ART

I’m trying yet another kind of therapy to help with trauma from the past that is still affecting my present, in the form of anxiety. It’s called ART, or Accelerated Resolution Therapy. It is similar to EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) in that it uses eye movement and visualization, but the results are much quicker.

I liked it because, while my therapist guided me, I was really the one in control. I didn’t even have to tell her anything I was seeing or feeling unless I wanted to. And yet, the session continued. I was pretty drained and very tired, after, but I also felt lighter, like this weight of burden had been lifted off of me.

There is this tiny of seed of doubt at whether one session could really have worked, but I also have faith because I’ve experienced the true effect of EMDR. My ART session focused on something that doesn’t necessarily affect my everyday life, but rather certain circumstances that sometimes arise, so I can’t say for sure, yet, how much it helped, but I have noticed that when I think of those memories associated with the trauma I no longer feel any sort of anger, frustration, fear, sadness, depression, etc. That, also, is incredibly freeing! And it adds to my faith that ART really does work.

I truly am amazed at how far we’ve come in regards to help for mental illness. When I was first diagnosed with depression as a teenager, over twenty years ago, it seemed like the only thing you could do was take medication or use talk-therapy. Both of those things can work, but there are so many more options now, as well, which makes me incredibly grateful. As always, it’s about remembering that what works for me may not work for you. It’s about finding what does work for you and sticking with it. We deserve help. We deserve healthier lives. Because we are all worth it!

What I Wish I’d Said

Today’s post comes from a guest writer. I instantly connected with the writing as soon as I read it and knew I wanted others to read it. I hope it is as insightful, meaningful and full of hope to you as it is to me.

“Isn’t that selfish?” A discussion among friends had somehow turned to the topic of suicide, and this was a rhetorical question from one. It was the type of comment that carried with it a sting only partially ameliorated by the knowledge that suicidal ideation and mental illness are things that simply cannot be truly understood by those without experience. The taboo nature of mental illness tends to keep its victims hiding in the shadows. Fortunately, this was one of the few times I felt brave enough to speak up. At my prodding, he explained his opinion that ending your life ended your own suffering only to cause it in many others.

What I told him was how, in those early days of my undiagnosed illness, I had a figurative scale. On one side, it weighed the burden I was to others. On the other side, it weighed the burden and the sorrow it would bring to others if I died. I told him that as my illness progressed, I perceived myself as being more and more of a burden to those around me, to the point that it seemed my death would be less distressing for my loved ones in the long run. But there were many things I didn’t say and wish I had.

What I wish I’d said was that there is a difference between wishing you were dead and thinking about killing yourself. For me, the pain was so strong and so relentless for so long that death, had it come, would have been welcomed.

What I wish I’d said is that sometimes those of us with mental illness get so used to not seeing the light that it’s painful to continue looking for it. But hope is key. When I had hope, it kept me from reaching the point of true suicidal ideation. Hope is such an integral part of motivation that the lack of it has the power to override the strongest, most basic human drives.

What I wish I’d said is that, for me, it was the hope engendered by my connection to my God that gave me the strength to hold on past all the misperceptions that weighed in on my figurative scale.

What I wish I’d said was that through every prayer that came out in anger and every prayer where my internal chaos was so strong that the only words I could muster were “Please help me,” my God was there, He heard me, and He had a plan for me if I just kept hanging on to the glimmers of light and hope.

Sometimes the strength He gave was from the experience of the almost completely consuming anxiety subsiding after just a few hours, as opposed to days or weeks. Sometimes it was finding the will to get out of bed however briefly. Sometimes it was the temporary yet significant relief from a friend or family member, or from being able to get a few hours of sleep. Sometimes it was the moments that made me think I wasn’t a complete failure for all the fights I caused with each family member. Sometimes it was the feeling of being seen or understood.

What I wish I’d said was that most of the time, these were fleeting and not anywhere close to the degree of help that I was seeking. But they were things that, slowly, minutely, yet still surely, provided what I needed to make it through one more day, one more sleepless night, one more episode.

What I wish I’d said is that the darkness still comes, but I can now see incredible beauty that is imperceptible to anyone who has not experienced a similar brand of darkness.

But what I most wish I’d said was that, for those consumed by the darkness of mental illness, there is help and hope to anyone who seeks it.

