2020 Vision

In light of recent events in the world, I feel a strong urge to speak up. It is time for us to use our voices and come together to find solutions. We are currently facing a pandemic that it sweeping across the world, bringing everything to a halt. It is affecting the economy, shutting down schools, stopping social gatherings, causing people to lose their jobs, creating panic and fear, and disrupting our daily routines. You can feel the anxiety and fear in the air.

But in the midst of all of the chaos, there is also a renewed sense of vision. A clarity of mind that comes when life takes a drastic shift and we have to re-adjust and ask ourselves the hard questions. We are waking up to the problems in our society that need addressing. We are waking up to the problems and conflict within our own homes. We are taking an introspective look at our lives and asking ourselves if we are truly living in harmony with our life’s purpose and goals.

Here are some questions I have been asking myself recently:

Am I taking care of my physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health? Am I focusing on the things that matter most? Are my relationships healthy and strong? Am I simply reacting to external events or am I choosing to be proactive and intentional? How am I spending my time and energy? What is my life’s focus? Am I living life in a selfish manner, or am I helping others? What do I have to offer and how can I make a difference? How can I use my unique gifts to serve and lift those around me? How can we as a nation help build and create stronger communities that are ready to face times of crisis and change?

Several years ago, I decided to ditch the idea of making a long list of New Year’s resolutions. I felt that I needed to simplify my approach. I decided instead to choose ONE focus or theme that I would work on that year. This year, as I contemplated my life and where I wanted to improve, the word that came to my mind was “Vision”. As I wrote my new focus down in my planner, I laughed out loud as I made the connection. “2020 Vision”. It was perfect! I didn’t quite know what that meant at the time. I just knew that I wanted to look ahead and work to create the life that I envisioned. I wanted to have a clearer vision of who I was and be more intentional about the way I spent my time.

On Wednesday, we had quite the wake up call at our house–literally! I woke up at 7:00am. I stayed in bed, not wanting to get up yet. At 7:09am, I heard a loud rumbling sound. My bed started shaking. I realized with sudden clarity that the whole house was shaking and shifting–earthquake!! My heart started racing and I felt a rush of adrenaline. I didn’t care about the crashes I heard as things fell off of shelves. My main concern was my children. I bet they were terrified! I waited until the shaking stopped, then raced up the stairs, calling out to them. “It’s ok, it’s ok! Do you know what that was? Are you guys ok?!” I shouted as I ran. My girls stumbled out of their rooms, looking confused and a little scared. My son confidently stated, “that was an earthquake”. He didn’t seem shaken up at all! I was still trembling! I had expected my kids to freak out more than they did. I was glad everyone was ok. We were safe! But part of me worried–would there be more shaking? Was that it, or was there more to come?

We sat in the hallway outside of their bedrooms while I called my husband, checked the news, and texted my family and friends to check on them. My husband had been at work, on the 4th floor of his building. He hid under his desk as the whole building seemed to sway. As soon as it was over, he quickly exited the building. “I’m on my way home!” he said.

We soon learned that we had experienced a 5.7 magnitude earthquake. We live pretty close to the epicenter in Magna, UT, which is why we felt it so strongly! Throughout the rest of the day, we continued to feel aftershocks. It was unnerving! My fight-or-flight response had me on constant alert. My anxiety levels were at an all-time high. First a pandemic, then this?! What was next?!

But then, with sudden clarity, I started to count my blessings. I was glad it happened at the time it did. The kids and I were home and we were together. Because of the pandemic, ALL of the children in our neighborhood were home instead of at school! What a blessing! Our shelves were well-stocked with food because we were basically in a 2 week quarantine. We didn’t have to go out today–we could just stay home. The day before, my car wouldn’t start. A friend had to come and help me jump it. I was able to drive to the school, pick up chrome books for the kids (so they could do their school work at home), and stop by Auto Zone to buy a new car battery. If we needed to go anywhere today, our van was ready to go! And the kids had something to keep them busy, which was a blessing because I simply couldn’t focus on our regular home routine.

Getting through this time won’t be easy, but I have already seen hidden blessings in the midst of the storm. These times will require us to step up, make changes, and work to create a better future. Yes, it has shaken me to the core. But sometimes, that is a good thing. I am more “awake” and aware. It made me want to reach out to my neighbors. It has encouraged me to connect with family and keep those family bonds strong. It has helped me to notice things at home that I was ignoring–things that need “fixing”. It has brought our family together. Having church and school at home, as a family, is helping us to focus on what is most important. It is pushing us as parents to step up and take responsibility for what we are teaching (and modeling to) our children. I know that you might disagree, but I can’t help but feel that these things will change us, in good ways. I still feel hope for the future. I am seeing humanity come together in a common purpose. We are finding our footing and gathering the courage to move forward in tumultuous times. Take courage! Be strong. Step up and help to create a better future and stronger families and communities. We are all needed. We all have something to contribute. There is hope as long as there is love and goodness in the world. Start looking for the good, and you will find it!

