It’s Time for Work!

I strive to be as open and honest about my bouts with depression and anxiety, in hopes that my candidness may help someone else who feels they are suffering alone.  Even though the rational side of me is well aware that others suffer similarly, there are times when I feel isolated in my struggle with mental illness.  Fortunately, I am not enduring a drastic low right now.  However, my anxiety has been a constant battle as of late.  The most common anxiety indicator for me is chest pain.  It’s hard to describe the physical feeling, as the chest pain manifests differently depending on what type of stress I’m trying to cope with.  For instance, the chest pain that comes from a large grocery bill when I know money is tight, is different from the pain that comes from feeling overwhelmed emotionally with personal matters.  With an upcoming move, it seems I’m having to endure both types.  Moves are expensive and emotionally draining, am I right?  This is why I need to rely on this quote I found by the late Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley, which reads, “The best antidote for worry is work. The best medicine for despair is service. The best cure for weariness is to help someone even more tired.”  Reading this made me think, “it’s time for work!”

Best Antidote for Worry

I realize that I’ve discussed anxiety and not worry, but many feel they go hand in hand.  I look at worry as anxiety’s intern.  Worry is more controlled than anxiety.  Worry feels like something I can reason with and overcome.  Anxiety feels like this beast that takes over me.  While worry seems more manageable than anxiety, my guess is that they can both be eradicated with work.  So, that’s what I’m going to do: work.  Thankfully, I have plenty of opportunities to work, as boxes don’t pack themselves.

While, I don’t feel like I’m struggling with despair, I have still witnessed the great blessings that come from forgetting myself and serving others.  I’ve also noticed, being the wife of an ER Nurse, that my burdens seem to pale in comparison when I hear what others are enduring at the hospital.  There is always someone who is in greater need of comfort and service.  My desire is to increase my efforts to work and serve, and realize that those efforts will only bring about good.

And in those moments, when the days work is done but my mind does not seem to agree, I will try a little trick I discovered the last time I struggled greatly with anxiety.  Instead of thinking of all the “what ifs,” I will focus my mind on positive memories.  At these times, I like to recall memories of my mom.  I look at the memories as real and solid.  The future is made up of unknowns and the memories are fact.  Sometimes, the best way to stop fretting, is to remind yourself of all the goodness that has been your reality thus far in life.

With that being said, it’s time for work!

Worthy of Love and Belonging

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.

Worthy 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.

Through the Eyes of Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder is a strange beast.  It’s a mental illness that is comprised mostly of lows, regardless of optimal circumstances, and the highs are not so intense that they would be considered manias.  It becomes even more confusing when you suffer from the disorder, but also take medication to treat it.  Perhaps people who have suffered from severe nausea can relate to the bewilderment of treating something in your body that is doing everything in its power to hinder the events of your day.  I know as a pregnant woman, I dealt with terrible nausea.  I would be so nauseas that it would be near impossible to complete the most simplest of tasks.  I had to focus all my energy on not throwing up.  Making quick movements, or really any movement, was out of the question.  Not to mention knowing that food could potentially ease the nausea, but there seemed to be no feasible way to actually eat the item that might help. You get the idea.  However, if I took Zofran, a medicine designed to prevent nausea and vomiting, I could function.  It did not eliminate the issue completely.  It was almost as though my body was still on board to throw up at any given moment, but my brain had been given strict orders otherwise.  Or maybe it’s the other way around?  Maybe my brain was screaming to my body, “Get it out!  Get it all out!  You’ll feel better!”  But the body just shut down.  All I know is that Bipolar II disorder responds in a similar manner to medication.  The body and the brain are given different memos and it’s confusing as heck, so the whole system just wants to call it a sick day and go to sleep.

