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?
“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!
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.
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.
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.
Life 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. She 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?
To build a brick wall, a foundation is needed. The foundation laid out, the wall built brick by brick. Emotional walls are similar. Mine was founded and built because of her.
“Can I help you with the dishes?” my best friend asks. ‘Do I have to do the dishes now?’ I complain. “Why can’t you be more like Safaa?”
Clink — The first brick
Violin at school, I can’t practice. “This is why no one in our house has musical talent”
Clink — Another brick
‘My photography teacher wants two of my pieces in the art show!’ Proud of myself, a rarity. Maybe I’m good at photography? The monotonous response: “How many does everyone else get?” ‘Two’
Clink Clink — A few bricks
Hiding in my room. Facing away from the door. Hide my shame. Blood trickles from self-inflicted wounds. She barges in. Seeing and crying. Apologizing. Promises to treat me better flow. She doesn’t.
Clink Clink — Two bricks
Heavy dresser blocks the door. Fingers against scalp, pulling at roots. Pain a distraction. She forces her way in, ignores my state. “Spoiled. Bad example. Problem child. Bully. Weak.”
Clink — Another brick
I buy my own kitten – Damian. My pride and joy, my child and my pet. Tiny body curled next to me, all warmth and purr. ‘I’ll come by and take care of him’ Banned from going. “He keeps peeing in my plants.” Kitten sold, no goodbye, no explanation.
Clink Clink — Multiple bricks
I try to leave the heartless manipulation of a mother. Silent screams, anguished mind. Tears mix with rain. Legs move involuntarily without drive, without destination. Obedient and mindless like she wants me to be. Sobs cut through the night. Fickle love I wished was true crumbles.
Clink Clink Clink — Many bricks
‘Why can’t we hang out with Tacy on Sunday?’ “Check email.” Demeaning intro. Father is the victim. She is the bully. I’m siding with him? “Good for you, Kelsey”. People should earn what they want? “Don’t care or hate your own mother, I still love you and hope that you choose the right things.”
Clink Clink Clink Clink — Countless bricks
She lets a lie slide. I pry for truth. A text to dad follows confession. She finds out. “Let me decide to communicate when can get to it, at your dad house I never hear anything, at my house your dad know everything.” ‘You do ask. You never answer emails’ “Things are between Mark and I, you need to stay out of it, understand?”
Clink — Another brick
Stressed and depressed. She notices that I am not myself and asks. Her fault. Tell her? I’m afraid of how she’ll react. Will she scream insults? Deny? Or will she listen and understand? Scream or deny, she will be angry. Listen, she won’t change. I tell her. She listens, promises to not do it anymore. She does.
Clink — Another brick
I root out another lie. She turns on me. A blizzard of accusatory words. Every possible flaw exploited. I can’t do this anymore. Unbuckled seat belt. Car door opens. She stops. Door alarm goes off. Sitting in stunned silence. Adrenaline of near death surges. We stop. My chance for peace gone.
Clink Clink Clink — Thousands of bricks
It scared her that I tried to jump? You care about me? Hope inflates like a balloon. Pop! Needle of insults deflates my balloon. “Spoiled. Bad example. Siblings will treat people horribly. Respect me. ‘A normal family listens’ I don’t have to listen. I’m the mother, you’re the child.”
Clink Clink Clink Clink — An endless waterfall
‘Clean up your mess, Khai’ He angers, mumbling. Throws a napkin. She chastises me for ‘provoking’ him. ‘He hits or throws something at me every day’ “Is it true?” A quiet yes. He asks if he can go to a friend’s house. Why would she let you? “Just clean your room first.” I can’t say anything. She’s the mother and I am not the favorite.
Clink Clink Clink — More bricks
For almost 18 years, I accepted the things she told me. Now, I am unable to feel emotion like a normal person. Extremely low self-esteem. Uncomfortable with affection. I worry about my future family. Who would want to marry me? Will I be like my mom? Will I have kids who trust me like a best friend? Will I be unconsciously abusive? For almost 18 years, I grew up with a mostly absent father who wasn’t there enough to give me the comfort that I needed. To give me the affection that every child needs. “I love you” my friends tell me. Well that makes one of us. My sister hugs me, I tickle her to get out. My friends hold my hand, I slip it out. “I really care for you” my friends tell me. Can’t say I feel the same.
For almost 18 years, I went through her abuse, the divorce, and my mental health issues without comfort. Without a hand to hold when I was afraid. Without a soothing voice to tell me that I am worth something. Without arms that wrap me in a warm hug while I shake with sobs that never come. Without someone to lower the gun that I’ve raised to my temple on multiple occasions.
But now, my brick wall has been built. It has curled around me and swaddled me like a newborn baby on cold nights. It has protected me from her, it has protected me from the storms that rage. My brick wall is the comfort I have lacked all of my life.
night I went to bed depressed and in tears. We’re working on
getting my son an official diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
He’s been through a bunch of testing, my ex and I filled out a
questionnaire together and yesterday the Occupational Therapist sent
an email with a summary of everything so far. It was a lot to take
in. I felt so overwhelmed. And so inadequate.
I lay there in bed I was hit with this realization. It’s so
obvious, but thus far I haven’t been thinking much about the
future, just about now. The realization was that my son will always
be autistic. It’s not something that can be taken away. It’s not
something that can be changed. With that thought came all these
questions about how it’s going to affect his life, not just now,
but years and years into the future. And of course, it made me wonder
how, or if, I’ll be able to help him.
my ex and I are pretty good co-parents. At least I think we are. But
I still feel so overwhelmed, so inadequate and alone to be doing this
as a single mom. As a single mom who deals with anxiety and
depression daily. I don’t mean to complain. I am grateful for my
blessings—they are many. I’m just scared. For my son, and for me.
Walking through that door makes the blue a little lighter. She holds space as I gently spill. We sit, we talk - we water, dig and bury. Nurturing a shoot. Aiding it in light - to find its path through thorns - Malan Wilkinson