5/29/15

The S-Word

suicide

[soo-uh-sahyd]

    noun
    1.
    the intentional taking of one's own life.
    2.
    destruction of one's own interests or prospects:
    Buying that house was financial suicide.
    3.
    a person who intentionally takes his or her own life.





     When I was a junior in high school, my English class read a book which ended with the main character committing  suicide. I remember being deeply disturbed and frustrated. I was driving with my mom shortly after finishing the book and decided to bring up my feelings about suicide.

    "Suicide is so completely selfish. I don't understand how someone could do something like that to their loved ones. All they are thinking about is their own pain. They are trying to play God."

    My mom was quiet for a moment then she thoughtfully responded, "I don't think we know exactly what was going through the heads of those who have committed suicide. But God knows. He knows the pain."

    It was a short conversation but it became very meaningful to me later in my life. This moment of meaning came when I was on my mission and feeling the lowest I've ever felt. I had no hope. I had no peace. I felt utterly lost and alone. The pressure of these feelings built and built until I felt I would explode. I didn't want to live anymore. I didn't want to face the pain. But I didn't want to die either--I wanted to stop existing. I started thinking about how many pills I could take so that I would just fall asleep and never wake up. I thought about driving the car off a cliff. Thoughts like these disturbed me, and I turned to my mission president for help. The help I needed was to be sent home to heal.

    People who commit suicide or become suicidal are looked down upon in our society so much so that "suicide" has almost become akin to a swear word. Suicide is almost never mentioned in obituaries. It is talked about behind closed doors and in hushed tones. To most in society, suicide is selfish and one of the worst things a person could do. 

    I plead with you, readers, to reconsider how and what you think about suicide. As someone who has been on both ends of the spectrum--despising those who commit suicide and wanting to commit suicide myself--I know that there is a middle ground. There is compassion to be had for those who struggle in such deep and dark places that they feel like there is no escape. Love should be shown towards them, not criticism. I was lucky enough to receive love when I was struggling.When I finally opened up to my mission president and to my companion about my suicidal thoughts, I received comfort and help. They never judged me or reprimanded me. They just asked how they could help. I will be forever grateful for the true charity I received from them.


    I started running away when I was five years old. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized what I really wanted was somebody to come after me when I was running away.
    Willie Aames

    Suicide is not a swear word. It is not something that should be taken lightly, but it is not something that should cause us to look down upon those who either struggle with suicidal thoughts or those who lost their battle to those thoughts. I truly know that the Savior understands. He knows the pain and the anguish of feeling completely hopeless. As He said on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Christ understands better than anyone the feeling of being alone and feeling abandoned by everyone including God. 

    To those of you who have struggled or currently struggle with suicidal thoughts or tendencies--don't give up and don't give in. Keep fighting. Look for the sunshine in everything around you. Rely on those you trust to help lift you even if you feel like no one could possibly help you. You aren't alone in your fight. 

    5/22/15

    Prayers Don't Fix Everything

    "If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead." -Jeffrey R. Holland, Like a Broken Vessel

    I was sitting on my sagging couch in our small apartment in Federal Way, a suburb of Seattle, Washington. I remember glancing around the room at the pictures that lined our walls--pictures of Christ, quotes, and pictures of our family. My vision blurred as tears filled my eyes. I continued to listen to the conversation that my companion was having with one of our mission leaders, but I wasn't really absorbing it. I was lost and drowning in my own confusion. The leader had innocently said something about praying and "everything would be alright." I knew he meant well. I knew he didn't mean anything by it other than to show support. But in my heart, I knew everything would not automatically be right by praying. I had been praying for years. The darkness and despair I was feeling at the time was overwhelming and a huge burden. I felt like a brick wall had been built up between me and God. I had the hardest time feeling the spirit because I felt numb all the time. What did that mean? Was I sinning? What had I done wrong? Why weren't prayers and priesthood blessings working to dispel this awful gloom?

    It took me a long time to come to terms with God after returning home early from my mission. I was angry. I was so upset that my mental challenges had forced me to come home. I was hurting. I turned away from the things I knew to be right and true to the things of the world. I felt like God had abandoned me so I abandoned Him. I lost myself in dating, shopping, and going out to eat every day. Those were the only things that made me feel better because I actually felt something when I was doing them. Of course, those things didn't heal me. Sometimes they made things worse. I lost self respect. I spent way more money than I had. I felt unhealthy and even more unhappy.

