7.26.2017

Finding Joy in Mourning for Others

I wholeheartedly and fervently believe in finding joy, even in times of trial and heartache, but I equally and very strongly believe in taking time to grieve and mourn.  And I believe the two can happen at the same time.

You see, joy, by my definition, is not a feeling or an emotion, but a way of living and viewing the world around us.  Sadness and happiness are emotions-- they come and go for everyone, regardless of our current situations.  Every day we feel varying degrees of these emotions as part of this human experience, and that's normal.

But joy... Joy is so much more!  Even in times of devastating trials, when sorrow is all we can feel, and the burdens of this life weigh heavily on our broken hearts, we can still find joy and live a joyful life.  That's because joy is a choice that includes faith in God's perfect plan and in the truth that the heart wrenching trials we face are somehow for our good.  Joy is seeing something bigger and greater than what is happening in the present and allowing that larger perspective to bring peace to our current pain.  Joy is the hope that all things will be made right someday and that nothing we face now will last forever.  Joy is getting back up and trying over and over again.  It's continuing to give our all, no matter how small our "all" is at times.  It's looking at our sorrow and brokenness with the perspective that God will somehow heal and mend us as we trust in Him.  And joy is taking time to be thankful for what we do have, despite not having some things we desperately seek.

Today I am mourning for the many people in my life facing difficult, heartbreaking trials right now.  My quest to find joy in all things will never mean not feeling sorrow for others.  It will never mean holding back tears when someone else is hurting.  And it will certainly never mean telling someone to simply "have more faith" or "just remember the bigger picture" when their world has crumbled beneath their feet.

I know, with time, that God will take all the sorrow this life has to offer and turn it into something beautiful.  I know that the Savior of the World knows what my friends feel and how to succor and comfort them, and that He most definitely will wrap my friends in the warmth of His loving embrace.  But that doesn't mean I can't feel sadness with others as they face disappointments and tragedies.  Today I am finding joy in taking time to feel and mourn with others.


7.25.2017

That We Might Have Joy: Chelsea's Story

A never ending broken heart.

I’ve never had what other kids had growing up-- security, loving parents, or even a stable home. My father was an abusive drug addict mixed with serious mental health issues, and our family suffered greatly from this. I remember leaving to my friend’s house on the weekends just to get away from the screams, the drugs, and the occasional new hole in the wall. The abuse got heavier, and soon the neighbors knew, our family knew, and even the cops knew our home was unstable. I was 11 years old in the middle of May 2004 as I watched as my father drag my mother by her hair into the room. This was an ongoing occurrence that happened about three to five times a week, but as she kicked and screamed, I knew this time it would be different. I knew if I let him close the door I wouldn’t have a mother anymore. That day, I banged on the door until he opened it. He looked at me with eyes I will never forget. That was the first night I ever experienced sleeping outside, waiting for him to find my mother and me under the tree where we were sleeping. We didn’t know what our next step was in life, but it wasn’t back to that house. We never returned.

As I tell this story to my therapist whom I see once a week, she reassures me of certain things and tries to help me cope with some of my past trials. Some days, we decide not to talk about the present trials, which can sometimes be a great relief. Sometimes, we even just get into discussions about my four-year-old son, which is by no means a horrible experience. Despite the physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse I have encountered in my 24 years of life, nothing ever prepared me for what happened over the course of the past year. I don’t even know how I got through the past year without my anti-depressants and my anxiety medication, because now that the damage is said and done, I can’t go a day without them.

Pregnancy, a simple word that is so joyous, so precious, and so nerve-wracking all at the same time. My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for a few months with no luck, so we basically stopped trying and just continued with our regular activities. In June 2016, I noticed I was extremely bloated and a bit tired. I didn’t know why I was bloated, but I summed up tiredness to my new work schedule at the veterinary clinic. Almost everyone said it was pregnancy, but I chuckled, I knew how I felt my first pregnancy, and it wasn’t like this. A few days later, I noticed my period had not come, so I decided to go to Walmart one morning and grab some Gas-X and a pregnancy test. As I got home and took the pregnancy test, I walked into the other room where my husband was and waited the two minutes with him. I walked into the bathroom, looked on the window seal, and noticed a blue plus sign staring back at me. I called my husband, and our excitement on this new journey began. Too bad the excitement lasted only six days.

