Tag Archives: Anxiety

A History of Mental Illness: An Awakening

My last post seemed to have struck a nerve for lots of people.  I haven’t responded to any comments or messages regarding this series for many reasons.  1) I wanted to finish the series before responding because, like I stated in my introductory post, I have learned so much about myself this 6 months and much of that has involved my mental illness.  I needed to finish the series before I could respond because it has occupied my thoughts for too long.  2) While I appreciate the affirmative responses like “it will get better” I must remind all of you that this is my history.  I know it will get better and it has in many ways.  (As I will discuss in this post.)  3) I knew that talking about motherhood would make many people say things like “yeah, that’s motherhood; it’s tough…” I know that.  Most parents know that.  But my experiences went beyond tough, it was excruciating because the anxiety and the depression.  This is why I’ve been diagnosed with mental illness. 4) As much as I love you all, I wrote this series for me.  I’m selfish like that.

Last year was a good year.  It was a great year.  I found myself on a level field in which I could realistically and logically look at the world around me.  It no longer seemed black and white; in fact, I found the world colorful, like a rainbow.  It was beautiful and I felt…normal.

There were things that were hard.  Incredibly hard: miscarriages 3 and 4, a move across the country for Ben to start medical school, medical school, starting work full-time (though that wasn’t really hard, it was awesome!), and Ben withdrawing from medical school.  But these transitions didn’t knock me down, mentally and emotionally, like they might have before.  Yes I had my highs and lows, but they were normal highs and lows, not the REALLY HIGHS and really lows I experienced before.

(Getting pregnant 2 short weeks after miscarrying was difficult.  I didn’t have time to fully grieve before getting thrust into the wait and worry game again.  That’s a story that deserves it’s own post.)

Anyway.  This year, after getting past 20 weeks, and finally feeling like a normal human being, I had to re-evaluate my situation.  I was able to take my medication (which was a life saver) and come to a place short of normal.

I finally decided to research anxiety and depression and figure out what is going on in my brain and my body.  This led to so much understanding of my history, my current state, and my future. I embraced that I have mental illnesses and that it’s okay.  It doesn’t change my personality, it doesn’t change my outlook on life, it doesn’t change anything.  I am a beautiful person who has a variety of mood disorders that makes life challenging.  But I love challenges.  I love who I am and how my mental illness has shaped me.  My favorite quote, stolen from Lindsey‘s blog, is,

Let me not…be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.

Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield but to my own strength.

Let me not cave in. — Rabindranath Tagore

I see this quote as an example of my view on life–it is full of ups and downs, hardships and triumphs, losses and births, and each of these shape who we are as individuals.  One of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon has and always will be 2 Ne 2:11:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

I sincerely believe that my compassion, love, and empathy/sympathy for others has come from my hyper-awareness about my own struggles.  I am still a happy person.  I’ve mentioned before that I am an realistic optimist.  This means that I see the world in all its ugliness and beauty but firmly believe that more beauty exists than ugly.  I think I have more love in my heart now than I used to because I see how hard it can be.

Most of all, I accept who I am.  All the parts.  Sure there are days when I wish I didn’t have highs and lows and when I wish that my anxiety wouldn’t cloud my thinking, but I am learning to accept those parts of myself.  This self-acceptance will be a life-long process.  I know I will have times when I feel angry, despair, and frustration with it, but I also know that those periods will will be shorter than before because I am okay with who I am.  I no longer need to apologize to others and myself for my shortcomings. I am an adult who can stand up and fight for what I need.

I am still learning about mental illness, specifically my diagnoses, and I know that my knowledge in this area will continuously expand.  Along with my passions regarding miscarriage and hyperemesis gravidarum, I have found something else I really believe in: educating people about mental illness and supporting those who struggle with it.

I have awakened.

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A History of Mental Illness: Go and Sin No More

This is a series about my history of mental illness.  Please read the introduction for more information.

Puberty is rarely kind to any teenager, and my mental state definitely took a hit.

While sitting in church one day, the thought came that all my angst must be religion-related.  It was my sinful nature that led to all my disturbing thoughts and dreams.  So I made an appointment with my bishop.  He was very kind and told me to continue my prayers, attending meetings, and reading my scriptures.  So I did.

What started out as following helpful (if not completely wise) advice became an obsession. I would pray multiple times a day, asking for forgiveness.  If I made the tiniest mistake, I would hurriedly send up a forgiveness prayer and hope God would listen.  I soon started to write out my sins so that I wouldn’t forget any during the day and have a mass repentance session at night. I would read the scriptures and find more ways I could better myself which led to adding more things to my “sin” list (as I wasn’t perfecting traits like charity, service, sacrifice, fast enough) and an overwhelming amount of guilt.

