A Jumble of Thoughts

Today was my third appointment with the counselor.  Last week, we left off talking about the possibility of this being a hormone imbalance instead of bipolar.  This week, we kept heading in that direction.  While my situation is complex because of an anatomic anomaly affecting my hormones, and I don't completely fit the criteria for PMDD, it seems that a hormone imbalance is much more probable than bipolar at this point.

This brings a whole slew of thoughts and feelings:

  1. I'm beyond excited to think that this difficulty could have an end and that it could be coming very soon!  
  2. I'm amazed at where this journey has taken me and thankful for the many people who have been placed in my life to get me to this point.
  3. I honestly feel slightly uneasy and unsure about how to move forward.  This has been such a long time (almost 5 years since my last big bout of depression started), and it's hard knowing who I am without this heavy weight in my life.  That might sound weird that it makes me feel uneasy, but it has become such a big part of my life that I'm not sure what it will be like without it.
  4. I feel really hopeful.  It may only be a matter of months before I can return to being the wife, mom, disciple, friend, and woman I want to be.  The light at the end of my dark tunnel is coming faster than I ever imagined possible.
  5. I feel some guilt about possibly finding out what is causing all of this trouble and being able to get rid of it, when so many of the people I have met since starting this blog will have to continue battling, but I know that I will forever be an advocate for mental illness!
  6. I hope that the treatment for this hormone imbalance will help and not hinder my ability to have another baby in the near future, as it is unsure at this point how the treatment options will affect my body or how long it will take to figure everything out.
  7. I pray that this is really what is going on and that some treatment will work.  I can't imagine how hard it would be if I found out that things are different than they look at this point.
  8. I feel joy.  Not just the joy that comes from seeing an end to this pain, but the joy that comes from knowing that I am a changed, different, stronger, hopefully better person because of these last several years and especially this last year.  I find joy in knowing that God's plan is perfect for me, even the plan that included a year of pain beyond anything I knew was possible, all so that I can someday become the best version of me possible.  This year has been God's gift to me "that I might have joy," true joy.
As of right now, things are still hard.  I still feel the gaping hole in my heart of depression followed by the deep pain of what I used to call "mania" (I'm not sure what to call it now).  Some days I wonder, even with this exciting new discovery, how it will be possible to get through some of the most painful days.  But I am moving forward and upward, constantly reminding myself to seek for the joy that is all around me and asking for encouragement and love when I need it.  I will not give up on finding joy in this journey.

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That We Might Help

Several times in the last few months, this idea has come to my mind of extending my project and creating a branch called "That We Might Help."  Basically the thought that I've had repeatedly is that so many people have shared stories about infertility, death of a loved one, various health issues, etc, many of which I have not personally faced.  Often times when someone around me is facing something difficult that I've never experienced before, I don't know what to do or say, so I either do or say nothing at all because I don't know what would be helpful, or I try to do something but I end up doing and saying all the wrong things.  As a result, I want to finally launch this secondary project as a way of gaining understanding from those who experience different challenges than mine of how I can help someone else going through a trial similar to theirs.  I'm not sure how often I will share posts of this nature, because my primary focus is still sharing stories of finding joy through the challenges of this life, but I hope this secondary project will help us all have a better understanding of what we can do to help someone facing a challenge that is beyond anything we have experienced for ourselves.


Hope for Healing

Yesterday was the most hopeful day I've had in a very long time.  It started out with me going to a counseling appointment.

The last counseling appointment left me in tears as the counselor questioned if this is really bipolar disorder or just depression with the mania being normal.  I was crushed.  I knew it wasn't normal; none of it is normal.  And surely it is more than depression.  I cried much of that day as I desperately wished that someone could feel what I feel and understand.  I felt hopeless.  I questioned, if this is normal, then why am I not handling it?  Why is it so hard for me and manageable for other people?  If this is normal, then do I really want to keep trying and keep going with something so awful in my life?  If this is normal, will I feel like this forever?  

I cried to my husband, begging him to believe me that this is real and that it is not normal.  I didn't have to do much begging, of course, because he knows.  He sees how much it has affected me and how hard it gets.  He held me as I sobbed telling him that I am so thankful for the Savior, because He knows.  He knows everything I feel, and He is the reason I know that I'm not alone.

I didn't know what to do.  That counseling appointment surely left me worse off than I was before I went in, but I had waited 4 months to get in, and this counselor was highly recommended by 3 different people.  I needed help, and I didn't want to wait another 4 months to get it.  So I decided that I'd stick with this counselor and hope and pray that things would get better, that she would understand how hard this is and that it is nothing near normal.

Yesterday was my second counseling appointment.  I felt so apprehensive going in.  I cried the whole way there and prayed with all my heart that I could explain things right and that she could just understand.  We started talking about my week and the mood/sleep chart she gave me to fill out.  I told her about my 3 hours of sleep one night and 1 hour of sleep another night while in "mania."  She asked me to draw out my cycles and explain them.  I drew and told her as much detail as I could.  When I got done, she said, "This definitely isn't just depression.  I think it is bipolar disorder.  I'm sorry.  I wish it wasn't."  I felt so much love from her as she sincerely expressed how she wished I didn't have to deal with this.

We continued talking, and my heart was overflowing with sorrow as I told her about how this is "ruining my life," how I value being a wife and a mom so much and how this is simply getting in my way of being what I want to be.  She was so sympathetic and understanding.  I told her that this is purely physical, not thought-related, and it's so uncontrollable, so I don't know how to manage it.  She understood, and once again expressed her sorrow for me having to face something like this.

We kept talking, until we got onto the topic of our current infertility struggles.  While discussing this, a light bulb went off in her mind.  Maybe this isn't bipolar disorder at all.  Maybe it is PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).  Apparently PMDD is often misdiagnosed in women as rapid cycling bipolar disorder.  It deals with a hormone imbalance that causes so many symptoms mirroring those of bipolar.  We continued talking, and things continued to click with her.  She explained to me that if this is PMDD, then it is treatable and totally manageable.  It's easy to control and could be better almost instantly after getting the right help.

