Belief and Mental Health

For some people, mental health is enhanced by religion. For others it may not be. Only the person going through it can judge for themselves. For me, my beliefs in my religion have been one of my greatest assets. I can say in all honesty that I wouldn’t be here if it were for my them. My belief in God and Christ has saved me, and it helps bolster up my mental health.

I’m not one of those people who believes everything happens for a reason. I do believe we can get something out of what life throws at us. Everything we go through can help us learn and grow, if we choose to let it. I don’t believe in a God whose pulling all the strings, but I do believe He does sometimes intervene. I have seen His hand in my life before. Sometimes it has come through my own feelings or intuition, sometimes certain circumstances or opportunities that have arisen, and sometimes it has been through other people. I had one of those experiences last week.

I was in the produce section of the grocery store when a woman approached me and told me she loved my jacket. It’s an official Shinedown jacket with the logo to their Planet Zero album on the front and some lyrics from the song Daylight on the back. “Have Faith That You’re Not Alone” I recently wrote a post about how much that song means to me. I love wearing the jacket, not just because it’s warm and comfortable, but because of the reminder. It’s special to me. This woman also found it special and inspirational, and I’m so grateful she chose to tell me.

That wasn’t the end, though. She asked what the story behind it was, so I told her and before I knew it we were talking like old friends who had always had a connection. Writing about it here can’t, and doesn’t, aptly describe just how amazing it felt to connect with this stranger on such a deep level. We both shared personal things about struggles we were going through and found understanding and connection. I told her, at some point, that sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger about those kinds of things than someone you know.

Almost a week later, and we’re no longer strangers. We traded information and have been texting ever since then. She has been a huge blessing in my life already. Being able to talk with someone who understands some of my struggles helps. Having someone who simply trusts me and my decisions helps. That is huge for my mental health. And it’s all because of my jacket. Because of Shinedown. Because of a song. Because of what that song means to me because of my husband. It’s because of God. I know—I know—that this woman and I were meant to meet and become friends. Knowing that God is aware of me and looking out for me helps me. I have seen so many blessings and had so many angels in my life the last couple of months. Despite how hard things have been my mental health is actually okay. Yes, there has been some added anxiety and depression, but considering what’s happened and where I’m at, I think I’m doing pretty good.

I know everyone is different. What helps and doesn’t help is different for everyone. In my story, my religion, my faith and my beliefs are a huge support and an enormous part of the reason why I’ve had the strength to get through. That gives me peace. And I need that. We all need peace. Where have you found peace? What helps you with your mental health?

Advertisement

A Different Take on Daylight Savings Time

It’s 7:30 PM, and it’s still light outside. Heaven.

I know people tend to struggle with the hour jump ahead and most years I see a slew of complaining posts or memes about it losing an hour of sleep. Even though it happens every year, so it’s no surprise, people still complain. Sometimes it’s hard to see as it goes on and on and on, long past the actual day because I LOVE when Daylight Savings Time starts. Numerous studies have shown how beneficial it is for mental health to have more daylight in the evening. I know it is for me.

For most people it takes one day to one week for their bodies to adjust to the time change. Yet my body and mind never adjust to the move back to Standard Time in the fall, when the sun sets early and there is little light in the evening. Part of my struggle has to do with winter and less light in general, but a lot of it has to do with when the light is out. So from the moment we set our clocks back and supposedly get that extra hour of sleep to months later—not a day or a week, but months—my depression, anxiety and OCD rage. And when the day comes that we set the clocks ahead and some people lose an hour of sleep (it’s never really affected me much) my depression, anxiety and OCD lighten substantially.

So while a lot of people are out there complaining and sharing memes about how horrible DST is, I am here rejoicing—so happily rejoicing—that it’s now 7:42 PM and there’s still a little light out!