Creativity and Mental Illness

This past week I rediscovered something that has the power to calm my mind and lift me out of a deep depression, even if only temporarily. I was struggling to find joy, purpose, connection, and stability. I felt lonely, but reaching out felt too hard. Depression changes the way I view myself and my life. When I am depressed, my problems seem huge and overwhelming. I obsess over things I can’t control–others’ behavior, past mistakes, fears about the future, or outside circumstances. I begin to feel powerless, frustrated, and discouraged. When others are unkind, or when I feel disrespected, judged, unloved, or ignored, I start to doubt my worth. I cry and feel sorry for myself, or I get angry and push people away. I forget to look within. When I do, I often find that the answers I am seeking are already inside of me–my intrinsic worth, my faith in God, my ability to love, my creativity, my gifts and talents, and my inner strength.

Last week, I rediscovered my inner artist. I remembered how much I love to draw, play with patterns, express my creativity, and brighten my world with color. When I give myself time and space to express my creativity, without judgment or expectation, I find joy! There is definitely an artist inside me, but it rarely comes out. I guess I am afraid. I’m a beginner–art is not something I have studied or practiced. I worry about being “good enough” and being able to create something beautiful. I compare myself to others who have practiced and developed their skills. I doubt my own abilities. But then I just start drawing and creating. It is fun! It starts to flow. I stop caring about impressing others and I just enjoy the process of creation. I give myself permission to experiment and try something new. I am practicing and learning and having fun! It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s just for me.

Since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I have wondered about the link between creativity and mental illness. Mania seems to spark in me an intense desire to write. This symptom, called hypergraphia, is sometimes experienced by people with bipolar 1 disorder during a manic episode. I also write at other times too, not just when I am manic. Mania just seems to speed up the process a bit! My mind is flooded with ideas and information, and it needs somewhere to go! I have noticed that many people with bipolar disorder also like to write. I wonder why?

Depression isn’t known to “spark” creativity, but I find that art has a way of soothing me when I am stressed, anxious, or feeling low. I’ve noticed that most mental hospitals use art therapy for their patients, too! It is interesting to me that the line through which I inherited mental illness is the same line through which I inherited my artistic, creative, and musical talents. My dad’s mom was a musical prodigy. She started playing the violin at age 4. As an adult, she played for many years in the Utah Symphony. She had perfect pitch and could tell you the name of any note just by hearing it. I remember how she would sit down at the piano and play familiar hymns from memory, without needing music. It was incredible!

I wonder if my grandma, who suffered for much of her adult life with depression, used “music therapy” in a similar way that I use “art therapy”. When I do art, my mind seems to switch gears. Instead of ruminating about past mistakes, over-thinking, or feeling stress or anxiety about the future, my mind goes quiet. I stop “thinking” and I just focus on doing. That is an unusual thing for me! I have an active mind that is constantly going. It is hard to turn it off at night and I have struggled for years with falling asleep. It is exhausting to have a brain that can’t shut off–it literally makes my head sore!

I haven’t felt much like writing lately, but I just wanted to share this insight! Art and creative expression are lifting my mood and helping me to feel better about myself. If you are going through a depression, feeling extra anxious, or just needing a distraction to calm your active mind, maybe art therapy could help you too!

What are your unique gifts and talents? How do you feel when you express them?

Creating Safe Spaces to Share our Stories

“Telling your story—while being witnessed with loving attention by others who care—may be the most powerful medicine on earth.”

The Healing Power of Telling Your Story by Lissa Rankin M.D.

This past weekend, I had an amazing opportunity! Surrounded by my husband, mother, mother-in-law, sisters, friends, and new acquaintances, I had the opportunity to stand up and share my story. It was empowering!

Usually, I get really nervous about getting up in front of a group. Writing comes much easier to me than public speaking. But when I was asked if I would be willing to give a presentation to women in my church about how mental health affects us spiritually, I took it! It just felt like something that I needed to do. I looked forward to it!

I spent a week writing down and organizing my thoughts and preparing a PowerPoint presentation. A few key experiences came to mind and I felt that God wanted me to share them as part of my presentation. Normally, I am quite the perfectionist. I edit and edit and edit until things are perfect. But the inspiration of what I should share just came and I wrote it down. I have learned so much and had so much that I wanted to share and discuss!

And then, out of nowhere, a depressive episode hit! I was grateful that my presentation was already planned out and saved on my computer. I put it aside and didn’t look at it for weeks. In the meantime, I became so depressed that I could barely get out of bed in the morning and make my kids breakfast. I was completely checked-out as a mom and struggled to engage with my kids and meet their needs. Just getting dressed for the day took more energy than I could muster. I was so tired! Soon, I couldn’t drive my kids to school because I started having panic attacks while driving. I really wasn’t functioning at all and it was completely debilitating!

After missing several days of work, my husband called his mom and asked her to come help me. She has been such a blessing and I am so grateful that I have family support! Not everyone has that! Because of her help, I was able to ride out the emotional roller-coaster at home instead of going to the hospital. It was rough, but I had the support I needed and we survived!

I worry sometimes that people might thing I am being dramatic or lazy when I describe how depressive episodes affect me. I worry that they’ll judge me as being weak. I worry they might think I just need to stop being so selfish and get up and starting DOING things again. Unless you have personally been through a deep depression, you simply don’t understand. Depression can be just as debilitating as the flu, cancer, or a broken arm! (I actually got the flu while going through a depression–it was miserable! But it was easier for some reason to tell people that I was home with the flu than saying I was depressed!). Depression is a real illness that affects not only your thoughts and emotions, but also your energy levels, your appetite, your sleep, and your ability to function day-to-day. It is one of the most difficult things I have faced!