My heart felt so much instant relief.  Maybe this won't be a part of my life forever like I've thought for the last 11 months.  Maybe my healing is coming sooner than I ever thought possible.  Maybe I will be normal again and can move on past these 11 months of pain to find light and hope and peace for my heart again.

She asked if I would mind if she brought up my situation with the board of counselors and psychiatrists at their weekly meeting.  Of course, I didn't mind at all.  She told me some things to watch for and to document, so we can figure this out quickly and find relief.

I left feeling hope, like maybe I can finally live and dream again; maybe it's all going to be okay soon; maybe this nightmare will end and I can go back to being myself.

It's going to take some time before we know if this is really what's going on or not.  While I feel a lot of excitement about this new possibility, my currently depressed mind also feels some fear of the devastation I will face if this is really bipolar and I have to continue fighting this debilitating disorder for the rest of my life, especially after seeing this ray of light and feeling this wave of hope.

Right now, I am praying that we will know more soon, that my heart will be okay with the outcome, and that if it is God's will, everything can resolve itself quickly.

That We Might Have Joy: Alicia's Story

My story is simple-- I love my life!  I grew up in a split family and not in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Regardless of whether or not we grew up in the gospel, we always have to go through something that builds our testimony of the truthfulness of it.  Mine started as a teenager.  I had friends that were part of the gang, and I thought about joining.  That didn't happen.  I moved to a small town and kind of discovered who I was.  This is when I found the gospel after discovering that I had a Heavenly Father and a Brother who died for me. This was all new to me.

When I joined the church, I had a goal of marrying in the temple and living my life the best that I could.  Now that doesn't mean I do everything right, but the good thing is that I try every day to be better than the day before.

I served a church mission in the United States after being a member of the LDS church for 5 years. I loved my mission, but where I served, everything is legal.  I thought to myself, "My goodness.  How can the Lord trust me so much to teach the gospel that I still felt new in?"

I soon learned that it's not necessarily about the knowledge but about listening to the Spirit in gaining understanding of what you're supposed to say or do or think or act.  That is the most important thing!  So I taught prostitutes about the law of chastity and drug addicts and drug dealers about the word of wisdom.  I served the best I could.  That was when I really learned how much each soul is worth to our Father in Heaven!  Words cannot describe the feeling of watching someone accept the truthfulness of the gospel.

When I found my eternal companion, I never thought that within the first two years I would get the impression that he would die early.  Four years into our marriage, my eternal companion suffered an epileptic grand mal seizure leading us to the ER very early in the morning and completely changing our lives.  It was there that we discovered an avocado size brain tumor!  We spent one month in the hospital.  Luckily I had taken so many classes and fallen in love with medical terminology, illnesses, etc. so I was able to understand what the doctors were telling me and our family. We didn't have kids at this time.  We actually had problems getting pregnant and were in the adoption process of being selected.  This all ended that morning.  There's a lot of other stuff that I don't feel comfortable sharing about the family around us at that time.

There was a lot of sadness and joy in my husband's family in a week and a half time.  One brother's family fell apart, my husband had a massive cancerous brain tumor, and the other brother found out his wife was pregnant with her first child.

During that process, I was mostly concentrating on my husband and the possibility of the voice of warning that had happened a couple of years prior to coming to fruition.

It was a scary thought, but I had to trust the Lord and the blessings that my husband and I received during this process.  The doctor sent him home to die after a month in the hospital.  They originally wanted to send him into a nursing home, but we said, "No, if he's going to die, it's going to be at home with his family."  He didn't die though!  He got healthier and healthier.  As he was going through radiation and some of the chemo, he was told that he had 1 to 1 1/2 years to live.  He was also told that with this radiation treatment, if he lived 10 years, he would have a secondary cancer caused by the radiation. His mom and I were there when we got that information, and we asked, "Why in the world would we do it then?" But you also come to an understanding that it's a last hope.
You have an understanding that we all die, some people just die a little earlier than others. So when my sweet husband lived eight years longer than they ever thought would happen, I was overjoyed and extremely grateful. During the 8 years, we owned our own business and worked with each other 24/7, we adopted our niece, we spent lots of time at the temple, and we didn't take things for granted. We were in love!

It was very difficult to go through, but I knew my Heavenly Father loved me, and I knew He would never give me anything I could not handle. I knew my hubby's time was up, when it was finally here, and I wouldn't change that. His body was so done. And sometimes watching somebody go through that is enough to be so grateful for the life you had with them and look forward to the one you will have with them. I have been directed in so many ways by my Father in Heaven that I could never forsake the goodness that He has done. Life is hard, but it's supposed to be. Otherwise we would never return to God the way we're supposed to, the way that He planned it, the way that He knew it would happen. There is so much joy in a life of sadness or heartache or difficulty or challenge. The most beautiful thing that we can do to show gratitude to our Heavenly Father for giving us this life is to find joy.

You asked how do you find joy? It's in the little things. It's in the birds chirping after rain. It's the rainbow before and after a rainstorm. It's seeing the light on the other side of that tunnel that seems so dark. It's experiencing watching someone come to Christ, and it's watching someone go to Christ.

One of the most amazing things that has transpired since my husband passed away and becoming a widow at the age of 38 is the fact that my genealogy and his (both of our families are converts) has exploded. I'm talking from having 20 people on my line to now having a thousand and his line having a couple of hundred going to a thousand. These names of our family have connected us in more ways than I ever dreamed would happen. I have struggled so hard to find family members for the last two decades, and I am so grateful that my husband has found them over there and has brought them to me, so we can make that link.  Now that is beautiful!

Yes, I've been through some challenges. This is only within the last 13 years, and there's so much more that I've been through. But these are the main ones that sent me on the path to my Heavenly Father and never forsaking the experiences that I have experienced, good or bad, because all of them have joy.

By all means, I am not perfect. And that is perfectly okay with me, because I am definitely not complete and ready to go back to my Father in Heaven. I am just a daughter of God who is experiencing the joys that my Father wants me to have in order to become the Heavenly queen I am supposed to become. That's my joy!


