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.

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!

This is Just How it is Right Now

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Just keeping it real, people. This is how I’ve looked most of the last three days because, yes, ugly-crying is most of what I’ve been doing the last three days. I don’t think I’ll be posting for awhile. How can I talk about hope when I don’t have any anymore. I clung to hope because it was the only thing keeping me afloat. But I’ve realized that everything I had hope in was false. And I can’t do false hope anymore. It hurts more than not believing at all. See, no matter how hard I have tried to do what’s right, no matter how hard I have tried to make my life the way I want it, the way I need it, the way I know it’s supposed to be, I have failed. I have done nothing but sabotage myself. I have brought nothing but pain and hurt into my life. My hope is gone.

I’m to the point where I just don’t care anymore. It’s that numb feeling that overtakes everything else. I will not take my own life because that is the easy way out, and I never do things the easy way, the easy way has eluded me my whole life. And I will not deprive my children of a mother. But if someone came along and stabbed a knife in my gut, I wouldn’t care. If someone shot a bullet into my brain, I wouldn’t care. If someone pushed me off the edge of a cliff, I’d open my arms and soar on the way down, because I wouldn’t care. My hope is gone.

And please, those of you who know me, don’t call or text and ask if I’m okay, because obviously I am not. But I will live. I will keep going. I will do what I have to do, well, because I have to. That is all.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Do you believe in magic? Of course you don’t. You did as a kid, until your parents told you the truth about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and fairies and that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—and crushed your happy, innocent bubble of a magical world. But you know what? I still believe in magic. I’ve felt it swirling through the air of Joe’s Valley, caught between long rays at dusk on golden cliffs. I’ve seen it in the reflection of sunlight on towering pines at Kolob Canyon. I wrote this poem once called Kolob’s Gift.

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Shimmering gold grabs my eyes.
Mesmerized.

Individual needles of pinyon pine
reflecting the streaming sunlight
against the brilliant blue sky.
A treasure worth more than all the jewels
I could ever buy.

 

Magic. I also experienced it once at Bryce Canyon. Most people would probably call me crazy. I call what happened a gift. Let me take you back with me.

In high school I was different—different, weird, an outcast—a freak. Most of the time I was fine with that. I didn’t want to be like everyone else, and I proudly walked around in my tie-dye and bell bottoms, not caring what anyone else thought. But some of the time it did affect me. Some of the time I hated being different, hated knowing that people thought I was a freak. And it made me feel bad about myself. Low self-esteem is a common side-effect of depression. I hated looking at myself in the mirror. I was ugly. I was worthless. I was different. I was a freak. And I hated myself.

The summer between my junior and senior years of high school, we took a family trip to Bryce Canyon. I loved being there. I was a nature girl, a desert girl, a red-earth and green-pines girl. But I was also a very depressed girl, feeling so worthless and alone, feeling like my life didn’t matter.

Our last day at Bryce we took a shuttle ride. It stopped at certain lookouts long enough for everyone to get off, take a few pictures, get back on, then drive to the next stop. The main road comes to an end at a large parking lot with several lookouts so this stop was longer than the rest. Everyone shuffled out of the hot, muggy shuttle and took out their cameras. I noticed a trail disappearing into a cluster of pines and took it, wanting to be alone. It led to a lookout called Yovimpa Point.

I stood there at the edge, next to the wooden fence separating me from a long, steep dive down, and took in the breathtaking view of red sandstone, white earth and deep green pines. A good place to take my last breath. All I had to do was climb over the fence and jump. I could end my worthless life and die in my beautiful nature. All problems solved.

I had just put my foot on the fence when I heard voices nearing me, speaking French—a group of tourists who had been on the same shuttle. I stepped back, suddenly nervous about letting these strangers watch me commit suicide. Not long after, my family wandered down the trail, as well. Plan foiled. Now, I can look back and say I’m glad it was.

When I got home from Bryce I talked to my best friend about what had happened. She gave the generic answers any Latter-day Saint person would give about how I was of great worth to my Father in Heaven and that He and Jesus Christ wanted me to live. It did help—enough for me to decide that killing myself wasn’t the answer.

Halfway through my senior year of high school I decided I was sick of being depressed. I remember this one day, sitting by myself in the dark in one of the practice rooms in the band room, thinking how I didn’t want to be depressed anymore. I wanted to be happy. So I told myself I’d be happy. And I was. I know it sounds simple and easy, and, well, it was. That’s not always how it goes, that’s not always how it’s gone at other times in my life, but that time it did. It was amazing how easy it was to make myself be happy after that. It’s not that life was easy. I still had challenges and faced difficult trials, but it was easier getting through them because I had a better attitude, and I wouldn’t let anything get me down.

