Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts

8/23/17

If You Pray Hard Enough, Your Mental Illness Will Go Away

I found myself on my knees, tears streaming down my face, hands clenched so tightly together that my knuckles turned white. My room was dark, and my legs were starting to ache from how long I'd been kneeling. I kept repeating the same thing, "Please take it away. Please take it away. I can't do this anymore." The darkness of my depression felt unbearable. It seemed as though gravity had taken it upon itself to work extra hard on me that night. I felt dragged down, futher and futher. I grasped for God, begging for my burdens to disappear. But they didn't.




This was not the first time that this scene had happened. Quite frequently, I found myself in the same position, doing the same thing. I kept telling myself, "If you pray hard enough, your mental illness will go away." It has been almost four years now of highs and lows, panic attacks and despair. I've gone through a dozen medication changes, two doctors, three counselors, and a lot of sleepless nights. I am often exhausted from it all, and at times it feels all too much to bear. Needless to say, my illness has not gone away.

I think that often we blindly rely on prayer to solve everything. We expect answers to come packaged up nicely, exactly the way we want them to. President Monson once said, "Heavenly Father does answer prayers in His own time and in His own way."

As I have gone through what I have, I have come to say a different prayer. Instead of asking for my mental illness to go away, I ask for the strength to face it. God gives me strength through angel friends and family to comfort and uplift me. Words of church leaders edify and encourage me. (Like a Broken Vessel by Elder Holland for example) Books and resources for mental illness sufferers educate and inspire me. Strength to face my challenges comes in so many ways that it is hard to name them all.

I am still struggling. I am still trying. I fall down lots and it sometimes takes awhile to get back up. Praying hard has not made my mental illness go away, but it has given me the strength I need to carry on.





6/22/17

What to do When You're Depressed

Whether you are diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), or going through a personal crisis, or honestly if you're just human--you'll be depressed at times. The depression may range from mild blues to not being able to get out of bed. So, what do you do when you find yourself in a position where everything seems gray and like nothing will ever get better? I have a few tips today that might help you out. Everyone experiences depression in different ways, so these won't necessarily apply to everyone. However, I truly believe that at least one of these tips can help you out in a time of depression.





What to do When You're Depressed:

Step 1. Rate your symptoms. I usually do this on a "1 to 10" scale, one being the worst, ten being the best:

      10. Things are perfectly awesome. No need to worry.
        9. Things are pretty great. Not everything is perfect, but you're getting along just fine.
        8. Things are pretty good. Not too much to complain about, though nothing is perfect.
        7. Things are good, but getting closer to the "meh" side of things. You're trudging along and having a pretty good time for the most part.
        6. Things aren't necessarily the best. They aren't bad, but they aren't good. Things aren't quite going your way and you're a bit discouraged at times.
        5. Things are "meh". You don't really want to do much, but you go about your daily routine out of necessity, hoping things will get better.
        4. Things aren't very good. You consider calling in sick to work because you're just not feeling up to handling life today. You follow most of routine, but it is extremely difficult.
        3. You call in sick to work and to all of your obligations. You can't seem to get out of bed. You have a constant stream of negative thoughts that you can't seem to push away. Everything that usually sounds good doesn't sound good at all. Your body feels heavy and you mind feels sluggish. If you go to a psychiatrist, now might be a good time to call your doctor, or to call your therapist.
        2. You are extremely low. All of the symptoms of 3 plus suicidal thoughts and feelings. You almost feel numb at times. You definitely should call your doctor and/or therapist.If you don't have a psychiatrist, call your normal general physician.
        1. You are making suicide plans. At this point, you should call you doctor and go into the hospital.

(Now, I am no medical or psychiatric professional. This scale is based on my own personal experiences, so please keep that in mind.)

Step 2. Now that you have rated where you're at, you'll be able to make the necessary adjustments to start feeling better. For the next steps 3-9, I'm going to address ratings 5 through 3. If you can't move past a step, congratulate yourself for making it to that step and rest. If later on you can keep pushing forward to the next step, great! If not, stay proud of yourself for accomplishing what you have.