I felt guilty for EVERYTHING I did: angry thoughts, mean thoughts, whispering expletives, eating too much or too little, accidentally ignoring a friend, saying something wrong, defending myself, literally everything that I could construe as wrong and/or against what God would want.  If I didn’t serve enough, serve with the right attitude, respond to my siblings in a loving manner, or do things I considered Christ-like, I felt my spirit darkening and hurriedly repented to avoid the guilt, but the guilt came anyway.

Unfortunately, since I tended to commit the same “sins” over and over again, I started feeling guilty for having to repent for those same sins and wondered if I was going to be forgiven after all.  I mean, prophets and others have spoken about the repentance process ending once you stopped sinning.

On top of the incessant guilt and compulsive praying and repenting, I started feeling physical symptoms.  I remember one specific experience in which I was so worried about a school project I had to complete and turn in the next morning that I woke up with an intense pain in my stomach. It was so bad that I could not move and started sobbing.  My parents did not know whether to take me to the ER or a psyche unit.  My dad gave me a blessing, which calmed me down, and they sent me to bed to relax.  It helped.  But this scene was repeated often over my middle and high school years—I would worry over an assignment or having to talk to friends the next day, or a test, and my stomach would respond.

With all my worries, I started sweating.  Since I was already easily embarrassed and embarrassed that I was easily embarrassed, and sure that everyone was looking at me and talking about me, this made it all worse.  I mean, to sweat constantly is an immediate faux pas in middle and high school and you can bet people said things.  Of course, if I could have stopped worrying for one minute I would have stopped sweating, but you can imagine the cycle: worry – sweat – worry more – sweat more – increased embarrassment – and on and on and on.

The specific worries—beyond school and spirituality—I faced daily were death, divorce, incurable diseases, natural disasters, etc.

The most interesting part, though, was how good I became at hiding my worries.  My parents knew (I think) but I kept all my worries to myself.  I would wear a mask of happiness, friendliness, and perkiness so that people would not see the crazy inside.  I knew that my fears were odd and my worries over the top, but I could not stop them.  I felt out of control, except for in my ability to hide my true emotions, and the self-mutilation.

I didn’t cut myself with knives or anything (though the thought crossed my mind), but I would scratch my arms and legs to help me stop thinking.  If I weren’t so worried about people finding out, especially authority figures (parents, teachers, church leaders, etc), and thinking all sorts of things about me, I am sure I would have turned to different mutilation mediums.  Luckily (I think), I was too worried about being put in a mental hospital or something similar that I limited it to scratching. (But don’t underestimate the power of my nails; they were very sharp and long.)

I felt so lost and completely out of control.

Continue on to Part Three

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A History of Mental Illness: They Call Me Red

This is a series about my history of mental illness.  Please read the introduction for more information.

Eight was so magical.  I felt so free and happy and thought life was full of exciting possibilities. When I turned 9, I started experiencing symptoms that would remain undiagnosed until much later in my life.

In 4th grade, I defined the grading scale according to my perceptions, A is excellent, C is mediocre, and F is failure, and felt this compulsion for perfection. I would apologize incessantly to my parents if I received anything less than an A on assignments and would work harder to reach perfection.

I started feeling nervous in social situations.  I would worry about going to school and seeing my peers because I was sure they didn’t like me or they were talking about my oddities behind my back.  I would think about what I had said/did in specific encounters for weeks on end. I could barely speak in class or other group settings without turning beet red.

Soon, disturbing dreams and thoughts haunted me day and night.  I won’t go into details (because I still can’t believe I had these thoughts and dreams) but many of these haunt me today. I began waking up frequently through the night, terrified. I would often lay in bed for hours alternately wishing for sleep (because I was so tired) and hiding from it (because of my dreams), turning to books and other mediums to chase the night away.  I felt tired constantly and would finally fall asleep only to have the vicious cycle start again.

The worries piled up.  My chest hurt because I constantly felt that something bad was going to happen and began to fear everything.  I worried about walking around my neighborhood alone because surely I would be kidnapped and/or raped.  I was terrified of the dark and would sleep with stuffed animals or pillows piled up beside me, with me sleeping in the middle, so the unknown intruder could not find me or harm me and the spiders would not eat me.  I had to sleep with the door closed and the blinds shut so people could not look in and know I was there.  There were times when I would wake up with my heart beating, body clenched, and gasping for air as I was sure there was a mysterious invader inside my house intent on murdering me and my family.  I would lay in bed, screaming for my parents.  It was awful.