Walk In Faith

April 3, 2017

These last few weeks, I've had this burning feeling in my heart that we need to have another baby soon, and I have been terrified and completely paralyzed by fear.

What if the one medication I can take with pregnancy doesn't work?
How will the hormones of pregnancy affect my already chemically-imbalanced brain and body?
What if I struggle to bond with this precious child because of my lack of good emotions?
How will I be able to take care of a dependent newborn when every day is such an emotional struggle?

I prayed over and over and over again for God to give me a sure answer that I could do this, but I only had the thought come to my mind over and over and over again that I needed to move forward with faith.  But the fear, the panic, and the overwhelming feelings surrounding this decision completely overtook me as I thought about moving forward.

I knew General Conference was coming up and that it could be a source of peace and calm for my very troubled heart, so I prayed again, this time asking that somehow something someone said would touch my heart and give me reassurance.  I felt some peace knowing that God would answer my prayer, and I anxiously waited for Conference.

Saturday morning came, and my heart was in a deep depression.  Although I was not crying on the outside most of the day, my entire inside was weeping, something I never would have understood unless I felt it myself every time the depression phase comes.  The talks were good, but none of them touched my heart in particular.  Then the Saturday afternoon session came and still nothing specific stood out to me.  I didn't lose hope though.  I knew my answer, my peace, was coming.

That evening, I went to a friend's house during the Priesthood Session.  On the way there, the sadness engulfed me, and I spent the next hour driving around crying.  I felt like I was grieving-- grieving the loss of my old self that loved the thought of having a baby, grieving the fact that my happiness is so fleeting now, and grieving over accepting that things might not return to normal as soon as I thought before (the lithium has not been working anymore).  I prayed again and told God everything about my heartbreaking, upset, and disappointed feelings.  I was all alone, so I talked out loud.  And I said it; I finally said it.  "This doesn't feel fair.  And it hurts.  It hurts in a way that I will never be able to explain.  Sometimes I feel so alone and scared.  It's the hardest thing I've ever had to endure, and I wish it could all go away.  But... I know it has a purpose.  Nothing about life is meant to be fair or easy or happy all the time.  So I will move forward.  I'll trust.  I just need help with every step of this journey.  I can do it if I just have help."

I drove to my friend's house, still feeling uneasy and very emotional, but I felt some healing in saying what I truthfully felt.

The next morning, I listened to Conference again while crocheting.  I was listening, but I wasn't taking notes, so it seemed like some of the talks were going in one ear and out the other.  I wasn't worried, because I knew I could go back and study them again, but then, out of nowhere, one sentence pierced my heart with unmistakable power.  It was exactly what I needed God to tell me:

Immediately I knew this was the answer to my prayers, a gift from God for my stormy mind.

I don't have all of the answers.  I don't know how.  And I don't have the reassurance that everything will be easy just because I am willing to do what God asks.  But I don't have to.  God has made a PROMISE that He will direct my path as I trust in Him, so I just have to move forward in faith (like I kept thinking before but I'm a little slow with these things) and take that first step, and then God WILL provide.

It would be so much easier to know all of the details, and I still wish that I could have a clear vision of the future, but I am learning to have faith, more faith than I've ever been required to have, and I am trying my hardest to trust in God's power to bless me as I strive to raise a righteous family.

April 6, 2017

These last few weeks have been extremely difficult.  I had been doing so well for a couple of weeks, and then it seemed that the medicine stopped working completely, and I was back at the beginning.  The last phase of depression was very difficult and felt like it would never lift.  This was at the time that I was feeling we needed to have another baby soon, so I really could not comprehend it, and I cried about it multiple times every day, even after my spiritual moment of recognizing that God would help me as I exercised the faith to walk.  This morning, I switched to mania, and it has been a welcomed relief this time.  This evening, I was looking through videos of Brooklyn as a baby, and I felt (I actually FELT) good, happy, loving emotions.  My heart was almost overflowing with good feelings.  And then I felt in my heart that everything will be okay.  It's like God needed me to be willing to move forward in faith, and once I decided I would move in that direction, He blessed me with a short, but beautiful, moment of peace and happiness, and I will cherish that precious moment forever!

April 10, 2017

This morning, I had my doctor's appointment to switch to the medication I can take while pregnant.  Up until this morning, I felt like I kept going up and down about really moving forward with this, and I had been so afraid still.  But this morning, I felt peace and calm.  I felt sure and completely resolved to walk in faith.  Kyle got to go to my doctor's appointment with me.  I really appreciated feeling his support and love through his effort to come to my appointment, even though it was at an inconvenient time with work.  At the beginning of the appointment, the doctor was asking how the medication was working and trying to figure out what to do next.  I couldn't find a time to stop the flow of our conversation and tell her that I wanted to switch to latuda.  But finally, the opportune time came, and she readily agreed that we should switch.  In fact, she said she was hopeful that this medication could really help me, much more hopeful than she was with the lithium and zoloft that I was prescribed at the hospital.  So we switched, and my peace continued.  I honestly have no fear anymore, and I know without a doubt that everything will work out somehow.

July 5, 2017

I've had very good moments these last two months that have reassured me that it's still the right thing to move forward with having a baby, and then I've had moments of great confusion and uneasiness.

The Sunday when I left church and drove around aimlessly while crying and wishing I could die was a moment of great confusion.  How can I be a mom with something so awful plaguing my mind and my life???  Why would God want me to be a mom to another precious child when I am already constantly afraid that I'm failing at being a good mom to my beautiful daughter?  But I moved forward.  I kept going.  I didn't give up.  I didn't let the fear overtake me.

Now we've tried a few times to get pregnant, and it still hasn't worked out.  Every month, I have to prepare myself, remind myself that this is what God wants, and move forward in faith again.  But now I'm even more confused.  Why, if this is what God wants and I am trying to be obedient in something that scares me more than anything, why isn't it working out right away?  I know I shouldn't think like that, but I do.  What I'm doing is hard and scary and requires so much faith, and it's not working.  It's only getting harder and requiring even more faith.

