20 April 2022

What I Wish I Knew About Mental Health #2.2

Welcome to part two! Thank you for being here and braving through this tough subject with me.

Now that we've gone over some misconceptions and I've bared my soul to the world, we can talk about healing.

** T/W trauma, mental illness **

**I am not a licensed mental health professional (yet) I am simply sharing my journey through struggles and my own studies. Please contact your doctor or a mental health professional if you need help **

I wrote in the last post that my journey is not the golden standard of what it's like to live affected by PTSD, and I want to emphasize this because healing is so subjective and what might work for one person may not work for another. I found my solace in hiking nearly everyday after my divorce. I learned to breathe deeper, to count and to notice the small things, and to drink in the view at the top of the climb. Or to put simply; breathe, be thankful, and celebrate victories. 

As great as the benefits are, this would be a terrible healing strategy for someone who hates to hike, which, in the PNW, is right up there in rarity as seeing a local use an umbrella. If you know, you know.

There is no "golden standard" or "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to healing in a healthy way, but there are unhealthy practices in a healing journey, namely, making assumptions.  

The worst of the worst of things that someone can do is assume, and unfortunately assumptions run rampant, and have really deep roots. The thing that makes assumptions so dangerous is they are divisive. Like lies, they fool many people into thinking they're not loved, that there's no hope, and that things won't get better. Some assumptions are honest mistakes, or they're made from the heart of wanting to be helpful. But many times, because of misinformation, the assumption will ultimately keep one stagnant in their healing journey, regardless of who is making them.

*You know what "assume" does right?*

The biggest mistake I see when people talk to someone who is healing and working through a trigger, is they assume the traumatized individual needs a hero. This can go the other way too, where a traumatized individual feels like the only way they can get better is if someone else does the heavy lifting because they feel like they're not strong enough. How great would it be to have someone step in and take all the weight, offer the greatest advice, and solve all the problems so they aren't triggered anymore? Sometimes, admittedly, I wish this were plausible. But there's a wonderful alternative that yields even better results and the opportunity to grow. 

It all starts when you realize that you have a choice.

I can choose to heal and do the work and heavy lifting, to be my own hero, because to not choose is to choose misery. To have someone else do the heavy lifting is being robbed of the opportunity to refine your character, becoming stronger, and having the satisfaction of saying "I did that."

I'm not saying that you can "think" your way out of a trigger, because there isn't much one can do when the brain is reacting in its rewired way. But you absolutely have a choice in how to respond to your trigger. The beauty of it is that in making the choice to heal over and over — to breathe, be thankful, and celebrate — your beautiful brain creates a new breathing, thankful, celebratory pathway and it becomes easier to make the choice each time. The pathway eventually becomes second nature. It's really this simple.

When I say simple, I don't mean easy. Nothing about healing is easy. But it's as simple as making the choice to show up and be willing to feel weak as you sit with your pain for a while, so you can walk out as the warrior you were made to be. 

This is why it's absolutely silly to assume that triggers are weaknesses, because they aren't. They are purely a response from a brain rewired to be hypervigilant. Essentially, the amygdala, a small almond-shaped part of the brain, is conditioned to react to any stimulus that it perceives as threatening by throwing out the stress hormone cortisol, in abnormally high quantities. It isn't a matter of whether someone is "really healed" but rather how the person is literally at the mercy of their altered brain chemistry. Because of this, triggers make for poor indicators as to where a person is in their healing journey. A traumatized individual can make the decision to forgive, go to counseling, practice mindfulness and other prescribed exercises, but it takes a very long time for the brain to adjust its chemistry. 

It's all brain science folks.

The only thing assumptions have ever been good at is robbing someone of the chance to connect on a spirit-deep level. Assumptions fuel the fire of pride in the individuals that want to help, while simultaneously watering down the hope of the hurting. 

"I can fix them. I give great advice."

"If people knew what I really thought about, they wouldn't want to get close to me."

It is imperative to cast assumptions aside. Instead, focus on these truths:

Triggers do not make you weak, nor are they indicators of failed healing. The progress is evident in how you handle your triggers and the choices you make, not in how your changed brain chemistry reacts to stimuli you can't control. Don't bleed on others just because you're cut. Your triggers do not make your choice to heal counterfeit. Your decision to forgive your offender is genuine, even on days where forgiveness feels so far out of reach. Trauma validity is not a matter of opinion, because what happened and how it affects you is real. Healing has its good days and bad days. One bad day doesn't mean you aren't healing, it's all a part of the process; there's a reason why it's called a healing journey.

You cannot "fix" someone who is hurting, but you can love them through it; choose to listen to their story if they feel comfortable sharing and make an effort to remember their triggers. Love them by waiting for them to open up in their own time, because it isn't about you. Choose patience over the need to know. To do otherwise is to rob them of important growth moments. 

It's hard to heal and it's hard watching someone you love heal, but regardless, you are not alone. Refuse to make an island out of yourself, because there are people who have gone through things you have, and they do understand. Let people in and watch them surprise you with their abounding love, and let it soften your heart.

There is an exception to the rule, and I've said it before, but if you assume anything, assume you don't have the full story. You can absolutely be helpful to someone without knowing every detail. Choose grace when emotions are high. Choose gratitude, especially on the dark days. Above all, choose compassion; trauma is painful and a little compassion goes a long way. 

