12/31/15

Like Father, Like Daughter

Not long ago, I posted an open survey on Facebook (Here's the link if you're interested in responding) with the question of what YOU, my readers, want to know more about. One of the responses I received was this:

"I'd like to hear more about how to handle being diagnosed with a mental illness when you know very little about it, or maybe have a family who might not be very tolerant or accepting. I'd also like to hear more about having the faith/confidence to tell people you have a mental illness without being scared/ashamed because you might be treated differently."

To answer this question, I first need to tell you about my dad:

I'm a lot like my dad. Always have been. We share similar tastes and sense of humor. 

My similarities to my father have increased over the years. One such similarity is my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. It's a crappy thing to have in common, but it comes with its benefits. My dad is my built-in support system, someone who understands what I'm going through. I can tell you how grateful I am to have him. 

My dad has been fighting his bipolar disorder for 18 years. He's almost an expert when it comes to being a fighter. Because of this, I asked him to answer this question. 


"Just a little background on myself and my experience with mental illnesses.  My name is Rob and about 18 years ago, after going through very stressful period of time, I suffered about six months with serve depression and then about eight months of extreme mania.  I was about 30 years old at the time.  My wife and I call it our year from “hell” but we did end up with a beautiful girl, our third, at the end of it. Since that time, my wife and I have tried to use our experience to help others, through NAMI, Davis Behavioral Health and just by talking with people, one-on-one and it groups.  


I have learned many things over the last 18 years, and maybe I can share a few of them:

Like being a new parent, neither those who suffer from a mental illness, or their families or friends, know much about mental illnesses.  We work with doctors and therapists, but they really don’t educate us much about the illness we are suffering.  They are focused on getting our meds to work or teaching us the tools to deploy to help keep our lives from spinning out of control.  I would highly recommend making the effort to educate yourself and your loved ones about your mental illness. I think the NAMI (National Association on Mental Illness) is the best place to start.  Go to NAMI.org and you will find a lot of helpful information.  You can also find links to your state and local affiliates (namiut.org in Utah).  These affiliate offer free Educational Classes and for both those who have the mental illness and their loved ones.  These classes run for eight to 12 weeks (usually one night per week) and can be extremely beneficial.  The also usually offer free weekly Support Groups.  Give a Support Group or Educational Class a try for 2-3 weeks and see if it helps you!  I had a co-worker whose wife was really struggling with depression, so much she couldn’t take care of their kids.  He came to Family-to-Family and will openly admit that it saved their marriage and their family.  The education he gained and contacts he made helped him get his wife in with the right professionals,and together, they were able to turn things around.

Besides NAMI, read related books (An Unquiet Mind helped me with my bi-polar diagnosis) and articles, but most importantly, do all you can to keep an open line of communication between you and your support network.  Sometimes it is hard to remember that we are all on the same side.  After my wife, parents and in-laws did some things that I felt were very hurtful in the middle of my manic episode, I came to the conclusion that we were all just trying to do the best we could in a very difficult situation.  When people become new parents, theyunderstand that you just do the best you can and figure things out along the way…much like fighting through the effects of mental illnesses.

Shortly after my diagnosis with bi-polar illness, I realized two things that helped me effectively cope with this damaging illness for the past 18 years:

I did not do anything to bring this brain disorder upon myself.  I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t anything…I just got it.  As I look at it, I am sure that my illness is an effect of my gene pool, like most people with mental illnesses, which again, I didn’t control. I determined to NOT hide my illness, but not use it as an excuse, either.  I took the personal approach, that if mental illnesses ormy illness came up in conversation, I would talk openly about it, just like I would any other health issue.  I am sure that my profession as a Sales Rep. helped me to have the confidence I needed to just put the topic on the table.  I figure if others hold it against me, that is their problem, not mine.  I have talked to many people about my bi-polar illness and I know it has made a difference many peoples’ lives.  I think the key is to not be ashamed of an illness I didn’t deserve.  I have an illness that I will always take medication for, but I fight hard to keep it under control. 

I have never been sorry for talking about my illness and have actually taken the opportunity to talk to all the adults in my church congregation (5th Sunday lesson), a couple hundred youth at a church fireside and many other public forums.  I truly believe that when we are open about it, the stigma associated with mental illnesses decreases and people understand that it can affect people from all walks of life and that these illnesses are treatable. 

I certainly don’t blame people for being more sensitive about their situation, but for me, I just have the attitude that having a mental illness is not my fault and that by talking openly about it, I can help other people.

If I can just leave you with a closing thought.  I am not a mental health professional, but I have been involved with hundreds of people and families dealing with mental illnesses in addition to my personal experiences.  Please remember that dealing with a mental illness is normally a lifelong FIGHT!  But for those who are willing to FIGHT, really and truly FIGHT, and get their support network to FIGHT alongside them, it is a FIGHT that can be won."




11/25/15

Do you see me now?

"What cannot be said will be wept." -Sappho
There are days of depression when I don't get out of bed. At night I can't sleep, in the morning I can't wake up. On those days, I'm lucky if I shower. Those are the kind of days I have to ride it out, holding on until the darkness subsides.

