Live Fearless

I have a secret. Sometimes, when I’m on the back of a motorcycle, I’m terrified. I know, it probably doesn’t seem like much of a secret. Riding a motorcycle can be scary, but I’ve never told anyone this, other than my husband, and I only just told him recently.

Overall, I love riding a motorcycle. I always dreamed of marrying a man someday who had one. And my dream came true! I love sitting behind him on our Triumph, and he loves having me as a passenger. But sometimes, when we’re on the freeway or going around some bend at fast speed, I squeeze him a little tighter, breathe a bit quicker and feel terrified panic course through my body. And when nothing bad happens I relax and enjoy the rest of the ride. And the next time, I get back on that motorcycle again!

See, I’m not someone who believes in living in fear. I don’t believe we should let fear control our lives. I never let it stop me from rock climbing, even though my dad tried to. Every chance he got he would tell me about some accident someone had while climbing or how someone (who was free-soloing) fell and was killed. He used fear to try to control me, to try to get me to stop doing something I loved. Rock climbing was more than just a sport to me. There is something incredibly spiritual about connecting with nature in such a raw, physical way. And there was also something so freeing and ecstatic about sending a route, accomplishing a hard goal. So I never let it stop me. Yes, sometimes accidents happened, but when using good gear and climbing with knowledge and experience it is extremely rare.

It can be hard to do things that scare us, especially when we have anxiety. But I believe it is good for us. Sometimes I still let fear stop me, but I’m trying more and more not to let it. I’m trying to teach my kids not to live in fear. My daughter used to be scared of rollercoasters. Then, one day, I made her and her brother go on a new roller coaster at the amusement park we live by. After we had gotten on and were just waiting to take off both of them started complaining, saying how they wanted to get off, they were scared, they needed to go to the bathroom. Like any good mom (hahaha!) I just laughed at them and told them it was too late to get off. They both looked terrified, but after we got off the rollercoaster they were both grinning and asked if we could go again! I’ve told my daughter many times that it’s good to do things that scare you. And now, she loves roller coasters! And I’ve seen her confidence shine through in so many instances over the last couple of years. Confidence can help with anxiety too.

So I challenge all of us to ride the motorcycle, climb the rock, go on the roller coaster. Go to that party that you’re scared of because of social anxiety. Go on the trip you’ve been planning even though leaving your house makes you nervous. Don’t let fear stop you from living your fullest life. Live it fearless. Live it to the fullest.

No Respecter of Persons

It is five years to the day since Chris Cornell took his own life. It’s always a solemn day for me. A sad day. He was so talented and had such a unique voice. I still mourn his depression and his death. I wrote this post a couple of years ago and wanted to share it again.

Today I write in honor of Chris Cornell—three years to the day after his suicide.

I first heard Soundgarden, Cornell’s band, when I was in high school. Black Hole Sun and Spoonman. Instantly I loved them. And then a couple of years after high school I heard Show Me How to Live and I Am the Highway on the radio. The two singles from the first album of Cornell’s new band, Audioslave. I was hooked! The fact that they could write something as powerful and rockin’ as Show Me How to Live and as powerful, yet soft and beautiful as I Am the Highway was amazing to me. I went out and bought the album on CD as soon as it came out. I listened to it over and over and over again.

Many years later, after Audioslave had disbanded, I heard rumors that they were going to get back together to go on tour. I was so psyched! And then, I’ll never forget the day I heard the news that Chris Cornell was gone. It was early in the morning, I was in the car, pulling up to the gym. The DJ on the radio announced that Chris Cornell had hung himself. I was devastated. My heart ached that such a talented person had been in such a dark place that he had felt the only option was to take his own life. And I finally, really came to understand why people made such a big deal about celebrity suicides—because it shows that mental illness is no respecter of persons. So often, we think people have it made—celebrities, CEO’s, the wealthy, even our neighbors, family or friends. It’s easy to think we know what’s going on by seeing the outside, when really, on the inside, that person is struggling, suffering, dying.