I know this is all much easier said than done, but the beauty of it is that it does get easier the more you do it. Healing takes time. Healing is a practice, there will be ups and downs. It is not a destination, it is a journey. It takes lots of love, especially for yourself. There's a lot more healing found when you're vulnerable with the people you trust. I've found that to be true.

Really, it all boils down to making the choice. 

~Listening to Healing by Riley Clemmons

19 April 2022

What I Wish I Knew About Mental Health #2.1

If I had to list things I wish I knew about mental health going into my 20's, knowing more about triggers before I experienced them would be on the list. I don't like being caught off-guard, and triggers have flipped my life upside down in many ways. 

The unfortunate reality is triggers are complicated and messy. It takes time  and lots of it  to know how to work through them as the healing process advances. Though complicated and messy, I'll try my best to address them and their common misconceptions, while sharing some of my own experiences, in two parts. (And a bonus third part because the inspiration struck.)

** T/W su*cide, self-h*rm, trauma, mental illness **

**I am not a licensed mental health professional (yet) I am simply sharing my journey through struggles and my own studies. Please contact your doctor or a mental health professional if you need help **

My sister and I talk about triggers often, because she also struggles with PTSD. She described in a recent conversation how she felt after listening to a song, that she felt like she was "back there." She was hesitant to call it a trigger because her understanding of being triggered was that it's solely a movie-like flashback in her head, like we see on TV. 

"It brings up difficult emotions," she wrote in her text to me. "Haven't listened to [the song] since freshman year. Would that be considered a trigger???" (Yes she used 3 question marks leave her alone.) "I didn't have a flashback but I feel like I'm back there."

"w h a t" she responded when I told her it's absolutely a trigger.

Two major things came to mind after having this conversation, both having to do with the proverbial "they." Media has a huge impact on how people understand the world, and the way media portrays PTSD perpetuates that, one, it's an illness that's exclusively experienced by combat veterans, and two, that being triggered is only experienced as vivid flashbacks and acting out in a breathless daze. 

So, spoiler alert, there are several ways to experience being triggered and PTSD is a diagnosis for ✨everyone✨ It's inclusive that way.  

The history of mental illness portrayal in movies and TV shows is laughable. Not to say there aren't gems out there with an excellent story and accurate representation, but generally, neurotypical individuals write the stories with second or third-hand experiences. This isn't an inherently bad thing, but unfortunately, this means the general etiquette  trigger warnings, excluding self-harm/suicide on-screen etc.  is not on the forefront of their mind and is often forgotten. The point here is not to blame the media for all the misconceptions about PTSD and triggers, it doesn't even have anything to do with how it perpetuates stereotypes, but rather, there's an abundance of misinformation out there. As a soon-to-be art therapist and someone who struggles with these things daily, it's endlessly frustrating.

There are important distinctions to make when addressing triggers and what it means to be triggered. Triggers, to the untrained eye, are innocuous  a smell, a person's name, a specific place. There's nothing inherently dangerous about these things, but to someone who has been traumatized, those seemingly innocuous stimuli can leave the person feeling terrified and helpless. 

Responses to triggers are dependent on the individual and how they perceived their traumatic experience. Physiological responses such as an elevated heart rate or upset stomach are possible symptoms of being triggered. To become anxious or afraid in the face of a trigger is also very common.  In my case, I'll usually feel as if the thought follows me around like a dense cloud, which commonly results in mental fog and extreme irritability for the rest of the day. Sometimes this can last for a few days, if the trigger is really intense. I call these "hornet thoughts" because these thoughts sting over and over and over...

*I know it isn't my job to ask God "why" but I have a few questions about the creation of hornets. And mosquitoes, like what is their job in the world's ecosystem other than carrying disease and being an absolute nuisance??*

Responses are not a one-size-fits-all because trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. As it's commonly understood, combat violence is traumatic. But so are car accidents, or even childbirth. As more research comes out, there is scientific evidence supporting that intimate betrayal, such as an affair, in a committed relationship can encourage the onset of PTSD. The triggers in relation to these events will be different. 

Because of my divorce (read my previous post), I've had difficulty watching crime TV shows, which is a bummer because I love a good murder mystery. But those TV shows will almost, if not always, have scenes where a character is on trial in a courtroom. This is one of my triggers.

There are instances where I can get past the anxiety with quiet prayers and deep breathing, but there are other instances where it's just not possible. I sit at the mercy of my altered brain chemistry, as the TV show brings me back to my first experience in a courtroom, the morning after my ex-husband was arrested. In these moments, I can almost smell the matted carpets and old wooden benches. 

I'm reminded of details I haven't thought about it a very long time. Sights, smells, sounds. Feelings. Mostly embarrassment; I was the wife of the accused, hardly able to hid my sobs as he was shuffled out wearing handcuffs and navy blue like the other inmates. Not only were eyes on me as I cried ugly tears, a victim to his crimes was on the other side of the same bench I sat on. I wanted to tear out of my skin. 

