Mostly Doing Well

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I had a panic attack today. First one I’ve had in a long, long time. I’ve been doing really well. I’ve barely been affected by SAD this winter. It has been amazing! But I had surgery a week ago. My boyfriend has been here, taking care of me. He goes home tomorrow, and I was feeling so overwhelmed with all the things I need to do and wondering how I was going to do them without his help, as I continue to recover. (He lives over 1600 miles away.) At first I was just crying, but then it turned into a full-fledged panic attack where I was hyperventilating and getting light-headed. My boyfriend heard and came rushing in. He pulled me into him and held me, then started breathing deeply, for me to hear. I tried to match my breathing with his, and eventually calmed down.

Living or being in a relationship with someone who has mental illness can be hard. I know it hasn’t always been easy for my boyfriend, but I’m so grateful to have someone who has let—and even encouraged—me to be open about it. I’m grateful for someone who has been willing to be patient and learn and help. I don’t believe mental illness should be used as an excuse. It can make certain things much harder to do, but I never think it should be used as an excuse, and no one should be expected to allow themselves to be abused or remain in a toxic relationship with someone who has mental illness who isn’t willing to do anything about it. But I do wish, still, that there was more discussion on it, more openness and more willingness to be patient, to learn and to help—on all sides. I still continue to be hopeful that one day there will be.

Depression

Anxiety is usually what gets me these days. It is the demon I live with on a daily basis. Depression does rear its ugly head in the winter as SAD takes effect, and every once in awhile I’ll get down for a little while, but for the most part I don’t get depressed a whole lot. Until recently, anyway.

The last couple of weeks depression has attacked me. I have been painfully stumbling through life in that dark place, and I don’t know why. That’s the thing about mental illness—there doesn’t have to be a reason. It just is. It just happens. And I hate it! I hate feeling this way. I don’t want to feel like I’m worthless. I don’t want to feel like I’m inadequate. I don’t want to feel like I’m not enough. I don’t want to feel like I’m a terrible person. I try. I try hard to do what I’m supposed to. I try to feel good. I try to feel happy. But I don’t. And I wish there was a reason. If there was a reason I could fix it, or at least have a starting point to work with. But there’s no starting point. And there’s no ending point. It’s just a circle that sometimes, luckily, is in the light, and sometimes, inexplicably, rolls on in utter darkness.

Just a Poem

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Maybe

Winter.
SAD.
Cold, wet, dark.
Siren song of depression
lulling me to sleep,
enticing me deeper into blackness.

I need to prop my eyes open
like Odysseus.

But maybe I don’t want to see
the endless ocean,
relying on nothing but hope
to get me home.
Maybe I want to close my eyes.

Let the dark overtake me.

-Tacy Stine

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.

What Does Mental Illness Look Like?

A couple of weeks ago I hit an extremely low point—one of the lowest of my life. The next morning I woke up early to make sure I had enough time to curl my hair and put on makeup. I think part of it was wanting to feel like I still had control over something in my life, even if it was just the way I looked. However, even though I looked like this:

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inside I felt like this: hopeless, depressed, sad, alone, empty, hollow, sick, dead.

Several times in my life I’ve been surprised to learn someone has mental illness because on the outside they appear fine, put together, happy even. We live in this society of fronts. For some reason we are raised to believe we have to put up a front for people no matter how we really feel or what we’re going through. It often becomes automatic to smile and tell people you are good even when you are not. That’s one of the most difficult parts of mental illness. It’s a disease you can’t see.

The other thing people should know is that there are moments of good and happiness. Sometimes my smile is real because I’m happy to be around you or I laugh because I really do find what you said to be funny. But those are moments in the midst of the whole story. And the whole story is that I still have mental illness. Depression, anxiety and OCD are still my constant companions. It isn’t like a broken arm that can be casted and healed in a few weeks.

Of course there are things that can help. I’ve written about those things a lot already so I’m not going to go into it again right now. I guess I just wanted to make people aware that mental illness isn’t always something you can see. That doesn’t mean it’s not real or that it’s not there. It is.