Sadly, this was only my elementary years.  As time grew on, the symptoms worsened.

Continue on to Part Two.

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Take Two Breaths and Try Again

The more comfortable I become with my mental illness – a combination of anxiety and depression – the more I recognize just how much it has impacted my life. My depression and anxiety play tag, one month I will feel the effects of one more than the other and the next it will switch.  This month, anxiety has led a harsh battle against my inner peace.  Since school is my trigger, this makes sense. My perfectionist tendencies come out in force as I work on papers, study, and interact with my peers and professors.

Yet, with recognition comes understanding and awareness.  So, despite my inability to take my stabilizing medications (due to pregnancy), I can talk about my difficulties with Ben and try out possible solutions.  And sometimes these solutions are simple, like taking a couple breaths and starting over.

This past week, for example, I had a hefty load of papers and other assignments to complete.  Because I am attempting to forge a work-life balance, I do most of my school work on Monday through Thursday and keep Friday through Sunday open so I can spend time with the kids and Ben.  This means that I am spending over 10 hours on those days working on assignments, and, since I am also a stay-at-home mom, waking up really early and staying up really late.  By Thursday, I am generally wiped out and overwhelmed.

When I felt myself losing control, I firmly decided to take a breathing break and try again the next day.  You know what? It was the most efficient thing I did last week.  So, to help me remember this, I’ve made a poster to hang up in my room…or at least place on my computer.

This post is part of Health Activists Writer’s Month.

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How Not to Survive (Under)Graduate School

I am three weeks into my program and wondering, what the hell was I thinking?  To make it easier for me and my fellow (under)graduate students, I’ve composed a list of 10 ways to ensure one doesn’t survive school.

1. Have kids.  Lots of ’em. And, if possible, make sure you’re pregnant WITH kids.

2. Start out poor.  Extra stress from financial burdens is extremely important to (non)success.

3. Stay home full-time with your kids, finding baby-sitters *only* when you have class.  This way you and your children will experience (under)graduate school together!

4. Move FAR away from family.  When you need help with little things, like an emergency baby-sitter, you will learn patience by taking your kids with you to appointments and classes!

5. Include your partner/spouse in the school/life/mother/spouse balance by sending them away for a few weeks.  You’ll never appreciate them more than when they are gone and return.

6. Ensure that you live on the third floor of an apartment complex without a washer and dryer.  This will make you appreciate your ancestors as you lug your kids (who refuse to walk), the laundry, the laundry supplies, and your pregnant body up and down the stairs to the laundromat.

7. Live in a *small* apartment.  Nothing like enclosed spaces to improve familial relationships!

8. If you have a mental illness, don’t take your medicine – for physical or whatever reasons – to improve your chances at (non)success.

9. Ensure that your toddler and preschooler are sufficiently independent and busy enough to cause all types of chaos while you attempt to work on a paper.

10. Don’t sleep.  Blame it on pregnancy-induced insomnia, anxiety-induced insomnia, or just insomnia in general.  That way, by the end of the week, you are hysterical with overwhelming stress and exhaustion.  A perfect recipe for (non)success.

If you can, try to combine one or more of these and I promise you the (under)graduate experience of your life!

 

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A Pregnant Sky

I watch as the clouds turn from a pleasant grey to a dark, heavy, and threatening charcoal grey.

Winter is peering over the hills, casting a long shadow over our small town. Daylight Savings Time has fooled us; no longer does the sky stay bright as the time clock ticks, nearing Closing Time.

The clouds, the darkness, and the expectations weigh heavily in the air as I wait for my family to pick me up.  Looming above me is the potential for a powerful storm.  I hold my breath, hoping it waits.

*****

Inside, the clouds of a different storm wait.  They twist and turn, growing heavier and darker by the day, consuming my mind with different thoughts.  I am not sure when this storm will hit–or, if it will blessedly pass me over.  Hope, excitement, and other positive emotions are squeezed out by nervousness, pain, and fear. Disappointment dots my landscape.  I push through, though, certain I can work the bad thoughts away.

*****

I am home with the kids and husband, lying in bed when the clouds release a torrential outpouring of rain.  It isn’t the gentle pitter patter I had wanted; instead, the water slaps my windows, walls, and roof over and over again, jerking me awake as I listen to the sounds and hope our walls and windows keep us warm and safe.

*****

The storm inside is more complicated, silently waiting until I have relaxed to fully engage my mind, releasing a torrential outpouring of happy and sad, exhaustion and elation.  My insides shake as I am slapped consistently by a barrage of these competing emotions, attempting to decide which ones to focus on.

