The Dark Place

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I’ve been in a dark place recently. The last couple of weeks I’ve felt as if I’ve been wandering aimlessly through life with weights attached to my arms and legs—my heart. Nearly everything in my life has been neglected in some way—my house, my kids, my health. At times like this each little task takes on the illusion of being monumental, and when you have several monumental tasks, it becomes too overwhelming to accomplish any of them.

Then, Saturday morning, the fog cleared, and I somehow received a burst of energy, motivation, confidence, determination, strength, and I got to work. I exercised, did yoga, cleaned my house, vacuumed, put the dishes away. And then the darkness settled back in, the weights snapped back on. All I wanted to do was retreat to my bed and spend the rest of the day curled up there, crying. I stood in my kitchen battling those thoughts, and somehow I fought them off. I was still depressed, still in darkness, yet I still managed to finish the dishes, go to the store and even went to a marching band competition. I’d been planning on going to it for several weeks, but when the depression gets as bad as it has been it’s easy to make up excuses to get out of anything.

I don’t know why I was able to keep going this time. There have been many times I have given in, let the mental illness win, gotten back in bed and let life fall to pieces. Sometimes that is just mental illness. But it gives me hope to know that I can fight back and accomplish things even when I’m depressed. I hope it gives others hope as well.

Storms

Another poem. Please forgive the indulgence.

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Storms
by Tacy Stine

Storms come.
Some I weather.
Some I ride.
Some I barely escape with my life.

You were the calm before the storm,
the in-between time,
that made me believe in hope again.

I let down all my walls.
I didn’t know you would become the storm.

I left myself unprotected,
and you attacked.
Stabbed me in the heart
then ripped the knife out,
turned, ran—like a thief in the night.
A bolt of lightning that flashes . . .
           and vanishes.

And the storm rages on.

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The Stigma

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Is anyone else sick and tired of the ignorant, judgmental stigma others attach to those of us with mental illness? I know I am. So here’s the question—what do we do about it, and how do we go about changing it? Think about that while I share my latest experience.

Last week a friend posted a question on Facebook. A woman answered the question by including a few details about a man who had sent her some very mean, degrading, down-right awful emails. She ended her response with, “Mental illness crazies.”

It felt as if someone had just stabbed me with a knife in the gut. Please be honest—is it just me, or does that sound like a very ignorant and generalized statement about mental illness? It makes it sound, to me, as if anyone with mental illness is crazy and anyone who does horrible, awful things must have mental illness. I hesitated to respond because I do tend to get hot-headed when it comes to things that are so deeply personal to me, but I thought of all the times I’ve seen or read such generalizations on TV or in books and couldn’t do anything about it. This time I could. So I did respond and told her how I felt, including that perhaps she should educate herself on the reality of mental illness and what it really is before she makes such statements about it.

Well, she commented back with her own heated response that she knows all about mental illness because she has family members who suffer from it. She also said that she didn’t include all of the details about this man and the horrible, abusive things he had emailed her. An abuser—that’s what she called him. She ended by saying that everyone who is an abuser has mental illness. I think I might have actually laughed! Again, it showed her true ignorance about mental illness. But then I suppose it’s not her fault that society has placed such an ill-defined, inappropriate, false stigma on the subject to which others can only assume is true. But the truth is that some people are just bad people, and that doesn’t mean they have mental illness. I’ve known several abusers, as the way she defined it, who did not have mental illness. They were just mean, crappy people. Everything in her response again generalized mental illness, making it sound like it’s a disease that turns normal people into “crazies” or people who do bad, horrible, abusive things.

I’ve seen this technique used in books before. The “bad guy” isn’t really bad, s/he’s just mentally ill. It perpetuates the stigma. But you know what? I am not a bad guy!I am not an abuser. I am a mother, a writer, a reader, a flute player, a human—and I have mental illness. That doesn’t mean I’m going out and committing crimes or becoming a creepy stocker or sending abusive emails to other people.

I guess one of the reasons why I struggle with this so much is that I feel like we’re expected to let the stigma stay out there and even grow. People are so uncomfortable with the subject of mental illness that they shy away from talking about it or helping those of us who have it. And yet, I’ve seen so many rush to the aid of people with other illnesses. If this woman on Facebook had instead said, “cancer-patient crazies,” no one would have stood for it! There would have been an immediate and immense backlash. So why should we, who have mental illness or have friends, family or those we care about with mental illness, have to stand for it? It seems like a double-standard, doesn’t it?

