The conclusion of my Mental Illness Awareness Series is centered around thoughts and lessons I have learned in the time since the previously shared manuscript was written, which was two years ago. I wanted to touch on some feelings regarding my mental illness, my continued struggle with needing medication, the added benefits I’ve enjoyed from a changed diet and exercise, and the importance of finding the right therapist. Continue reading
Welcome back for Part 4 of my Mental Illness Awareness Series. Today I am sharing the final portion of the manuscript, which you can get background information on at the beginning of my Part 1 post. As explained in Part 2, this was originally written for women with Christian beliefs, particularly Latter-day Saint women. My hope is that you will find this post helpful regardless of your religious background.
I have not made any changes to the original manuscript, which was completed two years ago, making my battle with mental illness close to ten years now. It’s hard to believe I have struggled with this for so long, but each year I have greater insight. I look forward to sharing my current feelings next week, as a follow-up to this final portion of the manuscript. Continue reading
If you’re just now joining me, as I share this five-part series outlining my journey with mental illness, please check out the more detailed information about this series in the beginning of the Part 1 and Part 2 posts. Seeing as how I did not edit the original version of the manuscript in any way before posting here, the blog that I reference towards the end of this post is in regards to this blog, First You Must Begin. Continue reading
Today I am sharing part two of my Mental Illness Awareness Series, which is the continuation of my journey with mental illness. Background information can be found in my previous post from this series. The short story is that the following is taken from my portion of an unpublished manuscript that was designed to bring increased understanding of mental illness. Continue reading
A couple of years ago, I had a friend approach me about contributing to a book she was writing. The purpose of her book was to bring increased understanding and awareness to the topic of mental illness. As she began to write it, she felt impressed to include other women she knew who suffered various degrees of mental illness. Having been open with her about my battle with mental illness, she invited me to contribute to her book. Unfortunately, that book has not been picked up yet. However, feeling passionate about the purpose of her book, and the cause as a whole, I have decided to share my portion of the manuscript here. My part was designed to comprise an entire chapter, which seems a bit much to process in one blog post. As a result, I am breaking my part of the manuscript into a five-part series. The first four posts will make up the chapter as it was written nearly two years ago. The fifth, and final, post will comprise my added insight that I have received since that time. Being that I have been diagnosed with having Bipolar II disorder, this series will wrap up on March 30th, which has been set aside as World Bipolar Day. I recently learned that this day was chosen because it is Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday, and it was believed that he probably had a bipolar disorder. Being that my mental illness was not first diagnosed as Bipolar II disorder, I felt it better to refer to this series as Mental Illness Awareness. I am all too familiar with a broad spectrum of mental illness symptoms. So, without further ado, I share with you my Mental Illness Awareness Series (Part 1 of 5)…
My husband will tell you that my battle with depression began the moment that I learned my mom had Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. While this news shattered my childish belief that my family was somehow exempt from tragedy, I consider that a time when devastating circumstances merely had a negative impact on my customarily cheerful outlook. I believe my true battle with depression began the first few days following the birth of my eldest child, Abigail. That’s when I began to notice the crippling effects of depression in my daily life.
Abigail arrived six weeks and one day early. We were, of course, completely caught off guard. Her early arrival came unexpected with no reason or cause. Every mother has a dynamic birth story; mine was comprised of confusion, excitement, fear, and anticipation. In less than 24 hours, I had gone from questioning the authenticity of each contraction to delivering my baby girl after four pushes and several failed attempts to slow down her premature birth. The moment I first heard Abigail cry out, I felt like I could take on the world. Giving birth was the most natural high I had ever experienced. It was everything after that point that didn’t live up to my dreams and expectations of childbearing. In my mind, she was supposed to be cleaned, wrapped, and laid sweetly in my arms. Instead she was poked, prodded, and then briefly held next to me for one quick picture and a peck on the cheek before being whisked away to the NICU.