Beating My SAD

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I live in a desert. It’s a high desert, there are mountains, we do get snow, but it’s still an arid region. Because of this, winter snow and snowpack are very important. I know how important it is to our water situation come summer, yet I can’t help but be grateful for the mild winter we have had. I can only think of two major snowstorms this winter. There was a brief period of time where it got pretty cold, but for the most part it hasn’t been a bad winter at all. This is great new for my seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which hasn’t been nearly as bad as previous winters. It hasn’t abandoned me completely, unfortunately, but just like this winter, it has been mild. I think part of it has been my consistent light/heat therapy, but the warmer temps and overall nice weather have definitely played in as well. Rather than being holed up in my house, escaping the cold, but getting antsy and claustrophobic, I have been able to get outside, enjoy the sun, the warmth, birds, water, the sky, nature. It’s had an amazing effect! Yesterday morning I planned on hiking around this trail near my house, but got caught up taking pictures of all these great blue herons and white-crowned sparrows—which was just as much fun as hiking!

I know the warmer-than-usual, lack-of-snowfall winter has many people concerned, but I am going to remain grateful for how it has helped my health this season!

Live For These Moments

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This is Happiness!

Not the best picture of me since I didn’t bother to put on makeup this morning, but that’s not what it’s about. Normally, I hate gray, clouded days in the winter – because most days are gray and clouded and gloomy. But today it was somehow enticing, inspiring, so I went out for a walk. It was down-right balmy in the mid-forties for this time of year in Utah! The clouds, the lighting, the snow on the mountains and listening to Renegades by X Ambassadors and Second Chance by Shinedown (yes, I may have sung out loud some of the time because I’m that sort of a person) were exactly what I needed. Nature and music are two constants in my life, things I know I can always count on to lift my spirt and renew my soul. For someone with mental illness and terrible Seasonal Affective Disorder right in the middle of winter, life is all about living for these moments to help take you through to the next.

 

Stigmas, Stigmas Everywhere

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Mental illness isn’t the only thing with a stigma. Stigmas can be found all over the place. I think divorce is one of those things that can have one attached to it, particularly within my religion. Marriage is considered sacred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially when the marriage has been performed in one of our temples. Throughout my life I’ve noticed there is this stigma that if a couple who was married in the temple gets divorced it is because at least one of the two had an affair, has some sort of addiction or was physically or sexually abusive. I’ll admit, when I was younger and only knew how to see things from my own limited point of view, I thought those were the only reasons a couple should ever get divorced. Now, having been through a divorce myself, I see that there is more to a marriage than that. A truly good marriage is more than just being faithful, not having an addiction and not being physically or sexually abusive. Neither I, nor my ex-husband, had a problem with any of those things. Neither of us cheated, neither of us had an addiction, and neither of us were physically or sexually abusive. It’s hard not to wonder if people look at me and judge me because of my divorce, especially when they hear that it didn’t happen because of any of the aforementioned reasons. If marriage is so sacred, then I must be a pretty horrible person to end it otherwise, right? It might be a nice sentiment, but actually comes from an incredibly limited perspective, lacking understanding and any sense of compassion.

It has been six months to the day since my divorce was final. Perhaps that is why I wanted to write about this now, though it is a subject that has been on my mind for quite awhile. Another stigma, or perhaps I should say stereotype, that I have seen attached to divorce is that divorced couples hate each other and fight all the time. Stereotypes do come about for a reason, and, sadly, I have seen or heard about this sort of scenario a lot in the last six months. I will admit, my ex and I got into a couple of shouting matches while going through the divorce process and we continue to have disagreements now and then, but for the most part we were, and have been, pretty civil to each other. That’s because we are two mature adults who love and care about our children more than we care about ourselves. We’ve done everything we can to ensure their happiness through all of this.

Some states, including mine, make you take a divorce education class if you have children under the age of eighteen. I grumbled about it, because I tend to rebel against anything that is forced upon me, but it ended up being a really great class taught by a man who had been divorced himself, with two sons in the middle of it. He shared sad stories of couples who put themselves before their kids, but he also told us that you can make things work. He admitted there were times he wanted to say something bad about his ex-wife or put the kids in the middle, but then he’d think about what was best for them and would make the right decision. He also told us that they would all still go do things together sometimes. One of his sons played hockey so he and his ex-wife would sit next to each other at their son’s games, then they would both take him out to dinner after. What an incredible example of parents who put their kids first. I feel as though my ex and I have done the same thing.