That’s where I’ve been the last few weeks.  It’s been a long series of sick days.  Many may not notice, as I am still functional, but things aren’t feeling right on the inside.  Huzzah!  I figured it out.  The brain is not in control when it comes to treated Bipolar II disorder, it’s definitely the body.  I realize this now, as I think of the feelings I’ve had over the past month or so.  The brain sticks to the task it has set out to do during a down cycle – remind Sara how worthless she is, point out the fat roll on her that is getting bigger, convince her that she’ll be happier if she just sleeps, explain to her that her children don’t listen to her because she’s a bad mom, and assure her that any feelings of happiness are a lost cause. The body, thanks to medication, says, “Nonsense!”  The body challenges the brain with its plans – I’ll have Sara wash some dishes and do something kind for her husband, I’ll get her on the elliptical machine, I’ll get her out of bed in the morning, I’ll hug her kids and tell them that she loves them, and I’ll jog her memory to recall moments of genuine laughter.  The body follows it’s plan of attack and the brain continues on its path and things start to get really befuddled inside.

I’ll provide the perfect example of how something like this unfolds in a real life situation.  It was my turn to host book club this past week.  I’m not a regular book club attendee.  I’m not sure if that’s relevant, but it somehow played a role in my feelings toward the arrival of several women entering my home.  The day had arrived.  I sent an e-mail reminding everybody about the book club being held that evening.  While it was not my intention to send out a reminder late, I got a bit excited about the chance of less people showing up due to my tardiness with the reminder.  It’s not that I don’t like these women in the group, it’s all the things the brain had been telling me that I didn’t want to face, “You know they’re going to judge you, right?  You know your home isn’t clean enough.  You’re not going to have anything healthy that they like, you fatty mcfat fat!  I hope you’re ready for everybody to note this month’s book club as the worst yet.”  I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but that’s how it goes in my brain in a down cycle.  It’s really quite self-centered for me to even believe that people care enough about me to even take the time to make judgments about me, but then again, isn’t that thought just as self-deprecating?  That people don’t even think enough of me to judge me?  Why would they waste their time?  Then the medicated body checks in and yells, “STOP IT!” The body usually chimes in the same time that my husband comes to my rescue.  My body is not allowing me to come up with a logical reason to cancel book club, while my husband is baking a cake to serve at the night’s event.  Between the body and my husband, the house gets cleaned enough that the brain believes judgments will be minimized, fruit joins the fare with the cake and mozarella sticks that the fatty mcfat fat (AKA – me) craves, book club questions have been planned out, and the living room is set with what is hopefully deemed a suitable comfort level.

The ladies begin to arrive, and my panic lessens, as I realize that few people are actually going to show up.  Again, it’s not that I don’t enjoy all the ladies in the group, it’s the perceived lies that my brain has been telling me about the whole of them coming into my home.  I have a nice time, or so I have deduced by the laughter I hear coming out of me.  I’m not really sure, honestly, how I feel.  Things are funny, I know this because the body chose to laugh.  I can’t feel the humor though.  This is the confusion I speak of.  The medicine doesn’t turn on and off according to the emotions that I want to feel and don’t want to feel.  It attacks them all.  So the highs get muted, especially when I’m in a low cycle.  I don’t know why this is, but everything just feels dull.  The evening ended and the women left, thanking me for the fun night.  I asked myself, “Oh, was it fun?”  It wasn’t that I didn’t have fun.  I did.  Or at least I think I did.  Once everyone has gone home, my husband asks me, “So, how did it go?”  I answer him with raw honesty since he knows my battle, “It went well, I think.  Not as bad as I feared, but I felt pretty numb to it all.  I laughed though.  That’s gotta be good.”  So, that’s how it goes in a low cycle when medicated.  It’s a weird feeling to have your body go through the motions, while your brain remains apathetic.  The toughest part to swallow is that this is better than unmedicated Bipolar II disorder.  I’ve been there before too and it’s equal to the fear I experienced while trapped inside my body during my stroke.