Now, I do feel bad that I got into an argument on my friend’s Facebook post. That was probably inconsiderate of me, considering she is one of my best friends, one of the few people in this world who I feel actually gets me, and I would never want to embarrass her. It’s just hard because, like I said, it felt as if someone had stabbed me in the gut with a knife. It hurt.

So, what do you, my readers, think? I’m not looking to be consoled or for a pat on the back. I want your true honesty. I can take it—whatever it is.

Revel in the Victories No Matter How Small

I cleaned my bathroom this morning and got my kids to help me clean up the living room this evening so I could vacuum. Today, those were major accomplishments, and I’m going to revel in them as victories rather than focus on how long it took me to get to them or beat myself up for all the other things I haven’t done yet. Because that’s a very long list. When you have depression and anxiety some days are just like that.

Lessons Learned

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It was another difficult weekend. I thought a lot, cried a lot, hurt a lot. I also learned a lot or at least received a lot of encouragement and inspiration from friends and leaders of my religion. One of the things I was reminded of was that we can do hard things. This has been my theme for many years now. I believe I first started saying it after I gave natural childbirth over ten years ago. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, but also the most empowering. You give natural childbirth and you feel like you can do anything! I learned from that experience that I could do hard things. Now, that doesn’t always mean I’ll do them well, but I can do them. And so can you.

Another thing I was reminded of was that we choose how to respond to the challenges we face in life. I absolutely believe this, but I also know that we, as humans, are not emotionless, robotic beings. Emotions are real and not something we can just shut down with the flip of a switch. If it’s okay for us to feel happiness, joy, love, excitement then it is also okay for us to feel sadness, despair, disappointment, depression, anger, hurt. I had a couple of people tell me that we aren’t meant to be alone. That’s how I was feeling this past weekend—that I was meant to be alone. One friend reminded me that that isn’t God’s way, which is abundantly clear by the fact that we are all on this earth together. We weren’t meant to walk this life alone. We were meant to be with each other. We were meant to affect each other. And we do, which is why it is so important that we take care with the choices that we make—because those choices can have far-reaching consequences. Yes, we can absolutely choose how to respond to the choices others make that may affect us, but I’m not sure we have control over the initial emotion we feel. Another friend reminded me that it’s okay to feel hurt and disappointed for awhile. Those sorts of feelings mean we have opened up ourselves and our hearts. We have to have open hearts to feel the good, too.

So, lessons learned? It’s okay to have emotions, the good and the bad. It’s important to think about the choices we make. That doesn’t mean we’ll always make the right ones. I know I’ve made way more than my share of wrong choices, but we need to try to remember that what we do affects others. And we can do hard things. It may not be easy, but we can do it—we just have to carry on, have hope and keep going.

Despair and Hope

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I couldn’t say my positive affirmations today. I knew they’d be a lie. I’m not strong. I’m not confident. I’m not special. Today I felt just how un-special I am. How worthless. I thought of my kids, how they are my anchor at times like this. If not for them, I may have given into this dark despair. A part of me wanted to just end it all. I knew I couldn’t, though, for them—my kids.

While it is good to have that anchor, we need more. We need to believe it ourselves. At the same time I was feeling so lost, alone, depressed I also felt strength, first coming to me in the form of a song by Audiomachine, called No Matter What. Fitting, isn’t it? I thought about how, for most of my life, I’ve felt as if God meant for me to be alone. I’ve been alone so much of my life, as I am now. Listening to the music, looking at the mountains, I decided to embrace it. If God does mean for me to walk this life alone, then I will do it. I will do whatever He wants or needs me to. But the thing I realized is that I’m never truly alone. I have my thoughts, my imagination, Nature and my Father in Heaven. I know He is always there, and I know I can always draw on the peace of Christ’s atonement. While those thoughts of worthlessness continued to swirl around I also felt this sort of fire forging some kind of strength inside of me. God’s fire, God’s forge, God’s strength. And as I looked at the leaves on the trees, changing color, falling to the earth, I thought of how things don’t stay the same. Change happens. Things may be this way now, but that doesn’t mean they will remain this way forever.

In my last post I spoke of a conference the LDS church holds twice a year. An address from this last conference a couple of weeks ago that really stood out to me, that really spoke to me was by W. Christopher Waddell, second counselor in the presiding bishopric. He spoke of unexpected changes that happen in our lives and how we don’t have absolute control over everything, but that we do have control over how we respond. I have seen people who live their lives playing the part of a martyr or constantly throw pity parties because of all they have suffered. It is a life full of negativity. I don’t want to be that way. I will acknowledge that I have mental illness, I can admit that I struggle, and I will absolutely agree that I am far from perfect, but I will do my best to choose the strength God gives me to carry on.

