ART

I’m trying yet another kind of therapy to help with trauma from the past that is still affecting my present, in the form of anxiety. It’s called ART, or Accelerated Resolution Therapy. It is similar to EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) in that it uses eye movement and visualization, but the results are much quicker.

I liked it because, while my therapist guided me, I was really the one in control. I didn’t even have to tell her anything I was seeing or feeling unless I wanted to. And yet, the session continued. I was pretty drained and very tired, after, but I also felt lighter, like this weight of burden had been lifted off of me.

There is this tiny of seed of doubt at whether one session could really have worked, but I also have faith because I’ve experienced the true effect of EMDR. My ART session focused on something that doesn’t necessarily affect my everyday life, but rather certain circumstances that sometimes arise, so I can’t say for sure, yet, how much it helped, but I have noticed that when I think of those memories associated with the trauma I no longer feel any sort of anger, frustration, fear, sadness, depression, etc. That, also, is incredibly freeing! And it adds to my faith that ART really does work.

I truly am amazed at how far we’ve come in regards to help for mental illness. When I was first diagnosed with depression as a teenager, over twenty years ago, it seemed like the only thing you could do was take medication or use talk-therapy. Both of those things can work, but there are so many more options now, as well, which makes me incredibly grateful. As always, it’s about remembering that what works for me may not work for you. It’s about finding what does work for you and sticking with it. We deserve help. We deserve healthier lives. Because we are all worth it!

Reboot, Recharge

Sometimes in life we need a reboot, something to recharge us and get us going again. I had one of those recently. My husband and I went to Hawaii for our one-year anniversary, and it was amazing! It truly was as beautiful and amazing a place as everyone says. Spending time in nature and having fun with my husband was something I desperately needed.

Getting back to the normal grind of life after we got back home was difficult. Suddenly all the stresses we had left behind in Hawaii charged back with a fury, and at times I’ve felt like I’m drowning. Part of it is that I felt like I’d been losing myself again. I hadn’t been taking care of myself like I should. I hadn’t been doing the things that make me happy, that make me who I am. I rarely went for hikes or went out in the nature all summer and fall, I hadn’t been birding since spring, I stopped rocking out to music when I was in the car and hadn’t played my flute in a long time, either. While in Hawaii, I took tons of pictures of birds I’d never seen. It helped remind how much I love birding and taking pictures, even if I’m not great at it. The other day I forced myself to play my flute, and it felt so liberating! I even got it out and played again, just for a few minutes, the next day. I felt like myself again. I felt happy, even in the midst of stress, noise and difficulties.

So why did I stop doing the things that made me happy? There are various reasons, but one is that I lost motivation. That is one of the worst things about mental illness. It steals all your motivation. Even though I know birding or playing my flute makes me happy, if it takes all the energy I have just to survive each day then I have none left for anything else.

That’s why the recharge was so helpful. A trip as big as going to Hawaii isn’t always possible, but finding something—whether it’s a long hike, a hot bath, a massage, a weekend getaway, going to a concert, etc.—is so important. Finding the motivation can be hard, but if we do it makes it easier to motivate ourselves with the little things that bring happiness and keep us going. Those little—or big—things that make us who we are, that lift us up, lighten our load, bring joy even for a small moment are absolutely necessary. They are needful for those of us with mental illness and even those without.

So do something for yourself today. And if you need something bigger, if you need that reboot or recharge, find a way to make it happen, then cling onto the results and continue forward from there. We’ve got this.

What I Wish I’d Said

Today’s post comes from a guest writer. I instantly connected with the writing as soon as I read it and knew I wanted others to read it. I hope it is as insightful, meaningful and full of hope to you as it is to me.

“Isn’t that selfish?” A discussion among friends had somehow turned to the topic of suicide, and this was a rhetorical question from one. It was the type of comment that carried with it a sting only partially ameliorated by the knowledge that suicidal ideation and mental illness are things that simply cannot be truly understood by those without experience. The taboo nature of mental illness tends to keep its victims hiding in the shadows. Fortunately, this was one of the few times I felt brave enough to speak up. At my prodding, he explained his opinion that ending your life ended your own suffering only to cause it in many others.

What I told him was how, in those early days of my undiagnosed illness, I had a figurative scale. On one side, it weighed the burden I was to others. On the other side, it weighed the burden and the sorrow it would bring to others if I died. I told him that as my illness progressed, I perceived myself as being more and more of a burden to those around me, to the point that it seemed my death would be less distressing for my loved ones in the long run. But there were many things I didn’t say and wish I had.

What I wish I’d said was that there is a difference between wishing you were dead and thinking about killing yourself. For me, the pain was so strong and so relentless for so long that death, had it come, would have been welcomed.