After eight agonizing months of a pregnancy that was extremely high risk, too many ultrasounds to even count, moving across the country to deliver at Texas Children’s, and 8 different doctors telling me my baby was dead and to terminate once we found out the condition was painful. My pain still grows every single day. As I see children playing in the drive way as I come home from work, I get a lump in my throat and my eyes fill with tears. The constant stares of people as we walk through Wal-Mart, the mall, or even into a restaurant breaks my heart. After five and a half months of dealing with this, my heart still breaks every time someone looks at my kids. Hearing the whispers, watching people stare at my children-- it’s the worst feeling I’ve ever had, and I wish I knew how to make it stop. I try daily to normalize my children, but no matter what, they will never be “normal." They will face challenges daily that you would never think would even be a challenge. Some days, it’s too much, and I fall into depression funks that my therapist has a hard time getting me out of. I hate these weeks, when my husband must work extra hard for the house, the kids, and to make sure I am eating, drinking, and taking care of myself. My children need me to be at my best, but how can I be my best when I don’t have the energy to even get myself a bite to eat? For the most part I can push everything deep down into my soul and only have it come up during my funks. Would I ever take it back? Never. Am I glad I didn’t listen to the endless doctors telling me to terminate? Of course I am! Even though my depression and anxiety pull at my being harder some weeks than others, I would never want it any different. I am these kids' mother, their teacher, their leader, and their voice. I am a mother to Callie and Carter, my conjoined twins.

7.23.2017

The Truth Is...

The truth is, going to church is hard.

Every Saturday night, I feel completely panicked and feel like I will never be able to handle going to church the next morning.  I usually feel a very real and heavy weight on my heart, and sometimes I cry myself to sleep not knowing how I can be around the people at church (not because of them but because of how I feel) when what I feel inside is so invisibly painful.

When I wake up Sunday morning, I usually feel some peace, and it feels more manageable to be able to go to church.  But when I get to church, the pain often returns, and I get very overwhelmed thinking about the next three hours laying before me.

I often feel very overwhelmed when I hear the talks given, because the truth is that scripture study, prayer, service, etc. are very hard for me and look different now than they used to look.  I struggle knowing how to try to be better without setting completely unrealistic expectations for myself or without beating myself up over everything that is so hard to do right now.  I'm getting better at this, but sometimes it still stings, and I try my very hardest to hold in the tears that come so close to the surface.  I repeat to myself over and over and over again that I am trying and that the best I am able to offer right now is acceptable to God.

Sometimes I get this burning desire inside of me for someone to know what I am feeling, to know that I want to scream out for help, but since no one would know how to help anyway (since there's not much anyone can do), I stay quiet.  Sometimes I desperately want someone to hug my frail and broken heart and whisper gently in my ear that everything is going to be alright.  It's okay that no one knows when I need that and that I don't know how to ask for it, but it's still hard to be around so many people and yet feel so alone at times.

Often, at the very end of church, I feel discouraged that I have another long week ahead of me and that I didn't take the chance to open up to anyone about how hard things are.  I think about how it's going to be another week before I get the chance to see some of these good people again, and I usually feel unsure about how I will be able to handle another week of pain until I possibly get the chance to speak up again.

But the truth is, Sunday and Monday are my most productive days.  After getting home from church, I get a sudden, fleeting boost of energy that allows me to get caught up on some things that have been severely neglected from the week or weeks before.  I suddenly don't feel overwhelmed by the week I have ahead of me, and I'm no longer afraid.

Yes, going to church is hard, and I fight the battle every week to go regardless of how I feel, but I am blessed for going, and those blessings are so evident to me.  The truth is, going to church is worth every struggle that comes with it, because ultimately the blessings far outweigh the difficulty.


7.21.2017

One Step Enough For Me

I have always loved the song "Lead, Kindly Light."  It has been a special song to me at different times in my life and has brought me comfort and peace through its beautiful lyrics, but this week, it has gained even more meaning.

This week has been SO HARD!  Every day, I have gotten up in the morning (thankfully I have had plans every morning this week) and tried to be somewhat productive, but by the time Brooklyn's nap time came around, I was completely exhausted and drained of motivation, so I laid in bed through her nap, put a movie on for her when she woke up, and continued laying in bed until Kyle got home from work.  I didn't cry very much, and I didn't sleep very much either.  I just laid flat on my back, unable to do anything else.  Not only did I not have the energy or motivation to be productive, but it seemed like there was literally no point, and anything I could try to do was completely overwhelming anyway.

I felt like a terrible mom for allowing my daughter to watch movies instead of entertaining her myself; a failure of a wife for having my husband come home to find me in bed without my hair, the dishes, or the laundry done every day; and an awful person for not using my time to serve and reach out and bless others.