It was three days before I even had the chance to hold my sweet baby girl. Even then, she was so fully wrapped in cords, intubation tubing, and padding that it hardly felt like we were connected. Of course, she still melted my heart in a million ways. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. In the moment, everything felt so surreal that it wasn’t until later that I realized how gypped and jaded I felt over the whole affair. I grew up with this idea of childbirth being a painful process that melted away the moment you held your baby. But I didn’t get to hold my baby the moment she was born. Instead, following her delivery, I sat alone in a hospital room waiting for my epidural to wear off so I could be cleared to see my daughter in the NICU. I thought, “This is not how it was supposed to go.”
Around the two-week mark, Abigail finally joined us at home. That was when I started to notice that I didn’t feel like myself anymore. Motherhood will certainly change you, but this felt different. I felt isolated and numb. The feelings of joy and zest that were once commonplace in my life were few and far between. Everything began to wear on me. I started to shut down. It got to the point that my brain couldn’t even process what it should be doing, let alone trying to complete such a task. I saved any ounce of energy I had for the needs of Abigail’s survival alone. To make matters worse, she was both colicky and dealing with acid reflux. I spent the larger portion of my day feeling defeated. I became jealous of my husband who got to leave for work. Then, upon his return home, I would be resentful of the smiles he would instantly receive from our baby girl. Again, I thought, “This is not how it was supposed to be.”
Before Abigail had even turned one month old, my husband saw the situation for what it was and knew I needed help. I was losing ground fast. At the time, he worked close to home and was able to come home for lunch. He left in the morning and gave me ONE chore to complete before his return for lunch. Just one.
We had a baby bottle warmer – one of those things that first-time moms think they can’t live without. The water inside needed to be changed. My one chore was to dump the water out and fill the cup back up. I didn’t have to clean it. I didn’t have to do any special treatment to it. I had to dump the water out and fill it back up. Guess what? I DID IT! I felt a brief moment of excitement having actually completed a task. My husband was so proud of me. He sincerely congratulated me and I enjoyed the satisfaction that came from that moment. This is what my life had come to. Prior to Abigail’s birth, I was successfully working full-time as an assistant to the CIO of a mortgage lending company and now dumping out water had become a great accomplishment.
As I sat in my 6-week follow-up appointment, my doctor asked me how I was feeling emotionally. I was so ignorant to the idea of postpartum depression (PPD) that I hadn’t even considered it at that point. Upon hearing his words, I began to cry. This whole time, I had figured it was just “baby blues” – those short-lived feelings of emotional instability that most moms feel after childbirth as their hormones adjust to non-pregnancy. My understanding was that PPD was designated for those who were so miserable they wanted to harm their babies. That was not me. I loved and adored my baby girl, even though our connection felt strained. Though, admittedly, I almost walked out on her one time just to stop from hearing the endless colicky crying. It was my emotional state that was the issue. It was my lack of desire to do anything. It was my realization that I was not finding joy in any of my usual activities nor was I accomplishing the basic daily tasks. I used to be so upbeat and cheerful that my brother would joke, “Have a bad day, Sara. It builds character.” Based on his belief, I gained more character in the first few months of my daughter’s life than the twenty-five years prior combined. I had postpartum depression.
Check back here next Wednesday for Mental Illness Awareness Series (Part 2 of 5)
Recently, I listened to a talk given by a religious leader, Dale G. Renlund, which spoke about our ability to try to be something more than what we are now, persevering in our efforts to do so, and being patient with others who are striving to do the same. The essence of the talk was that our focus should be more about who we are now and what we are becoming rather than what we once were. In his talk, Renlund quoted a line from As You Like It by William Shakespeare. In the scene, the eldest brother, Oliver, is being questioned as to whether or not he plotted to kill his younger brother, Orlando. He responds to the inquiry with, “‘Twas I, but ’tis not I. I do not shame to tell you what I was, since my conversion so sweetly tasted, being the thing I am.” In modern terms, Oliver is expressing that he did plot to kill Orlando and he has no shame in confessing it, as he knows he has since been converted from his evil ways. As I listened to the line from Shakespeare, I kept repeating the words in my mind, “‘Twas I, but ’tis not I,” and then I asked myself, “who am I now and who am I no longer?” I’m thinking now, though, that the best question to ask would be, “who do I want to be?”
