The Unknown, The Unexpected

cranium-2028555_1280Life is full of unknowns, the unexpected. Sometimes those unknowns and unexpected things are good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re exciting and sometimes they’re scary. I had one of those scary experiences recently—when I found out I might have cancer. It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced—especially since my mind automatically started playing out the worst-case scenario over and over in my head. I kept seeing the doctor telling me I only had so long to live. Waiting to go back to the doctor, waiting for the biopsy, waiting for the results of the biopsy was agonizing. Excruciating. It was so hard to focus, so hard to be present. I kept obsessing about how I would tell my kids, what I would want my ex to know with raising the kids on his own. I couldn’t stop wondering how it would affect my relationship with my boyfriend—a man I love, want to marry and spend the rest of my life with—a life that could be cut short. There were times the fear and panic took over, and I’d find myself sobbing on the floor, feeling so alone. But there were also times of incredible peace and comfort as I chose to turn to my Father in Heaven and my Savior, Jesus Christ. That is a huge part of how I have survived mental illness for so many years. As difficult as mental illness is, as much as I wish I could just be completely free of it, I’m also grateful for what it has taught me and how it has prepared me for other hard things in life.

Some people ask, “Why?” when hit with one of those hard, difficult unknowns. Anytime I hear someone ask, “Why me?” or, “Why them?” I ask, “Why not you? Why not them? What makes you so special that you shouldn’t have to suffer the way everyone else does. Because everyone suffers.” It’s true. Every single person in this world suffers and struggles, and who are we to say that our suffering or our struggles are greater than someone else’s? During my own time of uncertainty I never asked why. Instead I turned to another lesson learned from living with mental illness. I told myself to look for the things I could learn from this. And beyond that, I told myself that if I did have cancer I was going to make sure my kids saw the beauty in life, the things to be grateful for. I would want them to learn from the experience, to grow, to discover how it could help them rather than ask why or blame God.

As scary and agonizing as it was to wait and wonder it was even more relieving and exciting to find out the biopsy came back negative—to find out I didn’t have cancer. But I’ve been trying to keep those lessons and moments of peace I had with me. Sometimes it’s hard. Everyday life can get so busy and distracting. That’s one reason I write—to remember. To look back and remember what I’ve learned. To look back and remember what to be grateful for. To look back and remember the hard times, but also the beautiful ones.

Teach Your Children About Mental Illness

I believe it’s important to educate children about mental illness. “Cancer” and “diabetes” and “autism” are common words children know. We don’t shield them from what they mean or the effects they can have. At least I never have. So I’ve also never put my kids in a bubble that excludes mental illness. They both knew from a young age what it was and that I have it. I believe it helps them understand others. It helps them learn to see things from more than their own perspective. It helps them learn compassion. And it has helped them learn how to cope when my depression or anxiety gets bad.

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Take the other night. We went out to eat. I was really hungry, which makes me cranky anyway, but also heightens my anxiety. They sat us near the door, which I hate, it’s a small space and was crowded and noisy as well—all things that get my heart rate up, my head spinning and make my breathing more difficult. The kids were asking about menu items, what to order, trying to show me things, all while I was trying to figure out what I wanted, but couldn’t as I was bombarded with everything else. I started shaking and getting very irritated. Did I mention I was hungry? I finally told my kids, as patiently as I could, that my anxiety was getting bad, and I needed them to be quiet, to stop talking to me for just a little while, so I could figure out what I was going to order. So they stopped talking. They were quiet. Because they got it. They understand what anxiety is. They understand that I need time to get it under control. I’ve done the same for my daughter when she has had panic attacks. I try not to get mad when she starts freaking out. Instead I give her time. I let her cry. I rub her back. She’s learned to do the same for me.

Teach your children. Help them understand. Maybe, if we’re lucky, they will be the ones to finally bring mental illness completely out of the shadows. Maybe they will be the ones to more openly seek treatment. Maybe they will be the ones to provide more treatment. But it starts with us teaching them.

