Tag Archives: mental health

What Does It Mean To Feel Alive?

For our first small group session, we did an active listening exercise where we described a moment where we felt most alive. Mine was about a morning in Jamaica, the summer of 2011, where I and a few friends got up early to swim. The sun wasn’t scorching yet, and the water was just cool enough to be refreshing. I floated on my back, eyes closed. The last few years had been extremely rough. My soul felt like a raw piece of meat that had been beat with a mallet. It felt like my body and mind were set against me, determined to kill me.

Some people feel most alive when their adrenaline levels are high, but I’m the opposite. For me, high adrenaline levels mean I’m afraid, that I’m in danger. There’s a theory about anxiety that it was biologically important back in the days when life was really dangerous, when we lived without much shelter and death by wild animal was common. That anxiety kept us alive and told us to run when we encountered danger. Now, however, most of us don’t need that much anxiety. I certainly don’t – I’m not in a bad area, I’m pretty much white-passing, and I’m not being hunted by animals. That adrenaline/anxiety sparked up at every little thing, and told my body that sitting in class was a life-or-death situation. I didn’t feel “alive” in those moments, because I wanted the feeling to stop.  I wanted to shut it off. I wanted to be dead, because at least then I could have peace and quiet.

Floating in the ocean, my ears beneath the waves so the only sound was my own breathing, felt like being alive. I felt whole, my mind and body not fighting. It was sort of weird, too, because I also felt disembodied at the same time. That felt like freedom, like I had found a way to escape the chaos of the physical, and just be. Recapturing that is not easy. The closest I get is when I can’t sleep at night, and I lie down in Baxter’s room. It’s the coolest room. The sleeping bag is slippery, and feels a little like water. The only sound is faint rustling. After a half hour or so, I feel calm again, pieced back together, and I can go back to bed and fall asleep.

What this taught me is that my soul is connected to the ocean. Whenever we go to the coast, I know that I could live by it forever. When I’ve visited deserts, like New Mexico, I feel off-kilter, like something is missing. The ocean has its rhythms, like a pair of lungs, and follows the moon. It’s steady, but also not predictable. It’s totally, completely alive. 

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Taking Medication On Vacation

We went to Hawaii for my grandma’s 90th birthday, which meant lots of plane rides and 3-hour time difference. It also meant plying myself with lots of pills in order to stay as functional as possible. What are some ways that I managed this?

Tip #1: Stick with number of hours between pills, and not actual time

I usually take my first pill between 10:30 – 11:30 am, but during travel, the time changes. Instead of focusing on the actual time of day, I just paid attention to how many hours had passed between pills. At night, it resets, so I started taking my pill about an hour after I woke up, around 10 am Hawaii time.

Tip #2: Dramamine is amazing

I was worried about feeling sick on the airplane and all the car rides, so I took the less-drowsy formula about two hours before getting on a plane or in a car. It completely reduced any nausea I might have felt. A few nights, I would start to feel nauseated randomly – probably because my body was adjusting to a different pill schedule – and Dramamine would help with that, too.

Tip #3: Always carry food and water

I never went anywhere without my water bottle. Staying hydrated is key to not feeling ill in heat, whether or not there’s medication involved. I always tried to carry food with me, like a protein bar, because my second pill of the day would fall around 2pm, which was after we had eaten lunch and before dinner. Depending on what we were doing, going to get food wasn’t an option, so I had to have something with me.

Tip #4: Don’t forget how many pills you’ve taken

This is a weird problem I have sometimes, where I will forget if I just took a pill or not. It’s become so automatic, when the alarm goes off, I act on reflex. Sometimes I eat before, and sometimes I eat after, so that doesn’t help me remember. One day, I forgot if I had taken the pill, and not wanting to risk the withdrawal from a missed dose, I took the pill. I’m pretty sure I ended up double-dosing myself, which resulted in a headache. Thankfully, taking two pills wasn’t nearly as bad as three (which would make me instantly sick), and I was able to walk it off and drink lots of water to feel better.


All in all, having to take three pills a day didn’t interfere with the vacation too much, and I was able to relax and enjoy everything that went on. There was only one major miscommunication with the family about it all, which reminded me that other people need to be privy to my schedule. That isn’t a problem I’ve encountered before, because usually I have an identical schedule and only take my last pill of the day with others around, and it’s usually just Chris and we’re at home.