Step 3. Stand up. It sounds silly, but just do it. Stand up and walk into a different room. Getting your blood flowing will surprisingly help your mood.

Step 4. Take a shower or change your clothes. Taking a shower always helps me clear my head a bit and relax. If you aren't up to a shower, change your clothes. Changing your clothes helps your mind recognize that you're trying to change up your perspective.

Step 5. Get ready for the day, even if you aren't going to leave your bed. Feeling ready can help you feel accomplished and better about yourself. Whenever I'm having a bad day, I try to make it to this step. If I make it to this step, I feel somewhat better, even if I don't move onto step 6.

Step 6. Get outside. Even if you just step out onto your porch, get outside for just a minute. Cabin fever is a real thing, my friends. Getting a tiny bit of fresh air for just a minute can do wonders.

Step 7. Go somewhere. Go on a walk. Go on a drive. One of my favorite things to do is to go to Sonic and grab a Diet Coke. Not necessarily a "healthy" habit, but it gets me out of my house and helps me feel better.

Step 8. Try to do one act of service. Text a friend you know is having a hard time. Call a family member and tell them you love them. Don't yell at the person who cuts you off. (That's my kind of service) Give a dollar or two to that person on the corner. Do something. Do something for someone, no matter how small.

Step 9. Move on to doing what obligations you can for the rest of the day. Do what you can, then get some rest. Sleep is important for mental health, especially for those who suffer from MDD or other disorders.

Now, for ratings 2-1:

Step 3. Call a trusted friend or family member and alert them to what is going on. Even if you're afraid to or don't want to "bug them". Please just call them. It is important to have a support system. (If you feel like you don't have anyone to turn to, you can email me! yellowinthegray@gmail.com)

Step 4. Call your doctor, therapist, and/or the suicide hotline. 1-800-273-8255. Don't stay dwelling on suicidal thoughts and feelings. Now is the time to get help. Be brave enough to pick up the phone and get the help you need.

Step 5. Follow the directions of your friend/family member, doctor, therapist, or other professional you got in touch with.

Now, I'm not a professional when it comes to these things. However, I do have a lot of experience. I have a lot of experience with not being able to get out of bed. I am well versed in negative thoughts that hold me back from being happy. I know what it's like to feel like gravity is dragging me down and that nothing will ever get better. But I also know that these steps help! They have helped me overcome depression day to day, and I think they'll help you too.





Do you have any other tips? Comment them below!

6/30/16

How to Save a Life

A couple of weeks ago, the author of this article-Steve Johnson-reached out to me and asked if he could share some important facts about suicide prevention and I am honored to share his article today. 

The topic of suicide is hard to talk about, but it's crucial that we do. I once found myself in a mental state where I was teetering on the edge of being suicidal. I didn't want to die, but I didn't want to live. I will be forever grateful for those around me who helped pull me away from that edge. I owe them so much more than I can ever give them. 

Just like those who helped me, you can help your loved ones step away from the darkness that engulfs them. They need you, more than you might know. You might be the one who saves their life.




Suicide Prevention and Mental Health


Mental illness affects nearly 10 million Americans, and for some, the weight of the disorder can lead them to substance abuse, depression, and even suicide. It’s a threat that any age group can suffer from, and while it can be overwhelming to watch a loved one go through it, there are things you can do to prevent the symptoms from causing a loss of control. 

For many who suffer with a mental illness, alcohol and drugs can seem appealing because of their ability to curb some of the symptoms, or to help the user cope. Therefore, early detection and diagnosis of the illness is imperative so that medication and/or therapy can begin, especially since alcohol use can interfere with the diagnosis and make a disorder difficult to detect. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, detection is also made difficult when the patient is depressed, and studies show that nearly one-third of people with serious depression also have an alcohol abuse problem. 

It can be tricky to detect a mental illness in another person, and it’s important to remember that only a doctor can diagnose. However, there are warning signs:

Changes at school or work

Frequently getting into trouble, not being able to focus, a lack of motivation, and sudden changes in attendance could be signs of a mental illness or a potential substance abuse problem

Changes in appearance and behavior

Sudden changes in appetite, sleep habits (too much or too little), paranoia, fits of rage or apathy, and changes in dress and hygiene are all signals that your loved one might be using drugs or alcohol and struggling with a comorbid mental illness

Physical changes

Shaky hands, slurred speech, agitation, periods of giddiness or seemingly unable to control their emotions, bloodshot eyes, and dilated pupils are all physical signs of substance abuse.