I know it will work sometime, but right now, I feel so discouraged.  I'm trying.  I'm even succeeding at getting myself excited to have another one.  And then my excitement is dashed and turns into very dark depression, when my broken mind has to think about another month of having faith that I can do this hard thing, another month of reassuring myself that God won't give me more than I can handle with His help, that He will be there to help me, that I can still ask for help from others even though I am making the choice to bring another child into this world, and that my child really does need me, not someone else.

In some ways, I just want to be pregnant so that I'm committed and so I can focus my energy on bonding and loving and getting excited to have another one.  But God must have another plan, a better plan.  So I patiently wait and trust and hope that my brokenness can handle the disappointment and continual fear it is facing right now.

August 1, 2017

Still no baby, so we're going to get in to a specialist soon to see what we can do about moving this process along.  I mostly feel peace.  Every time I am in mania, I feel very excited about having a baby and feel completely confident that I can handle it.  When I switch to depression, I feel very scared and unsure about how I will be able to do this.  But every time I feel overwhelmed and doubtful, this scripture comes to my mind:

With the remembrance of this scripture comes a flood of memories and feelings about how God has confirmed to my mind before that it is right to have a baby by giving me peace, and I simply need to continue moving forward in faith.  My daughter is an unmistakable gift from God sent to bring me joy and comfort and peace through my trials, so I can only imagine what amazing gift God has in store with this next baby.

August 22, 2017

Last week, it seemed as if I had started back at the beginning.  I suddenly didn't want to have a baby because of fear, and I begged God to show me how it will all work out and how I will handle it.  Saturday evening, we went to the adult session of stake conference.  Our stake president gave a wonderful talk about being "Go and Do" people and doing without having to see the details of how things will work out.  I once again felt peace in my mind and heart that God will help me, but I need to have the kind of faith to move forward without seeing the ending yet.  I need to have the kind of faith that can trust in God's promises to me, enough to do something scary and unsure, knowing that I won't be alone through this struggle.

September 11, 2017

Today was my appointment with the infertility doctor.  It has been almost 2 years that we have been trying (on and off) to have a baby.  These last couple of weeks have been glorious for me as I have had very little depression or mania.  As a result of this, I have felt very excited about having a baby.  In fact, I have felt the strong desire to hold other people's babies again, and the fear that once seemed overpowering is gone.  I feel like this is the greatest blessing God could be giving me at this time.  I don't know how long this journey will last or when another one of God's precious children will be welcomed into our family, but I do know this-- God is sustaining me, blessing me, and giving me everything I need to succeed in doing His will.  He has blessed me with a wonderfully supportive husband who is already an amazing father and is willing to help me through every struggle I face.  He has blessed me with a loving daughter who makes being a mother a joyful experience, even when it is difficult because of my struggles.  He has blessed me with friends who are willing to talk and listen and help me whenever I need it.  He has blessed me with the patience to wait until His blessings will be fulfilled, the ability to see His hand working in my life, and the perspective to know that this path I am on is a path of JOY!


Enjoying the Good

I haven't written about myself in a couple of weeks, because honestly things have been going really well, and that always creates a writer's block for me.  Nothing to write about is a very good thing.  I've had a few rough times (one evening of crying to my husband about my feelings of being a failure as a mom, another evening crying to him about a difficult counseling appointment, and a few nights of literally no sleep from mania), but these times have passed quickly before my heart has been filled with peace, hope, and sleep again.

Normally, I feel pretty hesitant about doing too much when I feel well, because I know it won't last forever, and trying to add certain things back into my life when I feel well will only result in more frustration when I don't feel well anymore.  I think it will take a very long time to completely heal from this, even when things are significantly better all the time, because my heart still has the open wounds and scars from these last 11 months.  I'm sure it will come in time, but sometimes I wonder if there will always be a slight feeling of hesitation, not knowing if I will slip back into darkness again later.

Since it has been a couple of good weeks now, I have been able to do some things that are normally too overwhelming to even think about.  I deep cleaned our bathroom!!  It had been a while, so I finally took a good day to do that difficult task, and it felt so good to be able to do it without any difficulty.  I also wrote a little bit more of the story of my childhood.  I used to work on this every Sunday, but it got to be way too difficult when all of this mental illness struggle started, so it felt good to work on it a little more.  I didn't struggle at church at all yesterday, I have been able to feel so much love for my little family, and I honestly feel like myself in every way right now.

This time around of feeling well, I have been trying to focus on not thinking that I have overcome this forever, and instead focus on simply enjoying these beautiful, happy days that have become precious and very appreciated gifts.

Feeling this happiness and light has been a good reminder for me of who I really am underneath the emotional struggle and what feeling good feels like.  It reminds me that I want to do what it takes to get back to feeling like this when things are hard again.  It is worth fighting for!

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That We Might Have Joy: Adrienne's Story

First I want to say that if you are reading this and are struggling with whatever life has thrown at you, I hope you find comfort in knowing that you are not alone, and that there is always joy to be found. You are doing great. Keep pushing forward.

A little bit of background information: Since the middle of high school, I have dealt with anxiety and depression. These things have been something that have lingered and followed me throughout my journey in life even to this day. The feelings that one experiences during depression and anxiety can be overwhelming, unbearable even. Pain and sorrow drape over the mind, leaving the person feeling hopeless, confused and scared. It has not been easy dealing with depression and anxiety. However, with the help of loved ones and modern medicine, I have been able to make it through these struggles and find joy. 

Recently though, life decided to throw a new curve ball my way. Just this last April my husband and our daughter (who is now 16 months, so hard to believe!) moved from Seattle, Washington to Boise, Idaho. My husband had gotten a new job downtown, and we found a beautiful house to rent in the area. Even though I loved Seattle, I was looking forward to exploring Boise and being closer to my family who live just a few hours away. That first month in Boise was great. I was exercising and eating well, had tons of energy, and took my daughter to all sorts of parks. We got to visit with family who came to stay with us for a while as well. Overall, things were great. I felt happy.

