Finding Joy in Christmas Celebrations

Yesterday was honestly the worst day I've had in a long time.  I had been doing so well for almost 3 weeks with very minimal emotional struggle, and then this last weekend, it all piled up on me, and yesterday it came out in continuous tears for literally hours straight.  I hurt so much, even more than normal, because it's Christmas, and I felt like I was ruining my daughter's life.  I felt like I was failing at making Christmas a magical, beautiful time for her.  Instead of making cookies, doing big things for the "Light the World" campaign, making ornaments, or going to fun events, I was laying in bed crying, still wondering how I would get the dishes and laundry done, let alone anything beyond that.

I couldn't stop thinking about all the wonderful Christmas traditions different families have and how my daughter must deserve someone better than me.  Surely, she needed some other mom who could fill her life with warm memories and sweet traditions, something that I simply can't give her much of right now.

But as I was wallowing in my own self-pity and allowing my mind to follow a destructive course of thoughts, I remembered that Christmas isn't really about cookies or ornaments or those other fun things.  It's about the Savior and His incredibly simple birth that changed the world forever.  So while there is nothing wrong with having big or fun traditions, there's also nothing wrong with making Christmas a simple time focused on the perfect baby born in the humblest of circumstances and the JOY that His birth brought to this world.

While I still wished that I could do more, I also felt joy reflecting on how this darkness can be overcome by the Savior and how it's the weight and the burden of mental illness that has allowed me to see the light of Christ shining brighter in my life, especially at this special time of year. 

And then I thought of an idea.  I wanted to look for the word "JOY" in the many decorations used to remember the reason for this season and focus on that joy that can come through Christ.

First, I saw the new nativity we bought this year.  I am so in love with it, and the simple message it displays so perfectly.

Then, my daughter and I saw two more joyful decorations on the way to our friend Betty's house and outside of her room.

After that, we went to the store and found joy all around!

When we got home, I saw the two beautiful gifts that people gave me last year to help me remember JOY, including the bag that I used as our church bag last Sunday.

By this time, I still had tears in my eyes from the difficult day I had experienced, and I still needed my husband to come home early and hold me while he repeated to me the truths that my broken brain had forgotten, but I also felt peace and JOY swelling in my heart.  It suddenly felt okay that I can't do everything I want to do this Christmas.  It felt okay that I have to simplify my celebrations, which is blessing me to have a more focused celebration.  It felt okay that my daughter doesn't have another mom, because she loves and needs me, despite what I can't do at this time.

And then this morning, I received a beautiful, thoughtful, kind gift that warmed my heart and brought a smile to my face.  Someone sent me this shirt that says "Joy to the World."  She didn't know what an awful day I had yesterday.  She didn't know that I was on a quest to literally find "joy" to get me through the sorrows that wanted to take over my heart.  It was perfect and filled my heart with joy to the very top!  There really is joy in the world and in my life because of Christmas.

***I'm still on my search for joy, so if you see any joyful decorations, make sure to send a picture my way!!! 


Good Days!

These last few days have been heavenly. I have felt so good, so much like myself again. I've thought several times, "I won't go back to where I was at. I won't let myself fall from this good place." But I know better than to believe that. It's not that I don't have hope or optimism or faith. It's that I know from experience that it's not healthy for me to think that I have somehow overcome this beast. The darkness will come again, and it's better for me to accept that rather than try to deny it. So instead of thinking that I've beat this once and for all, I'm simply savoring, thoroughly enjoying, and relentlessly giving thanks for every good day, hour, and moment while this lasts.

It's days like this when I am able to remember that good days always come after the darkness. It's worth holding on through the deepest pain. I'm doing better than I often think I am. I am loved and needed by my family. I can be a mom to another child in the future. All those lies (I'm not worthy, I'm worthless, I'm failing, I'm unlovable, I'm dumb) are indeed lies, and I can't let myself believe them when they scream at me for days or weeks at a time again.

I'm in such a good place right now, and I can see how much growth and progress has taken place in my life in the last year. This is a good thing, a very, very good thing! And it will continue to be a good thing, even when I am overcome with the burdens of mental illness again.

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Finding Joy Through "Beating the Blues"

When I am depressed, I struggle doing anything.  Partly because I have no motivation or energy to be productive, and partly because there's no feeling behind anything I do.  I feel like I'm constantly wandering around with no purpose or direction on those down days.  I try to do something, but as soon as I start, I wish that I could be done and go back to bed.  I try to check a few things off of my to-do list, but that's all they are-- checks.  I don't feel happy during or accomplished after.  There's no feeling at all, except sadness of course. 

It feels like eating food and not being able to taste it, watching a movie of my life instead of experiencing it myself, or being alive but not actually living.  There's nothing satisfying about it, which eventually makes it seem pointless to even try. 

This is how I've felt the last few weeks since it has started getting cold outside, but especially this last week, because of some other circumstances.  When it started getting cold and I could feel myself slipping into a winter darkness, I decided that I needed to come up with some things that could help me "beat the blues."  My rules for these activities were that they had to be things that could bring me a feeling of accomplishment when I completed them, and they had to be things that I could find a way to enjoy, even when there's not much feeling to be felt in anything.

I got to work setting goals for myself, and this is what I came up with:

  1. Make as many crocheted nativities as people order.  Seriously, doing this has helped me beat the blues so much, because it is relaxing, it feels good to get each piece done, it makes me push myself, and I get to see the joy it brings to other people when they receive them.  
  2. Practice and learn more about photography.  Every time I take advantage of an opportunity to take pictures, it brings me joy.  I feel good seeing myself improve, and I enjoy having the chance to be creative in a way that isn't stressful for me.
  3. Work up to swimming a mile.  I have grown to love swimming in the last while since I started going to the gym.  I started out being able to only swim a few laps before feeling completely exhausted, but I have seen myself grow stronger and push myself harder to do more.  I love the feeling of accomplishment when I get done swimming farther than I thought would ever be possible and finding the power within myself to overcome the heavy weight of depression.  It feels freeing, like I have finally found something that doesn't let the depression win over me.
  4. Sew spring dresses.  I don't always love sewing, but I do love making little dresses.  Lately, I have enjoyed looking for discount fabric in the scrap bins at the store and using the cute fabrics I find to make lots of little girl dresses.  Something about making a piece of clothing and then seeing a little girl wear it fills me with joy!
I still have days where I struggle so much doing even these things, and I am learning by force how to be more flexible and patient with myself, but I am finding so much joy in doing what I can to overcome the beast that mental illness is.  I will make it through this winter, and I will beat the blues!!


That We Might Have Joy: Brad's Story

I'm Brad Jones.

I have tourettes, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, non-verbal learning disorder, bipolar, and I am very shy.

I feel extremely awkward in almost all social settings, regardless of big group settings or small group settings. I function the best one-on-one, focused talking back and forth to just one person. I am used to being bullied directly, from a distance without even being spoken to, and behind my back in venues where I'm not present.

I'm that guy no girl is willing to date or marry, because my illnesses make 99% of LDS girls that know me or know of me consider me an embarrassment to be seen with, despite how I am high functioning and have have dramatically refined my social skills, despite still struggling in them. They see dating and marrying me as a lot of babysitting, where marrying me would be an eternal babysitting job.

I have found joy in this huge stack of problems by feeling more appreciative of the people who treat me right than if I were not having struggles.  Also, these constant struggles make me feel very inadequate, and in turn, keep me from becoming arrogant.



Ever since Saturday, I have been thinking about perspective.  Last week was so bleak and dreary every day-- rain, very little sunshine, and lots of depression for me.  I love a good thunderstorm, but days and days of drizzling rain get me down, almost without me recognizing why I feel so awful!  

All day Friday, the drizzling continued.  That evening, my husband gave me an extension tube set for our camera to allow me to take macro pictures.  The next morning, I went outside to try it out.  What would have appeared to be wet dreariness everywhere only the day before transformed right before my eyes into beautiful, delicate little beads of rain on EVERYTHING.  I could hardly contain my excitement as I took pictures of every little drop I could find.  It felt like a whole new world had opened up to me, and I wanted to spend hours capturing it.

The ability to see the world in a new way changed how I felt about the rain.  What used to be dark and gloomy turned into something beautiful and something I could appreciate.  It filled me with joy in a way that I never thought would be possible, but now it is.

Likewise, my personal perspective on bipolar disorder often includes words like "sorrow," "discouragement," "difficult," and even occasionally "unfair."  I try to find joy through it, but sometimes it feels so hard to find the good in this.  It hurts and has changed me in ways that I don't want to change.  I'm different now, and sometimes I just want to go back to how everything used to be.