"How do you run from what's inside your head?" -Alice in Wonderland
Medication is part of my daily treatment plan. I've changed my medication enough times that I've lost count. The names blur together sometimes. Right now I take 25 mg. of Syroquel to sleep, and 300 mg. of Lamictal to balance my mood, with an occasional 20 mg. of Propranolol for anxiety.
"It can be exhausting and overwhelming to be in your own skin." -Casie Brown-Bordley
Sometimes, it's hard to see the sunshine. All I can see is dark clouds floating around my head. But there is sunshine. You've just got to know where to look.
"There is no magic cure, no making it go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn't matter anymore." -Laurie Halse Anderson
Trying to find the right kind of lifestyle balance is a challenge--a challenge that everyone faces. But with bipolar disorder, the balance seems like a needle in a haystack that can only be found through a concoction of meds, exercise, sleep, counseling, and a myriad of other things. Turns out, that concoction is changing all the time.
"I hate when I tell someone I have bipolar and I see a look of terror in their eyes." -Christine Kirton
Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder has changed the way I look at myself. I used to see just a girl with green eyes. Now I see a girl with a stormy sea inside her brain. The girl I see isn't perfect, but she is learning how to navigate the waves.
"Even if I was a bird, flying away wouldn't help. The problem is in my head, not on a place." -Unknown
When I'm manic, I run away. There are so many thoughts racing through my head and I can't make them stop. I do things to distract myself so that I can find some semblance of peace.
"You cannot outrun insanity, anymore than you can outrun your own shadow." -Alyssa Reyans
When I run away, I drive. There's something about getting in my car and heading down the road that calms me down. I don't have to think. I can just drive.
"Bipolar can make you feel unstable, but you are still able. Never give up, never give in, you will find your peace again." -G.E. Laine

Being bipolar isn't easy. Mental illnesses are challenges, challenges that aren't fully understood. I'm still learning, but isn't that what life is about?











(Photography by Kiely Edmonds Robledo www.pocketofblossoms.com, pocketofblossoms@gmail.com)

10/29/15

Stopping the Stigma

Back in May, I wrote this post about my new diagnosis of bipolar type 2. I've realized lately that I have kind of avoided writing about what I am going through with bipolar right now because of the stigma surrounding it. I guess it has been easier for me to own up to being depressed than to being bipolar. There are so many jokes about being bipolar--"He can never make up his mind! He is so bipolar." "She was sad ten minutes ago but now she is happy. She must be bipolar." Or as Katy Perry says:
(Don't worry. I love KP. She's my spirit animal.)
Bipolar is easy to joke about. Honestly, I don't blame people who do joke about it. However, it is a mental illness that isn't really understood. It's kind of thought as "super happy or super sad." That's not what it is. Before I jump into what it really is, let me tell you quickly about my experiences with bipolar disorder:

When I was four years old, my dad was diagnosed with bipolar type 1. The definition of bipolar 1 is "defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks." (source: NIMH) My dad's depressive and manic stages were much longer than a week or two. When all was said and done, he was depressed for about six months and manic for about six months. I was four, so I don't remember much about it. What I know about it is what my parents told me growing up. But because of my dad's disorder, I grew up with a small understanding of mental illness. My parents have always been open about my dad's struggles and willing to help people out who have similar challenges. "Bipolar" has never been a dirty word for me--until I got diagnosed myself.

I am diagnosed with bipolar type 2. Bipolar type 2 is "Defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes." (NIMH) What this means is that my depressive episodes are more frequent than my manic episodes, and my manic episodes aren't as bad as type 1 manic episodes. It has been difficult for me to own up to being bipolar because it is so misunderstood. Like I said before, most people think of the symptoms of bipolar as being extremely happy or extremely sad. Here are the real symptoms: (NIMH)

Symptoms of mania or a manic episode include:Symptoms of depression or a depressive episode include:
Mood Changes
  • An overly long period of feeling "high," or an overly happy or outgoing mood
  • Extreme irritability.

Behavioral Changes
  • Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
  • Being unusually distracted
  • Increasing activities, such as taking on multiple new projects
  • Being overly restless
  • Sleeping little or not being tired
  • Having an unrealistic belief in your abilities
  • Behaving impulsively and engaging in pleasurable, high-risk behaviors.
Mood Changes
  • An overly long period of feeling sad or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex.

Behavioral Changes
  • Feeling overly tired or "slowed down"
  • Having problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • Being restless or irritable
  • Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
  • Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide.

And here's a brain scan of a patient with bipolar disorder:


My experiences with these symptoms are, of course, different than other people's. But for me, when I am manic, I am extremely irritable. No one can do anything right. They are talking too slowly, too loudly, too quietly. They are slow and not doing things "right." I also engage in high risk activity like spending sprees. I once bought a $300 watch "just because". It seemed like a good idea at the time and it felt good to buy it. But obviously, I didn't have that kind of money. After that manic episode ended, I looked back at my purchase and was shocked at myself for having done that. Another high risk behavior that I have been known to engage in (but don't anymore, thankfully) is with guys. I've often put myself in risky situations with guys that I'd never met outside the internet. When I participate in all of these behaviors, they make sense. They don't seem that bad. They are fun and exciting. But they are impulsive, risky, and usually unsafe. 

I've already written a lot about my depressive symptoms on this blog, but here is a quick summary: Hopelessness, no desire to do anything, no pleasure in anything, wanting to stop existing, sleeping more than normal. (I tend to deal with depressive episodes more than manic.) 

It is hard to explain what it is really like being bipolar. I don't understand all of it. But I do understand that there is brain chemistry, biology, genetic predispositions, etc. behind it. What I and thousands of others struggle with is real, and just like any other illness, it needs to be taken seriously. I take medication for it, I see a doctor about it, and I go to a therapist for it. I have to keep reminding myself that there is no shame in admitting to an illness, even a mental illness. Unless I and other people are open about mental illnesses, we are never going to be able to stop the stigma. 



