Joy, Doctor's Appointment, and More JOY

Today is a very good day!  I can breath again, my heart feels relief from the heavy darkness of depression, my eyes are filled with tears of gratitude that I made it through the last storm, and I feel peace.

Today I had a doctor's appointment.  In some ways, it felt like a step forward, and in some ways, it felt like a step back.

The doctor pulled my diagnosis of rapid cycling bipolar II.  She is not sure if the "mania" I've been experiencing is mania or panic attacks.

As a result, she prescribed an anxiety medication, and I will try taking that during the "mania" time to see if what I am experiencing is really just one panic attack after another that is taking over my body.  If it helps, then she will go the avenue of trying to manage the anxiety, and if it doesn't help, then she will work toward managing the mania.  I guess we'll just have to see.

She kept my prescription of zoloft, although I'm not sure if that's something to be glad about or not.  I've been on half a zoloft since going to my family doctor last week, because my family doctor was concerned that it was the zoloft that was causing my cycles to double.  She told me that zoloft is not a good medication to take for bipolar, so she was sure that the psychiatrist would switch to something else.  I guess not?  It's so hard to know who to believe about what.

She also kept me on lithium, although she might increase the dose after I get my blood drawn since it doesn't seem to be helping much.  That's another reason that she thinks it might not be mania since the lithium hasn't helped yet.  But I am on the lowest dose, so that's just something to wait and see about also.

One very good thing is that there is an option of a medication to take during pregnancy, which can help with both the depression and mania of bipolar!!!  Since the doctor isn't sure what is going on right now and wants to get a diagnosis first, I will not be able to try to get pregnant for several more months, but pregnancy can hopefully be in my future!

They can't get me in for another appointment until February 13th, but that just means that my heart will get more help in time for Valentine's Day  :)

Today I find JOY in:

  • My husband getting to go to my appointment with me
  • Recognizing the goodness of people in sacrificing time and money to go to school and become doctors in order to help people
  • The vast number of medications that have been developed and the people who have paved the way to make these medications available
  • Feeling loved by so many people who check in to see how I'm doing
  • Getting sleep last night!!!
  • Finally remembering to put the pork in the crockpot so we can have pulled pork for dinner  :)
  • Watching "Over the Hedge" with my daughter AKA "The Squirrel Movie"
  • Seeing all of my BFFs at the nursing home.  Old people really do make the best friends!
  • And having a cute hat to wear when I was too tired to get up and shower this morning

P.S. JOY is all around me in the form of these lovely visual reminders!


Someone Who Understands

Words cannot adequately describe the depth of emotional pain I feel right now as my heart bears the burden of a heavy, dark load.  Sometimes I have this burning, overwhelming desire for someone to understand what I am feeling.  Sometimes this desire becomes so great that I feel overcome with anxiety and fear, like I'm all alone in this world, like no one really understands, like my inadequate words will never be able to describe what I feel for anyone to understand.

I know it's not true.  I know I'm not alone.  Unfortunately, there are many others who know this same pain.  But in the safe walls of my own home, I cry alone.  I feel trapped in my own mind and my own body.  I long to let someone in, but I don't know how.  I'm so afraid of trying to describe the pain and feeling the frustration as I stumble over the lack of words, that I just want to be alone and wait for the depression to pass.  It WILL pass.  The light WILL come again.

Right now I find joy in knowing that the Savior really, truly, perfectly understands what I feel.  I don't even have to find the words to describe it, because He has felt it before.  He has felt the full burden of all the mental anguish this world has ever experienced.  He bore that burden by choice so that He can fully know and understand me, because I really believe this is something you have to experience to understand.

As I stumble through my own portion of Gethsemane, I feel the hope that by feeling the weight of these burdens, I can help someone else, someone who also feels alone, frustrated, and afraid.  We need each other!  We're given experiences like these that tear our hearts to pieces, so that we can find someone else with a shattered heart, and together we can work to put together those broken pieces.  Oh we need each other!  We're not meant to do this alone.

I've been thinking about the title of this blog: "That We Might Have Joy."  It's not "That I Might Have Joy," because I don't think we can fully find and experience joy alone.  Every time someone writes their story of how they've found joy through their trials, it brings me joy.  It fills me with joy, almost to the point of overflowing.  And it usually comes at the precise time when I am feeling the depth of despair.  Our stories and our trials might be different, but we need each other just the same.

We can have JOY together!


My Christmas Miracle

Before Christmas, I was so worried.

What if I don't feel well on Christmas morning and I can't get excited about the present my husband gives me?  Will he feel disappointed?

What if I feel awful the whole time I am visiting my family and I can't push through the pain?  Will I just be miserable and bring misery to everyone else?

What if I am in mania and it reaches a peak of intensity while I'm with other people?  How will I manage to hide it from everyone?

What if I am in a low depression and can't help but cry?  How will everyone react to me crying for no reason?

What if I don't sleep for several days?  What will I do for hours in the middle of the night at someone else's house?

All of these thoughts and about 10,000 more were on my mind before Christmas.  I couldn't stop thinking about them and worrying.  I prayed and pleaded with God several times to help me feel good for Christmas, but if not, then to help me find the strength and peace to endure my trials with the JOY that only the Savior can bring, the JOY that comes from knowing that all of this has a glorious purpose.

My little family celebrated our "Christmas morning" on the 23rd before we left to visit my family.  I woke up that morning with my mania continuing on from several days before, but it wasn't very intense, so I was able to feel real excitement and joy as I opened the new guitar!! my husband gave me.  I was so glad to feel genuine happiness in that moment, not just for me, but for my husband.  I wanted him to feel my appreciation and my love, which I'm sure is hard for him to feel when I am faking happiness.  I'm sure he can see right through the mask I try to hide behind, so I was beyond thankful to be able to feel real happiness, for him.

If that would have been the only way my prayers were answered, I would have felt God's love and mindfulness, but even more miracles were yet to come.

After a little while, we left to drive to my family's house.  On our drive, I switched from mania to depression.  I could tell that I was going to switch soon, because the mania was slowing down and my energy fleeing.  My husband and I talked about what a blessing it was for me to switch into depression, because it's much easier to push through the pain of depression than the pain of mania.  I felt peace that everything was going to be ok.  I no longer felt worried at all, just completely filled with peace.

We got to my family's house and I was having such a good time visiting with everyone that I didn't have a chance to feel the sadness of depression anymore.  Two times when I sat down and was still for a little while, I felt the sadness rise, almost to the point of crying, but I never actually cried.  I was able to crochet several little projects, play silly games with my siblings, talk with my adult siblings, laugh, and really enjoy my time visiting with everyone.  My mind was clear, my smile genuine, and my energy high.  I wanted to do things, which is a rare and precious gift.  I didn't feel weighed down by the heavy burdens of mental illness at all.  I felt happiness and JOY at the same time, the whole time!

On Sunday, I was able to go to a combined ward Christmas program at my parents' church building and see so many old friends!  I felt so much support, love, and strength as I received warm hugs and encouraging words from people I hadn't seen in years, and yet their love remained unchanged.  The combination of feeling love from friends, wearing makeup for the first time since all this bipolar started (haha), and hearing beautiful Christmas music made my heart overflow with JOY.

We drove home to Iowa after church, and I felt genuinely happy the whole 4 1/2 hours in the car.  I was so relieved that everything went well with our travels and felt so thankful to have received a wonderful Christmas miracle.

I guess I didn't recognize the extent of my miracle until my little family sat down to watch a Christmas movie together in the evening after returning home, and the dark, heavy bag of depression returned on my heart.  I couldn't help but cry, even though there was nothing to cry about.  I cried through the whole movie as the sadness became more and more overwhelming.  But I felt so thankful in my heart at the same time that God had given me a Christmas miracle and that He gave me the strong return of depression to help me recognize what a valuable gift I had been given.