Now, do I still believe marriage is sacred? Of course I do. We had our reasons for getting divorced, but, frankly, that’s no one’s business but our own. Instead of judging or wondering or perpetuating the stigma and stereotype perhaps it would be better to simply accept, encourage and love.

This Roller Coaster Called Life

Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly our emotions can flip, flop, turn around and change. Saturday morning I was feeling sad and lonely as I thought about my first Christmas as a single mom, how my kids were going to be spending most of the next week with their dad. Then, that afternoon I took my kids to a Christmas party at my aunt and uncle’s house that my cousin had invited us to. They gave us a delicious meal, talked and laughed with us and even had presents for all three of us. I sat there, feeling so overwhelmed, holding back tears. I hadn’t even seen my aunt and uncle or most of my cousins and their kids in years, and yet, they welcomed us in with open arms, and I suddenly remembered what it was like to have a family, to be accepted as I am, to not be judged and condemned because of perceived imperfections. I left feeling so incredibly blessed and happy.

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Sunday was a good day, as well. I got to play a beautiful arrangement of What Child is This/Coventry Carol on my flute at church. That night my kids and I read a couple of Christmas books, then read about Christ’s birth straight from the scriptures. My six-year-old even shared his first real testimony of Jesus with us which had my heart swelling with pride and joy. I’ve always loved staying up on Christmas Eve to wrap “Santa” presents. Yet, after I’d finished and put everything under the tree and sat there looking at it all, I felt sad and alone again. I had no one to share in the joy with, no one to go to bed with. I felt cold and empty inside. Then I looked up at the picture of Christ above the tree and remembered my Savior, remembered all He has done for me. Again, I was overwhelmed, thinking of how blessed I am for the hope I have in my religion. I do believe that Christ was born for us, that He suffered and died for us, and that He lived for us—to give us an example of how we should live our own lives.

Some people might think that belief or faith in a religion will take something like mental illness away. It doesn’t. Just like it doesn’t take any difficulties in life away. Bad things happen in life—sometimes for no reason other than that that’s simply a part of life, just like sometimes good things happen for no reason. It is all a part of our experience here on this earth. But for me, my faith and hope in Christ does bring a sense of peace and comfort, a light and warmth that gives me reason to keep going even when I’m sad and lonely, even when life gets dark and depressing.

I think life is a roller coaster for everyone, full of constant ups and downs. Sometimes it’s a steady rise or decline, other times it’s a speedy ascent or sudden drop-off, but the one constant for myself is my Savior and my Father in Heaven. For that, I am always grateful.

Still Hoping

There are so many things I want to write about, so many ideas crowding my head just waiting to be set free. I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

I’ve been plagued by memories recently. Memories of happier times, simpler times. Not that right now isn’t good. I’m still feeling better than I usually do at this time of year, and I recognize and acknowledge the many blessings I have to be grateful for. I know this, but sometimes it’s just hard to feel it.

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It’s my first Christmas as a single mom, and I will admit that I’m feeling incredibly lonely right now. I know I have friends, family, neighbors who are there for me, who care about me, but I still feel lonely and sad, especially when images of good times in my marriage surface in my memories. I still haven’t found a way to look at those times and just be happy about them, grateful for what they were. It’s like there’s this big, black slash through them now, marring the happiness that should line the memory. Maybe one day I’ll get there. For now, I look at my life, reflect on the memories and wonder how this is where I am right now—so far from where I thought I would be, nowhere close to where I wish I was.

I have plans, and yes, even goals, for my future, but they’re still vague and general at this point. Maybe because I think I’ll fail once I set that goal for myself. It seems as though I’ve failed at so many things in my life, that I’m never quite good enough, and I don’t want to fail again. I know there are people out there who want to see me fail, who can’t wait to shove it in my face, and I’m so tired of that. Yet, despite it all, I still see this glimmer of light in my life, in my future. Hope. There are times when I don’t want to hope anymore because I’m afraid of being let down, afraid that my whole life is nothing but smoke and mirrors, and when you take them away there’s nothing real left. Somehow, I can’t let go of it—of hope. It trails me, bursts in front of me, and I can’t help but cling to it.