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.

Validation and Empathy Vs. Sympathy

I recently talked with someone about validation, and we both agreed how important it is. One of the ways to define validation is by defining what it’s not. Validation is not “but”s. That’s right. Not buttbut. Anytime we use the word “but” we are actually invalidating, rather than validating.

I’m sorry, but . . .

I get what you’re saying, but . . .

I know how you feel, but . . .

I understand you’re point of view, but . . .

Validation is not trying to make someone understand our point of view. It is not about getting them to see what they did wrong, either. It is about seeing things from their perspective, understanding it as their truth and simply being there for them even if we have a different perspective.

Another thing validation is not is trying to fix things. Again, it’s about letting someone know we understand where they are coming from and that we have their back, rather than pointing out what they did wrong or what they can change in order to fix the situation.

I think validation goes hand in hand with empathy. Someone shared this video with me about empathy versus sympathy from Brene Brown, and I loved it so much. Check it out here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZBTYViDPlQ

Validation doesn’t mean condoning or encouraging bad behavior, but none of us are perfect. Even if we can figure out in our heads how we might handle a situation or how we would feel if we were in their shoes, it doesn’t necessarily mean our own response is the right response or is what would work for someone else. And we are not gods, so we can’t judge. Emotions are real, and need to be felt. There are difficult things we all go through in life and having someone who can validate and empathize with us is so important. This conversation I had and watching Brene Brown’s video inspired me to do better with this. I hope it can inspire others as well.

PTSD and EMDR

Back in March I went through an incredibly traumatic experience that gave me Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had never experienced this before. Living with PTSD the last several months has been hellish, heavy and dark. I didn’t completely understand what was going on until I started going to counseling. My amazing therapist was the one who recognized the signs and symptoms and why certain things were triggering such horrible and immediate panic attacks.

You know that saying, Time heals all wounds? It’s not true. Time can help, but it doesn’t just end the suffering. I hoped time would help with the PTSD, but it didn’t. I needed something more. Enter EMDR. After even the first session, it started to help. Now, after three sessions and a couple of months of counseling the things triggering my PTSD are no longer affecting me—at all! Sometimes the EMDR can be really heavy, as you dive into those difficult, traumatic events and the feelings associated with them. But it also gave me the tools I needed to recover. It may sound too good to be true, but it is true. It has worked, and I feel so much more light, hope and happiness in my life.

As I have often stated in my posts, everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for someone else. But you’ll never know unless you try. My therapist has said it takes courage to admit you need help and courage to actually get help. I’m glad I had the courage because it has changed my life already. For anyone out there who is suffering from PTSD, there is hope. You have the courage inside of you. I know you do. Give EMDR a try. If it doesn’t work, keep looking. Time probably won’t just heal it, but there are things out there that can.

My Experience With EMDR So Far

I want to talk about my experience with EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I started it with my therapist a few weeks ago and so far the results have been amazing! If you’ve never heard of EMDR before it is a type of therapy used to help people heal and recover from traumatic events or things such as PTSD, anxiety, depression and panic disorders. It involves a lot of visualization and the therapist using side-to-side eye movements, sounds, taps or some sort of stimulation (my therapist uses buzzers I hold onto in each hand).

I’ve only had a couple of sessions working on EMDR with my PTSD and a little on my anxiety, but I’m already seeing the difference. Not only has it helped me get over panic attacks that have been triggered by PTSD faster, it has also helped diminish the severity and the feeling of panic had at all. I went months being severely affected by my triggers to almost not being affected at all anymore. I know I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but I have so much hope as I feel my quality of life improving.

If you are someone suffering from a traumatic event, PTSD, anxiety or depression or are struggling to heal wounds from your past, I suggest looking for a therapist trained in EMDR. Everyone is different and all therapies, medications, etc. work or don’t work for every individual, but I highly recommend this form of therapy. I am a skeptical person, but I also believe in giving things a try. If it works it is absolutely worth it. If not, you move on to find something else.

I will give updates on EMDR as I continue to work with my therapist on it.

Crisis Response Plan

I started going to therapy again. It has been many years since I’ve gone, but I really like my therapist and think she’ll be able to help me. It feels wonderful having this kind of hope again!

One of the first things she had me do was make a “Crisis Response Plan” card. It’s for times when things get really bad, when I might want to hurt myself or think of taking my own life. It has been awhile since I have thought of that, but I think it’s a good idea to have this just in case.

The purpose of the card is to help me identify warning signs that I’m getting to that bad, low place, what I can do to help myself out of it, who I can go to (who I really, deeply trust) if I need external help and professional help (hospitals, crisis lines and apps, etc.) if it comes to that point.

One reason why I love this idea and am grateful my therapist had me do it is because it’s hard to always remember those things in times of crisis. There are people who have told me I could reach out to them if I get to that point, but when I’m at that point I can barely, if at all, think straight. Remembering this one simple thing–go grab your card–is easier. I also told my husband about it so that if he sees those warning signs he can ask me if I’ve looked at my card.

Another reason I like the card and the idea is because some of the things I can do for myself in a time of crisis are the same as helping me out of a panic attack. I had one at work recently when my PTSD was triggered. Just sitting at my desk, telling myself to power through it wasn’t working. I thought of my card and something on it that I could do even here at work. I went into the bathroom, sat on the floor and played a game on my phone for awhile. Did that fix the trauma or PTSD I have as a result of it? No. That will take more time. But it did help me focus, which got my breathing under control and my heart-rate down enough that I could go back to my desk and keep working.

For anyone who may be at risk for a crisis or who just needs a reminder of warning signs and things they can do to help, I highly recommend having a Crisis Response Plan. It is helpful and hopeful.