Holiday Hurt and Blessings

Recently, I was talking to a friend about Christmas.  We both shared the mutual feeling that struggling with mental illness around the holidays makes the holiday season hurt.  It's a time that should be filled with excitement, but instead, it's filled with sadness, even more than usual.

Part of my sadness right now is wanting to continue the traditions of past years but finding it too difficult to do that this year.  For example, we didn't carve pumpkins for Halloween, we didn't do our thankful tree for Thanksgiving, and we didn't do most of our Christmas crafts and baking like usual.  Why?  Because of my mental illness.  Because I can't this year.  Because just getting up and getting ready and making it through the day is difficult enough, so doing the "extras" is impossible.  It hurts knowing that I'm the one keeping my family from experiencing these traditions, especially my daughter now that she is old enough to enjoy these kinds of things.  I know it will be better in the future, but it still hurts this year.

Another part of my sadness is feeling like I'm not enjoying the holidays at all.  Every day is another day of either mania or depression, another day of fighting, another day of enduring and wanting the time to pass.  I don't feel like it's Christmas at all, because I'm so stuck in living moment-to-moment.  The day after my birthday (I'm a November baby), I cried for a long time.  I felt like my birthday was a wasted day, a day I should have enjoyed and loved, but instead I spent my time trying to fight through the mania.  It hurts not enjoying anything, but especially not enjoying the holidays.

The last part of my sadness is not wanting to be around people.  The holidays are usually filled with large gatherings of family and friends celebrating.  This year, I have really struggled with any sort of gathering.  I just want to stay home, pull the covers over my head, and sleep for days, not try to fake a smile or muster up some little bit of fake excitement.  It's exhausting and hard, and it hurts.

Now before you feel bad for me, because I do NOT want that, I want to share how mental illness has blessed my life this holiday season:
  1. My mental illness, and the subsequent hurting, has made me aware of those who are also hurting this time of year-- those who have lost loved ones, those who are alone, those who don't have money, those who are fighting illness, etc.  So many people also hurt more right now, so I can make a point of trying to lift their spirits now that I am aware of the feeling of hurting during the holidays.  I can try to #LIGHTtheWORLD with the joy of the Savior being born through bringing light to anyone I can.  I can pray for the people I know who are struggling that they will have the comfort and peace they need to make it through their hard times, and this helps bring me JOY and peace through my own struggles.
  2. Struggling with the "extras" has made me really focus on the true purpose of these holidays.  At Thanksgiving time, I had a hurt back and some pretty awful mania, but I tried to find specific things that I was thankful for.  Finding gratitude brought me JOY through the hard times I was experiencing.  It carried me.  Now I have been focusing on the JOY that comes through having a Savior, through knowing that He understands everything I am experiencing, through knowing that I can overcome all things because of Him, and through knowing that He will help me when I am weak and struggling.  I guess you could say that the holidays have meant more this year because of not being able to do everything I want to do.  I would consider that a great blessing!
  3. Bipolar has made me really appreciate and grow closer to my family this holiday season.  My husband and daughter have been so understanding of my limitations.  They love me because of who I am, not because of what I do, and they never stop telling me that.  My husband has stepped up to do more when I can't do certain things, and he has helped carry on some traditions that I would not have been able to do if I had to do them on my own.  My family brings me so much JOY through my struggles!
So if you are hurting this Christmas, please know that you are not alone!  And please know that there is still good in life.  There is light because of the Savior, the Light of the World.  There is peace because of the Prince of Peace.  There is hope because of the Redeemer.  There is JOY because of Jesus Christ, no matter what is happening in our lives!  


Appreciate the Good Moments

Last night, the increasing intensity of mania lifted suddenly.  Knowing that this moment of happiness wouldn't last long, my husband and I took full advantage.  We talked, we joked, and we even laughed.   I don't remember the last time that I genuinely laughed at something (not because I don't want to laugh but because the pain has been overpowering).  It felt like we were carefree, silly newlyweds again.  I was able to focus on him completely and give no thought to my broken heart and broken brain.  For a moment, it was almost as if everything was normal again.

This morning, the mania has returned, and it is really awful right now, but I can't help but feel so thankful for last night.  It was a breath of fresh air, and I'm so glad that I got to enjoy it with my husband.

If it wasn't for all the difficulty lately, all the hard days and hard nights, the tears and the anguish and the pain, we wouldn't have known to appreciate that hour of happiness last night.  Never before would one hour of feeling peace in my mind and my heart have been viewed as a great blessing, but now it is.  Truly, we cannot know happiness without knowing sorrow.  Right now, I feel blessed to be acquainted with sorrow so that I can fully enjoy the moments of happiness as they come.

I love this quote by Elder Wirthlin.  Although I am nowhere near loving bipolar, God is helping me recognize how it is providing me with little blessings, including appreciating the good moments, even though they are fleeting.


But If Not...

Several months ago, I was in charge of my family's FHE lesson.  As I was searching on www.lds.org for a good lesson to share with my husband and daughter, my eye caught an article.  I clicked on the link and started reading.  After just a few minutes of reading, my life was changed forever.  This is what the article taught:

Often times, our prayers go unanswered, despite our fervent pleading and valiant faith.  It's not because God doesn't care or isn't listening, or because our faith isn't strong enough and our pleading sincere, but because we are asking for things that are not in line with God's will, so He doesn't grant our request.

For example, we often ask that God will help us to have perfect lives by removing all the imperfect circumstances from our life.  You know, "Please help me to stop feeling sick from the flu."  "Please help me to be happy all day."  "Please bless me to have the energy to get everything done that I want to get done today."

But what does God want for us?  He wants us to grow and to become like Him.  And often times, we can't do that unless we experience trials, pain, and discomfort.

"Does this mean we should never ask for circumstantial things that we want? No way! Does this mean God will never answer our prayers if we just ask for things we want? Certainly not!  God loves every one of us and cares deeply about our wants.  He delights in giving us even those little things we ask for sometimes. He knows how to give us good gifts. But above all, He wants what is best for us, and what is best for us eternally does not always include the circumstances we desperately hope for."

So how do we pray in a way that aligns our will with God's?  We follow this simple formula:

For example, "Please help me to stop feeling sick from the flu, but if not, then please help me to have patience with my daughter while I'm feeling sick."

"Please help me to be happy all day, but if not, then please help me to find joy through my sorrow."

"Please help me to have the energy to get everything done that I want to get done today, but if not, then please help me to know what is most important and do that."

Praying in this way allows us to align ourselves with God and to recognize His answers to prayers, even when they don't come in the way we were expecting.  It allows us to have a greater perspective in our trials and to not feel so upset and shaken when unpleasant or tragic things happen in our lives, because those are inevitable sources of growth and learning.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently with all the vast emotions I have been experiencing, especially now that my cycles have doubled.  I could pray all day for this bipolar to be taken away from me, but if that isn't God's will and it isn't taken away, I would be left feeling frustrated and abandoned by God.  I could pray that the shaking from the mania will go away immediately or that the heavy sorrow of depression will be lifted and never return, but if that isn't God's will, then I would end up feeling like God isn't mindful of me and doesn't care when that prayer goes unanswered.  

Instead, I can still pray that God will work a miracle in my life to take this bipolar away, but if not, then I can ask that He will allow me to use these experiences for good and help me to grow closer to the Savior through this process.  I can pray that God will take away the shaking during mania, but if not, then I can ask for help in being patient and enduring well.  I can pray that God will lift the sorrow of depression, but if not, then I can ask that my heart will be softened toward the sorrow of others and that I will be able to help lift other heavy hearts.  

Do you see how life-changing and transformative this is?  Do you see how it changes our perspective to be eternal, not strictly focused on the present?  Do you see how praying in this way and having this kind of outlook is imperative to finding joy through our trials?