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Okay, now let’s fast forward to my second year of college. Some roommates and friends and I decided to go to Bryce Canyon over spring break. One day, we drove to the big parking lot at the end of the road. I quickly took off away from everyone else and walked the trail to Yovimpa Point. I stood alone, looking out at the same scene, though painted white from several feet of snow. After a short time I noticed movement from the corner of my eye. I turned to look, thinking maybe one of my roommates had come down the trail, but no one was there. Odd. I turned, looked out at the scene before me, again, and again, out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. I saw someone. I turned, but no one was there. As soon as I turned back, I saw the person again. But this time I didn’t turn to look because I knew who it was. I knew who was there—it was me. I saw myself—the past me, the one who stood there, thinking about jumping. And in this rush of memory I thought about how much I had changed and grown and evolved in the last two and a half years, since the last time I was here. The most incredible sense of peace, calm, and quiet satisfaction settled over me—just like the pure, white snow settled over the land. A gift to remind me that we don’t have to stand still in this life. We can become more than what we were, more than what we are. And it’s okay to falter, it’s okay to be weak. It only means we have some place to go, that we can make ourselves strong.

So, did I really see myself that day? I will always believe that I did. Was it magic? Am I just crazy? Just different? Just a freak? Well, whatever anyone else may think, I’m grateful—will always be grateful—for that experience and what it meant to me. What it taught me. What have your experiences in life taught you?

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

Depression is Darkness

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I’d like to dedicate some posts talking about the specifics of mental illness. This isn’t about self-pity or pointing fingers. It’s about trying to give those who don’t know mental illness a better understanding of what it really is, and letting those who do suffer from it know they are not alone.

Let’s start with depression. Depression is darkness. That has always been the best way for me to describe it. If you’ve never experienced depression, try spending an entire day living in a completely dark house. Try to do all of your normal daily activities without a shred of light. This is how living with depression feels, only it is an even deeper darkness, one that sinks into your stomach, one that carves a big, hollow pit out inside your chest, your heart. It is hopelessness.

When I first started experiencing depression as a sophomore in high school, I didn’t understand it. I just knew how different I felt, how lonely, how sad. I wasn’t entirely sure why I was so sad, I just was. And it’s not that I didn’t try. I tried so damn hard! So hard to be good, to do what was right, to be what I was expected to be. Yet the walls of happiness and hope turned black and closed in on me. I remember the agony of walking to school each day. I’d leave my house hoping it would be a good day, but with each step I took, the sicker I got. Yes, I would become physically ill to the point I could barely walk, barely talk, I always felt as if I were going to throw up. There was this particularly rough time my junior year of high school where I was so depressed and so sick that I barely ate anything. I lost ten pounds in two weeks. For a tall, thin girl, that was a lot to lose. It took months of regular eating to get it back.

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It’s easy for others to think that you can just get over depression, to think, “Just try harder.” Believe me, we do try. Mental illness warps your sense of reality, though. It makes you do things a healthy person wouldn’t do. Things like contemplating suicide, self-harming, telling yourself over and over again how worthless you are. This behavior is normal for someone with depression. It’s lonely, and it’s exhausting. There have been times I’ve looked at other women who have four, five, six children and wonder how in the world they do it. When my depression was at its worst, I could barely handle my two. I just felt so exhausted all the time. Even when I would get a good night’s sleep, I felt like a zombie all the time during the day. Another good experiment for those who don’t know what depression is like would be to strap heavy weights to your ankles and wrists. Try spending an entire day like this. Go to work, make the bed, do dishes, do laundry, play with your kids, spend time with your spouse all day and night like this. That’s how it feels doing these things with depression—all day, every day for weeks, months, years. But you can’t just unstrap the weights attached to your mind and your emotions. Yes, there are things you can do to help. I talked about it in a previous post. But just like there is no one set cure for cancer, there is no one set cure for depression.

So for those of you living with depression, you are not alone. I know it’s so hard to open up and allow yourselves to be vulnerable, but if you do, you will be surprised at how many others you find that are like you. And for those of you who don’t have depression, but know or live with someone who does, please be compassionate. Be patient and understanding. No, you don’t have to just let a depressed person get away with everything, but be gentle and helpful. If there is a task they need to accomplish, offer to help them with it. I remember one time the kitchen was a huge mess, and I just couldn’t bring myself to clean it. I could tell it would give me a panic attack. So my ex-husband suggested we do it together. He said he would do the dishes if I cleaned off the table. Suddenly that monumental task seemed a bit smaller—small enough that I could do it. Listen to what someone with depression has to say. Don’t assume you know what’s best for them. Let them tell you. And just be there for them. I know it can be hard. I’ve seen both sides of the coin. I have lived with mental illness myself, and I have lived with someone who has it. Neither is easy. But if we all had a bit more understanding, compassion and empathy, what a world of difference it could make!