When I first started sinking into a depression, I felt discouraged and frustrated. I didn’t know if I would still be able to teach the class, but I hoped that I would get feeling better before then. It was ready to go, I just had to get feeling better! I had one month. (For anyone who has gone through a manic or depressive episode, you know that you can’t predict how long they will last! You just have to ride it out!). I prayed that I would get better soon and asked others to pray with me. I wanted to do this! I felt that God wanted me to have this opportunity as well.

A week before the scheduled date of the presentation, I started to feel better. Those who were in my home and had watched me go through a debilitating depression were amazed that I was able to get back up on my feet and teach that class with confidence. To me, it truly was a miracle!

The day of the conference came. When I opened my mouth to speak, I felt God blessing me with a new-found confidence and with the courage to share my experiences. I felt Him with me and urging me on! My nerves were held at bay simply because I was so excited to talk about mental health in a church setting. I could feel that those in attendance wanted to be there. They chose to come to my class. They wanted to talk about this! They were supporting me and encouraging me to share my story and start the discussion. I was among friends. This was a safe place!

In case you were wondering, here are a few things that I shared in my presentation. It was titled “Finding Joy and Feeling the Spirit in Times of Mental/Emotional Stress”: We all have struggles! One of my struggles is mental illness. It is my battle to fight! Mental illness has taught me, changed me, broken me, healed me, filled me with compassion for those who suffer, and prepared my heart for service. Looking back, I can see how my struggles have helped me to come closer to Christ and to become more like Him. They have helped me to understand in a deeper way why He chose to suffer and die for me. Because of my struggles, I have come to know that I have a Personal Savior who loves me and feels compassion for me when I suffer. He desires to run to me, to lift my burdens, and to take away my pain. He is my Healer, my Light, my Strength, and my Song!

I also shared my experiences in 2016, when I went through my first manic/depressive episode following the birth of my third baby. The scary part was that I didn’t know what was happening to me! I couldn’t sleep. I had a racing mind and crippling anxiety. I had this new-found energy that made me feel super-human! I didn’t feel like eating, because I was too distracted by the many thoughts in my head. I wanted to do a million things at once! Plus, I had boundless energy–I felt like I didn’t need food! I would wake up in the middle of the night with bursts of energy and an intense desire to run or clean my house or write so I could expend all of that pent-up energy! This manic episode escalated over a period of 4 months and I ended up in the hospital. It was there that I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and that my journey with this mental illness began.

I shared how hard it was to go back to church after that experience. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God anymore. It was because I wondered how many people knew that I had just spent a week in the mental hospital. I wondered what they would think about me and if they were gossiping about me behind my back. I know that most of this was internal. People were kinder to me than I expected, but there were also moments when I felt judged or hurt by someone’s words or actions. Or even sometimes by their “inaction”. It hurts when people don’t approach you or ask how you are doing because they think you “don’t want to talk about it”. I did! I wanted to talk, but I still felt so vulnerable. I needed to know who I could trust and who I could open up to. I needed to be reassured that my friends loved me and didn’t judge me. It was hard at first and it took time, but eventually I started feeling stronger and going to church became easy again.

My presentation went better than I expected! It was a packed room and what followed my sharing was a great discussion about how we can help those that are going through times of mental and emotional stress. We talked about simple ways that we can reach out, lift burdens, and show love to those who are suffering. We talked about loving and not judging. We talked about how we can show the same care and concern to those dealing with mental illness as we do to those dealing with any other “physical” illness. It is the same! Mental illness is not a sign of personal weakness or a lack of faith or spiritual striving. It is a sickness! Urging someone to “pray harder” or do more spiritual activities isn’t helpful and won’t make them better. It is not a spiritual problem, so focusing only on spiritual solutions is ineffective!! (Not saying that prayer doesn’t help–prayer is powerful! But instead of telling someone who is struggling to “pray more”, you could offer to pray in their behalf, that they will get better!)

I realized after that presentation that there is something I feel really passionate about–we need to create safe spaces where we can share our stories! We can start in our own homes. My kids, at a young age, know what depression looks like. They know that when Mommy is depressed, she is sick. She stays in bed a lot and feels tired. She can’t do all the things she normally does with them. They have to help out more at home and be more independent. They have to go to Daddy when they need something. Sometimes Mommy needs extra help at home. It’s ok!

My kids also know what “anxiety” means. They’ll even throw around the term “panic attack” because they have heard me talking about it! I don’t think that they are “too young” or that they should be sheltered from these “adult topics”. We haven’t discussed suicide with them yet, but someday when they are older, we will have that conversation too! Mental illness runs in our family, so I want them to be prepared! I want them to know how to recognize signs of struggle in themselves and others. I want them to know how to help a friend who is struggling. I want them to have tools and coping skills in place, as well as safe people they can talk to. I am showing them by example how to get back up after a period of depression and move forward. I am showing them how to face the darkness and get through it! I want them to know that they can live with a mental illness and still find joy!