For those of you blessed to be without the burden of mental illness, I hope you can join the fight to destigmatize suicidal ideation, and that you can have the courage to be the light for those consumed by the darkness. Perhaps destigmatizing suicidal ideation will lead to more people having the courage to reach out for help when they suffer from it.

By J. Whicker

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.

A Million Steps Back

Do you ever feel like you’re taking one step forward, two steps back? Lately I’ve felt like I take one step forward and a million steps back. Sometimes I wish I could go back and have a do-over, do things right this time. But it’s not that kind of “back” that I’m going to.

Every time I feel like I’m making progress I slide back through a tunnel of sludge and sharp thorns, ending in a heap of darkness and pain. Becky Craven, a leader in my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) spoke about this from a spiritual perspective. (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/32craven?lang=eng) She said when she was younger she visualized herself walking along an “upward, vertical” path toward her goal. Every time she felt herself sliding down she thought she had to start all over again, but in time she discovered that with each failed attempt she didn’t have to start over. She could keep the progress and change she had made as she continued to progress.

I understand this from the spiritual perspective, but can it really be this way in life and in our relationships? Can we keep the progress we’ve made even as we fall backwards? Can things ever truly be good again if we don’t make up what we’ve lost? I’m struggling to find or live the answer. And is that struggle what is actually holding me back?

I didn’t start, nor do I continue, this blog because I have all the answers. It’s about opening and having a discussion about  mental illness and things many of us struggle with. I hope that through this discussion we can all help each other, even if it’s just to know we’re not alone.

Rainbows and Stars

My coworker has this cute daily calendar. This is what was on it the other day:

When the rain is pounding us and the darkness, thick, envelops us it’s hard to always see the rainbow or the stars. But they are there. Sometimes it takes great effort. Sometimes it takes someone else reminding us. Sometimes it takes time—after the storm is gone and the light has come back—to realize we saw them.

I try to look for the lessons (the rainbow and stars) I can learn from the difficult times (the rain and darkness) I go through. Sometimes I can see tidbits as I’m going through it, but more often I don’t see it until after, when I have time to reflect. That’s okay. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to feel only rain and darkness. But it’s also important to remember the light is there. It won’t always be dark. It won’t always be stormy. We can have light and lessons and growth with time.

Beautiful Lessons Learned

My amazing husband made me this little book:

He sent messages through Facebook asking my friends to write something about me. I was a crying, blubbering mess most of the time I read through it, though there were plenty of smiles and laughs, too. I remembered and learned several things from this.

The first thing I was reminded of was what an amazing, wonderful husband I have who loves and cares about me so much. I was also reminded of how blessed I am to have so many good people around me.

Now, some things I learned. First, we really do make a difference in each other’s lives, even when we can’t see it. People brought up specific examples of things I had said or done that didn’t seem big to me. They were things I did or said simply because that’s me. They were things that I figured anyone would have done. Which leads me to something else I learned—little things, simple things, make a difference. Even if we do or say something that seems small or ordinary to us, even if it’s something anyone would do, if still means something or makes a difference in someone’s life. That means we matter. We all matter because we all make a difference.

Another thing I am in the processing of learning or trying to tell myself is to listen to the positive instead of believing the negative. My husband said he did this because he wanted me to see that there are so many people who love and value me—that there are far more people who think I’m of worth than have told me or made me feel I’m not. A friend also commented on my last blog post that something she does is try to remind herself that her brain is lying to her. That’s what depression is. I have written about and shared this too. Sometimes it is so hard to remember, especially when people have told me to my face what a horrible person I am. But it’s true—there are more people who have said good than bad, and that’s what I need to focus on. That’s what I need to believe. That’s what we all need to believe.

I also learned, from this, how important it is to let people know we appreciate them. Whether we suffer from depression or not, we all get down at times and are hard on ourselves. We all need encouragement and to know we are of worth. I want to be better at letting people know how grateful I am for them and that they have made a difference to me. I also want to be better at seeing the beauty around me—because there is beauty everywhere. In nature and in people. In circumstance and experience. It’s hard to see, sometimes, for those of us with mental illness. It is especially hard for me to see in the winter when my SAD threatens to crush me. But I’m going to try.