Love, 
The Optimist in Progress

10/27/15

Meet Aly

I first heard of Aly Ludlow through BYU's women's magazine, Up and Up. When I watched her interview, (see it here) I was really impressed with her openness about her challenges with eating disorders. Then, as fate would have it, two days later I was at the mall with my friend (who has been an avid follower of Aly's blog for awhile) when she said, "Look! It's Aly!" I awkwardly introduced myself and, like a little fan girl, asked for a picture with her. Since then, we've had some great conversations and we decided to do a collaboration. To find out more about Aly, visit her blog "Living Life to My Fullest."




I was 14 years old when I first began my journey with eating disorders.



Although I had struggled with body dysmorphia for as long as I could remember, I didn't do anything to drastically change my body until the beginning of tenth grade. I decided to follow the "advice" of my health teacher and start a "calorie deficit" diet to lose weight (which I now realize didn't need to be lost in the first place).
Around when I first started to "diet".

The diet quickly turned into more than a weight loss plan, it was a disorder...an obsession. I was constantly preoccupied with counting calories and controlling my food intake--I was convinced that I was being "healthy". Food was always in the forefront of my thoughts and I was always hungry; I would go to bed starving just so I could eat breakfast in the morning. However, during this time I wasn't willing to accept that what I was doing was wrong. I was happily miserable.


At my lowest--not healthiest, weight. 

Towards the beginning of eleventh grade, I was bullied. I became depressed and turned to the one thing that I had been denying myself in order to find comfort: food. This quickly turned into a different disorder known as binge eating disorder. I would go into my family's kitchen and gorge on food for hours on end until my stomach couldn't take it anymore. I hated myself and it was also during this time that I became suicidal. 

Dr. Michael Spigarelli was the first person to tell me that an eating disorder--of any kind, is a (curable) mental disease; my disorders were not me or my fault. Additionally, he made sure to emphasize that depression and anxiety are often linked to disordered behaviors as well and also can act as catalysts for disorders to begin. Thanks to him, my therapist, and antidepressants, I was able to overcome my disease along with the depression that resulted. 

In all honesty, this was an incredibly dark time in my life; I had no hope for myself or for my future. There were times when I couldn't and didn't want to find the sunshine in anything. I accepted and feared that my life would always be a constant battle against myself; it felt as if I was slowly burying myself in a grave that I wouldn't be able to climb out of.


Although I'm painting a pretty dark picture of my past, things weren't always completely terrible. My faith in God acted as an anchor when all else failed. To Him, I wasn't a lost cause. He saw my potential and the person that I would become once I overcame my disorder. He constantly gave me moments of joy and relief from the hurricane of emotions and stress that I was experiencing. He blessed me with wonderful friends, wonderful doctors, and wonderful opportunities for change.


He saved me.
His love was like the sunrise after an endless night.


As I began taking steps towards recovery, I was able to find sunshine in the small things too, like going a day or two without bingeing or purging; going a day without hating my body, or being able to eat one meal a day as a "normal" person would.


Medication definitely helped me as well. Recovery was a lot easier once the burden of depression was eased from my shoulders.


From all of this, I was slowly able to take longer and more confident strides towards recovery. And as I did, my pathway seemed to become illuminated with a light that I had forgotten existed. Although it wasn't easy to keep that light burning, by constantly picking myself up and brushing off the mistakes I made as I stumbled along that path, I was able to slowly find my way back into the warmth of the sun.


I’ve learned that the best way to find sunshine through eating disorders, depression, or any other trial, is to be easy on yourself and to accept your own pace--recovery doesn’t happen in a day. Find joy in the small victories and learn from your losses. Remember to tell yourself that: “Even if I fall on my face, I’m still moving forward”.


Also, I've learned that there is no shame in using medication to overcome a mental disease or illness--like physical diseases and illnesses, they should be treated and can be cured. 

I know for a fact that I would not be where I am today without the help of antidepressants, medical care, or counseling.


Although I've been "officially" recovered for almost a year now, I still try to find the sunshine within the trials that I experienced. In order to do this, I refuse to see myself as a victim of the mental disorders and diseases I’ve experienced. They were terrible and difficult, but they made me into who I am today. To me, feeling sorry for myself would be like taking a step backwards into the darkness that I had worked so hard to emerge from.


Going through my eating disorder (and the depression that existed alongside it) was like being thrown into a cold, dark cave. At times I had to crawl on my knees and cling to unseen walls in order to move forward, but eventually I saw the light that existed outside of it. I continued to move forward and eventually, the closer I got to the light, the easier things became. Instead of crawling, I was able to stand. Instead of walking and clinging, I was able to run without any supports.


And let me tell you,

Now that I’m out of the cave, I can see sunshine everywhere.








To learn more about me and my story, head on over to blog.livinglifetomyfullest.com

10/6/15

they call me a piece of work

There have been so many times in my life when I've truly believed that I am a hopeless case. My doubts whisper things in my ear like, "You'll never be good enough." or "You're just too big of a mess." These whispers and doubts are relentless at times, and little by little, I believe them more and more. I turn into a shell of who I really am once I start to believe these things. I become a shadow, a dark cloud insistent on ruining everyone's sunshine.