Then every evening, I would feel so sad and panicked that I had to wake up and face another day the next day.  It seemed impossible, and I really did not know how I would keep any of the next day's commitments.  I wanted to back out of everything and never get up to do anything again.  I couldn't comprehend what it would be like to continue pushing on through such devastating emotions for even one more day.

But every time I would start the chain of thoughts that I couldn't do this anymore, that I couldn't face another day, let alone many, many more days after that, the simple phrase from "Lead, Kindly Light" would come to my mind: "One step enough for me."  I had a feeling of comfort wash over me time and time again as I realized that I didn't have to see the "distant scene" or how I would do everything the next day and the days after that; I just had to see the one little step in front of me and take that step in faith.

And you know what?  Every step I took, every little, tiny, minuscule step, was met with power and strength from the Savior.  I wasn't walking alone.  He was leading me, helping me, and strengthening me through the darkness to keep seeking the light, His light.

I'm still in my night, waiting for the sun to rise again in my world, but I am finding joy this week in trying to have enough faith to keep moving forward while only seeing how to take the one next step in front of me.  And I am learning to recognize how God's power is blessing me each moment and giving me the assurance that He will continue to be there for me every day, every moment, until this night is gone.

7.18.2017

Be the Key


I believe this with all my heart.  Why?  Because my prison was unlocked by a few wonderful (and I believe inspired) people who shared their stories in the very scary time when I didn't feel like I could tell anyone about my struggle with depression.  I'm not even sure if all of them know the powerful effect sharing their story had, but they changed my life forever.

One of these influential people was a friend who wrote very honestly and openly on her blog about the heartbreaks she had faced in her life.  I remember reading her words and feeling so amazed at her bravery and strength in sharing the deepest, most painful parts of her life.  She opened a desire in me to someday be brave enough to share my deep struggles as bravely as she did.

Another person was a friend in my ward who was struggling with mental illness and was courageous enough to write a few posts on facebook about her struggles.  I immediately knew that she was someone I could trust with the painful feelings in my heart, and she ended up being the first person other than my husband that I told about my struggles.  She was an angel, a shining light, in a time that was so dark and filled with fear.

Yet another person was a teacher at BYU-Idaho who spoke very openly about her past struggles with mental illness when it applied to what we were learning, and she helped me realize that maybe I didn't have to be so afraid, maybe I wasn't as alone as I thought, and maybe someday I would be able to tell someone about my struggles in the hopes of helping them realize they weren't alone either.

My prison, the dark, lonely, painful place that seemed to have no escape, was opened by the bravery and courage of others.  I feel so indebted to them for helping me find a way out of that darkness.

Because of the selfless acts of others in helping me through the hardest times of my life, it is my mission to make sure that I can be the key to someone else's prison.  That is what motivates me to share even the deepest parts of my life through this difficult time, because maybe my sharing can help someone else through their darkness.

I am so thankful for the MANY people who have willingly and bravely shared their stories on this blog and have allowed their stories to reach those who need them.  I have seen miracles unfold throughout this process, and I feel so humbled to have witnessed these beautiful moments.

I truly believe that our individual life experiences are given to us as gifts to help each other.  Whether in sharing openly or sharing in private conversations, our stories CAN be the key to bring light, joy, and hope to another.

7.17.2017

That We Might Have Joy: Misty's Story

My name is Misty O’Shia. Shantelle has asked me to share my experiences with everyone so that I can provide comfort and relief to others as well as provide the world with an understanding of how to help those struggling with mental illness. I hope that this accurately portrays some of the feelings that are associated with a mental illness, encourages others to seek help from friends, family, and trusted professionals, and allows the world to understand the gift of their time and ears to those who are struggling.

My senior year of high school, I was so blessed. That summer I had begun a full membership into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints and had the privilege of going to Europe and Girl's State. I had it all. I felt as though I was finally seeing color for the first time. What many didn’t know is that I felt as though I was also experiencing the weight of hell, as they seemed to both co-exist at that time. I could be anyone that I wanted to be. I could believe in myself and be the person I always wanted to be. Nearly everything that I wanted to take part in that I hadn’t in the previous 3 years suddenly were a reality. I was SADD president, I was in student government, I was the senior class secretary, in a dance club that previously I hadn’t been able to afford but was babysitting for the owner to pay for lessons and materials, a lead role in in the play for that year, and in serendipity show choir. What others didn't know is that my mind and soul would be crushed for several years following because of the sinful decisions of others within my family and close friends. People that I had grown up with, that I had trusted, and people who were my idols became my devils. They became the door that lead to the painful wretched thoughts in my mind that left me thinking of ways I was going to kill myself. It was a constant cycle. I would think one thought, which would lead to another thought. Then I judged the thought as bad, gross, or sick, and labeled myself as gross or sick. I thought only disgusting people have thoughts like this, so I must be one of those people, which would lead me to consider multiple ways that I could kill myself. Around and around these thoughts went. It is hard to explain this for those that might judge you, and for those who have experienced this kind of anxiety, in fear that it will give you greater anxiety. It was an extremely hard time in my life.
   
