Help and Hope


In my last post, I said there was hope. There is hope because there is help. There is no one set “cure” for mental illness, but there are things that can help improve quality of life, things that can help make it a little easier to get through life. First, we have to break through the stigma within the stigma. I know, you are going to get so sick of that word, but it is attached to mental illness, so there’s no going around it.

One of those stigmas is medication. Medication is something that can help. It has helped me. It does not “cure” my depression, anxiety or OCD, but it has improved my quality of life. It has made the big things that seem impossible, a little bit smaller and the smaller things more achievable. Yet there is a stigma attached to taking medication. For some reason, people don’t want to take it or others don’t want you to take it. They think it means there is something wrong with you, and you should be able to take care of it yourself. Yet, no one has a problem with someone taking medication for their thyroid disease or a diabetic taking insulin. Medication for mental illness is no different. It is an illness that can help be combatted by medication. Maybe the way to fight it is through medication.

Counseling is another thing that can help—and another one of those things with a stigma. There will never be an end to psychiatrist and therapy jokes, but if getting therapy helps, it is a good thing! I’ve been amazed in the last ten years or so to learn just how many people have seen therapists—not just for mental illness. People see therapists for all sorts of things. And there are different kinds of therapists and therapy. You just have to find the one that is right for you. I have been to three different counselors since I was sixteen. Sometimes just having someone to talk to really helps. Sometimes the advice they offer works. Sometimes their perspective gives you understanding. All of these are things that can lift up someone with mental illness.

Light can also help. I have seasonal affective disorder. Even when taking medication, winter where I live is hard. It’s cold, dark, gray and depressing. I always struggle in winter. So sometimes, I would go to a tanning salon—just for the light and the warmth. Steam rooms, saunas, hot tubs or a warm bath also help. It may sound silly, or even stupid, but it really can help!

Other things that have made a difference to me are exercise and yoga. I really believe keeping your body in shape helps keep your mind in shape as well. When I exercise, I feel good about myself. Yoga is meditative for me. Meditation—another thing that can help. As a parent it can be hard to find time to yourself, but you have to do it. Even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, find a time and place where you can be alone without crazy, noisy distractions.

Depression steals the joy from your life. It’s hard finding joy in anything—even thingsflute-2047943_1920 that once did bring you happiness, but it’s important to try, anyway. Go back to the things that brought you joy, develop interests and hobbies. This one day, not long before my divorce was final, I was feeling really down. Going through a divorce is the hardest thing I’ve faced in my life. I ran upstairs, away from my kids, because I could tell I was about to break down. Then I saw my flute sitting there. Before I could fall on my bed and start crying, I picked it up and started playing. I only played for a few minutes, but it relieved the stress, tension and sadness in me, and I came out feeling happier than I was before. Other things that do that for me are reading, writing, being outside, talking to a friend. I understand how hard it is to motivate yourself when you have mental illness, but if you can find even one little thing that helps bring some bit of light back into your life, it is worth it.

I hope some of what I’ve shared helps. If anyone out there has their own story of things that have helped them through mental illness, please contact me. I would love to share your story here. Let’s inspire each other!


Beginnings are Messy


John Galsworthy, the English novelist and playwright, said, “Beginnings are always messy.” Well, this is my beginning, and it is a bit messy.

I was never your typical teenage girl in high school. I didn’t care about boys (thought they were dumb), I didn’t care about fashion (I was this crazy neo-hippie-like character who went around in tie-dye and bell bottoms), I didn’t care about makeup (people should like me for what’s on the inside, right?), and I didn’t care about giggling on the phone for hours with my friends (school was about getting good grades so I could get a scholarship to college). I liked reading poetry and going for walks in the rain and being out with nature—one with nature. Though I eventually came to defy social conventions on purpose, at first I didn’t really understand it. I just knew that I was different. And that was hard. Lonely. It was so very, very lonely.

I started spending a lot of time sitting in the dark, listening to music, withdrawing from others. I felt as if there was no one else in the world like me and no one I could talk to about it. Darkness and loneliness ruled my life. I was so depressed, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

One day, when I was fifteen, I was putting away dishes out of the dishwasher. My thoughts were so crowded with how depressed I was and how bad life sucked, I barely paid attention to what I was doing. Then my fingers wrapped around the handle of a knife my dad used to carve up roasts. And suddenly, this idea came to me. I put the knife up to my chest and stuck the tip into my skin. I could plunge it into my heart and end my life. All my problems would be solved.

I stood there for what seemed like several minutes, though it was probably only a few seconds, considering the implications, weighing the pros and cons. Finally, I pulled the knife away and placed it in the drawer, realizing that I didn’t really want to end my life, I just wanted something to help ease the mental anguish I was going through.

Pain. In my chest. I suddenly became aware of a stinging pain where I had been poking the knife into my chest. And somehow, it clicked—this wild idea flying into my thoughts that if I physically hurt myself it would block some of that mental pain.

So I started searching for a weapon. I tried a knife at first and didn’t like the way it felt. Scissors seemed too dull. And then I found a razor blade—the box cutter kind—and I sliced it across my arm. It was sharp, precise, and it hurt. But it also felt good.