Where are your “safe spaces”? Where do you feel comfortable sharing your struggles, whatever they may be? If some places feel “unsafe”, what can you do to change things? A few years ago, I created a private Facebook group called Mothering with Mental Illness. I needed a safe place where I could share my struggles with other moms who understood and wouldn’t judge me! When I started blogging this year on WordPress.com, I found another safe space! Another place where I felt “safe” was actually in the mental hospital! I was among strangers, but we all had one thing in common–we were all there because we needed help! We didn’t have to pretend that we were ok. We were all at our wits ends trying to deal with the ups and downs of mental illness. We were there to heal and to support each other in our recovery. It was a safe place! I hope that as we move forward, the world can become a little kinder and more welcoming. I hope that we can learn how to create safe spaces where we can be vulnerable and where we can connect with others. I hope that we can have the courage to stand up and share our stories!

Be Kind

“Kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give.”

Unknown

Today at the gym, an older lady who was passing by me on the track made a hurtful comment.  She saw my two girls running on the track with me and told me in a stern tone, “They shouldn’t be here!!”  If I had been feeling stronger, it probably wouldn’t have hurt so much.  I could have just shrugged it off.  This was a family rec center, after all.  Kids are allowed on the track.  But my three-year-old wasn’t staying in one lane—she was zig-zagging back and forth.  She was getting in the way.  Maybe that lady was right—my little girl might be too little to run on the track!  But like all parents learn, you can’t control your children’s behavior.  You can teach them and love them and enforce consequences, but they make their own choices!  My daughter wouldn’t come back when I called her. She has boundless energy and she can outrun her mama!  I was just trying to catch up! 

That experience made me reflect on a few things that I want to share today.  What we say matters.  We can choose to spread love and kindness or to spread negativity and criticism.  You never know what people are going through.  Do you ever stop and ask yourself if your words will be helpful or hurtful?  Do they convey love or judgment?  Once those words leave your lips, you create an impact.  You either send out positive or negative energy into the world.  What that woman may have thought was simply “constructive criticism”, or a needed correction, cut me like a knife. 

Here’s what that stranger didn’t know about me… 

She didn’t know that I haven’t been able to go to the rec center and get in my morning workout for weeks.  She didn’t know that I was so proud of myself for even being there today.  She didn’t know that today was the last day before our family membership expires.  I’ve been too sick to come and I’ve missed it so much!! 

She also didn’t know that I am just coming out of a difficult and debilitating manic/depressive episode.  She didn’t know that my anxiety has been at an all-time high.  She didn’t know that just venturing out in public takes a lot of courage right now.  She didn’t know that every day I am fighting back the negative voices in my head that tell me “You are a bad mom!”.  She didn’t know that I am trying to recover and to regain a sense of self-worth after being a checked-out, knocked down, sick and depressed mom.  She didn’t know how much those words hurt. 

Yesterday I was finally able to get behind the wheel again and drive my son to school.  It was a big deal! I haven’t been able to drive my kids to school for the past two weeks!  The only way they are able to get to and from school right now is because my mother-in-law is here helping.  She drops them off and picks them off when I can’t do it on my own.

Why did I stop driving?  Honestly—because school pick-up became too much for my anxiety.  Yes, I’m being completely real!  I was already struggling so much inside and that environment felt threatening to me.  All of the other parents, trying to find a spot to park along the curb, impatiently honking their horns when you get in their way, literally made me start having panic attacks.  It was too much!! 

If you have never dealt with anxiety or had a panic attack, you may think I am being dramatic or that I’m a weakling.  Who flips out just because someone honks their horn?!  Get over it!  You may think I need to toughen up or grow up or stop being so sensitive.  You may think I need tougher skin. But if you have dealt with anxiety, you understand.  I had to avoid that situation until my anxiety levels lowered and became manageable again. 

Mental illness is an invisible illness.  I bear no physical scars or outward signs of my internal suffering.  You can’t see emotional wounds.  They are hidden deep. You don’t know that they are still open and raw.  You can’t see how fragile and vulnerable I still feel, even though I am getting stronger and feeling more like myself every day.  I am up and doing things now, but I am still healing and regaining my strength.  Your words can be kind, helpful, and encouraging.  They can also be hurtful. 

Please, let’s choose to be kind!   Let’s choose to spread love.  Let’s choose to have empathy toward everyone we meet and give them the benefit of the doubt.  You don’t know their story.  You don’t know their struggle!  I may not be able to control my environment or other people’s behavior toward me.  But I can try to make the world a better place.  I can choose to be kind.  I can withhold judgment and speak words that convey love. 

I can choose to be kind, even when others hurt me.  I won’t pass on the negativity or judgment. And this is my super-power!  Because of my own personal suffering, I learned empathy.  Because I have doubted my own mothering skills, I don’t pass judgment on other moms whose kids are acting out. 

I’m not saying that I am a better person than anyone else.  I’m no saint and I’m definitely not perfect.  I simply believe that we are all capable of being kind and showing love, no matter what kind of day we are having.  I’ve just been through a lot and I have learned that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.  If you can’t say something nice, maybe you should hold your tongue!  If you are feeling impatient and are in a rush, you don’t need to push through the crowd or honk your horn.  If someone does something that bothers you, you can speak up, but do it in a loving way!  People are fragile.  Let’s treat each other with care and with kindness!

The Gift of Today

Today I can live my life on purpose.
Today I can choose to make a change.
Today I can break a bad habit and start a new tradition.
Today I can learn something that will change the way I see the world.

Today I can create a memory that will last forever.
Today I can savor the richness of my life.
Today I can choose to do what I love.
Today I can find joy by being fully present in this moment.