But recently, some good friends and good experiences have opened my eyes to see this disorder from a different perspective.  What I often see as not being a good enough mom because of this struggle has been explained by several people as an opportunity for my daughter to learn compassion and to realize that hard things happen to everyone and that we keep going without giving up.  What I see as me not being able to keep up with any of the big or little things I used to do has become an opportunity for my husband to appreciate every little thing I am able do now and for me to appreciate his efforts to help me and my good days.  What I see as one hard thing after another in the last year, God sees as a heart that has been softened and that has been opened to the heartaches of others.  What I sometimes see as misery, God is helping me to see as miracles all around me every day!

Whenever I find myself falling into the hole of self-pity, I know that I simply have to change my perspective, which is not easily done but very worth my time.  I have to try to look through different eyes and see things the way they really are, not the way my broken heart and broken brain like to see them.  For me, striving to find joy is my surest way of changing the way things look.  It gives me the ability to see my trials as stepping stones instead of stumbling blocks.  Sometimes I have to look really hard to find joy in what I am experiencing, but it's always there and always possible to find it!


Next to Normal

Last night, we went to a musical at our local high school called "Next to Normal."  Basically, it's the story of a woman who has bipolar and how she deals with her illness and how it affects her family.  I was very hesitant going to this musical.  I doubted that bipolar could be accurately portrayed on stage, and I was somewhat worried about how I would react to seeing a musical that relates so closely to what I experience.  I wanted to go and see how such a musical would be done, but I was sure that it would have some negative consequences for me.  I didn't think there was any way it couldn't.

But I was blown away!  The acting was incredible, especially for high school students.  The plot was so well-written, and the writers were able to find a way to address some very deep and emotional subjects in a way that was not offensive or inappropriately light.  It was seriously spot-on!  In fact, my husband and I often exchanged glances during the musical when the woman with bipolar would say some of the exact things I have said about how it feels.  It was amazingly well done in every way, and I am so glad I went to see it.

I hurriedly wrote down the things that I remembered after it got done, so I want to share some of the specifics about this musical that touched my heart.  Spoiler alert!!  I share many details of the plot, so you might not want to read this if you're planning on seeing the musical.
  • Diana, the woman with bipolar, said that relaying her story to a counselor felt like telling someone else's story.  I have said that exact same thing to my husband before.  This doesn't feel like something that actually happens to people.  At least not me, right?  It seems so far from who I really am that surely it must be someone else's story, not mine.
  • At one point, Diana was going to see a psychiatrist for several weeks as he kept changing medications, dosages, and combinations.  She felt frustrated that it wasn't ever a for sure thing that the medication would help, so she felt like an experiment.  Another spot-on moment!  
  • Diana kept telling the psychiatrist about the side effects and how she was feeling.  After several weeks, she said that she no longer felt anything, at which point, he labeled her as stable.  It seems like that is the goal with mental illness often times-- get the person only to the point of feeling no ups or downs anymore, not to actually feeling good.  
  • But as happened in the play and often happens in real life, Diana missed feeling happy and wanted to go back to feeling the ups and downs as opposed to feeling nothing just so she could feel good some of the time.  She got rid of her medications without talking to her husband or doctor.  Unfortunately, I have been there.
  • At another point, her husband says that he understands, and Diana sings a whole song about how he doesn't know.  While I have had conversations similar to this with my husband about how it's impossible to really understand what it's like without experiencing it, I've also felt this same feeling repeatedly when others say that they understand how I'm feeling.  I know this is meant to be a comfort, but often, it does the opposite.  It makes me feel more alone.
  • Diana said that she didn't want to be a shadow anymore, but she wanted to actually live.  Yes, yes, YES!
  • One of the hardest parts about watching the musical was watching how the mother's mental illness affected her teenage daughter.  A couple of times, it made me tear up, and I had to remind myself repeatedly that everything is going to be okay.
  • Diana's son died when he was young, and in the musical, he was her pull to commit suicide, not actually him, but what her brain told her as if it were him.  I thought the pull of suicide was so perfectly represented.
  • Diana gives in to this pull and attempts suicide.  She is then admitted to the hospital for recovery.  The hospital part brought back so many memories of being in the hospital last December and was a very emotional part for me.  In fact, I started to cry just before the intermission started and all the lights went on.  It was great  :)
  • The first part of the play was really hard to watch.  Honestly, it felt like it was rubbing on these super painful, open wounds, and I wanted to unsee and unfeel everything from that first half.  I thought I was going to go home and cry the rest of the night because of everything I felt while watching, but thankfully, it got much better.
  • During the intermission, my husband and I talked about how impressed we were with the acting and the musical in general.  We wondered if other people in the audience were confused about what was going on, because so much of it had become familiar to us over the last year.  We both talked about what we thought would happen next and how it would end.  
  • Diana tries ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) to heal and ends up losing a lot of her memory for a time.  Her and her husband talk about whether the symptoms or the cure are worse.  This is exactly how it feels.  Every treatment option has side effects and sometimes the side effects are worse than the original symptoms, and it's so frustrating!
  • The musical portrayed a lot of marital conflict surrounding Diana's illness.  While we have had our fair share of heartaches surrounding my disorder, we have reached a really good place.  I am so thankful for my husband and for the support and love he gives me as we fight through this together.  He is an incredible gift in my life!
  • One thing that really made my heart sink was when the psychiatrist told Diana that this is a chronic illness, and she would have relapses.  That has been one of the hardest things about this diagnosis is that it won't just go away on its own, even if we find a medication that helps for a time.  But I felt comfort in the doctor and Diana's family saying that they were here for the long run and would continue to help her through her whole life.
  • In the end, I was totally bawling as the mom and daughter had a conversation about how their life was "next to normal" and that was alright.  
  • The last song kept me bawling as there was no happy ending, but they basically sang that the light would come again and good days would be ahead.  I really appreciated there not being a happy, fix-everything ending.  That might sound odd, but in reality, that's not how it is.  It doesn't just go away or improve suddenly, and I feel like that would have given a false hope for handling mental illness.  Instead, I LOVED the message found in these lyrics:
Day after day,
Wishing all our cares away.
Trying to fight the things we feel,
But some hurts never heal.
Some ghosts are never gone,
But we go on,
We still go on.
And you find some way to survive
And you find out you don't have to be happy at all,
To be happy you're alive.

Day after day,
Give me clouds and rain and gray.
Give me pain if that's what's real.
It's the price we pay to feel.
The price of love is loss,
But still we pay.
We love anyway.

And when the night has finally gone.
And when we see the new day dawn.
We'll wonder how we wandered for so long, so blind.
The wasted world we thought we knew,
The light will make it look brand new.

Day after day,
We'll find the will to find our way.
Knowing that the darkest skies will someday see the sun.
When our long night is done, 
There will be light.
Sons and daughters, husbands, wives.
Can fight that fight.
There will be light.

While I'm not sure that I can recommend going to see the Broadway version of this musical as it was made more appropriate for a high school stage and was on the border of inappropriate in some parts, I think this musical has a wonderful message and brings understanding and hope to all.


This Time Last Year...

Right now, I feel like I am constantly thinking about this time last year-- last year when all of this started, last year's Halloween, last year's birthday, last year's holiday season, etc.  Tomorrow is my 25th birthday.  25 just happens to be the median age for the onset of bipolar.  I guess I got lucky and got to experience it for an extra year  :)

Last year for my birthday, we went to a middle school musical to celebrate.  I remember sitting in my seat feeling manic and wondering what was overcoming my body for the third time in 2 weeks.  It was all so new and confusing and painful.  I wanted to just sit back and enjoy the play, but my mind was racing, my heart was squeezed tight, and my legs were shaking.  I didn't have a name for what was going on, so I sat there trying to hold it all together.  I do remember enjoying the musical, especially when the boy I taught piano was in the scene, but I also remember feeling somewhat disconnected.  I didn't feel like I was totally there.  I wasn't enjoying it as much as I usually would have.  The day after my birthday, I felt so sad.  Why wasn't I able to fully enjoy my special day?  Why did it feel like I was pretending to be happy, not really feeling happy?  

This year for my birthday, we're going to another musical, this time at the high school.  It's called "Next to Normal."  It's about a mom with bipolar disorder and how she is trying to cope and manage her mental illness.  Sound familiar?  :)  At first, I didn't want to go see it.  I mean, why would I need to see a musical about this when it's the story of my life?  Then, I worried about what would be portrayed and how I would feel watching it.  And now, I'm a mix of a lot of emotions, but mostly excitement.  I want to support this effort to speak out about mental illness, and I am so curious to see how bipolar will be portrayed on stage.