As time goes on, and as I fight the darkness longer and longer, I've come to believe more than ever that we all are a piece of work. Not in the negative way that people use it but in that we are a work in a progress--a clay pot being molded and formed, a house being torn apart and remodeled--whatever helps you picture it best. We are not perfect now, nor will we ever be in this lifetime.

The theme of life is progress. Progress is what we should be focusing on. Progress should be our theme-song, anthem, and pledge. Progress is what makes us truly successful.

Something I struggle with is recognizing progress. I am the kind of girl who looks for big things--getting the top score on a test, losing ten pounds, getting a promotion--things like that. I don't always notice the little things, like earning five points better on an assignment, eating healthier for a day, or doing a great job on a small project at work. There are little things that constitute progress, not just big things. I've started to try and find success in myself for smaller things and to recognize that I'm not going to be the perfect person.

On a particularly dark day not too long ago, I was in bed, hating myself. I had missed class again because I couldn't find the strength to get up. I was anxious, depressed, and feeling absolutely miserable. A pressure constricted itself around my heart as I started hearing the doubts again: "You're going to fail school." "You might as well just give up on life now--you're not going anywhere." "You shouldn't be this nervous about going to class. You are a wimp and absolutely ridiculous." With each thought, I sank deeper and deeper into the darkness. But that day, I managed to get out of bed and shower. Yup, folks, that's all I did that day. I fought and fought and finally got to the point where I could get out of the hole I had sunk in to and shower.

Many of you may read this example and think that I am completely ridiculous, and you may be right. But here's the deal: I found some progress within myself that day. I took a small step towards the light, but it felt like a marathon. I can easily keep looking back on that moment and many like it and hate myself for it. But in that moment, I did the absolute best I could and made some progress. And I am proud of myself for that.

That moment and that day is not who I am. I am not my darkness, I am my steps towards the light. I am a piece of work, and I take great pride in that. Sometimes I am a mess, but I work hard to get put together. I'm learning to recognize tiny steps as the great leaps that they truly are. I'm not a finished product, and neither are you. So can we take a step back and appreciate the good we are doing? Can we look for one small success at a time, especially when we feel that there is absolutely nothing good to see? Because guess what? We are all a work in progress. 






Love,

The Optimist in Progress

9/28/15

Learning to Ask for Help

I was raised on a boat. Not literally, but basically. Ever since I can remember, my family has had a boat. It's not a fancy boat, just big enough for a family and fast enough to ski or wakeboard behind. When I was little, I would run my hand along its black and yellow stripes as I wiped it down with vinegar water after a day on the lake. I have memories of clinging to a tube as it flew wildly behind our boat as my dad whipped around in a circle. I remember countless adventures up tiny canyons at Lake Powell, seeing how far we could get in the boat before we started hitting the red, sandstone walls. I remember late evenings when the sun was just sinking below the horizon. We would turn on the outboard lights and watch my dad get one last ski in, water curving in arcs behind his ski as he cut to and fro across the wake. Yup, I was raised on a boat.

To be raised on a boat, you have to know the rules. My dad's rules are always the same: Sit down when the boat is moving, keep an eye out for obstacles and let him know about them, and have fun. But there were other rules, other intricacies to being a "real" boater. Things like always wipe the boat down when it is still a little wet. Rinse your feet off in the lake water before jumping back into the boat. Keep the ropes from getting tangled. Hold onto your hat so it doesn't fly away. The kind of rules that were more nuances to boating than actual rules.Other rules we were taught were federal rules. Rules like: only twelve people on the boat. Children under twelve had to wear a life jacket. Follow no-wake zone postings. Stay far away from other boats and swimmers.

One very important federal rule had to do with the orange flag that every skiing vessel is required to have. When someone is in the water near the boat, an orange flag must be clearly visible to other water vessel operators so that they know that there is someone to be wary of. When a boat is in distress, the orange flag is to be waved to notify other boaters so that they can assist the endangered boaters. Basically, the orange flag serves two purposes: 1. to warn and 2. to ask for help.

Here's what I'm getting at with this long intro: in life, how often do we wave our orange flag when our boat is sinking? Do we wave it wildly, signaling to other boaters that we need help? Or do we stick it in the side compartment on the boat and resign ourselves to floundering in the water, risking drowning or injury? I think in general, we tend to do the latter. Asking for help is to many people too much. Pride, conventions, fear, etc. get in the way of asking for much needed assistance. We don't want to be a burden, we can just tough it out, we don't want people to think we are weak...the excuses go on and on. Asking for help has become a shameful thing in society. Waving the orange flag has become obscene and embarrassing. Well, that has to change.

When you (or those you love) are dealing with a mental illness of some sort, you are probably going to find yourself in a spot when you need help. You might be able to take care of it yourself (might) but more often than not, you're going to need some sort of help. Let me tell you a quick story about my experience with asking for help:

Too many times, I haven't asked for help. Last school year, I was drowning. I saw my boat going down but I was too prideful to get help. By the time I decided to whip out my orange flag, my boat was pretty much all the way submerged. I had to quit my job and withdraw from a class, among other things. I ended up failing a class and finishing the semester with less than a 2.0 and was put on academic warning. I was barely making it out of my apartment, I wasn't eating right, I was spending money erratically, and I was just a downright mess. But I didn't ask for help. The people closest to me did what they could from what I told them. I didn't let too many people know just how bad things were, including my parents. The ones who knew did the best they could to help, but in general I didn't let them. When I finally told my parents how bad it was, they were heartbroken that I hadn't asked for help sooner. I let my mental illness overtake me and I lost control.