Today I can marvel at the gift of my body.
Today I can look in the mirror and declare, “I am beautiful”.
Today I can choose to believe in myself.
Today I can decide to be the real me.

Today I can forgive myself and others.
Today I can choose to face my fears.
Today I can use the gifts that God has given me.
Today I can choose to speak the truth, with love.

Today I can make a difference.
Today I can begin to live my dream.
Today I can choose to be happy in my current circumstance.
Today I can cherish every moment with the people I love.

Yesterday is decided and tomorrow is unknown, so I will embrace TODAY.

Written by Becky Wise

Inside My Mind

I feel intense joy.  I feel intense sadness.  I am not a “happy person” or a “sad person”—I am both!  I don’t fit in a box.  I don’t think anyone really does.  Let me try to explain what is going on in my mind.

I have bipolar 1 disorder.  Clinically, I am “insane”.  But I’m not that much different from you.  Have you ever felt so much JOY that you felt you would burst?  That’s what mania feels like to me!  I feel like dancing and singing and praising the Lord!  It feels like falling in love all over again.  I can’t stop smiling!  I feel so loved and so loving.  I laugh easily, because life is a comedy!  I talk fast and run fast and can’t sit still—I want to share my joy with everyone around me!  I feel like a child again.

When I am in a manic state, I feel like talking to every stranger and hugging and kissing my family and friends.  I am confident and outgoing.  I know who I am and I feel that I have so much to share with the world!  I didn’t know that I was capable of feeling so much happiness!  I am so full of love and light.  I can’t contain it—it comes spilling out in words and hugs and praise and tears.  I cry tears of pure joy! 

When I am manic, the future looks bright!  I feel strong and confident and excited and powerful, like nothing in the world can stop me from accomplishing my dreams.  My faith in myself and in God is stronger than ever.  I can sense the great potential of my own mind.  I am full of brilliant ideas and the words just flow.  I feel that there is no limit to what I can accomplish if I put my mind to something! 

The hard part of mania is choosing a focus and a direction.  It’s hard to stop or slow down.  I feel like it’s “full speed ahead!” and no brakes!  On the outside, I know it looks strange.  I am distracted and full of energy and running around, obsessing or hyper-focusing on things that call for my attention.  I bounce from one thing to the next.  I write.  I talk.  I exercise.  I laugh.  I make love to my husband.  I dance and sing with my children.  I pray out loud.  I reach out.  I make a new friend.  I express my creativity.  So many thoughts and ideas are trying to grab for my attention.  It can be overwhelming and confusing!  There are so many possibilities and so many outlets!  I don’t care about eating or sleeping.  I’m having too much fun!  I want to do it all, but I know this state won’t last forever.  I have to choose how to best expend my energy in a positive way and hope that my joy adds a little bit more light to the world.  I feel it and embrace it.  I try not to scare people and to stay in control.  I don’t want them to be afraid.  This is just me feeling joy!  And then depression hits. 

Have you ever felt so sad that you just wanted to curl in a ball and cry?  Have you ever been so hurt that you couldn’t put your feelings into words?  Have you ever had negative thoughts in your head that tell you horrible things about yourself?  Have you ever doubted your abilities, or even your innate goodness?  Have you ever had a scary nightmare, then woke up with a sigh of relief when you realized it wasn’t real?!  That is what depression feels like to me. 

Depression is scary and draining and debilitating and miserable.  My perspective about myself and the world around me drastically changes.  I am filled with self-doubt and self-loathing. I feel like nobody loves me or cares whether I live or die. I feel like I have nothing to offer the world. Life is a tragedy and there is no hope.  I try to push away the dark thoughts and remember what it felt like to feel happy.  I try to pray.  I try to remember the happy Becky.  The confident Becky.  The funny Becky.  The loving Becky.  I try to remember who I am, while someone is screaming in my ear that I am horrible and dangerous and evil and bad and that I am going to die.  It is absolutely terrifying!! 

There are parts of this illness that I want to share with you and parts that I want to keep hidden.  But I am tired of hiding!  Too many people are hiding and suffering in silence.  I want you to know the real me!  It exists somewhere in between the highs and the lows.  Can you see the real Becky?  Can you love me, even when I’m a bit erratic?  Can you love me when I am depressed?  Can you remind me of who I really am when I can’t see it?  Can you laugh and dance with me when I am manic?  Can you forgive me for my outbursts?  Can you withhold judgment, when my behavior just doesn’t make sense to you (or maybe even scares you)?  I’m just trying to figure all of this out! I am trying to find balance. I am trying to be the real me! 

I feel that my true state is much closer to my manic side.  I am a happy person!  I am full of love!  I want to make friends!  I want to write a book someday!  I am optimistic about the future!  I love to sing!  I feel like dancing!  God lives and He loves me!  I am His precious daughter.  I have part of His divinity and goodness in me!  I have gifts to share!  There is light in me and I want to share it with the world!

This illness does not define me.  But it is teaching me.  It is helping me to discover the real Becky.  It is helping me to discover my innate gifts.  It is forcing me to face my fears.  It is opening my heart to love.  It is changing me as a person.  If you call for help, I’ll come running!  I know what it feels like to feel completely hopeless!  I know what it feels like when suicidal thoughts attack.  I know what it feels like to feel judged and misunderstood.  I know what it fills like when the depression lifts and happiness returns.  I know how to help you come back.  I can see you—the REAL you!  I want to remind you of your strengths!  I want to talk you through a panic attack.  I want to hold your hand through a dark depression.  I want to rejoice with you when you are happy and cry with you when you are sad.  I love you!! 