I’ve spoken a lot about hope on this blog. It’s one of those intangible things that can be a double-edged sword. Almost one year ago I wrote of hope in my journal:

Hope is the thing with feathers* –  that flies away with my imagination and leaves me alone, bound in cold, dark reality.

It can be hard to have hope when everything you hope for seems to shatter around you. And yet I still cling to it—no matter what. Sometimes hope is all I have. So I hope, and I keep going.

*From poem 254 by Emily Dickinson

Combatting Feelings of Worthlessness

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Twice a year the church I belong to—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—holds a big conference where our leaders speak to us. They instruct, inspire, encourage and uplift us. I wasn’t able to watch this last conference because I was out of town, but I have begun listening to all of the talks online while I get ready in the morning or am doing housework. I’m usually not a weepy person when it comes to spiritual matters. I tend to feel excitement and joy more when reading, hearing, learning or thinking about the gospel. But with other difficult matters on my mind and my depression in full swing I was already pretty sad and emotional when I began listening to President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk, which started out the first general session of this conference.

President Uchtdorf is the second counselor in the first presidency of the Church. He spoke about finding our way back to our home in heaven with Heavenly Father. Part of his talk addressed the fact that it’s not all about us, but about how God will use us to help others on our way back to Him.

While I was gone I saw a lot of people posting on Facebook about how much they liked his talk and how inspiring and true it was. It definitely hit home for me, but only because I had been feeling the opposite lately. While I heard the words he was saying, I just couldn’t feel them. See, my friend I stayed with is this really amazing person. He does so much to help others in so many ways—through our religion, through his job, through his knowledge. Another friend was telling me how great he was and how much he had helped the people in their line of work. I could see how clearly this man made a difference in the lives of those around him. I had a very strong impression that he was where he was supposed to be, that God had him just where He wanted him. If my friend were to pick up and move away it would impact the lives of so many people—people who would definitely feel the loss of his presence.

When I got home I started thinking about how I was not like this friend of mine. The only impact, influence or difference I make in anyone’s life is my own children’s. And yes, I know that’s the most important kind of difference I can make, but it was discouraging to think about how if I were to move away, no one would even notice. Okay, maybe a few neighbors would notice, but no one would care. I’ve made no difference in anyone’s life that my vanishing would impact in even the slightest way. It was a very discouraging thought.

Ever since high school I always hoped that the difficult things I went through with my mental illness were for a reason, that I would be able to help someone someday because of it. And yet the stigma is still there. The general population still ignores it or feels uncomfortable talking about it. Do you know how much it would have meant to me as a teenager to have an older adult tell me they suffered from depression or that they, too, had once been a masochist? It would have made all the difference in the world. And sure, I’m here blogging about it, but my readership is barely existent anymore. So what difference would it make if I dropped off the face of the planet? These were my thoughts—thoughts of worthlessness, of feeling like I have done nothing to help others, wondering if God really has any sort of plan for me or not.

I ran into a friend as these thoughts plagued my mind one night—the kind of friend who I could actually tell the truth to when she asked how I was doing. She told me she wasn’t doing all that great either. Later that night she texted me and told me some things she does to try to help herself when she is having a crappy day or feeling really bad. The one that stuck out was telling herself something positive—even if she didn’t believe it. She said sometimes you have to tell yourself over and over again until you do start to believe it. It reminded me of a therapist I had who talked to me about positive affirmations. She said I needed to look in the mirror every morning and tell myself three positive things.

For me, this is so hard. When I get really down and have those feelings of worthlessness I don’t want to lie to myself—because that’s what I feel like I’m doing. Telling myself I’m pretty is a lie. Telling myself I’m a good mom or a good person is a lie. Telling myself I’m of worth is a lie. That’s the thing, though—they aren’t lies, but it is so hard to see that sometimes. And yet, I think it works.

Like my friend said, even if you don’t believe it, tell yourself anyway. I do believe that the more you hear something, the more you begin to believe it until it does become true. Really, it seems like the easiest thing in the world to just tell yourself a few positive things—even one positive thing, and yet I resist. But I’m going to try it again. I’m going to try to be positive. I’m going to try to believe President Uchtdorf’s words—that God has a place and a plan for me, one that will allow me to help others. I still don’t think it would make any difference to anyone if I up and moved away, but maybe the only difference I need to make right now is a difference in my own life and the lives of my children. Maybe they are the ones who will impact the world because of what I taught them. See, I’m already being positive! So I encourage everyone reading this to do the same. Look in the mirror, say something good about yourself—whether you believe it at the moment or not. Let’s combat these feelings of worthlessness together.