Also, it’s important to note that because alcohol and drugs physically harm the brain and interfere with the psyche, people with mental illness who also abuse substances are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than the general population. 

Depression and suicide go hand in hand, so it’s important to know what to look for as far as behavior goes. If your loved one talks about feeling hopeless or mentions suicidal thoughts, let them know you’re listening and that you take what they’re saying seriously. Often, mental illness patients feel as though no one understands what they’re going through, so it’s important to let them talk without judgement. Other signs of suicidal thoughts can include:

● Exhibiting self-destructive behavior
● Withdrawing from family and friends
● Sudden loss of interest in things that once gave them joy
● Voicing thoughts of worthlessness
● Severe or violent mood swings, including becoming happy after a long depression

With some mental health issues, symptoms begin to manifest years before diagnosis, which can make it difficult for families to watch for warning signs where behavior is concerned. However, if you notice sudden changes in mood or personality, or if risky behavior is suddenly introduced, it might be a good idea to talk to your loved one. Let them know you’ll help them, and if the threat of suicide is imminent, stay with them or have a trusted friend or family member stay with them until you can get help

Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow pre-med student. The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. He continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website, but also enjoys tennis and adding to his record collection in his spare time.







3/3/16

A Letter to Myself

The day I came home from my mission is a bit of a blur in my mind. Most of it is a mush of things that I've tried to forget. But, I have a few poignant, fragmented memories that won't ever leave me.

I remember looking out the window, numb, as my AP's drove me to the airport. They nervously tried to make small talk with me and the other two sisters in the car, then just with each other. I felt bad for them.

I remember seeing my dad for the first time in six months and the look of pain and concern on his face that he tried to conceal with a smile. He flew to Seattle to pick me up so that I wouldn't have to fly home alone. After security, while we were waiting for our flight, my dad asked me what I wanted. "What do you mean?" "What do you want? What can I buy for you?" I asked for Starbucks pumpkin spice hot chocolate. 

I remember walking down the stairs at the SLC airport, seeing my family waiting below. They looked as nervous as I was. When I got to her, my mom hugged me tighter then she ever has. My mascara smeared on my face and on her shirt. My little sister Amberly was taller, much taller than I remembered.

I remember that friends called. Neighbors visited. My family and I sat together, trying to inject some happiness into the awkward, sad bitterness than hung in the air. I told them funny stories and they told me some too. I pulled out the couple of Seattle souvenirs that I had snagged at various points in my mission--most of them tacky plastic somethings with the Space Needle plastered on them. We smiled and pushed back the tears the best we could. 

Sometimes, I wish I could relive that day. I wish I could tell myself then everything that I know now. I wish I could go back and square up my shoulders and hold my head high, because now I know that I deserved to. There are so many things I wish I had known back then. If only I could send a letter back to myself, to the girl in November of 2013.


Dear Rachel,

    Wipe away those tears. I know you're sad. It's okay that you're sad, but you're sad for the wrong reasons. You're sad because you think you failed. You think you gave up and failed everyone around you. But guess what? You didn't fail at all. No, you served the mission that God wanted you to serve. You didn't fail Him at all. He has something else in mind for you. Just because your mission only lasted six months doesn't mean you didn't serve a full mission. You did. Be proud of that.
   
    The next few months--years, really--are going to be tough. You aren't going to heal as quickly as you think you are, but you are going to make progress. You are going to make friends. You are going to find bits and pieces of happiness that will build up into something beautiful. 

    People aren't going to judge you like you think they are. They are there for you! They love you. They support you. Your ward, your friends, your extended family--they are all going to give you more love than you can believe is possible. They believe in you and want you to succeed. They are proud of you for everything that you've done. You are so lucky to have them. Cling to the support they are going to give.
    