Then over the course of a couple weeks, things went downhill emotionally for me. I started feeling irritated and angry all the time. I had a hard time being patient with my daughter who was going through the tough phase of teething and growth spurts, along with short naps and little sleep at night. I lost my energy and motivation to exercise. I would snap at my husband at the silliest things. It was like I could not feel joy anymore, and I had no idea why this was happening to me. I became depressed, and started to experience something that I had not experienced before-- apathy. Nothing interested me anymore. My desire to do anything was gone. Everything I used to enjoy seemed pointless. It took enormous effort just to go outside to check the mail. All I wanted to do was sit on the couch. I couldn't feel happy even if I wanted to. Now to clarify, I have felt like this in the past with depression, but this time was different. This was a 24/7 deal. All the time. I couldn't snap out of it. 

After a couple months of this, I was finally convinced to see a counselor about my struggles. He suggested switching my medications to see if that would help. And thank goodness, it did help, at least partially. All those feelings of frustration and anger were gone. I was able to get my feelings under control in that sense. My patience returned again. I had my depression under control once more.

However, my feelings of happiness and motivation did not fully return, and that is what I am dealing with today. Indeed, there are times where I can feel happy now, but those times are not as frequent it seems. It still takes great effort to do anything, like doing a load of dishes or going for a walk with my baby. Some days it's all I can do to make sure my daughter is fed and dressed. I find it difficult to find things to do that I enjoy, because nothing seems interesting anymore. I would much rather lay down in bed and do nothing. I don't necessarily feel depressed during these times, just numb. Like I am floating in a void between happy and sad where there is nothing. What's really difficult about all of this is that I WANT to be happy. I WANT to enjoy things. I WANT to have the energy to accomplish the things that I want to in life. And though there are days where I can feel positive and happy, the majority of the time it feels out of reach.

Wow. So where is the joy in all this? How can I find joy when I have a hard time feeling anything at all? Thankfully there are some things that do bring me joy now, and I am ever so thankful for these things. 

One of those things is photography. I currently have my bachelors degree in photography, and taking photos is something that I have a strong passion for. I love to go out and photograph my beautiful daughter, and find new places to go photograph. I love photographing others, and seeing how happy they are when they receive their photos. Seeing others happy makes me happy.

I also feel much joy when my husband plays the piano. It is such a random thing to me honestly, but I am so glad that I am able to feel those positive emotions when he does play. 

Last, prayer brings me joy. There are times where all I want to do is feel something, so I kneel down and I pray to God to help me feel peace. And you know what? He answers me, even if it is just for a brief moment. Sometimes its not right away, but eventually, I can feel peace and His love for me. That right there is proof to me that He is there and that there is a reason to keep journeying through this life with faith that everything will work out. 

We each have our own trials. We each have our own tale to tell. I could go on forever about my own struggles. But there is always one thing in common. One thing that got me through those clouds of darkness-- I found joy. And that joy is what I hold onto until the next storm, where I hope to find joy to guide me through once again.


That We Might Have Joy: Brian's Story

My name is Brian.  On the morning of November 22nd, 2012, I was watching the morning news and a story came on about a local little girl named Caroline.  She was 5 years old and had a brain tumor called (DIPG).  Her parents, Rachael and Kevin, explained how this cancer was pretty much a death sentence-- no hope, no cure.  Typically children between the ages of 5-9 are diagnosed, and the life expectancy is 9-12 months.  I watched in disbelief.  How can this be?  At the end of the program they said they created a Facebook page for her so people could follow her story.  I decided to "like" the page.  Caroline became the first child I ever followed.  I watched update after update, and my heart broke more and more.  By following Caroline's story, it lead me to follow more kids, and by doing so, I realized how a simple gift would cheer them up.  On March 7th, 2013, I created a page called Jars of Hope "Inspired by Caroline."  I fill an 8x4 plastic jar with as many toys possible to kids ages 3-12 battling any health issue.  I put the child's name on the lid along with their favorite stickers.  My aunt also makes character pillowcases that I include in each package.  Each child is sponsored for $20 by a follower on my page.  $15 helps pay for the shipping and the purchase of toys and $5 from each sponsored child is banked at the end of the month and the money will help a family.  Four months after I created the page, Caroline passed away from her 8 month battle with her brain tumor.

This challenge isn't so much my personal challenge, but how can I help someone out during theirs. I can share so many illnesses that my followers have never heard of and help spread awareness, along with joy.

Being able to send a gift like this in the mail can turn a bad moment into a good moment, a bad day into a good day.  Some kids take these to their appointments.  Some kids receive their jar and pillowcase in the hospital.  It brings me great joy to see them smile.  My joy is found knowing that every smile created is a result of the impact Caroline's story had on me.

To date, over 1,400 kids have received a jar and 600 kids have received a pillowcase (they were started a bit later).

In this picture is a little boy named Vincent. He's enjoying his jar and Batman pillowcase. He lost his left eye to retinoblastoma (cancer).


That We Might Have Joy: Meg's Story

I was paralyzed when I was 22 after I fell off a cliff while hiking in southern Utah. I am now a C-7 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down without the use of my hands. I do have the use of my arms, neck, and head, so I push a manual wheelchair.

I find joy through being grateful and serving others.

Here is an article I wrote that describes what I have learned through my trials:

Ten Reasons Trials Give You More Out of Life

I had a stroke last week. One minute I’m sitting on the bed talking to Whit and the next I’m in the ambulance unable to say my words properly. However, it was small and, except for a few IV poke remnants, I have no lasting damage.

I had some time to ponder during my three days in the hospital. I was lucky. Way lucky. But there are others not so lucky. I thought of the people around me, close friends and family struggling with troubles of their own. Cancer. Infertility. Disease. Death. Depression. Loneliness. Financial concerns. Worry.

…and the list goes on.

And I think that all of us might have a little trouble accepting the difficulties that life divvies out. We wonder Why me? Why this? Why now? I know I had trouble accepting this wheelchair ten years ago when I fell off a cliff and became paralyzed. I stared at myself in front of a full-length mirror and wondered the same things. No more legs. No more tummy muscles. No more hand use. But there was no one to be mad at. Except God.