Too often, I think the signs of depression get ignored. Too often, I think depression is minimized because it’s easier that way. It’s easier to ignore or give simple answers. Sometimes it’s because of the stigma still attached to depression. Sometimes it’s because of lack of education. And sometimes it’s because, simply put, depression is hard. It can be hard to understand or to know what to do, as is the case with any mental illness. And it can be hard because it’s different for everyone. And that is totally normal.

But when it comes to helping others, what’s right may be more important than what’s easy. The Mayo clinic has an amazing page about how you can recognize depression in others and ways you can help and encourage them. I can testify that even a simple smile can make a difference. I still remember a couple of girls I went to high school with who made a difference in my life. One of them always said hi to me, always gave me a smile. Another one brought me flowers because she had noticed I was sad the day before. I have a friend who easily could have given up on me because, as I stated, depression is hard. But she didn’t. Even when it scared her, she kept being my friend, and that made a huge difference. My boyfriend is a good example, too. Little things like asking questions and trying to understand what I’m going through helps so much. These things truly do matter.

Chris Cornell made a difference to me. There were so many times I was off at college that I would take off for a long drive in my car when I was feeling sad or frustrated about something, and I would crank that Audioslave CD! It always managed to either help release my frustration or remind me that I wasn’t alone. It still saddens me that I’ll never get to see him in concert. It saddens me that such a talented person struggled for so long with depression—until he couldn’t struggle anymore. But I believe we can do something about the alarming number of people who take their own lives. It starts at an individual level. Learn to know the signs of depression and learn what you may be able to do to help. And remember, a simple “hi” or a smile may be just the thing someone needs.

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Doing Something Nice

Have you ever heard anyone say that one of the best things to do when you’re down is to serve or do something nice for someone else? It’s something that gets brought up a lot at my church. When you have depression it can be really hard to motivate yourself to do anything for anyone–including for yourself. But as I’ve gotten help, progressed in my healing and grown more into the person I hope to be I’ve found it easier to get push past the walls of depression.

Yesterday I was feeling pretty depressed so I decided to do something nice for someone. It wasn’t anything big. It was something pretty small, actually, but it was still something. And I felt happy while I was doing it. It will be a good reminder that it really can help to think of others when I’m down or depressed. Things like this may be a lot harder for those of us with mental illness, but even something small can make a difference–even if the difference it makes is in our own life.

A Change In Perspective

A few months ago my therapist gave me a new perspective that really helped me deal with trauma that was triggered by yet another toxic person in my life. I’ve been in so many toxic or abusive relationships (family, friend, romantic) and had so many people treat me so horribly that it was hard, yet again, not to wonder if it was my fault or if I deserved it.

My therapist told me to imagine each of those people and their history, their upbringing and possible trauma they may have been through. She told me that it didn’t excuse them from the way they treated me—there is NO excuse for that, she said. But thinking of those other things could help explain why they treated me the way they did. It helped me see that it had nothing to do with me and nothing to do with me deserving to be treated that way. Shifting my perspective, being able to see it from a different angle, truly helped me move past the previous and current trauma I was going through. This is the power of perspective and the power of a great therapist.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

Life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes bad things happen even when you’re doing the right things. A perfect example happened a couple of days ago. I was on my way to Southern Utah for a few days. My kids are with their dad for Spring break this week, so I was going to spend some time birding and just relaxing by myself in warm, beautiful red-rock country. A few hours into my trip and three-fourths of the way there my car broke down. The engine seized up and wouldn’t start. Now my car is sitting at a dealership where it will take around 2 months just to find out if the cost to repair or replace the engine is covered by the warranty. What happened isn’t because I didn’t take care of the car. I had it serviced when it needed to be. I always kept up on oil changes. I did everything right, and yet . . . the car broke down and now we’re down to just one vehicle. And I didn’t get to take my solo vacation.

Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned, and sometimes bad things happen even when you’re doing things right. That’s just life. There are two important things I learned from this experience, though. One, even when things are bad and sucky and deviating far from what you wanted or had planned, there is still good, and there are still things to be grateful for. Shortly after pulling my car off the side of the freeway and turning my hazard lights on a tow truck pulled off. The driver got out and asked if I needed help. He said a local who knows him called him up and told him he had passed a car off the side of the freeway with hazards on. I’m grateful for the person who called the tow truck driver and grateful for the tow truck driver himself. He’s the one who towed me to the dealership, quite a ways away. And he was so nice! I was worried about my anxiety kicking in, not knowing how to talk to this stranger, but we talked easily and had a great conversation the whole time. Even in the midst of adversity and total crap happening there is still light and goodness.

The other thing I learned is how important it is to have the right people in your life. To have the right support team. It can be hard to have any sort of relationship with someone who has mental illness, but my husband has been absolutely amazing in his relationship with me. I don’t deal well with stress, but I have found that I deal with it better since my husband came into my life. Five or ten years ago I would have been an absolute basket case in this same situation. I wouldn’t have known what to do, I would have been terrified, I would have been extremely angry that things didn’t go as planned and that I didn’t get to go on my vacation and probably would have thought the world was ending just because my car broke down. Seriously. But I stayed a lot calmer than that. After I pulled off of the freeway I called my husband. I was a little frantic, but not basket-case, I’m-freaking-out-and-can’t-stop-crying frantic. Knowing he was going to try to get ahold of the insurance company and that he’d pick me up from the dealership helped keep me calm. I did get a bit emotional thinking about the possibility of having to buy a new car when I feel we can’t afford it right now, but he stayed calm and reassured me it would be okay. Having someone who can support you in the right way during those difficult times is so important. And I’m so grateful I have my husband for that. He truly has helped me grow, and that is so helpful and so wonderful.

So when life doesn’t go as planned and crap just happens, remember to look for the light. It’s there. And finding a good support person or team will also do wonders!

Perpetual Growth

I don’t believe in excuses. Instead, I believe in growth. There will never come a day when I will look in the mirror and say, “Way to go! You’ve grown as much as you can. There’s nothing more to do or to learn. Great job!” No matter how much we learn and grow there’s always more. And I, personally, don’t believe we can grow or reach our full potential when we mire ourselves in excuses.

There may be limitations that make it more difficult. For example, my sensory-seeking autistic son has a hard time keeping his hands to himself. He experiences the world through touch. His instinct is to touch whoever is close to him, whether he knows them or not, whether he’s gotten their approval or not. His form of autism also makes it difficult to understand social ques or situations like people having a “bubble” of personal space around them. However, I have not let him use this as an excuse. His teachers and I have been working very hard to help him understand that it’s not appropriate to touch people at school or when he’s in line at an amusement park or in the store, etc. It has been a huge challenge because of his autism, yet he’s getting better at it. He’s learning. He’s growing. Just like we all can.

Some people use mental illness as an excuse. I think there are certain behaviors or feelings that can be explained about mental illness, but there’s a difference between an explanation and an excuse, especially if that excuse hurts others. By not allowing myself excuses I have given myself room to grow. That doesn’t mean I grow every day or do better every single day, but I am trying, and I believe it has made a huge difference in how I approach each day and what I’m able to accomplish. Cutting excuses is the beginning of perpetual growth. It may be more difficult with mental illness or other “limitations” we have, but we can do it. I know we can.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD? According to the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651) SAD “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons . . .” It generally starts and ends at the same times every year and, more often than not, is during winter months. However, it is more than just not liking winter.

A few weeks ago my daughter told me she had been feeling depressed lately. Thanks to medication and an awesome therapist her depression went away and her anxiety has been more manageable lately. However, I had also noticed that her depression seemed to be back, perhaps not as bad as before, but she definitely seemed more down than usual. I told her she probably had Seasonal Affective Disorder just like I do. “But I don’t dislike winter,” she said. “I actually like the snow, and the cold isn’t that bad.” I explained to her that SAD doesn’t mean you don’t like the snow or cold. It is much more than that. It is an actual disorder. The Mayo Clinic lists possible causes as:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

You may not be affected by the cold. You may love watching the snow, playing in it, going skiing, etc. That doesn’t change the lack of sunlight or other risk factors for getting SAD.

