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.

In the Storm

Last night I had a pretty amazing experience, coming out of a canyon I had just been hiking in. Off to the west I could see a storm. Clouds, rain, lightning. As I continued hiking I could tell the storm was moving east—toward me. I wondered if it would get to me before I made it to my car or if it would sputter out and die. I stopped to take pictures, but then quickened my pace, just to be safe.

I continued to watch the storm moving closer to me, until rain finally hit me. It felt good at first because it was so hot, but soon it started pouring on me. Not only was I drenched in sweat, but also got soaked from the rain. I’m not a runner, but I ran as fast as I could down the switchbacks that led to the trailhead and my car.

After making it to the shelter of my car I thought about how this is what my life has been like lately. The view of the storm was absolutely stunning, beautiful. There have been a lot of good things happening in my life—blessings and things to look forward to. But there has been a storm, too. Cold, wet and dark. The rain didn’t diminish the beauty, but the beauty didn’t take away the water soaking and chilling me.

The storm has been taking its toll. My depression and anxiety have been very, very bad. I still see the good, I still remember to be grateful, and I do know that gratitude helps, but it also doesn’t just automatically cure mental illness.

I feel like I’ve been running—as fast as I absolutely can! But the storm has followed me everywhere I go. It’s pouring, it’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s relentless. I’m trying as hard as I can to find shelter, to remain grateful for the beauty there is, but the storm is still here. All I can do is continue trying and be hopeful that someday it will stop or that I will find that shelter.

Nature of Depression

This morning I hid. After getting after my eight-year-old for not listening and being disrespectful (something he’s been doing a lot of lately) I went in my room, shut the door, got back in bed and hid. I just couldn’t face the world or my kids.

There are a lot of good things happening, and I’m trying to remember that. I am grateful for the good and the blessings. Remembering to be grateful definitely helps, but gratitude doesn’t just cure mental illness. There are also a lot of struggles going on right now, and I have sunk further and further into depression the last week or so. I feel like I’m not where I should be and that I’m not doing enough or being enough. I’m not being a good enough mom. I’m not being a good enough friend. I’m not being a good enough neighbor. I’m not being a good enough fiance. I’m not being a good enough person.

I wish I could find some sort of lesson, some sort of inspiration in all this. But I can’t right now. I suppose that is the nature of depression.

What Is a Panic Attack?

What is a panic attack? The Mayo Clinic says, “A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” It also states, “Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.” I can attest to the fact that panic attacks are incredibly frightening and crippling. It’s more than just a “sense” of panic or nervousness. It’s completely disabling and can cause side effects such as:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment
  • Sense of impending doom or danger

As you can see, there are actual physical side effects that can come with a panic attack—things that are completely out of your control.

So what does a panic attack look like? That’s sort of a trick question because a panic attack isn’t always something that can be seen. Panic attacks are different for everyone. I have even experienced them differently. My anxiety really started getting bad after my first baby was born. I remember having several panic attacks when she was a toddler. There were times we were sitting on the couch, watching TV together, when my stomach would start cramping and my mind would start reeling, thinking about things that increased my anxiety, and I’d have a panic attack. I was conscious, but everything around me seemed to fade out and I became completely unaware of my surroundings. At least a couple of times I came out of it from my daughter saying “Mommy, Mommy” over and over again in front of my face. I’d snap out of it with no idea how long I’d been like that or how long she had been saying my name. The most frightening thing about it was knowing that she could have walked out the door and down the street, and I would have had no idea. To anyone looking on, it would have looked like I was just sitting there, watching TV, when really I was feeling incredible physical and emotional pain.

girl-863686_1280

Panic attacks, for me, have now become more physical. I generally get stomach pain, like horrible cramps that often go into my back, neck, shoulders, and I hyperventilate, sometimes to the point of barely being able to breathe and nearly blacking out/passing out. It is horrible. It is scary. It is absolute darkness and complete loneliness. You do, sometimes, feel like you’re going to die. Either that, or you’re hoping you do it’s so bad.

Sometimes I have smaller panic attacks that I’m able to get control of before they get that bad. I’ve had them at work, and no one has noticed. I even had one over the weekend. Some coworkers and I went on a little retreat/workshop together. We stopped at a grocery store to get a few things. Some of them waited in the car, but I needed to use the restroom so I went in with a couple of them. This grocery store requires masks, so I put mine on until I got to the restroom where I pulled it down. I put it up going back into the store as I walked around with the other two women. However, my stomach started hurting and it became very difficult to breathe. I kept telling myself I had to get out of there or I was going to die, but I didn’t want to be rude so I kept walking around the store with them, having a panic attack they were completely unaware of. I finally did excuse myself when they were going to buy the food we’d picked out because I knew before long I’d be on the floor, crying and completely hyperventilating.

I haven’t yet had a noticeable panic attack in public—at least as far as I know, but I fear it happening, especially when school/my job starts back up, and I’m supposed to wear a mask all day. Just thinking about having a panic attack in front of my coworkers or complete strangers is almost enough to make me have one. How would they react? What would people think and say? This is the kind of debilitating fear we live with. And right now, as people who don’t fit the mold or fit inside that perfect, tidy little box we’re expected to comply to, it is even worse. But it’s helpful to remember that there are things that can help. Breathing is huge. It’s hard to remember or do when you are having a panic attack, but if you can get even, steady, deep breaths, it can help the panic attack subside. My fiance has been so good at helping me with this. I have had at least one panic attack in his presence and at least one or two when on the phone with him, and the best thing he has done is started breathing deeply for me to hear. Each time I was able to match my breathing with his and eventually came out of the panic attack. If you see someone having a panic attack this is a good way to help. Don’t tell them to breathe, just start breathing for them to hear. Focusing on something, like an image or object, can also help.

Like always, I urge kindness and understanding. The last few years it seemed we had made progress when it comes to mental illness. The last few months, however, feels like we have gone backwards and all progress has been lost. It’s hard not to feel forgotten and uncared about when people constantly question you and things like your faith or obedience or caring about others. Mental illness, anxiety and panic attacks are real and have nothing to do with faith, obedience and it certainly does not mean you are selfish and don’t care about other people. So let’s work together to make the world aware. Let’s work together to show kindness and understanding.