Although hitting the one year mark since this started has been way harder than I thought it would be (actually I didn't think it would bother me at all so the fact that it has been hard surprises me), things are looking up now.  Sometimes I just have to take the waves of grief as they come.  It might sound weird to say grief, since I haven't actually lost anyone, but in many ways, I feel like I lost a big piece of myself to this last year, and I'm still grieving the loss of feeling like me.  It's hard not being able to control how I feel, and it's hard that I can't make myself feel good for my birthday or Christmas, but I'm doing better with accepting that things are still good and I'm still very blessed, even though I struggle sometimes.

Just like this picture my husband made for our conference frames says, I will always be able to control how I react to the difficulties that come in my life.  And I am determined to be like Brooklyn, get up and keep chasing those ducks, even after I fall down  :)


Choosing Joy in the Beginning Winter Depression

As the weather gets colder, I find myself sinking farther and farther into depression every day.  I already know it's going to be a long winter!  Every day, I wish that I could spend all my time in bed, hibernating until spring comes again.  After I get up, I can hardly make it an hour or two before I crawl back into bed and either cry or stare blankly at the ceiling wondering why this weight is so real.  Eventually, I find the courage and strength to get up for the second, third, fourth, etc. times, but it takes everything out of me, and I immediately want to lay down again.

At the same time, every day I feel like I am ruining my child's life.  I take care of her most basic needs, but that's all I can do.  My days of trying to do fun or creative things are gone (for now).  I often wonder what kind of memories she will have of her childhood and wish that I could erase any memories of me struggling.  And yet, the older she gets, the more I know that she will soon begin to remember some of this, even when she's grown.  That hurts me more than I can describe, and I really struggle adding the "but if not..." to my prayers when asking God to take this away.  I just want it gone.

But as I pray and the painful tears stream down my face, I remember JOY.  There must be joy in this.  Where is the joy?  And then my mind is opened.  There's joy in my daughter getting older and inviting me to do the tea parties, puzzles, or movies and snuggles with her.  There's joy in people inviting us to do fun holiday things, so I don't feel quite so guilty about being a less-than-super mom.  There's joy in using my hands to create things that bring other people joy.  There's joy in using my strength to serve whenever and wherever I feel I can right now.  There's joy in finishing a workout at the gym and recognizing that I have the power in me to beat this.  There's joy in the little tiny tender mercies that I would normally miss noticing but now they seem so obvious to me.  There's joy in hearing my husband say that he's sorry that this is so hard, that he loves me, that he's thankful for my effort, and that the ways I've changed in the last year are overall for the better.  There's joy in having people ask me how I'm really doing and knowing that they care to hear my truthful answer.  There's joy in seeing how blessed I am and how my testimony is still growing stronger.  And the list could go on forever probably.

I hurt so much right now, but something inside of me tells me that there will be an abundance of joy to be found, even in the bitterness of the long winter months.  Finding joy is my choice, so I will choose JOY!

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One Year Later...

I've struggled finding the words for this post.  Last week was good, so I didn't know what to write, and now I'm feeling all the feels, and I still don't know what to write.  Haha.  I guess I'll just start somewhere and see how it ends up.

It's been one whole year, and yet here I am, and it seems like not much has changed.  In some ways, I feel so strong looking back and seeing all the terribly difficult things that I've experienced in the last year, but in a lot of ways, I feel weak and somewhat overwhelmed moving forward.  One whole year later, and I feel like I'm in almost the same place as I was when this started.  Still struggling on and off so much.  Still no baby #2.  Still not sure what can help my broken brain or when we'll find that miracle medicine.  Still not sure how to handle the most difficult days when they come.  Still not able to do even a portion of what I used to do.  Still spending hours in bed every week.  Still struggling to accept that things are just different now.  Still praying every day that my husband and daughter will somehow understand the deep hurt in my heart and know that I'm trying.

But as the tears well up in my eyes and my heart begins to sink in heaviness, I have to remember that I have made steps of improvement and progress.  I'm exercising regularly now.  I've learned how to simplify my life, ask for/accept help, and use my experiences to try to help others.  I've given my all to finding joy in the most difficult circumstances.  And most importantly, I've survived, even when that seemed absolutely impossible.

Through all the difficulties in the last year, I have seen countless miracles.  I've had prayers answered in the exact way I prayed.  My heart has been lifted by the wonderful family and friends I've been given.  I have been the recipient of heartfelt, thoughtful service that has reminded me time and time again that God is aware of me and loves me.  I have been able to come in contact with some of the most amazing people who have inspired me and renewed my desire to find joy in all things.  My experiences have been able to soften hearts and help others understand those who struggle with mental illness.  My testimony of the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ has grown as He has strengthened me and enabled me to do more than I could on my own.  And perhaps the greatest miracle of all is that, because of the Savior, I'm okay and I'm still trying, and I'll keep trying as long as this lasts.

Last week, I had a few days of small struggle (small compared to the weeks before).  As I was laying in bed one day trying to find the motivation to get up, a thought came to my mind that has helped me to increase in faith and hope: "God's plan hasn't changed.  This is His plan."  It seems so simple, but this plain truth reminded me that it is my plan that has changed, not God's.  He knew this would happen, so He placed people and opportunities in my path as part of His perfect plan.  He knows that I can't do everything I used to do, and that's okay.  I'm living His plan.  He's the one that can help my sweet family understand and accept the changes that have come in the last year.  He's the one who knows what I need and knows how to help me.  He's the one who will give me the strength and courage to fight over and over and over again.  And ultimately, His plan will help make me into the best version of myself possible.

If you're reading this, THANK YOU for all of the support and love you've shown in this last year.  I never knew there would be any interest in the things I write, but this blog has grown so much, especially in the last few months, and I'm so thankful.  Any little bit that I can do to use my experience to bless another person means that these months of struggle are not a waste and have a purpose.  So thank you!  I've learned so much from each person who has reached out to me during this time, and I feel like I've learned from each of you what it means to truly serve someone in the way they need.

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I'm Back!

Yes, you read that right.  I'm back.  My nightmare of this last week and a half is over (at least it feels like that right now and I'm hoping it stays).  I can hardly believe it was so terrible, but it's done now, and I'm so ready to move on.  Several people have asked what happened to make everything so difficult, so I thought I'd write a little bit about that and the caution I learned I need to take.  So this is kind of redundant with things I've already written, but this is the shortened story of what happened. 

First, the counselor I was seeing thought I had a hormone imbalance that was causing my mood cycling, and if so, that would have been a very easy problem to fix.  After several weeks of her very strongly believing this was the case, she realized that it wasn't.  That was hard, because as much as I had tried not to get too excited or hopeful, I had.  I wanted all of this to be done and realizing it might be a lifelong battle after all was very hard to swallow.  But I kept moving forward.  Things had been getting better the weeks before that, especially since I had started exercising regularly, so I knew I'd just have to keep fighting and eventually conquer this beast.  At the same time, I was going to see our infertility specialist, and we were moving forward with our plan to get pregnant.  He wanted me to take clomid to increase my fertility and to help with an anatomic anomaly I have, so I did, even though I ovulate regularly on my own.  When I went to pick it up at the pharmacist, he told me a few of the common side effects-- headache, cramps, and mood swings.  I didn't think much of it at the time.  So what are a few extra mood swings?  I mean, it couldn't be any worse than normal, right?

I took the medication for 5 days as directed and then stopped taking it to prepare for the next step in our plan.  And that's when everything fell apart.  Just a couple of days after taking it, I started to feel AWFUL!  Like the most awful I've ever felt in my life.  It wasn't just the normal darkness I experience on a regular basis.  It was a very intense heaviness that weighed on my whole body and made it feel almost impossible to function at all.  I would get out of bed for a minute to do something and then go straight back to bed.  I didn't eat more than a few crackers or carrots for several days.  I cried for hours every day and didn't know how to cope with something so difficult, especially since I didn't know what was going on.  But perhaps the most difficult part of this time was the incessant, unremitting thought that I should die.  And it wasn't like the nagging thought that sometimes accompanies my depression that I've learned how to handle.  It was so strong, so pressing, and so serious. 

After a whole week of this kind of darkness, I finally told two friends and my husband about how I was feeling.  As I was talking to them, I remembered what the pharmacist had said.  Mood swings.  This was to be expected.  First, I felt a little hopeful that this had a cause and therefore would have an end.  Then, I felt a little bit angry that I had taken a medication that caused more pain than I ever knew was possible to experience, and it could have been avoided.  And finally, I felt like I needed help.  I had barely made it through a week of this, and it was getting worse, so there was no way that I could continue doing this on my own. 