So many different thoughts race to my mind when I ask myself, “who do I want to be?” The overwhelming thought being that I would like to be healthy. My greatest desire for myself is to be physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially healthy. When I put it that way, though, I see the list, get overwhelmed, and prevent myself from trying at anything at all. Then, I get the idea that maybe if I just pick one thing that is of the utmost importance it will have an affect on the other categories? Or better yet, maybe I need to pick just one thing to improve upon from each category? The physically healthy category should be the easiest, as right now I’m at Level Zero, despite the fact that Master Shifu in Kung Fu Panda claims, “There is no such thing as Level Zero.” The other categories may be a little more challenging.
I recently posted the image above on my Facebook timeline because, while this is not actually a picture of me, it is me to a T. Would you like some proof? Go ahead and type ‘burger’ in the Search field on the top right side of my website and see how many posts reference my love for burgers. While the image perfectly captures my current stance on fitness and burger intake, I am embarrassed that I make light of the topic so much. Contrary to my actions, I really do believe in the importance of being physically healthy. My road to being physically healthy will look different than your road, as cheeseburgers may not be your weak spot. So, if you are seeking a healthier lifestyle, then ask yourself what steps need to be taken to make that a reality. I have plenty of things I can improve upon in the realm of diet and exercise. If I’m only picking one, I think I’ll go with only allowing myself one burger a week. Yes, this is a challenge for me. Remember, Level Zero.
I’m picking this one over an exercise related one, as my cholesterol numbers are less than favorable. After the Stroke of Luck, they did some customary blood work. In the past, my numbers were of borderline concern, but these new numbers were embarrassing. I did learn that postpartum cholesterol numbers are skewed, but to avoid added risk post-stroke, they placed me on cholesterol medicine. Apparently, cholesterol numbers do not level out to an accurate reading until one year out from delivery. This means that in July I have the chance to get off of cholesterol medication. While I am a big supporter of medicine, I think it’s silly to be on medicine for something that can be controlled with proper diet and exercise. So, long story short, I’m starting with my cutback on cheeseburgers. I’m going to imagine that in five years from now somebody will confront me with, “Did you once eat so many cheeseburgers that you were on cholesterol medicine?” Then I can respond, “‘Twas I, but ’tis not I.”
I often wonder what “level” I would be at in the emotionally healthy realm if I did not suffer from Bi-polar II? Mental illness is a tricky beast because sometimes you fall for the old-fashioned beliefs that if you just do XY&Z, then you can be cured from such an illness without medication ever being needed. I don’t doubt that doing XY&Z can lessen the blow of a low in the depression cycle, but I’ve yet to witness a natural solution in my nine years with the illness. So, what other options do I have in this category? I would like to stop yelling at my kids.
I am not a frequent yeller, but the fact that I yell at all upsets me. I may be the worst type of yeller, because I don’t yell at all people. I imagine a person that yells at everyone in their life just doesn’t know any better. But if I do not yell at strangers, nor my husband, nor my friends or extended family, then I must know better. My children are the only ones that seem to get my wrath. I hate it. It’s such an ugly trait. It’s definitely less than it once was, but I have yet to eradicate yelling from our home. I’m not even going to excuse it, per my previous post No Excuses, No Explanations. No excuses; just solutions here today. How about a “Yell Jar” instead of a “Swear Jar”? Heck, this could end up helping me with being financially healthy. I may have enough money to buy myself something nice.
If I had to pick a category that I was the healthiest in, it would probably be this one. However, I am still lacking plenty. I’ve always been good about bedtime and mealtime prayers, but morning prayer tends to be a hard one for me. Mainly because I am not a morning person. I stay in my bed as long as humanly possible, thus not allowing for a couple extra minutes for morning prayer before having to tend to children. However, studying the scriptures can be just as crucial as morning prayer in becoming spiritually healthy. Ugh! It’s a toss up. Perhaps I will cheat in this category and do two? Morning prayer and scripture study combined are likely to have the greatest impact on improving my health in all categories. For the non-Christians out there, a good alternative may be to add time for meditation to your daily routine.