I know that God hears and answers our prayers and that He loves us and is mindful of us.  I'm so thankful that He started the process of preparing me for this trial several months ago by allowing me to find this article and apply it in my life before the pain started.  I can honestly say that this is one of the huge reasons that I have hope and peace, despite my brokenness.  I can see that God is answering my prayers everyday, because finally my prayers aren't just focused on what I want, but rather what God wants for me.  


1 Week on Medications

Short answer:
I'm not sure if it's working yet, but these kinds of medications can take some time to notice a difference, so that's to be expected.

Long answer:
I'm taking two medications right now-- Zoloft for depression and lithium (a mood stabilizer) for the mania.  I have been on Zoloft before.  It worked great for about one year and then stopped working, but I haven't been on it for several months, so they're thinking it will work again for another year.  Last time the Zoloft took about 6 weeks to start working, so I still have some time to wait, but at least I have started the medication, and it's on its way to helping me.

I have never taken the lithium before, but they said it would take about a week to start working.  So I guess I'm expecting to see some results soon.

Both medications make me SO sleepy!  I take a 1-2 hour nap every day and sleep another 8-10 hours at night, and I'm still yawning and tired all the time.  I really hope that will get better with time!

The lithium made me super nauseated at first, but that has gotten better now!

Since starting the medications, my bipolar cycles are different.  It seems like they've doubled.  This week, I had mania on Monday and Tuesday (it's usually Tuesday through Friday), depression on Wednesday and Thursday (it's usually Saturday through Monday), and now I'm back to mania.  But I haven't had my intense peak of mania either, so that's good, and maybe that's a sign that the medication is working.  I'm hoping this change in cycles is only because of the medications trying to balance everything out.

I have an appointment next week with my family doctor to check on the lithium (it can do damage if the levels are too high in the blood) and then the week after with a psychiatrist to review the medications and decide if the doses need to be changed at all.

I'm doing well and learning so much.  I'm filled with hope and know that things are only going to get better from here.  Thanks to everyone who sends me messages of encouragement and love and who cares to know how I'm doing!  You fill me with JOY!!!


My Brain Lied

Yesterday, I had about 2 hours where I felt completely normal.  I actually felt happy and was filled with motivation.  My first reaction was to take a deep breath and to feel the air fill my lungs without pain or heaviness.  It felt so good!  My second reaction was to text my husband and to tell him that I felt happy.  He was so happy for me, and we celebrated together by text.

Feeling normal for a little while felt like breaking through the heavy cloud of darkness and escaping into the light.  I could suddenly see things clearly.  I could look at myself and my life the way that other people see it from the outside, almost like looking at myself in third person.  I felt as though I could handle all of the darkness again, like it must not have been as pervasive and overwhelming as I thought it was, like I was somehow stronger and more capable, and it wouldn't have the power to influence me with its strong grasp.

And then the evil monster in my brain turned on me.  All of this bipolar stuff was made up, it said.  It didn't happen.  You lied.  You exaggerated.  You did it all for attention.  You're fake.  Your blog is all a lie.  It doesn't help anyone.  It's dumb.  You're dumb.

Suddenly, I felt like I should delete this blog.  It's true, I thought.  It doesn't help anyone.  I lied.  I am dumb.  I can't believe that I would do such a thing.

I also felt like I needed to call all the people who have helped me these last several weeks and apologize for lying to them.  It wasn't real.  Why did I make it all up?  How will I explain?

But before I did anything else, I got down on my knees and prayed.  I repeated to God everything my brain was telling me.  At this point, I still thought it was all true:

"I'm dumb.  I'm fake.  None of this is real.  I made it all up.  I thought I could make a difference in this world, but I was wrong.  I don't like myself.  Why am I like this?"

I continued, "Please help me feel something bipolar again so that I will know I didn't make it all up.  Please help me to feel it again.  I need to know that I didn't lie."

After asking to feel some emotion, I started sobbing.  God helped me recognize that I had switched into depression and just didn't know it, and that the weakness in my brain was telling me awful lies.  God opened my eyes and allowed me to see that none of the things my broken brain was telling me were true.  I'm not dumb or fake.  This is incredibly real.  I can make a difference.

I feel so broken today, so confused, so sad, and so upset, but at least I can see that whatever my brain tries to tell me isn't true.  And someday, I'm hoping I'll know better than to fall for the awful lies.


My Mental Hospital Experience

Yes, I went to a mental hospital.  Yes, it has many similarities to how it is portrayed in the movies.  Yes, it was a very difficult and somewhat traumatizing experience.  Yes, I survived.  Yes, I am going to write about it.

I need to write this, but certainly not because I need to relive it.  In fact, I wish I could erase the memory of those few days of my life from my mind forever, but I don't think God will ever allow that to happen, because of my potential to help others through my terrifying experience.

It all started this last Monday.  I was in my depression phase, but it hadn't been too bad so far.  I met a friend at my "psychiatrist's" office for an appointment.  I was excited for this appointment, because I had gone to my family doctor the week before to have my physical exam done, and everything came back fine.  I thought this appointment would include making an official diagnosis of rapid cycling bipolar and then prescribing a medication.  I was so hopeful, so ready for my last 6 weeks of hell to be over, or at least on the mend.

But I was wrong.  I found out that my "psychiatrist" wasn't a psychiatrist at all, even though the receptionist told me she was when we called to make the appointment.  She was a psychologist, so she could diagnose, but she couldn't prescribe.  She refused to diagnose until I met with the nurse practitioner, so we had a counseling sort of appointment, and she put in a referral for me to meet with the nurse practitioner to do gene testing.  She warned me that it probably wouldn't be until the first part of January before I could get in, but I didn't feel discouraged about that.  It didn't seem like a very long wait at the time.  That is, until the nurse's secretary called and said they couldn't get me in until January 18th.

That was 6 weeks away.  That meant 6 more cycles of mania and depression before even getting in to have that testing done.  Then 1 more week waiting to get the results back (AKA 1 more cycle) and then even longer to start medication.  At first, I thought I could do it.  I tried to stay positive.  I tried to tell myself that I had learned so much already, and that 6 more weeks would only bring even more learning and growth.  And then that night came.

It hit me that I had so much more to endure before getting help.  I realized that it had only been 6 weeks so far since all of this had started, so 6 more weeks was like starting over and reliving all the pain again.  It was longer than I could even comprehend at that moment.  I remembered back to the week before when the mania was the very worst it had ever been and when it had completely overpowered my whole body!  I was so afraid of that happening again, so afraid of feeling something as intense and uncontrollable as I had the week before.  Suddenly, I felt all of my hope and positivity leave, and it was replaced with fear, discouragement, and hopelessness.

I started to cry.  How would I ever do this?  How would I endure so long with so much inexpressible anguish?  The more I thought about it, the more I felt completely discouraged.  I started telling my husband what I was feeling and ended up saying that I would rather die than go through 6 more weeks of this.  Hearing those words come out of my mouth scared me.  It had been since March that I had thought about wanting to die, and I didn't want to go through that difficult time again.  I knew there had to be another option, but I didn't know what.

The next day, I switched from depression to mania.  I started to get tight in my chest, and my muscles started to tighten.  Then, I panicked.  I just couldn't do it again.  I couldn't go through any more of this pain and fear, especially not 6 more times before getting help.  I texted a friend, and she suggested that I go to the hospital and be admitted.  She reassured me that I would be able to be evaluated by a psychiatrist, get a medication, and leave with a follow-up appointment.  She even offered to take me the next morning.  Filled with fear of the unknown, I agreed that I needed to go and started making the preparations necessary for the next day.

Before agreeing to go to the hospital, I had been shaking in panic and fear, but once I agreed that I would go, I was able to stop shaking.  I had hope and knew that this "last resort," as it felt, would be able to help me.

The next morning, my friend came and picked me up, and we went to the hospital.  I was a little bit anxious, but I also felt peace.  We got checked in at the ER, met with the nurse, then the doctor, and then we waited.  We played games, laughed, and had a good heart-to-heart conversation.  It's amazing to me how you can connect with someone's soul through those kinds of conversations, and how after, you're never the same again.