I talked to my good friend and church leader about how I was feeling, and she kindly and forcefully told me what I needed to do to make sure that I would be okay until this got better.  She helped me set up people to be with for the whole week and warmly wrapped me in her arms to let me know that I was loved and would get through this! 

The next few days, I went to people's houses all day long until Kyle got home.  I was exhausted.  I was fighting for my life, and I was away from the comfort of my bed to lay down and rest all day.  I knew it was what I needed, but it was hard.  I appreciated the people willing to help and felt completely surrounded by love and kindness and support. 

The constant pain I felt seemed like too much to bear.  It physically hurt in my chest, and I would sometimes have to close my eyes just to remember to keep breathing and hold on.  I kept reminding myself that it would pass, even though it felt like one more minute of this kind of pain was impossible to handle. 

Yesterday, after laying in my bed crying for hours on end and feeling the greatest intensity I had felt yet, the darkness suddenly lifted.  I took a deep breath and felt relief.  It was gone-- all the heaviness, all the pain, all the struggle.  I wanted to get up, I wanted to live, and I wanted to try to be okay again.  I had made it through what would hopefully be the hardest battle I'll ever have to fight.  I did it, of course with the help of some amazing people who I have been so blessed to know. 

I still can't believe taking a medication could cause so much heartache and pain, but I have learned the hard way that I need to check the possible side effects on any medication every time and stick up for myself when it seems that something might not be a good match for what I am already facing.  It's my job to be proactive and to make sure that I am doing my part to keep myself safe and healthy. 


That We Might Help: Rhonda's Insights

To read Rhonda's story about finding joy through breast cancer, go HERE.

I’m so honored to be asked to contribute to the “That We Might Help” project. I believe that the majority of people who hear of a friend or loved one diagnosed with an illness such as cancer want to help. They may not know how or what things are helpful or unhelpful so I was asked to shed some light on that to make others more aware.

I have an aggressive form of breast cancer and have been through six months of vigorous chemotherapies and several surgeries with more surgeries to come in the next few months now that I’ve completed chemo. I hope that my words will be taken as gentle advice on how to possibly help or support someone going through a cancer diagnosis/treatment, rather than a chastisement if you have done or said things differently than what I might suggest. Any support is good support and we’ve all said things before that later we realize might not have been the best. Certainly, I’ve been told things that may have been insensitive but I do not hold it against a person when I feel their love and care. It’s always a good thing to hear a different perspective though, so we can learn and perhaps be more prepared to be the very best support possible.

The initial diagnosis period happens to be one of the worst nightmares into which a person could be thrown. There is so much testing and waiting, more testing, more waiting. The whole time period from learning I had cancer to the time when I had surgery and a pathological confirmation of my stage and treatment plan was about five weeks. That is a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of time spent trying to comfort my children when I didn’t really know what the future might hold, and many days and hours spent at appointments. It was a full-time job and then some. Had I not had an enormous amount of support I just don’t know how I would’ve managed the mental aspect of it. I had cards, flowers, thoughtful little gifts people brought by with a hug or sent in the mail, and many messages of support. Those things are what helped me get through that dark and scary time feeling supported and loved rather than just focusing on my fears. I can’t stress enough how those things made me feel blessed and buoyed up while I waited and waited some more.

Once the surgeries and treatments start is when the person diagnosed has to gear up for the fight. The fear is just out of this world and I can’t possibly convey it with words. The following are some tips that might be useful if you are wondering what specifically you can do to help:
  • Continue to send messages of support and love.
  • If the person diagnosed expresses fears of death, please do not discount it. Don’t tell them that they will be fine. You don’t know. Nobody knows. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re the strongest fighter or are the most positive person in the world. It can take the best, most determined person and completely ravage them. Instead of trying to downplay the seriousness of what they are facing, offer a hug, listen to them, ask what you can do to help alleviate some stress. I think it is human nature to want to comfort, but we need to be careful that we are honest in our comfort and that we don’t casually dismiss very real possibilities.
  • Most of us that have chemotherapy in our treatment plan will lose our hair. It’s quite easy for people who have their hair, and have no threat of losing it, to say, “It’s only hair. It will grow back.” While that is true for the majority of people (some chemo can and does cause permanent hair loss) it is not comforting. It can feel like it is being downplayed, and I promise you it’s not *just* a hair thing. It’s about so much more than hair. Our physical identity is stripped away bit by bit. First our hair, then our eyelashes, and eyebrows. It’s as if everything that distinguishes us slowly fades away. We turn into an unrecognizable image. Literally, sometimes people don’t recognize us, and we don’t recognize our own reflection in the mirror. We lose our privacy. We walk into a room, and our medical condition is announced long before anyone even knows our name. We get stares, we get averted eyes, and we get unsolicited comments. Instead of acting as if losing our hair doesn’t matter, offer to go wig shopping with them if they are interested in that. Ask if you can buy them a few head scarves. Omit those belittling words and create a positive action instead of devaluing something that is a very big deal. My sweet cousins sent me a gift certificate to a wig shop so I could pick something out that I wanted. It was a beautiful and thoughtful gift and having a wig gave me a feeling of security. I had the option of “blending in” when going in public if I chose to wear it. A sweet friend had me pick out several scarves/hats online, and she paid the bill. Another dear friend came over to cut my long hair very short just before it was to fall out. It was a kind and precious thing to do so I wouldn’t have to have to go through that difficult thing in a public salon. It also gave me a few days of adjustment time before it completely fell out. It turned such a sad experience into something lighthearted and fun. I felt incredibly blessed my friend would think to offer that for me. My new short hairdo was so cute and that transition so helpful that I didn’t even cry about the hair loss until many weeks later when my eyelashes were gone too. At that point, I no longer looked like me. I looked like a dying cancer patient. That was the worst week of my whole cancer journey and that includes the double mastectomy, being very sick, weak, and being in great pain. Please understand it’s not “just hair”.
  • Try not to place any extra or unneeded responsibilities on the cancer patient. Even something as simple as telling them to be positive can feel like a weight on them, an extra “job” so to speak. Instead, if they are feeling downtrodden ask what *you* can do to help them feel more positive or happy. Ask if going out to lunch will lift their spirits, or if having a night out could help but try not to give them added pressure. Their minds are already weighed down, their shoulders already carrying a heavy burden. Lighten it as best you can; try not to add to it.
  • Prayers offered are so welcomed and appreciated. If it’s in your power to do so, definitely offer them… and then get off your knees and take them a meal, do their dishes, offer rides for them to their appointments, and then continue to offer as time goes on. Ask the Almighty to buoy them up and then, as His servant, do something physical to help alleviate their daily stress. The fatigue and exhaustion from chemotherapy is one I have never known. You might think a meal is nothing, but I assure you that it’s huge. It’s needed. If you don’t cook, drop by gift card to a local food place, a frozen lasagna, a fruit or veggie tray, anything that doesn’t require a ton of preparation that the family can eat when they’ve had a long day. Don’t assume their church or friends or family are bringing food. Take action yourself. Yours might be the only help offered. One of our friends has brought us a batch of homemade refried beans every single week for months. Some weeks it was the only hot thing my kids had eaten for days. The appreciation for something like this is immense.
  • Instead of telling them “let me know if you need anything”, ask specifics. Unless the person is already known to call on you when they are in need, they probably won’t call on you now. It’s so very hard to ask for help. Chemo does a number on a person, and there have been times people have asked if they can do anything and my mind goes blank. Then I’ve gotten off the phone and realized we had no groceries, I hadn’t picked up my medications from the pharmacy, and the kids were eating cereal for dinner. Again. It’s not your fault; their brain is on overtime and not functioning well on the spot (it’s referred to as “chemo brain”), but it does help to specifically ask, “Can I go to the store for you?”, “Can I bring some dinner tonight?”, “Do the kids need a ride?”
  • Specific to breast cancer…if you know someone is getting a mastectomy, I beg of you to not say how lucky they are to be getting a “free boob job”. It is not free by any means, and it is not anything close to an elective breast augmentation surgery, not in recovery and not in results. It’s not even in the same ball park. Reconstruction is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced, and it is ongoing for months and even years for some women. YEARS. It’s like equating a hangnail with a gunshot wound. Please don’t do it. A simple, “I’m so sorry you have to go through this.” is enough and is most appreciated.
  • Silver linings are in every experience we can imagine and how grateful I am that even during these past several months of hardship I’ve experienced many them. Although, I do feel like it’s a great idea to let the person with the illness find their own bright spots. Pointing out how they are going to save money on shampoo if they are bald is no silver lining. It’s no comfort. We would much prefer shelling out the few bucks on shampoo and keep our beautiful hair. There is no silver lining in the pain, physical or emotional, that we as cancer patients go through. The silver linings are meeting people who help us along our journey, having friends and family show they care, and being treated at a top-notch medical facility amongst others.
Again, I hope these tips can be helpful should you ever have a friend or loved one diagnosed with cancer. I wish that I had read something like this before, so I could have been a better support to my friends and family, but you just don’t know what you haven’t experienced. Last but not least, just don’t ghost on them. Be there in the ways you are able and provide emotional support however you can or feel is best. I know your efforts, great or small, will be accepted in the spirit intended.


