Saturday, November 24, 2018

Find your rock

I have to start this post by saying how lucky I am, because it's all about support. I am blessed with an amazing support system. My husband, my family and even a few friends have been my rock. 

I've learned that friends are tricky. They come and go, some after supporting you for years and suddenly deciding they no longer want to be in your life. Those losses are hard, but it's ok. Because even if you feel alone, there are always people who care. 

I've found that some of the best people to lean on can be those you've met through social media. Yes, Facebook can be a curse with all of those who pretend to have perfect lives, but it can also be a place to find groups where you are safe. Groups of people who understand. Some of those people may even become friends. It's interesting to me that some of the people I trust the most are those who it took years to meet and who I haven't seen since (but hope to again!) Some I haven't met and probably never will. But they are my people and I love them dearly. 

That said, there is no replacement for people who can drag you out of the house when you have no desire to go. Who can help pull you out of that cave of depression. For me, it's my husband. There have been friends here and there, but no one will ever compare to him. He senses when something is off, sometimes before I do. It's truly amazing.

I say all that to say this - find your people. Whether it be online, through your church, in your spouse. Find people who get it and won't run away when so many do. It's just as important as medicine, because that alone won't keep you truly happy. And if you don't believe those people exist, I promise they do. Don't be afraid to find them. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Cloud

Sometimes you feel it coming. Other times it hits you like a ton of bricks. This time, it was somewhere in between - feeling "off" without the depression actually setting in, until it did.

Tonight, as my kids ran wild instead of sitting at the table as they were told to do, I felt it. That black cloud
that consumes everything. That turns your mindset from optimistic to empty. That you can actually feel in your bones. My body became heavier. My brain felt foggy. And although I was looking at my family, my eyesight felt blank.

My world has changed again. The stress and loneliness has gotten to me. The chronic pain I feel with endometriosis has consumed so much of my energy and my ability to function. I'm. Exhausted.

There's a song out right now by Building 429 called "Where I belong" The chorus has words that have resonated with me in a way that only Satan could twist them...

"All I know is I'm not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong" 

I hear this song on the radio all the time. I know that it's supposed to be encouraging, but all it makes me think of, especially when I'm down, is how much better the other side will be. So often I feel like I don't belong here, that the world would be better off without me. 

But I will fight, just like I always do. I will lean on my support system. I will get through it. I'm not entirely sure how right now, but I know I can. I'm aware enough to know my family needs me. That I am loved. I'm present enough to recognize that things are going south, to catch it before it's too late. 

I will survive again and again and again. Because I have no other choice. 


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Cry with Me

When someone struggles with mental health, there are tears. LOTS of tears. Tears because you are sad. Tears because you don't know why you are sad. Tears because someone said or did something hurtful that you just can't shake.

And it makes people uncomfortable.

One of my heroes, Mr. Rodgers, said the statement in the picture on the left and it's stuck with me for awhile. Why does crying make people so uncomfortable? We all know from experience that simply saying "don't cry" doesn't help 99% of the time. But what else is there?

When talking to anyone who has mental health issues, these things are especially delicate. So many times they don't know why they are upset. It's a tough situation, because many times they can't even tell you what they need. What I can say is this: listen to them.
Listen to them cry and vent and let it all out. If they aren't ready to talk, let them know that you are when they want to. Be their safe place. As hard as it is, there's a fine line between pushing them to get out of bed and be active and giving them the space they need to heal. This all depends on the person and the situation. But please, check on your friends. Even your happy ones. Because you have no idea what they may be hiding. If they know that you are there, they may just open up when they are struggling.

Please, go against your first instinct. Don't show people who are struggling that their emotions make you uncomfortable. Get phrases such as "stop being so bipolar" or "why are you so depressed" out of your vocabulary. If a friend who struggles hears you say things like that, how could they possibly trust you? Overall, just be mindful of the fact that you have no idea what someone is going through and when they may need someone to talk to. Be that person. You have no idea how much it may help.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Those Sneaky Little Thoughts

 Currently, I'm still riding the high from the outpouring of support my husband and I received after sharing our story. Hearing people's kind words and testimonies was so incredibly powerful and I am so grateful we had the platform to share what we've been through and help a few people along the way.

