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!

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.

To Balance or Not to Balance

Balance. I’m not sure I believe in it. People try to say you need to have balance in your life, but how are you supposed to balance your mental and physical health along with home life, work life, church life, being a wife and being a mother when you literally don’t have enough time?

I’ve been feeling my identity slipping away again. I don’t have time to be me anymore. I don’t have the confidence. It seems like in order to have “balance” you have to give something up. And then you’re not balanced anymore.

How does everyone do it? How do you do everything you have to do and still make sure your mental health is good? How do you maintain your sense of self, who you are, with everything else? I’ve been the victim of identity theft—real identity theft–my first time suffering through severe postpartum depression. I lost it again in a bad marriage. When I found myself after my divorce it was the most glorious thing in the world! I was so happy again. I had confidence again. And now I feel empty again. How is it done? How?

Sun Can Still Come Through the Clouds

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“And sun can still come through the clouds.” My fiance said this to me last week. Of course it’s something I already knew—both literally and figuratively, but it really hit me when he said it. I truly believe that even when life is stormy, cloudy, dark, there is still light that can—and does—come through.

The last couple of months were full of blessings, but also full of dark clouds. I struggled with a lot of things. Even though time helped heal some of them, I was still feeling pretty down and confused. Then my boyfriend of almost two years and I took a trip to Arizona, where he grew up. We had an a wonderful weekend exploring his hometown and surrounding areas. The best part of the trip was when he proposed to me on top of a mountain with the most incredible, beautiful view of the valley below. The sun that came from that blew all the clouds away! Well, other than the Cloud 9 I’ve been residing on ever since!

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Sometimes that sun that gets through comes from other people or from amazing circumstances—like getting proposed to—that happen to us. And sometimes we have to provide that light for ourselves. One of the things that helped me during that difficult time not so long ago was playing my flute. It didn’t take the clouds away, but it did allow some sun through. Meaning playing my flute didn’t magically fix what I was going through, but it did give me some reprieve and joy, and that helped a lot.

So for those struggling, for those who feel like their life is clouded over, remember that the sun can still get through. There are things or people that bring light, joy, peace and hope. And you can find them if you just look.

Sometimes It Just Takes Time

I’ve learned several things during this quarantine period. I’m sure we all have! One thing I’ve learned is that you can have social anxiety, but still need to be around people. That’s how my daughter’s therapist put it. He said it was something new he had learned from my daughter. My daughter and I both have social anxiety—we struggle to be in large groups of people, to be outgoing, to talk to others, but we also get anxiety being alone or being isolated. Even though I loved the extra time at home with my kids, I also greatly missed adult interaction with my coworkers. I struggled a lot at first not being around other adults or even just being able to see other people.

Another thing I learned is that I can adapt. Eventually I got used to being at home with just my kids. I often said how I missed other people, other adults, talking face to face with coworkers. But once I had to go back to work, after two months at home, I found my anxiety was really bad. I work at an amazing place, and I love the people I work with so much, but I had gotten so used to the way things became that I was having a hard time coping with the change. Yet another change. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so anxious thinking about going into work and being around other people. I was nauseous and sick to my stomach a lot. But after less than two weeks, I got used to being back at work and was even enjoying it again—just in time for summer break and being off again! Oh the irony.

The thing I learned from all of this is that sometimes it just takes time. Rarely is there some automatic cure-all for anxiety or depression or any kind of mental illness. I do believe there are a lot of things that can help, but sometimes it’s merely about taking time to let things settle. Sometimes it’s about understanding rather than fixing. Sometimes, oftentimes, understanding is what helps. So if you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental illness, especially during this unusual time so full of so many constant changes, don’t think all is lost. Don’t necessarily think you need to rush to change something right away. Give yourself time to understand what’s happening. Maybe you’ll discover that you do need to change something. Maybe it’s time to change the dose of your medication. Maybe it’s time to go back to a therapist. Maybe it’s time to start eating healthier. And maybe you just need time to understand and let things settle into a new normal—or back into an old one. It’s okay to allow yourself or your loved one that time.

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Experiences and the Full Spectrum

The first day of Ancient World Civ my sophomore year of high school, my teacher, Mr. Dau, told us we were programmed. Of course there was an uproar of disagreement, but he persisted. He said we would have a discussion on it later. He told us to go home, talk to our parents, our seminary teachers (a religion class for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), our Bishops and other religious leaders. We had our discussion without a single person agreeing with Mr. Dau. Later in the year, I wished so much that I could go back to that first day so I could be the only one to side with him. See, the experiences I’d gone through suffering from severe depression had changed my perspective.

