Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Turning to God

My life is better today.

None of my major stresses went away.  Nothing big changed.  It was a small change.  The same one that's gotten me through a thousand other tough times.

I remembered to turn to God.

My life is always heaviest when I try to carry it alone.

Then something happens, like a reminder from a good friend, and I turn to God.  And he smiles and says, "No wonder it's so heavy; you're carrying it all wrong.  Plus, you're trying to carry all this other stuff that isn't even yours.  Let me help you figure out what you really need to carry and how it fits just right on your shoulders."

I'm grateful for a good friend that reminded me to turn to God.
I'm grateful for the power of the priesthood that allows me to receive the blessings I need in difficult times.
I'm grateful for prayer, which enables the conversations I need to have.

And I'm especially grateful for an understanding that I am doing a good job, that He is there, and that we are in this together.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Feeling the Stress

I'm not gonna lie.  I'm feeling the stress.  Quite a bit.  And once I started spelling it all out in my head, it made sense.

I've been helping my mom for almost a year now.  She's really struggling with her mental health.  It's been quite a battle of ups and downs.  And I'm trying to balance helping her with taking care of myself while navigating the dangerous waters of my parents' dysfunctional marriage.  And trying to keep my brothers informed.  They've asked what they can do to help.  Boy, I wish there was something.  My dad feels helpless and doesn't know what to do.  And when he does come up with an idea, she doesn't want to have anything to do with him. 

In the last month or so I've picked her up or dropped her off at multiple locations around the county (she doesn't have her license anymore).  I've taken her to get her prescriptions filled, to shop, and out for lunch.  I've accompanied her to the neurologist, the therapist, and the psychiatrist.  I've taken her for blood tests, an EEG, and an MRI. 

And now the therapist wants me to help my mom become compliant on her meds, which she isn't and never has been.  My mom has PTSD from multiple traumatic episodes in her past.  She has spent years fighting to have control of her life.  Me taking over her meds would be her losing control again and she's just not willing to go there.  I can understand that.  But I also understand that not taking her meds according to schedule is making it so much harder for her to feel better or for anyone to help her feel better.

She says she's willing to try.  When it's time to fill her prescription again she'll let me help her set up a system.  That's the best she could do.  Until then she's promised to try to take them the way she's supposed to.  And she's trying to track it all on paper like the therapist wants.  If she doesn't become compliant she will not be able to get her driver's license again.  And her psychiatrist might drop her.  But she still isn't convinced that taking her meds according to schedule is the right way for her.  She's sure that she's right about using them as needed and we're wrong and she'd be fine if the psychiatrist would just give her more meds.  She's only trying to get on schedule to keep us happy, not because she believes in it.  It's control she's clinging to with both hands, tight fists.

I'll keep taking her to appointments.  And doing what I can to help while trying to keep myself emotionally stable.

On top of this, three weeks ago my husband lost his job.  We've been married twenty-three years and he's been laid off eleven times.  Because of my health I am not able to work.  That was our only income.  He's interviewing and applying and trying.  And I'm doing all I can to be supportive and helpful.  I'm trying to manage what little money we have left.  I'm looking for alternate sources of income.  I'm trying to stay on top of all the medical bills from my daughter's brain surgery and hospitalization and my emergency room visit and stress test and my husband's MRI and my daughter's MRI and all my therapy and all the other miscellaneous medical bills we have outstanding.  I'm trying to keep food in the house. 

But my biggest job has been to keep my husband from slipping into a depression.  His self-definition has taken a major hit.  He's questioning his value.  Every job rejection slams him down again.  So I try to spend time with him.  I try to help him see healthy choices.  I try to keep him involved and active with something other than computer games and movies and sleep.  We've had a few deep, dark days, but are mostly keeping his head above water.  It requires constantly treading water.

And no one leaves my house.

