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!

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!!

Healing Emotional Wounds

This is something that I have wanted to blog about for awhile now–the emotional component of mental illness. There is still so much that I don’t understand about mental illness and about my own diagnosis. Why does this happen? Why do I feel so powerless to control it? What is going on in my body and mind to create these physical, mental, and emotional symptoms? How do I heal from this? How can I fix this? Will I ever get better or will I continue to cycle again and again? I am learning and I am observing and trying to figure it all out. Maybe someday things will make more sense. I do feel like there are answers out there and ways to heal all of the broken parts of me. I feel like I am putting together a large puzzle. I am given one small piece at a time and I have to find where it fits. I still have so much more to learn! But at the same time, I am learning. And I am starting to see some things that I didn’t before.

Learning to manage my mood disorder is like learning to be a weather forecaster. No one can control the weather. But as human beings, we like to understand things and see patterns and make predictions, because it makes us feel more “in control” of the situation. It helps us to prepare better or know what to expect. You can’t always predict shifts in the weather. Sometimes you see them coming, but you don’t know when the storm will hit. That’s what my mood shifts are like. Sometimes there are obvious stressors or “triggers”. Sometimes I can feel things building up and I know a storm is coming. Sometimes I am just going along and get hit out of the blue. Sometimes multiple triggers hit at once!

January turned out to be the perfect storm. Winters are typically a hard time of year for me. I entered into a depressive episode mid-January. It happened slowly and it took me a few days to recognize it. I was struggling, but still managing to take care of things at that point. Then last week I got hit hard with the flu. It wiped me out for two days. I literally couldn’t get out of bed! I felt so helpless and tired and sick. My depression got worse, and my anxiety sky-rocketed. I was irritable and on-edge. The higher levels of anxiety meant that my mind was too active at night to settle down, which led to several nights with little to no sleep. And for me, that’s bad. Because getting no sleep triggers manic episodes. The cycle just continues!

My husband took three days off work to be home with me and help with the kids. I was completely checked out and unable to do much. I could barely get out of bed and feed myself. I couldn’t take care of the kids or meet their needs. All I could do was rest and try to take care of me. I talked on the phone to a few family members and friends, which always makes me feel better. It took all the energy I had just to take a shower. But it felt nice to feel the warm water on my skin and to brush my hair. It was just exhausting!

On Monday, I went to see my doctor. I begged her to up my meds so I could get a handle on things–I was really struggling! But I felt like both she and my husband minimized my symptoms and thought things would even out. (It’s ok, it’s hard to tell what’s really going on from the outside!). They wanted to just wait to see if things got better on their own. “Give it another two weeks,” she said. I knew I couldn’t make it another two weeks if things kept going the way they were. Two weeks sounded like an eternity! It made me feel frustrated. I just want to get back to feeling like me! After I insisted, she agreed to up the dose. We picked up my new prescription and went home.

The next day, my husband went back to work. He can’t stay home forever, and I wanted to try. I told myself, “I can do this!!” I wanted so badly to get better!! I tried to push through the exhaustion and get up and start being a mom again. I kept things simple. Cereal for breakfast. Frozen pizza for lunch. I took Helam to school in the morning, but once we got there he said he still had a cold and wanted to stay home. We turned around and drove back home. I was too tired to drive Lily to school in the afternoon. I was still in my pajamas. I couldn’t get out of my car and face all of the other parents. I couldn’t smile and pretend like I was ok. I really wasn’t.

My friend gave Lily a ride to school. I promised Lily that I would be there to pick her up. I put Maria down for a nap and tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. Luckily Helam is able to entertain himself. I was grateful for his presence, because I didn’t want to be alone. I called him into my room at one point in desperation, asking him to hold his mommy and pray for her. I needed someone to comfort me and hold me and let me know I would be alright. I felt bad asking my 7-year-old to be that person, but he gladly obliged! Maybe it was a good thing that he stayed home. I needed his presence!

I was determined to keep my promise to Lily. I reached out to a few family members and my husband to let them know where I was at. (Really struggling!!) Then I packed my two kids in the car and drove to the school to get Lily. It started snowing. I felt like I wasn’t really in my body. Like I was detached or disconnected somehow. I felt numb. I started to feel really paranoid and afraid that something bad was going to happen. I knew I probably shouldn’t be driving, but we got to the school safely.