The trigger doesn't stop there. I'm reminded of a separate hearing, where there were more victims present. I remember my thoughts. Angry, embarrassed. I desperately wanted privacy in my life, but I was realizing that was no longer an option in that season. The victims snickered as we prayed together before the hearing. The hate in the air was thick, suffocating, and I wanted out of the building. I couldn't figure out why I was so torn up, even though I wasn't the one on trial. I wanted to die. I wanted peace.

I'm reminded of the heat from my face, the bouncing in my leg, my restless, shaky hands. The burning tears I held back. 

I will not cry I will not cry I will not cry I will not cry.

I need to stay strong. Everyone is counting on me to be strong. He's counting on me to be strong. I cannot and will not break. He needs my help. I must stay strong.

I couldn't have been happier when the hearing was finally over. I don't remember most of the night afterwards. Trauma is like amnesia at times, though the 2 shots of tequila on an empty stomach followed by several beers probably didn't help. Grief makes you do funny things. Stupid things. It was definitely not my proudest moment. This is where the trigger amplifies my embarrassment.

As I navigate the embarrassment, it becomes a sort of flashback, both memories replaying at the same time, pulling in other moments, good or bad, anything that relates to the courtroom scene. My brain is whizzing at a million miles an hour, my heart painfully palpitates in my chest. Frustration, white hot in my face. I can't catch a good breath. The night only comes with lucid nightmares. My thoughts, doubts of my progress. Repeating to myself that healing isn't linear, that I'm safe now. I know the science like the back of my hand, but that doesn't make it hurt less. I wish it did. I wish for an end, frustrated that I need to ride it out like a boat on a restless sea.

And all of this is happening because I had to sit through the stupid scene about the stupid courtroom on the stupid TV show that I can't stop watching because the stupid story is just so good. (I was about to call myself stupid here but we don't do self-deprecation over here at Bee Happy. Self-deprecation is for sissies.)

I don't share to get sympathy or pity because I share from a place of healing, not grief or pain or even bitterness. Do my thoughts come out pain-soaked and bitter? Sure. Being triggered is a raw, emotional process, and many of my triggers are rooted in a very bitter season, where every thought was muddled with grief, shame, betrayal, and a lot more. I'm still processing. But I'm healing. I'm choosing to forgive, which has made me able to share this today. I'd call that a victory. Though this be a victory, it doesn't make it any less difficult to share. 

As small a window this is into PTSD and triggers, it's a very real window. Being triggered is far more complicated than being uncomfortable or offended. Rooted deeper than trivial irritants, triggers are exhausting, messy, and ruthless. The body is put into fight-or-flight, bracing for impact, even at the slightest hint of possible danger. This piece of my heart I've shared is just a fraction of what I experience, as I have several triggers, and my story is not the golden standard of what it's like to experience these things. Even if I had known what it was like to experience triggers before going into my 20's, I don't think it would have made a significant difference; again, it's complicated and messy.

With that said, don't do your loved ones, or yourself, a disservice by basing your understanding of mental health off of movies and TV shows, because stereotypes write the scripts. Have grace, extend love, and listen. We'll be talking more about that in the next post, so stay tuned. 

~My sister did talk to her therapist about our conversation and I'm happy to report that it was a good session. 

07 January 2022

Divorce is Not a Dirty Word

When I opened up more about my divorce on my personal Instagram, I was shocked by the amount of positive feedback I received.  

As a Christian, the "d" word is evil, at least that's what I grew up hearing. You don't talk about it, you don't think about it, because you need to follow through with the commitment and the covenant you made on your wedding day, regardless. Heavy on the regardless.

So naturally, conflict brewed when I realized I wanted a divorce.

I'm not sharing names and I'm not getting into great detail, because that's not what this is about. I have long forgiven my ex-husband for his mistakes, and he has paid for them, dearly. I'm simply sharing my point of view in a story I've kept quiet about for a long time. Despite my frustrations, I am not here to point fingers  though it may seem like that because I've had my fill of the church's view of diVoRcE, and for that, I apologize in advance.

All I ask is that you remain patient with me. I'm still healing. This is still relatively fresh, and I'm doing my best to share what happened without dragging people through the mud, especially my ex-husband. It's not my place, and none of my business. He's been through the mud already.

Without further ado, buckle up lol.

**T/W mental health, suic*de, self h*rm**

On the outside looking in, my divorce was sudden and without explanation. 

Behind closed doors, it was a different story. 

I was a victim. My peace was robbed from me, my security ripped out from under me, my trust shattered. My marriage bed was defiled because of the years of emotional ties my ex-husband had made with private stolen photos. As someone who was a tech whiz and worked in IT, he had access to these photos  women who entrusted their device with him, women we knew, who watched us say our "I do's" and who shared meals with us around our dinner table. 

There was an unspeakable weight many elephants in the room, crammed into the two bedroom apartment we rented. They were addressed one by one, as he admitted only to what he got caught doing. This piece-meal disclosure of each woman he stole photos from went on for six months. Legally there are about 17; overall, I stopped counting at 25. This is why I was diagnosed with PTSD.

During those six months, I lost many friends and my privacy was invaded. Detectives searched our apartment for digital storage devices. I had to call the cybercrimes unit at the police station to get my laptop and hard drive back before I started my next college semester that fall. Photos of me on my ex-husband's phone were disclosed to the detectives. I grieved. For my lost trust and defiled intimacy, and though completely unrelated, I grieved for my patient who died  I no longer had a job.