Music and Mental Health

Last weekend I went to a University band concert that was dedicated to mental health awareness. What an amazing concept—to have a concert dedicated to mental health. They played a piece called Unbroken by Randall Standridge. The program notes told the story of his mother who suffered from depression in a time when it was completely taboo to talk about mental illness. Eventually she had a complete mental breakdown and spent over a year in the hospital. During that time his dad kept the family together. After his mom got out of the hospital mental illness and mental health issues were spoken of openly and freely in their home. Standridge himself suffers from depression. He talked about how his mom didn’t break, the bond between his parents didn’t break and his family didn’t break.

The piece was absolutely amazing. There was a lot of dissonance, which accurately represents mental illness. But there were also moments of harmony and beauty. Even in the midst of mental illness there can be good times, there can be moments of beauty. And just because we have mental illness doesn’t mean we’re broken. We are still human. We are still whole. And we are beautiful.

The piece ended in dissonance, which I didn’t take as defeat or pessimism. I think part of it was to show that mental illness is real, and it needs to be discussed. More needs to be done about it. And for me, personally, I thought about how sometimes mental illness is situational. Sometimes people get the help they need and they overcome it, or it goes away. But for some of us, mental illness is lifelong. It never leaves. We may get help, we may learn to manage it, but it is always here, always a part of our lives, lurking in shadows, in the corners and crevices—when it’s not right out in the open doing everything to pull us down. That was what the ending dissonance meant to me. It was powerful. So powerful.

Something I loved was that the director gave his students the opportunity to share their own experiences with mental health. There were probably at least a dozen paragraphs in the program notes about personal struggles with mental illness. That was also powerful. I am so grateful this director (who I play under in a community band) gave these students a voice. Sometimes just being able to put it into words and share—even anonymously—helps.

A lot of the students wrote about how music had helped them and made a difference in their lives and their mental health journey. I, too, connect with that. Music has had an incredible impact on me my whole life, but especially lately, as I’ve struggled with all the boulders that have been dropped and bombs that have gone off—as I live in the rubble. I already wrote about a piece by Two Steps From Hell called Resilience. I have listened to that piece over and over and over again. The band Shinedown has also meant a lot to me. I’ve always loved them and considered them one of my favorite bands, but they have meant more to me than ever lately. Some songs I’ve known for years have taken on new meaning. Others that have always meant something mean even more. I listen to them over and over and over again as well. I have found strength, courage, hope, determination and peace in their songs. I’m so grateful for the difference music has made, and continues to make, in my life—and the lives of others. It may sound simplistic, but music truly can make a difference in our mental health—in small moments, long days and over the span of a lifetime.

Little Victories

Lately I’ve had to do some things that trigger my anxiety. I’ve had to make phone calls. I know that may not seem like a big deal to some people, but many of us with Generalized Anxiety Disorder struggle to call people. It’s not even that it’s just a struggle or that it’s a normal part of society today—most kids don’t like making phone calls either. It’s all texting and social media. But for those of us with anxiety it is so much more than that. It’s fear, worry, fretting, obsessing, panicking, etc. Due to recent changes in my life I had to make those phone calls.

Sometimes it doesn’t bother me to call someone. Calling the mortgage company, energy company, power company and City does induce horrible anxiety for me. But it had to be done. Someone without anxiety may have been able to make all those phone calls and take care of everything within a single afternoon. It took me a whole week—maybe longer.

Engaging in the things that trigger anxiety is absolutely exhausting. Imagine a non-runner participating in a marathon and running at full speed the whole time. Exhausting. Each phone call took so much out of me I had to only do one per day to give myself time to reset and recover. And that’s okay. I would guess some advice a marathon runner would give is to pace yourself. I’m not a 100% sure on that since I’m not a runner at all, but it seems like good advice, right?! The same is true of anxiety. In order to take care of everything I needed to accomplish I had to pace myself to make sure I didn’t overdo it—to make sure I didn’t keel over in a panic attack. I paced myself, and I did it. I made all the phone calls I needed to. I got everything taken care of that I needed to. That’s what matters.