School is out.  My oldest daughter quit her job for the summer (before my husband lost his job).  My second daughter lost her job when my husband did (company went out of business).  My third daughter is out of state for the summer (so I guess she left the house, but that's a little too far gone for too long).  My son doesn't have a job and my other daughter doesn't have a job (they are sixteen and fourteen).  Rarely does anyone go anywhere or do anything other than watch tv and play video games.  It feels like my whole household is sinking into a depression.  I love my kids.  And I want them to be happy.  I want them to have a break.

But I am a homebody.  Partly because it's exhausting for me when I leave (I have chronic fatigue) and partly just because I love to be home.  And I used to get six hours a day to myself in my home.  But now I don't seem to get any time with the house to myself.  And my mental health is taking a hit because of it.  It's wearing me down.  I am really feeling what it means to be in the "sandwich generation."  Taking care of my parents and my kids.  Lots and lots of others needing me.  Not enough time to just be me without worrying that someone is about to knock on my door and need something.

And I recently stopped going to therapy because my therapist and I were no longer connecting well.
And I have become heat-intolerant the last year or so and we are in the middle of a heat wave.
And next week is my daughter's birthday and I have no money for it.
And I have no energy to complete any of the thousands of things that need to be done around the house.
And I have no energy to make anyone else do them either.
And the car didn't pass inspection.
And the faucet in the bathroom is leaking.
And the toilet keeps running.
And I am just not enough.

Things will get better.  But right now I'm feeling the stress.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Standing in Holy Places in Difficult Times

This will be a long post.  Please feel free to skip it without fear of offending me.  Also, it's a religious post.  It's taken from a talk I gave in church a couple of weeks ago.  It contains scriptures from The Book of Mormon in addition to scriptures from The Holy Bible.  It's based on a scripture from The Doctrine and Covenants (another book of scripture in the Mormon church):  D&C 87:8 "Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved."

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As we’ve discussed standing in holy places this year, we’ve talked about many important places.  We’ve discussed the temple and church.  We’ve talked about dedicated sites and memorials.  We’ve also talked about how we can make any place a holy place if we are striving to keep ourselves holy. 
I’d like to expand on that a little bit.  Sometimes a holy place is an actual place.  Sometimes it’s a state of mind.  And sometimes it’s a lot of work to find a holy place within myself during a difficult time.
To me, a holy place is anywhere I am physically or emotionally that allows me to connect with God.  A place that I can understand His will and strive to do it.
2 Nephi 2:25 says, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”
This life, this experience, is supposed to bring us joy.  God’s will is that we have joy.
Many people read this and see it as an excuse to play more.  Others read this and see it as a reason to not worry so much.  Still others read it and want to get into the ever-ongoing debate between happiness and joy to prove that “wickedness never was happiness.”
Sometimes when I read it, I take it as an assignment.  One that I have a tough time with.
I struggle with clinical depression and PTSD.  I have for most of my life.  And sometimes when I read that scripture – “men are that they might have joy” – I feel like a failure.
I believe this is because I’ve bought into four powerful lies Satan uses:
1.      It’s my fault.
2.      It’s beyond my control.
3.      I have to do it alone.
4.      I should be happy all the time.

The first one, it’s my fault.  I spent many years thinking I wasn’t trying hard enough.  If I were more righteous I would be happier.  I should be able to choose happiness (because everyone says happiness is a choice).  If I were only stronger or more positive, I could force myself to choose happiness.  I could have peace in my heart all the time.  I would no longer find myself trapped in the darkness.  I believed it was my fault when I went into a depression because I wasn’t a better, stronger person.