    Rachel, your parents are hurting right now. They need help too. Seems strange, doesn't it? They are hurting for you. They want nothing more than to take away your pain. Love them lots, okay? Let them help you. Help them in return. Don't forget that they are your number one supporters.
    
    Your little sisters don't know what to do. It's hard for them to see their big sister in such a low spot. They've looked up to you for so long. But now it's your turn to look up to them. They have so much strength in them! They love you and want to help you. Rely on them, love them, and thank them. They might seem small and young, but they are powerful.
   
    Rachel, know this: There are better times ahead. Don't get overwhelmed by the darkness you are feeling right now. Cling to the little bit of light you have. Cling to the knowledge that you have that God loves you. He does. I know you don't believe it right now, but you've got to. Remember that the Savior not only died and atoned for you, but that He felt everything that you are feeling right now. When He knelt in that little grove of olive trees, He felt the ache you are feeling in your chest. He went through that dark hell that you are going through. He suffered it all. Don't forget that.
     
    Rachel, you've got a tough road ahead of you. Things aren't going to be easy. In fact, sometimes they feel worse. You're going to struggle, but it's going to be worth it. Keep going. Keep fighting. Hold on. Most of all, remember this: you are never alone.

Love,

The Optimist in Progress

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

10/6/15

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.

4/20/15

My Life as a Failure


This semester has not been my best semester. In fact, it has been my worst semester as far as grades go, ever. Yup. Ever. It has been making me feel quite a bit like a failure. 

I get really hung up on success and failure. I have my entire life. I am constantly plagued by the thought, "You just aren't good enough." Enough. What is enough? Enough never seems attainable. Failure seems inevitable as I am a very imperfect person. 

However, the other day I realized something. Failure is good. As things have fallen apart in my life or as I have failed to attain goals that I really wanted, I've had to take a step back. When I take a step back, I take a look outward. It's amazing what failures will do to help me see the eternal scope of things. Failure makes me turn outward and turn to God. 

To God, I am never a failure. Yes, I make mistakes and have flaws. I commit sins and I fall down. But that doesn't make me a failure! It makes me human. And being human is part of this experience we call "life." We were sent here to this earth to gain a body and to learn from our failures and successes. I don't think that God's divine plan would include us being failures to Him. 

I am grateful that God sees me for who I am. He sees me for who I've been, who I am, and who I can become. He always loves me, even when the world sees me as a failure. I am never a failure to Him if I just keep trying. 

That final you bombed? Doesn't make you a failure. That class that you have to retake? Doesn't make you a failure. That job you didn't get? Doesn't make you a failure. You only become a failure if you allow the things you've failed to overpower your will to try again. 



4/5/15

That I May Be Whole

Almost two years ago, I set out to serve an eighteen month mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had so much hope and excitement in my heart as I set out to serve the Lord in Washington. I did not anticipate the struggles I was going to face on my mission. Honestly, I couldn't have. The depression I faced, the darkness I faced--it was all consuming at times. There were times when I felt I couldn't continue. I know that it was only through the testimony I had of Jesus Christ that I was able to press on when I just wanted to quit.

On this Easter Sunday, I want to bear my testimony of the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. He truly did live and He rose on the third day. With His resurrection, He overcame death. With His Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, He overcame spiritual death. I know with all my heart that He felt all the pains and struggles that we all face. He felt my despair, my discouragement, my depression. Because I know that, I know that He understands and is always there for me. He knows my pain, my trials, my suffering. Through Him, I find peace and healing as I continue to fight my depression.

The day that the picture below was taken, which was the day I came home early from my mission, I felt so completely broken. Though at times I may crack and break, I know that He heals all my wounds with the wounds in his hands and side and feet. I am eternally grateful for the things Christ endured so that I may be whole.