    This post is to all those who feel abandoned by God and those who feel ashamed about their mental illnesses. I am here to tell you: you aren't alone. One of the biggest misconceptions in the LDS church is that if you are depressed, you are sinning or turning away from God. That is utterly not true. Sometimes, prayers and blessings don't fix everything. Sometimes, mental illnesses (especially depression) cause an invisible wall to be built up between you and your spiritual side. That is not your fault. The chemical imbalances of mental illnesses cause a sort of numbness or despair that is hard to explain. And, because our spiritual side is so closely knit to our emotional side, it can be hard to keep them separate and healthy.

    I have heard some people say that depression is all in your head, and that if you just turned to God and turned outside of yourself, everything would be better. Well folks, I did that. I still do that. But sometimes, that isn't enough. Just like with any other illness, turning to God doesn't always cure it. I watched my grandpa fight pancreatic cancer for two years. I watched him pray--and prayed for him myself--that he would be healed. He also received countless priesthood blessings. But, God saw fit that my grandpa come home. Because my grandpa wasn't healed from his cancer, does that mean he was a sinner? Does that mean he didn't have faith? Absolutely not. So it is with mental illness. Sometimes it is God's will for us to struggle, to learn, to grow. That doesn't mean He doesn't love us. That doesn't mean we don't have faith. What it means is that God trusts us with this trial and knows who we can become through that trial.

    No, turning to our faith in God does not always fix depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or the myriad of other mental illnesses. But, that does not mean we should not turn to Him. He does not abandon us, and He never will--even if we abandon Him. Please don't listen to those who tell you that you would just be fine if you toughed it out, stopped thinking about it, or just had more faith--even if they mean well. Those things are can sometimes help, but they aren't everything. You need to be tough. You need to keep trying. You need to have faith. But those don't solve all of your challenges. I do believe in miraculous healings. I do believe that sometimes God will take away our burdens. But more often than not, He trusts us to push through and turn to Him, medical professionals, and our loved ones.

    So keep trying. Have faith that it will all work out the way it is supposed to. Keep turning to your faith, no matter what that faith may be. Work hard to get healthy. And never, ever forget that you are never alone.

    5/5/15

    Into the Sunshine


    This post was authored by my good friend, Macayla. Just about a year ago, I asked her if she would be willing to share about her struggles with eating disorders. I felt prompted to ask her--I knew that whatever she wrote could really help some people. I got this post from her early this morning, and it truly is one of the most powerful, inspiring things I've ever read. Macayla is one of my heroes. After you read her story, I'm sure you'll feel the same way.

    Rachel and I have been friends since junior high, and she is truly one of the most real and kindhearted people I've ever known. I'm so proud of her and her honesty in working to help others along with herself. When she asked me, months ago, to write a guest post for this blog, I was excited and honored but I was also incredibly nervous. This part of me had been so carefully hidden and my biggest secret for the past 12 years and something I'm still not totally comfortable talking about, because it's still something I have to deal with every single day. But the point of this post is to remind everyone, myself included, is that it's ok to struggle. No matter how hard you try, you will always have bad days. What matters is that you don't let those days win. When you've been in so much darkness and pain for so long, it's hard to believe there is still light out there. So here's the summary of my story. It will probably be really long so hopefully you'll make it to the end ;) If anything, I just hope sharing what I've been through can be at least a small help to somebody.