After hours of waiting, the psychiatric nurse finally came in and did an evaluation.  I told her all of my symptoms, and she asked if I wanted to be admitted to the hospital.  I asked for the details of what it meant to be admitted and could hardly make it through our conversation without bursting into tears.  She told me that I would have to be in the hospital for at least 2-3 days, I wouldn't get to see my precious daughter for that time (my heart literally shattered when she told me that), I could only see my husband from 6-8 each evening, I couldn't have my phone, and if I decided to go home early, I wouldn't be able to be admitted again.

I consulted with my friend and with my husband before making the very difficult and painful decision to be admitted.  I was so afraid in that moment.  I didn't know what it was going to be like or what I was going to experience.  I felt so alone and knew the loneliness would only get worse.  Then, I remembered something I had read a few days before:

I felt comforted and knew that God would help me as I did this brave, scary thing.  The psychiatric nurse came back in and had me sit in a wheelchair (not sure why since it was my brain that was broken, not my legs) and wheeled me up to the psychiatric unit.  My friend was walking with us, but at one point, the nurse told my friend to wait and just kept pushing me without pausing to let me say "goodbye."  I mouthed "bye" as I held back the tears that threatened to take over.  I felt like I was saying "goodbye" forever, like I would never make it through whatever I was about to experience.

I was wheeled down a long hallway past all the people pacing around me.  Some of them were saying incoherent things and others were saying very inappropriate things.  Most of them were covered in tattoos and piercings from head to toe.  One lady came up to me, said "hello," and asked the nurse who I was.  The nurse told her that I was 2610.  I didn't know what that meant until I was taken to my room, Room 2610.  The nurse took all of my belongings and left me there alone, promising that someone would be back in a few minutes with my clothes and to see how I was doing.  I sat in the cold, dark room on the uncomfortable bed wearing a hospital gown and wondering if I had made the wrong decision.  I wanted a hug.  No, I needed a hug.  I needed someone to sit down next to me, put their loving arm around me, and tell me that I was going to make it, that I was not completely alone and to comfort me, but no one was there.

I got up and looked in the mirror.  It skewed my reflection with how weirdly it was bent.  I didn't feel like I recognized who was staring back at me.  I was the girl who was feeling good all summer, the girl who loved being a wife and a mom, not the girl who belonged in a mental hospital.  I started to cry.  I couldn't hold in the painful tears any longer.

I sat down on my bed and prayed.  I asked God to give me the strength to endure this very difficult time, to consecrate my time there for good, and to allow me to do good with my experiences.  I was still cold, it was still dark, I still felt alone, but I also felt a little bit of comfort.  My mind turned to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, cold, dark, and alone.  And the Spirit whispered to me what it whispered to Joseph Smith in his moment of need:

I knew in that moment that this experience would be but a small moment, even though it would seem so long and difficult while I was going through it.  The rest of my stay, I was able to find peace and comfort in knowing that this was really just a small moment, and that I had the power to endure it well.  It changed my whole perspective and allowed me to feel hope amidst my darkness.

A few minutes after praying, a nurse came into my room to check my vital signs.  She asked if I was cold, and I said that I was.  She left and came back a few minutes later with a warm blanket right out of the heater.  She put it on my shoulders and around my arms.  It felt like a big, warm hug from God, which was just what I needed.

When she was done with what she was doing, I laid my head on the plastic pillow and snuggled the blanket.  I stared straight out my door and watched as people walked laps around the hallways.  I was too scared to get up, so I stayed right where I was for a long time.  At one point, a nurse came by and asked if I needed anything.  I asked if I could have my clothes back.  She said that she was too busy and that the next shift would do it.

I felt stripped of everything in that moment, my clothes, my name, my belongings, my family, and my dignity.  All because I needed help and couldn't get it from anyone else.

After a long time of laying on my bed trying to wrap my mind around everything, I got up and started walking around.  I found a lounge area and sat down on a comfortable chair.  My mania was getting more intense, and I wondered how I would endure the awful peak of it in the hospital all alone.  I started talking to a lady, and we ended up playing Scattergories with a whole group.  It was sort of fun.  Then, it was dinner time.  As we sat around the dining room table eating our cold, plastic hospital food, one man in his twenties starting asking everyone what they did to get themselves in there.  Every person around the table laughed as they told about the drugs they had overdosed on.

Then, he got to me.  He said, "What did you do shy girl?"  I tried to explain that I was having the symptoms of bipolar and tried to go to doctors to get help, but no one would help, so I came there.  He didn't believe me.  He followed up, "No, what did you really do?"  I said that I had told the truth, but he still wouldn't believe me.  Feeling completely upset and humiliated, I finished my food and started walking around in the hall.  Suddenly, I was one of them, someone pacing the halls to pass the time that seemed to stand completely still in that moment.  I walked past the lounge two times.  The first time, the same guy yelled, "Come here" and I said, "No."  The second time, I walked past trying to ignore him, and he said, "Look, there's that crazy girl, pacing the halls like she has lost her mind."

I couldn't take it.  I walked back to my room, closed the door, and sobbed.  It felt completely unfair.  I didn't do anything wrong to belong there.  I wasn't my fault at all, but I was there all the same.  As I continued sobbing, feeling completely scared and alone, I found comfort in two thoughts: 1) Christ knew exactly how I felt.  He didn't do anything wrong either, and yet He was crucified between two criminals.  2) I was there getting help because of my great love for my husband and daughter.  I was allowing myself to go through something horrifying and traumatizing, because I wanted to get better for them.  Somehow those two thoughts helped me endure until my husband was able to come visit at 6:00.

He came into my room and sat down on my uncomfortable bed with me as I sobbed in his arms.  I told him everything I was thinking and feeling.  I looked up to see his eyes filled with tears as he looked at my scared face.  I didn't want him to leave ever.  I didn't think I could make it through the night without him.  He asked if this was going to make it all worse going through this awful experience.  I didn't know.

Then, an angel nurse came in and offered hope.  She said that there was another wing in the hospital for mental illness that was more calm and relaxing and it seemed like that was where I belonged.  She asked if I was interested in switching over.  I absolutely was, so she got to working everything out for me to switch, and then we moved to the other side.  Immediately when we walked through the double doors into the other wing, I felt a reassuring feeling of peace wash over me.

No one was blaring loud music and dancing around like it was a party.  No one was saying inappropriate things.  In fact, no one was saying anything at all.  Everyone was either in their rooms or in the lounge doing appropriate, quiet things.  Although I still didn't know if I belonged in a mental hospital, I knew that I belonged in this wing much more than I belonged in the other.

I stopped crying.  I was able to feel that everything would be ok.  And I was able to visit with Kyle without being completely frantic and panicked.  When it was time for him to go, I was somewhat sad, but I didn't cry.  I watched him walk away knowing that it would only be a couple more days before I would get to walk out the door with him.  I could endure a few hard days and then leave with the help I had been desperately seeking!

That evening, I met a girl in the lounge who was really awesome.  We had a good conversation about mental illness and how it's not something to be ashamed of and it's not our fault.  My heart was filled with peace and gratitude as we talked.  I didn't know what the #LIGHTtheWORLD challenge was for the day, but I knew that I could still find ways to light other people's lives, even while being admitted in the hospital.

The next morning, I woke up early and felt the intensity of my mania building.  I was really scared.  I read a conference talk and wrote a letter to Brooklyn.  I wanted to call her, but I thought that would only make me feel worse, so I wrote to her.

Because I was the first one awake and ready for the day, I got to meet with the social worker and the two psychiatrists first.  Unfortunately for me, they all met with me separately and then consulted with each other, so I had to tell my story 3 times in an hour.  It was exhausting!  I wondered what they would say and if they would be able to help.  I was pretty nervous waiting for them to tell me what they had decided.