1/18/15

A Letter to the Dejected

To the Dejected,

    I just wanted to write you to let you know you aren't alone. I can sense that there are times that you feel abandoned or forsaken. I've felt like that before. 
    There have been times when I have felt like no one really cared or understood what I was going through. It is a really scary feeling, feeling dejected. There have been times when the pain inside of me felt endless. I was walking through a dark tunnel with no light at the end. There have been dark days and dark nights when my mind felt like an inescapable pit of sadness. There have been times when I couldn't trust my thoughts, because those thoughts were unforgiving. There have been times when I would cry out to God and feel as though He was very distant from me. I couldn't understand why. There have been times when all I've wanted to do was give up.
    Friend, I've had times like yours. I know mine aren't exactly the same, but they are similar. I'm writing this letter to you to let you know that you are never alone. No matter how far gone you feel, no matter how dark the night, no matter how distant God seems--you are never alone. There is always hope. There is always light. Don't give up, don't quit, don't stop. Tomorrow is fresh and new, full of life and hope. Give it a chance. Give yourself a chance. 
 There is a God, and He is your father. He loves you, always, no matter what. "He knows of the times you have held onto the fading light and believed—even in the midst of growing darkness." Keep reaching to Him and trusting in Him. 

Love, always,

The Optimist in Progress


12/2/14

Everyone Needs Help Sometimes

When I came home from my mission, I was visited by a sweet family in my ward. They talked to me and let me know that I was loved and supported. Then, they went out of their way and gave me several books, one of them called "The Writer's Devotional" by Amy Peters. They knew that I love to write and use it as an outlet. I was flipping through this book today looking at the different writing prompts it offers. One of them is: Everyone needs help sometime... This prompt in particular struck a chord with me. Why? Because it is a known fact that is often never admitted to.

People don't like asking for help. For some reason, asking for help has become associated with weakness. Admitting weakness is intolerable in the society that we live in. We make sure to always put on a good face. We slap filter after filter on our pictures, trying to make ourselves look unrealistically good. When someone asks how we are, without thinking we reply "Good!" We live in constant fear of others finding out that we aren't actually perfect. (gasp)

To me, when we don't admit weakness, we are implying that we don't need help from God. Okay, that's a bit extreme, but think about it. If we are perfect and lead perfect lives, why in the world would we need help from God? Pretending to be perfect is a form of pride. We are supposed to have weaknesses and trials because these help us learn that we need God, and that we can't trust entirely in ourselves.

Ether 12:27 "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness, I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

Everyone needs help sometime. Everyone falls short. Everyone has bad days. Because we live in such a self-centered, perfectionistic world, weaknesses like depression and other mental illnesses aren't accepted. They are looked down upon, misunderstood, and mocked. I wish that we lived in a world that instead of glorifying fake perfection, glorified those who fall down and get back up again. Maybe then we would be less likely to turn our nose up at the weaknesses of others and beat ourselves up for our own shortcomings. Everyone needs help sometime, and that's okay.


8/14/14

Being an early return missionary.

[Okay folks, from the get go you need to know this about this post: it's not a critical post. It isn't meant to point fingers or to be scathing. It's an awareness post about something I believe is an issue in the LDS community.]

I came home from my mission on a Saturday. My greeting party at the airport wasn't my dreamed-of-whole-extended-family. It was my mom, my sisters, and my grandparents. Riding down the escalators with me wasn't another missionary, but my dad. There were lots of tears shed, and not really tears of happiness, though there were a few or those. I was an early-release missionary. 

I remember that next day, Sunday. I knew my parents were nervous about it. I could feel the tension in the air as they asked me about how I wanted to handle it. I shrugged and said, "Openly." 

My parents had every right to be nervous, and I should've been too. When missionaries come home early, there are always THOSE looks. "Did she do something wrong, I wonder?" A sister mutters to her husband. "Maybe she's too sick." A brother wonders to himself. Too often, this happens. If you're an early return missionary reading this, you know exactly what this discomfort is that I'm talking about. The questions that everyone has. 

I didn't want to deal with questions, so I asked my bishop to announce over the pulpit that I had been medically released for depression. Instead of gasps and stares like I was expecting, there was a comfortable, warm quiet in the chapel. 

My ward was absolutely loving and welcoming to me. Instead of looking down on me, they held me in their collective arms and helped bear my burdens. 