Not a Pessimist

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I’ve decided I may need amend my statement about being a self-proclaimed pessimist. I guess the actual definition of pessimism is looking for the worst in a situation as opposed to an optimist who looks for the best. I don’t look for the worst. I don’t look for the bad. I don’t focus on the negative. I am someone who often expects things to go wrong because they often do, but I look at all of my experiences in life as opportunity for learning and growth. I learned this from a friend all the way back in high school. She told me that she was raised to view the world as a testing ground and that no matter how hard she tried it seemed like fate was stacked against her and she always failed miserably—until she changed her perspective. She decided to look at life as more of a place for soul growth. Once she did that she found she was a lot happier.

Wow. What an amazing lesson and perspective for me to glean from. I was so grateful she had shared this with me, and it has stuck with me ever since.

In conversations with others we’ve come to the conclusion that our belief in Murphy’s Law is a way to protect ourselves from disappointment and hurt. That way when things to go right, when things turn out in a good way (because, YES, it does happen) we can be pleasantly surprised and happy about it. As for me, when things go wrong I may be down for a bit, but I also always ask myself what I can learn from the experience and how I can use it to help myself or others.

So maybe I’m not a pessimist. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m an optimist, but maybe not a pessimist. Maybe someone who sometimes expects things to go wrong, but looks for the good anyway. Soul growth. That’s what I’m about. Soul growth.

Anxiety VS Nervousness

I’ve been thinking about anxiety a lot. Probably because mine has been bad lately and partly from conversations I’ve had with others.

So what exactly is anxiety? According to anxiety.org it is “the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous or unfamiliar situations. It’s the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread you feel before a significant event.” It doesn’t sound that bad, but real, actual anxiety disorder can be debilitating.

Anxiety isn’t just being nervous. I get nervous when I play my flute in front of people. I get that tickle in my stomach, I get a little shaky, but it doesn’t trigger my anxiety.

praying-25596_1280Saying prayers at church or in front of people—that triggers my anxiety. I had to pray at church this past Sunday. I started feeling sick to my stomach before even getting to church. Then sitting there, waiting for church to begin, singing the opening hymn, I felt like I was going to throw up. I could barely breathe. It felt like someone had stacked weights on top of my chest, and I started shaking. But I said the prayer. It was nice and short, because that’s just what I do. Then I sat down and continued to shake—wanted to cry—but held on until the panic finally, eventually passed and I was mildly okay again.

I think it’s important to recognize the difference between anxiety and nervousness so as not to minimize what people with anxiety disorder actually go through.

Now, does that mean I should avoid all anxiety-inducing activities? No. That would be impossible. There have been times my anxiety has been so bad, so overwhelming, that I physically couldn’t bring myself to do something like go to church, engage in conversation at a party or make a phone call. But I’m grateful for the times I can push through and do something despite my anxiety because it shows me that I can have this terrible illness and still live in the world—as hard as it is sometimes. I can do hard things. You can do hard things.

Still a Pessimist

It seems any time I start to believe that something good, something needed, will finally happen, it comes crashing down. So I find I’m still a pessimist.

Things were going really great, things were coming together. There had to be a reason, right? I was hopeful. I believed. And like always it fell apart, crumbled, faded. It’s hard to remain hopeful when your hope turns out to be lies. It’s just too easy to believe in Murphy’s Law.

Extending Mercy

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I’m deviating from my usual topic of mental illness today. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again. Today I’m going to talk about autism and extending mercy.

Awhile back I saw a Facebook vent from a person annoyed about parents not keeping their kids away or from touching other people when in line at an amusement park. My heart hurt as I read this post—because my kid has been one of those kids this person was so annoyed at and venting about.