But the illness is still there.

It likes to sneak in between thoughts, especially when ruminating over something that's embarrassing or upsetting to you. For example - Here I am, laying in bed dealing with endometriosis pain. Pain that two days ago had been so unbearable that I made a doctor appointment for Friday and then cancelled the morning of because I was feeling a bit better and didn't want to waste their time. Pain that has now returned when it may not have had I just gone to the appointment.

"Just slit your throat"

And there it is. The sneaky little thought that worms its way in when you are vulnerable. Do I really want to harm myself? No. Have there been times when enough of those thoughts clustered together to create a fireball of ideation big enough to make me seriously think about it? Yeah.

Those intrusive thoughts can come at any time and, as someone who suffers with mental illness, my guard always has to be up. I have to stay in my Wise Mind (see image)
enough that I acknowledge that the thought is there then immediately dismiss it, almost as if it's a bad joke.

This, for me, has to be one of the hardest parts of the struggle. Sometimes, when I'm really truly in my Wise Mind it's easy to flippantly throw those thoughts to the side. But as someone who suffers from Bipolar, staying there can be rough sometimes. It's so easy to let those sneaky little thoughts stay there and fester, building up more and more until it's not even ideation anymore, it's active self-harm or suicidal thinking. That's why learning what coping skills work for you is essential to staying healthy.

I wish I could say that these sneaky little thoughts would eventually disappear, but they don't. You just have to put in daily work to stay in your Wise Mind the very best you can, because all of those negative intrusive thoughts are lies. And the more you work on coping skills and loving yourself, the easier it will be to let them go just as fast as they entered.
**

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Redefining Brave

Today is World Mental Health Day and, honestly, I've been struggling with what to write. My husband, Ryan and I worked on a piece sharing our story for our newspaper that published today and have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and love. Our goal was to help make a dent in the stigma, and I like to think we achieved that on a small scale. But, there is always more to do.

People have been saying we are brave for sharing our story. But why?

The stigma. 

Don't get me wrong, we appreciate the kind words, and we understand why it could be considered brave in our present society. But we want to create a conversation around mental illness that is just like discussing any physical illness. Because, as said so many times before, it's an illness. It's not something to be ashamed of, like so many people are. But trust me, I get it.

When everything first started with me, I was confused. I was sad. I wanted to hide. I was scared to discuss it with people because I didn't want the judgment.

The stigma. 

Eventually I began opening up with the rest of my family and some friends. And then, the writer in me took over. My old blog, Mama to Monkeys, that had began as your basic mom blog became an outlet for me to vent about my daily struggles. I eventually stopped writing, taking quite the hiatus. Then, inspiration. I realized how badly I missed writing, but wanted it to be different this time. I wanted to work to help break the stigma and hopefully encourage people to not be ashamed of their illness. To help them realize that they aren't alone and that it's ok to talk about. Because, it is.

One in four people will be affected with mental or neurological illness in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, according to the World Health Organization. In other words, you are FAR from alone. There are so many others just like you - suffering in silence. Please, friends - reach out. Talk to a friend, family member, counselor or psychiatrist. Email me. Anything to help free you from that feeling of loneliness that I once experienced. 

Break your silence, even if it's just to one person. Find a confidante. If you need help, find a doctor who will listen and advocate for you. If you are in danger of hurting yourself, please seek help, even if it means checking yourself into a psychiatric facility. They will keep you safe and get you connected with professionals that can help. You deserve to live a happy life. And if you think that's an impossible goal, I promise it isn't. 

So, is it brave to talk about mental illness? Maybe. Should it be? No. Break your silence, even if it's just to one person. All it takes is a few baby steps to end up making strides in normalizing the conversation. Because we're all in this together.