This may seem like a small victory—but I consider it a victory nonetheless. When it comes to my mental health I can look back and see many tiny victories that have helped me learn, grow and manage my mental illness better. When you stack all of those little victories up it’s one giant mountain of accomplishment! I say we count the little victories—in any area of our lives—and recognize how far we’ve come. When we can see how far we’ve come it only inspires us and reminds us that we can keep going.

Self-Care

One thing I appreciate about my therapist is that she knows the value of self-care. Every session I have with her she asks me if I’m doing things I enjoy or things that help with my mental health. I’ve been going to her for a year and a half or so, so she knows me well enough to ask specifics—birding, light therapy, walks, getting outside. Because of current struggles my initial motivation has been very low, so I’m grateful she asks and holds me accountable. If I haven’t been doing those things, she adamantly reminds me that I need to be doing them.

An interesting thing is that even though my motivation has been greatly lacking, I’ve actually been forcing myself to do these things. And when I do, I never regret it. I haven’t been sleeping well, so nights/mornings my kids are with their dad I tend to take a sleeping pill and try to sleep in late. A few days ago, however, I actually decided to wake up early and go birding at sunrise. Dawn is my absolute favorite time of the day. When my alarm went off I almost stayed in bed. Even though I wasn’t super motivated and didn’t immediately and happily jump out of bed I did decide to get up and go birding. I’m so glad I did! It felt amazing to be in a beautiful place in nature at dawn. And I got some great photos! Was I tired later? Sure, but I’m tired every day. Getting up early to do something I enjoy was absolutely worth it.

Self-care may not change the circumstances of our lives, but it is essential in helping with our mental health. Despite my current struggles and difficulties, I’ve been doing mostly okay lately, partly because I’ve been pushing myself to do the things I enjoy, even if it’s hard to get that initial motivation. Self-care is not selfish or indulgent. It is care for ourselves that is necessary.

My Path

Recently, I’ve been thinking about Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. It’s been over twenty years since I read it in sophomore honors English. We had to memorize Mark Antony’s speech after Caesar was murdered, and for some reason the beginning of the speech has stayed with me all these years. The part that’s been on my mind are the lines:

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

How often is that true in real life? How often does the good get completely forgotten or tossed aside when a mistake is made? As if a mistake or wrong-doing can just erase the good. I don’t believe that. But I have seen a lot of it lately. I have seen how quickly people can forget, ignore and erase the good someone has done as soon as they make a mistake. They seem to forget that they are human, too, and have also made mistakes. It’s easy to play God when you’re not the one being judged.

It is impossible to know or understand what someone is going through. Notice how I didn’t add when you’re not in their shoes? Even when we’re in the same or similar shoes, nothing is completely duplicated. Every situation and every person is different. The last month has been the greatest struggle of my life. I have had difficult decisions to make. I know others who have been in very similar circumstances and have made the same choices I have, and years down the road, now, for them, they are living happy, fulfilling lives. I also know others who have made different decisions who are also now living happy, fulfilling lives.

Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken also comes to mind. Some people think it’s a poem about non-conformity, but it is, at it’s simplest and purest, about just making a decision. Frost wrote it as joke for a friend who he’d go walking with. The friend could never decide which path to take and often wished they’d taken a different one. In the poem Frost describes both paths as being “fair” and pretty much the same. Even in similar circumstances, the path we choose may be different—but that doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong. Both paths can be right, and whatever path we take is what makes the difference.