I continued pushing forward. I read my scriptures every day, I asked the Lord to take this away, I attended the temple when the young women would go, I went to seminary and worked hard for the seminary award and for my young women’s medallion. The one thing that was my shining light amidst the continuous cycle of horrible thoughts and mental catastrophe was this. That year my seminary teacher had asked if I would step out of the class room. I wasn’t sure what trouble I had gotten into, but I agreed. My thoughts were racing. I classified them as horrible as ever. I wanted to die. My seminary teacher asked if I would accept a call to be the seminary class president for my class. I was overcome. I thought, Why would he call me now? Does God know that in that very moment my thoughts were so horrible that death sounded like a good way out of this turmoil going on inside my mind. And then the realization came. It was something so beautiful. I realized that God had given me this assignment as a way of telling me that I was worthy. He knew that I needed someone to tell me that I was a good person, that He loved me, and was aware of me in my darkest moments.
   
The third cycle of anxiety that I had that I recall lasting for several months was when I was in college. I was at a difficult spot with my boyfriend and offended at some of my actions as well as his. I was contemplating a mission, but decided not to go, mostly because I refused to think that I could ever be worthy. In a month or so, my life went from fun, exciting, and full of joy to severely depressed. I recount the experiences with boyfriends in my past, as dating and relationships that I had been involved in had taken such a drastic toll on my well-being and my self-confidence. Any single toe out of line, whether great or small with a boy I was dating, felt like I was sinning. I yelled at myself. I contemplated never dating again, because I thought that would be a better alternative than sinning in the least degree against God. As I was having this experience, the memories came flooding back. Those thoughts that started out small became all-encompassing, taking with it my little fragments of joy, my purity, my clean thoughts. During this time, I was working around 20-30 hours a week, on top of doing a 30 hour a week internship, with three online classes at night. I would return to Rexburg, only to grab a roll or some pretzels and chocolate before returning to campus to study until 11 pm at school and then continue as needed at home after that.
     
I remember instinctively thinking that if the Gospel was true and I had once felt joy, then these feelings that I was experiencing hadn’t always been. The judgments returned, the cycle of horrific thoughts and plans, the constant tears, they had all come back. I told myself I would never be a mom. I told myself I wanted to die, I’d rather die. Without my consent, it seemed that one thought would result into  a conversation with myself trying to not cut myself with a knife or having to tell myself that my sister wasn’t going to get run over because she was standing next to a car. Death seemed to always be on my mind and in my thoughts. It wouldn’t let up. It wouldn’t go away. I talked to a counselor in my bishopric, but I was too scared to tell him the thoughts that I was having. I remember telling myself that if I wasn’t crazy like my brother, then I was possessed, because only someone that was like that would have those kinds of thoughts. I wanted to tell my sister. I was so scared to tell anyone. I wanted her to know how much of an extremely hard time I was having, but I didn’t want her to know that her sister was having those kinds of thoughts. In one of my final acts of desperation, I called my previous boyfriend at midnight and asked if he would give me a blessing. On my way there, I thought of lyrics from one of my favorite songs that said, "When you are too afraid to pray just say, 'Jesus.’" As I had that thought, I then thought how amazing it would it be if I turned on the radio and that song was on. I turned on the radio, and there were those lyrics, there was my favorite song. I sobbed uncontrollably. God was aware of me. He really knew the pain I was going through. I received a blessing that night. I continued to have the horrific thoughts and emotions.
   
In another act of despondency, I had finally consented to meet with a gal from my sister’s ward for counseling. I was so afraid. After 20 minutes of tears, I told her the thoughts I was having and some of the things that I was struggling with. The first thing she told me is that I wasn’t crazy. The second thing she told me is that I had post-traumatic stress disorder, or rather extreme anxiety from an experience. In that first and second counsel sessions with her, I was able to put a name on my thoughts and emotions. She gave me several go-to moves when I began having a thought in my mind. I learned that when I have a thought, that I do not judge it as good or bad, I only say, "Hmm that is an interesting thought." Now I can look at a thought and briefly analyze where it is stemming from without judging it. It is almost as though I give myself a big hug in the process. At the time when my anxiety was really high, I couldn’t handle analyzing these thoughts, and thus was instructed to stop the thought where it was and have a go-to memory, song, and scripture on hand to replace that thought. This helped me so much.
   