Beginnings are Messy

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John Galsworthy, the English novelist and playwright, said, “Beginnings are always messy.” Well, this is my beginning, and it is a bit messy.

I was never your typical teenage girl in high school. I didn’t care about boys (thought they were dumb), I didn’t care about fashion (I was this crazy neo-hippie-like character who went around in tie-dye and bell bottoms), I didn’t care about makeup (people should like me for what’s on the inside, right?), and I didn’t care about giggling on the phone for hours with my friends (school was about getting good grades so I could get a scholarship to college). I liked reading poetry and going for walks in the rain and being out with nature—one with nature. Though I eventually came to defy social conventions on purpose, at first I didn’t really understand it. I just knew that I was different. And that was hard. Lonely. It was so very, very lonely.

I started spending a lot of time sitting in the dark, listening to music, withdrawing from others. I felt as if there was no one else in the world like me and no one I could talk to about it. Darkness and loneliness ruled my life. I was so depressed, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

One day, when I was fifteen, I was putting away dishes out of the dishwasher. My thoughts were so crowded with how depressed I was and how bad life sucked, I barely paid attention to what I was doing. Then my fingers wrapped around the handle of a knife my dad used to carve up roasts. And suddenly, this idea came to me. I put the knife up to my chest and stuck the tip into my skin. I could plunge it into my heart and end my life. All my problems would be solved.

I stood there for what seemed like several minutes, though it was probably only a few seconds, considering the implications, weighing the pros and cons. Finally, I pulled the knife away and placed it in the drawer, realizing that I didn’t really want to end my life, I just wanted something to help ease the mental anguish I was going through.

Pain. In my chest. I suddenly became aware of a stinging pain where I had been poking the knife into my chest. And somehow, it clicked—this wild idea flying into my thoughts that if I physically hurt myself it would block some of that mental pain.

So I started searching for a weapon. I tried a knife at first and didn’t like the way it felt. Scissors seemed too dull. And then I found a razor blade—the box cutter kind—and I sliced it across my arm. It was sharp, precise, and it hurt. But it also felt good.

At first, I only hurt myself when I’d had a really bad day. I’d tell my parents I was going to bed, but instead, would sit up next to my stereo, headphones in, listening to depressing music, and I would race that blade across my skin—mostly on my upper arms and shoulders. It’s ironic—that I was trying to take pain away by giving myself another kind of pain. It didn’t work, of course. But I kept doing it, anyway. It became a sort of addiction, something I started doing even when I hadn’t had a bad day. It’s just what I did because I liked it, because it felt good.

All of this happened during the winter of my sophomore year in high school. I wore long sleeves, so no one could see the red marks and scars marring my arms and shoulders—except for in gym class. I sweat like a pig—or like a boy—so I still wore t-shirts and shorts in gym. People started asking about my arms, and I didn’t want to lie, so I told them I’d done it to myself. Most people looked at me as if I were crazy—one boy even told me to my face. “You know you’re insane, right?” he condescendingly asked me. And then people began to talk. That’s actually how I met my best friend—because she heard people talking in one of her classes about me and what I had done. Turns out she had been a masochist once, too. After that, I started meeting more people like me. More people who had depression and hurt themselves as a way to deal with it.

After five or six months of hurting myself I told my parents, which was a very tough conversation to have, but they were good at trying to get me the help I needed. For awhile I stopped hurting myself because I knew it was wrong, and it didn’t really help. Then I went back to it, and then I stopped again. But it’s like this addiction that’s always looming at the back of my mind. Even now, so many years later, any time I get really depressed or start to feel darkness closing in on me I think about hurting myself. I still believe it will feel good. I think the older you get the more self control you learn, so it’s easier to push the thought back down, to not give in, but it’s just another one of those hurdles people with mental illness have to try to jump over, dive under or go around.

Sharing this story is hard. It makes me feel so vulnerable, because I don’t know how people will react. Even now when I tell people about it—something I did over fifteen years ago—some of them still see a freak because anyone who purposefully hurts themselves is a freak, right? People look at me differently. But this is the beginning of my battle with depression, and I don’t want to sugar coat anything. That’s one of the reasons I believe mental illness is still so misunderstood—too much sugar has been sprinkled on something that is not sweet in any way. And the good news is that there is hope—always hope. It’s one of my favorite words.