The one person I thought I could count on for anything was the problem; my lifeline, the person I was with one spirit and one flesh, turned out to be unstable. I had no one to turn to.

Deceit was heavy, and years in the making. While I fell in love with his heart first, I still didn't know it. It made me doubt my intuition and my worth, and it made me feel invisible. Did he think about those photos when we were intimate? How often did he look at them? Was I not enough for him? Did I not satisfy him enough because he was looking at other women? Did he not trust me enough to tell me the whole truth? Am I trustworthy? Am I worthy?

I contemplated self-harm, like an itch that needed to be scratched. I wanted a permanent break from suffering, because I would have gone to Heaven, and the nightmare would have been over. I even had an idea of how I wanted to do it, that journal entry was titled "Barbiturates."

I am not proud of my thoughts during those hard months. 

I felt like an imposter anywhere I went anytime I laughed, anytime things were "good" or when I had to answer the question, "How are you?" because I knew once I said that I wasn't okay, the dam would burst. "I am not okay" didn't even begin to cover how I felt.

And while people rallied around my ex-husband while he faced the possibility of years in prison, I was fading away, withering into nothing. Like a fighter jet in a flat spin, destined for deadly impact.

The biggest assumptions about my decision to get a divorce was I made it too quickly, that I did it outside of biblical counsel, and I got it simply because he was in legal trouble with sexual motivation. This is simply not the case.

It's hard to describe exactly how I made my decision and what my process was. I hardly had the words at the time, even though I knew the reason why, which was this: A future with him was impossible because he broke his vows, and I was spiraling downward, fast. We were young, both under twenty-five, had no kids, no property, and by the time I made my decision to file, we hadn't even been married for a year. 

Above all else, after prayerful deliberation, I made my decision because God gave me the green light. 

God released me from the long and grueling fight. I battled opinions, doubts, made frustrating decisions and did the best I could to not dole out ultimatums, because initially I was very ready to make things work. I believed God would bring out a glorious testimony from our marriage, so I wasn't giving up. It was when God gave me the space to make a choice that divorce was an option I considered. He walked me up to a fork in the road, reassuring me that He would never leave my side, regardless of what I chose. His grace covered me as I made peace with what I knew was true. I was spent, and it became too much for me to carry. 

Starting over was the best thing to do. 

I share this not to gain sympathy, but to shed light on the tumultuous process that is divorce. I wish that it wasn't such a "dirty word" in the church. It was shocking to me, how many Christians told me that I wasn't doing what God wanted and that I needed to stay with him and work it out. That I made my decision without thinking about it. That God doesn't like divorce, as if they knew better. 

Yes, it's true. God doesn't like divorce. He doesn't like it because it is painful to go through, because it takes a lot of heartache and grief to arrive to the decision to separate from someone you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with, and consciously break the promise you made in front of God and your close friends and family. It's hard. It's embarrassing. It's even debilitating. That's why God doesn't like divorce. 

God also doesn't like sexual sin. Self-righteousness. Or gossip, yet there was a lot of gossip. The legal case and the divorce was talked about a lot. Oh, the irony. 

I didn't need people telling me what God wanted, because I talked with Him, and He gave me the choice. I didn't even need people to agree with my choice. I simply needed a safe place to break down, because the man I married was no longer my shelter. I needed someone to empathize, recognize, and acknowledge the pain I was going through, not to brush it aside because of the stigma.

Sure, there were good intentions, not to say that the church is stupid. My point is that in my experience, there was such a lack of grace from those who claimed to exemplify it, because I was now labeled a divorcee. So many stones, so many planks, not enough grace. This is not a jab at the church.

I will never say that I made the right decision. Only God knows, and I am but a small part in His workings, and my interpretation of what God wants will not always be right. But I will say that I made the best decision I could, and I made my decision in the eyes of God. Really, that is all that we can do.

I was reassured by God that I was secure in my decision when He gave me my warrior of peace, a man I am proud to call my husband, and then again when He gave us our son. As scary as it was to open up to someone new after such an intimate betrayal, my fear was not bigger than my trust in God. Just two weeks after the divorce was finalized, I was remarried, and it couldn't have been any more perfect.

At the end of the day, the opinions of others didn't and will not dictate or know the intimate relationship between my heart and God's heart for me. To assume otherwise is to assume oneself as knowing better than God. (Which is also something God doesn't like.)

We get so wrapped up in telling people what they need to do because the Bible says so, when we should be telling ourselves those things. We are too busy throwing stones, thinking we are sharing the Good News, as if we forgot the other part of that story, where Jesus, the only faultless individual who could throw a stone, didn't. 

*Yes, I just asked the age old question, "What would Jesus do?"*

Instructing others in how they need to handle a personal spiritual matter is best done when you love them through it. Be kind. Be gentle. Listen. It is not our job to make sure someone lives the way God wants them to  nor would you want that job because it's hard enough to do so ourselves  but it is our job to love others.

This is hard to share, still. The healing process is long, and contrary to popular belief, time does not heal all wounds. Tender work must be done to heal a tender heart. Time passes, separating us from the mess, but to heal is to do the work. 