I think it’s just human nature to want to assign blame, and God is the perfect target when there is no one else. Through my tears, my heart shouted clear to heaven. Why have You taken away so much from me?

Almost immediately, my soul heard a tender message. It was meant for me, but could have just as easily been said to you. Right now. In your trying time as your heart shouts clear to heaven, heaven responds with the same message: Don’t covet. I have given you more.

It has been ten years since I’ve been paralyzed and ten years since I heard this answer. And I am still maybe another ten years off from really understanding what it means, but in my probably childish grasp, let me share ten ways I have learned trials can give us more out of life…

1. We learn more confidence. 

I was not born with any amount of humility to speak of. I liked praise for my good grades. Recognition for my (totally awesome, did you see it?!) performance. Approval. Applause. Compliments. I liked it all. Well, I won’t lie, I still like it all. But humility has come in small degrees as I’ve tried to gracefully endure being wheelchair bound.

Before I was paralyzed some guy always got the door for the beautiful me. At school. The Post Office. Stores. And in a wheelchair, guys still got the door, but for a much different reason. I look the same, but not really, as “I” am not the first thing people see. The wheelchair takes center stage. I have had long looks in the mirror, and it has taken a long time for me to decide for myself that, yes, it is okay that people get the door for me, because I can’t. It is okay that many don’t “see” me the first time we meet. It is okay that no one applauds when I finally make it up a steep ramp, and no one recognizes how quickly I can do my makeup. I can be confident in my ever-growing abilities and take my turn to now give others the approval, accolades, and compliments.

Don’t get me wrong –I still get some attention from others, but it was initially jarring how different it was. Any trial that shakes you to the core will surely shake loose some of the pseudo-confidence we have that’s built on the words, looks, and actions of others. And let it fall. The sooner we can accept ourselves for who we are, who we aren’t, and what we can and can’t do, the sooner we’ll begin to love what we see in the mirror – even if what stares back at us is scarred, battered, and bruised (but not beaten) by trials.

2. We become more patient.

I think most people would describe themselves as impatient. I think it’s just how most of us are made. I remember being called out on my impatience several times before I was paralyzed, and my impatience was obvious after. With my new paralyzed body, I had to relearn the most basic tasks, like flipping a light switch and picking my nose.

In the hospital rehab, I just got sick of it and quit. I think that’s how it goes when our impatience peaks, we can either learn patience or quit. I refused to go to therapy and stayed in my hospital bed. A brassy nurse came thundering in, ripped off all my blankets, pointed her bony finger at me and snapped, “Missing therapy is not an option! This is not an option!”

I went to therapy. I never missed again. Because she was right, while I did have two options, quit or continue, the stay-in-bed-sulking-option was not the right one.

When we choose to push through whatever challenge is in front of us, we can learn patience even if it is just with ourselves.

3. We get more strength. 

I believe every person – with any challenge – wonders if they are really strong enough to handle it.

For sure I didn’t think I was. I was 97 pounds when I left the hospital, and I couldn’t even laugh without passing out.

I couldn’t push myself ten feet. I couldn’t lift a 2-liter of soda. I couldn’t brush my teeth without fainting. I was a pansy, and I knew it. And I kept saying it – to myself and to others. I’m such a pansy. I’m a pansy. I’m a pansy.

But my first October in a wheelchair I noticed that the little potted purple pansies on my front patio didn’t seem to get the memo winter was coming. They were still in full bloom, green leaves and all. They stayed that way all month. Then through November. Then through December. I saw those purple faces poking out of the snow in January and standing tall through sleeting rain in February. I’m not sure when they wilted. In my mind, they never will.

I learned that, for a flower, pansies are kind of tough. And if I was going to be one, I’d better really be one.

Despite what I know I look like, I now actually think of myself in very strong terms. The constancy of physical challenge makes it possible for me to “prove” myself time and again. Every day. From the moment I wake up in the morning and wonder if I can muster the strength to sit up by myself (or if I have to ask Whit to help me) to the last moments of the day when I approach my bed again and wonder if I have anything left to scootch over (or if I have to ask Whit to help me…)

For anyone with any trials in any form, strength is something that grows. We become stronger-willed, more firm in our beliefs, more self-reliant.

Because no matter how much of a pansy you might look like on the outside, strength still grows as long as we’re a pansy on the inside, too.

4. We learn more appreciation.

When I had the stroke, I was truly terrified. I actually don’t remember being so afraid, and I am not sure I ever have been. My speech kept coming and going, and each time I said a wrong word, I panicked. At one horrifying moment, my right side went numb and, not only couldn’t I speak, but I couldn’t even feel my arm.

But in a relatively short amount of time, the feeling returned and so did the speech, and they sent me to another area where I could just be monitored. I was on a medication through an IV in my elbow pit (that a paramedic placed with one poke while straddling me in a moving ambulance!) but every time I bent my arm, it temporarily impeded the flow and the alarm would sound. The poor nurses were a little tired of coming in to turn off the alarm and suggested putting in another IV where it wouldn’t be such a bother.

The first nurse tried, but popped the vein. She felt awful and got a second nurse who popped another vein. A third nurse was committed to succeeding and, after many sticks, a lot of blood, and some bad bruising, finally got the IV in.

Like most people, I am pretty squeamish about needles and blood-draws and stuff, but I felt the pricks oddly reassuring. I even liked to feel them. They hurt, but the pain was a message to my heart – I could feel my arms – both of them. I could speak. I was okay.

I think when we have something taken from us, or when we struggle to get something, we value it more. We love it more. We appreciate it more. Anyone who has struggled with infertility, or lost someone close, or any number of similar challenges could surely write a list of things they appreciate more, not in spite of being challenged, but because of it.

This popular song sings it well: Let Her Go

5. We become more realistic.

When I see a doorway, I can’t pretend it is anything other than what it is. I can’t pretend it is wider or taller or greener or WHATEVER. I don’t have the luxury of pretending the physical world is anything different because my wheelchair is 24 ½ inches wide, and no amount of positive thinking is going to change that.

