Life Inside the Box

I didn’t want to let this much time go by between posts, but life has been insanely busy the last few weeks. I feel like I have no time. All of my time is working or my kids. I’ve been worried about losing myself again the way I did when I had postpartum depression, the way I did in my marriage. I feel like I just found myself again in the last few months. I know who I am, and I like who I am. I just don’t know if I can hold onto it with my busy schedule.

I had this training I had to go to on Friday. It was on the same road that leads to Antelope Island, one of my favorite local spots, one of my local sanctuaries, I suppose you could say. I so desperately wanted to screw the training and just keep driving—out to the island.

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I have this yearning inside me to escape. I continue to have dreams, even small ones—like driving out to Antelope Island—that seem so far out of reach. Is this life? Living in a box with holes, where you can see the outside, see what you want, but are never able to get out?

I want to do more than survive. I’m just not sure how or if it really is possible.

We Are More Than One Piece

I think I can confidently say that all of us with mental illness have been judged, stereotyped or stigmatized (or all three) based on that one simple fact—we have mental illness. Rather than seeing all of us, people just see that one thing. But we are more than our mental illness. All of us are more.

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It’s extremely frustrating to be judged, stereotyped or stigmatized based on one illness, one choice, one mistake, one anything. Who wants to see a single puzzle piece rather than the whole picture? And yet that’s what so many people do. They base their entire opinion of you on the puzzle piece rather than the whole, big, put-together puzzle.

How do we deal with people like that? Do we? Is there anything that can be done? I don’t have the answer, but I sure wish I did.

The Good and the Bad

Last week was amazing. Last week was depressing. That’s life I guess, isn’t it?

The week started out amazing. I went to a concert at this large, outdoor venue Monday night. I was really excited to go because I had never been to a concert there (it’s where a lot of the major concerts are held near where I live), and had heard great things about it. I was also extremely anxious because I was going by myself. I had no idea what traffic would be like, didn’t want to get caught in it because that, in and of itself, would spike my anxiety, wasn’t sure what time to leave. This little thought crept into my brain that maybe I just shouldn’t go, despite the fact that I’d spent way too much money on the ticket. But I fought the thought, and the fear, got in my car and drove.

The closer I got to the concert, the more anxious I became. I felt so alone, with no one there to help or support me, not even anyone to just let loose and have a good time with. However, I made it to the concert without any problems. I got there early enough that there was no traffic to deal with and no crowds to contend with. And wow. Wow! The concert was absolutely amazing! The Cult, Bush and Stone Temple Pilots—bands from my youth, groups I listened to in junior high and high school. I had so much fun! So. Much. Fun! Even being by myself. I went home exhilarated and proud of myself for pushing through my anxiety. I will definitely be going to more concerts there—with or without friends.

The feeling from that night stayed with me until Wednesday. My kids started school that day. My daughter is in her last year of elementary and my son—my baby—is in his first year of being at school all day (kindergarten here is only half-day). While I was able to get them ready for the day and take pictures of them before they left, I didn’t get to actually take them to school like I have every other year because I had to be to work. See, I got a new job (a second one). I was okay while at work, but as soon as I left I started crying. All I could think about was how this was not the way I envisioned my life. This was not how it was supposed to be. I wasn’t supposed to be a single mom working two jobs that wouldn’t allow me to drop my kids off on the first day of school. I was supposed to still be a stay-at-home mom volunteering in my daughter’s class her last year of elementary, helping at all her class parties and going on field trips.

Now, I knew I shouldn’t be feeling so bad or complaining. I knew I should be grateful, but sometimes it’s so hard realizing how far your life has strayed from the path you expected it to be on, from the destination you knew you were going to end up on. I was a stay-at-home mom for ten years, and it’s what I was good at. It’s what I knew I was supposed to do. Transitioning from that to being a single mom working two jobs in the last week was a rough transition. I definitely had some good moments and some good friends who helped encourage me and lift me up, but it was an exhausting week. I feel like I’ll never get enough sleep to not feel tired again.

I wish I could say that I know what my life will look like in ten more years. In one year. Even in a month. But I don’t want to fool myself into thinking it will turn out the way I expect it to when it hasn’t already. I guess, sometimes, you just have to live one day at a time and hope that one day turns out. Hope that when you look back you can be happy for what you’ve done, accomplished and become even if it wasn’t what you expected, even if you end up a million miles from the road you once knew you would be on.

At least I had the concert—to remind me that sometimes I can push through my fears and my anxiety. To remind me that there is fun to be had along the way, and I really do believe that that is incredibly important!

Seeing the Hand of God in My Life

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Two weeks ago at church I gave a lesson to my Sunday school class about the importance of keeping a journal. One of the things we discussed they could write in a journal are times they have seen the hand of God in their lives. I challenged them to try to notice, in the upcoming week, a time when they could see the hand of God in their daily lives. I told them we would discuss it in class the next week. Unfortunately I was sick last Sunday, so we talked about it at the beginning of class today. A couple of the boys shared experiences they had. They were little things, but enough to have left an impression. I, too, had noticed little things that week. I think most of the time that is how God manifests Himself in our lives, but sometimes—well, sometimes we need something bigger.

Back in November I wrote about my experience almost taking my own life when I was seventeen. I stood looking out over a cliff at Bryce Canyon National Park and almost jumped. Coming home from that beautiful place was hard. Figuring out how to deal with the aftermath of nearly committing suicide was also a challenge.

