Sunday, October 21, 2018

That Time When Ducks Cured My Depression

Sometimes taking care of your own depression can be accomplished by taking care of somebody else.

I’ve been incredibly stressed and depressed lately, so when my 2nd oldest daughter, Cathryn, suggested last month that we celebrate the birthday of my youngest daughter, the Brownie, with a trip into the mountains, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Fresh air up in the clouds sounded like the perfect salve for my soul. My spirits are often lifted by a change of scenery and some exercise. There was only one problem: the Brownie hates hiking.

With mild cerebral palsy and a learning disability, “simple” hikes become arduous tasks for the Brownie. She becomes so focused on balance, foot placement, and pain that she doesn’t look beyond to see the beauty of nature. We’ve tried for years to find ways to help her enjoy these excursions into nature without much luck.

Unfortunately, we can’t tell which is a preconceived dislike and which is a sincere dislike with her, so we constantly reintroduce things because she’s changed her mind on a whim before. For example, she used to love bananas when she was younger, then ate an entire green batch and decided she hated them. Who could blame her? I don’t enjoy green bananas either. Yet for years she wouldn’t touch them no matter what color they were—not until recently. Now she “hates” bananas, but she’ll get hungry and forget she dislikes them. I know this because I’ll offer her a banana, she’ll vehemently, announce she hates them, then I’ll say, “But you just ate some on your own yesterday.” “Oh, yeah…” she’ll reply, then eat the banana.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t celebrate her birthday with an activity she currently dreaded. How selfish would that be?

So we chose a boardwalk path around a veritable pond called Silver Lake. It’s located up by Brighton ski resort. There is no climbing involved–just a leisurely stroll amidst nature with clouds so close you’d think you could reach up and scoop them into a cup. To avoid a “hike” meltdown, we told her we were visiting a park up in the mountains to hopefully to see wild deer and moose. Secretly, however, we planned on feeding wild ducks. That was the birthday surprise. In preparation, her grandparents had just purchased TWENTY-FIVE pounds of duck feed. My daughter, Cathryn, and I prepared three bags and left the floppy silo of feed at home.

Our trip through the mountain pass led us by Fall splashes of yellow-greens, oranges, and reds. The mountainsides weren’t on fire with color yet, but we could see the smoldering had begun. None of this impressed the Brownie, who had her nose deep in an eBook. Then we arrived and discovered the skies weren’t optimal for strolling along mountain paths. In fact, we couldn’t see the sky for all the rain. The Brownie started to complain. Instead of getting discouraged, we ducked into a cafe and ordered hot cocoa. By the time we had finished the last, treasured drops in our cups, the sky had cleared, along with my heavy mood, but and even the Brownie was in better spirits.

Storms come and go quickly in the desert mountains. One moment we had sheets of rain, and the next, the sky became a painting of wonder and beauty. Silver Lake was unusually popular that day, with dozens of families loudly chatting to themselves as they walked along the damp boardwalk while taking in the sights, some stopping for family photos, some holding up the line with professional photo shoots. Normally, such interruptions would irritate me, but my focus was not on the earth, but heaven. It kept me distracted from the bustle around me. Frankly, I had only one earthly worry: where were the ducks?

The lake was a mirror of the beauty above, but showed no reflection of any life or movement. I was beginning to worry that the ducks had run for cover along with the deer and moose, unlike the silly humans who lacked sense to get out of the cold, wet air. After a while, Cathryn found some ducks huddling in a copse by the side of the lake. Together we formed a chain of people along the lake to lure them with duck feed over to an open area. The plan worked wonderfully. Soon ducks surrounded us, many even coming from further along up the shore. The birthday surprise was a success.

I’m glad we took time to think of how the Brownie would react to our plans and changed them accordingly. Feeding the ducks was a great idea, and now we have enough cracked corn to feed all the ducks in Utah. Even better, we gave the Brownie a positive experience. Instead of dread, she might remember today’s outing and look forward to the next hike. My depression had long ago lifted. Helping her was the reset my mind needed.


Coping Strategy: Help yourself by helping others.

If you are looking for advice on how to help a suicidal loved one, you should read my book.