After what seemed like hours, they met with me again and told me that I had rapid cycling bipolar 2.  The bipolar 2 means that I don't have full blown mania, but I have hypomania.  They decided to put me back on the same anti-depressant I was on before, along with a mood stabilizer.  If they just gave me an anti-depressant, then it would send me into mania all the time, so they have to give a mood stabilizer to even out the mania as well.

I was able to take my first dose of these medications in the morning, which made me really excited to know that I could be leaving soon!  I called Kyle several times during the day to give him updates about how it was going.  I recognized a huge tender mercy that we changed our phones recently to have local numbers.  This was good, because I wouldn't have been able to call him if he was long distance.  That tender mercy really buoyed me up and helped me feel God's love for me personally with how He is involved in the very details of our lives.

At some point, we had a group therapy and made self-flowers where we wrote different things on each of the pedals about us and then shared them with everyone else.  I felt it reaffirmed in my heart in doing that exercise that this blog is a very good thing.  People need honesty, openness, and understanding.  So I will keep offering what I can offer, as far as that goes, with the world.

I was also able to feel that same confirmation as I read a good portion of the book "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown that a friend gave me.  It talks all about owning our story and not being ashamed.  I'm not done with it yet, but it really lifted me up as I read it, especially since I was in the hospital owning my imperfect brain and admitting that I needed help.

Before lunch, we had occupational therapy time.  All of these therapies and groups felt silly to me since I didn't feel like I needed them.  I was just there for the psychiatrist and the medication, but I participated anyway, because it helped the time pass.  I worked on painting a wooden birdhouse and felt the intensity of my mania increase to where the peak was coming soon.  I wanted to go back to my room and curl up in a ball, but I didn't want to get up or get any attention, so I prayed.  I didn't know what else to do.  I prayed earnestly that God would help this mania hold off until after we got done with this group time.  God answered my prayer above and beyond anything I imagined and took all the mania away until night time.  It was like a flood of calmness washed over my body.  Although the mania came back that evening and some the next day, I never hit the peak that I usually hit!  It was amazing!

The lunch that day was really good.  It was pretty much the first thing I had eaten in two days.  I ate all of the crispy chicken strips and even enjoyed them  :)  About an hour later, my stomach started to hurt.  Then, I got super nauseous.  It was just a side-effect of taking the new mood stabilizer medicine, but it sure made me wish I hadn't eaten so much for lunch!  I laid in my bed until Kyle came, holding my stomach and trying to sleep away the time.

When Kyle came, I was so excited to tell him everything about the progress I had made that day in getting help!  He was so happy for me.

When he left, I got in the shower.  I don't know if I mentioned this very much before, but my room was freezing!  I found out later that the heater had broken, and they hadn't fixed it yet, so I was hoping that taking a hot shower would help my frozen body thaw.  Unfortunately, the shower never got hot and was only barely warm.  I will never forget how it felt like I was never going to get warm again.  The whole hospital stay was cold.  I can't imagine being there any longer than I was!

Before going to sleep, I called Kyle.  Brooklyn was still up, so I got to talk to her for a second. It hurt my heart a little bit, but my sadness was swallowed up in knowing that she was being taken care of by wonderful friends and that I would get to hold her in my arms again soon.

The next morning, I met with the psychiatrist again.  She was happy with how I was reacting to the medicines and decided that I would be able to go home soon.  She asked if I had any questions.  I asked her about getting pregnant on the medications and she said that I cannot take them while pregnant.  I'm still not sure what that means about the future of our family, but I do know that God will help us in the future when we try to grow our family.

I was able to go home around noon.  Kyle came to pick me up, and we went to pick up Brooklyn together.  I was so relieved to walk through those hospital doors knowing that my awful experience was done.

I still can't believe that I had to go through all of that just to get help.  Mental illness services are sure lacking!  I don't know what I can do to help that, but I plan on finding out.  Something has to change!


Suicide is NOT the Answer!

"I want to die."

I said this to my husband or thought this every day for 5 months (from November 2015 to March 2016).  Even if it was the best day I had had in a long time, I still couldn't shake the thought that death felt like a better option for me.  I didn't want to go on, and I honestly thought it was only a matter of time before I would be gone.  Sometimes I prayed that God would take me so that it wouldn't be wrong, and sometimes I asked for my husband to pray for that, too.  I can only imagine the pain and fear that must have surrounded him during my darkest moments.

At first, it was just a thought, but after a few weeks, it got more serious, and I thought about the specific details of how I would do it.  One cold, November evening in 2015, I was in a deep, dark, bad place.  I thought that there was no way I could make it through the week.  In fact, I didn't even think I could make it through the next day, so I started formulating a plan.  As I was intently focused on these terrible thoughts, my husband recognized my silence and broke through my thoughts by asking, "What are you thinking about?"

More silence followed as I thought: How am I supposed to explain to him that I have reached this point of complete helplessness, hopelessness, and darkness?  How am I supposed to tell him what I am actually thinking?

After a few minutes, I very quietly mumbled, "I want to die, and I was sitting here planning it out."  Of course, he was worried.  Of course, he took immediate action to help me.  Of course, he wanted to do everything in his power to keep me here, to bring light back into my life, and to give me hope.

His five words of asking what I was thinking about changed my life.  I really think God must have intervened, because I don't think there is any other way that my husband would have known exactly what to ask at exactly the right moment, or that I could have shared the dark thoughts in my mind at that moment.

Over the next few months, through the valiant efforts of my husband and the help of a counselor, I was eventually able to overcome these daily thoughts and rise out of the darkness that surrounded me. God even allowed me to completely escape the heavy and strong grip of depression for 3 months this last summer.  It felt so good, so refreshing, so rejuvenating.  Some days during the summer, my mind would turn back to the 5 months of darkness, the 5 long months when I was sure that all hope was lost and that I would never see light again.  I was filled with gratitude that my husband asked a critical question at a critical time, so that I didn't act on the dark feelings that surrounded me, and so that I could get to that point of feeling happiness and hope again, something I was convinced only a few months earlier that I would never reach.

While experiencing this time of light, I was able to realize that light ALWAYS comes again, even if we feel surrounded by darkness.  Going through depression isn't going deeper and deeper into a cave.  It's going through a tunnel, where someday we will reach the end and there will be light again, even though everything is dark in the present.  The light always comes again, so we have to trust in future light, when there is nothing but darkness.

Now I am in darkness again.  Don't worry!  I'm not completely helpless or hopeless right now, but I am in darkness.  I am trusting in God that the light will come again and that there is always hope.  If you are in darkness, PLEASE do not give up on yourself or on your life.  Trust me when I say that the light always comes again.  It will come, and when it does, it will far outweigh the pain and darkness that led to it.  Open up to someone, anyone.  Get help.  We can trust in the future light together and help each other until we get there again.


That We Might Have Joy: Rachel's Story

It was my husband’s birthday, and I was anxious, excited anxious. I just took a home pregnancy test, and it was positive! What a great birthday present! We were excited to bring a second baby into our home. Then, at 9 weeks, I went in for an ultrasound. There was the baby, where it should be, but no heartbeat. The doctors, techs, and nurses were all kind and tried to help me stay positive. Maybe I wasn’t as far along as I thought. We scheduled a follow up in 1 week to see. But, in my heart, I knew. Within that week, I miscarried.

I have dealt with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder off and on throughout my life. I have had counseling and medication, when it was necessary. I had also miscarried before having my son. And, based on those experiences, I knew I was at risk for postpartum depression. I did what I could to prepare-- set up a support network, communicated with my doctor, etc. But, the darkness came just the same. I didn’t reach suicidal thoughts, but I was out of control and heading that way. I checked into a psychiatric hospital for help.  I had so many miracles-- exactly the right doctors, therapists, nurses, behavioral techs, and chaplains. I saw that God had prepared the way for me. I could finally admit my anger toward God for taking my baby, while at the same time accepting that He has a plan in all this. I finally found a medication that let me sleep. But the greatest miracle of all was still to come.