Gratitude in Deep Pain

I never knew it was possible for a heart to feel so much pain and keep beating.  The amount of emotional pain I feel at this time is beyond anything I knew possible, and I feel completely incapable of knowing how to handle and endure such heartache.  The uncomfortable truth is that I'm needing to spend the week constantly with others to keep myself safe.  Apparently clomid and bipolar are a nasty mix, so I'm still struggling as much, if not more, than last week.

Today, a dear friend gave a talk in sacrament meeting about gratitude.  As I laid my head on Kyle's shoulder and listened, my heart was breaking more and more every second.  I didn't know how I could endure any more, let alone find gratitude. But then she read this quote:

My heart wanted to believe that I am excused from finding gratitude right now.  I mean, surely spending every moment trying to survive this incomprehensible pain is a good enough reason to not have to be thankful in this circumstance.  But I knew better than to believe my sorrowful heart.  Surely, I need gratitude more now than ever before as I fight for my life every moment.

So after trying to justify to myself my lack of gratitude in my current situation, I decided to change my heart and open my eyes to the many blessings all around me, even through this incredibly difficult time.

I felt so thankful for my sweet friend who stayed outside the temple with me, when I went on the Relief Society temple trip and didn't realize my recommend was expired until I got to the gates of the temple.  I can't imagine how I would have handled being alone for two hours in Nauvoo in my current condition, and this friend willingly sacrificed her uplifting temple experience to be with me.

I felt overwhelming gratitude for my wonderful friend who has both listened and born my pain with me this weekend and is helping me set up people to be with me this week.  Her ability to love and care and serve is inspiring.

I felt thankful for the people who took over my assignments at church today, because I just knew that my broken brain couldn't handle anything more than breathing and surviving for 3 hours.

I felt gratitude for the many people who have reached out in love and concern the last few days.  I wish more than anything that this didn't have to be real, but to know that I'm not alone through this nightmare is enough to bring me to tears.

I felt thankful for my husband and another man who gave me a blessing of peace, comfort, and eventual healing.  The promises spoken to me from God through these worthy men gave me strength and hope.

I felt overflowing gratitude for the Savior, who willingly suffered a pain that transcends anything I can comprehend, all so He can sit with me in my dark Gethsemane right now.

I could go on and on.  I never would have thought to look for gratitude at this time without the humble and inspiring talk given by one of the most beautiful people I know.  This week will most likely stretch my soul and cause great growing pains, but I am on a quest to find things to be thankful for as I continue to battle and win this fight.


Finding Joy in Hopeless Darkness

This week has been quite possibly the most difficult week I've ever experienced.  This morning, I felt the gentle nudge to think back on my week and find joy in it, since joy was the farthest thing from my mind in the middle of my raging storm.  I couldn't help but cry as I recognized the tender mercies and blessings from a week of pervasive darkness. 

  • A couple of friends planned fun Halloween play dates.  I was so thankful because this 1) gave me something to do with people outside of my house and 2) I just can't do all of it right now-- the planning, preparing, inviting, etc.  I can't even do fun things with just Brooklyn, let alone other people if I'm in charge.  I am surviving, trying to stay afloat, and feeling like I'm drowning most days.  So I'm thankful for friends who plan fun things to allow Brooklyn to enjoy the holidays while I am not doing well and can't do everything I would normally want to do with her.
  • I got to meet up with my fifth grade teacher and spend an evening with her.  It was the perfect timing, since that day had been indescribably difficult.  She brightened my day and my week.  
  • I still made it to the gym every day.  This is basically a miracle, because I felt like I could hardly do anything or even get and stay out of bed.  But I worked out anyway, even with my 100 extra pounds of depression weighing on my body.
  • I started listening to Christmas music.  This is a little bit early, even for me, but I needed something to bring flickers of light and joy into my day, so I did it anyway.  One day, I was really struggling.  As I listened, I started crying thinking about the Savior and everything He experienced, and how the little baby we celebrate at Christmas would eventually grow up to become the only person who truly understands the depth of darkness and pain I know all too well now.  I'm so thankful Christmas is coming and that this darkness has brought me to feel even more appreciation and love for the Light of the World.
  • Tomorrow I get to go to the Nauvoo temple with some women at my church.  Originally, I wasn't going to get to do this, because I had some family photos to take, but it will be stormy, so the pictures are rescheduled, and I can go now.  This morning, a sweet friend sent me an article about the joy that we can find in going to the temple.  It really touched my heart and gave me the strength to know that my experiences tomorrow will bring me the joy I need to keep going, keep fighting, and keep overcoming this terrible monster.
  • Ok, it's time to be honest and get to the deeper stuff.  I don't want to share this, and I don't want to be honest with how much I have struggled, but I do want to share the miracles and blessings that accompanied such struggle, so I will write.  Please know that things are getting better now, and I'm no longer in the dark place I was the first 4 days of this week.  Oh where do I start explaining?!  Well, for the first time since June, I wanted to die.  I really wanted everything to be done.  I thought about it constantly, and I even dreamed about it.  I got so frustrated in my dreams that what I was trying to do wasn't working; somehow I kept surviving.  I thought about possible ways to die and considered what would be the most effective and involve the least amount of pain for me.  I thought about it obsessively and couldn't get it out of my mind.  I didn't tell anyone and didn't want to tell anyone, because then they might try to make me change my mind, and everyone was too busy for me anyway (not true, but it's what I thought at the time).  I spent hours every day laying in bed, not sleeping, but paralyzed with the heavy weight of depression.  I cried for hours and continued thinking the terrible thoughts I had been thinking.  And with this awful dose of my reality this week, I want to share the good side, the life-saving blessings I received when there seemed to be very little hope:
  1. A friend sent me a video she had seen on facebook.  The timing could not have been better as it came at a critical time.  The video was about a man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived.  One phrase in the video really touched me.  After he jumped, he said he felt "instant regret."  That phrase brought me back to real life for a minute.  It really struck me that if I did something permanent, I would instantly regret it, but it would be too late.  I couldn't let myself have that kind of regret or guilt.  I had to hold on to anything possible to weather this storm.  I couldn't give in or give up!  I just couldn't.
  2. Heavenly Father blessed me to think through things more logically than ever before as my mind was spiraling down into complete darkness.  He helped me think of reasons why I shouldn't do every single idea I had, which I believe saved me.  
  3. Heavenly Father also brought to remembrance times when I had wanted to die before and then later had felt so much relief and gratitude that I held on when things got better.  It gave me the hope to know that time would come again, and my heart would eventually be okay.
  4. Last night, I was driving home, and for the first time all week, I remembered that it is wrong to take my own life.  This was the first time I had remembered that all week.  As scary as it is to think of now, it had seemed like it was alright, like it wouldn't have mattered at all.  Having the Spirit remind me of that simple truth allowed me to feel more grounded, more safe, and more certain that I would keep holding on.  I wouldn't let the darkness win.
  5. Today I had lunch with Kyle, because we didn't have time to make him a lunch before he had to leave for work.  It was perfect, because I had eaten hardly anything in 2 days, but I still didn't know if I would have the strength to make anything for myself (I can always do it for Brooklyn, just not for myself).  I know the lack of calories contributes to my depression, but I don't know how to manage eating when I feel so awful.  It's something I constantly battle when I am depressed.
  6. Brooklyn was so flexible with me needing to spend hours in bed each day while she watched movies, played, or read books.  She is an angel!  She also napped longer on all of the worst days, which allowed me to lay down without feeling so much guilt about not being able to do more.
  7. Three friends in particular listened to me tell them about my difficulties when things started to get better, and they filled me with all the love and support I need.  They also helped me to make a better plan for what to do next time this depth of darkness occurs.  I am so blessed with people who truly "mourn with those who mourn" and "comfort those who stand in need of comfort."  

I firmly know that God is aware of me and placed certain people in my life for a very specific reason.  I have witnessed that this week when all hope seemed lost.  Now I know that all hope is never lost.  