If I could go back and change the things that led to the incredibly difficult situation I’m in right now, I would. But I can’t. I could obsess about it. I could judge. I could condemn. I could allow myself to be led by anger. But none of that does anyone any good. I repeat—none of that does anyone any good. I have seen so many blessings, and, I would say, even miracles in the last month. I have felt a peace and strength I never knew existed. My understanding and testimony of Christ’s atonement has grown significantly, and that means more to me than I could even begin to describe. I have felt, more than I ever have before, the Holy Ghost guiding me on the right path. I will hold people accountable for the wrong choices they have made, and I will also remember the good choices they’ve made. I will hold onto forgiveness, compassion and understanding because that is what brings me the peace I need in my life. I will happily leave the burden of judgment to an all-knowing, all-wise and completely all-loving Father in Heaven. This is my path. From where I’m standing it is the one less traveled, and it is what is making all the difference.

Resilience

Hans Christian Andersen said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” I love words. I’ve loved and treasured them since I was young. But sometimes they simply cannot speak or convey true depth of emotion the way music can and does. A song that has spoken to me, that I’ve been listening to over and over again, is Resilience by Audiomachine, on their album Rise. Resilience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnxZDiHYHzE

There’s this trendy thing that’s been around for years now where you pick out a word, and that’s your word for the year. I’ve never done it because—well, because it’s trendy, and I hate trends. Ask my kids and they’ll tell you one of my favorite things to say is, “I’m not a sheep.” Meaning, I’m not going to follow all the other sheep walking off the cliff. But this word is powerful to me right now—just like the song. Resilience. “The capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Life is hard. I’m trying to withstand and recover, to be resilient.

But I don’t think it’s just about surviving. It’s about thriving through the trials and difficulties. There are times in my life I have merely survived. This time, despite being the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through, I want to do more than survive. I want to find joy. I already have. I want to continue being grateful for the blessings, even when another bomb explodes. I can find gems even in the rubble. I am resilient. I will have resilience. The song by Audiomachine conveys so perfectly what I have felt about this word and everything it means. The music speaks when the words fail. Resilience. Not just my word for this year, but for my life. Resilience.

Daylight

Sometimes we don’t make a difference in the lives of the people we wish we could. But it’s okay, because sometimes we make a difference to others without even knowing it. The ones I wish would read this and get something from it probably never will. But maybe it will still mean something to someone else.

Daylight. A song by Shinedown on their new album Planet Zero. When I first heard it last year I thought, “Well, Shinedown has made yet another song I feel completely.” How do they do that? So many of their songs feel like something I could have written because it’s something I’ve been through or something I’ve dealt with or something I’ve felt so strongly, too. Right now, Daylight means even more to me than ever. I’m coming to understand the importance of these lines:

It's amazing what the hard times can reveal,
Like who shows up, who walks away and who's for real.

How often do we let anger, selfishness or pettiness cause us to walk away from someone? Even when someone ends up suffering because of their own mistakes or sins, it doesn’t mean it’s okay to turn our back on them. I’m sure as hell not perfect, but I try to live my life the way Christ did—the way he would want me to live. Christ spent His life among the sinners. He didn’t spend it with the “righteous” people because those so-called righteous people were just a bunch of hypocrites. So, He walked among the “unclean”, teaching them and making a difference in their lives. I have seen the way His light and Spirit work among “sinners” today, teaching them and making a difference in their lives, just like Christ did when He was on the earth.

So why should I turn my back on them? I’m not talking about people who are toxic or continually abusive. It’s okay to have boundaries or walk away from people who refuse to acknowledge their own toxic and abusive behavior—who refuse to do anything about it. I’m talking about not giving into anger. I’m talking about not giving into selfishness. I’m talking about forgiveness. I’m talking about being there for people who have made mistakes—even huge ones—when they acknowledge it and are doing their best to change and overcome. I’m sure that’s what Christ would have done. I’m sure because that is what He did time after time after time.

Everyone deserves love and compassion. Everyone deserves another chance. Everyone deserves someone who will be there for them and have their back through difficult times. Like Daylight says, those difficult times reveal who truly loves and cares about you, who’s there for you, and it reveals who never really cared about you, who’s not for you and who’s just fake. As hard as it is, sometimes we all need that truth.