Please let me say, I do believe happiness is a choice.  Most of the time.  But I also know that our bodies are complicated things.  Chemistry is powerful.  And genetics matter.  Clinical depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder aren’t my fault any more than multiple sclerosis is someone’s fault.  It’s not a sign that I’m not righteous enough.  It’s not because I’m a bad person.  It’s not because I don’t have enough willpower to snap out of it.  Those are thoughts and beliefs from fifty years ago that just aren’t true.  It’s biochemical.  It’s physical.  It’s environmental.  Much of it is beyond my control.
But not all of it.  And that brings me to the second lie, it’s beyond my control.
I often don’t see it coming.  I am good one day and the next I am so completely not.  My heart is overtaken by a darkness so deep it seems to swallow me whole.  Or I am fine one minute and the next I am filled with fear and have no idea why.  I want to hide, even from the people I love.  Even from the people in my life I know are safe.   It is so intense, so powerful when it overcomes me.  No matter what I’ve tried, it keeps happening.  I believed the only choice I had was to surrender and wait for it to pass.  I spent years thinking it was beyond my control because I didn’t know how to stop it.
But the fact that I didn’t have any answers didn’t mean there were no answers to be had.  I still can’t stop it entirely, but sometimes I can make it less powerful.  I can do things to protect myself.  Let me tell you what I’ve learned.
·       The most important thing I need to do is plan.  I need to write out a plan when I am well.  Because when I am not, it’s too late.  I can’t think clearly enough in those moments to choose well.  But if I have a written plan of healthy coping strategies, I have something to direct me, to help me make better choices.  Choices that will help me heal, not make me feel better for a moment but ultimately drive me deeper within the darkness.
·       I also need to take care of my soul.  D&C 88:15 says, “And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.”  I need to take care of my body.  I need to eat healthy foods.  I need to get enough sleep – for real.  I need to stay hydrated.  And I need to exercise.  It’s easy to think that these things are less important than working on what’s in my mind, but depression and PTSD affect the whole soul.  I can’t neglect half of it and expect to be well.  I also need to take care of my spirit.  This means reading scriptures, praying, attending church, fulfilling my calling.  The basics.  It’s easy to think that working on therapeutic things are all I need to do to feel better.  But my spirit is part of my soul.  If I am not taking proper care of it, I will not be strong enough to continue the fight.  And I will not be close enough to my Heavenly Father to receive the help I need.
And that leads me to the third lie I bought into, I have to do it alone.
We live in a society that glorifies independence.  And I’m not just talking about the world.  We in the church sometimes get this wrong.  We teach self-reliance and think that means we shouldn’t have to ask for help.  If we’re doing everything right, we shouldn’t ever have to ask for help.  We help others.  We give.  We serve.  But so often we are ashamed if we ever have to receive.
We are meant to be with others.  We need each other.  We are supposed to.  How selfish it is to only serve and give but to never open our hearts and lives to others and let them serve us.  How prideful to only show the wonderful things in our lives to the world and to never let on that we have weaknesses, too.  What a loving thing it is to occasionally show the dysfunction in our lives so others know they are not alone.
Thinking we have to do it alone is one of the most dangerous lies we can believe.  It is a lie Satan uses to keep us from leaning on our Savior and partaking of the atonement.  John 14:6 reads, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Without the atonement we are lost.  We would all remain in a fallen state.  Always separated from our Heavenly Father.  Satan pushes the idea of independence on us so that we will not turn to God or to one another.  How dangerous it is to think we can do it alone.  How grateful I am for the struggles that have shown me this is a lie.
We are not meant to be independent.  We are meant to be interdependent.  To do all we can for ourselves and then turn to God and to each other.  We are told to "gather together oft" (Alma 6:6).  We are constantly asked to strengthen each other, to lift each other up. 
·       Mosiah 2:18 “Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?”
·       D&C 88:118 “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another”
Would we be told to serve and lift each other if God wanted everyone to “pull themselves up by their own boot straps?”
We are frequently prompted to turn to God, to ask for help.
·       Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
·       JST, Matthew 7:12 “Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
Would God tell us these things if He wanted us to become fully independent of Him?
We are meant to turn to each other and to God.  In my case, turning to God brought me further wisdom and more resources.  I was directed to therapy.  And to my bishop.  And to trusted friends.  Sometimes we don’t know the answer, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.  Asking God doesn’t always mean He will give us the answer.  Sometimes He will direct us to the person who knows the answer.
And sometimes, even after all of this, I am still not happy.  Sometimes all of this still isn’t enough to fend off the darkness.
That brings me to lie number four, I should be happy all the time.
This is a world of sorrow.  Sad things happen.  Grief is important.  And sometimes biochemistry takes over.  Being sad in a moment, or for a few days, doesn’t mean I am doing something wrong.  It doesn’t mean I’m choosing poorly.  It might just mean this is my time to be sad.
The beautiful chapter of Ecclesiastes 3 (vs. 1) says there is a “time to every purpose under the heaven.”  Even, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”  There are times to be sad.
And sadness has led me to some of the most holy times of my life.  Sadness drew me to my Heavenly Father when my heart was breaking and I didn’t know how to go on.  Sadness drew me to the Savior and to partake of the Atonement as I learned to forgive others and myself.  And those times when I am able to visit with someone whose heart is breaking, who thinks their life is over, who sees no light through their dark world – those are some of the most holy times of all.  Sitting with a friend on my healing porch as her soul aches is a very sad time.  But it is also a very holy time.
Because sometimes it’s time to be sad.
I am not trying to discourage anyone from seeking happiness.  I am encouraging you to forgive yourself for being sad sometimes.
This is a tough world.  But it is also a holy place.  This world has a divine purpose and we have a divine purpose in it.
I am a happy person.  I have a wonderful life.  And even in those moments of darkness, there is peace because I know God is there.  I know He has a plan for me.  I know He loves me.  I know He knows me well enough to send exactly the right trials to strengthen me, to make me who I am meant to be.  I am grateful for depression and PTSD in my life.  They have taught me important lessons I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.  They have kept me connected to God.  And that is a holy place.
Your trials might not be the same as mine.  But you will have trials.  And I hope that no matter what they are, you will find a holy place within yourself to help you through them.  I hope they will bring you to God.  I hope you will allow them to change you and strengthen you.
And please remember verse five of the thirteenth psalm, “Joy cometh in the morning.”  The joy will come.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Taking a Break From Therapy