That is what I am learning from this illness—empathy!  I’d gladly go through it all again, just to be able to understand you.  Just to be able to help you.  You, who face the darkness!  You, who contemplated giving up on life!  You, who have either doubted or felt your true potential!  You, who just need to be loved!  You, who are hiding!  You, who need a friend who understands!  You, who are struggling just to get through today!  You, who doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring!  I promise that you can get through this!  You are not alone, and we are in this together!  We can help each other along the way.  You strengthen and inspire me.  You are walking with me.  We can do this!  Keep fighting!  Animo!!  (It’s my favorite word in Spanish—look it up!)

On a Rollercoaster

Sometimes I am up. Sometimes I am down. I think all women who have a hormonal cycle can relate to what that feels like. With bipolar 1 disorder, the ups and downs are just more extreme.

I hate roller coasters. I don’t enjoy them or like how I feel when I’m riding them. I’m not scared of them, I just don’t like the feeling of my stomach dropping when you go down and being jerked around. You have no control over what is happening. I can’t say, “Stop! Slow down! I want off of this thing!” You may think that’s weird or I’m just a wimp or I can’t relax and just enjoy the ride. Who doesn’t like roller coasters?! Most people think they are fun! It’s just my personal preference. I avoid roller coasters!

It’s ironic that I have bipolar 1 disorder. I get to ride an emotional rollercoaster that is not in my control. I don’t get to choose when to get on or when to get off. I can’t stop it when it starts. I just have to hold on tight and pray that there aren’t too big of drops. I feel like screaming! (And sometimes I do, into my pillow! It helps!).

I feel powerless to control my moods. Having a mood disorder is hard!! I’m not complaining or being dramatic, I’m just being real. There is only so much I can do!

A little “pick me up” is not enough to pull me out of a depression. Pills don’t always take away the anxiety or stop the mania. Mania means I can’t shut off my brain. It is sped up and on hyper-drive. I can’t put on the brakes! It’s hard to sleep. My brain is full and I need an outlet. Exercise would help, but I can barely walk up the stairs. It wears me out. I’m so physically and emotionally drained right now. That is why I write!

How would you like to ride this rollercoaster?? Some of you are riding it with me! I’m closing my eyes and holding on tight, trying to feel secure through all the sharp turns and ups and downs. It’s a new one each time and I don’t know what to expect. I’m screaming my head off on the inside but trying to stay calm on the outside so I don’t freak people out! Is it over yet?? Can I get off of this thing?! How much longer?!

You may think, ‘Just relax and have fun!’ or, “Just rest and you’ll get better!’ If one more person says, “hey, you’ve got this!” or gives me a pep talk, I think I’ll scream!

This is not just a bad day. It is a living hell! This is not fun. I hate feeling like this! Mania makes me feel happy, but it also means I can’t sleep. Depression is debilitating and discouraging. I am emotionally and physically drained. I feel like I did when I was in labor, with the intensity and frequency increasing, but there is no epidural. There is no relief in sight. I don’t know how much longer I can ride this thing. I hope it slows down and evens out soon. I’m almost at my breaking point.

Last night, my husband held me tight as my anxiety sky-rocketed and I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. My thoughts and emotions were confusing and scary and overpowering. Help!! I know he feels frustrated and powerless. I do too! I am sure he wishes he could fix this and make it stop. He wants his wife back. My kids want their mom back. I am trying to get through this! I want to get better! I am trying to be patient. It is hard when you are suffering.

I hope you don’t think I’m weak or strange to admit and share these things. I’m tired of holding it all in. Some of you get it. You have experienced something hard and you can relate. Mental illness is REAL and affects you physically and emotionally! It either makes you a fighter or it overcomes you.

As women, we feel things. I have found that in general, women are more in tune with their feelings and better able to express them. That’s not always the case, but I find that for me, I can connect and communicate easier with women than with men. They get me!

I also have men in my family who have learned how to connect emotionally. They know how to talk to and relate to women. They know how to listen, to emphasize, and to validate feelings. I am grateful to have brothers and a father who have that gift or who have learned that skill. (I think growing up with sisters and being married to a woman helps!). I don’t think this quality makes them less masculine. It makes them better men and more able to relate to others. Empathy is a true gift!

Some of us are born with the ability to empathize and relate to other’s feelings. Some of us learn empathy through our own suffering. Sometimes we learn it by watching others struggle and supporting them in it. Our world needs more empathy, kindness, and love!!

Do you know someone who is struggling right now? They may not know how to ask for what they need. It might be a hug. It might be a friend. It might be a listening ear. It might be a fun diversion. It might be a relaxing massage (I’m getting one tomorrow!!). It might just be loving and accepting them as they are right now, even with their weaknesses showing. Love them anyway and remind them of their strengths!! We all have gifts to share. Everyone is needed. We all have our own struggles. We can all be there for each other. We can create a loving, safe community where we can show our true colors and be who we were designed to be. No judgment–just love!

Thanks for loving me when I am weak and such a mess!! Thanks for listening to the rantings of a manic Becky. Thanks for reaching out and trying to lift burdens. Thank you for trying to understand. You are helping me get to get through this! I could never do this alone!!