    I cannot remember a time where I wasn't overtly aware of my body. Food has always been a weird thing for me, something that was a source of so much pleasure and joy and what family get togethers usually revolved around. Dinner was always the best when I got to pick my favorite, usually spaghetti and garlic bread. Sneaking too many popsicles from the freezer with my best friend when mom wasn't looking was one of the highlights of summer. Yet I always felt in the back of my mind that food was associated with something negative. As a true-born girly girl, I started reading fashion and celebrity gossip magazines before I was at an age I could even pronounce all the words. I just knew the basics: these were all famous, celebrated women, fawned over because of their beauty. I grew up absolutely in love with the Olsen twins, often feeling like I was their third, long lost triplet. As they got older and conversation often turned to their itty bitty size, I was well aware and made sure my body looked like theirs.  When Mary Kate was admitted into rehab for anorexia at the age of 17, I was about the young age of 10. But I still clearly remember the moment I thought, "I need to always look like that. She's what I'll be when I'm finally grown up." As twisted as it sounds, I admired her. Her self-discipline. Her control. I figured she probably had everything together and saw her as success, something to strive toward. That was around the time the subconscious thoughts became obsessive and with a purpose. I never ate one thing without very carefully considering whether or not it was worth the calories. I remember running to the bathroom in between classes during junior high to check if I looked thin enough in the full-length mirror. I was constantly comparing my body to every other girl's and if I felt like they were skinnier than me, I was a failure. Being what in my mind was "perfect" was more important than anything else. I would go between periods of starving myself to losing control and eating everything in sight. Things only got worse once I figured out how easily I could get rid of the food once I felt I had eaten too much. For the next six years, I silently battled inside with an extreme eating disorder. There were times where it wasn't as bad and I could go a few weeks eating regularly without too much guilt, but the majority of the time I was constantly wracked with depression and absolutely unbearable anxiety. I completely lost who I was as a person because the only thing I thought was important was the way I looked. This fixation cost me the ability to focus on anything else, like doing well in school or being a good friend or sister. I felt like I was trapped in this tunnel of trying to appear so perfect that I just became empty on the inside. I didn't care about anything other than being pretty and skinny. My friends and family noticed something was wrong, but I was so deep in my disordered mind that I would deny anything if I was ever confronted. I did pretty well hiding my secret and managed to get through most of my teen years as a fairly happy, normal kid. But this big thing nagging inside of me still managed to ruin friendships, relationships, and opportunities. I felt that the way I looked was the only thing I had to offer or contribute to the world, the only reason I mattered. I was slowly falling further and deeper into this dark web of obsession of pressure.


    The summer before I turned 21, I moved out into my first apartment with a friend. Being on my own gave me even more control of how I ate without anybody watching or judging. This newfound freedom kicked off a downward spiral. My diet basically consisted of Diet Coke and Xanax. With so little mental clarity and so much depression, I began doing things I knew were wrong but just didn't care. I made choices I still regret and was at the absolute lowest point in my life. Within three months, I was down 20 pounds and barely functioning. There were times I couldn't get up off the floor because I was so weak. Looking back now, it's all a huge blur and I can't believe I was living that way. Being moved out, I didn't see my family much but once I started visiting, they noticed the drastic change in my body and mind and only then did they realize how sick I really was. That August, I was admitted into a rehabilitation center and diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia, and intense anxiety. I spent what was without a doubt the hardest month of my life in the center, constantly working with nutritionists and therapists and finally accepting that I needed help. It was such a war inside. I knew I couldn't keep living the way I had been but I was still so scared to give up the only thing that I had used to cope and stay in control. The funny thing is, by restricting my entire world into this tiny, unrealistic box, I ended up losing all the control I really had. I had to quit my job, completely surrender myself to recovering, and awkwardly deal with questions of where I had been and what was going on. As far as things have come in our society, there is still a huge stigma surrounding most types of mental illness today. You might be embarrassed or afraid to ask for help, but I can tell you firsthand that it is the ONLY way to start down the path of getting better. Keeping things locked inside and to yourself will do nothing but eat you alive and make your problems 10 times worse. It's taken practically my entire life, but I've finally discovered one of the most therapeutic and beneficial things I can do is just reach out to someone. I've even been able to overcome a lot of my issues simply by saying them out loud. Telling someone else your worries usually helps you put them in perspective and realize how much you had blown it up in your head. It's been almost a year since I've left treatment, and although I still have days filled with hopelessness, loneliness, and despair, I am so incredibly grateful I'm no longer in that horrible place I was for so many years. I still go to therapy and nutrition appointments weekly and I'm still learning to accept myself and a healthier lifestyle, but I have gained so much knowledge and insight in the process.