So, that’s it right there.  That’s the cycle I’ve been in.  That’s the cycle that wants to write an uplifting post, but can’t come up with an uplifting thought to share.  That’s one snapshot from a medicated down cycle.  I’m certain that the dreary weather we had in January did not help me fight off this down cycle.  My hope is that the warmer temps will get me outside long enough to shake this cycle and move back to status quo.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the face-lift that I gave First You Must Begin.  It may not be anything extravagant, but if you knew the trouble I went through to even make it look this good, you would be giving me a, “Strong work, Sara.”  As my BFF tells me, “Where there’s a will, there’s Sara.”  That’s how accomplished I feel to have made it this far with my blog.
 Where theres a will

Your Life is an Occasion

For the past few days, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a bit of a slump.  I couldn’t seem to pinpoint it’s origin until a few moments ago.  I think what it comes down to is that I’m bored with the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of life right now.  Are you familiar with this cycle?  Of course you are, especially if you’re a parent.  I know I’m not alone because I saw a meme just today that read, “Do you want to know what it’s like to have kids? 1. Gather everything you own.  2. Throw it all on the floor.  3. Pick it up. 4. Repeat for infinity.”  I’m not sure what’s exacerbating the issue, as it’s not like I’m a new stay-at-home-mom.  Perhaps the combination of increased time indoors due to colder temps, or the stage of my six-month-old’s eating habits (feeding baby mush gets tiring), or the fact that my to-do list seems to be never-ending (even worse, at times, never-starting)?  I can’t say that I know for sure, but the only thing that’s going to change it is my attitude, which brings me to Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.

Have you seen Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium?  I don’t understand why the film has such a low rating?  As far as kids movies go, it’s quite endearing.  I only recently had the opportunity to watch it.  I don’t know how I’ve managed to not see it until now, as it’s been out for almost 10 years.  I wish I could say it’s because my children hardly watch TV, but that’s hardly the case.  I digress.  The movie has a line that struck both my eight-year-old daughter and I as powerful.  In the scene, Dustin Hoffman, who plays Mr. Magorium, is saying farewell to his assistant, played by Natalie Portman.  In his final goodbye he tells her, “Your life is an occasion.  Rise to it.”  And so it is.

I need to rise to it.  I need to make my life more than wash, rinse, repeat.  Don’t get me wrong, I get that life is made up of such things.  But the only way it’s going to be more than that is if I rise up and do something more.  Then the question remains, “How?”  How does one rise to the occasion?  If we take an actual occasion, such as a birthday, then we get ourselves spiffy,we eat our favorite foods, we spend time with loved ones, and, if we’re hosting a shin-dig, we pull out our coordinating paper plates and napkins.  Not gonna happen.  My daily life is going to have to be a different type of occasion.

I’ve pondered much on what I’m seeming to miss these past few days.  I thought if I turned the word “rise” into an acronym it might help me in the future, should I start to slip into the doldrums again.  So, here it goes, my best guess at what I need to make my life an occasion, or rather, make the most of each day: R – recommit; I – initiate; S – savor; E – evaluate.

This is the biggest one for me right now.  I’m sort of floundering lately.  I need to recommit myself to productivity.  For example, right now I have things around the house that have been sitting on my To-Do list for so long that I’ve stopped taking them seriously.  I look at the list, rationalize why now isn’t the best time to do such a task, and return to my mindless social media scrolling.  The killer is that even though I think I’ve escaped the chore, the weight of not doing it is so heavy that it’s taken away from the joy I could be feeling had I accomplished the task.  You may be thinking, “but aren’t chores a part of the wash, rinse, repeat cycle?”  They are, you’re right.  But maybe if I recommitted to their value in my life and adjusted my attitude, then I could escape the feeling of captivity that I’ve been associating with the endless cycle?  My baby step on this item is to recommit by doing 15 minutes of an activity today that I’ve been putting off from my list.  My hope is that I will feel better for having accomplished something beyond knowing what a random person “liked” on Facebook today.  I chose a 15 minute increment because my Mom used to say to me, “I can do anything for a short amount of time.”

This one might be different for everyone.  When I think initiate, I think of an activity that is most therapeutic for me, which is spending time with loved ones.  Others may need to initiate an outdoor activity or a workout into their day.  I admit, I should probably initiate more of those activities as well.  However, I personally benefit most from the relationships in my life.  I feel edified after spending time with my loved ones as we talk about matters of everyday life.  That’s what I need to initiate.  A text, an e-mail, a phone call; these things initiate opportunities to strengthen my relationships; which I deem as one of my highest priorities.