It hasn’t been an easy road. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with my own anxiety. Here are a few ways, including others already previously mentioned, that I have seen God’s hand and joy in these experiences:

- Heavenly Father and inspiration to give me church responsibilities was a way of God telling me that He still loved me.
- Friends and family that encouraged me to slow down and made it safe to tell them my thoughts without judging me.
- Slowing down.  Working myself harder when I was going through trials resulted in poor nutrition and high amounts of sleep deprivation, which resulted in extreme amounts of anxiety.
- I started a project for my abnormal psychology class that allowed me to read a book about anxiety and assess myself and where I fit into the picture. Knowledge is power.
- Priesthood blessings.  I was given a very special blessing that said that this trial wouldn’t go away in this life. This brought so much relief to my heart as I realized that it was something that I would most likely experience again, and that I would have to learn how to curb it.
- I practiced several counseling skills, such as pretending the person that hurt me was sitting on a chair in front of me. I could swear at them, I could yell at them, I could say everything and all that I wanted to say without fear of hurting them, being judged by others, or having them reprimand me. When I finally felt like I got out everything I wanted to say, I wrote a letter to them. I didn’t every send it, but I did put it into the river.
- I prayed and I asked God to help me heal. I invited Him to take the burden and trusted that He would.
- Attending the temple.  Many times while I battling anxiety, I would have a very difficult time going to the temple, but when I attended, I felt peace. I was able to feel God’s love for me and more fully feel comfort through the gift of the Holy Ghost.
- I’ve had faith in God as I’ve excepted job offers and situations that might spark anxiety in me, only to find that each time I’ve trusted Him, my heart has healed a little more.
- Service.  Around the time that I was meeting with the counselor, I was participating in every possible service activity I could think of. The one that really helped me came by inspiration from one of my leaders to invite me to be a coordinator and then a director for social activities on the BYU- Idaho campus. This experience reminded me to have fun but also to provide support and friendship to others.

Amidst the anxiety, I never felt that I’d be worthy of a temple marriage, I never thought that I could ever work with a child again without recounting all of the horrific thoughts, memories, and feelings of that time. I’m not perfect. Every now and again, I have to allow myself to have a really crappy day. I have to learn to accept the fact that with this disorder, life isn’t always peachy perfect, and some of my actions and emotions don’t always have to make sense. I am married to a wonderful handsome man that loves God as much as I do. I don’t dread being with him; I love him. I’m a pain in the butt, but I am learning that I cannot leave just because I have anxiety. I get a chance to live and to love. I work with young children every day that teach me that purity of thoughts comes in acting in faith, taking steps in the dark. I love the kids I work with, I want to help them succeed. I have been able to assess my thoughts more without judging them and understand where some of them come from. I am able to bless the lives of my family and friends by being a listening ear when they are having their own experiences. Though that time was deeper and darker that I had ever wanted to experience, I can say that I understand what it means to have a mental illness, help others struggling, and have more joy and gratitude for having a solid mind, a good understanding of my emotions, and a trust and faith in God my Father that I would never have experienced without this trial.

In this life, we all are given burdens to carry. My prayer is that you won’t wait so long to ask for help that you miss out on all of the blessings and love from God and those that love you. Be courageous and ask for help. Telling someone may be one of the best decisions that you’ve ever made.

Love ya,
Misty O’Shia


7.11.2017

Ups and Downs, Joy and Sorrow

The other day, my husband was talking to someone on the phone, and they asked how I am doing.  He said, "Up and down, but overall pretty well."  I had to laugh, because this is bipolar AKA up and down.

These last couple of weeks have been some pretty crazy ups and downs.

One day, I felt so much clarity and purpose to everything I am experiencing, and I felt like I could conquer anything.

The next day, I cried a good chunk of the day, and I didn't leave the house at all, because it seemed like nothing mattered.

The day after that, we did lots of things with friends, and I felt great.

Two days later, I called a friend sobbing from feeling so much pain and darkness.

That evening, I took my medication, had some pretty scary side effects from it that lasted into the night, and repeatedly told my husband that I wanted to die right then so I wouldn't have to go through that scary time.  I might write more about this later, because it was quite the experience.

The rest of the week, I didn't leave the house, because I was so tired and unmotivated to do anything, and I hardly ate anything.

This last weekend, I felt really good and was even pretty productive.