What I wish I’d said is that sometimes those of us with mental illness get so used to not seeing the light that it’s painful to continue looking for it. But hope is key. When I had hope, it kept me from reaching the point of true suicidal ideation. Hope is such an integral part of motivation that the lack of it has the power to override the strongest, most basic human drives.

What I wish I’d said is that, for me, it was the hope engendered by my connection to my God that gave me the strength to hold on past all the misperceptions that weighed in on my figurative scale.

What I wish I’d said was that through every prayer that came out in anger and every prayer where my internal chaos was so strong that the only words I could muster were “Please help me,” my God was there, He heard me, and He had a plan for me if I just kept hanging on to the glimmers of light and hope.

Sometimes the strength He gave was from the experience of the almost completely consuming anxiety subsiding after just a few hours, as opposed to days or weeks. Sometimes it was finding the will to get out of bed however briefly. Sometimes it was the temporary yet significant relief from a friend or family member, or from being able to get a few hours of sleep. Sometimes it was the moments that made me think I wasn’t a complete failure for all the fights I caused with each family member. Sometimes it was the feeling of being seen or understood.

What I wish I’d said was that most of the time, these were fleeting and not anywhere close to the degree of help that I was seeking. But they were things that, slowly, minutely, yet still surely, provided what I needed to make it through one more day, one more sleepless night, one more episode.

What I wish I’d said is that the darkness still comes, but I can now see incredible beauty that is imperceptible to anyone who has not experienced a similar brand of darkness.

But what I most wish I’d said was that, for those consumed by the darkness of mental illness, there is help and hope to anyone who seeks it.

For those of you blessed to be without the burden of mental illness, I hope you can join the fight to destigmatize suicidal ideation, and that you can have the courage to be the light for those consumed by the darkness. Perhaps destigmatizing suicidal ideation will lead to more people having the courage to reach out for help when they suffer from it.

By J. Whicker

The Next Step

I just finished reading Rhythm of War, the fourth book in the Stormlight Archives, by Brandon Sanderson. Yes, I know I’m a bit behind, but life has been crazy the past year like life often is. It got me thinking about some of my favorite quotes and lessons I’ve learned from reading these books. There were so many good ones in the third book, Oathbringer. And yes, I’m going to share some more quotes.

“The ancient code of the Knights Radiant says ‘journey before destination.’ Some may call it a simple platitude, but it is far more. A journey will have pain and failure. It is not only the steps forward we must accept. It is the stumbles. The trials. The knowledge that we will fail. That we will hurt those around us.

“But if we stop, if we accept the person we are when we fall, the journey ends. That failure becomes our destination. To love the journey is to accept no such end. I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.”

I’ve always loved these words, but they especially mean a lot to me right now. I was on a good path. I was in the best place I had been in a very long time. And then everything crashed, and I found myself at rock bottom again, cut, bruised, bleeding in the bottom of a deep, dark hole, wishing I could erase the past, not knowing how to move forward.

But I can’t erase the past, and I have to move forward. In a twisted way, it seems easier to accept stopping, to accept the person I was when I fell, to tell myself I am horrible and awful and undeserving. But my journey isn’t over. I have to accept the mistakes, the stumbles and trials, knowing that I had failed and will probably fail again in the future. I have to accept that I’ve hurt others. That is part of the journey. Another part of the journey is accepting that we can do better, be better and move on. We can take the next step. Because that next step is the most important one. It may a shaky step, unsteady, awkward even. But we can take it. We are more than negative things we tell ourselves. We are the positive too. I have to believe in myself. You should believe in yourself too. Take the next step and keep moving forward. The journey means so much more when we look at all the beautiful and positive things that have happened as well.

Do Better

I recently saw this quote by Maya Angelou. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” It resonated with me because I’ve made some mistakes recently. Really big, really bad mistakes. Most of the time my initial reaction to realizing I’ve screwed up is to completely and utterly berate myself. I tell myself how horrible I am, how undeserving I am, how worthless I am because all I ever do is screw up. Sometimes I tell myself I should just up and leave because everyone would be better off without me. But time usually gives me perspective where eventually I see that those things aren’t true. I see that beating myself up, hating myself, trying to punish myself, aren’t helpful solutions.

We’re all human. We all make mistakes. I think one of the greatest qualities a person can have is the ability to see their mistakes and admit their wrongdoings. That doesn’t mean eternally beating ourselves up over it. I think it means recognizing that we’re not perfect, feeling necessary guilt for a time and saying sorry when needed. Then we learn, grow and try to do better.