**If you'd like to read our article, you can find it here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/nation-now/2018/10/13/mental-health-my-familys-mental-illness-fight-hope-column/1604540002/

**

Have questions, comments or just want to connect? Email me here or head on over to the community on my Facebook Page


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Living with an invisible illness

This isn't something I talk about often, but along with my mental health struggles, I am also living with endometriosis. I hide it the best I can, but I am in constant pain. It wraps around to my back and down my legs most days and because of my psych prescriptions all I can take is tylenol and ibuprofen. Sometimes this helps, most of the time I'm curled up on the couch near tears.

I try not to complain, but I am constantly turning down opportunities to do fun activities with the kids. I am currently sitting here, unable to get comfortable, wondering why the universe has made me push my hysterectomy twice, with no date in sight. I just want the pain to end, but I still have to manage.

I can tell you that this has taken a large toll on my mental health. I often feel useless and like I am a burden. I feel unable to give my kids the life they deserve. I feel unable to explain why I can't go to the park. I feel worthless.

Then I think about what I have already gone through. What I've put my family through. I think about the fact that I can't go to bed early without my kids crying for me. I think about how miraculous it is that I've been blessed with three kiddos when endometriosis can make conceiving so hard. And I realize, I'm worth it. The pain may be excruciating. It may seem like the more gruesome symptoms may never stop. And some days it may be impossible to even stand without crumbling into a seemingly useless pile on the floor, knowing that I need to get up and put on a brave face so I can pick up my kids from school. But I make it work.

I may have to sit more at the park. I may have to turn on Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol to survive the evening alone with my kids. I may complain to my husband until his ears fall off. But I'm here, and I'm worth it.

If you are struggling mentally or physically, know that I am here. I will listen to you and I will love you. Because you are worth so much more than you know.
**

Have questions, comments or just want to connect? Email me here or head on over to the community on my Facebook Page!


Monday, September 10, 2018

The Silent Killer

Suicide is a silent killer. It is a direct result of feeling depressed and empty. Like there is nothing to live for. Of looking at those who love you and feeling nothing. Of thinking "everyone deserves better" or "no one will miss me."

I've felt all of these things. My mental health has been so out of control that I put my family through attempted suicide after attempted suicide. I would go to a mental health facility, get out and try again. I didn't want to be here. At my lowest, I felt absolutely nothing. No sadness, no anger, nothing. I was empty. I was no longer "me." At my best, I could hide my feelings and seem "normal" until no one was watching, and then I'd try again. 

People don't seem to realize that those who commit suicide are so often hiding behind a smile. It's not always hitting rock bottom and being unable to hide the struggles. It can be people who go out and laugh with friends, then go home and take their lives because they can no longer handle the pain that they've worked so hard to hide.

And let me tell you, hiding pain is exhausting. It drains you mentally and emotionally. It makes you fall deeper into depression. It kills you.

I am lucky to be alive. I am lucky that the only side effects of my attempts are some memory loss and the pain in my heart. I don't remember a lot of that awful time. My family does. I've scarred them for life, but I'm here now. I'm ok. I have good days and bad days, but I now have coping skills. I am able to recognize when I am slipping and am able to reach out for help. I didn't have that before, but the help I received has saved my life a hundred times over.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you are struggling - whether it's being unable to leave the house or hiding behind a smile, please reach out. Tell your friend, tell your doctor, call the hotline below. Do something to get help. You are loved and you are worth it. You can get out and live a better life. There IS light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can't see it yet.

If you are struggling, please call the national suicide hotline at 1 800-273-8255 or go to your local ER who will get you the help you need, because YOU. ARE. WORTH. IT.

Keep fighting, friends.
**

Have questions, comments or just want to connect? Email me here or head on over to the community on my Facebook Page

Friday, August 31, 2018

Breaking the Stigma

Having any form of mental illness is hard, but when no one else understands, it makes things so much more difficult.

Recently, I asked a group of people who suffer from various diagnoses what they want  people to know. The responses were so relatable. The number one tidbit for people outside of the mental health world to know is that saying things like "you have a good life, be happy!" or "just shake it off" are about the least helpful things you can say. Mental illness is a disease. It's categorized under Behavioral Health, which is just as important as Physical Health.