The school pick up area stresses me out. All of the parents are trying to find spots along the curb. They don’t let you in. They honk and zoom past you if you slow down. It sent me into a panic attack. Lily got in the car and we turned on our Harry Potter cd. I tried to stay calm and breathe. As I drove home, I knew I couldn’t make it all the way home. I needed to pull over. I told Helam to call Daddy and tell him to meet us at the library. I made it there and pulled over to the side of the road. I turned on my emergency lights. When my husband arrived, I couldn’t even talk. I just moved over to the passenger seat, shaking.

The rest of the day didn’t get much better. I held things together for the kids. I tried to act calm on the outside. I even read them bedtime stories and we laughed together. But once the kids were in bed and my husband came down to talk to me, I lost it. I started sobbing uncontrollably and shaking. I told him I felt like screaming. I was so scared and felt like I was going to die. All of the emotions I had been holding in came spilling out. I asked him to just hold me and reassure me. I was so tired, but worried that I was too worked up and wouldn’t be able to sleep. I didn’t want to be up alone at night like this, while everyone else slept. I felt like I had reached my breaking point.

I felt God saying to me, “Becky, just let go. I’ll catch you. It’s ok.” I thought back to the time when my oldest son fell out our 3rd story apartment window. He could have died, but miraculously he just came away with a few scratches on his back. I know he had angels watching out for him! Even though he was ok, that experience was really traumatic for me. It really shook me up and made me feel like the world was a scary, unsafe place. My home, which was supposed to our safe haven, was no longer protected in a bubble. My safe little world shattered that day. I couldn’t protect my children. They could die at any moment, under my watch. Even when I’m trying my best to take care of them. I must not be a very good mom, because it was my idea to crack the window and let in some fresh air. If he had died, I could never have forgiven myself.

A counselor explained to me once that “trauma” isn’t just something that war veterans or rape victims experience. Trauma is any life experience that made us feel afraid and unsafe. It creates emotional wounds, which have physical and emotional responses when triggered. For me, that was when I started having panic attacks. It took a long time for me to feel “normal” again. But part of me has never been the same. My view of myself and my identity as a mother changed that day. It made me doubt my abilities and my gifts. It diminished my belief in myself and affected my sense of self-worth. It is one of my biggest triggers now–feeling like I’m not cutting it as a mother and like I can’t do my job.

My husband stayed up with me until I was able to fall into a drug-induced sleep. It was still a rough night, but I got some sleep. And since he was home I could sleep in the next morning. Sometimes that’s when I get my best sleep–from about 6am to 9am. I know, it’s weird. But I think I feel safe because other people are awake and nearby.

I still feel tired–I am physically and emotionally drained. Still a little numb. But I feel like I just needed to sob and release all of that pent up emotion. I needed to feel all of those strong emotions and release them somehow. I needed to be held and reassured and comforted. I still have many things inside that need to heal and I am trying to find ways to heal them.

I am hoping that once my higher dose of meds kicks in, things will even out. It usually takes a week or two. I am taking it a day at a time. I am grateful for modern medicine and good doctors. I am just learning that medicine doesn’t HEAL things. So I am trying to do other things as well to heal my body and mind and address my emotional and spiritual wounds.

I am finding things that help me heal–music, writing, self-reflection, counseling, connection with others, empathy, a good cry, sharing my story, working on false negative beliefs, hugs, talking with a friend, service, etc. Exercise helps me a TON, but I’ve been too exhausted to do much lately other than stretching. I miss it!

A wise physician once said, “The best medicine for humans is love.” Someone asked, “What if it doesn’t work?” He smiled and said, “Increase the dose.”

-Unknown

Emotional wounds hurt, but they can heal. We have to identify them and re-write our inner scripts. I have to tell myself every day that I am a good mom. I ask my kids and my husband to tell me that too. I keep saying it, hoping that it will sink in and that I’ll start to believe it. There is still work for me to do and things for me to process. Sometimes I might break down or have a panic attack when those broken, vulnerable parts of me are triggered. Be patient with me. Just be kind. I am fragile right now. But I am also strong. I’m fighting and I’m not giving up!