Fast forward to this past month. It has been extremely difficult for me getting back in to school. I have experienced a lot of issues and challenges that I wasn't anticipating. However, remembering my experience last year, I asked for help sooner this time. Obviously, I'm still doing some damage control. I've lost some footing in school that I'm trying to get back. I've tried to humble myself and ask my parents, my doctor, my counselor, and my closest friends for help. So far, so good. Waving my orange flag is paying off.

What does this mean for you? It means that when you need help, ask for help. There is absolutely no shame in it. When you feel yourself sinking, turn to those you trust most. That could be your parents, siblings, ecclesiastical leaders, doctors--you name it. But start with someone who you know can support you. The sooner you get help, the better off you will be. Trying to save yourself without help only tends to aggravate the problem. You've got to get help to get better.

How do you know when you need help? Watch your gauges! When a boat is running out of gas, it will show on the gauge. Same goes for you--when you're running out of steam, your body is going to start telling you that. It's different for everyone, so you just have to pay attention to your mind and body to start picking up on what it's telling you. For me, I know that I'm starting to hit rock bottom when I don't sleep as well, when I start indulging in risky behavior, when I start missing classes and work because of anxiety, when I start eating a lot less than usual, and when I get headaches. It has taken me some time to figure out that these are warning signs for me, but now that I have figured them out, I use them to gauge when I need to start waving my flag.

This is kind of a long post, but the bottom line is that asking for help is not a shameful thing. It helps you stay healthy and happy, It is a hard thing to do, but it is worth it in the end. Don't ever feel alone. There are so many resources! Here are some:

  • Family members 
  • Friends
  • Doctors (normal physicians are a great place to start)
  • Counselors
  • www.nami.org
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255
  • Me! Yes, me. I am always willing to listen and help you out. You don't even have to tell me who you are. Email me at: yellowinthegray@gmail.com
Don't be me. Don't wait so long to ask for help that you are already sunk. If you already feel like you are sunk and it isn't worth it, I promise you it is. No matter how bad it seems, you can always pick up the pieces with the right help. You just have to ask.

9/17/15

Just so you know.

Sometimes, I feel like I am a monster. I feel like I am a pit of despair, a walking rain cloud, a tornado of emotions. I feel like all I do is drag those around me down and into my mess. I am hard to be around, and I know it. Often, I take my feelings out on the ones I love most. I lash out and I get irritable, even when they're just trying to help. I am the kind of girl who professes to wear her heart on her sleeve, but I really put up walls and push people away through my actions and my words. So to my loved ones, just so you know, I love you more than I can say.

Just so you know:

Family--Mom, I've seen your tears when you're hurting because I'm hurting, when you're holding me even though I'm 21 years old. I've heard your prayers on my behalf as you kneel at your bedside. Dad, I've seen the love and concern in your eyes as you help me find the professional help I need. I've heard the love in your voice when you call me and talk me down, and even offer to drive down to Provo just to give me a hug. Shelby, Sadie, and Amberly; I've seen your maturity as you handle my episodes with love and understanding. I've felt your love as you hug me and laugh with me and listen to me.

Friends--I've seen your love as you for still stick by my side even though I change a lot. I've seen you go out of your way to let me know that I'm loved even when I don't go out of my way to do the same. I've cried on your shoulders and dumped all my emotions on you. I've seen the texts, read the notes, listened to your words of support.

So to those who support loved ones with a mental illness, I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that they appreciate you more than you can ever know. Just so you know: they love you. They care about what you say, what you're doing for them. They feel your support and your prayers. Maybe they don't realize all of these things, but it's true.

Please, don't give up on me. Don't give up on those you love. Keep fighting for them, keep pushing them to get healthy. Keep up your prayers, your love, and your understanding. We need you. Without the support that I have, I wouldn't be where I am today and I know they wouldn't be either. Your efforts are never wasted. Even the smallest of things can make the biggest of impacts, just so you know.



9/14/15

It's okay to not be okay.

"How are you doing?" A common question. A gesture of courtesy in most cultures. Out of genuine interest and concern or just out of politeness, it is a question that I hear on average ten times a day or more. "How are you doing?" Most of the time I respond with a, "Great! How about you?" Not really interested in their answer as I pass them on campus. Or, I respond with a "I'm doing pretty alright, how about yourself?" There are times when I'm giving this response that I grit my teeth and respond through a fake smile. "I'm great!" I think to myself, "I am so not great. I am so not okay. I am totally lying." Fake smile, courteous answer, move on. Sometimes, I just want to explode when someone asks how I'm doing. "I am NOT okay. I am depressed. I am anxious. I am manic. I am very not okay. Very, very not okay." But I don't, obviously. Who wants an answer like that when in reality they're just asking to be nice?

For some reason, there is an extreme, inexplicable need to be okay. There is shame in not being okay. We plaster on fake smiles, muster up false responses to cover up the pain and issues in our life. We are conditioned to be "okay". To convince people I'm okay, I put on makeup, force a smile, and go on with my day. I've allowed myself at times to be convinced that I'm a failure if I don't appear to be doing well. 

You know what? It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to have bad days, to feel depressed, to have challenges. It is okay to need to take some time for yourself. It is okay to realize that you just need some help. It's okay.