Time will not return to me my sense of security, and it will not give me the peace that was robbed from me. Time will not give me the ability to make boundaries, and it will not wipe away doubts and opinions; it will not bring me wholeness. Oceans do not give us the ability to swim.

Like my grandfather always says, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him wear water wings. 

I guess the sagely piece of advice I have to impart is to be gentle. Cast assumptions aside. If you do assume anything, assume that you don't have the full story, because many battles are fought in private. Resist the urge to fix, to correct, to insert your opinion under the guise of it being biblical advice, especially in a time of crisis. The first thing to come out of your mouth should be this: "What do you need right now? I am here, I am listening."

Love them through it. Watch how your grace for others becomes transformative. The rest will surely follow.

~While "love is all you need" is a great sentiment, it clearly doesn't address the grave importance of toilet paper. 

Listening to: Adele's entire new album because wow my girl's done it again.

17 December 2021

If all of your friends were "doing it for the 'gram" would you ju- oh wait.

I have like 37 other drafts that I'm working on which is why I've decided to start something new. See how I am?

I'm struggling with discouragement, and I want to share this without sounding like a cross-stitched pillow in all of its infinite wisdom. "I don't know everything, I'm still a work in progress, I'm right where I need to be..." 

My biggest fear is that I share my brain for the internet to pick and unintentionally build this idea that I don't struggle through my struggles.

I remember hearing a pastor once say that what we see online is the highlight reel of a person's life, the perfectly manicured posts to match an aesthetic, to appeal to the masses, to gain followers, likes, comments... and we naturally compare it to every part of our life, including the nitty gritty parts.

It's very easy to see people share what seems like their heart and soul online and think they don't struggle, or when they do share their struggles, it's easy to fall into the trap of comparison. It is hard to not be cynical when we come across these things online because struggles aren't manicured. Chaos isn't organized. 

But picking up the pieces can be. I stress on the can because healing isn't linear and the steps to heal don't really have an order. Healing is often messy, but the testimony that comes out of healing, when all the pieces do come together, is where we can find the tidiness in chaos. 

That tidiness in the chaos often manifests itself into manicured posts online, where the word vomit and ideas are put together in a way that makes sense. 

An online presence is a very small window into the struggles that people face in their lives, so it is important to cast aside assumptions as the viewer, and to be as genuine as possible, without white-washing the truth and crossing the TMI line as a creator. (This is a very important line pls do not cross thiiiiiis.)

So here I am, sharing my mental health struggles and other shenanigans and stuff in the name of truth, honesty, and not "doing it for the 'gram." 

That being said, I'd like to get back to my point- discouragement has me tied up in knots this season. 

I'm discouraged while sorting old photos of me wearing clothes that are currently gathering dust in my closet. Discouraged as I look down at my loose skin covered in stretch-marked evidence of God's handiwork, the reason why the clothes I love are gathering dust. Discouraged by the way my motivation to work out has just disappeared. Discouraged by the lack of artwork I've made in the past month and a half because my son keeps me busy with sleep regressions and getting into literally everything. Discouraged that my ad revenue account is going to close soon because I didn't reach the ad interaction quota within a certain time frame. Discouraged because I'm told what I'm feeling isn't discouragement, but discontentedness, which makes me feel guilty. Discouraged by the fear of sharing this because I don't want to put out the wrong idea that I want sympathy or that I just want to complain.

I've been discouraged because my days just whiz by. I'm so busy, but I have literally no clue what I do all day??

*@ mama's with tiny humans, amirite?*

I don't know what to make of this type of busy. And I know busy, as a former full-time college student with part-time work while planning my wedding in 4 months while getting ready to move. I'm no stranger to getting 4 hours of sleep at a time, when my days consisted of 7 cups of coffee, dry shampoo, and murder. The busy I experience now is gallons of water (because breastfeeding), stretchy pants, and "hey where is his pacifier" or "did he poop today?" Busy, like hey, I can't ever remember to vacuum, and laundry is piling up, but at least I didn't cry today??

*Dry shampoo is also still definitely on this list.*

Sometimes I make banana bread with organic whole wheat flour after a beautiful dinner with all the trimmings. I'll spend the whole afternoon meal prepping and cooking dried beans with a Pinterest perfect Instant Pot recipe. Other times my husband and I will order pizza so we don't have to do dishes and then immediately regret it because we eat plant-based and we definitely got the cheesiest pizza on the menu. Sometimes I am consistent with watering and feeding my plants. Sometimes I'm really good at following through with my entire morning and night routines. Other times I just need to sit on the floor with my son for another half hour, singing silly songs and playing pattycake. Other times I really need to sleep in, skip breakfast and have an early lunch while my drooping plants stare sappily at me. 

A part of me is crushed, and I know a lot of it has to do with how easily I become irritable and annoyed by the littlest of things (thanks PTSD) and the other part of me is going "boo-freaking-hoo, life happens, roll with the punches, it won't be like this forever." 

But there is beauty to find in this, right? 

Well of course, I remind myself as I stare at my cluttered shelves and toy-strewn floor. I'm where I'm supposed to be, I remind myself. Your baby is healthy, I remind myself. You have more than you need, I remind myself. I've got a roof over my head, hot meals, and a warm bed. (lol that rhymes.)

As grateful as I am for these things, none of that acknowledges the suck I feel from the discouragement. 