In Weakness

I had a short conversation with a friend the other day about giving God credit for stuff, and using that as an explanation for His existence. I’ve heard that argument a lot, where a person is able to forgive someone after years of resentment, and says it wouldn’t be possible without God. They overcome some challenge and point to heaven.

My friend is skeptical, saying that it could just be that someone matures and grows, and that they could just as easily give themselves credit for that change. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, because a huge reason why I believe in God is because when something seems impossible, it still happens. I really can’t give myself credit for certain things that I’ve come through. For me, “progress” and “maturity” are not linear. One week I’m doing really well and being productive, and the next, I’m afraid to go to the grocery store again. Old habits die hard, and the brain has a real hold on certain habits. There’s only so much it can change, and in certain situations, it reverts backwards. It’s like emotional time travel. 

Basically, in my experience, growth doesn’t really build up, at least in the darkest moments. When it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I’m waking up from a nap, a stress dream brought on by an onslaught of recent deaths still burning in my mind, I might as well be 16 again. There isn’t anything in my body to help me, it’s low in protein, low in vitamin D, and there aren’t any reserves.

That place has always been where I feel God the strongest. My own brain and body aren’t a distraction because they’re so drained and shriveled up, like raisins. And this isn’t a dig on my abilities or self-esteem; if will power was enough, I would be a lawyer/best-selling author. I have will power in spades, but when your body is chemically-designed to fight you every step of the way, it just isn’t enough. I wouldn’t trade in that weakness, though, that fragility. Like I said, it’s where I see God the most. When the darkness gets dark enough, it becomes light.

So, that’s how I know God exists. It’s more convincing to me than any amount of apologetics or intelligent design arguments or whatever else someone can dredge up. Proof is carved in my bones and melted into my blood. It’s tied into the messy neurons of my brain. His strength – not mine – what keeps my lungs inhaling and exhaling when even the most primal animal instinct of survival is fading. 

—-

Psalm 139: 12
Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

2 Corinthians 12:9-11

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

stress thoughts, folk music, and sweat

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I’ve been getting a lot of stress thoughts at night. These are the unpredictable, persistent thoughts that pepper my brain when I can’t fall asleep quickly enough, which is every night. Yoshi is coming home soon, so that’s been preoccupying me. I’ll start thinking things like, “What if he hates it here and the neighbors complain?” and then, “What if he dies? What if he gets so excited that he has a heart attack?” Then I’ll worry about Baxter, and go lie in his room so I can hear him rustling around, which proves he’s alive. My pills have been acting up and being weird, so if I don’t take the last one with enough food, it makes me sick. That’s a new development, and it’s not fun. They just can’t cooperate, can they?

Penny & Sparrow is my favorite band right now. Chris thinks they’re too “chill,” and that they make him want to fall asleep. He says that like it’s a bad thing. My music tastes have changed so much. I tried listening to Skillet recently, one of my favorites from high school, and I was not impressed. Too loud. I’m old.

It’s been in the 90’s weather-wise. I don’t I’ve ever sweat so much in my life. When I work out, I point the fan directly at myself, and it makes a big difference. Otherwise, I think I would literally die. It would not be safe.

I wish I could work on my novel more. I have a notebook where I scribble a few lines or pages as often as I can, and I need to type that up. One of my characters changed a lot from my first draft. She went from being really sweet and sensitive to kind of a tough cookie. It was not at all on purpose. I guess that’s just what she’s meant to be.

 

Falling into Routine

It’s been a busy three months (give or take). We’ve been on a lot of walks, I’ve taken a lot of pictures of trees, and I’ve packed in a lot of life work: getting medications, seeing doctors, and getting an Oregon driver’s license. We’ve been to Portland and Lincoln City. I started growing parsley, which is now in full bloom and edible. Baxter’s skin is no longer super dry, and he loves having his own room to be super loud in. Chris loves his job, he feels he’s doing important work, and is always in a good mood when he comes home.