That We Might Have Joy: Kelsey's Story

I want to share with you a part of my life that's very personal.  I've read stories from sweet friends and know that they can be helpful to many other women, but mostly, I think this will help me to heal and help me to make sense of these past couple days that I haven't effectively been able to mourn through.

Friday started just like any other day-- playing with Lucy, doing chores around the house, making sure her needs are met.  I was suddenly met with the most intense surge of pain that I've ever felt pulsing through my abdomen.  I've always been a really healthy person-- perfect first pregnancy, no broken bones ever, never a concern for my personal health.  As soon as I felt this pain and realized I was home alone with Lucy, I felt hopeless.  I didn't want to be ridiculous and go to the hospital if I didn't need to, and there was no way I could make it to the car with her.  Then, I had a panic attack.  I started sweating profusely, my breathing increased rapidly, and my hands seized up, and I couldn't move them from the new misshapen form they had taken on.  I knew it was time to call Steve.

Steve had been out that day working with his father, and their last client had cancelled their appointment, so he was already on his way home and was there for me in just a few minutes, but those moments felt like forever.  Lucy was crawling on my lap trying to figure out what was wrong with me and started crying when I couldn't hold her.  I'm so grateful that my father-in-law was there.  He stayed with Lucy, so Steve could take me to a nearby urgent care facility.

We arrived at the urgent care and were admitted quickly.  One of the first questions they asked-- are you pregnant?  Well, a little known fact by many, Steve and I have been trying to have another baby for the past 7 months with no luck.  I used to think that if you could have one baby so easily that somehow meant the trend would continue and we'd have no problem having another whenever we wanted another.  I've since learned that the female body is so amazingly complicated and that every birth is simply a miracle, be it a perfect pregnancy or a perfectly painful one.

So back to the question.  I had told the doctor we were trying but having trouble so that I didn't think I could be.  Turns out, I was pregnant.  They ran some blood work and found out I was very early in the pregnancy, only about 3 weeks, but the pain I was having was concerning.  It could be completely unrelated to the pregnancy or the pregnancy could be the cause.  I had several tests and ultrasounds done, and it was found that something (blood) was pooling in the left ovary.  We were praying that, because the baby was so new and so small, it could have been a cyst or something that had ruptured and was causing blood to enter into my stomach.  I wanted this baby so badly, but I knew I couldn't let myself hope just quite yet.

I was then transferred via ambulance to a different hospital with gynecologist specialists that had better equipment for tests that could give us more answers.  By this time, I was tested more, and the testing lasted from 3pm to 11:30pm at night.  More and more ultra sounds, pelvic exams, everything that women have to, but don't love to, endure.

A doctor came into the room.  I was hopeful at this point.  It could have been my exhaustion, but I felt at peace.  It was the only news I didn't want to hear.  It was an ectopic pregnancy.  Instantly, my heart sank, the tears came, but the relief I longed for to cry and mourn could not come due to the severe pain that I was still overcome with.  My sadness was silent, and my heart was broken, as I looked over at my sweet husband who was in just as much pain as I was over the news.

For those who don't know, an ectopic pregnancy is when the baby is growing in the wrong place.  The place where they normally take up residency in an ectopic is in the fallopian tubes which causes severe risk for the mother to bleed out, go into shock, and die.  I knew at that moment that, even if I came out of everything okay, my baby that I longed for would not be saved.

I was prepped for surgery.  None of my ultrasounds showed where the baby was, so I was put to sleep with breathing tubes and all of the works.  I had two amazing female surgeons that I put all of my faith into.  Being surrounded by these strong females who would be responsible for my life gave me comfort.  I knew that I was going to be okay.  Their dedication, love, and care can never be equaled in my lifetime.  After I was asleep, a small incision was made in my stomach and a camera was placed inside to look around for the baby.  Once they found it, they would proceed with the surgery to remove the pregnancy.
In most common cases, a small incision can be made in the fallopian tube and the pregnancy can be removed, or a portion of the tube is removed along with the pregnancy.  In rare cases, the baby grows on the ovary which is even less favorable, and the ovary will need to be removed.  I was prepared to know all of the possible outcomes as well as the possibility of a blood transfusion.
An hour and a half later, I woke up having lost both my sweet baby and, to my surprise, my ovary, and in their words "a bottle of wine full" of blood.  I desperately tried to work my way out of my anesthesia which was just about impossible when mixed with my complete exhaustion at 4am, and was amazingly allowed to go home that same night.  I fell asleep right away and tried to let my 3 small incisions heal along with my mind.
This mourning process has been hard for me.  I feel like I robbed myself of the chance to get through all of the many emotions stuck inside of me due to my need to stay logical in these situations.  The only way I can make it through hard times is for me to think about the facts and to accept them.  I thought at the end of this, after giving myself time to think it through, I would be bitter and angry and hurt.  My faith would be struggling more than it already was with the many unanswered questions that plagued me.   Somehow this was not the case.
I felt blessed.  My husband was able to be by my side almost instantly and found me and held me and got me to the ER.  My husband's mom and dad stayed with Lucy till 5am and loved her and took care of her and made sure she was happy and in bed.  My parents and nana stayed up very late praying for me and sending me love all through the night.  My doctors were the very best, and even though I lost a considerable amount of blood, I didn't need a transfusion and was able to go home to heal in my own home.  I am alive.   I remind myself that I belong to this community of women who struggle and cry and mourn for children they have never met.  My pain is not my own.  It is shared by my husband, my sisters, my friends, and a Savior who loves me and guides me through my pain and pulls me out of the dark.
My recovery will be quick, I still have another ovary, I'll be able to someday be pregnant again, and I am lucky, and not just lucky, but blessed.

The most apparent way that I have found joy through this challenge had been the way that it has allowed me to connect with and be empathetic to other women's similar struggles.  I was paired up with a woman right after I moved to Colorado Springs to visit teach with.  I later found out that she had lost a sweet baby and felt just as alone as I did.  We were able to become quick friends, and I was able to see my suffering through a different lens.



If I had to describe my last few days in one word, that word would be "angry."  Seriously I have been so angry and irritable about everything.  I haven't wanted to see anyone or go to anything.  I've felt irrationally angry at people and things and everything in general with almost no reason.  Clearly, I have not been a fun person to be around, because of how grumpy I've been feeling.

This morning, I wondered why I have felt so angry, why I can hardly handle anything without reacting in anger, and why I have been feeling so upset with normal situations.

Then, I remembered something.  Sitting in counseling on Wednesday, after confirming that this is most likely bipolar disorder and not a hormone imbalance, the counselor said, "You will probably feel angry.  It's okay.  Expect it.  You thought there was a light at the end of your dark tunnel, and now there's not.  You thought things would be improving so quickly and easily, and now they won't.  Let yourself feel angry for a little while, let the anger run its course, and then pick yourself back up and move forward."

After remembering these wise words, I decided that today I can feel it all without restraint.  I won't try to feel anything different than what I naturally feel at this time, and then tomorrow I will get back up and move forward.  I'll take a deep breath, find reasons to smile again, and resolve to be brave, thankful, and joyful once more.

So what do I feel today while I am allowing myself to feel it all?

  • I feel sad.  I really want to be happy again.  I want to feel the excitement of having a baby whenever that happens.  I want to feel the normal emotions that I used to feel that almost all seem to be masked by sadness and pain now.  I want to have everything that I thought I would have again, everything that feels like it was ripped away from me as quickly as I thought it would be coming back.  
  • I feel frustration.  I had so much hope that this would be better in the near future, and that soon, no one would remember this year of darkness.  I felt so much excitement that I could someday put all of this behind me and move on-- refined, changed, made better, and ready to use these experiences to reach out to others.
  • I feel angry at myself that everything I say or do right now feels so dumb.  I feel like if I was better, then I wouldn't feel this way, because I would be the real me again.
  • I feel discouraged.  This is going to take a long, long time to improve.  It already feels like it has been so long, and now there is no end in sight, since I can't start on any medications while trying to have a baby.
  • I feel wounded, and I feel like I need so much love right now.  Thank goodness I have such a good husband, daughter, and friends who are making sure I feel the love I need at this time.
In the end, I know I will be okay, but right now, I'm not, and that's also okay.  It's okay to feel all of these emotions as I try to process what this confirmed diagnosis means for my present and my future.  It might take a long time before there is any kind of overall improvement, but I will not let that keep me from trying and succeeding at finding joy every day (starting tomorrow of course :) )


Joy, Miracles, Joy

Today I received the unfortunate news that this does not appear to be a hormone imbalance and is most likely bipolar disorder.  I thought I would be so sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, or afraid if this was the case, but I'm not.  I feel peace and hope.  I think part of this peace is due to the fact that I'm in a high mood right now, but another larger part is because of the wonderful weekend I just experienced.