When I think of savoring something, I imagine having to slow down to do so.  So, the S in R.I.S.E. may be interchanged with slow down, if you so choose.  I did look up the word though and there is no connection with savoring requiring time to be fully accomplished.  In fact, my favorite definition for the word was, “to give oneself to the enjoyment of.”  We could stop with the letter S and call ourselves good.  That is what I need right now.  I need to give myself to the enjoyment of life.  Prior to looking up the word though, I intended for this to be a reminder that I need to slow down and take in the beauty I do have before me.  I can choose to focus on all the dishes in my sink that I will have to wash all over again tomorrow or I can savor the moment that my boys play on the floor together or my girls come in the door from school giggling about their days events.  Granted the floor playing isn’t always peaceful and my girls sometimes come in the door distraught from their day, but inevitably there are a couple moments each day that, if the appropriate background music could be added, would be suitable for the last couple minutes of Parenthood when life seems to be savored more fully and everything seems right in the world.

::COMMERCIAL BREAK:: Speaking of Parenthood, I certainly took the time to savor their series finale last night.  It was so good.  I’m going to miss that show so much.  I almost didn’t want to start the series finale because I knew it would come to and end and I wasn’t ready.  It reminded me of when I’m reading a good book and I can’t put it down, but I try to slow down my reading just to prevent it from ending.  ::BACK TO YOUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING::

When all is said and done, evaluating is key.  I knew something was afoot with me all week.  Moments of anxiety were happening for no particular reason and I just seemed to have a bit of a cloud over me.  I’m still not sure I know exactly what triggered the feelings, but I’ve never been afraid to evaluate my situation to find out.  I like playing devil’s advocate with myself.  I tend to learn a lot of “not-so-pretty” motivations behind my actions and behavior sometimes, but I think it’s important to face the “not-so-pretty” in an effort to make one’s life something more.  The sooner you can understand yourself, the sooner you can begin to fix the kinks you may be facing at the time.  I’ve learned that my comfortableness in evaluating myself is a strength that has brought me great peace.  It’s been so valuable that it’s one of the motivating factors behind this blog.  As we evaluate our personal needs and desires, we can begin moving forward in obtaining them in a healthy manner.

So, today is a new day.  Wish me luck, as I R.I.S.E. to the glorious occasion that is my life.

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Actively Engaging in Relationships

The following post was originally published on Over the Big Moon earlier this year.  I was still pregnant at the time.  This is a perfect post to piggyback last week’s post on being Purposefully Kind.  Reading this post again reminded me how I need to recommit myself to this endeavor.

The larger portion of the year 2010 was a particularly difficult time in my life.  Feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness were all too familiar to my daily routine.  One day in February
of that year, a small package arrived in the mail addressed to me with the return address containing my own address and the sender’s name noted as Secret Friend.  Inside was a little note and a package of Godiva chocolates.  I don’t do well with mysteries, but I did quite well with the delicious gift.  My spirit had been lifted in that moment.  I tried to get to the bottom of who the sender might be, but could not figure it out.  Then March came around and I received another package in the mail sent in the same fashion.  I was so touched and still so mystified.  I even started to analyze the handwriting with other cards I had received in the past.  I remain stumped.  Then April brought a spiritual message and May brought a thoughtful gift for Mother’s Day.  The remaining months of 2010 were each filled with a package or note being sent to me from my Secret Friend.  Then in January 2011, my final package arrived informing me that my year with my Secret Friend had drawn to a close.  I never did figure out who the sender was; although I have an inkling.  What I do know was that I looked forward to those arrivals.  I felt of the love this woman had for me in a time where I felt so unlovable.  I felt the joy that comes from friendship and small acts of kindness.