Remember my love for cheeseburgers? Well, I don’t eat them at home. I eat them at my favorite restaurants. It turns out that eating out adds up when you have five other companions joining you. Meals out are pricey with our family size. Eating out is a huge weakness of mine. I would much rather spend money on eating a meal out with my family than buying myself a new outfit. I don’t even have the courage to admit to the amount of money spent from our budget on eating out. Let’s just say that I will cut down on our restaurant budget and frequency by at least 20%. Whew. That feels like a lot to swallow. I suppose with my burger cutback, this may happen naturally.
It’s as I suspected, improving something in one category has an affect on other categories. As mentioned in It’s a Habit!, the average length it takes for something to become a habit is 66 days. To help me with my goal, I just went and installed the app HabitBull on my smartphone. Only three of the five changes mentioned are really habit forming. I added the following habits to HabitBull: daily scripture study, daily morning prayer, and a one burger a week tracker. The yelling will be managed by the “Yell Jar” and the 20% cut in restaurant budget will be tracked through You Need A Budget (YNAB).
Wish me luck in helping me become who I want to be. Thankfully, like Oliver in As You Like It, I do believe that I can be converted, as I have seen changes already in my life from what I once was. What a remarkable thing it is to be able to grow and develop into something more than we are today. Think of all the opportunities that lay before you, if you just ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?,” and then strive to become that person.
Last Thursday, I had one of those moments with my eldest that reminded me that I had Enrolled in Parenting 505. A simple task that I had given my daughter to do turned into a yelling match for some reason I still don’t understand. I ended up embarrassed by my own role in the argument and hurt by the words that my daughter yelled at me. It wasn’t pretty. We didn’t end on a bad note, but the sting of my hurt stuck with me and I went to my room and cried, once she had gone to bed. It’s moments like these that I wish I could will my mom to be alive so that I could call her and be comforted. Thankfully, I had the forethought to reach out to another mom who is always good about reminding me of my worth and how we’re all imperfect people trying to do our best. However, I still somehow managed to forget her words of encouragement as the evening passed and I went to bed with a series of self-loathing thoughts and tear-stained cheeks. A few days later, I was reminded of something I read in one of my favorite books, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe we are worthy of love and belonging.”
I don’t know how one grows to feel unworthy of love and belonging. I don’t think there is some statistic that ties such a thing to something like “being breast fed versus bottle fed” and, if there was, I wouldn’t believe it anyway. You can’t isolate feelings of unworthiness down to one source, so I see no point in trying to figure it out. But, sadly, I am a victim of believing myself unworthy of love and belonging. I can say with certainty that these feelings were felt long before any diagnosis of depression or Bipolar II Disorder. Before you go worrying about me, I know in theory I am worthy of being loved and accepted. Most of us know that in theory, right? Also, I don’t want people worrying that I grew up without “I love you” and support from my family, because I did have all of that. Again, I don’t know the source of these feelings, but the fact is that I somehow have deemed myself unworthy of love and belonging.
The scariest part of coming to terms with how I feel about myself is realizing that, based on our last argument, my daughter appears to be having a similar view of herself. My daughter was able to articulate herself in such a way that I knew the source of her words had to do with her feeling unworthy of love and belonging. While I don’t go blaming my parents for my feelings of unworthiness, I certainly blame myself for my daughter feeling this way. I don’t know if that’s unfair or justified for me to do so, but if my eight-year-old feels like less than enough, then I cannot separate myself from that. Now the question is, what do I do with the knowledge that my daughter and I are facing a similar struggle of believing we are unworthy of love and belonging?