I’m grateful for the people who have truly been there for me. And I’m grateful I get the opportunity to show the ones I love that I’m there for them. I’m grateful I can be the daylight in their darkness. Because they are worth it.

What Forgiveness Has Done For Me

Forgiveness. I won’t preach it to you. I, for one, have struggled with it at times in my own life. What I can do is share my experiences with it. I already wrote about one. You can read it here. https://silencespeaksdotblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/the-power-of-forgiveness/

I think there are misconceptions about forgiveness. One is the notion of forgive and forget. I read an article once by a member of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2004/08/forgiveness-our-challenge-and-our-blessing?lang=eng In it Steve F. Gilliland says that in most cases, short of brain surgery, it’s not possible to forget what someone did to you. That’s not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is being able to remember something, but not have the same feelings associated with it. Just because you haven’t forgotten what someone did to you doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven.

Another misconception is that forgiveness means continuing to have a relationship with someone who is abusive or toxic. Elder Jeffery R. Holland put this myth to rest when he said, “It is, however, important for some of you living in real anguish to note what [Christ] did not say. He did not say, ‘You are not allowed to feel true pain or real sorrow from the shattering experiences you have had at the hand of another.’ Nor did He say, ‘In order to forgive fully, you have to reenter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive, destructive circumstance.’” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/10/the-ministry-of-reconciliation?lang=eng There are abusive and toxic people that I know longer have in my life. That is to protect the mental and physical health of myself and my children. When I think of the things they things they did to me or the toxic behavior they continuously exhibited I no longer feel anger, hurt, sadness or fear. It’s possible to forgive and also have boundaries or cut ties altogether.

I’ve heard some people say that forgiveness doesn’t help you, it only helps the person who hurt you—as if forgiving means you are okay with what someone did or don’t think there need to be any consequences. I don’t think this is true. Forgiveness lifts the burden of pain off your shoulders—at least it has for me. Life has been a struggle. I recently wrote about a curve ball boulder that hit me. Since then, it feels as if boulder after boulder after boulder has been dropped on me. Some might say that I should be angry, but anger doesn’t help me or anyone around me. Forgiveness and giving that anger over to God has helped me understand more than I ever have before what it means to give my burden to God. Is there still some pain, sadness and uncertainty? Yes. But I feel lighter and more capable. I still believe in consequences. I can believe in them and still forgive, still have that burden removed.

For me, forgiveness turned an enemy into a friend (my previous story), and it has also allowed me to continue going despite incredibly difficulty. It has brought me incredible peace and strength. If forgiveness has made a difference in your life, I’d love to hear about it.

Perspective and Growth

Have you ever made an assumption or judgment about someone, sure you know or understand the whole story? Sure you know exactly what they should have done or what you would have done in their place? Then, have you ever found yourself in a similar circumstance and realized you now understand why they did what they did? Maybe you even find yourself thinking the same way or making the same decision. It’s amazing how perspective can change once you’re faced with the same challenge and same decision.

There is a story, that’s not mine to tell, that happened 10-15 years ago. This woman made a decision that I thought was so stupid. So stupid! I couldn’t believe she had made this decision. It seemed unfathomable to me and just plain wrong. All these years later, and I have found myself in a similar situation—not exactly the same, but similar. And I suddenly understand this woman. I understand why she made the choice she did. I understand how she must have felt. I understand how hard it probably was for her, as I’m sure others told her she was stupid and wrong. And I’m ashamed of myself for being so judgmental. Because here I am, hoping for a similar outcome as the one she had because of the choice she made—the one I had thought was stupid and wrong.

I’m so grateful we have the opportunity to learn and grow—in so many different ways. I’m hoping that being able to see things from this different perspective helps me to become less judgmental. I do believe in consequences. But I also believe in love and forgiveness. Those things have brought me peace in difficult times, and I’ve learned through my life that peace is one of the most important things we can have.

Have you ever had a change in perspective? And how have you seen growth in your life?