The Mayo Clinic states, “Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the ‘winter blues’ or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own.” SAD causes depression and has other symptoms, such as low energy, sleeping too much or having difficulty sleeping at all, feeling tired all the time, losing interest in things, appetite changes, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and thoughts of suicide. For me, it is when all my demons come back. I can be totally fine, feeling great, managing my anxiety and the general challenges of life, and as soon as my SAD kicks in (usually around the end of November/beginning of December) the depression hits. I have many of those symptoms I just listed, and I start feeling horrible about myself. I start doubting all the good and believing in the false.

SAD is real and not something that should be brushed away or ignored. Luckily, there are things that can help. Light therapy is a great way to help counter the effects of SAD. I go to a spa that has red light beds and lamps. You can also buy them to have in your own home. Taking extra Vitamin D can also be helpful. Therapy and medication are also always things to consider.

I wanted to write this so people know SAD is more than not liking winter. It is a serious disorder that can be incredibly challenging to live with. But like any disorder or form of mental illness there are always things that can help and give hope.

Peace on the Horizon

My wonderful, amazing husband shared this with me not too long ago and I told him I would love to be able to share it on my blog, so he wrote it up. I hope you all find it as thought-provoking and inspiring as I did.

It’s interesting how images and photographs can sometimes convey so much more than is apparent at first glance.  I have a series of three photographs hanging in my office.  They were taken by a very talented friend of mine, Alli McPhail (@alli_eliz on Instagram), and are of Lake Michigan, a place with significant meaning to me.  The photographs are stunning!  The angle of shot, the moments captured, the framing and color; it all comes together so beautifully.  Although I appreciate the quality of those photographs, it is the symbolism of their contents that immediately grasped my attention and drove my desire to display them.

All three photographs are of the water.  Yep, just water.

The first image shows the gentle ebb and flow found on the surface of the water.  Gradual lulls and slow drops with subtle ripples fill the frame.  To me, this symbolizes day-to-day life with its slight ups and downs that gently rock and sway.  The high moments offer a broader glimpse of the good in life, while the lows bring things closer and into focus.  It is in these moments we live most of our lives.  Not the super highs and triumphant joys we can (and hopefully) experience, nor the very difficult struggles we go through.  Just the normalcy of an overall peaceful and content existence.  We aren’t knocked around, there’s no fear or danger, just a movement in which we find peace and happiness in sync with the waves.  In these times, it is easier to go about our lives.  It is easier to appreciate the joys we have.  It is easier to work through difficult emotions, slight conflicts, and disappointments.  It is easier to be strong for others.  In these moments, we feel at peace and recognize our worth.

The second image shows a different moment in the water.  The gentle ebb and flow of a wave is being displaced by a crashing, tumultuous one that will completely rock the surface of the water.  The two are at odds, pitted against each other in a beautifully captured moment.  The peace of the gentle wave can still be seen, but the viewer knows it is fleeting and will soon be destroyed by the overwhelming crash of the raging one.  To me, this is an image I know all too well.  In me lives this moment far too often.  Two sides of me fight over unbearable conflicts and disparaging situations.  My gentle days are often disrupted in this brutal manner by situations and circumstances in my life which are both in and out of my control.  I find myself at war; logic versus emotion, the past versus the present, desires versus needs, perception versus reality.  This photo displays the warring parts of me in breathtaking beauty.  In these times, it is much more difficult to see beyond the wave crashing upon us.  It is much more difficult to focus on joy, on peace, on value and worth.  Big crashing moments overtake us, causing fear, causing intensity, causing worry and doubt as they become all we feel and see.  In these moments, I struggle to get through them, desperately seeking the gentle waves while finding it difficult to believe I deserve the peace it would bring.  More often than not, my only course of action is to try and hold on, let it crash upon me, and wait it out while hoping it doesn’t leave irreparable wreckage behind.  I find myself struggling to keep my emotions in check, struggle to see beyond the immediate heartache and difficulty, and struggle to even do the things which can bring me peace once again.