For example, if we are struggling with unhealthy thoughts, I can almost guarantee we aren't taking care of our physical well-being the way we should be. Mental illness is a nasty cycle that is so much more complex than just flipping a switch.

Friends and family must also realize that mental illness comes in many forms and shows itself differently person to person, day by day. Just because someone seems "fine" on the outside doesn't mean they aren't battling strong demons on the inside. And, while medication can be a miracle worker for many, there are also those who have negative reactions or no response at all. Some even try extreme treatments such as Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) to treat their symptoms. Although those I have spoken with regarding ECT know that the treatment doesn't last forever, some described feeling "normal" for the first time ever.

Finding the right treatment may be the most difficult part of living with an illness. It can take years to find a treatment combination that works for you. Contrary to what some may believe, a general practitioner is often not qualified to handle mental health prescriptions. When someone is suffering, it is almost always best to see a psychiatrist who can help find the right medication cocktail. As many will learn, it can take a lot of trial and error to find something that makes them feel "normal" and able to function properly. It's also important to know that even the right combination will need to be tweaked or changed as time goes on, and that's OK!

It's also so important to surround yourself with people who will support you and advocate for you. Advocating for yourself is vital, but there are times where you may be so low that you just can't. When you hit rock bottom, that's when you need people to step in and help you climb out.

Then there are those who are living with and loving those with mental illness. So many times they are ignored, when in fact their loved one's illness affects them in ways those struggling don't understand. The meltdowns scar them, the support drains them. They carry our weight when we can't, and they deserve a huge amount of appreciation. And those they are supporting must realize it's not a burden for them, it's an act of love. How amazing is that?

The most important thing, though, is to be kind to everyone. You never know what they are going through, whether or not they have support or how they are feeling. A simple act of kindness may take a person off the edge without you even realizing it.

There is so much more I could go into, but remember that illness varies from person to person. So be open, listen, love and care. Be kind and supportive. Don't dismiss someone's feelings. And if you are struggling, reach out. Whether it's to a friend, family member, myself or the suicide hotline listed below, don't be afraid to talk. There will always be someone to listen.


  • US Suicide Hotline: 1 800-273-8255

**

Have questions, comments or just want to connect? Email me here or head on over to the community on my Facebook Page!



Monday, August 6, 2018

The Crash

It's set in. The sadness, the hiding, the depression.

I am struggling - bad. Yesterday, the thoughts I dread crept in.

"You're not good enough"
"Your family deserves better"
"Look around. Everything is a mess. It's your fault."
"You can't fix this. Why try"

So here I sit here near tears, barely able to function. I'm keeping my kids safe and healthy. I'm making sure we have clean clothes and dishes. I'm trying to breathe. The bare minimum to survive this life with three little boys in my care.

I want to be ok. I try to put on a brave face, but it's not brave enough to face anyone outside the walls of my house. My heart wants to take the kids outside. To make play dates. To do something. My brain won't let me. Just thinking about leaving the house gives me anxiety. The idea of taking the trash bin down the driveway makes my heart race and my stomach churn. It's crippling.

I haven't felt this way in months. I want to curl up in a corner and cry, but even one tear sends my sweet oldest unto a panic. So I put on a brave face. I parent the best I can, but each challenge beats me just a little further into the ground.

The worst part is that I know this is situational. Our little family had so much going on right now and I feel like there's nothing I can do to make it better. I am helpless. And I feel hopeless.

So here I am, waiting on a call back from my doctor, because I realize I can't do this alone. Friends, it's so important to get help. Don't try to do life alone. Talk to family. Find a good doctor. Seek help when you need to. Your life is too important not to. My life is too important not to.

It will get better.
**

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Taking a "sad day"

As many of you know, we recently found out that our oldest has an arachnoid cyst pushing on his brain. We, along with his neurologist, believe this is the reason behind his developmental and speech delays as well as his emotional issues.