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A few days after we got home from our trip my older brother, who had recently gotten home from serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in England, and I got on the freeway to head to the nearest Walmart. The light at the end of the off-ramp turned red as we neared it, so my brother slowed then stopped—we were the first car in line. We chatted while waiting for the light to turn green, then once it did, he turned left—into the left-hand lane! I screamed, “What are you doing?!” He noticed his error, quickly swerved over through the other left lane, a turn lane and finally into the right lane, where we should have been in the first place. “I forgot I wasn’t in England anymore,” he said.

As he continued down the road, and my heart stopped feeling like it was about to explode inside my chest, I realized how amazing it was that we hadn’t hit into any other cars. That area of the city, and especially that very intersection, were always busy and full of traffic. I even looked back and could see a ton of cars. The fact that my brother had been able to quickly move over three lanes without even scratching another car was truly miraculous. It was no coincidence. I felt it burning deep within my soul. This was a message from God telling me that I wasn’t supposed to die yet. I look back on that experience now and still know that His hand intervened. It felt as though angels had been looking over and protecting me.

At the time I didn’t know why He had sent me this message. I didn’t know why it was so important for me to live, just that it was. Even now I couldn’t give you a specific answer. I’m no one important. I hold no influence over a great number of people. It’s not like anything I have done, am doing or will do will make any sort of impact or change in the world. But I have been able to live my life and learn, grow, develop . . . become. I gave birth to two beautiful, amazing, perfect little beings. I brought them into this world, and they are my world. I don’t know if any of that is why God wanted me to know—to know—that my time on this earth wasn’t meant to be finished at that time, but I’m grateful He gave me that witness. I’m grateful for the experience, as I am for so many of my experiences in life that give me the opportunity to learn, to grow, to develop . . . to become.

As a side-note, when we got out of the car at Walmart I told my brother to give me the keys because I was going to drive home. Still a bit shaken up from what had happened himself, he willingly dropped the keys into my hand with no hesitation!

Controlling My Fears

I let fear drive my life for so many years. As a child I believed there really were monsters hiding under the bed. When I was six or seven I had this poster hung above my bed depicting various fairytale characters such as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Every night I forcibly reminded myself not to look at the poster before I turned the light out because I just knew if I looked at the Big Bad Wolf he would jump out of the poster and eat me.

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Fear never really went away. I always imagined the worst happening so I often never tried. If I did, there was always someone there to catch me when I fell. Even as an adult I was an extremely dependent person. If I was afraid to do something I convinced others—my parents, my husband—to do it for me.

Getting divorced forced me to become independent, which is actually a lesson I have been so grateful for. It has been incredibly empowering knowing that I can do things, that I can take care of myself, my kids, my house. Of course I have needed help. We all need help at times. A few weeks ago my washing machine broke. I couldn’t fix it, but I did reach out, seeking help, and one of my friends came to the rescue. He figured out that it simply needed a new part. So I ordered it, then he came back and installed it for me. When I was married I would have left everything up to my ex. Asking for help and calling someone on the phone were things I feared, so I wouldn’t have done them. I would have stayed in my comfy, cozy bubble and let someone else do all the hard stuff.

It has been a difficult lesson to learn, and I still often find myself initially giving into my fears. However, I recently made up my own form of exposure therapy, I suppose you could say.

There is a waterpark near my house that my kids and I love to go to in the summer. One of the waterslides has a pitch black tunnel in it. This summer was the first time I had ever gone it, and boy did I freak out! My very first time on it I had a panic attack, especially as I thought about how scared my son would be going down it. He came out smiling and excited! I came out trembling and nearly unable to breathe. I was never going on that waterslide again! But the next time we went to the waterpark my six-year-old wanted to go on the tunnel slide, so I forced myself to go on it as well. I decided I no longer wanted fear to guide my decisions in life.

Even though I know what the waterslide is like it still freaks me out every time I go on it. I hate the utter darkness, hate not being able to see where I’m going. Each time I enter that tunnel fear grips me in its dark, icy tendrils. Every. Single. Time. My chest tightens, my heart pounds, and my throat closes to where I can barely breathe. But I make myself go on it, usually several times, to remind myself that fear will no longer control me. I will control my fears.

The Vicious Cycle Returns

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A friend posted this on Facebook, and I thought, “Story of my life.” Overall I have been doing pretty great the last several months. But the last few weeks have had so many of those moments that make me a pessimist. It hasn’t been anything big, just the little things. If something can go wrong it has. And all those little things start to add up. It’s like a mosquito. One bite isn’t that big of a deal, right? But when it bites you over and over and over and over again it starts to get overwhelming, especially when you already have anxiety. It doesn’t help when I feel like I keep screwing up. I even work things out in my head, think they’re the right thing to say or do, and when it comes out I find out I was totally wrong, and then I feel guilty and bad about myself. Then I start to obsess about it. And the vicious cycle returns.

Real Identity Theft

A few days ago I was looking through an old journal and came across an entry from about a month after my daughter was born.

“Who I am lies dormant in words that are packed away beneath stacks of notebooks. I am forgotten, unknown poems, unable to bring them back to life inside of me. If anyone should ask where I am, this is where I’d tell them to look.”

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I had forgotten just how much postpartum depression steals your identity from you. It is the truest form of real, actual identity theft. Some women get it back after a month, a few months, a year. I didn’t begin to start feeling like myself again for three years. And even then, there were parts of my self that never came back. I lost so much.

After reading this journal entry, remembering, pondering, I realized what a good place I’m in right now. I know who I am again. I have a sense of self, and I can be that self. And I like who I am. I feel strong, confident, independent, though able to admit when I need help and ask for it, and I’m happy. Life isn’t without its struggles, and sometimes I get down, feel disappointed, am sad. But I am still me, and that is one of the biggest reasons I’m able to get through those hard times without letting them consume me.