I've realized in my life the more I focus on not being okay the more I'm...not okay. "I should be happy." makes me very unhappy. "I shouldn't be anxious about that." makes me more anxious. It's a vicious cycle, always focusing on being not okay. I've realized that recognizing that I have weaknesses is a positive thing. Beating yourself up about your bad times is like picking at a scab. The more you pick, the worse it gets. It doesn't heal the wound and sometimes it scars instead. What's the point in causing yourself more pain and more trouble? 

So what do you do when you realize that you're not okay? 

1. Recognize it. Own it. Choose to acknowledge that you're struggling and need to adjust accordingly to get feeling better. What is the quote? Admitting that you have a problem is the first step? Ya, something like that. If you don't, you're going to explode in one way or another--I can almost promise you that. 
2. Don't beat yourself up. I feel like this is an actual step in the process, not just a side note or subtitle. Forgive yourself. Let it go. Admit that your shortcomings aren't who you are but a challenge that makes you a better person.
3. Take some time to get better. There's no shame in needing a break, no matter how intense the break needs to be. Last winter semester, I had to withdraw from a class because I wasn't okay. I was barely making it out of my apartment more than a few times a week. I had to take the time to give myself a mental break and get the rest and help that I needed. 
4. Move on. Don't force yourself to fake it (though sometimes you have to every once in awhile) but choose some things that are okay. "I've got cute shoes on. That's pretty okay." "I'm enjoying this book I'm reading." "That sunset is gorgeous." Even when everything seems is falling in around you, I promise that there is something small that will help you move on.  
5. Help other people realize that they are okay. Reaching outside of your challenges helps. Being a listening ear and someone who cares about the response to the question, "How are you?" is something that will help you. At least it helps me. The more that I care about the trials of others and desire to help them, the more I recognize the blessings in my life. 

So to the person who is thinking that they are a failure because they have issues--you aren't alone. Sometimes, I feel the same way. But guess what? I am not a failure and neither are you. I am human, and so are you. Having trials and challenges is part of this life. We are always, always going to fall down. There are always going to be bad days or bad weeks or bad months...you get the picture. No matter what you do, there are going to be "not okay's." And that's completely alright. The sooner we can all accept that, the sooner we can be okay. 

8/9/15

It's Easy Being Miserable

I learned something about myself this week.


I am comfortable being miserable. 


What the heck, right?


Being miserable is easy. It is so simple for me to hate life, to be sad, to give in to the negative thoughts that surround me. It is totally comfortable for me to have bad days and be okay with it. I am fine with wearing a frown instead of a smile. It's easy for me to not try in any way to be happy. I'm fine with just being fine.

I don't know why it has taken me long to realize this. I have told myself lies about myself for so long that I've come to accept them as truths.

"I'm a failure." Yup, totally true. "I'm weak." Could've told you that one. "Life is never going to get better." You betcha.

My brain is now wired negatively because for such a long time I haven't tried to be positive. Why? Because it's hard to be positive. It's hard to stand up when I just want to curl up in a ball. It's hard to force a smile when I'm irritable and frustrated. It's hard to think positively about things that straight up aren't positive. I'm so good at being a downer. It's ridiculous. It is easy. Is it the same for you?

So, I've come to new resolution today.

No more being comfortable. 

It's time for me to talk back to the negative thinking. It's time for me to stand up, get up, suck it up. I grow weaker and weaker the more that I curl up in a ball of sadness and depression. The fight is hard. I hate doing things that are hard. It's so much easier to walk downhill than up, but up is the way that I need to go. Downhill never gets you to majestic heights. No, the easiness of the path leads you to a place that is dark and hard to get out of. Time to walk up hill, to fight the hard fight, to climb to a less comfortable but stronger me.


As ridiculous as it sounds, I've set some mini goals to get to my big goal of "not being comfortable."


  • Smile at myself in the mirror before I leave the house in the morning 
(I already know that I'm going to feel like such an idiot doing this one. But I've done it in the past and it helped, surprisingly)
  • Write down 3 things that I'm thankful for
(They have to be different every day)
  • Every time a negative thought comes into my mind about myself or someone else, replace it with something positive
(That's a hard one for me because sometimes I feel like I'm lying to myself. I guess you fake it til you make it, right?)

I already know that these little things are going to be extremely difficult for me, and extremely uncomfortable. But it's worth it, right? I'm hoping that these little things will get easier, and that as I strengthen the positive in my life rather than the negative that I can make bigger goals and accomplish bigger things. As Thomas Paine put it, "The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection."


I dragged my sister Sadie up into the mountains above my house to take this picture specifically because I didn't want to have a picture taken. I was in a bad mood and didn't feel like smiling. But I did it. Because it was uncomfortable.



So here's to being uncomfortable. Here's to pushing ourselves past our perceived limitations to become who we really need to be. Here's to standing up when it's easier to sleep. Sometimes I don't believe it's worth it, and you may not either. But let's keep trying, because life was never meant to be easy.



Love,

      The Optimist in Progress




7/6/15

In My Mother's Eyes

{This post was written by mom. I asked her to open up about what her experience of having an early returned missionary daughter has been like, and what challenges she's faced as she's tried to help me conquer the beast of my mental illness.}







“Mom, I can go! I can go!” These were the first words out of Rachel’s mouth in October 2012 as Pres. Monson announced the church’s decision to change the missionary age for both young men and young women. Being the mother of four daughters, I didn’t ever think I would be a “missionary mom”.  It was a spiritual moment for Rachel and for us. I was going to be a missionary mom!
This was a happy time in Rachel’s life and ours. She was in a good spot, enjoying her freshman year at BYU. She dedicated herself to preparing to go on a mission. She took missionary prep classes and other religion classes so she would be prepared to teach wherever she was called. There was slight concern about her depression, but it seemed we had gotten on top of it. She was taking her medication that seemed to be helping, she was being gentler with her sisters (irritability is a prime symptom for Rachel with her illness), and she was happy and excited.