This has been very hard on my husband and I. I cried with each family member we told. After we explained it to everyone, I gathered up my emotions, put them away and got serious about getting necessary appointments scheduled and researching the diagnosis.

I didn't take time to process because I was scared of plummeting. I didn't want to let my emotions take over and surround me with depression. I didn't want to hit that low again. That my baby needs me to have hulk like strength to get through this.

Then, it happened. I crashed. I cried. I looked at my sweet boy and unintentionally pictured the shaved head, the scar. I thought about how hard it will be to explain the surgery if he needs it. How hard his recovery may be. I imagined my husband and I praying in the waiting room as he was operated on, silently crying out of fear until we received the news that it went well.

I decided that this would be my processing day. I would take this one 24 hour period to stay in my pajamas, cry and sleep. To let the sadness and depression take over. I needed to let all of the emotion out. And it worked.

I cried and cursed and hugged my baby. The one time he caught me crying, I assured him that they were happy tears because sometimes people feel so lucky that they cry, and that's OK. There was some truth to that. The tears were because I love him so deeply that the idea of brain surgery devastates me. I feel so incredibly helpless. And on that day, my processing day, I let the helplessness take over with all of those other depression enducing emotions.

The next day, I gathered myself again. I packed away the depression. I told myself that I am strong enough to handle this. I reached out to anyone I could think of, desperately trying to prepare myself for every possibility. I took charge of my emotions, because I'm his mommy and he needs me. My husband needs me as much as I need him. And as a team, we are going to tackle this thing head on.

I write this because I want people to know that when times get hard, you don't have to be strong every single day. You're allowed to feel. I don't think it's healthy not to. It's ok to cry. It's ok to yell. It's ok to feel everything to the point of exhaustion - as long as you can pack it back up. Because you have to be strong. You can't let the sadness control you. You have to survive for those you love.

So take your day. Process. Pray. Take care of yourself so you can take care of those who need you. You got this.
**

Have questions, comments or just want to connect? Email me here or head on over to the community on my Facebook Page!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

We have a purpose

Yesterday, I was suicidal. I felt like I was a waste. Like all I did was make things harder on my husband and kids. It wasn't the first time I felt this way, but it had been awhile.

But man, is God good. He stopped me in my tracks with the best message from a friend. Then, at the kids' bedtime, my oldest became very upset. He told me that he had a dream that I died. He said it seemed so real and that it was very scary.

Wow, what a wake-up call! It's amazing how God can speak to you through others. I am important! My family needs me. And guess what, you are needed and important, too! We are all put here for a reason. We have a purpose. No matter how awful you may be feeling, know that your brain is tricking you. You are beautifully and wonderfully made. Don't ever forget that!
**

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Stay Positive












As I was scrolling through Facebook today, this image came across my screen. The message is simple enough, right? View the glass as half full, be the positive person in a bad situation. After all, a little positivity goes a long way.

But what if I can't? What if hard, negative situations cause me to shut down? What if I want so badly to be positive but if I'm able to feel any emotions at all they are full of dread?

Unfortunately, in many cases, this is my reality. I shut down so easily. It can be so small, just a comment made in passing or in the middle of an argument that I can't handle anymore.

When it happens, I'm numb. My thoughts are blank, my emotions disappear. I'm a robot whose batteries have been removed. It's scary sometimes, because I'm so emotionless that nothing brings me joy and with no joy, what's the point in existing?

This is where the CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) practice of mindfulness comes in handy. It involves focusing on the here and now. Looking at a situation and being mindful of what you can and can't control. And right here is where little reminders to stay positive no matter the situation are needed. For me, it's so easy to focus on the things I can't control. On the awfulness of my current world. And when I'm shut down, it's even more difficult to remember that I do, in fact, have positives in my life.