Shared Consciousness

I see you.
I hear your cries.
I feel your pain.
My bowels are filled with compassion for you.
It feels too heavy to bear.

You are drowning.
I want to come running.
My body feels heavy.
I am weak.  I must rest.
I yearn for you, but I cannot come.

I am not your Savior.
Cry out to Him!
Save us now!  Hosanna!
Jesus, the Anointed One!

He is your Rescuer.
He is your Healer.
His blood atoned for you.
He feels your pain and bears the weight.
He has compassion for you.

If you call, He will come running!
He succors His people in their afflictions.
He made a covenant to save you, no matter the cost.
You are precious to Him.

There is no hurt He cannot understand.
There is no wound He cannot heal.
His love and mercy know no bounds.
His grace is sufficient and made perfect in weakness.
He is the One who saves.

Hosanna to the Lamb!

Learning to Advocate for Myself

I got sick this past week. After my depression hit, I then got hit with a nasty cold and sore throat. Gotta love this time of year! Here’s the funny thing– it was so much easier telling people, “I’m home sick with a cold” than it was to say, “I’m going through a depression right now”. With a cold or any other “physical” illness, you get more sympathy. People get it. They offer to help. They don’t expect you to get up and shake it off. They don’t think you are weak or lazy or just trying to get attention. They understand that you are truly sick and that you need time to rest and recover. Why don’t we do the same for someone who is dealing with a mental illness?

If there is one thing that having a mental illness has taught me (and continues to teach me!), it is that I must learn to speak up and advocate for myself. An “advocate” is someone who pleads on someone else’s behalf. In verb form, it means to stand up for, to speak up for, to plead for, to support, or to champion a person or cause. The Latin root literally means “to call” (to one’s aid).

For me, being my own advocate requires 3 things:

1. Honesty

First, being my own advocate means that I have to be honest with myself. Another term for this is “self-awareness”. Part of managing my mood disorder means tracking my mood and noticing patterns. I have to be self-aware and learn to recognize warning signs that I am starting to struggle. I have to know my own limits and listen to my body. Some of my personal warning signs include not being able to sleep, feeling more anxiety, feeling irritable, and pulling away from people.

Second, I need to be honest with others. When my mood starts to shift, I need to let my doctor and my family and trusted friends know. I have to say, “This is what I can handle right now, and this is what I can’t.” I have to speak up and say, “This is what I need.” This is easier said than done! I don’t want others to perceive me as needy, emotionally unstable, or weak. I just get sick sometimes, people! We all do. I’m fighting through it and I need a little extra support right now, but I’m going to be ok! I’ve been through this before and it will get better.

2. Tools/Resources

Over the years, I have learned new coping skills that help me to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. I’ve gotten really good at deep-breathing! I have been learning how to meditate and practice mindfulness. I am constantly trying to learn new things to help me take better care of my mental health. I take daily medication to help manage my mood and I have another that I can take as needed, for anxiety and panic attacks. I have things I can do, tools on my belt, to help myself when I start to struggle.

I also have to rely on other people. Sometimes my own coping skills just aren’t enough. I have to have a good support network of family, friends, and healthcare professionals. I have the number for the Crisis Line in my phone in case I need to call. I’ve called them before at 4am, when I was wide awake and couldn’t sleep because I was having a manic episode. I just needed someone to talk to because everyone else I knew was asleep! Sometimes just a phone call helps. It makes me feel safe knowing that I am not alone and that there is always someone I can call if I need help.

3. Trust

Everyone I talk to who deals with mental illness is walking their own path. Even though we may have the same diagnosis or similar symptoms, we each experience mental illness differently. We are all in different places in our recovery. Yes, people want to help. Everyone has advice to share. But I have had to learn to trust my own instincts and follow my own path. I know what I need better than anyone else! I know what is going on in my body and mind. I know what helps me and what heals me. If I stop and listen, my body will tell me what I need. Sometimes it tells me, “Slow down. Take a break!” Today, when I was getting overwhelmed, it said, “Go on a walk.” Sometimes I feel the urge to write, share, or talk. Other times, I need to rest. When I listen to my own body, it reaffirms to myself that my needs matter. It teaches me to trust myself and my instincts. It shows that I love and respect and listen to myself!

For me, panic sets in when I feel like I can’t trust myself or others. When I feel like “I can’t do this!” or “I’m alone and I need help!”. The thought that most commonly triggers panic attacks for me is that “I’m not in control right now!” Learning to “let go” of the need to be in control and trusting that I can meet my own needs and that others are there to help has been a recurring lesson and part of my personal journey.

I also have had to learn to trust others. In times of struggle, I try to surround myself with people who know and love me and who don’t judge me for struggling. Establishing relationships of trust is so important! We all need to have people that we feel like we can trust and people we can call on when we need help! This past week, a few friends reached out to me. Some offered to help. Some asked for my help or advice, because they were struggling. And some asked me how they could best help a friend who was battling mental illness. Each of these people lifted me in some way. Knowing that I have good friends who care is empowering. Knowing that I am a trusted friend and a resource for others is so healing. It lets me know that my most difficult experiences can be turned into something good. Those struggles have prepared me to serve and help others. They have taught me empathy and compassion and given me a desire to run to the aid of those who struggle. It is humbling to realize that the Lord can use me (even when I am sick and struggling!) to help, encourage, guide, or strengthen someone else.