It's time.  I've felt like it was time for a while now.  The initial issue that brought me back to therapy this time is not an issue now.  But I worried that I would have a crisis and not have any way to get in to see my therapist.  I worried that one crisis would be enough to make my life spiral out of my control.  Again.

So week after week, appointment after appointment, I kept scheduling.  My therapist is scheduled a month or two out and I didn't dare let a gap happen. 

It's not like I don't have plenty of issues to work on.  It's not like we haven't gotten good work done.  But the things I have to work on aren't emergencies.  Right now, they aren't even urgent.  I'm feeling strong.  I've got a good support system in place.  I'm getting better at communicating when I'm not okay. 

And over the last few months, when I've had a crisis, it's usually been between sessions and I dealt with it before I got back in anyway.  We ended up reviewing it in therapy, but not really facing it -- because I'd already done that before I got there.

Honestly, I've been feeling like I was using therapy as a crutch.  A crutch is good when you're really wounded, but when it keeps you from making progress in healing, from standing on both feet when you're capable, it's no longer a good thing.

So it was fear of being alone during a crisis, a feeling that I needed backup, someone to protect me, that kept me scheduling.

But my therapist isn't my big brother.  He isn't my dad.  He isn't even my friend.  He is the person I pay to help me see thinking errors and choose more wisely.  It's easy to get confused about that relationship -- especially when I go frequently without interruption. 

It's easy for therapy to just become a part of my schedule.  Just what I do Mondays at 9:00am.  And to get swept up in continuing it because scheduling becomes part of the process.

Even though I've been feeling like it was time for a break for a while, I didn't act on it.  Partly due to that fear, but also because I didn't feel like I had a good reason.  I couldn't explain why. 

Well, that's dumb.  I don't have to explain why.  It's my life and my money and my time; I get to choose how I spend it.  And I don't have to have a good reason.

It took a few episodes of not seeing eye to eye with my therapist, being offended and/or angered by what he said, and another bad session to hit me in the head and wake me up.

When I need therapy again, really need it, I will probably go back to him.  He is a good man who knows my story.  He's good at what he does.  And I think we will work better together after a break.

But it's time.  It's time to get some distance from my therapist so I can get the relationship clear in my head again (and he can, too).  It's time to figure out what I want to do instead of being swept along by the process.  It's time to get back to protecting myself, because that's MY job.