Up and down, up and down, up and down.  It doesn't cycle the way it used to.  It just comes and goes like these waves that wash over me unpredictably.  Right now, I feel really good, like the sun is literally and figuratively shining in my life, and things are improving.  But tomorrow might be a different story if I start to feel darkness then.

I'm learning to love and cherish my days of light, knowing that they might not last long.  I use those days to play with my daughter and enjoy spending time with her, catch up on chores around the house, serve wherever possible, and find special ways to show my husband that I love and appreciate him.  When the darkness comes, I am learning to slow down, wait patiently for it to pass, and to hold on with faith and trust that this really is for my good.

Most of all, I'm learning that we can't know true joy without knowing deep sorrow.  I can honestly say that my life is much more filled with joy now than it ever has been, and I believe that is because of becoming closely acquainted with sorrow.  So maybe these ups and downs are more of a blessing than a curse after all.

P.S. I finally took the time on one of my good days to email the CEO of the hospital where I was admitted to the psychiatric unit to give my thoughts and feelings about how to make it a better experience for those admitted as patients.  It helps that the CEO is also my stake president.  He called me and said that he is going to pass this information along to the head of the behavioral health department and to expect a call from that department.  I really hope that this can help make the experience easier and less traumatic for someone in the future!  I'm so thankful that the things I have experienced can be used to bless others.

7.10.2017

That We Might Have Joy: Leah's Story

The unseen pain...

Long ago my mother helped me understand that, in this life, we will all experience pain. She said, "Leah you must always have compassion for those around you...if you could see into the hearts of man and experience their pain you would shutter in disbelief". I believe this to be true.

So much of the pain we experience comes in the quiet solitude of our own souls. When speaking of a deep unyielding pain that has existed in a dear friend's life for many years she said, "It is simply too painful to carry. I take the pain and tuck it away in a little box. Every once in awhile I take out the box and experience the pain. I tell myself...yep, it's still there...then I tuck it away again." I have thought about that a lot.

I understand that the pains we experience in this life come from many sources...the actions of those around us...our own poor choices...and then there is that category (health, financial, and death) completely beyond our control.

The 4th of July 2017...it had been a long but good day. It's 10:00 at night, and as I'm going to put the kids to bed, I decide to sneak out onto the driveway to watch a few last fireworks. One by one my children discover my adventure and join me. Julia is the last to come outside. I watch her as she approaches. She sits on the front porch and scoots herself to the top step. When she feels that she is there, she makes her way down our two stairs.

My mommy heart breaks.

Then she stands and ever so slowly walked with both hand extended in front of her waving them so she can feel any obstacles in her way.

My mommy heart breaks.

She slowly walks to the sound of our voices and stops when she feels Anna right in front of her.

My mommy heart breaks.

BBS...Oh my sweet Julia. What trials await you? What pain, struggle, heartache await you in this tender life...it breaks my heart to think about so I usually don't. Luckily for me, my pain for her comes in waves, and at this point, as we sit in the land of "hurry up and wait while your child slowly goes blind."  The waves are infrequent, but they are there. They hit me like a wave, hard and fast, rolling over me and threatening to drag me under. I have learned to deal with the pain in a "one day at a time" way. If I don't, it feels like a black hole...too big...too dark...to deep to escape from.

This post isn't meant to be depressing. Anyone who knows me, knows I am a "glass is always half full" type person. I guess I just felt compelled to share my thoughts after this most recent experience.

As I've grown I have also come to understand that the "rain falls on the just and unjust" alike. We will all experience deep pain, BUT what is important is what you do with that pain. As far as I have been able to observe in the lives of many people throughout my life, pain only leads down two paths.

The first path is the path of "turning away." Turning away from people. Turning away from God. Turning away from everything good in your life. This is a path filled with hopelessness, anger, bitterness, lack of trust, loss of faith, and isolation.

The other path is the path of "turning towards". First and foremost, turning to our Father in Heaven & His son, Jesus Christ. Seeking His guidance, council, comfort, and healing. Turning to our close family and friends, seeking their love & support. Turning to everything good that is around us. Finding the rainbows in the storm. This is the path that leads to hope, happiness, joy, trust, faith, and not feeling alone. This is the path I choose. Again, this in no way means that this path is easy or pain free (far from it), but it is the path filled with light & joy.

So in my moment of heartbreak I turn to my Heavenly Father, I turn to my husband, I turn to my friends and I turn to my family. Then I tuck that pain away in its little box and place it back in my heart until I need to go through the process of experiencing it again.