One thing that I am realizing is that when you learn to advocate for yourself and take care of your own needs, you can better advocate for and meet the needs of others! I want to be an advocate for those who deal with mental illness. And in order to help them in their time of need, I need to know how to take really good care of Becky! I need to be my own advocate. I’m learning, I’m on a journey, and things are getting brighter!

Why We Sometimes Pull Away

This is a hard post to write. I want to share some things with you. I want you to understand. It’s just so hard to be vulnerable right now. These past couple of days, I have been struggling to put into words how I feel. I’ve pulled back from blogging, partly because I didn’t know what to say. My words were gone and my brain felt muddled. But as I showered today, these simple words came to my mind–“Reach Out”. I resisted, because part of me doesn’t want to reach out right now. I just want to hide away for a bit, until I’m feeling stronger and more like myself. It’s not like me to feel this way or to pull away from people. In fact, it’s a red flag for me. I like being around people and I need them in my life! Right now I just need people to reach out to me. (Oh, that’s so hard to say!!)

On Sunday, my daughter was sick with a cold, fever, and cough. I stayed home from church to take care of her. My husband and other two children went to church without us. I was staying home because I needed to take care of my baby girl. But to be completely honest, I was kind of relieved to have an excuse not to go. I really didn’t feel up to it that day. It is hard to be around people when you are feeling down inside. I hate putting on a smile and pretending I’m fine when I’m not. I didn’t want people to know that I’m still struggling.

I have been thinking recently about anxiety and depression and how they tend to isolate us. It’s ironic, since having a strong support system is so critically important to someone dealing with mental illness! It’s as if our depression knows what will make us feel better and it tries to keep us from those things. It tells us to pull away. I know for a fact that I can’t do this alone. I know that I have people I can call. But sometimes, I start to feel like a burden. No one likes being around someone when they are depressed. Will they even notice if I fade into the background? Will anyone care?

The other day during my meditation, a deep emotional hurt rose to the surface of my consciousness. I wondered aloud, “Do people think I am too much?” Too emotional and erratic? Too up-and-down? Too needy? Too excited and exuberant? Too open? Too sensitive? Sharing too much? Posting too much? Reaching out too much, to the point of bugging people? I didn’t realize that I felt that way deep down. It was healing just to voice that hurt and acknowledge it. I realized that, deep down, I still cared about people’s approval of me. It’s a weakness that I’m working to overcome. But sometimes I need to be reminded that I’m lovable. I just want to be loved for who I am and not who others want me to be. I think that is something we all long for.

I started this blog in hopes that it would help others, but also that it would help me. And so far, it has. Through WordPress, I found a community of bloggers, like me, who are sharing their stories and fighting the stigma of mental illness. It was so encouraging to find them and to read their posts! I feel like I found my people! (My husband laughed when I told him that. But that’s how I feel!) Some of them are struggling with social anxiety or OCD. Some deal with depression. Some have bipolar disorder, like me. They are all doing something brave–they are trying to put mental illness into words. They are opening up and sharing with the world what it is like to live with a chronic mental illness. As I read their posts, I cry and laugh and think to myself, “Yes, that is how I feel too!! I’m not alone!” I needed that–to feel accepted and understood and part of a group of like-minded people. People who feel an urge to write and share and who want to make a difference.

I discovered that there are some excellent writers out there! Some passionate and brave people who have so much to offer the world! They inspire me! But they are struggling and sometimes hiding. They are battling with mental illness and encouraging each other to keep fighting. They are strong and talented and loving, but they are lonely. They feel misunderstood. They go through ups and downs and sometimes struggle to function day-to-day. Some of them have a community of online followers, but I wonder how many close friends they interact with in person. I hope they have a good support group, because it is so hard to battle mental illness alone. These people–they are so worth loving! They have so many gifts to share! I want you to know them and to be their friend. I want you to reach out, because the world is missing out on some incredible people!!

After church, I got a text from a friend. She had noticed that I wasn’t there and she was texting to check on me. Someone noticed! I told her that Maria was sick. I didn’t tell her that I was too. But just knowing that someone noticed I wasn’t there and missed me made me feel a little better.

Who do you know who is pulling away or hiding? Do you notice them not showing up to social activities? Are they less responsive to calls or texts? Are they not calling you or posting online or reaching out as often? Do you reach out to them to let them know that you missed them? Are you the kind of friend that reaches out and lets others know that you want them in your life? Sometimes people need to hear you say it. They need to know that you care about them personally and that you love them just the way they are. I am normally one who reaches out. I need connection like I need food to eat and air to breathe! But when I pull away, it’s a sign that I might be struggling.

I don’t expect you to read all my posts and comment on them. I don’t expect you to call or text me. (But it’s nice when you do!) I don’t expect you to always be aware of my mood state and be on constant alert. I don’t expect you to come and rescue me when I’m depressed. I’ll try to let you know when I need help. I’m ok today. I just want you to know how I am feeling today because I believe that you care. I believe that you are my friend. I feel your concern and I see you reaching out. Thank you for loving me! Thank you for calling and texting just to check in. Thanks for listening and for accepting me just as I am. And to all you other bloggers out there, let’s keep fighting the fight!