I will admit there have been times where I barely, barely held on.  Where waiting it out seemed an impossible task.  Where the crashing, tumultuous wave seemed too great to ever find peace in its wake.  But it does pass.  Even writing that seems difficult to believe, but I know it to be true.  When nothing is causing water to have waves, the water will settle and be completely at peace.  I believe our lives are meant to be at peace.  I believe our default setting is to be at peace.  Fighting through those dark moments and holding on to a broader perspective can help us see past the moments which thrash us about.  Holding on, even to a rocking boat, can help us get through it.

This brings me to the third photograph.  A photo of water stretching out before me and going much further than I am able to see.  In the foreground of this photo are those gentle waves, but some of the highs are higher than others and some of the lows lower than hoped for.  In the foreground, one can see clearly the broken surface of the water with its many ripples, shaping moments and variety.  Moving our eyes up towards the horizon, however, the water appears to gradually smooth out until it becomes a flat, straight line separating water and sky.  From this distance, we cannot see the ebb and flow, the highs and lows, the crashing waves and tumultuous moments.  From this distance, the water appears to be completely at peace.  The further the distance, the more peaceful the water appears.

To me, this image is all about perspective.  When difficult things are fresh and up close to me, the waves seem greater than those in which I’m able to distance myself.  When I have time to ponder, to heal, or to work things out, the difficult times are pushed away and become smooth.  This may be done through physically distancing myself from the situation at times, or by allowing time and realistic thinking to smooth out my reactions.  Over distance and time, moments of difficulty in life can be displaced by the broader perspective of peace which overlays our lives.  Negative self-talk dissipates, worst-case scenario thinking dissolves, and the warring sides within me come to peace.  When I’m able to broaden my perspective, I’m able to find peace.

Some may live in one photo more than the other ones.  Many are blessed to live in the first image most of their lives, while others find themselves tossed about in the second photo for much of theirs.  Every experience, much like every wave, can be different and beautiful and scary and peaceful and heartbreaking and joyous.  But, especially if we buoy each other, the size or intensity of the waves won’t crush us.  We can all find peace on the horizon.

Doing Better

It has been awhile since I posted. I’ve been doing pretty well. I truly think going to a therapist has helped so much. I usually only go every other week now, but having a person I can talk to, who can help me work things out, who is very solution oriented has given me the tools I need to heal, cope and live has made such a difference.

There have been some really difficult things going on, though, as well. It seems like almost every time I go to my therapist I tell her, “Well, the drama of my life continues.” I definitely hope that the day comes that I don’t need to see a therapist anymore, but while the difficulty and trauma continues I will keep going to see her, even if I feel that I’m doing better now.

One of the worst things we can do when we have mental illness is say, “I’m all better. I don’t need to keep going to a therapist,” or, “I’m all better, I don’t need to keep taking my medication,” or, “There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s everyone else!” Sometimes, we do get well enough to stop going to a therapist or stop taking medication, but it isn’t something that should be done without serious thought and consulting a therapist or a doctor.

My daughter was on anti-depressants and was going to a therapist for her depression and anxiety. Luckily, she was able to stop both. She still has some anxiety, but she is able to work through it thanks to the tools her therapist gave her.

Unfortunately, too many times I have seen people who quit doing the things that were helping only to crash and go right back to where they were before they got the help. And the vicious cycle repeats.

Some of us may need to be on medication for our mental illness our whole lives. That’s okay. Some of us may need to see a therapist our whole lives. That’s okay. Some of us may need to exercise, do yoga, use treatments like EMDR or ART our whole lives. That’s okay. If I had a broken bone that just wouldn’t heal, I wouldn’t stop wearing a cast or wrap or sling or whatever was helping it. It may not be fun to have to wear one forever, but if it helped me live a better life, if it helped me accomplish what I needed to in life, I would wear it forever.

I’m doing a lot better. But I know I still need help with the difficult things going on right now and with past trauma that I haven’t completely worked through yet. Until then, and even after if I need to, I’m going to continue going to therapy. I’m going to continue to recognize and acknowledge that I need help. That’s okay too.

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!