In a culture prone to romanticizing pain and finding beauty in pain, it is hard to come by what is really needed, and that is to be seen in the struggle. To be told "you're where you're supposed to be" doesn't hold a candle to hearing "this sucks right now, and that's okay.

"What do you need right now?"

"This is tough, and what you are feeling is normal."

"The way you are experiencing the world does not define who you are."

"You are bigger than your experiences, but that doesn't make them any less real."

A little acknowledgement goes a long way. 

It would be nice if discouragement wasn't common, but because it is, we need to be better at encouraging others in a healthy way. Not to say that these cross-stitch statements aren't true, but we cannot ignore the bad if we want to make things good or make things better. Blanket positive statements without acknowledging the discouragement is not helpful or constructive because they diminish the very real feelings and circumstances a person is going through. To only focus on the good stuff and ignore the bad stuff is what we call ✨toxic positivity✨

understand this is where God has me. I understand things will get better. But things aren't "better" right now, because right now I could use a long hot shower and 5 minutes to myself where I'm not on high alert for a curious baby and extremely aware of my floordrobe I've been living from for the past week. For someone to not try to fix what is going on or tell me how I feel (which is never appropriate in any circumstance e v e r) but to just listen and tell me I'm not crazy for feeling this way. I don't need my struggles validated, I want them recognized for what they are; real and raw struggles.  

Discouragement sucks. Positive statements are good, but acknowledging what is real and in front of you and meeting yourself where you are at is even better. 

This is hard work. I do struggle. And that's okay.

~I can almost hear the little cries of my other drafts as I write this very small but very real glance into the season I find myself in. 

Listening to: Not Right Now by Jason Gray

06 November 2021

What I Wish I Knew About Mental Health #1

This is something that has been on my heart for a while. 

As it may be obvious based on my previous posts, talking openly about mental health is something that I feel very strongly about. I strive to be another voice in the battle against mental health stigmas, working towards a future where it won't be seen as an act of courage to be open about mental health struggles, where we can freely speak of mental illnesses in the same way we talk about other illness like cancer. 

In order for there to be a better understanding, there must be openness, on both sides; one side must be open to teach, while the other must be open to learn and cast aside all biases and assumptions. 

This is the first of many posts in a series I'm calling "What I Wish I Knew About Mental Health" where I will discuss a variety of topics such as treatment plans, the do's and don'ts of interacting with someone who has a mental illness, and to create avenues to resources for those who need help, or want to go into counseling as a career. In this series, I hope to shed some light on some issues that I face as a psych graduate with a disordered brain, while creating an atmosphere of welcomed questions and discussion. 

I will not be sugar coating, romanticizing, or white-washing anything discussed in these posts. My mission is to tell the truth, but not without love, grace, and sensitivity; the truth is that mental illness is a very real disability, and affects a tremendous amount of people around the globe. To tell anything short of the very real and raw truth is doing a lot of people a disservice, including myself. Because of the very raw nature of discussing mental health, there will be trigger warnings at the beginning of each post. 

To kick off this series, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce my own struggles, and where my heart is with the project.

*It is very important to note that these are personal experiences, and while I am training to be a licensed art therapist, none of what I write should be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your doctor or make an appointment with a licensed counselor or mental health professional if you feel that you need help.*

***T/W: suic*de, self-h*rm, s*xual trauma, nightmares.***

I have been diagnosed with depression, PTSD, and nightmare disorder, which is a type of parasomnia. I have been in mental health counseling since April of 2019 when I started noticing that I was experiencing symptoms of depression. I started with going once a week, then once every two weeks, then once a month, and now I go at least once every other week. My treatment plan is fairly fluid, and discussed often in my counseling sessions. I journal, read in my Bible, workout, and get outside as often as possible, though journaling has shown the best results in my healing process. I do not take meds, not because I'm anti-medication, these at-home treatments in conjunction with counseling just work for me.

My diagnosis for depression wasn't until November of 2019 when I started experiencing more symptoms, notably thoughts of self-harm and suicide. When I started imagining self-harm as if it were an itch that needed to be scratched, that was when I was really worried, and discussed a possible diagnosis with my counselor. Months later, around January/February of 2020, I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of my traumatic divorce due to intimate betrayal and sexual trauma. (Many details of that are stories for another day.) Nightmare disorder is my new diagnosis, as of early last week. I see now in hindsight (which is always 20/20...) this is something I've been aware of since the end of 2017, meaning I've been undiagnosed for four years. (Apparently dreaming exclusively about spiders, the world ending, casting demons out of things or places, and my trauma isn't normal???) Sometimes my brain likes to throw in something new, like horrible things happening to my son or my husband. (just to keep it spicy I guess..?)

As someone who is studying to become a licensed art therapist, not seeing the signs clearly has been frustrating for me. My PTSD and nightmare disorder diagnoses were not a surprise to me, once I was prompted. It was like the pieces all came together once it was brought to the front of my mind that there was a name for what I was feeling. I wasn't blissfully unaware of my symptoms, it was just frustrating to not see and name my experiences first. It has made me feel incompetent in my abilities as one who studies the subject.