The word “programmed” has a negative connotation when applied to people. But I don’t think it should. I do think we are programmed. That programming comes from various sources—parents, culture, place, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. Some people may like the words “mold” or “shape” better, but it’s all the same to me. It doesn’t mean we don’t have choices, it just means those choices are based very heavily on our programming. However, as we get older, and especially as we go out on our own, who we are becomes more about our experiences than our programming. We outgrow the program, I guess you could say. Our choices, our perspective and perception of things and who we are as individuals is born through the individual experiences we have. That means we will all vary on those things because we all have different experiences.

Take the world today—dealing with this virus and quarantine. Some parents are struggling being with their kids 24/7 while I’m loving the extra time with mine! Some are struggling to help their kids with their schoolwork, while others aren’t because they’ve been homeschooling their kids for years. Some people, like me, are struggling with the isolation, while others are realizing nothing much has changed because they aren’t very social anyway. This time means something different to everyone based on our different experiences.

Mental illness is the same way. I’ve said before that the things that help with mental illness are different for everyone—because everyone is different. Some people have great experiences with medication while others don’t. I’ve had both! For some, therapy is the greatest thing ever. Others swear by natural remedies or changing their diet and lifestyle. It saddens me when I see people acting like what works for them is the only thing that works and trying anything else is stupid. I’ve seen people condemning medication and those who use it. I’ve seen people making fun of those who go to therapy. Just because your perspective is that therapy doesn’t work because it didn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it’s not going to work for someone else.

We can support and encourage what works for us while at the same time supporting what works for others. Just because medication didn’t work for you doesn’t mean I’m lying when I say it worked for me. Just because I’m loving the extra time with my kids during this quarantine doesn’t mean you’re lying or faking it when you have to take your own time out from your kids to keep from going completely insane! It simply means we are different because we have different experiences in life that have shaped our different perspectives.

Another thing to remember is that our perspective can change as our experiences change—just like mine did in high school. My perspective as a mother has changed through the years, as well. I’ve often told people that when I was married and was a stay-at-home mom it was all about getting time away from the kids. But now that I’m a working single mom it’s all about getting time with my kids. I hate the weekends my kids are away. I absolutely hate it. I hate the silence. I hate being alone. I hate missing them. The way my life has changed has changed the way I look at things, the way I handle things, the way I react to things. I think it’s important to realize that just because you believe something now, just because you feel something now, doesn’t mean you always will. Or it could mean that what you believe and feel will be strengthened even more. I always loved being a mom, but it means even more to me now because of being a single mom and because of this quarantine.

I’m grateful for my experiences in life. But I also want to do better at remembering that they are my experiences, not everyone else’s, and that’s okay. It makes it a whole lot easier to love and support each other when we can take off those narrow-minded goggles so many of us wear—when we can see the full spectrum of colors rather than just black or white.

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The Unknown, The Unexpected

cranium-2028555_1280Life is full of unknowns, the unexpected. Sometimes those unknowns and unexpected things are good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re exciting and sometimes they’re scary. I had one of those scary experiences recently—when I found out I might have cancer. It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced—especially since my mind automatically started playing out the worst-case scenario over and over in my head. I kept seeing the doctor telling me I only had so long to live. Waiting to go back to the doctor, waiting for the biopsy, waiting for the results of the biopsy was agonizing. Excruciating. It was so hard to focus, so hard to be present. I kept obsessing about how I would tell my kids, what I would want my ex to know with raising the kids on his own. I couldn’t stop wondering how it would affect my relationship with my boyfriend—a man I love, want to marry and spend the rest of my life with—a life that could be cut short. There were times the fear and panic took over, and I’d find myself sobbing on the floor, feeling so alone. But there were also times of incredible peace and comfort as I chose to turn to my Father in Heaven and my Savior, Jesus Christ. That is a huge part of how I have survived mental illness for so many years. As difficult as mental illness is, as much as I wish I could just be completely free of it, I’m also grateful for what it has taught me and how it has prepared me for other hard things in life.

Some people ask, “Why?” when hit with one of those hard, difficult unknowns. Anytime I hear someone ask, “Why me?” or, “Why them?” I ask, “Why not you? Why not them? What makes you so special that you shouldn’t have to suffer the way everyone else does. Because everyone suffers.” It’s true. Every single person in this world suffers and struggles, and who are we to say that our suffering or our struggles are greater than someone else’s? During my own time of uncertainty I never asked why. Instead I turned to another lesson learned from living with mental illness. I told myself to look for the things I could learn from this. And beyond that, I told myself that if I did have cancer I was going to make sure my kids saw the beauty in life, the things to be grateful for. I would want them to learn from the experience, to grow, to discover how it could help them rather than ask why or blame God.

As scary and agonizing as it was to wait and wonder it was even more relieving and exciting to find out the biopsy came back negative—to find out I didn’t have cancer. But I’ve been trying to keep those lessons and moments of peace I had with me. Sometimes it’s hard. Everyday life can get so busy and distracting. That’s one reason I write—to remember. To look back and remember what I’ve learned. To look back and remember what to be grateful for. To look back and remember the hard times, but also the beautiful ones.