7.06.2017

Simplify

One of the things that has literally saved my life in the last eight months is simplifying.  In the past, I have made the conscious choice to simplify during different phases of my life, and it has been a hard, awful thing to try to do.  But this time around, I feel like I was almost forced to simplify.  I had no other choice.  I went from doing preschool every day with my daughter, going to lots of playgroups, holding 3 church callings, walking every day, teaching 5 piano students, etc. to doing almost nothing, only the very most basic things I had to do, and greatly struggling with those.  I literally couldn't do any more, and I was abruptly forced to accept that.

At first, it was really hard.  I had just finished a summer of no anti-depressants, no naps, and feeling great every day.  Transitioning from feeling like I could finally be the kind of mom I wanted to be, to being what I considered a failure (not doing the extras and only the basics with my daughter), was incredibly difficult.  And you can correctly assume that many tears were shed as I grieved the old life I had lived and had to accept this new, different, less productive life I was now living.

But one day, I went to a piano teachers meeting with some other moms/piano teachers in the area, and we talked about simplifying.  Of course, the area of simplifying we were discussing was about playing the piano, but it hit me so hard with everything I was struggling with in my own life.  We talked about how, when you are playing the piano and accompanying someone singing, the most important thing to do is to keep playing and to provide a beautiful harmony to the singing.  In this case, the piano should not be the focus of the song, and the piano is only meant to enhance the singer's performance.  So sometimes, you might be asked to accompany someone, and the song you are asked to play is very difficult-- lots of sharps and flats, difficult transitions, or simply not enough time to practice before the performance.  If, in trying to play every single note written, you messed up dozens of times, the overall performance would sound awful!  But if you simplified-- taking out some of the difficult notes to reach or playing only the top notes of the chords-- until you could play the modified song flawlessly, the performance would be beautiful, and no one would know about the notes purposely left out.

First, this hit me, because I had always done this when asked to accompany someone, and I always felt like that meant I was doing it wrong, that I wasn't the kind of piano player I should be.  So it comforted me to know that other people simplify music too.  Second, it hit me that it was okay to simplify my life, to let go of some of the "notes" that didn't matter or to find ways to make those "notes" easier to play.  I didn't have to do it all, and my life was never going to be judged on playing all the "notes," but on my overall performance, whatever that performance had to look like at this point.

So I went home and thought about how I could simplify my past life and add some of those old things back into my new life without getting too overwhelmed or feeling too discouraged.

First, I talked to my bishop and asked to be released from one of my callings, the one that was a big stressor in my life at that time.  I never thought I would do something like this, but I didn't really feel like I had a choice.  I had to simplify, and that meant taking out this calling that was making my life very difficult.

Second, I wanted to add back in preschool with my daughter, but the thought of doing just one of the things we used to do before made me feel very overwhelmed.  We used to have a library day, craft day, baking day, activity day, and service day that all related to the theme of the week.  It was so fun, but I knew I couldn't do it anymore.  Instead, after weeks of pondering how I could do some kind of preschool again, I bought some preschool workbooks, and we started doing a few pages of that every day.  It's probably not as fun as what we did before, and it definitely isn't creative in any way, but it serves the purpose of spending time with my daughter and teaching her.  So really it isn't that different after all.

Third, I really struggled with scripture study when all of this started, and I would often cry for a very long time just thinking about how I needed to read and study, but not knowing how to even start.  I tried several different things, but they were all too much, and I could only keep up for a few days before getting very overwhelmed and discouraged and stopping my scripture reading altogether.  So I finally decided to study one scripture mastery verse every day.  I read it sometime in the morning and then try to think about it at least a few times during the day.  It's nowhere near what I used to do, and I know I won't be a scriptorian anytime soon at this rate, but it's what I can handle right now, and that's okay!

Fourth, I have become proficient at saying "no."  I don't babysit often for others, and I don't sign up for every opportunity that comes along anymore.  I know that probably sounds selfish and like I should serve more, but this is what I've had to do to be able to be the best wife and mom I can be for my family.  I've had to learn that it's okay to take things slow, and that includes saying "no."

Although my grieving process is not over and I still spend some days wishing that things could be back to "normal," I am learning to find JOY in simplifying the music in my life to create something beautiful, even if it has a few less notes.