I know, however, not every missionary gets this warm welcome. I know Elders, especially, can have a hard time because going on a mission is a priesthood responsibility. Too often instead of loving and supporting early-return missionaries, members are quick to judge and question missionaries. There are various reasons why missionaries come home early--worthiness, mental illnesses, injuries, illnesses. Whatever the cause, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all give that missionary the benefit of the doubt? We are all imperfect beings who make mistakes and who are prone to sickness. Even IF the missionary came home early for worthiness, they are almost always home to work it out with their bishop and The Lord. We all need the Atonement, and it isn't fair for us to think less of an individual because they have made mistakes. As President Uchtdorf put it: "Don't judge me because I sin differently than you."

We all have trials in this life. Sometimes, those trials make it necessary for missionaries to come home early from their missions. As the Savior said so lovingly, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." I know that as we all make the continued effort to love our brothers and sisters who come home early, we will become even better followers of Christ who emulate His love and His life. 

8/3/14

What it really is.

As of yesterday, I have been home from my mission for 9 months. It has been a long, challenging, but growth filled nine months. I have had opportunities to share my story with others who are struggling with similar things to me. I got to speak to a stake girl's camp about depression. I've had a couple thousand hits on this blog. I got featured on an early-return missionary website. (http://www.missionarieshomeearly.com/#!rachel/c1ltr) Basically, I've had some pretty incredible experiences that were a direct result of being open about my depression. However, I have faced a few negative experiences, and those experiences were with people who do not understand depression.

Let me make a quick disclaimer: I don't know everything about depression, and neither do experts. As with all mental illnesses, depression is a complex disease that is centered in the brain. With this post, I am not claiming that I know everything about every case of depression-heck, I don't even understand my own case. My purpose with this post is to provide some brief, basic information about depression so that maybe we can all understand it a little bit better.

I did some research before writing this, and my favorite article that I came across was published by Harvard. (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/what-causes-depression.htm) It is very factual and simple, as well as broad. Here is one main point:

Our brain is full of thousands of neurons which communicate messages from various parts of the body to the brain, and vice versa. To communicate, these neurons receive electrical signals and then release neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that go from neuron to neuron. I like to think of them as letters being put in a mailbox. These "letters" attach themselves to specific "mailboxes" in adjacent neurons. This is an intricate process that I am not an expert in. However, when it comes to depression, most often it is caused by an imbalance in these neurotransmitters.

(You should definitely go read the article that Harvard health published [link above]. The article continues to talk about several other known causes for depression like trauma, life events, genetic predisposition, medications, and a few other things.)

I want to make it very clear with this post: Diagnosed MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) is not a choice. Again, depression is not a choice. Yes, there are choices we make that can affect our emotions, especially bad decisions. But when it comes to diagnosed depression, it isn't a choice that an individual makes to be sad. I make this distinction because of my experiences I've had with people who don't really know what depression is. They tell me that it is a selfish emotion that I just need to get over. They tell me it is all in my head and that if I would just think better thoughts that I would be alright. I wish it were that easy! But it isn't. I have to take medication, go to counseling, and keep a carefully balanced lifestyle. Trust me, I'd much rather just think about sunshine and daisies and feel better.

Elder Holland put it splendidly when he said:

"Let me leave the extraordinary illnesses I have mentioned to concentrate on MDD—“major depressive disorder”—or, more commonly, “depression.” When I speak of this, I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have. Everyone is going to be anxious or downhearted on occasion. The Book of Mormon says Ammon and his brethren were depressed at a very difficult time, and so can the rest of us be. But today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!

No, this dark night of the mind and spirit is more than mere discouragement. I have seen it come to an absolutely angelic man when his beloved spouse of 50 years passed away. I have seen it in new mothers with what is euphemistically labeled “after-baby blues.” I have seen it strike anxious students, military veterans, and grandmothers worried about the well-being of their grown children."