Yeah, I’ve gotten those looks before—at the grocery store, restaurants, a waterpark, and amusement park, as my son gets too close to or touches the person or people in front of him. The look that shows their annoyance. The look that shows what an ill-behaved kid they think my son is. The look that shows what a bad mom they’re judging me to be by not teaching my kid better.

What these people don’t know is that my kid has a sensory seeking form of autism. His natural instinct is to be close—very physically close—to whoever is by him. As hard as I have tried to teach him about personal space, that people have “bubbles”, it just doesn’t click in his mind. His “normal” is touching people. He needs to touch people.

The people who give me those looks just see a bad kid and a bad mom. What they don’t see are the hours and hours of testing we went through to get a diagnosis. What they don’t see is the heartache of being told that my son, who I love more than the world itself, has Autism Spectrum Disorder. They don’t see all the tears that have been shed thinking of what this means. They don’t see the agony of trying to help, trying to teach, him to go against his instinct because of all the people who will judge and not understand. What they don’t see is all the time, energy, love, frustration, determination, hope, hopelessness, difficulty, uncertainty, failure and success my son and I have been through with ASD. They just see a bad kid and a bad mom. But you don’t have to.

The next time you get annoyed or are about to pass judgement, extend mercy, instead. Realize that you probably don’t know the whole story—the way I don’t know your whole story. I get that it can be annoying to have some strange kid standing so close to you that he touches you. But before giving that look, please, please extend mercy—the way you would hope to have it extended to you.

Why Am I Still Asking Why?

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I READ THIS ARTICLE FROM A LOCAL NEWS STATION and was astounded at the numbers they gave for the percentage of teens who seriously consider attempting suicide. It raises so many questions in my mind. How can it be that many? What is causing this? Why aren’t we talking about it? And why am I still asking why? It’s time. No, it’s way past time for mental illness to be a part of our daily conversations. It’s past time for it to be normal to discuss mental illness. It’s past time for things like mental illness and suicide to only be talked about in hushed whispers. And it is so far past time to be embarrassed if you have mental illness or you have a child with mental illness.

I also question how resources can still be so limited. Why don’t we have mental health Urgent Cares? A place you can go to anytime if you need someone to talk to, if you need help. Someone who can then refer you, if need be, to a specialist who can help you long-term. Isn’t mental health a part of our physical health? The brain is a physical part of our body, isn’t it? And although we aren’t to that point of having help and care as readily available, it is out there. If you or someone you know and love is showing signs of needing help, please get it. Please take it seriously. We all deserve the best care and health we can get.

Bouncing Back

The last few weeks have been really rough. On top of dealing with some difficult things in my personal life, my depression and anxiety have been worse than they usually are at this time of year. I’ve felt myself slowly sliding down this rough and rocky slope towards the bottom. Then Wednesday night I finally hit rock bottom again. But this time, I decided I wasn’t going to stay there.

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Emotions are real. All emotions. There’s nothing we can do about initial emotions we have as reactions to things that happen to us, things we might witness or hear or things that are said or done to us. No one ever tells you to stop feeling happy after you’ve just witnessed your child do something silly. No one ever tells you to stop feeling excitement after you’ve won a prize vacation. No one ever tells you to stop feeling peace after you’ve had a spiritual experience. So no one should tell you to stop feeling hurt, pain, anger, frustration, disappointment after something bad, sad, frustrating, hurtful or disappointing has happened. It’s okay to have those feelings. But it’s also your choice how you’re going to proceed and react after the initial feeling has happened. With mental illness, it is extremely difficult to let go of those feelings and not let them sink in and consume you. But there are things you can do to help.

