inside the house you are greeted with an enormous rock fireplace, a single bedroom, and a loft for sleeping. A primitive outhouse stands a few steps out the back door. All the material to build this ideal place was harvested from the land it sits upon.

Resting on the porch as the darkness swallows the light I hear the sounds of nature. Crickets are rubbing their legs together and bullfrogs are croaking, both in hopes of attracting a mate. Other wild lovers join the trumpeters of the night. Clear skies open to a panorama of the stars. The moon reflects light in an attempt to penetrate the night. The peaceful setting rocks me into a sound and invigorating sleep.

Drinking morning coffee on the porch before the break of the dawn, I listen as the sounds of the forest come alive to greet me. Chirping squirrels and cawing crows break out with other animals in a melodious chorus. And the wind causes the trees to sway in unison and musses my hair with tender approval. Contentment and peace hug me tightly on this perfect morning.

Behind the barn is a deep spot in the creek sufficient enough to submerge and bathe. The cold water of early spring shocks my body awake and intensifies my senses. Oh, how glorious and refreshing is the feeling of being alive. Walking through the forest discovering anew my surroundings, I am willingly lulled into a fully relaxed state. Every tree, bush, vine, and flower I pass reach out to tenderly caress and welcome me. I feel safe. While running my hands along the hewn logs that make up the house and barn, I indulge my imagination to make myself a skilled craftsman participating in building this farm in all of its order and raw beauty.

The food I prepare in the open-hearth is glorious. Sweet and tender morsels dance on my tongue and succulent bites melt in my mouth. Pure water from the deep well cleanses my system. Occasionally I pluck a blade of grass or another early green plant to chew and add to my stew of satisfying tastes.

As the second day passes into evening I see a figure approaching. It is my dad stirring from his six years of rest to visit with me, listen to my story, and share his wisdom. Watching him drift back into the night and his silhouette carried away on a whiff of wind strangely leaves me comforted and reassured.

The morning finds me preparing for the trip home. Passing through the gate onto the single lane path I carry the effects of my “happy place” with me in my mind and spirit. In and out of the creek I begin to retrace the steps of my journey. The card-cut-out man faithfully watches from his window and waves a friendly “goodbye.” Onto the gravel road and past the grazing animals and recently planted fields, I feel rested and revived. The paved county road falls behind me as I turn onto the state highway.  On the other side of the two-door town, I stop to patronize the little store. I am blessed with a hearty welcome, friendly banter, and make a courtesy purchase of something that looks promising. Before I merge onto the federal highway I acknowledge the contentment I feel and give thanks to my Creator.

As I pass through the little town, it demonstrates its vitality as Sunday afternoon pleasures and activities abound. Moving past the nature guarded homes and not-so-lonely-after-all businesses; I make my way with confidence toward the busy interstate. It feels friendly today as I confidently glide with the traffic. The city welcomes my arrival and home embraces my entrance. All is at peace.  All is at rest.

*picture from tinyhousetalk.com