I worked with a therapist outside of the hospital for several weeks after my discharge. I had studied the Atonement of our Savior, and I knew that miracles happened, but somehow, I made myself an exception. With the help of my therapist, I slowly realized that I was hiding behind my pain and anger and not allowing the Savior to take them from me. I was defining my whole self, my life, by that pain. This is not the whole reason I was depressed. The chemical imbalance was still very real. So, please don’t mistake my confession as the whole reason for my depression. Of course, the Savior can correct those chemical balances too. But, I needed all the mental health help as well as the spiritual healing. I finally figured out how to let go and give my burden to the Savior. I finally decided that I wanted to define myself and my life the way the Savior does. There are no words to adequately describe the feelings that entered my heart. The pain, the anger, the sadness, and despair- all gone! In an instant! Replaced with a pure joy and peace. I finally realized that I didn’t do anything to “deserve” what was happening to me. I wasn’t beyond saving. I hadn’t somehow disqualified myself from the Savior’s love. Instead, He had been there, pleading with me to let Him help. And He did help me. And He still does. I still need medication and may even need to continue professional counseling occasionally. I still sorrow at the loss of my precious baby. I still have bad days. But, my Savior is here! And I have a peace and joy that is constant throughout those hard times.

I continue to find joy by remembering that Jesus loves me, is pleased with me, and wants me to succeed. I find joy by remembering what He thinks of me, as a daughter of my Heavenly Father who is worth it! I wish I was better with words to be able to illustrate how real this is. That you really can feel sorrow and have joy at the same time. Finding joy through trials is different from finding joy in them. I find joy through them as I turn to my Savior and allow His loving and helping presence into my heart.


Right now, I feel numb to all emotion, like my heart is all dried up, and there's nothing left to feel.  I can't cry.  I can't explain.  The emotion is building every second, but I have no way to release it.  So I'm left feeling frustrated and almost angry.  Every emotion this bipolar offers to me feels like the worst thing possible while I'm experiencing it.  I always wish the current emotion could pass, because I'm convinced the others must be better.  That is until the others come, and then I remember that they are awful too.

Right now, I feel like I'd give anything to be able to cry, just to be able to feel something, even if it's sad.  But I know that soon I'll be crying and won't be able to stop for hours or days.  And then a few days after that, I'll be battling the intense emotions that come with mania.

I need to learn to be content, even when my current situation feels like some sort of unfair punishment or what I imagine hell feeling like.  I need to learn to be completely submissive and not let my own desires and expectations get in the way of what God has laid out for me.  I need to learn to have faith, the kind of faith to know that things will get better, even though my broken brain tries to convince me that I'm stuck like this forever.  I need to learn to not think this is so unfair to me.  Everyone has their own struggles, so why do I think I'm special and should be able to avoid these difficulties?

It's my choice whether I will spend the rest of this numb time being miserable by wishing it were different or joyful by trusting in God and letting these things run their natural course.  This is my moment to choose, so I'll try to consciously choose joy.


Blessings in Disguise

One of my favorite songs of all time is the song "Blessings" by Laura Story.  The chorus says:
'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

I connect with this song in so many ways-- tears, sleepless nights, praying for comfort, and sometimes praying for the suffering to ease.  But even more, its message rings true to me and has become a new goal for the way I want to live-- to look at everything as a blessing in disguise.  

Recently, God has blessed me with a greater ability to see how different trials and experiences in my life are really blessings.  I never would have recognized these as blessings without His help, so this is in no way me saying that I "deserve" to see all of this goodness and light through darkness.  But here are some recent blessings in disguise in my life:
  • I had experienced depression and anxiety before (for the last 4 years), so when the bipolar started, I knew that it was different; it felt different.  I can only imagine if I had never felt depression or anxiety before, how scary and confusing it would have been, along with how it would have taken a lot longer for me to realize what I was experiencing.  I wouldn't have been able to say, "I know what anxiety feels like, and this is different," when describing the mania.  I might not have been in a place of feeling unashamed about mental illness, so it would have been difficult for me to get help if I hadn't already accepted help for mental illness in the past.  
  • Carole Stephens gave a TALK in the Women's Session of General Conference and touched on the experiences of a girl with bipolar disorder.  At the time when I was sitting there listening, I had no clue that I would be feeling the same darkness enter my life in just a few short weeks.  Her talk allowed me to have a reference to turn to when I started feeling overwhelming darkness.  It allowed me to begin accepting the fact that it might be bipolar disorder, even before going to the psychiatrist.
  • This same talk inspired me to write down my story with depression, which the response to that, inspired me to start this blog.  I started this blog with faith, faith that God would give me something to write about (since I wasn't feeling depression anymore at the time), faith that I could bravely share my experiences, and faith that I could help others.  This blog has been one of the biggest blessings to me through the trials of these last several weeks, and I'm so thankful that God knew what I needed before I did.  He has brought so many wonderful, inspiring people into my life who have taught me that I can find joy through whatever circumstances I face.
  • A few weeks ago, my daughter and I both got sick at the same time.  I had been thinking the day before we got sick that I couldn't handle anything more added into my life.  The thought crossed my mind that someday my daughter would get sick, and I would need to be able to care for her more than normal, but just the thought of it made me feel overwhelmed.  When we got sick, the heavy burdens of mental illness were completely lifted off of my shoulders for a couple of days.  I got to enjoy all the snuggles with my daughter and do all the extra things to care for her while she wasn't feeling well.  I have never felt so thankful to be sick before in my life, and I'm positive that sickness was a blessing straight from God!
  •  From January to October, my husband and I were wanting to get pregnant with another baby.  My heart ached as we continued to not be able to get pregnant, and I prayed that God would help us bring another child into our family.  Now I realize that I need time and help before I can have another child to care for.  I am able to take care of my daughter and provide her with all the basic things she needs, but I can't imagine having a newborn to care for right now as well.  God knew what He was doing in not providing me with what I desperately wanted.
  • One huge blessing in disguise is the rapid cycling I have been experiencing.  Although it is intense and exhausting to experience mania and depression every single week, the rapid cycling has allowed me to find patterns in how I feel since I've already gone through 6 cycles, to explain exactly what I am feeling since both are so close together, and to feel the urgency to get help since it is very intense.  I can't imagine suffering for years through slower cycles before recognizing what is going on and getting help
I'm sure there are more blessings that I didn't write down, but I am so amazed at how God is able to take even the worst experiences we face and make them into our greatest blessings, and how He is able to give us the eyes to see the blessings in disguise.  

P.S. If this isn't the coolest thing ever, I was "blessings in disguise" for Halloween.  I promise I was not planning this blog post when I chose my costume  :)


That We Might Have Joy: Lindsay's Story

My husband Kevin and I met in November 2014, when we were set up on a blind date. Our relationship progressed rather quickly, and by January 2015, we were engaged. Once we got engaged, Kevin and I were very prayerful and felt strongly that we were not supposed to go on birth control once married. This was an interesting leap of faith for us. However, as we kept thinking about it, talking about it together, and praying about it, we felt sure that the prompting we'd felt was correct.

Kevin and I were married in May 2015. We fully expected we'd get pregnant right away, since that was why God prompted us not to start birth control, right? After a few months, we had a month where my period was late, and I truly thought I was pregnant. However the pregnancy tests came back negative, and when my period arrived at 3 am, it was the most painful one I’d ever had. I cried and cried until morning, while Kevin just held me and assured me that everything would be ok. I felt bad though, because I could tell he was disappointed too. I went to the doctor shortly thereafter and realized I needed a significant increase in my thyroid medication. (I have an interesting history of hypothyroidism, which if uncontrolled, can greatly contribute to fertility problems).