7.05.2017

That We Might Have Joy: Heather's Story

It was three-o’clock in the morning when short, sharp raps on my bedroom window startled me into consciousness. Eventually I became coherent enough to recognize the face of my fiancĂ©, Craig, through the glass, urging me to let him in. I stumbled to the front door, fumbled with the lock, and invited him inside, whereupon he shoved his opened journal toward me and said, “Here. I need you to read this.” Confused, I took the book from his hands. A wave of nausea surged up my throat as I read the previous night’s entry detailing how much power and strength Craig would feel to just ball up his fist and punch me, with all his might, in the face. Trying to maintain my composure, I handed the journal back to him and asked, “What is this? Are you saying you will hit me once we are married?” He responded vaguely that he didn’t plan to, but he needed me to know that he had these kinds of feelings.

I had waited 25 years to find the man I wanted to marry. Or more accurately, I had waited 25 years to find a man who was willing to put up with me. At that point in my life, my self-esteem had hit rock bottom. Various events throughout my lifetime had convinced me that I was not pretty enough, talented enough, smart enough, worthy enough to find a husband who genuinely loved and cared for me, but then everything had changed when I met Craig. At least, that is how it seemed at first. Over the course of our engagement I learned things about Craig that would have sent any sane, healthy person running in the opposite direction. But I was neither healthy nor sane, by any psychological definition. I was certain that this was my only chance for marriage, and if it meant taking a few punches, well…I probably deserved it anyway.

We got married and things were as bad as I should have imagined. From the first day of our honeymoon and throughout the five months the marriage remained intact, Craig yelled, criticized, belittled, shook me in anger, punched walls, accused me of infidelity whenever I was 10 minutes late coming home from work. He forbade me from talking to friends or family on the phone, because this meant (in his mind) that I cared more about them than I cared about him. He showed up at my workplace with a list of women’s shelters and asked me to sleep in one because he couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t hurt me. His opinion of a wife’s responsibility to “please” her husband whenever and however he wanted was a daily terror, often resulting in my standing in the hottest shower I could withstand, vomiting, after I had “done my duty.”

As the days went on, I descended deeper and deeper into depression, until I finally decided that the only way out of the mess I had created for myself (I assigned no part of the blame to Craig) was suicide. I began to plan and prepare for the day when I would take every bottle of medication we had in the house and swallow its contents. Only then would I finally be safe and free.

I discussed my feelings one day with the therapist with whom I was working, and over the course of that conversation he asked me, “Have you shared these feelings with Craig?” I told him that I had not, and we moved on to other things. But as I walked home from that session, I determined that a “good wife” shares her feelings with her husband. So, I waited a day or two until Craig seemed to be in a relatively good mood, and then I told him how I had been feeling. The explosion that ensued was nothing I ever could have anticipated. He stomped through the house, gathering every prescription pill, aspirin, and cold tablet he could find, then thundered into the kitchen where he dumped them all into the blender with a little water, whirring them up into a deadly slurry. Pouring the concoction into a cup, he stormed toward me, forced it to my lips and yelled, “If you love death more than you love me, then go ahead and do it!”

I actually considered drinking it for minute. And then I realized that Craig was stripping away the very last thing that was mine to control—my own death. I pushed him away, and shouted at him to leave, and never to come back. Thankfully, gratefully, he did just that, and after a few days in heartbroken consultation with my ecclesiastical leader and then an attorney, divorce papers were filed (and eventually my temple sealing—the way that LDS couples are joined together--was cancelled).

Sometimes it is still hard to see the blessings of that situation, and to look back without a great deal of self-deprecation and self-loathing. But in moments of honest and courageous reflection, I find tender mercies springing up from those dark days like dandelions pushing their bright, yellow heads into the sunlight through cracks in hard, hot sidewalk. These tender mercies include friends and family who offered love and support through hopeless days and nights. They involve a deeper sense of empathy for and understanding of those who are now themselves in harmful relationships. Those tender mercies reflect a choice to live, and a new-found ability to stand up for myself. And they illuminate just how very blessed I am to have found a man to marry who truly, honestly loves me—the good and the bad of me—and who has helped as a faithful friend and companion to raise a beautiful family of our own. I don’t know that I would recognize and value the beauty of what I have today if I had not experienced the ugliness of yesteryear’s challenges.

No life is free from pain, suffering, and sorrow. Divinely appointed tender mercies are always available, but not always obvious. I think of the day my five-year-old son had rolled down the car window on a bitterly cold Illinois morning, blasting us all with a nearly arctic chill. As we hollered at him to close the window, explicating vigorously that the wind was far too cold for us, my four-year-old daughter in the back seat declared, “Yeah—but it sure is nice on a hot day, huh dad!” She sought out and found the tender mercy of a cold wind. She found hope in a difficult situation. In like manner, we all can find hope in the tender mercies that rise in every situation. Like the phoenix from the ashes, out of sorrow and pain, there still emerges hope, and in hope we have joy.