This last weekend, I got to listen to General Conference-- 10 hours of inspired, uplifting messages from today's living apostles and prophets.  While I listened, I paid special attention and counted the number of times I heard the word "joy."  By the end, I was amazed to have heard "joy" spoken 62 times (not including the songs and prayers that also said "joy" several more times).  Every time I heard that word, my heart was lifted, and I felt a gentle confirmation that God is supporting me and helping me in my quest to find joy in all things.

Two talks, in particular, really touched my heart.  The first was a talk given by Jean Bingham entitled "That Your Joy Might Be Full" about our ability to find joy through the Savior no matter what is happening in our lives.  The second was given right after by Donald Hallstrom and was called "Has the Day of Miracles Ceased?"  This talk focused on the fact that, even though miracles are real and are all around us, sometimes these miracles include not being healed from our pain and having the faith that what we are experiencing fits into God's perfect plan.

As I have reflected on these two beautiful talks, I have felt true joy and peace, and I know that everything is going to work out perfectly according to what God knows is best for me.  While some of the past thoughts and feelings are returning knowing that this is not going to be resolved quickly, I also know that I am not alone.  Not only do I have my Heavenly Father and Savior near me, but I have a whole army of friends that I have met in this last year who have shown me that it truly is possible to find joy no matter the circumstances.  I believe some kind of miracle will come, whether that be in the form of a medication that will work for me, divine strength to make it through the most difficult times, or the ability to help others through my experiences.  I know there will continue to be miracles throughout this journey.  I just have to have the eyes to see them.


My "Miracle" Week

Sometimes I like to jokingly tell my husband that I am the proof that miracles still happen when I do something extra spectacular for the day, like deep clean the bathroom or wash, fold, and put away the laundry all in one day.  I know, super impressive!  But seriously, some days when I am struggling, this seems like as good of a miracle as healing the blind.  This week has been an entire miracle week.  Do you want to know why?  Drum roll please....

I went to the gym and worked out EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!

Now before you think that I'm pathetic (ok I probably am pathetic, but hear me out), I have to tell you this.  I know exercising is good, especially for mental health, but it has been one of the very hardest things to do in the last year.  I mean, some days getting out of bed and eating is hard, so working out seems completely impossible.

After last week kicking me down, I decided that I needed to do something.  I couldn't let myself stay as far down as I had fallen.  So... I got a membership to the YMCA.  Several people at my church have one and go regularly, so I figured they could help push me and encourage me to follow through with my goal to exercise.

This week has been a good week.  For the first few days, I didn't have the weight of darkness making everything difficult.  Later in the week, I had some very thick darkness again, but I still managed to exercise (even when Kyle was traveling for work!)  Now I have officially worked out more in this last week than I have in the whole last year... I know it's terrible!  But I'm not going to focus on how long it has been that I have been trying and failing.  I'm going to focus on my miracle for this week.  I did something that would have seemed impossible even a month ago.  I finally did it, and now next week I can do it again!

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Keeping the Faith through Mental Illness

There was a time when I seriously wondered if my mental illness was going to destroy my faith.  It seemed that everything in my life was falling apart, and none of the "church answers" were relieving my pain.  I felt completely disconnected from God.  I prayed, but all I felt was what I thought was His disappointment in me.  I read my scriptures, but all I felt was anxiety and inadequacy with every word I read.  I went to church, but all I felt was sadness and fear.  I didn't know what I had done wrong, but I was sure that it was something very very wrong, because nothing else would bring such intense feelings of sadness and guilt. 

Since I had just gotten married, I began to think that I had made the wrong decision in marrying my husband.  I told him that more times than I would ever like to admit (I still wish I could go back in time and somehow erase those words and feelings), but he patiently reassured me over and over again that God was not asking me to leave him in order to feel the Spirit again. 

I had never and have never since felt so much confusion, exhaustion from crying, heartbreaking sadness, paralyzing fear, and devastating guilt in my life.  I thought it was somehow my fault that I was feeling all of these things, and the only way to make it better would be to repent of the terrible sin I had committed (once I figured out what that sin was).

After a whole year of feeling all of this nearly every day, I finally went to talk to my bishop.  He was the only one I trusted to tell me that I had not done something grievously wrong to cause this pain.  He was so patient and kind with me as he reassured and encouraged me that this was not my fault.  I left his office feeling more energy and peace than I had felt in months, but that only lasted a day before I was back to where I had been. 

I remember sitting on the couch for FHE with my husband after a terrible day of anxiety and depression.  He asked me to give the lesson.  I was reading an article from the Ensign out loud, when I was suddenly overcome with fear.  I started to cry and told him that I couldn't do this anymore.  God was angry at me for some reason, and I was losing my faith.  I didn't know how to reach God, and I didn't know how to make things right.  I was slipping, and everything I used to know was slipping too.  I was lost and beyond confused.

My husband hugged me and reassured me, and then I went back to talk to my bishop again and again and again, until I could finally believe with confidence that I was not in trouble or disappointing God.  It wasn't until I started opening up about what I was feeling though that I began to realize that my feelings were not a result of sin.  There was something physically wrong in my brain, and I couldn't fix it by applying spiritual principles like repenting or reading scriptures or going to church, although those things are important.  It wasn't my fault, and I didn't have to equate how I was feeling to a lack of love or concern from Heavenly Father.  He wasn't disappointed in me.  I was broken, but I could be repaired.

While there have been times that I have still questioned or felt unsure about things, there are some things I have learned about how to keep my faith through the devastation of mental illness:

  1. Not being able to feel the Spirit is an unfortunate but very real side affect of depression.  It doesn't mean that I've done something wrong.  It just means that my heart is broken, so the tender feelings of the Spirit can't be contained or felt like normal.  When I do feel the Spirit, even if it is for a fleeting moment, I write it down so that I can remember that moment and hold onto it when the Spirit is not able to be a tangibly evident in my life for an extended period of time.  I have also learned to recognize other ways the Spirit speaks to me, besides speaking to me through feelings in my heart.
  2. I have accepted that it's okay to continue reading scriptures, praying, and going to church, while I hardly feel the desire to do those things.  Sometimes I worry that I'm just going through the motions, and the truth is, sometimes I am.  But I'm doing it, and I'm trying, even though it's hard.  I'm staying in the habit and giving what I can, and God is pleased with my offering of what I have to give, no matter how small it is on some of my most difficult days.
  3. I can change the way I do things to help make them easier to do.  For example, I listen to my scriptures now, because I can't even open them without getting very overwhelmed and discouraged.  Also, I usually do initiatories when I go to the temple instead of endowments now, because that is what I can handle.  
  4. When I can tell that I am getting overwhelmed with guilt at church by all of the things that I should be doing better, I stop listening for a minute and mentally repeat to myself all of the things that I am doing, while praying for God to help me feel His love and acceptance of my effort.
  5. When I am feeling discouraged, I go back to a few of my favorite talks that bring me comfort and reassurance.  One of these is "Like a Broken Vessel" by Elder Holland.  I cry every time I read or listen to this talk, because it says everything my broken brain needs to hear and remember.
  6. I look for joy.  This has become my greatest lifeline to feeling connected to God.  I may not feel Him near me very often, but when I see the little and big things He has placed in my life to bring me joy through my sadness, I know He is near, I know He loves me, I know He has not left me alone, I know He is aware of me, and I know He will allow me to feel His comfort in time.