We continued on with life as before. After all, we had been married only about 6 months. Then, in November 2015, I had another appointment to check my thyroid numbers and discovered that they were off again and that I needed another slight increase in medication. I also had recently started feeling some pressure in my neck where my thyroid is. so I voiced that concern to my doctor as well. My doctor mentioned that there may be a tumor or growth on my thyroid that was sucking all of my thyroid hormone and suggested that I get an ultrasound done on my thyroid to check. Kevin and I were eating lunch together on BYU-I campus, when I got a phone call a few days later, and my doctor told me I had numerous growths of all sizes all over my thyroid, and that I needed to schedule an appointment immediately to get a biopsy done of some of the largest growths. The doctor said that usually one or two nodules would be benign, but that since it was multiple growths, he was worried about malignancy. I felt shaky and faint as I hung up the phone. Here I was worried about getting pregnant and wanting to keep my thyroid numbers in the normal range, and I'd just been told I might have thyroid cancer.

We fasted and prayed harder than we ever had before when I went in for the biopsy. I was not particularly excited about the part where they would a needle in my neck to gather the tissue samples. The ultrasound tech took us back to the room and got me situated on the table with my neck extended. The tech explained that he would use the ultrasound to find the biggest nodules and then invite the doctor in to drape my neck with sterile field, prep the area, numb me, and gather the tissue sample. However, as the tech started the ultrasound, he became very quiet and was looking around for a very long time at the ultrasound machine. Then after about 3 minutes of silence, he shut the machine off and said, "I need to talk to the doctor about this." I looked at Kevin who was holding my hand, and I was very nervous that they were going to tell me it was worse than they thought. Less than 20 seconds after the tech left the room, the doctor came barging into the room and turned the ultrasound machine on again. He searched around with the ultrasound in many different positions for about a minute, and then shut the machine off again. At this time, he turned to me and said "We can't find anything. There are no growths on your thyroid at all." I was stunned and confused. What?? I had just been praying for courage to withstand the doctor sticking a sharp needle in my neck, and all of a sudden, they told me I wouldn't be needing the biopsy at all. We were very grateful, but still rather stunned as we left the hospital. From that day forward though, I haven't felt any pressure in my neck, and the new increased dosage of thyroid medication has been helping keep my numbers within normal limits. When I told my family about what happened, my mom asked me, "Did we just witness a miracle or a mistake?" We believe it was a miracle.

After that miracle, we were back to the drawing board with trying to get pregnant. I began using ovulation tests and checking cervical position, still taking prenatal vitamins, and hoping and praying that something would work. Then in January 2016, we noticed that Kevin had a varicocele that needed surgically repaired. The varicocele was increasing the temperature of the testicles and doctors told us it could possibly contribute to infertility due to low sperm count. Kevin had surgery to repair his varicocele and the surgery went well. We were informed that it might be 3-6 months before his sperm count and quality would be back up to normal, if it ever came back to normal, since sometimes varicoceles left untreated for so long can cause long-term damage.

After Kevin's surgery, we went back, once again, to square one. Vitamins, ovulation tests, intercourse more often than I would like, laying on my back with a pillow under my hips... all crazy things that I learned about in nursing school that helped you conceive, yet nothing seemed to work. After a while, I got tired and very angry and just gave up. Except, you never really give up, even when you tell yourself you've given up. You can't just give up on something you think about every day.

Then, in March of 2016, I started a new job working as a home health and hospice nurse. Very early in my training for this new job, I was riding around for home visits with another young nurse when she mentioned that she was struggling with infertility. I was shocked to hear this from her so soon after meeting her. She mentioned that they had been struggling with infertility for a while too and that she had just had a miscarriage that required a D&C. As she spoke, I had the impression that I should just tell her that we were struggling with infertility too. Not to drive the attention to myself, but just so she would know that we were in this together. This friend immediately informed me of supplements Kevin and I could each take to promote good egg and sperm development. She had learned about these supplements from her fertility doctor and wanted to share the knowledge if it would save us a buck and help us get a jumpstart on trying a few things before we could officially go to a fertility specialist in May.

When May came, I was stubborn and still wasn’t ready to see a specialist. But when June hit, we finally decided we would go see a fertility specialist to at least get some answers. We went to Idaho Fertility Clinic in Idaho Falls and had a few tests done to check our fertility status including an ultrasound to check the amount of eggs I have and the shape of my uterus, an HSG test to check if my fallopian tubes are open, a sperm count for Kevin, and blood work to check hormone levels for both of us. A little bit of hope was re-instilled in us with these diagnostic tests because we at least knew we were on the road to discovering what was wrong so we could pinpoint what to fix.

The ultrasound of my uterus and ovaries came back completely normal. She said I had an abundance of eggs, and that the HSG to check for the openness of my fallopian tubes went well. Kevin's sperm count also came back great. She also said that both of our hormone levels were normal, and that the only real concern she had was that Kevin's sperm motility was on the low side, which she said could still be a side effect of the varicocele repair, and might improve with time. So all in all, she diagnosed us with having unexplained infertility. She presented our options, which were:

1) to continue as we have been doing and see if we can't get pregnant on our own naturally with time
2) to pay out of pocket for an IUI procedure with artificial insemination

Kevin and I decided to keep trying for a few more months on our own, mostly because I was not ready to proceed with a treatment, when I’d just been told there was a chance it could happen on its own.

After I had my HSG procedure to clear out my uterus and tubes and to make sure that everything was open, my period was messed up. I received a phone call from our fertility doctor at the end of August asking me if we were ready to proceed with a treatment yet. I told her that we would think about it, but that my cycle was a little messed up at the moment, and that we needed time to decide when to do it. She was respectful of this. I went home that day and talked with Kevin about when to proceed with a treatment. Kevin is so supportive and said he felt like we should try on our own for one more month and then we should do the treatment the next cycle. I was frustrated and my only logic was "I want my body to do this on its own. Why can't it do it on its own?" However, Kevin helped me realize that even if my body can't do it on its own, God has given us a special gift to have the technology available and the money saved at this time to do a treatment, and that we would be ok financially. I felt strongly that Kevin was right, and I told him that we would try one more time and then do a treatment.

Surprisingly, once that decision was made, I felt like a lot of stress was lifted from my shoulders. I had been worrying that God would be upset with us for trying to force a child into our family, when He didn't want us to have one yet. However, once we made the decision, I began pondering about how maybe God just wanted us to act for ourselves and see how determined we would truly be to bring a child into this world, despite the financial cost and emotional heartbreak that may result if it didn't work. Maybe God just wanted to see if we could have faith in Him. Whatever the reason, I felt like I had a better handle on my life. I knew what our next step would be, and all we could do was try to proceed with faith.

During the month of August, work slowed down, like A LOT! Our patient census was suddenly very very low and not picking up very quickly. I also was better learning how to delegate nursing visits to my other nurses so that I was not as overwhelmed. I felt my stress level decrease a little more.
True to the pattern, I began using ovulation strips when I knew ovulation was coming. Negative, negative, negative... The last few cycles, when I would use ovulation strips, sometimes I would never get a positive one. I was tempted to quit testing after about 6 days, but something told me to keep going. Then, when we finally made it to the weekend, I got two dark lines. We had an egg! We looked up online some new positions that were good for fertility and found one that I felt like might actually work and wouldn't be too uncomfortable. Afterwards, usually Kevin gets me situated with my hips raised, and then I let him go work on homework while I chill for about 45 minutes, but this time, I asked him if we could say a prayer before he left. That is when Kevin, with tears in his eyes, told me he would love to say a prayer together. He offered it, and it was the most simple and spiritual prayer I have ever heard. I knew in that moment that Kevin wanted this as much as I did. After he finished and Kevin went to work on homework, I was left to think to myself. Part of me wanted to laugh at how foolish we were being, but the better part of me knew that we had to try, and we HAD to rely on the Lord's help. I felt at peace, knowing that even if this cycle didn't work, we would try again next cycle, with an IUI treatment. This cycle was not the end of the world. Everything would be ok, and God was truly aware of us. This was the first time in a very long time that I felt at peace about our fertility.