The treasured gift of friendship and our role in nurturing those relationships is what I wanted to share today.  This has been at the forefront of my mind, as I am homesick for many of my friends who live far away.  Plus, as I have been struggling through the roller coaster of pregnancy emotions, I have realized again how crucial friendships are in my life.  Sadly, I have done little to nurture those friendships that bear the burden of being long distance.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve lulled myself in to believing that following people on Facebook and Instagram is sufficient in keeping a friendship alive.  As I’m sure you know, this is not the case.  Nurturing friendships requires more than observing another’s life through what they choose to share on social media.  However, at the same time, it may surprise you the impact you can make in a friendship through even the smallest of acts.  The operative word being acts.  Nurturing a friendship, or relationship of any kind, requires action.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but perhaps a reminder to actively engage with our friends is needed.  I know I need it.  Having moved out of state a year and a half ago from everything I had ever known, I have watched as friendships have slipped by the wayside.  I’m quite familiar with the three types of friends we encounter in life – those we have for a reason, those we have for a season, and those we have for a lifetime.  The thing is, I have a lot of lifetime friends that I have failed to actively engage with since moving away.  It’s not in my nature to do this, so it’s been disheartening to me.  Part of me wonders if I’ve stopped nurturing these friendships out of pure laziness or out of protecting myself (you know how sometimes connecting with somebody makes you miss them more)?  Regardless, I’ve learned that not only do I need these lifetime friends in my life, I want to feed these relationships in the same manner that I have been so richly blessed – with surprise packages, thoughtful texts, a shoulder to cry on, or a phone call just because.
The beauty of a friendship is that nurturing it doesn’t have to be filled with grandiose things.  Oscar Wilde said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”  How true that statement is!  I had the pleasure this past week of catching up with one of those above mentioned lifetime friends.  It seems silly to think that a phone call qualifies as an act of kindness, but boy did it fill my heart with more joy than I anticipated.  I laughed so freely as we went on and on about all the craziness of life.  How grateful I am that we had a moment to actually talk rather than merely intend to call one another.  I was also blessed to receive a call from another friend who lives miles away, though we did not have the opportunity to catch up, who just wanted to chat.  I felt of the love of these women despite the many miles between us.

I think what it comes down to is that things have been rather tough for me as of late.  This pregnancy has not served my emotions well.  And I’m learning how blessed I have been to have such beautiful friends placed in my life to help lighten my load and increase my joy.  These friends, whether they know it or not, are re-inspiring me to actively engage in the world around me.  Each kind gesture brings me the same feelings of love that I felt with those monthly packages I received back in 2010.  I want to be better about returning that same joy and hope to friends and family.  I’ve grown tired of caring for relationships superficially.  So, please share with me those acts of kindness that you have either given or received that enriched your relationships.  My goal is to engage more fully with the many wonderful people that have been placed in my path.
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The Truthiness About Strength

I have to laugh.  The quote that’s been on my mind lately is Steve Maraboli’s quote that, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”  I’m sure you could guess why that quote has been on my mind based on my post from last week A Stroke of Luck. I had full intentions of writing a post around this quote, only to find that I already did a similar post back in June called Strength and Purpose from Our Trials, which compliments and references yet ANOTHER post Finding Happiness Amongst Trials.  You think maybe I have a strong opinion on the matter of trials in our lives?  I guess it’s a good point of view to have, as many people have been telling me that I’m such a strong person in regards to my recent news.  The remarks got me thinking though, what qualifies someone as strong, as I certainly don’t consider myself such a person?

In trying to answer that question for myself, I analyzed how I was handling all the events of the past couple weeks.  I still came up without answers.  So, I decided to contemplate how a weak person handles things?  Perhaps I don’t know a weak person to reference, as I was still stumped.  Does a weak person cry?  If so, then I am weak, as I sobbed hysterically when they told me I had had a stroke.  I saw no point crying over the prospect of the tumor, as it’s level of concern had not yet been determined.  As a side note, I have since received word that my tumor did appear on the MRI from two years ago and is the same size now as it was then.  This means that the tumor is deemed as stable and I will now receive annual MRIs to ensure it stays that way.  So, you see, there was no sense in crying.  I was worried, of course, but I think that’s understandable.  I imagine a weaker person worries.  This leaves me 2 for 2 in the weak department.  However, people kept telling me I was strong.  Is that just something someone says to make you feel like you can handle the scariness of the unknown?  I genuinely wanted to know so I asked a dear friend of mine her thoughts.  As any kind friend would, she said lots of nice things about me and indicated that I was, in fact, strong.  Her thinking was that I had been through a lot in my life thus far and didn’t seem to let it get me down.  I also got remarks about how some marveled that I would be out and about doing stuff so soon after my baby was born and shortly after the stroke and tumor news.  So, I’m deducing a positive outlook and movement is the sign of a strong person.