Likewise, moms of children on respirators can’t pretend the air quality is better than it is – they have to know exactly what is real so they can plan accordingly. I think, for whatever challenge we face, we become more realistic. We think deeper. Out of necessity, we become more aware, and this extends out into other aspects of our lives.

People have argued that you have to trade “realistic” thinking for “positive” thinking. I think some do. The more trials someone gets, the more realistic they can become, the more pessimistic they can become. However, the world is full of positives that are realistic, and there doesn’t need to be any down side to seeing the world exactly the way it is.

6. We see more of others’ talents.

This is a tough one for most people. I think the majority of us are born with some kind of warrior gene and we can – and want to – do it all.

Trials provide a magic warrior-gene-disabler. They make it so, in some ways, maybe large, maybe small, we really can’t do it all. We can fake it, maybe for a little while. We can struggle through our hardships and heartaches alone, pretending we’re fine, but when we finally accept our limitations, we become free to see just how capable those around us are.

Other people can bring us dinners. They can watch our kids. They can get our mail. They can come sit with us.

…and they don’t mind.

Not only don’t they mind, but they like it. You like it, too, when it’s you who gets to be the giver (and not the receiver). I think being a good gift receiver is a lost art. It’s easier for us to give and share our own talents; it’s more fun. When we get to be the ones who give, we get to show just how willing, capable, and loving we are. But when we allow others to give to us, we let them show off all those things. We see just how willing, capable, and loving they are.

7. We see the good side of more people.

I once fell out of my wheelchair on a very dark and deserted street. I was only on the ground a moment when a loud car roared to a stop next to me. Out jumped a muscly, shaved-head, tattooed, could-be-described-as-frightening guy. He wore a skin-tight wife-beater and baggy, super low jeans with his boxers puffed out. He strutted toward me and, without a word, scooped me up, and put me back into my wheelchair. Then left.

In my ten years of being paralyzed, I have learned that no one will deny me help when they understand the situation. There have been times when, at first, people haven’t understood, and I had a well-dressed lady tell me off for not knowing how to pump gas into my car (once she understood that I couldn’t walk she felt terrible and pumped it for me. We parted as friends.)  I’ve had people question why I am asking for help (again, it usually is when I am in my car and they can’t see I can’t walk). But once someone understands the need, they are more than willing to help!

I think it is important to understand that almost everyone is ready and willing to help with whatever they can, but they just need to understand what that is. It is common for people to offer a well-meaning, “Call me for anything!” but we need to call them. And tell them how they can help.

Yes, this means there is a certain degree of pride-swallowing. We have to admit – out loud – that we need help. But I promise that if we’re willing to help others understand our situation, they will love the opportunity to help.

8. We develop more empathy.

When sharing about a current challenge, no one likes to hear that someone “knows” what they’re talking about. Unless, of course, they really do. And to really “know” about someone’s trial, you have had to have been there. Done that.

Some might argue with me, saying they understand diabetes perfectly, because they tended their uncle all the way to his grave. I agree that this person definitely understands diabetes well, but their perfect understanding is with giving care to a patient with diabetes, not in having the disease itself.

True empathy is like a beautiful flower bouquet. You might see and smell other beautiful flowers, you might have pressed your face against the petals of others, but the only ones you can really give are the ones in your hand.

All moms have a lot in common, but I have seen the tender interactions between moms of patients at Primary Children’s Hospital. The trials they share bring them closer together. They understand each other on a level only reached through experience.

Once we’ve endured a trial and come out on the other side, it is our choice if we’re going to use our newfound expertise to help others. Elder Ulisses S. Soares told us to do so. He said, “…each one of us must look around and reach out to the sheep who are facing the same circumstances and lift them up and encourage them…”

A favorite poem of mine by Will Allen Dromgoole shares the sweet need for all of us to reach out to others who are going through something we’ve endured and conquered:

An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

9. We gain more opportunities.

My husband and I run the Ms. Wheelchair Utah pageant. We founded it the year after I was paralyzed and our mission is “to provide opportunities for women and girls in wheelchairs to recognize their unique potential, not in spite of being wheelchair bound, but because of it.”

I see many girls, just like me, who’ve found purpose in being wheelchair bound. Some are athletes, some are speakers, some are teachers, some are students. These girls have a lot of success. But sadly, I’ve also met many girls who are simply wheelchair bound.

I don’t believe the successful girls are just “lucky.” I don’t believe the less-than-successful girls have it “harder.” I think it just comes down to who is willing to answer the door when opportunity knocks.

…and this goes for all of us.

Because of his experiences in the Nazi concentration camp, Viktor Frankl was able to write Man’s Search for Meaning. While it took a strong heart and a lot of overcoming, Frankl saw the opportunities for learning and growth in the terrible circumstances he was in.

Opportunity doesn’t always knock at the door we want. In fact, I would dare say that opportunity’s faint knock taps three doors down on the wind-beaten wood of a door with rusty hinges. But if we’re willing to answer the door and welcome the unsolicited learning experiences, we can find a new path for success we’ve never considered. We can reach our potential, not in spite of the trials we face, but because of them.

10. We can have more times of inexplicable peace.

My face was pressed into the red dirt as I lay at the bottom of the 45-foot cliff I’d just fallen from. I knew stuff was broken. I knew stuff was bleeding. I knew it was bad. The people around me seemed frantic, but I, surprisingly, was calm. I was peaceful. I knew I was going to be okay.

I have since had many moments of peace when “peaceful” would not be a word used by onlookers to describe the situation.

I have a friend whose teenage son struggles with a terrible disease that affects her whole family. I asked her what blessing she gets from her trials, and she told me, simply, peace. She said that between unwanted lab results, looming medical procedures, and missed baseball games, when she feels she might be at her breaking point, she reaches toward God. And even though chaos is two feet away, she has an inexplicable pain-free moment to rejuvenate. “Without trials,” she said, “we wouldn’t seek those moments out.”

When faced with a seemingly insurmountable trial, people tend to go one of two ways. They can reach toward God, or, well, not. And while I’ve met many in varying degrees of toward-God-or-not, I haven’t ever met anyone (who is experiencing a difficult trial) in the middle.