That We Might Have Joy: T'mara's Story

Shantelle asked me for this story a while ago, and I’m not sure it’s all that inspiring or even, you know… finished. But, I’ve always felt that hard things in life are worth it if you can help someone else on their journey, which is why I’ve decided maybe this would help make my experiences worth it. It’s not all that grand or horrible, just life.
I grew up in a military family, typical dad away and atypical sick mother. Most of my early memories of my sweet mother were just of her in bed. She had depressive bipolar disorder among several other health issues. It was normal to me that my mom would have meltdowns and also made me sad that when I wanted to play she was mostly lethargic. Going to high school, I feel I had depressive and OCD tendencies, but probably not an actual disorder. I always had a hard time communicating. Going to college was amazing and also incredibly difficult socially. 
My first semester, I truly felt happy most of the time, and it was best time of my life despite having basically no friends (at first) and little contact with my family. I had roommates who were also right out of high school, and while they didn’t mean to, they were highly degrading in their language and treatment of me. I don’t harbor any hard feelings anymore. However, it was because of these poor circumstances in my apartment that I journeyed outward to “find joy” and met the adorable boy I would marry. He was the greatest blessing in my life at that time, aside from my faith. He and I parted ways after that semester, when he left to serve a full-time church mission in Mexico with no promises other than to write. We hadn’t even been dating.
Luckily for me, my next roommates were what I would describe as some of the best people to live with as a single student. I continued on-- happy, optimistic and full of vigor for learning and my faith. My roommates this time around needed to be patient with me as my odd tendencies and communication issues arose. They were amazing and sweet. 
The end of this semester began what I would call the first truly negative turning point in my life. I knew, by this point, that I had someone I wanted to marry, and while some might say that’s crazy since I was 18, I had never met anyone so amazing and inspiring, someone who truly helped me see false things I believed without being rude or condescending, just by being him. So, with that in mind, I had a few other suitors lining up that I “friend-zoned” as soon as I could.  Not that they weren’t cool people, but many I had known before and they just didn’t compare in my mind. One boy in particular, I had to refuse many times. When I first started being friends with him, I didn’t have any particular motives in mind other than being friends and having fun. 
The first sign I should have stopped seeing him was when my brother and roommate were in the room. Somehow the boy and I had started a tickle fight and the boy had tickled me off the couch and was on top of me on the ground. I suddenly felt very vulnerable and violated as I struggled to get him off me and said, “Stop” a few times. I looked at my brother. He had a stone face and seemed rigid. I said, “Help please!” Finally, I screamed for him to get off me, pushing against him. He stopped and got up. He apologized and thought I said I liked being tickled. I had said that. That is a phrase I have never spoken since. Dramatic, but true. Haha. My brother and roommate excused themselves shortly thereafter. Apparently my brother had wanted to punch this boy and was doing everything not to start a fight. He felt awful for wanting to do it. Honestly, I wish he had punched him. The boy really wanted to date me. I told him no and explained that I liked someone else. He kept pressing and pressuring me, saying he was sure I’d come to like him better. I prayed and prayed about it, because I didn’t want to lose him as a friend. I really wanted to be of help to him, because he also had a poor situation growing up, and I knew he was a good kid that needed a friend. 
I prayed and got a clear "no" many times, and finally the boy started getting manipulative and I felt the Spirit say, “You can, but be careful and get out when I tell you.” So I started to date the young man. The relationship might have been okay, if it weren’t for the constant manipulation. I did feel the Spirit several times telling me to just cut off contact. I even had a few people express the same message. I was slowly becoming a different person. I truly had become someone with a tendency toward depression to someone with full-blown depression, unable to function. I learned that most people think your relationship is good if you look good together. I had people who were close to me encouraging me to stay in the relationship despite the things I was telling them were happening. I don’t blame those people, but it did make it that much harder to leave the situation and follow the Spirit when only a few people agreed with the idea. In the end, the boy got better and ready for marriage, while I sunk deeper into depression and despair. He was the one to call it off in the end, because I had no strength left. My roommates at the time (different ones) were concerned for me, and I feel bad for them now. I had days where I was in bed all day just crying and sometimes screaming, while they counseled together on what to do for me. 
A few semesters passed, some with more excitement than others, but none were worse than that summer and early fall. I went to counseling once, but ultimately thought I was just ridiculous and tried to get better on my own. I did feel cut off from God many times, but mostly I was being healed by His power. Very slowly, I began to heal from the wounds of the relationship, but not necessarily from the depression, anxiety, and even anger. 
When David returned from Mexico, he knew a little about what had happened. I was ashamed about it, and I wished very desperately nothing had happened. While it still had an effect on me, David’s quiet influence began to overpower it. When we started dating, bless his amazing heart, I went back into my shell. I came to associate horrible things and feelings with dating. David, miraculously, did not take advantage of or abuse or manipulate me, even though I basically made much of our relationship into an easy way for him to do so. David was so angelic about it. I was able to finally have a real relationship with God again and use the Atonement more freely. David is my angel. I wasn’t totally better or even diagnosed with depression at this point, but we dated for about a year before we got married. There were other options I know that could have been better if I had more faith and trust at that point, but I was scared that waiting to get married would mean David would not like me anymore or that I would get into a dark place again and make the mistake of breaking up with him. Ultimately though, getting married was the right thing to do, even if it was harder than it probably would have been had we waited. Our first year of marriage was still a continuation of our courtship, but my healing and progress advanced much quicker, not without more aches and growing pain though. The year of dating before had been harder, on me at least, so being married was incredible.
Very shortly after our honeymoon, I expressed a desire to start trying to have children. We talked a lot about it and went for it. Good thing God knows what he’s doing. A year later, nothing had happened, except learning my period was totally wacko. I had no insurance during that year, so I couldn’t go into the doctor. During this time though, David and I learned how to become closer in adversity and how to continue to work on our relationship and truly become a family in God. I was incredibly sad about the baby situation, but so hopeful. I started talking to Mikko (my future baby), especially when I could feel him nearby, and praying more sincerely. I learned how to magnify my calling in primary, study scriptures consistently, have family home evening, and do other things to truly make me more fit to be the mother I always wanted to be. 
Finally, over a year after the first negative pregnancy test, I had insurance! I started treatment and my hope burned brighter. The first few doses of medication I took made me realize what it felt like to be a normal human. I was amazed at how plagued I was with hormone imbalance. I wanted to feel like this all the time! The dose was too small for me. I went back to being hormonal when my dosage increased, although I did not feel it was as bad as it had been. I had to be grateful for this opportunity to become a mom. I wanted nothing more out of life than to be a homemaker disciple since I was three years old.
Near the end of the second year, I was noticing everyone around me getting pregnant and having children. I started to despair again. My thoughts became clouded with feelings I didn’t like. “She didn’t want a baby, so why her?” “All they do is complain about their children, why them instead of me?” Or the worst: “They got married ___ months after we started trying, and now they’re pregnant.” I stopped getting on Facebook. It was torture to see it online over and over again. However, I lived in a place where people are getting married every week, then start having children so seemingly easily. I couldn’t escape it, even outside social media. 
I was very blessed at this point in my life to learn how to more fully rely on God and have faith in His plan. We finally told our family about the fertility issue, and I started speaking more and more about it. Because of this, I learned about others' stories to support me. I still had to work on some envious feelings, but it seemed as though the strength of the poison inside was being diluted and flushed out. I found work to do and people to love and finally a therapist to see. I was exercising and eating better and that seemed to help with the depression. We did have one miscarriage two years after trying, and my doctor was incredible to call me about it on Sunday and encourage me. There was only one problem. He recommended we stop trying for 3 months. 
By the end of three months, we felt I should take a position down in Utah, even though David still had school left. I felt such peace about it, even though I knew it meant delaying even more. That job really helped me learn and grow so much. I grew closer to my husband’s family, and for the first time, I actually wondered if I wanted kids at this point. 
But by the time David and I were back together again, I felt the desire return. I had been continuing treatment with a different doctor in Utah, and it seemed a little like things were once again going to take a long time. 
Then I got really sick. I had bilateral pneumonia and should have been hospitalized, but was not (of my own choosing). I really wanted to get back to work, but of course, it got worse again, and after a month, I was starting to speak with my boss about leaving because of how much time this was taking off. I was also sad I had to once again put baby on hold. 
After one night of being unable to breathe, David came out to find me in the living room at 2 AM. We had to go to the emergency room. The line ended up being really short! In fact, I was the only one, so that was a plus of the night. The doctor came and asked the routine questions, including, “Is there a chance you could be pregnant?” For the first time in 3 years, I told the doctor there was no way I could be pregnant, so we did an x-ray, took blood, gave me meds, and the ER doc came back and said, "Well, you actually are pregnant." 
David and I stared at this guy blankly and listened while he told us about the pregnancy test and how they would test to see how long I had been pregnant. After he walked out, David and I just laughed. How did that happen? It was truly a miracle from Heaven. Luckily I had hardly gotten pregnant, so nothing we did would affect the baby. Now I am in my third trimester with a boy due in December. I did have to quit my job for various reasons. I had to make sacrifices. This wasn’t perfect or what I had at all envisioned, but by this time, my heart was so softened and full that nothing really mattered aside from getting my life long wish.
I don’t doubt I will still have struggles, and that many days I will feel like I’m not being the mom I want to be. But I know who is looking out for me and my little family, so I will not despair.
God knows you, He knows your struggles, He knows what you most desperately desire, and He will give you what you most need. For anyone else struggling in this arena, I can't say your prayers will be answered exactly like mine, but I can promise that God is preparing something marvelous for his broken-hearted children.