I never thought anything of my dislike of sleep for four years, even as a full-time college student with a part time job and now as a mother of an infant. I didn't think anything of my anxiety right before bed, or that constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop was a trauma response. Four years, I thought that I was one of those weirdo adults that was afraid of the dark, but it turns out that it is also a symptom. These diagnoses have made me learn to have grace for myself, and further instill in me the importance of not leaning on self-diagnosis. It is a constant battle between the pride I take as someone who is educated, and the fact that I am not fit to diagnose my own problems.

So, that's me in three paragraphs.

Talk about fun, right? 

Even in the thick of my hardest days, I've never lost hope. I don't know if this is because I know the science behind mental illness, but I've been able to see the other side of things and keep my days in perspective. I have to try harder some days to find the silver lining, but I find it nonetheless. It's a responsibility and a privilege to find hope in dark days when the only thing you want to do is crawl into bed and do literally nothing. 

These struggles I face have only fanned the fire inside of me to be a part of the solution, to show people like me that they're not alone, and that their struggles are valid and very real, despite what others may say. 

I hope that this has been enlightening, and perhaps enjoyable (?) to read. In future posts, I'll go further into each of my diagnoses, what I like to do to find my hope, and answer questions if I get any. (I'm still getting maybe 20 people at most that read my posts, so we will see??)

~Leaps of faith are super scary but I'm doing it anywayyyyyyy.

18 August 2021

Living with PTSD: Grow or Suffer

Having mental health problems pushes you to make one of two choices: process and grow, or wallow and suffer. There is literally no in-between.

In my quest to heal from PTSD and depression, God revealed to me that I am to share my experiences, little bits at a time. "You will have your time to share your whole truth, but not yet." I struggle with this. A lot. I know that God has given me this great task to share my experiences by writing a book, but there is so much pressure to share tactfully because my story is tied up with the stories of others. 

All I know is that God doesn't want me to focus on details, names, exact dates or timelines, because He wants me to focus on how I'm becoming more like the woman He created me to be. Plus the lessons and growth are way cooler than the drudgery of trauma. The glow-up is more exciting than the grit.

A part of my healing process has stemmed from making and keeping boundaries. One of those boundaries I made was to not dwell on the details, because not all details are made equally, all while not rendering myself invisible.

*This is what we call a mental tug of war, and why people who have mental illnesses are exhausted even though it's likely they have physically done nothing. Not throwing shade, it just do be like that.*

Details are messy, and it's a headache to keep track of them. The moment I decided to not be bound to the details was when I found freedom. The messy details caused my PTSD in the first place, why would I keep track of them and be retraumatized in the process? My boundaries keep me from wasting time and energy. They keep me on the path of healing.

Unfortunately, boundaries aren't always enough to keep all triggers at bay.

For a long time, I hated the word "triggered" because of how loosely it is used out of context online. It's thrown around like it's a joke, so when someone is truly triggered by an actual traumatic event, it isn't taken seriously.

This is a tragedy. Not only is it insulting, it is very annoying.

Being triggered is almost a daily thing for me. Some things don't trigger me nearly as badly as they used to. A detail will sting for a little and I'm able to calmly work through it and move on. Then there are other triggers that are like bombs. These bombs vary. I typically experience one of two types; one goes off immediately, exploding in my face, and the other is like a time-bomb. The latter of the two is the worst. 

Time-bombs are sometimes not noticeable. You're reminded of a seemingly innocuous detail that used to bother you. You might even celebrate being able to breeze past the detail. Minutes go by, hours go by, sometimes a day or two, then it hits you. 

It leaves you doubting your intuition. How could I have not known? But the thing is, you did know, because you could almost hear the seconds counting down to the explosion. But you decided to push past it anyways, because celebrating growth is much easier to process. (Not to mention, way more fun.) There is relief when the smoke clears, but you only find that the smoke was keeping you from seeing the debris around you.

Time-bombs are the worst.

My most recent trigger was a time-bomb. Hours went by before I realized how affected I was by a seemingly harmless conversation. The conversation details are not important here, but rather how the trigger, like all other triggers, gave me those two choices; grow or suffer.

The trigger was a catalyst to self-discovery, as I recognized the bitterness I let into my heart. Choosing to grow meant extending grace and forgiveness in the hardest ways, praying for strength as God showed me the hardened parts of my heart, and how He can fix them. It was difficult and embarrassing to face the parts of me I thought I didn't have, the parts I thought had healed. 

Making the decision to grow or to suffer is really simple, because no one wants to suffer. However whether or not it is easy is an entirely different conversation. Simple decisions often require lots of work, but the pay off is priceless. The sick and twisted irony of having a mental illness is that you need energy to grow, but energy is often scarce. But to get the energy to do the work and grow, it requires that the work already be done. 

Sick, isn't it?

It's hard to call yourself out on your own dumb behavior, but it's even harder living in that dumb behavior. Choosing growth is simple, but it isn't easy. The bottom line is that you have to make a choice, because not choosing in this scenario is choosing to suffer. 

*How many times can I say "choose" in one sentence?*

Despite this mental tug of war, I've found ways to share those little bits at a time, without violating the boundaries of others. My journey to tell my story has brought me to the conclusion that it's not entirely ready to tell. I remember being told a few years ago that your seasons will change, but your calling will not. I constantly remind myself of this while I find the building blocks for my book. I will tell my story, it's just not the right season for it.  