I am not a quitter, and all those initial negative thoughts are what someone who gives up thinks and does. But I don’t believe in giving up. I believe in getting back up when I’ve fallen and trying again. Because I’m human and imperfect I know I’ll fall again. I know I’ll make mistakes and maybe other people will hold it against me forever, but I can’t. I won’t. I wouldn’t want others to do that. I would want others to pick themselves up and try again. That’s what I have to do. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s what I think we all should do. It’s not easy, and it may feel like we’re crawling along a rough, dirty path to get where we want to be, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to give ourselves credit, to be positive and allow ourselves to learn from our mistakes, grow and do better.

The Thing About Anxiety

Something important I’ve learned about anxiety is that it’s not about finding a way to change or eliminate all the things that give you anxiety, it’s about finding a way to deal with your anxiety. EMDR. Breathing techniques. CBT. Medication. The more you try to change or completely get rid of the things causing anxiety the more anxious you’ll become. Find the tools that help with anxiety and you open a door to all kinds of possibilities.

The Toughest One Yet

This will be my most vulnerable post yet, one I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. And now, I think, the time is right. But first, I want to say that mental illness is very personal. My hope is that in time more and more people will open up about it. The more we talk it about the more we learn and the more all those false stigmas will, hopefully, die. But it can be incredibly difficult to talk about. Stigmas are still there and people can judge. It took me years before I felt comfortable sharing my experiences. And it has taken me months to feel comfortable sharing this new one. But I truly hope it is enlightening, educational and gives hope to others.

One night back in March I made a half-attempt at my life. I say half-attempt because I took some pills—enough that I knew it would probably hurt me, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t enough to actually kill me. I felt worthless and like the world and everyone in it would be better off without me. I wanted to die, but didn’t completely have the courage, if that’s the right word, to make sure I’d taken enough pills to end my life.

My husband wasn’t home and couldn’t get home until the next morning, but being worried about me he let some trusted people know. Those trusted people called the police, who showed up at my door around midnight. I had to go out and talk to them, tell them what I’d done, what pills I’d taken, why I had taken them. Standing out there in the cold, being told I had to go to the hospital, was one of the worst days of my life. My daughters were in bed, unaware of anything going on. I worried about them waking up in the morning for school with no parent home. I felt worthless, utterly incompetent, stupid, ashamed, horrible and like I was a bad, bad person.

I was taken in the back of a police car to a local hospital where I don’t feel I got the help I really needed. Everyone there acted like I was inconveniencing them. Once they were sure the pills I had taken weren’t actually going to kill me they basically pressured me into leaving. They told me I had to find someone who could come pick me up and take me home. I was embarrassed, very, very drowsy from the pills I had taken and was in one of the darkest places I’d ever been—I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. I tried telling them that if I could just wait until morning my husband could probably pick me up, but they wouldn’t let me wait. I called some people, but it was the middle of the night. No one answered. I told the people at the hospital this. “You mentioned something about an ex-husband,” one of them said. “Can you call him?” Sure, my ex and I may have a mostly amicable relationship, but I did not want to call him. However, they continued pressuring me, so I called and miracle of all miracles he actually answered and said he could come pick me up. It was sort of like adding insult to injury. It was absolutely humiliating that I had to be picked up from the hospital and taken home by my ex-husband. I again felt embarrassed, stupid, incompetent and horrible.

The trauma of that night and the things that led me to do what I did stuck with me. It gave me PTSD which manifested through seeing police cars and police officers. The police officers that night were actually really wonderful. They treated me with respect and actually seemed to care about what happened to me. But for whatever reason seeing police cars and police officers is what triggered my PTSD. Living with PTSD was absolutely horrible—one of the most horrible things I’ve ever gone through. Luckily, EMDR helped heal me. I no longer have panic attacks or even get nervous when seeing them. But there has been a lot more to work through. Having an amazing therapist has truly been life-changing. I know I wouldn’t have recovered or progressed the way I have without her.

One reason why I want to share this story is so people understand that suicide ideation, attempted suicide and actual suicide is not some far-off thing that only happens to other people. Being aware of this and educated in it can only help.

 I also want people to understand that suicide doesn’t mean a person is crazy or even unstable. I had to take a few days off work because the pills I took did some horrible things to my stomach, but the next week I was back at work. I continued my duties as a mom, a wife, a neighbor and a member of my church congregation. It was hard, but I did it because that is my life. And I haven’t attempted or even thought about suicide since then. There can be moments of severe depression that leads someone to suicide or attempted suicide. It doesn’t mean they are selfish or horrible or incompetent or unstable. It may just mean they are dealing with the horrors of life. It may mean they need help. It may mean they need a little extra love and understanding.