The most important thing is to learn how to get out of that funk. Sometimes all I can do is go to bed and pray the next day will be better. Other times, something as small as what put me there can bring me back out. And then, there are times when despite the odds I am able to use my coping skills and get back to a positive place, even when my world seems to be falling apart.
**

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Because PPD is real

Having a baby is wonderful and exciting and beautiful. You hear stories of the wonders of birth and how amazing our bodies are. Of how sweet it is to hold your new, little miracle. How each day, despite the exhaustion, is better than the last.

And then there's the crying. The constant feeding. Exhausted and over touched until you just can't anymore. The idea of changing one more diaper makes you want to cry. Your breasts are sore and cracked or every single bottle is dirty. Looking at that sweet face brings anxiety and sadness. This is postpartum depression (PPD).

PPD is more severe than the baby blues and doesn't go away on its own. According to Americanpregnancy.org, 70-80% of women will experience the baby blues while 15% suffer from PPD.

Feeling lonely and isolated, women struggle to keep up with the demands of a newborn. Whether they are a first time mama or 20 kids in, PPD can come on strong and fast.

Bringing a new little life into your world is hard. Birth doesn't just come with the physical trauma that everyone talks about. There's mental trauma, too! I don't think it matters how many children you've brought home, a new baby will always rock the world of everyone living there.

Even now, it seems that society believes it is the mother's job to hold everything together. That's so much pressure! But it's why I was determined to not even send my first to the nursery when I was in the hospital. It's why, as we moved cross country with three kids three and under, I did my best to pack up my unorganized, dirty home consumed by my PPD without help until the very last minute. It was an embarrassing disaster, but thank God for people who love us.

All the pressure, all the loneliness, all the pain built up inside me like a volcano until I didn't want to live anymore. I felt that everyone would be better off without me. That they deserved someone who could actually hold it together. It was the beginning of the worst time in my life, a constant climb up a mountain with faulty safety ropes.

But I made it.

Mamas, please don't be too afraid or ashamed to express how you are feeling. Talk to your spouse, a friend or most importantly your doctor. Don't let PPD bring you to that mountain. It's ok to not be ok. Self care is the most important part of being a mother. Putting yourself last, like so many do, will eventually result in pain and loneliness. Be kind to yourself. Be forgiving of your flaws. You are a beautiful soul - don't ever forget it.
**

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The diagnosis

Being diagnosed is a rough thing to handle. I knew something about me was different, but knowing that it was in my brain was hard to wrap my head around - no pun intended. 

For me, the diagnosis came after a full mental breakdown followed by months of suffering and suicide attempts. Medicines were tried, hospitalizations came one attempt after another. Minimal psychiatric testing was done until they finally consulted a specialist. I created stories based on single pictures and filled in hundreds of circles on questionnaires. I told the specialist about my history, he reviewed my chart and finally we had answers - Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, severe depression and severe anxiety. 

My medications changed but the symptoms didn't. Eventually, I was sent to a residential facility for 3 months to work on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) while trying to find the right medicine combination in a controlled environment. The medical aspect of the stay was horrible. The doctor prescribed so much lithium and seroquel that I could barely walk, talk or write. My therapist finally stepped in and I was sent to a different facility to detox. Once that issue was handled, I was able to better focus on learning coping skills. 

After it was all said and done, I can say I walked away with three things: 

1. I was never going to blindly trust doctors like I did before. I needed to start strongly advocating for myself when things didn't feel right. 
2. There were coping skills out there that I could use. The biggest being writing, something I had been away from for quite awhile. 
3. There are AMAZING people out there who "get it" in a way no one else can. Some of my dearest friends came from this stay. People who I can reach out to when I am struggling and need to find a way back to my wise mind. 

Now, over three years later, I'm finally on a good medicine combo, I recognize when I'm starting to slide and I can see all of the reasons I have to live. I can see all of the love from my amazing support system. 

This is a lifetime battle, but I feel as though I'm on the right track. There will be regressions, I'm sure. Maybe even a few more inpatient stays. Continuing on my current path would be wonderful, but I am also realistic in knowing that things aren't perfect, medications will change over time and that I have many hills and valleys in my future. Though the diagnosis will always be there, I have the tools and support to beat it every time.
**

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