At first, I only hurt myself when I’d had a really bad day. I’d tell my parents I was going to bed, but instead, would sit up next to my stereo, headphones in, listening to depressing music, and I would race that blade across my skin—mostly on my upper arms and shoulders. It’s ironic—that I was trying to take pain away by giving myself another kind of pain. It didn’t work, of course. But I kept doing it, anyway. It became a sort of addiction, something I started doing even when I hadn’t had a bad day. It’s just what I did because I liked it, because it felt good.

All of this happened during the winter of my sophomore year in high school. I wore long sleeves, so no one could see the red marks and scars marring my arms and shoulders—except for in gym class. I sweat like a pig—or like a boy—so I still wore t-shirts and shorts in gym. People started asking about my arms, and I didn’t want to lie, so I told them I’d done it to myself. Most people looked at me as if I were crazy—one boy even told me to my face. “You know you’re insane, right?” he condescendingly asked me. And then people began to talk. That’s actually how I met my best friend—because she heard people talking in one of her classes about me and what I had done. Turns out she had been a masochist once, too. After that, I started meeting more people like me. More people who had depression and hurt themselves as a way to deal with it.

After five or six months of hurting myself I told my parents, which was a very tough conversation to have, but they were good at trying to get me the help I needed. For awhile I stopped hurting myself because I knew it was wrong, and it didn’t really help. Then I went back to it, and then I stopped again. But it’s like this addiction that’s always looming at the back of my mind. Even now, so many years later, any time I get really depressed or start to feel darkness closing in on me I think about hurting myself. I still believe it will feel good. I think the older you get the more self control you learn, so it’s easier to push the thought back down, to not give in, but it’s just another one of those hurdles people with mental illness have to try to jump over, dive under or go around.

Sharing this story is hard. It makes me feel so vulnerable, because I don’t know how people will react. Even now when I tell people about it—something I did over fifteen years ago—some of them still see a freak because anyone who purposefully hurts themselves is a freak, right? People look at me differently. But this is the beginning of my battle with depression, and I don’t want to sugar coat anything. That’s one of the reasons I believe mental illness is still so misunderstood—too much sugar has been sprinkled on something that is not sweet in any way. And the good news is that there is hope—always hope. It’s one of my favorite words.


This is Mental Illness


Tackling the subject of mental illness is hard. You never know how it’s going to be received because there is still such a stigma attached to it. Despite advances in the medical field, despite the effort my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, and especially Elder Holland (an apostle for the LDS church) has made, so many people still just don’t get it. So many people still refuse to accept that it’s real. But it is real. It is very real—as much as any other disease or illness. And it truly is an illness of oneness, loneliness. Discussion and dialogue on the subject is still limited because of the stigma, because people are stuck in an old-fashioned and close-minded way of thinking. No one has a problem talking about cancer, heart disease, diabetes or multiple sclerosis. So why should we have to stay quiet about depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia? We shouldn’t. We shouldn’t have to remain quiet, we shouldn’t have to suffer in silence and loneliness.

It’s not that I think mental illness or my struggle with depression, anxiety and OCD is worse than any other illness. But I do believe it’s more misunderstood, and that can make it feel lonelier.

“Do you exercise? Maybe you just need to exercise,” someone once told me. “I know exercising makes me feel better.”

Sure, exercise definitely helps. I’ve heard it helps people with Parkinson’s disease (check out The Michael J. Fox Foundation), but it doesn’t just take their illness away. It doesn’t take my illness away, either.

“Go for a walk. Be out in the sunshine. That’s all you need.” The husband of a friend of mine, who suffers from depression, said this. Again, these things can help, but they don’t “cure” mental illness.

Other examples of things people have told me or others I know are: “You just need to pray and read your scriptures more. Are you going to the temple? Well, I’m sure if you had more faith God would heal you.”

Of course there are always those kind of people who think this way about everything, but most of us know you don’t go tell a man who has cancer that if he just prayed or read his scriptures more, he would be healed. You don’t tell a woman with diabetes that if she simply had more faith or a stronger testimony her illness would disappear. Most of us understand that that just isn’t the way life works. Sometimes bad things happen to very good people, and sometimes it isn’t always in God’s plan for someone to be healed. And yet, those of us with mental illness hear those things all of the time.

Besides how ridiculous it is, it’s also incredibly judgmental. How can any of us know how much another person is praying or reading their scriptures? How can we know the level of someone’s testimony or how strong their faith is? We can’t. We don’t. And yet we continue to hear those words over and over again—like our illness is our own fault because we aren’t good enough people. And it’s so very lonely.

Struggling through any kind of illness or disease is difficult and all come with their own set of pain and trials. Yet time and time again, I’ve seen wards (an LDS congregation) rally around members with cancer or who have had surgery or have complications with their unborn child. There are ward fasts and sign up sheets filled with names of people eagerly willing to help out those in need. When has there ever been a ward fast for someone with mental illness? I’ve never seen a sign up sheet going around in relief society to bring in dinner for someone who is suffering from such extreme depression and anxiety they can barely get themselves out of bed in the morning—or can’t get themselves up at all. No one is signing up to watch the kids of someone who is bipolar on one of their deep dives into blackness. See, we’re just expected to carry on as usual, expected to do all the same things a normal, healthy person would do—but we’re not normal, and we’re not healthy. And it’s so lonely.