I don’t know that all the people who responded to my husband and sent kind and inspiring words will read this. But for those who do, thank you. Thank you, and I love you, and I’m so incredibly grateful for the love and inspiration you have given me. You’ve helped remind me of my worth. I hope you know you are of worth and value too.

Making a Difference

I was so happy to see this article, https://www.ksl.com/article/50088066/huntsman-mental-health-institute-at-university-of-utah-dedicated, and learn of this new Mental Health Institute that is opening near where I live. I have continued to feel like mental illness and mental health challenges are getting ignored, and even attacked, since Covid hit last year. The only things so many people seem to care about or show concern over are Covid and politics. I was even attacked and purposefully publicly humiliated by family members for an article I posted on this blog about how the shaming people have been doing has added to an increase in depression and suicide.

It is good to know that there are still people who are actively working to help those of us with mental illness, actively working to make people aware, despite those actively working to silence our voices and harm and condemn us. Keep trying. Keep doing your best. We can make a difference.

SAD Again

Winter is in full swing and so is my seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. The cold, cloudy, dark days and nights have really gotten to me. Other stress is also weighing me down. I’ve been trying my hardest to stay out of the clutches of depression, but winter is an especially hard time for me. One thing that helps are the birds.

I live close to a Waterfowl Management Area, home to more than just waterfowl. It is a stop for migratory birds, and winter and spring is filled with them. I love going out there to watch them and take pictures of them. It doesn’t cure my SAD, but it at least gives me a little bit of joy in an otherwise bleak and dreary time.

What hobbies or things do you do to help yourself with your mental illness? I believe we all have something we can use or lean on to at least help a little.

Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier

Slim Hope, But Still Hope

It’s easy to feel like my efforts to educate people on mental illness isn’t making a difference. Yet I keep trying because I keep hoping—somehow—that it will make a difference.

Just the other day I saw a post from someone I know about how angry she is that not everyone where she lives is wearing a mask or taking Covid seriously. She posted a parody on a song from Beauty and the Beast that used harsh, shaming, judgmental language about people who don’t wear masks. Things like how simple it is, it’s just a piece of fabric and just wear the f***ing mask. It broke my heart—not so much for myself, but for other people who have depression, anxiety and PTSD. For some of us, seeing something like that could be what finally pushes us to the brink of utter despair and even suicide.

Even after all this time, it’s not always that simple. If someone isn’t wearing a mask it doesn’t automatically mean we’re not taking Covid seriously. For those of us with anxiety masks are more than “just a piece of fabric”. Masks are claustrophobia that literally do make it so we can’t breathe and can’t function. For those of us with PTSD masks are the face of someone who assaulted or violated us. We are already struggling, while trying to do our best, without being shamed, condemned and judged.

This is a difficult time for so many people. Can’t we reach out in kindness and love instead of anger and hatred? I started, and continue, this blog in the hopes that it would help someone, in the hopes that it would educate, in the hopes that it will inspire. We can all have different beliefs and different struggles while still helping, educating and inspiring each other in love and positivity. As slim as my hope is, it’s what I’m hanging on to.

Remembering Thanksgiving

November 6th I got married! I wanted to post something before the wedding and honeymoon, but it was a busy time. The wedding was beautiful and wonderful and perfect. The honeymoon to Kolob Canyon, Snow Canyon and Zion National Park was amazing and so much fun! I had this illusion that when we got back things would still be good. Mostly, they really are. I’m married to the man of my dreams, and that is very, very good! But we also came back to some incredibly difficult challenges. Challenges that could have had me curled up in a ball crying and hopeless. And yet, all I could think the other night was how I wanted to thank God for all He has blessed me with.

More and more it seems as if society skips right over the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s all about the commercialism of Christmas. I love Christmas and celebrating the birth of my Savior, but I also love Thanksgiving as a time to remember all the things we have to be grateful for.

I know I’ve written about gratitude before. Gratitude doesn’t just cure or take away mental illness, but I do believe it can help. Times when the hard things start pressing me down, threatening to crush me, I’ve been trying to think of all the ways I’ve been blessed recently, and I find myself staying above the weight of the depression. Gratitude is always important, but I’m really going to try to focus more on it this month and invite all to join in with me. Hopefully we’ll all see a difference in the level of happiness and peace we experience.