Despite the complexity of MDD, I know that there are steps that one can take to become healthy again. Not everyone gets completely healed of depression-I'm not sure I will. But there is always hope. I know this. And my hope comes from the Atonement of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Because He overcame death and rose again, I know that one day I too, can rise perfected. Again, from Elder Holland:

"I testify of the holy Resurrection, that unspeakable cornerstone gift in the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ! With the Apostle Paul, I testify that that which was sown in corruption will one day be raised in incorruption and that which was sown in weakness will ultimately be raised in power. I bear witness of that day when loved ones whom we knew to have disabilities in mortality will stand before us glorified and grand, breathtakingly perfect in body and mind. What a thrilling moment that will be! I do not know whether we will be happier for ourselves that we have witnessed such a miracle or happier for them that they are fully perfect and finally “free at last.” Until that hour when Christ’s consummate gift is evident to us all, may we live by faith, hold fast to hope, and show “compassion one of another,” I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

Never give up hope--for yourself, or for those you love. Depression is a real thing, but it is a real thing that can be treated--especially by love.



5/18/14

Labels

When I was on the airplane flying home from Washington, I made up my mind. The decision I made was to do exactly what I'm doing right this second. I promised myself that I was going to be open about why I was home early from my mission. I decided that I was going to write about it and share with others, with the hope that my experiences might be able to someday help someone else. 

When I made this decision, I knew it came with one very big risk: labels. I knew that as soon as I opened up about having MDD, I would be labeled as "depressed." I want to be clear: I have depression, depression does not have me. Luckily, I haven't had to deal too much with negative labels, but I think it's an issue worth addressing because I know people who haven't been as lucky as me when it comes to the judgments of others. I'm a fan of myth busting, and I think I've done it once before on this blog. But let's do it again:

Myth 1: People with depression alway want to hurt themselves or kill themselves. 
      Do people with heart problems constantly have heart attacks? Nah. It's along the same lines with depression. Just as heart attacks are not always equated with heart problems, the same is true of MDD. 

Myth 2: People with depression are always sad. 
       It's different for everyone. For me, I tend to be tired, numb, or irritable. Just because someone is diagnosed with depression doesn't mean that they are always sad. 

Myth 3: If you have depression, your life is basically gonna suck. 
       Thank heavens for modern medicine and counseling. I have MDD, but at the moment I'm almost completely healthy. My brain just needs a little more attention to keep it healthy than your average person. 

Myth 4: People with depression just drag people down. 
        Ya,  I'm sure some people who are really struggling can be a bit of a downer, but nine times out of ten, they just want someone to listen and someone to care. 

Myth 5: People with depression just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get over themselves. 
         Ah. My favorite. Just like keeping our bodies healthy is a combination of activities and nutrients, it's the same with the brain. Telling yourself to lose weight doesn't quite work, and neither does telling yourself to be happy when you have MDD. Sometimes, you need counseling, medication, exercise, AND positive thinking to keep your brain healthy. And that's alright. Positive thinking is a huge helper when fighting depression, but it generally isn't the only tool one should or can use. 

These myths are some of the labels I've faced as I've been open about my depression. Most of the time, the people placing these labels mean well, they truly do. But sometimes, they're just wrong. So the next time you're tempted to label someone as soon as you find out that they struggle with something, consider the labels you would receive if people knew about your challenges. Everybody has a story, and it's up to us to not judge them by their covers. 




4/1/14

Happier Days Ahead

I'm not very good at hope. It is an attribute I constantly study and pray for. I'm just one who falls prey to the darkness of despair pretty easily. Confession time: the past little while has been pretty crummy. A living hell at times. I've been feeling pretty hopeless about pretty much everything in my life: school, love, friends, you name it. As I was doing my normal perusing of Pinterest, I came across one of my favorite quotes from Elder Holland:

I absolutely love this quote because it gives me a different perspective on hope. Hope isn't believing that everything is cheerful and rosy. It isn't even believing that absolutely everything will be fixed. It is about having trust in our Heavenly Father, trust that in the end, He will make everything all right. Hope isn't not drinking the bitter cup, it is drinking and trusting. Trusting that somewhere down the road, there are happier times and experiences in store. So here's to hoping. 

2/24/14

Floating on.

      I tend to notice small things. Things like an early blossom on the branches of a tree. The complexities of colors in a sunset. Cracks in the brickwork of an old building.