*****

I hide under my covers as the storms outside and inside converge, metaphorically, in a thunderous roar above my head.  The walls shake and I cower even further under the protection of warm blankets.  I tremble, not wanting to know the truth.  Or worse, to confront my fears.

But deep inside, as the storm rages on, I feel the shield of strength.  An umbrella emerging to protect my face and arms from the worst of the barrage as I confront my issues.  I take deep breaths and run through the storm, reaching my destination.  First one place, then the other, quickly making my rounds.   I finish, exhausted, but feeling Full.

The darkness and desperation have fled.  Yes, they might come back; but, this time I will be ready.  Fist clenched tightly around my medications: my relief and hope from the dangerous storm of mental illness.

*****I am linking up with Heather today, for her wonderful Just Write series.

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Closing Shop and Other Housekeeping Items

After I went public with my disaffection/break/discontent (whatever you want to call it) from the Mormon church–the church of my upbringing–I have had conflicting feelings.  On the one hand, I want to talk about my experiences because it shaped me as a child and continues shaping me as I grow older.  (My entire mindset is Mormon–I see things from a Mormon worldview; I view religion-related things from a Mormon perspective; and many of my friends are/were Mormon.)  On the other hand, I do not want to isolate those who continue to believe in the tenets of Mormonism and, in my mind, religion in all its forms.  It isn’t that I am trying to convince people to join me in my agnosticism/atheism, it’s that I am working through my past beliefs in order to integrate them into the person I am now and the person I am becoming.

I don’t feel I am being anti-Mormon, but understand the Mormon mindset which makes certain topics uncomfortable.   But, to be frank, it isn’t just Mormonism that I have issues with.  It is God, Jesus Christ, the scriptures, and the history of all Judeo-Christian religions.  I am open to exploring different religions and am also open to opinions that are different from my own. Heck, if you have an experience that is or was similar to mine, and you stayed faithful to whatever religion you currently are, tell me about it!

However, you are formally warned that I will be sharing my religious experiences and why I feel the way I do now.  It will be thoughtful and may also be hard to read.  So if you are uncomfortable with that and wish to say something that is not conducive to respectful conversation, do so at your own risk.  That is to say, I will not respond to hurtful comments.  In fact, I will delete your words forever.  At the same time, I have a forgiving heart.  Just be respectful to me and my views (and, by all means, disagree with me!) and I will be respectful to you.

All this is a lengthy explanation for my new Facebook rules.  I will be trimming down my current friends to those who are close friends and/or relatives.  I will not be talking about my religious angst, my political opinions, or anything that might be controversial on that account.  Instead, I have opened a new account that is dedicated to all the above plus a few other things that I will discuss a little later in this post.  You are welcome to friend me.  I am not picky and will accept everyone, who is not crazy and/or a friend whore, who asks.  I might seek you out because I am interested in what you have to say.  Again, you can find that new account here.   If you are not into that sort of thing, you are also welcome to “like” my blog.  It won’t be nearly as fun as my new account, but will apprise you of new blog posts.

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My second piece of business is more momma-related.  Y’all know that I struggle with intense mental illness, right?  (If you don’t, where have you been?) (Kidding.)  As I am figuring out how to handle it (yes, my medication does not make it all better, I must do other things to keep me level), I realize that most of my current stress comes from being a mom.  To two toddlers.  To help me see the bright side of some crazy days, I will be posting quotes and/or experiences from the day to my new Facebook account‘s wall.  So if you are annoyed by that kind of thing, be warned.  It is something I realize helps me see things in a less hazy way.  I love my kids.  Oh I love them.  But mental illness often clouds my perspective and I need a metaphorical Windex-like product to wipe my windows clean.  And this is the idea that came to me.  So I’m going to try it.

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Numero three.  I am revamping my weekly supporting parents write-up.  Look for more details soon.

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And finally, I am taking a short break to recuperate and tackle this enormous to-do list I have.  I will most likely continue reading your blogs but need some time to gather my own thoughts before returning to writing. This whole exploration of my new feminist/religious/philosophical self is exhausting.  Literally, I pass out every day quickly because my mind is teeming with information, comments, ideas, etc.  Also, my to-do list is full of things with actual deadlines.  Deadlines that are coming up real fast.  Yikes.  So I must dedicate more time to completing these tasks (which include some exciting new adventures, I’ll keep you posted) before the end of the month.  I will continue with the Supporting Parents posts because I really do believe in my original idea and because it helps me look over my parenting with an objective magnifying glass.

If you are still reading this long post, kudos to you.

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