It is widely known in the counseling community that healing from trauma, when the work is being done to heal, takes at least two to five years to feel a sense of normality. I'm only in year two. In these two years, I have become more aware of my thoughts, which has brought me a lot of peace. Yes, my external circumstances have changed for the better, but that's not the peace I'm referring to.

Being more conscious of my thought life has helped me better identify my toxic traits, changing my internal circumstances for the better. That is where I find my peace and how I can keep my peace. (Because life likes to go "lol hold my beer" when external stuff is good, but it can't "lol hold my beer" your internal stuff unless you let it. Never depend on the external stuff for peace.)

I'm learning that the best thing to do with triggers is to let them happen, because they will, regardless of boundaries. When you let them happen, feeling rise, indicating deeper problems. Feelings guide you to the root of those problems, and from there work can be done. For me, I write, I pray, and invite God to the battle.

The only thing I ask of those along for the ride, please be patient with me as I slowly open up about my story. I don't want pity and I don't want opinions on what I should have done better, because quite frankly I'll ignore them. I am still healing and still have so much work to do. I will never say that my decisions were right or wrong, but I stand by them, because I did what I thought was best based on the choices God laid out before me. And really, that's all we can do.

It drives me crazy sometimes because in a way, I'm thankful for the details. They gave me the opportunity to grow. My trauma didn't make me stronger, the choices I made to grow despite the trauma is how I've become stronger. 

And that is all there is to it. Grow, or suffer. It's really that simple.

~Working through a trigger doesn't always have to be so clinical. Sometimes it comes in the form of baby snuggles, mindless sketching, and Thai food. 


03 August 2021

Luke Skywalker Probably Didn't Need a Therapist

The absolute butt-kickery that is going on in my spiritual life is, well, kicking my butt.

I've started reading Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. I'm only 5 chapters in, but every step of the way has me examining all of my thought patterns.

It's a big soul poke. All of the soul-pokage. The whole thing.

I have to try harder than most to make the best out of my thoughts, keeping my brain from being an absolute warzone because I have PTSD and depression. Lately I've had more good days than bad, but the bad really comes out when something goes wrong or when something upsets me. I become a self-deprecating dork, I don't eat, and I almost physically feel my brain spiral out of control into dark and negative thoughts. 

"Well, things always go wrong. This is just my lot in life, to not have anything go right for me. Everything is pointless. Why even try to make things better if this is where it will always end up eventually? I'm not worth it anyways."

This is absolutely not normal. It says in scripture in many ways that peace is n o r m a l (I'm still really trying to understand this.) God offers this to us freely, we just have to choose to take it and live it out in our lives. 

In this book I'm reading, the whole focus is on shifting our thinking, to renew our minds and to take every thought captive. If we want to have positive and life-giving thoughts, we must choose to have them. This takes a lot of discipline. 

*Wait, you can choose how to think? There's got to be a catch that seems way too simple.*

There is literally no catch. It just takes time and work to get good at it.

People often get this mixed up with choosing how to feel, which is entirely different. Feelings are indicators. You can't help but feel threatened or discouraged or annoyed by certain things, the difference in positive and negative thinking is what you choose to do with those feelings. 

I think about the scene in Return of the Jedi where Darth Sidious is trying to goad Luke into fighting Darth Vader, saying things such as "I can feel your anger, use it." In this scenario, Luke is given the choice to use his anger to fight Darth Vader. In this same fashion, we are given the choice to use our emotions in a way that is healthy or unhealthy. 

*When in doubt, use Star Wars as examples for spiritual health and wellness. It's foolproof.*

In my life, I've needed to shift my focus off of what is going wrong to how temporary it all is, and how healing takes time. In the span of 2 years, I got a divorce, got remarried, and had a baby. I've had so much change in such little time. I've had to learn how to heal from the trauma I experienced in my divorce, all the while enjoy the beauty that came from it. I've had to make a lot of choices in my thought life. Triggers come up, as they do, and I have to choose to examine them so I can learn and grow. I have to recognize that I am 4 weeks into working out consistently, and it will take time for me to get to my goal. (Post-partum mom bod is a thing. But at least I'm starting to fit better into jeans woohoo!!) I have to be patient with my growing baby as he learns to communicate because cries and coos are all he knows, and it isn't his fault that he needs to eat in the middle of the night. Mama is tired and crabby, but at least she's learning.

"Things go wrong, but that's okay. I learn how strong I am when something goes wrong. I am allowed to feel frustrated and tired, but I will not let that dictate my day. The pain doesn't stay, and I am growing with each step. I have a healthy, growing baby, a husband that loves me, and a fresh start after a hard season. It's just a bad moment, not a bad life."

The path to being better and thinking better is one choice away. Ultimately, we have every right to feel how we feel, but we do not have the right to use our feelings in ways that are unhealthy, at the expense of others, and at the expense of ourselves. 

Having the weight lifted after choosing life-giving thinking is so freeing. (If the weight of thinking negatively was quantifiable, I would be so ripped tbh, it's kinda rude that I'm not.) Thankfully, it does get easier, because once the choice is made, you really won't want to go back. 

~Given the nature of Jedi training, I doubt that Luke ever needed mental health counseling.