So, lets talk about a positive attitude.  I hardly consider myself an optimist.  That’s always been my husband’s role in our relationship.  I rarely think positive when it comes to matters of my own.  But I am quick to see the best case scenario for someone else.  Does anybody else do this?  The times when I do feel at peace or seem to have an it’s-all-gonna-be-okay attitude are when I have spent much time on my knees in prayer.  My positive attitude comes from answered prayers and the comfort and love felt from my Heavenly Father and my dear friends and family.  It is not my own doing.  And, if I do seem to have a positive outlook on a difficult event in my life, it is because I believe 100% that every trial I have faced has made me stronger for the next.  Maraboli’s quote is truthiness.  And, in case you’re wondering, truthiness is a word.  Go ahead and click on the word for proof.  Thanks, Stephen Colbert, for getting this word officially added to the dictionary.  It should have been there all along and that’s truthiness.  Alas, I digress.  Oops. I just realized that if Maraboli’s quote is truthiness, which it is, then I am strong; or at least stronger.  I am not stronger from any magical thing that I am doing.  I am stronger by enduring each trial.  This means that each of us grows stronger day by day with each hit we take and get back up from afterwards.  Certainly, I am not the only one experiencing trials in life.

Although, I imagine the key to becoming stronger after a trial would be the whole get-back-up part.  This brings me to the topic of movement as a sign of strength.  Yes, I have been doing my best to keep moving as though nothing has happened.  Who wouldn’t?  A full recovery from a stroke tends to bring the marvelous abilities of a healthy body in to perspective.  Just being able to sign your name or brush your teeth seems to have a whole new appreciation.  So, yes, I’m going to get out there and use this full-recovery-stroke body I have.  That’s one reason that I keep moving.  The other reason that I keep moving may seem confusing to someone who considers themselves as weaker.  I’ve spoken to a couple people on this matter and they told me that if it were them they would just hide in their home.  Well, I suppose hiding in their home would be the method that would bring them comfort.  The thing with me is that hiding in my home tends to bring me down.  I don’t go out and do do do because I’m strong.  I go out and do because that is my medicine.  That’s what I have to do for myself to keep my sanity when life has me down.  I will admit that there are many times that I do choose to hide in my home and let myself throw my very own pity party.  I am quite good at hiding out so no one has to deal with Debbie Downer Sara when the time comes.  But, overall, if I want to feel better, getting out and moving is my therapy, because life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.  Thanks, Albert Einstein, for that quote.  Oh, and thanks for all that other cool physics stuff you came up with too.  Much obliged.

So, if the conclusion is that strength comes from a positive outlook and moving, then I am surrounded by people that are stronger than they realize.  Because aren’t we all trying to survive the challenges of the day?  Sometimes our days have harder challenges than others and sometimes we handle our challenges gracefully and sometimes we sit and pout.  However, I think if you’re facing each day, then you’ve got enough positive attitude left in you to believe that things can improve and you’ve got enough movement in you to give that day’s challenges a go.  And, as life tends to do, things do improve and the movements become easier.  Then you’ve done it, you’ve come out stronger and more resilient.  So, while I still contest my being strong, I do consider myself stronger.  And that’s the truthiness about strength.

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Strength and Purpose from Our Trials

The topic on my mind this week might be considered a delicate topic by some.  It’s something that I ponder often.  So much so that I suppose it’s no surprise that it compliments a previous post I wrote almost a year ago entitled Finding Happiness Amongst Trials.  I genuinely appreciate trials.  Perhaps not in the midst of the trial itself, but I do strive to find the silver lining even in the moment.  However, today I wanted to speak about finding purpose in the aftermath of our trials.