      However, I also get caught up in the little things. A less than perfect score on a test. A passing comment a friend made. My lack of self-confidence.
      I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Maybe it's just the human in me to get caught up in the small things? Maybe I try to distract myself from the big things with things of little consequence? But as I look out at the world around me, I see that I'm not alone. Everyone is rushing around in their own little world, checking little things off a never-ending to-do list. We become so preoccupied with the inconsequential that we forgot the things of great consequence. We carry around heavy burdens of tasks that we assigned to ourselves. And even if we didn't assign them to ourselves, why do we let them become so heavy?
      This is especially true with me and my depression--I get so caught up in the day to day struggles that I forget to look for the good in the bigger picture. In the painting of life, my depression urges me to keep staring at the dark clouds instead of taking in the bigger picture and the beauty of it. If I can't find the beauty right that second, then I at least need to be okay with "okay" until things get better. 
      So that is a new goal for me: letting things go. There is so much more to my life than the to-do's. If I don't do perfectly on something, the world isn't going to end. The sun always rises, the smile always finds its way to my lips. The darkness doesn't last forever, and if I try hard enough, I realize that in reality I'm surrounded by sunshine. It's not worth it to get weighed down by the little things when in reality I could be soaring. 


I just gotta take a step back and breathe.






1/22/14

The perks of being depressed.

So, I've become very good at complaining. I'm excellent at looking at negative things and diving into them and reveling in them. Well, not today, kids!

I have found a big perk of having depression: because of the experiences I have had in dark places, I appreciate light. Because of my illness, I recognize  the contrast between light and dark more than maybe your average person.

"And I, God, said: Let there be alight; and there was light. And I, God, saw the light; and that light was good. And I, God, divided the light from the darkness." Moses 2:3-4




God created both dark and light. The contrast between the two makes beauty--both physical beauty and metaphysical beauty. Having depression and being in a dark spot isn't fun, but just as it is blindingly beautiful to come out of a dark room and into the sunlight, it is beautiful when I find the "light" at the end of the tunnel.

So what is light in a metaphysical sense? My metaphysical light is a day where I can put a smiley face on my calendar. A text from a friend I haven't heard from in awhile. Finding a Dr. Pepper in the back of my cupboard. The little things. These things probably wouldn't be considered "light" to most people. But they are. They are the light from the flame of a match, throwing shadows against the wall. They are a naked light bulb in a dark basement. They matter, and they are beautiful bits of light.

So, the perk of being depressed? The darkness makes it easier to notice the light, no matter how little the source.




1/15/14

Depression Behind Perfection

Yesterday I was walking quickly through campus, dodging people here and there as I headed to class. As I walked, out of the corner of my eye I noticed the newest copy of "The Universe," BYU's student newspaper, on the stands. It's headline caught my eye and a closer look confirmed that I saw what I thought I saw: "Battling Depression."

I am so grateful to see the dialogue about depression increasing, especially at BYU. It has been incredibly awkward to try and explain to people how I am a returned missionary, yet still nineteen years old. As bravely and as cheerfully as I can, I tell them I was sent home to deal with depression. To see the headline on the newspaper made my heart literally leap with joy. It's time that we start talking more openly about depression, especially in the Mormon community. (Elder Holland proved that during the October conference.) Depression is not a weakness or a punishment for a sin. It isn't magically cured by scripture reading and other pious acts. It is a physical illness and it affects millions. There are resources all around to help, and perhaps the greatest resource of all is faith in the healing power of the Atonement.

In the article, "Depression Behind Perfection" it is illustrated that perfectionism often leads to depression. I have seen this all too often in my own life and battle with depression. In the church we all too often expect perfection from ourselves when we are clearly taught that perfection will only be achieved after this life. I keep having to remind myself that. If we take a look at the scriptures, we see that not even prophets were perfect. The only perfect being was Jesus Christ, and He understands our imperfection. He knows that we will fall short. He experienced this fact when He spent that long night in the Garden of Gethsemane. All He asks is that we come unto Him, and become perfected in Him. 

Through the past few months as I've traversed deep pits of despair, my greatest peace came from sharing my own Gethsemane with the Savior. I testify that He has been here with me. He always has been and always will be. In my moments of darkness, I know that none of it, no darkness whatsoever, can compare to the Light of the World.




Here's the link to the article in the Universe: http://universe.byu.edu/2014/01/14/depression-behind-perfection/