Even as I write this I debate with myself about whether to share it or not. Are people going to look at me differently? Are they going to treat me differently? Am I going to be someone who is whispered about and shunned? If so, I still want to share. I dream of creating a safe place for others to share their struggles too. Because we all struggle. We are not alone in our struggles—even those who hurt so badly we want to end our lives. I dream of a world where we can all talk openly about tough subjects like mental illness and suicide. If anyone wants to talk about it, I’ll talk about it. If anyone needs a listening ear, I’ll be the listening ear. If I can make even one small crack in the armor of stigmas and stereotypes and the consensus that we shouldn’t talk about these things I know my vulnerability is worth it.

Continuing Results of EMDR

I know I’ve written about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) a lot lately, but I continue to be impressed with it and the results I have seen from it, both on a small and large scale.

A couple of months ago I decided to see if EMDR would work on the waterslide I force myself to go on every summer. It sounds silly, but I thought, “Why not?” There is a waterslide at a waterpark I go on several times every summer as my own form of exposure therapy. A part of the slide is a pitch-black tunnel. Even though I’ve been on it dozens of times it still freaks me out. But I’d go on it anyway to help remind myself to face my fears and that I can do hard things. Well, a couple of months ago I used an EMDR technique I’d learned when I got to the tunnel and I had no fear whatsoever. None! For the first time ever! I went through that tunnel on the waterslide and never felt even a second of fear, panic or anxiety. A couple of weeks ago I went on the same waterslide to test it again and yet again, no fear, panic or anxiety. Now I can simply enjoy the waterslide! And I guess I’ll have to find a new fear to face. (Insert smiling emoji here!)

On a more serious note, I started having a panic attack a week ago. It was the first time I’d had one in a long time. I felt somewhat disoriented because it had been so long, because I’ve been doing so well the past several months, but I remembered my EMDR and used it. My panic attack stopped faster, I think, than any other time I’ve had one. I was able to calm myself down and get in a better head space.

I continue to be grateful for EMDR and impressed with the results. And again, I highly recommend it to anyone who may need another tool to help with mental health struggles. What other tools have you found that have been helpful?

Knowing vs Feeling

There are many reasons why I love Brandon Sanderson’s books so much. One is that, despite being set in these fantastical worlds with magic and people with amazing powers, I can relate to his characters. I can always find commonalties with characters or tidbits of wisdom that apply to me and real life. It makes his books even more powerful.

In Rhythm of War, the fourth book in The Stormlight Archives, this quote really struck me: “There was more than one way to protect. Kaladin had always known this, but he hadn’t felt it. Feeling and knowing seemed to be the same to his father, but not to Kaladin.”

I don’t know if it is general human nature or if it is more common among those of us with mental illness, but there is often a huge disconnect between knowing and feeling. For many years now I have struggled with knowing something, but not being able to feel it. Logically, I could know I wasn’t the worst wife, the worst mother, the worst friend, the worst neighbor in the world, but my emotions would tell me otherwise. I would feel like the worst wife, the worst mother, the worst friend, the worst neighbor in the world. I could know I had worth and value to my husband, my kids, my friends, but not feel that I had worth and value to my husband, my kids, my friends. I know it may not make any sense, but it is a truth for many of us.

I do feel like I’m doing better with this these days, however. In trying to change my negative cognitions my therapist told me to look at the evidence. When a negative cognition, such as I’m a horrible mother, comes into my thoughts I’m supposed to lay out the evidence—whether that is just thinking it in my head or actually writing it down, it doesn’t matter. But I need to look at the actual evidence. What are the actual facts? Well, I help provide financially for my kids. I spend a lot of time with them. I’m there for them when they need me. I do fun things with them. I teach them. I love them. Reminding myself to do this and actually doing it has helped a ton. I’m starting to know and feel at the same time. But for those of you who struggle with this, you’re not alone. It is a struggle, but, as always, there is hope and light and help. Look at the evidence. Look at all the things you’re doing right. In time you’ll be able to know and feel as well.

Big Life Changes

I made a big life change recently. I quit my job. Despite the fact that it had become a toxic environment and is a huge reason my mental health took such a huge hit this last year it was a hard decision to make because I was comfortable there. There have been several other times in my life where I remained in toxic or abusive relationships because, as horrible as it was, it was comfortable. I think many of us have done the same.

There is a fear of the unknown. Sometimes it is easier to stick with what we know even when it is unhealthy for us. It can be toxicity, emotional abuse, physical abuse, lying, manipulation in all kinds of relationships—work, family, friendship, romantic. We may stay because it’s all we know. We may stay because we feel like we deserve to be abused. We may stay because it’s scary to leave. But there is something better. We deserve better. And we can do hard, scary things.

 In the end, I’m glad I left because it was the right thing to do. Even though there was a time I loved my job and there are people I am going to miss so much, I needed to do this. For my own mental health I needed it. It takes courage to step into the unknown, even when it is going away from something terrible. But I believe we all have courage within us. We can do it. We can take care of ourselves. And we can be happy.