One thing I think many people don’t realize is that mental illness becomes physical. It isn’t just a battle in the mind. It’s a battle of the body as well. There have been days I was so depressed I became physically ill. There have been days when it has taken every ounce of strength to get myself up in the morning. Sure, everyone has those days now and again, but for those of us with mental illness it is our life. It’s what we go through all of the time. And it’s not because we aren’t trying, because we are trying as hard as we can. It’s the mental illness.

It can also be hard to get the help we need financially. Sometimes I struggle with the 5k runs and fundraisers people do to help with medical expenses for cancer patients. It’s not that I don’t think they need help or that I don’t want to help them. I know cancer treatment is very expensive, and it’s a terrible illness to have to suffer through. It’s just hard knowing that people like me will never have that financial support. Through the years there have been treatments I thought might help me with my depression—things like music therapy or equine therapy, but I couldn’t afford them because insurance didn’t cover those sorts of things. Even counseling sometimes has to be paid for completely out of pocket. And yet, you’ll never see a big fundraiser for someone with mental illness. No one would go. People would think it was a scam. We’re left to act like normal, healthy people without the help we need to try to be that way. And it’s so lonely.

Again, I’m not trying to say that my struggle with mental illness is worse than what anyone else goes through. I’m simply trying to show what it’s like to live with it every day, trying to explain how I feel about one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through—am still going through. It’s hard. And it’s lonely.

Through the years, I have had a couple of really good friends in whom I’ve been able to confide and who have been a great help and support to me. As I have slowly come to open up to others, some people turn away from me, judge me, never talk to me again, but I’ve also found that there are more people like me, more people with mental illness, than I ever thought. There’s just not enough communication going on about it when there should be. That’s what I’m doing, what I want to do. I want to open a discussion about what mental illness really is. I may not be able to change the world. We may not be able to change the world, but we can be there for each other and even if we get a few people to see the light, see the truth, then we’ve done something good.


Breaking the Silence


Years ago, I’d take my daughter to the park where I met other moms who asked me what I did. I always just told them I was a stay-at-home mom. If someone asked me that today, my answer would be slightly different. What do I do? I do a lot of things. I stay at home with my kids, I read, write, and I exercise six days a week. However, I think the real question for all of us should not be what we do, but who we are. Just like there is more than one thing I do, there is a lot that makes me who I am. I am a woman. I am a mom—a single mom of two beautiful children. I am a reader, a writer, an exercise enthusiast. I am a nature lover and a chocolate lover. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I have mental illness. While it is not the whole of who I am, while it cannot single-handedly limit or define me, it is a part of who I am.

Saying you have mental illness shouldn’t be any different than someone saying they have cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis or any other illness. Yet for some reason it is. There is still such a stigma attached to it, so much people don’t understand—don’t want to understand. I would love to be able to change that. I don’t know if I can or will, but if I can help even one person in any way, this blog would be more than worth it.

Twice a year the church I belong to holds a big conference where our leaders speak to us. I think it was a talk by Elder Jeffery R. Holland, an apostle for the church, that first inspired this idea to start a blog opening a discussion on mental illness. I mulled the thought over in my mind, thinking it was a good idea, but never doing anything about it. Next conference, Elder Holland inspired me again, but I kept doubting myself. Really, what did I have to offer anyone? Then this past April, hearing Elder Holland speak yet again inspired me, and I decided it was time to do something—I started writing, I talked to friends, and I looked up other blogs on mental illness. That’s when the doubt crept back in. All these other people seemed to have so much more knowledge, experience, qualifications and better advice than I could ever give. Suddenly my idea, my words, seemed so insignificant.

Yet something kept pushing me. Maybe it was the Spirit—the thing our church believes inspires and guides us. Or maybe it was just my own desire to find a way to break the silence on mental illness. Silence—it’s what my name means. It comes from the latin name Tacita which means silence. When I discovered this in high school and told my mom, she said it was fitting. I was a very quiet person who rarely spoke. It took several months before I could tell my parents about my depression because how do you tell someone about the darkness you live with every day? Well, now I’m talking about it. I won’t live in silence anymore. It’s been almost twenty years since I was first diagnosed with depression. That’s a long time and many experiences that have shaped my life—time and experiences that shouldn’t have to sit in darkness and silence.

So I write this blog as a woman, who is a single mom, who reads and writes and exercises a lot and belongs to the LDS church. And while opening a discussion on mental illness is my main goal, I will also likely write about other experiences or lessons I have learned in life. Hopefully, some day in some way some of it will make a difference to someone. I also hope that others will join in. Leave comments, share your stories, ideas, resources that have helped you. Let’s break the silence together. As I said, if even only one person is touched or helped by this, then it will definitely have been worth it.