Not a Pessimist

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I’ve decided I may need amend my statement about being a self-proclaimed pessimist. I guess the actual definition of pessimism is looking for the worst in a situation as opposed to an optimist who looks for the best. I don’t look for the worst. I don’t look for the bad. I don’t focus on the negative. I am someone who often expects things to go wrong because they often do, but I look at all of my experiences in life as opportunity for learning and growth. I learned this from a friend all the way back in high school. She told me that she was raised to view the world as a testing ground and that no matter how hard she tried it seemed like fate was stacked against her and she always failed miserably—until she changed her perspective. She decided to look at life as more of a place for soul growth. Once she did that she found she was a lot happier.

Wow. What an amazing lesson and perspective for me to glean from. I was so grateful she had shared this with me, and it has stuck with me ever since.

In conversations with others we’ve come to the conclusion that our belief in Murphy’s Law is a way to protect ourselves from disappointment and hurt. That way when things to go right, when things turn out in a good way (because, YES, it does happen) we can be pleasantly surprised and happy about it. As for me, when things go wrong I may be down for a bit, but I also always ask myself what I can learn from the experience and how I can use it to help myself or others.

So maybe I’m not a pessimist. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m an optimist, but maybe not a pessimist. Maybe someone who sometimes expects things to go wrong, but looks for the good anyway. Soul growth. That’s what I’m about. Soul growth.

Extending Mercy

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I’m deviating from my usual topic of mental illness today. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again. Today I’m going to talk about autism and extending mercy.

Awhile back I saw a Facebook vent from a person annoyed about parents not keeping their kids away or from touching other people when in line at an amusement park. My heart hurt as I read this post—because my kid has been one of those kids this person was so annoyed at and venting about.

Yeah, I’ve gotten those looks before—at the grocery store, restaurants, a waterpark, and amusement park, as my son gets too close to or touches the person or people in front of him. The look that shows their annoyance. The look that shows what an ill-behaved kid they think my son is. The look that shows what a bad mom they’re judging me to be by not teaching my kid better.

What these people don’t know is that my kid has a sensory seeking form of autism. His natural instinct is to be close—very physically close—to whoever is by him. As hard as I have tried to teach him about personal space, that people have “bubbles”, it just doesn’t click in his mind. His “normal” is touching people. He needs to touch people.

The people who give me those looks just see a bad kid and a bad mom. What they don’t see are the hours and hours of testing we went through to get a diagnosis. What they don’t see is the heartache of being told that my son, who I love more than the world itself, has Autism Spectrum Disorder. They don’t see all the tears that have been shed thinking of what this means. They don’t see the agony of trying to help, trying to teach, him to go against his instinct because of all the people who will judge and not understand. What they don’t see is all the time, energy, love, frustration, determination, hope, hopelessness, difficulty, uncertainty, failure and success my son and I have been through with ASD. They just see a bad kid and a bad mom. But you don’t have to.

The next time you get annoyed or are about to pass judgement, extend mercy, instead. Realize that you probably don’t know the whole story—the way I don’t know your whole story. I get that it can be annoying to have some strange kid standing so close to you that he touches you. But before giving that look, please, please extend mercy—the way you would hope to have it extended to you.

Circling Thoughts

I have been lacking motivation. Recently. For a long time. In just about every aspect of my life. I always think about writing, but don’t do it. Now I have a little time, and guess I mustered a little motivation.

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My kids started school last week. I have to admit, it was really hard seeing all these people posting their first-day-of-school photos on Facebook. I was never one to take it very seriously. Usually I’d remember last minute and snap a quick photo before walking to the school with them. But I’d still take one—just to have, for remembrance sake. But I didn’t get to take a picture or drop them off because I had to be at work. I didn’t even get to see my seven-year-old before I had leave for work. It was just another reminder that my life isn’t where I ever thought or wanted it to be. I don’t want to miss out on saying goodbye to my seventh grader her first day of Jr. High. I don’t want to miss out on dropping my son off and taking his picture as he starts second grade. I envy those moms who get to do that.

It’s also been hard seeing so many people posting about vacations to Europe when I can’t even afford to take my kids to Moab for two days over Fall Break. Then, I think about my friend who recently spent two weeks in Africa. children-of-uganda-2245270_1920She met people who had nothing, yet they were happy and grateful, and I think to myself, “That’s who I should be comparing myself to. I may not live in a big, fancy house or have the money to spend weeks in Europe with my family, but at least I have a house, I live in a good place, my kids and I are healthy, I have a job, even if it means I don’t get to take picture of my kids on their first day back to school. I should be nothing but grateful and happy.” Then those thoughts get me feeling like I’m the worst person in the world—for comparing myself to my neighbors instead of people who have nothing. I should be grateful. I should be happy. I shouldn’t be down or envious. And the thoughts circle. And sometimes it’s so hard to get out of. How do you stop the negative thought process?