I’ve often stated how there’s no one set cure, or even help, for mental illness. What works for one person may not work for someone else. We’re all different and we all need different things. It’s also frustrating that what worked for you a few years ago may not work for you now. Or maybe something that didn’t work for you before is something you should try now, as hard as it is to realize that. Each day, each time, can be different. Hitting rock bottom for me this time was different than last time.

trammpolin-2635260_1920Last time I stayed down. I moved forward, but it felt like I was inching along hard, rough ground the whole time, and it took a certain experience with a certain person to really pull me up. This time it was like I hit a trampoline. I landed hard enough to hit the ground, and it hurt! It really hurt, but then the trampoline bounced me back up. And it’s because I decided I didn’t want to stay down. I decided I was sick of feeling depressed and confused and in turmoil, and I was going to do something about it. I decided I wasn’t going to let initial feelings of hurt stew inside of me. I decided I wasn’t going to let someone else determine my emotions for me. I’m a fighter. I’m not weak, I’m strong. And I’m stubborn. And this time I needed to prove to myself, and others out there, that I am all of those things, that I know what I’m doing and that I can do it!

So, despite still having a lot of unresolved conflict, despite uncertainty, despite unfulfilled hope, yesterday was a good day. I was happy! There were times I started thinking of what has hurt me, what I have done wrong, and I’d start getting that sinking feeling in my stomach, but I’d move past it. I didn’t let it overtake me, I didn’t let myself drown in it. I pushed it aside, knowing it was still there, but also telling myself I was okay. And I was okay. I am okay. And I know I will be. You will be, too. You can be. Whether it’s by your own sheer will power or medication or therapy or coping mechanisms or help from another person and whether it’s the same as it was last time, or different, you can do it. You can come back from rock bottom. I know you can. And I know I can.

Coping Vs. Managing

THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST ARTICLES I’ve read on how to manage depression. I really loved the distinction she made between coping and things that actually help. It’s made me think of how I can make my coping mechanisms work better for me.

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One thing I thought of was playing my flute. I have been playing the flute for almost 25 years now. It is something I love and that always makes me happy. Just a couple of days ago I was feeling pretty depressed so I took my flute out and played for ten to fifteen minutes. It helped a little, and it’s always nice to play. But I think I can and need to use it as more than just coping. I need to take time every day to play—even if it’s just for five minutes. Doing that one thing that makes me happy every day might help me manage my depression more than just cope with it.

I encourage any of you that have depression to think of something you use to cope and how it can become more than that—how it can transform into something that helps you manage your depression and helps you get more fulfillment out of your life, despite your illness.

 

Circling Thoughts

I have been lacking motivation. Recently. For a long time. In just about every aspect of my life. I always think about writing, but don’t do it. Now I have a little time, and guess I mustered a little motivation.

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My kids started school last week. I have to admit, it was really hard seeing all these people posting their first-day-of-school photos on Facebook. I was never one to take it very seriously. Usually I’d remember last minute and snap a quick photo before walking to the school with them. But I’d still take one—just to have, for remembrance sake. But I didn’t get to take a picture or drop them off because I had to be at work. I didn’t even get to see my seven-year-old before I had leave for work. It was just another reminder that my life isn’t where I ever thought or wanted it to be. I don’t want to miss out on saying goodbye to my seventh grader her first day of Jr. High. I don’t want to miss out on dropping my son off and taking his picture as he starts second grade. I envy those moms who get to do that.

It’s also been hard seeing so many people posting about vacations to Europe when I can’t even afford to take my kids to Moab for two days over Fall Break. Then, I think about my friend who recently spent two weeks in Africa. children-of-uganda-2245270_1920She met people who had nothing, yet they were happy and grateful, and I think to myself, “That’s who I should be comparing myself to. I may not live in a big, fancy house or have the money to spend weeks in Europe with my family, but at least I have a house, I live in a good place, my kids and I are healthy, I have a job, even if it means I don’t get to take picture of my kids on their first day back to school. I should be nothing but grateful and happy.” Then those thoughts get me feeling like I’m the worst person in the world—for comparing myself to my neighbors instead of people who have nothing. I should be grateful. I should be happy. I shouldn’t be down or envious. And the thoughts circle. And sometimes it’s so hard to get out of. How do you stop the negative thought process?