When she received her call to the Washington Seattle mission, she was thrilled. And so were we. My family spent some time living in that area before I was married. She had to take finals early, move out of her dorm, and speak in sacrament meeting all the weekend before she entered the MTC. I remember crying as we drove away after dropping her off, thinking “she’s gone.”  Because after she returned, there would be schooling, marriage, a family of her own… But “gone” feels different to me now.

I waited anxiously for emails while she was on her mission. Many times I tried to evaluate how she was doing emotionally because we knew this would be taxing on her. She is a very bright and intelligent, well-spoken person. And as what happened in many missions, her training in the field was cut in half before she became a trainer herself. There were some low times that she did confide to us. But she got a companion who she loved and she seemed to be able to pick herself back up. My anxiety increased as there was talk of her seeing a therapist in the Seattle. But I prayed that surely she would be blessed. She was doing the Lord’s work; she was worthy and had the desire to serve Him.
In October of 2013, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland delivered his message entitled, “Like a Broken Vessel” in General Conference. Just one year after the announcement of the missionary age change. Tears rolled down my face as I listened to him. I am the daughter of a mother who suffers with MDD.  My husband was diagnosed seven years into our marriage with bipolar disorder. I am experiencing the mortal challenge of mental illness by being a daughter, wife, and now mother of those who suffer with mental illness. I was so touched and grateful for the candid and loving nature in which Elder Holland delivered his message to all of us. Little did I know tears were rolling down Rachel’s face too, she was barely holding on.

After an email that I received from Rachel where she was very candid about how badly she was struggling, I enlisted some help from the wife of the Young Single Adult Branch Presidency member where Rachel was serving. I am so grateful for her love and support to Rachel at that time. It was decided they would talk to mission medical and the mission president. After this, it was decided at the end of October that Rachel needed medical help at home and the support of her family. I am also grateful for her loving mission president, Pres. Eaton, who explained to Rachel that she had served a full mission, and the Lord accepted her offering.  Rob flew to Seattle so he could fly home with her. I was devastated for her. She had done everything right. I didn’t know how this would affect the rest of her life.

We waited anxiously at the airport for her, I just wanted to hug her and tell her it was ok, everything was going to be ok. That following Sunday was a fast Sunday. We walked in as a family terrified of how people would react. Rachel asked that our bishop announce from the pulpit that she had been given an honorable medical release for depression. She wanted to be up front and honest about what she was facing. I still admire her courage for taking this position, and that she still is trying to advocate for those who suffer. It makes me proud of her desire to serve the Lord in this way. She bore her testimony that day of her love for the Savior. Our ward couldn’t have been kinder. They didn’t judge, and welcomed her home with love.

I have struggled writing this post. It’s almost been two years now since she came home. I’ve wanted so badly to be upbeat and positive. And there are times when I am. I didn’t get the typical “missionary mom” experience, and Rachel didn’t get the typical missionary experience. I don’t want Rachel to think we’ve given up. But I’d be lying if I said she was all better. That everything has gone smoothly and that Rachel is back to herself. This is when I feel she’s “gone”. I can’t expect her to be the same though after going through the trials that she has and continues to endure. And we know that this will be a lifelong struggle for her. But part of loving those who suffer with mental illness, is dealing with the loss.  It’s a grieving process that sometimes involves changing our expectations for our loved one. I feel sometimes that we (because this affects our family, her friends, etc…not just Rachel) are spinning in circles. I suspect/know she feels the same many times.  I keep waiting for a reflection period, a time of reprieve for her. It feels like it hasn’t happened yet.

Being the mother of adult child is a whole new challenge in itself, let alone with a daughter who is trying to come to terms with and manage a mental illness. It adds a whole new level of complexity of where to let go, and where to fight for what I feel she needs. I know Rachel has very strong feelings about us, feeling like we are “helicopter parents”. I guess I don’t know yet where the line is. I hope she will understand someday, that although not perfect, our fierce love for her and her happiness have been our only intent. We want to part of the solution, not the problem. I think she knows this logically…but hasn’t quite understood or felt it.

All this being said, this is what I do know; I’m not giving up on happiness for Rachel and neither is the Lord, and neither is she. I continue to pray for healing of her heart from this challenge in her life. Because I don’t think we get to ask for this challenge to be removed. But I want her heart to be comforted and strengthened so she can endure and press forward with a brightness of hope (2 Nephi 31:20). Just as Elder Holland stated, I will continue to strive to make sure that we “Above all, never lose faith in our Father in Heaven, who loves us more than we can comprehend.” (*changed for context) I will continue to look for miracles in our lives. I will continue to pray not to lose hope. And I will continue to strive to understand the promises of the Atonement for Rachel and for me. She was His precious daughter, before she was mine. I will continue to try and have faith in His hand in her life.


7/1/15

10 Things You Should Never Say to an Early Returned Missionary

   When I came home after serving a six month mission, I received a lot of responses. I got asked a lot of questions. More often than not, everything that was said or asked was totally fine. I was able to talk about my experiences pretty openly. However, after a few negative experiences and after speaking with other early returned missionaries, I've learned that there are some things that you probably shouldn't say to a missionary who comes home early. 