    Once I really started dedicating my life to change, I started seeing things differently. One of the strongest things that hit me was, I don't judge other people by their weight. I don't think anyone is a better person just because they're thin. I don't know why it was so hard for me to process that it's the same the other way around. Others don't look at me and immediately decide my worth by my the size of my thighs. Being skinny doesn't define me. For a long time I think I didn't want to get better. When you have a disorder, it tends to become your identity. Overcoming my eating disorder would mean losing a part of myself, the only part I really knew. I didn't feel that I was smart, successful, or really worth anything. Who was I if I wasn't The Skinny Girl? It's taken me years to understand, but I am not a body. I am a soul. My Father in Heaven has so wonderfully blessed with me a beautiful, amazing vessel to live in. Because of this body I can walk through the park and feel the sun on my skin. I can run and chase my dog around the yard. I can pick up one of my little crying cousins and hold them in my arms until they feel the comfort coming from my strong, beating heart. And one day, if I am lucky enough to be so blessed, I'll experience that this human body is able to not only create another human body, but carry that sweet little growing soul inside of me. I want to be able to cherish and nourish that baby with everything I can give them. Who are we to nitpick and abuse these bodies when they themselves are precious gifts from our Heavenly Father? There are so many out there who have been given the challenge of a physical illness or ailment where getting up and just walking outside is impossible. Think of those born without limbs, without functioning organs, even without sight. What right do I have to hate my body when I've been so incredibly gifted with receiving one so healthy and strong? Why is it that we don't look at ourselves in amazement and insane appreciate every single day? We all have a subconscious desire to be perfect in some way, which is good because that's what keeps us moving forward. I still struggle with my insecurities every morning. But slowly and surely, I've learned it's not about how flat my stomach is, nor how thin my arms look or how small my waist is, or how others see me. It's the kind heart I have, the caring nature I can use to nurture others, the mind that has the capacity to learn and retain new information constantly. The way my Father in Heaven sees me. No matter how you feel about your body, no matter how much or how little confidence you have, try to see yourself the way God sees you. You are so much greater in His eyes. And no matter how heavy your burdens are, He is there to help us every step of the way.


    It should be easy to remember all these things, but we are human. That's why I try to thank God for my life and my health every day. For anyone experiencing depression, anxiety, worthlessness, self-loathing, an eating disorder, or anything along those lines, remember that you're not alone. There's no shame in your trials. We all have them, no matter what they may be. And you are more than that. Try to see things in an eternal perspective. Despite life's difficulties, look at the miracles we experience every day. Life is too wonderful and amazing to go through wasting it. I know positivity isn't just something we can switch on, I only wish it were that easy. But by taking things slowly and focusing on one thing daily that you've been blessed with, it will start to get easier. Have strength, faith, and gratitude. Whether you're getting outside help or simply turning to God, it's never, ever impossible to get out of the dark and into the sunshine that this life has to offer.

    5/2/15

    Counting on Curveballs

    I'm the kind of person who always has a plan. In fact, I've pretty much always been like this. When I was little, I like typing up dinner plans and party plans. I'm the type of person who gets thrown off when things don't go according to my plan. When things go off script, I don't usually handle it very well. 

    Now, this isn't always a bad thing. People who plan get things done. I've been able to accomplish a lot of things in my life because I tried to plan for them. But I have had to learn how to compromise a little, and calm down when things get thrown into the mix that I wasn't expecting. 

    About a month ago, something got thrown into my life mix that I wasn't planning on. I was rediagnosed as bipolar 2 with hypomanias and melancholy features. 

    My first thought:
    ".....what?"

    Immediately, I felt the familiar sensation of panic welling up in my chest. Being bipolar was not part of my life plan. Heck, neither was having depression or coming home early from a mission. It has been a little bit difficult for me to figure out how this new diagnosis is going to affect my life. I don't know how it will. It's something that I can't really plan for, and that freaks me out. 

    Here's the blessing in this experience: I am learning, yet again, that God is in control. There are some things in life that we just can't plan for. But the more often we realize who our Father is and put our trust in Him, the more fulfilling our lives are. Notice I didn't say the easier our lives are--no, "easy" is not part of this mortal existence. Having faith in God and His plan doesn't make life easy, but it makes it worth it. 

    Curve balls are not my favorite thing. I hate it when my plans don't go the way I wanted. The nice thing about challenges though is that I can plan on them happening! This new curve ball of being diagnosed as bipolar is not my favorite thing that has ever happened, but that's alright. This is giving me the opportunity to learn how to trust in God. Though my plans are not always His plans, I know that He knows what is best.