It’s nice to fall into a routine. We shop at Fred Meyer, I eat frozen cherries most nights to help me sleep, we go for longer walks on the weekends, and my work load has been pretty light. That means more time for working on my novel, painting, reading, and keeping the house organized. It also means more time for naps, which I still take probably too often, but I’m learning to give myself a break from fretting over that. The fact that my medication changed from caps to tablets has kind of helped with that, because I have to take one pill three times a day, so I have to be awake at certain times to take it. That schedule also helps keep me asleep at night, too, which is weird.

In terms of mental health, it’s been a relatively smooth transition. The only reoccurring blip has been feeling really isolated and kind of at a loss about how to make friends. Chris has been scouting out churches, looking specifically for ones with young people and groups, but I’m still not really interested in going to church. I would definitely join a group though, that just hasn’t happened yet. I tried going on Tinder to look for friends, and chatted with a few people, but after a few messages, that just fizzled out. I recently tried Bumble, which has a better friend-finding feature, and found a person who I’m hanging out with soon. Since I’m just a naturally intense person, I have to keep myself from thinking, “This is my new best friend! Kindred spirit! We’re going to do everything together!”

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Being away from everyone I’ve ever known has forced me to get better at communicating with people and work on old friendships. It’s also made me more appreciate of friendships in different stages, and not neglect someone just because we’re not as close as we used to be, or if there are certain things we don’t talk about. I guess distance does make the heart grow fonder.

Things I Like About Salem:

Rainy days
Having a huge park close by
Having basically every restaurant close by
Fred Meyer and their incredible organic/natural options
So much green
Dogs everywhere
Being closer to Erin (and seeing her twice already since we moved!)

New Things I’ve Baked/Cooked:

Walnut-fig scones
Chocolate pudding
Quinoa salmon bowl
Chicken enchilada bowl
Butterscotch + dark chocolate oatmeal cookies w/ brown butter

 

being shamed

Today was hard, in a way that’s kind of hard to explain. Someone decided they needed to unfriend me, but that wasn’t enough. He needed to message me and shame me, blame me, for the unfriending. I’m not close to this person. At all. In fact, he’s contacted me before about my beliefs, saying that because I call out certain politicians/pastors/public figures, I’m not a good Christian. Apparently, I stand for nothing, because I don’t stand on things the way he would like.

Even though my life is unchanged by this person unfriending me, it rattled me. It especially disturbs me when people in ministry do things like this, and it serves to harden me even further against “church people” and the church in general. This leads me ask several questions:

If he had known that “churchy” phrases and certain language serve as triggers when they’re used as weapons, that they can make me feel sick to my stomach all day and derail my thoughts, would he have chosen to write differently?

If he had known that these kind of encounters are actually very disturbing to me and I’ve written extensively about how these sort of out-of-the-blue accusations about the state of my faith, would he have started out his message with, “I know this won’t phase you at all”?

If he had spent any time at all getting to know me as a complete person, and that I don’t actually spend all my time “mocking” Christianity (which I actually never do, just institutions and people I believe misrepresent it), would he have decided I haven’t actually “strayed from the straight and narrow,” but that it’s all just part of being young, having questions, and working through challenges?

I don’t know the answer. All I know is that he was completely inappropriate, hurtful, and intent on shaming me. If he hadn’t intended that, he would have just unfriended me and said nothing. Unless you know me, know my struggles, and have made any attempt at all to connect with me, you don’t get to tell me what I’m doing wrong and make statements implying that I’m spreading darkness. That need to shame, to accuse, is not from God. It’s not coming from a place of love, because God’s love does not seek to bring on guilt.

This person said that he “felt sorry for me.” I feel sorry for anyone else who has to experience this kind of treatment from someone who claims to be in position of spiritual authority, because apparently if I don’t agree or comply, I’m not worth bothering with in his eyes. Apparently, I can’t even be tolerated.

I won’t miss that kind of treatment. I want a life full of love and understanding, even in the midst of disagreements. I will keep fighting for that, and I know I’m not alone. God does not shame me, so I feel no shame. I’m free from that.

 

faith is just letting go of the horses

Screenshot 2016-02-03 at 6.35.08 PM.pngSo much of my life has been about control. When I was young, strong emotions scared me. They were like wild horses that had been leashed to a cart that I was riding in. If I wasn’t able to rein the horses in, they would take off, hurdling me towards some other unknown doom.