I was recently writing a piece about my battle with depression and Bi-Polar Type II.  A friend was proofing my work and questioned one of my remarks.  My sentence read, “Thankfully, I’ve learned that each high and low I have faced has strengthened me and equipped me for a healthier future.”  Her comment in the margins was, “Is this honest?  Sounds a bit too good to be true.”  I can answer without hesitation that it is 100% honest.  I abhor the lows of my Bi-Polar Type II.  That is how intensely painful those moments feel to me.  I feel legitimately check-me-in-to-a-mental-facility crazy in my times of darkness.  BUT, when I am able to come up for air and see clearly again, I find I am stronger.  Even more rewarding than seeing those moments through until I am back in the light, is the level of empathy it has provided me.  Prior to this personal struggle of mine, I had zero understanding of the pain and heartache that depression and mental illness can bring upon an individual.  It was not until I was able to experience extreme highs and lows in a short period of time that I was truly able to see how deceiving such an illness can be.  Deceiving in the sense that you will come across someone who seems perfectly happy and fine, but struggles silently with unseen darkness within.  This is why I find it so crucial that we Have a Merciful Heart.  It probably does sound too good to be true that I am able to find the good in such pain.  I didn’t always feel that way.  It’s taken time for me to understand that all of these trials are for my betterment AND that enduring these trials has afforded me the opportunity to be there for others who have or are suffering similarly.

The ability to be there for others is one of the greatest blessings that has come from all of my trials, whether they be big or small.  I just don’t see how enduring through our trials should be an isolated event.  When appropriate, I find that sharing our trials and how we “survived” them helps alleviate others who are going through similar difficult times.  I know I am grateful for the men and women who have been courageous enough to share their trials and tales of perseverance with me.  They have strengthened me.  The one that comes to my mind right now, probably because I am at the tail end of my pregnancy, is a friend of mine who shared her story of being on bed rest.  With my past two pregnancies, I was sentenced to bed rest.  I say “sentenced” because my personality does not thrive in such situations.  My husband always jokes about the irony of how women are more likely to be ordered on bed rest and how they seem to detest it.  He assures me that a man ordered to bed rest would gladly embrace day after day of watching TV and playing video games.  Alas, I digress.  When struggling with being on bed rest, my friend shared her experiences on bed rest.  She had to be flat on her back in a hospital for multiple weeks.  She was not allowed to sit up at all.  She told me that the first meal brought to her hospital room was spaghetti.  “How am I supposed to eat spaghetti laying down?!,” she said laughing.  Then she shared with me how her sister came and shaved her legs while she was bedridden.  She spoke of all the numerous services that were performed on her behalf that she struggled with accepting.  She spoke to my inner struggle at the time.  She encouraged me to graciously accept all the acts of service that I was receiving and not feel guilty about them, as I had been.  How grateful I was for her sharing her trial with me and confirming that I would get through it and soon I would laugh about it all.  And, of course, she was right.  That is just one of countless stories that has brought me peace and hope during a trial.  My prayer is that I have been able to lift another similarly by sharing my own struggles with them.  If for no other reason than lifting another in their time of need, I am grateful for the trials I have endured.

I want to share one last story with you on this matter.  It is the story that I read this week that inspired this topic in the first place.  This is the story of Antoinette Tuff, a 47-year-old bookkeeper at an elementary school in Georgia, and Michael B. Hill, a 20-year-old armed with an AK-47 who entered that same elementary school on August 20, 2013.  Hill encountered Tuff inside the school and Tuff quickly learned that Hill had stopped taking his medications and no longer wanted to live.  Tuff calmly responded to Hill saying, “I thought the same thing.  I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, but look at my now.  I’m working and everything is OK.”  Tuff’s remarks soothed Hill and he relinquished his weapon and not a single person was injured that day.  If you want to read more about Tuff’s story, she wrote a book called Prepared for a Purpose. I have not read the book myself, I read about this story in the February 2014 Costco Connection magazine.  In the magazine article it states that, “Now when Tuff looks back, she sees the struggles of her past in a new and more meaningful light.”

I share her feelings.  It’s not that I enjoy the trials when I’m in the middle of them.  It’s that I’ve learned to appreciate their purpose in my life and perhaps in the lives of those around me.  I have become fully aware of their strengthening powers.  I love how Steve Maraboli puts it in his book Life, the Truth, and Being Free, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”  How true that statement is and how grateful I am for a stronger and more resilient me.

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