There are several points that Brown makes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, but I think a big one for my eldest daughter and myself is that we confuse guilt and shame. If I boldly reprimand my daughter, her instant response is to cry out, “I’m a bad person!” or “I’m the worst kid ever!” Mind you, I have said nothing about her character in my disciplining nor any such thing about her being a bad person or child. I merely pointed out that she didn’t listen or that she made a bad choice. She is the one that turns it into, “I’m a bad person.” I am quick to correct her about the difference between shame (I am bad) versus guilt (I did something bad). The interesting part is that I find it so absurd that she takes my disciplining and turns it into a five-alarm situation of self-loathing. But, guess what? I do that too. I don’t cry out with wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I sure as heck go to my room and tell myself what a horrible person I am for yelling at my daughter. Then to make sure I really give myself the proper punishment, I begin to tell myself all the other aspects of life that I am horrible at. I am a horrible wife, because I don’t prepare dinner. I am a horrible at-home Mom, because my children watch too much TV. I am a horrible friend, because I don’t serve others enough. I am horrible with finances, because I like to eat out. You get the idea. I’m really good at this self-loathing thing. Well, well, well, looky there! I just gave myself a compliment. At least we know I’m good at something – shaming myself.
Here’s the best part – I just had this epiphany of the similarities between my daughter and I while I was typing this post. That’s how blind I’ve been to hers and my struggle. I recall my therapist trying to teach me the difference between shame and guilt years ago, because she saw that my confusion between the two was having a damaging affect. I didn’t understand how I was mixing the two up in my daily life nor did I grasp the negative affect it was having on my emotional wellbeing, until now. I understood the difference in theory, but I did not understand their difference in practice. Does that even make sense? It’s the same thing with feeling worthy. I logically understand that, as a person, I am worthy, but I don’t feel worthy. Just like I get the difference in the definitions between guilt and shame, but I don’t recognize when I am mixing the two up in my daily life. I honestly did not get it until this very moment. ::mind blown:: I am behaving in the same absurd manner as my daughter is when she takes my discipline and turns it into believing that she’s a bad person. I throw the same fit. I just do it in a more controlled manner and somehow I’ve convinced myself that that is okay. Oh my gosh! I now get why my husband gets so frustrated with me when I share my self-loathing with him. He sees how absurd it is for me to believe myself a bad person for having made a mistake in a particular moment. He knows better.
So, is confusion between shame and guilt the only cause of feeling unworthy? No. But it certainly doesn’t help my situation if I’m turning my mistakes into a blanket statement of me being an awful person. It’s no wonder I feel unworthy of such love and belonging. Woah. This is a lot to process. I guess the first step would be to catch myself in the action and teach myself to separate shame and guilt. My husband is always good about stopping me in my tracks when my self-loathing begins, but he’s not always with me. He simply says one line, “Put the phone down,” to get me to stop speaking negatively about myself. His line is in reference to the fact that he once told me that my self-loathing is like having Satan on speed dial, calling him up, listening intently as he whispers all these terrible things about me, and then foolishly believing him. So when I get going on my laundry list of reasons why I am “less than,” my husband quickly tells me to, “Put the phone down.” It works every time. I can be redirected, because in theory I know I am worth being loved. The breakdown occurs when I’m alone with my thoughts, I pull up my speed dial, and suddenly Satan and I are catching up on old times.
I know that I am loved and accepted. I’d like to believe that my daughter knows she is as well, as I try to show her often and tell her regularly. However, she and I both seem to have some miscommunication between what we know and what we feel. As a mother to this special little girl, I’ve struggled greatly with knowing how to raise her when I feel like I haven’t even figured myself out. How do you teach a child about self-esteem when you seem to have so little regard for your own? How do you teach a child about healthy living, when you struggle with proper diet and exercise? I don’t know the answers to these questions. My only hope is that open communication with her about my weaknesses and imperfections will help her to realize we are all imperfect individuals, but we are also beautiful and incredible people trying to do our best. Perfection and worth are exclusive of one another. I do not have to be perfect to be worthy of love and belonging. The sooner I can learn to separate the two, the sooner I can help my daughter on her path. We are all worthy of love and belonging, when we believe that in practice, and not just theory, we will free ourselves up to fully experience those same beautiful emotions.