Long story short: It worked that cycle. Two weeks later, I noticed I was getting car sick while driving around between seeing my different patients. I took a pregnancy test on the day of my missed period and it was faint, but it was positive. Since announcing our pregnancy, many people have asked us if we were so excited when we found out, and the truth is that we were skeptical and shocked at first. I did not believe that it truly worked that time, and it wasn’t until we had our first ultrasound and we saw the baby’s heartbeat that it really began to sink in for us. Ever since then, yes, we have been truly ecstatic and so very grateful to a Heavenly Father who never ever gave up on us!

How I Found (and Kept) Joy

When Shantelle asked me to write a post for this blog, I read through my personal blog posts to find ideas for what I wanted to include, and I realized that the reason I kept faith and joy through this trial was by looking at the very specific blessings that Heavenly Father continually gave us every step of the way. I thought about sparing all of the details, but I realized that it was the details of each blessing and miracle included in this story that kept me going through the difficult times.

I had my fair share of tears, anger directed at God, and jealousy of others, but when I did hit my lowest point during this trial, I realized that going through this trial without God was going to be a whole lot more difficult than going through it with Him. I am still amazed at the amount of love our Heavenly Father has for us at all times. There were many times where I felt like I had absolutely no faith, but I now realize that I did have faith, even if it was only as much as one grain of mustard seed at the time. I wanted so desperately to have faith that God truly loved me and that He wanted me to be a mother, and it was enough.

I truly believe that counting our blessings through our trials is the best way to maintain an eternal perspective and to keep our faith alive and burning. It is impossible to be angry at God when we realize how God HAS blessed us, even when the natural man wants to focus on everything we are lacking. It wasn’t until I truly came to be ok with the realization that we might have to battle this trial of infertility for a very long time that I began to be grateful for the little daily wins. Both Kevin and I are grateful for the opportunity we have had to want something for so long and then truly having to work to get it. We have learned a lot and our testimonies have been strengthened because of it.


That We Might Have Joy: Sarah's Story

I'm so glad Shantelle is including me in this project. I feel very strongly that we are not meant to go through trials alone. Throughout my own story, it was most often through other people that God answered my prayers and helped me know I was not alone. I hope by spreading Alma's story a little further, I can help others who have gone through a similar experience as me (or who just need a little light and hope) to know they are not alone.

My husband, Jayze, and I were married July 31, 2012. After about four months, we felt like it was time to try having children. A couple of months later, I was thrilled to see the two lines on the pregnancy test indicating I was pregnant. We were pregnant! I told Jayze that very night at the dinner table with a cute little card that said he was going to be a dad. It all felt surreal at the time, but we were already giddy with excitement. We were going to be parents!

During the next nine months we attended classes (we both went to college), worked part-time, found out we were having a baby BOY, celebrated our one-year anniversary, and moved into a bigger apartment. I remember feeling the soft, new baby clothes and laying them across my bulging stomach, trying to imagine how a person could fit in such tiny clothes. I remember Jayze and I spent most of a Saturday morning lovingly cleaning and setting up the crib together. Often, I would come home from school and work, sit in our glider with my feet on the footstool, look around the baby room, and anticipate rocking our baby in my arms. We were so excited. I couldn't wait to be a mom!

But, on August 27, 2013, my dream shattered. It was at my 11:00 a.m., 37-week appointment when I heard the words, "I'm sorry, but I can't find the heartbeat."

Shock set in. An ultrasound verified my baby's passing. After that, everything was a blur. Tearful phone calls to our families...a quick check from the doctor to see if I was dilated at all...Jayze and I squeezing each other's hands while clenching tissues in our other hands...being gently guided to the exit with instructions for an induction scheduled in a couple of days time...denial and acceptance ripping at my heart and mind. How could our baby be gone?

In the early morning a couple of days later, Jayze and I drove to the hospital to have our long-awaited baby boy. In spite of the circumstances and heartbreak, the labor and delivery went perfectly. At 11:42 a.m., I gave birth to a beautiful, dark-haired baby boy. He was 6 lbs. 2 oz and was 20 inches long. His fingers and toes were just like Jayze's, and his nose, ears, and mouth were just like mine. We named him Alma Jayze Flake. He was perfect in every way except that no sound ever escaped his tiny mouth. Our angel Alma was born sleeping.

I could tell you of the weeks after...my job accepting me back at work. Adding more classes to my school schedule. Putting on a brave face. Having breakdowns at the most random and inconvenient times. Searching desperately for peace and healing. Trying to fill my heavy, empty arms. Feeling confused and ashamed at how much anger I felt. Dodging the baby section at Walmart. Avoiding eye-contact with babies and toddlers. Longing with all of my heart for my baby I only got to hold for one precious day.

Looking back, I remember so much grief, darkness, and bitterness in the weeks and months following Alma's death.

Trying so hard to get out of bed every morning. Trying to go to my classes. Trying to focus on homework. Trying to go to work. Trying not to snap out at other parents who didn't seem grateful for what they had. Trying to keep all of my emotions inside in public. Trying to find the courage to face every single day without my baby. Trying to find any sliver of healing.

It was more difficult than I can say. It was hard to see the good because it seemed the bad far outweighed the good.

But, also looking back, I remember tiny shards of light. My bonfire of faith was put out, but dark, glowing embers were still there. Small tender mercies helped me get through each day. Different scriptures popped out at me, and provided an anchor. Blog posts written by others going through similar things helped me know I wasn't crazy. Random songs played on the radio allowed me to weep in the privacy of my car.

There were tender mercies that came directly through other people specifically for Jayze and me, too.

The mounds of letters and packages we received from loved ones. A quote taped to my front door. A friend asking me how much Alma weighed, if he had any hair, and if we thought he looked more like Jayze or me. Being invited to baby showers and game nights. Others asking sincerely and with love how I was really doing and giving me a safe space to talk and cry.

The darkness was still there, but I can see now that there were small amounts of healing every day, little by little. I felt angels helping me along, both earthly and heavenly. I felt others' love for me, and through them (as well as through personal soul-searching), I felt Heavenly Father's love for me. The quote from Spencer W. Kimball I saw every day at work rang even more true to me and sank even deeper into my heart:

"God does notice us, and he watches over us. 
But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs."

I still couldn't hold someone's baby - even my own nieces and nephews. I still cried after every baby shower. I still felt crushed every time I saw a pregnant woman. BUT, there was hope and healing along the way, even if I didn't always recognize it in the moment.

Losing Alma was such a harrowing experience. At times I felt anguish and despair and didn't know if I was really going to make it through. Yet, Heavenly Father didn't give up on me. It was because of Him, my Savior Jesus Christ, and others acting in Their behalf, that I'm able to recognize now that those beautiful, pure embers of light shining through the darkness were my moments of pure JOY.

Those tender mercies that happened every single day was joy being offered to me...it was my choice whether or not I would accept it or not. Joy was having a job to go to. Having classes to distract me. Having loved ones nearby even though my family lived miles away. Having special and sacred memories of Alma to hold onto. Having a loving husband who shared in my grief. And most importantly, having a loving Heavenly Father on my side whom I could to to in prayer at any time, no matter what, and He would be there.

Joy can also be found NOW in the things that came because of losing Alma. Joy that my husband and I grew even closer in our marriage. Joy that prayer works and answers do come. Joy that I'm able to get outside of myself and serve even when I feel broken. Joy that Jesus Christ is aware of me and knows me by name. Joy that this life isn't the end. Families are forever!

I am grateful that this trial has taught me (and is still teaching me) to cherish the tender mercies that come every day. They're there if I just look for them. I'm grateful for people like Shantelle who are willing to be vulnerable in order to help even just one person during his or her hard times. And I'm grateful for an all-knowing God who wants me to turn to Him and learn from Him and have JOY.

"So keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. 
Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever."
~ Jeffrey R. Holland ~ 

If you want to follow Sarah's story, you can check out her inspirational BLOG.