1. "So, why did you come home early?"
   
  If a missionary wants you to know why they came home early, they will tell you. Hopefully, you can be the kind of person they trust to be open with. If they don't want to tell you or if they aren't open about it, please don't be offended. It's a hard thing to talk about. Just treat them with love and respect--no differently than you would if they came home after the usual amount of time.

2. "When are you going back out on your mission?"
  
   This is an awkward question to answer if you aren't planning on returning to your mission. I got asked this question a few times and I answered honestly--I'm not. But some missionaries may feel pressured to return to their mission when people ask them questions like this. Of course, we would want to support any missionary in returning, if it's right for them. 

3. "Why aren't you going back on your mission?"

    They have a reason. They know, for whatever reason, that going back into the field isn't the right thing for them to do. For me, I knew that I couldn't stay mentally healthy as a full-time missionary. I knew I had to work through my depression at home where I had the time and resources to get healthy. Each early return missionary will make that decision with God. If they want to share with you, I promise they will. Please don't put them in that awkward position. 

4. "I'm sure you'll make it back out."
  
   This relates to #2 and #3. Not every missionary makes it back out--like myself. Saying something like that is assumptive. It places an unnecessary (and unintentional) pressure on the missionary to return to the mission field, even though that might not be the right thing for them to do.

5. "Oh."
  
   This response usually comes after an early return missionary opens up about coming home early. I got this all the time. It was usually accompanied by an awkward silence and the person avoiding eye contact with me. If a person feels comfortable enough with you to share that they came home early, be proud! Be supportive! You don't have to coax or try to stoke their confidence. Just express things like, "Well I'm sorry you had to come home early." If they are being open with you, be open with them. They'll love you for it.

6. "Well, you served a full mission."
   
   This is not the worst thing to say, but it is not the best. Truth is, it's nice to hear--the first three times. It is a phrase that gets a little repetitive. When I came home, I knew that I had served a full mission and that I was a returned missionary--even if it was an early return missionary. Being told that you served a full mission over and over again made me a little frustrated because it felt like a cop-out, like something that you would say just to avoid talking about it more. I wanted something a little more sincere, a little more personalized. Something someone said to me once that made my day was, "You served a full mission, and your mission has just begun. I am so proud of you."

7. "Were you worthy?"

    Guys, this question just doesn't need to be asked because it doesn't matter. (For more on this opinion, see this post) Whether someone came home early because of worthiness or not is none of your business. That is something that is between them and the Lord. Please, just support them. Love them. Don't assume things or ask something you wouldn't want to be asked. If you know they came home early for worthiness, love them. Treat them the same. They need your love more than anything.


8. "You're a priesthood holder--isn't it your duty and responsibility to serve a full mission?"

    From President Kimball in 1982: I was asked a few years ago, “Should every young man who is a member of the Church fill a mission?” And I responded with the answer the Lord has given: “Yes, every worthy young man should fill a mission.” The Lord expects it of him. And if he is not now worthy to fill a mission, then he should start at once to qualify himself. I respect this counsel from a great prophet of God. I have a firm testimony in prophets and in their calling. However, I don't think that President Kimball expected a young man to serve a mission who had been deemed not healthy enough to do so. Nor do I think that President Kimball wanted members of the Church to shame young men into serving missions or shame them for not serving full missions. That is not the right way of going about things. God never shames us into doing anything. He tells us what He expects and asks us to do our best. He knows our hearts and our intentions. He knows when we aren't healthy--in mind or in body or in spirit. Do I believe that young men should serve missions and that missions make them more well-rounded priesthood holders? Absolutely. Do I believe that serving a mission dictates who a person is, what blessings they deserve, and if they'll make it to the Celestial Kingdom? Absolutely not. Serving a full-time mission is NOT a saving ordinance. I think some members of the Church somehow think it is. Don't make that same mistake.

9. "Was it just too hard for you?"

     Anyone who has served a mission knows just how hard it is. It is grueling on so many levels. Every day you are working from before sunup til after sundown. You face hardships, rejection, and sickness. You feel alone. Missions are HARD. When a missionary comes home early, sometimes it was too hard for them. It was too hard for me! It was too hard for me to balance my health with missionary work. When my health became severely endangered, I needed to come home. So the answer to this question is mostly "Yes." For some reason or another, the mission was too hard for the missionary. God does not expect us to run faster or work harder than we have strength for. Why should we expect that of others?

10. "If I were you..."

    Everyone approaches situations differently. I believe at times we are given specific challenges for us to face and learn from by God. Please don't make the mistake of imposing your way of approaching challenges on someone else. Their challenges are their challenges and they need to learn from them. Of course offering advice is alright, especially if they ask for it. But saying things like "If I were you" implies that they are doing things wrong. They aren't you, and you aren't them--so don't expect them to act how you would. Likewise, don't assume you know the situation through and through. You aren't them, so you don't know exactly what demons they are dealing with.

    




The best thing you can do for a missionary who comes home early is love them. Love them with all of your heart. Pray to know how to help them best and to know what things to say. I promise that if you respond with a heart full of love, you'll know exactly what to say and what not to say. The most important thing for you to do is to let early returned missionaries know that you love them and support them, no matter what. Don't get too caught up in what to say as much as in what to do for them. There are always do's and don'ts to every situation, but when you include God, there is only devotion and love.