Trusting God and control do not well together. Jesus wants to take the reins, but I’m white-knuckling it, telling him, “No way, man. You’re going to take me someplace weird, someplace I don’t know, without signs. And these horses. You don’t know them like I do.”

Depression is a wild one. You would think he would be an old mule, slow, but Depression doesn’t work that way. This guy wants to take us all off a cliff. He is bent on destruction and he’s very hard of hearing, so no matter how often I tell him that it’s okay or how loudly, he never quite believes me.

Anger comes next. I’m not even sure she’s a horse. She might be part dragon; that would explain the smoke. She snaps at the other horses and wants to trample everyone in our path, even the people I love. She wasn’t always this hard to control, but as I get older, she’s getting worse.

The third horse is Anxiety. He’s very skittish and gets sick to his stomach a lot. He will slow down whenever we’re heading into a new place, and he’s terrified of strangers.

And then there’s Fear, Anxiety’s mother. Fear is the oldest, and her eyesight isn’t very good anymore, so she’s very paranoid. She looks a lot like Anxiety, but don’t be mistaken, she’s much different. She’s a leader. She’s not as unsure as Anxiety. Fear can pull this thing in any direction she wants.

—————–

There’s been one thing in my life I have had the most troubling thinking about letting go: Yoshi, my dog. It’s been a very real possibility three times in my life. The first was when we were trying to crate-train him, and he barked all night. The second was when we moved to an apartment and he hated it so much that he developed severe separation anxiety, and would bark all day, bothering the neighbors. The third was very recently, when Chris was waiting to hear about a job that would take us out of state, and not necessarily into a position where we could take Yoshi back from Chris’ parents.

Thinking about giving Yoshi to a shelter literally made me feel ill. I couldn’t sleep at night. Whenever someone brought it up, I dug my heels in. I didn’t even want to consider it. It was too much to bear.

Then the new job became a real possibility, and I had to face it, because I knew if it came through, but we wouldn’t be able to keep Yoshi, I would have to let him go. Chris really wanted the job, and I couldn’t tell him, “Wait for something else, one that lets us keep Yoshi.” Chris loves Yoshi, too, but in the end, we both knew it was ultimately my decision.

I would lie awake at night, my emotions running through my veins like fire ants, like wild horses. This was when I prayed, though it really just seemed like a form of a panic attack. I would focus on the one thing, on my desire to keep Yoshi, and lay it before God.

Lay your burdens before God. 

I’ve heard that phrase my whole life, but I’ve never really known what it meant, exactly. I do know, or at least, I know what it means for me. It meant letting myself feel the stress, the fear, the anxiety, the anger, with the intention to expose it all to God. He sees everything, but there are times when we hide ourselves, like Adam and Eve did in the garden. We don’t want him to see. This time, though, I wanted Him to see it all, in its shredded, blistering wreck. I went over and over my one prayer again and again, from all angles. My wish broke down piece by piece, from, “I want to keep Yoshi” to “I want to not feel sick when I think about letting go of Yoshi,” and finally to, “I want to be able to go of Yoshi.”

And there were still more layers, because I knew that I had faced this twice before, and both times, I had gotten to keep Yoshi. I didn’t want this to be a test, where I faked letting go with the expectation that God would “come through” at the last second. So I prayed for that, too, because pretending to let go and letting go are completely different things.

I don’t know how long it took, or when it even happened. That’s the most important part of the story, though, because it proves that it wasn’t anything that I did. I made a choice, yes, to even try to let go, but I can’t explain the actual thing. Three things happened:

  1. Chris got the job.
  2. It was better than we could have imagined.
  3. We are able to keep Yoshi.

——————-

The horses are calm. I look at Jesus, shocked, and see how he handles the reins. His hands are rough from years of taming these creatures, strong, and supremely more experienced than mine. Where I frighten them, He soothes them. Where I am lax, He is firm, and where I am brutal, He is gentle. We are far from the cliff, from the places where their hooves catch on stones, and where there is no grass or fresh water. Something else is different, too. He has brought His own horse, a breed I don’t recognize, and a color I’ve only seen in that moment between sleep and awake. It is leashed to the front of the cart, leading the others so confidently, it’s like they’ve become one body. When I ask what His horse’s name is, it all makes sense.

