I see your multi-colored, hazel eyes staring deep into mine
questions, confusion, fear, and anger shoot back at me like
which tear jagged holes in my soul
my words are twisted into tools of hatred and destruction
I feel powerless against what lurks inside you
"Why are so hard to love" I say as a look into your
multi-colored, tear-filled eyes
You have no answer, just blank and desperate silence
I shake my head in defeat,
and turn away from the mirror.
I wrote that poem. Just now, as I caught myself spiraling
down the old, familiar drain which leads to the foulest reaches of my desperate darkness. This time, I catch myself. I peer over the crumbling edge, looking into the darkness just long enough to retrieve this poem and remind myself that depression is always lurking, it is dangerous, it is deadly.
I wasn’t always able to catch myself; many times I sunk down so far I nearly lost my way out. My soul writhing in its death throes as I attempt to exist in a place filled with pain, fear, questions, sorrow and desperate hopelessness. There is no logic, no truth, no meaning, no life. It is not a place I would send my worst enemy.
I have always avoided talking about it. However, silence is quite deadly. The cultural stigma which shames the depressed prevents those afflicted from seeking help. I am not merely sad, I am not wallowing in self-pity, I am not seeking your attention, I am not selfish. I can’t “just get over it.” I am uncomfortable writing this but I feel the message is too important. As I said before, silence is quite deadly.
A large part of my ongoing healing process involves developing my self-awareness. Being aware enough of what is happening to me to recognize when my thoughts are heading in the wrong direction. To recognize when I am not safe and use tools I’ve learned over many years of work to bring me back to a place of
relative peace. Writing is one tool. Work with horses is another.
Horses are excellent teachers of self-awareness. Their
survival in the wild depends on their ability to listen to their bodies. The horse is hungry, she eats. The horse is restless, she moves. The horse is in pain, she rests. The horse senses incongruence in another being (say one thing, do another), she
retreats. The horse senses danger in the tension of the environment around her, she turns to her herd mates for
The horse brings this self-awareness to the horse-human relationship. Many people believe this is why equine assisted psychotherapy is so effective. The horse is very good at pointing out incongruence in the people around her. My own horse will not tolerate incongruent behavior in me. Putting on the “brave face,” leaving my problems at the door, or otherwise presenting myself as happy when inside I am not (you know, the way society expects us to behave) will produce several undesirable behaviors in her. If she is free she will move (or even run) away from me; if she is tied or otherwise confined, she will dance around, fret and generally show signs of discomfort in my presence. In extreme cases she will become very nervous, pawing the ground, stomping her feet and calling out to other horses. If I acknowledge how I really feel, she will go back to normal. It is really quite amazing to experience.
Someday I hope to develop an equine assisted therapy program for depressed individuals to work on building their self-awareness. I will add this to my growing list of projects. In the meantime, if you are depressed or have symptoms of depression, find someone to talk to: a best friend, a therapist, a pastor, a counselor, a family member – anyone you feel comfortable talking to. It helps if you can find someone who understands depression as a disease vs. someone who subscribes to the “just get over it” lie.
If you have access to a horse on a somewhat regular basis, be aware of how the horse responds to you from day-to-day. When you observe an unusual behavior,
don’t assume it is a problem with the horse – it seldom is.
She may be trying to tell you something. Take a look inside yourself and be honest about what you discover – it may be a very important step along your path to healing.
There has been a post going around Facebook this past week showing the supposed diary of a gelding vs. a mare. It is a knock off of a post I saw a while back showing the supposed diary of a dog vs. a cat. I feel the dog
vs. cat one is much more accurate but both are humorous. However, as the owner of a very special mare who is rather opinionated on
many matters, I don’t feel the original posting completely captures my mare. Therefore, I have decided to take a different approach, leaving the complacent geldings out of it and posting the 10 Rules for handling the Painted Princess:
10 Rules for handling the Painted Princess
1. You must always remember being in my presence is an
honor and a privilege, not a right.
2. I am not to be ignored! If you are within my field of vision,
you should be directing all of your attention toward me!
3. If you cannot arrive to the barn in a timely manner you must
a) apologize profusely for your tardiness, b) feed me treats
(the good ones!) while asking my forgiveness, and c) promise
to never ever be late again!
4. You are not to discuss the cleanliness of my stall with
anyone! It is my job to keep my stall any way I choose, it is
your job to clean up after me!
5. Do not expect me to be nicey-nice to another mare just
because she belongs to your best friend. This is not how the
6. I must be permitted to inspect and possibly squeal at any
horse in my presence (at my discretion), this is an age-old
tradition among mares and it should be honored. I further
should be allowed to change my mind about a horse I like
and decide to dislike the horse when it is convenient for me.
7. You will not speak of my heat cycle in a negative manner.
This is part of the privilege of being in my presence. I must
endure your hormonally dictated behaviors, you will tolerate
8. There is no such thing as being “mare-ish.” I am a dynamic,
interesting, ever-evolving individual. There are simply some
people and animals in this world which have earned more of
my respect than others.
9. Mares are sensitive creatures. Remember the story of The
Princess and the Pea whenever you select saddle pads,
saddles, boots, leg wraps, blankets or other items of apparel
for me. Further, I am not to be dressed poorly. I should be
dressed both stylishly and comfortably!
10. You will never ever twitch me! If I don’t like what you’re
doing it is because you are doing it wrong. I demand
respect. Ask me nicely and be patient enough for me to
respond when I am ready!
All kidding aside, I am honored to have a mare as special as Farletta in my life. My first horse was a wonderful gelding and I loved him very much. I still love and miss him and we had a great relationship. However, there is something different in the relationship between Farletta and me. She demands the best from me, she has helped me navigate the sometimes treacherous parts of my personal journey and I am a better person in a better place because of her. She has taught me compassion. She awakened my spirit and reminded me that it's not too late to discover my life's purpose and forge my dreams into reality. Would I be in the place I am right now if it weren't for Farletta? Maybe. However, I believe God uses a variety of tools to help us live our life purpose; in my case, He used a painted princess I call, Farletta.
Cheryl L. Eriksen, MSW, Equine Enthusiast, EAGALA groupie and writer of interesting, educational and entertaining blog posts!