When we reach toward God we can have peace. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

Reaching toward some divine reason for why we’re struggling so much gives us hope. It helps us accept that, while our lives might be terribly trying right now, it is for a reeeeally good reason. Like the beautiful poem by Corrie ten Boom reads:

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

So there you go. Ten ways trials give us more out of life. Let me rephrase that, ten ways trials CAN give us more. We have to be willing to become more confident, patient, and strong. We need to take a step back to appreciate what we have and not get hung up on what we don’t. We have to want to see things the way they really are and not lose our optimism. We must allow others to help us and find ways we can help others.

We have to recognize the opportunities available, even if they lead us down a path so far from the one we’d rather be on.

And we have to seek those moments of rejuvenating peace, pecial moments just for us, if we’ll take them.

I know it’s been said before, but this old adage, at least to me, never gets old: Trials don’t define us. They refine us. I know that I am what I am, and you are what you are, because of the trials we’ve experienced. Big trials. Small trials. We all have some of both and each is meant for one purpose – to give us more.

***If you would like to continue following Meg's inspiring story, you can check out her website or her facebook page.


Finding Joy Through Devastation

Last Wednesday and yesterday (just the evening) were devastating days, and I'm still not sure how to accept or handle what is happening.  Twice in the last week, I have experienced the shaking, difficult breathing, and heart racing of mania again.  I haven't had this since April, and I had already forgotten much of the detail of how miserable and painful it is.

Part of me wants to be so angry and upset, to question "why me?," and to not try to pick back up from this, but another *better* part of me knows that bitterness will never get me anywhere.  I must keep going.  I must keep trying to find joy even through this devastation.

I knew this was probably coming.  I knew that the high of mania that I have been experiencing (that I finally took the time to write about just before it changed... haha) wouldn't last forever.  But it didn't really sink in completely that I would face something so horrible again.

Currently, I am not taking any medications and haven't been since June.  In December, I started taking lithium and Zoloft.  After 3 dose increases and still only minimal progress with the mania and depression, we switched to latuda.  This switch was twofold.  We knew we needed to switch to something new to try to help me feel better, but also latuda is the only bipolar medication approved for pregnancy, so we switched to that one with the hope of being able to have another baby soon (of course through inspiration and prayer which I will share in another post at a later date).

The first two months after taking the latuda, my mania improved dramatically.  It was like night and day.  Suddenly, the mania turned into a very pleasant high and was a welcomed relief after each phase of deep depression.  It was the time I could catch up on things, feel like myself, and feel some of the good emotions that were missing for so long.  Unfortunately, at the same time, this medication made my depression much worse, to the point of me feeling absolutely no hope during that phase and thinking about dying hundreds of times a day.  It also made me very sleepy, so sleepiness combined with severe depression meant having very intense struggles to even get out of bed.

By the end of the two months, my mania went away completely, and I spent the next few weeks in this unrelenting depression.  It was getting worse by the day, so I told my psychiatrist. She upped the dose with the hope that it would maybe improve my depression.  After taking the increased dose for only 2 weeks, I knew that I couldn't take it anymore.  Those two weeks, I was so tired that I could only stay awake for a few hours each day.  I hoped this would improve as I got used to the medication, but the psychiatrist told me the unfortunate news that this would not improve over time if that was how my body reacted to it.

Feeling like there was no other option and under the direction of the psychiatrist, I stopped taking the medication.  I felt relieved stopping it and went on a wonderful vacation with my family the next week.  I was happy to be awake and feeling relatively well for that precious time with my family.

Shortly after, my cycles began switching again with my mania staying very enjoyable.  It was such a blessing to have that time, and I am holding onto the hope that I can get there again.

After almost two months of being off the medication and still doing well with the mania, I thought and hoped and even prayed that it would stay like this forever.  We could just quickly have a baby (because we know this is right for our family at this time, even though it will be very difficult for me... I promise that post will come soon) and then figure out something else later.

But this last week all the good emotions that have been filling my mania left as I endured a very difficult and painful mania.  Part of the hurt came from the actual symptoms I was experiencing, and the other part was from the memory of all I endured before we got this under control.  It's so hard taking a step back, especially into something so difficult to understand and endure, but I know that good things will come in time.

We are exploring further options at this time and hoping to find something that will at least provide some relief while we attempt to grow our family.  As my mind feels so weighed down by the fear that things are going to get even harder in the coming weeks, I find relief in looking for joy and the evidence of God's abundant blessings all around me:
  • I am LOVING my haircut!  Seriously, it's so fun having short hair, and it has motivated me to do my hair every morning since getting it cut!!  Just the small act of doing my hair every morning has made me feel better.  I feel like I am doing something to make myself feel good, and I genuinely enjoy getting ready in the morning again!  
  • Yesterday was the first good day I've had at church in weeks or months.  I didn't struggle at all!  It felt like the greatest blessing I could ever have!
  • I got a new sewing machine (my last one faced a tragic death after smashing down on the concrete at the hands of my 2-year-old), and I have really enjoyed sewing to fight my struggles.  Something about creating with my hands makes me feel calm.
  • A few people have told me about specific ways that my blog has helped them.  My heart and mind have been filled with clarity that my struggles have a purpose, because I can use every devastating experience I face to uplift and hopefully bless another.  This makes all the pain worth it!
  • Two Sundays ago, I had a very hard day.  But for the first time in a while, I didn't hold in the pain and endure the three hours.  I let it out.  I cried nearly all three hours of church, and my broken heart was wrapped in so much love from the kind people who love, care, and selflessly want to help.  My life has been beyond blessed by the wonderful people God has handpicked to be in my life at this time.
  • My husband and daughter have continued to show unconditional love and bring me overflowing joy as they help me through this difficult time.  I will never have to face my struggles alone with them by my side.
I am blessed, really really blessed!  I know that I can get through whatever devastation comes my way as long as I trust in God and have the courage to search for the joy that is all around me.  Someday all of this will be made right, and I will have the privilege of seeing the complete, perfect purpose to this painful time, and I'm sure that will be glorious!  For now, I am holding onto anything that resembles hope and trusting in good days ahead.