“Love.”

 

 

How Do You Say Goodbye To A Psychiatrist?

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I’ve only had one psychiatrist since I was diagnosed with depression at 16. Last week, I had to say goodbye to her.

It was weird. We just talked about how many refills she should give me, so I could have enough meds to last till I found a new psychiatrist in Oregon, and she prescribed a separate anti-anxiety in case I got panicky during the whole packing/moving/adjusting deal.

And then I stood in the doorway and said, “So…thanks for like…almost ten years? A lot has happened.”

And I do mean a lot. After filling out the same questions every visit (“Rank this statement on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most true”), I would take off my shoes and stand on a scale to be weighed, and then get my blood pressure taken. Then it was into the office at the end of the hall to spill out my guts and decide what to do with my dosage. I went through my rough high school years, my first true heartbreak, experimenting with meds that made me sick every morning and then meds that made me feel like I was having a heart attack. We went from the lowest dose to the highest dose of at least one medication out of the seven I’ve tried. We went through my first year of college where I had to see her every two weeks because I had formed a suicide plan, followed by broken-up college years where I met and married Chris, took a year off to develop agoraphobia, and then went back to graduate. I saw four counselors, co-led a youth group, became a charismatic Christian who saw demons at the end of my bed, and then learned about sleep paralysis and fear-induced hallucinations. I left the church, but not my faith. I lost some friends of the road and made some friends of the heart.

I didn’t want this post to be all “me me me me me,” but it kind of bcame that. My apologies. My point is that while all these things were happening, my psychiatrist was sitting across from me, offering me tissues when I cried, laughing at my jokes, listening, and asking questions. I’ve seen her with long hair, short hair, glasses, and contacts. She’s had a baby in the time I’ve been seeing her. She has a bookcase in her office with stuffed animals, like the purple octopus, and quirky little figurines that look like they’re from Anime. She always wore black or gray. She seems shorter than me, but she’s probably the same height.

I had no idea how to say goodbye. I still don’t. Should I have asked to hug her? Shake her hand? Psychiatrists are in a very weird spot, because they aren’t counselors, who can’t prescribe medications, but it’s not like my psych didn’t know anything that my counselors did. She was basically the same as a counselor, just in shorter sessions. There’s a layer of professionalism there that’s absent with counselors, maybe because (to quote Dana Scully) she’s a medical doctor? I don’t know. It’s just weird that one of the longest relationships of my life was with someone who isn’t my friend, but who knows more than most of them do.

 

 

Songs For Sad People

To me, music is the antidepressant I know best, and one that is devoid of side effects. While necessary for many, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors frighten me because some artists and authors say they stunt their ability to create. As a writer, that’s unsettling, having my voice muffled or extinguished.

I know I may well have to use them at some point. I may need to find some stability from the ups and downs that characterize my depression, instead of white-knuckling as I have. But for now, I find, tiny instances of relief can be found in the furthest reaches of depression, small reminders that life is worth it.

Sometimes you just have to find the strength to push play.

Full article: http://www.laweekly.com/music/the-music-that-has-helped-me-battle-depression-5014322

I love how this writer described her relationship with music. Music has always been a huge part of my life, from when I first began listening to music on my own, late at night, discovering the rock music of the 1980’s on my Walkman to now, when I create playlists based on specific characters I’m writing about. My main playlist is just called “Writing,” even though I don’t listen to music when I’m actually writing. It’s the music that inspires my writing, and it brings me calm. Kristian Libman listed a few of the albums, bands, and songs that have helped her depression, so I will do the same here.

  • Blue October – I’ve written about them before, and their impact is still true. Lead singer Justin has been through hell and back, and listening through the band’s albums is like hearing his life story.
  • Audrey Assad – One of the few Christian artists I consistently listen to. Her songs are like hymns in their lyrical sophistication, but so intimate and personal at the same time. Every song is a prayer.
  • Ingrid Michaelson – there’s something about the simple strength of her voice that calms me.

Additional artists:

  • Joy Williams
  • Jetta
  • Brandi Carlile
  • Jason Isbell
  • Bee Bakare
  • Greg Laswell
  • Matthew Mayfield