I'm Not Lazy

If you heard that it takes me 3 or 4 days to even start folding the laundry after it's washed when I've spent almost all day every day watching movies with my daughter, you would probably think I was lazy.  Or if you heard that it takes me hours to work up the motivation to load the dishes in the dishwasher, you might think I was lazy.  Or if you knew that I was worried about going to the temple days in advance because it seemed impossibly hard, that I asked my husband to come grocery shopping with me because I simply couldn't get through it alone, that I hardly ever do my hair (and I NEVER do makeup) anymore because it makes me cry, or that I could easily justify staying in bed every morning if I didn't have a daughter depending on me to get up, you would definitely think I was lazy.

I understand why you would think that.  I would too if I wasn't living it myself.  In fact, I did at one point.  I used to think that I must have been the laziest wife and mom in the world when I was depressed but didn't know it, because every part of my day felt so hard.  There was no other explanation for it at the time other than laziness.

It really doesn't make sense at all.  Even now when I'm in the thick of it again, I can't explain why.  It's like I'm walking through molasses with heavy chains draped all over my body and a thick cloud of unmotivated darkness surrounding me.  I move slowly.  I creep along all day, doing a few things and then sitting down to rest.  It feels all but impossible every morning to get up and get ready for another day.  I want to cry.  I want to give up.  I want to give in to the overwhelming feelings inside of me.  But instead I roll over and pray.  My prayers are usually pretty simple and pretty much the same.

Heavenly Father, please help me to get through today.  I don't know how I'm going to do it, so please help me.

I want more than anything to roll back over, pull the blankets over my head, and stay in bed all day, but I get up.  I make the choice to fight the darkness and to try to work through the pain and heaviness.  I'm never sure how I will make it, but I choose to believe that God will help me one step at a time.

Every moment of the day, I say to myself, "Shantelle, just load one cup in the dishwasher and then you can stop.  Okay now one more.  Now a plate.  You can do this.  Keep going.  Now one more.  You're almost there."

It's exhausting feeling so overwhelmed and unmotivated about everything.  And some days I don't win the battles.  Some days the dishes and laundry are left undone, because I simply can't overpower the darkness that day.

I wish everything wasn't so hard.  I wish I could do everything I am capable of doing when I'm not engulfed in mental illness.  BUT I am learning so many things that allow me to feel peaceful and submissive right now:

  1. I am not lazy.  I have to accept that I have a mental illness and remind myself of it 100x a day.  It doesn't make sense, but it is real, so I can't call myself lazy for only doing 1/10th of what I used to do or what I could do if this wasn't a part of my life.
  2. Be patient with myself.  I never feel like I am doing my best or pushing myself, because my results are fairly limited, but getting down on myself only makes it worse.  Loving myself, especially myself now compared to myself in the past, is a lesson I am learning every single day.  It's the best gift I can give myself at this time.
  3. Celebrate the little victories.  A few days ago, I did my hair!!!  So I took a picture and sent it to my husband.  Today I went to the temple, even though I did not think I could do it.  The other day, my husband went with me, and we got the grocery shopping done together.  These are accomplishments, BIG accomplishments now that they have become so difficult.  Celebrating them allows me to feel like I am still progressing.
  4. Know my limits.  I have become quite skilled in the last few months at saying, "No."  While I try to push myself and give myself things to do to keep me going, I have to accept that some things are not for this time and season of my life.  And that's okay.
  5. Keep trying.  That's all you can do is try and try again.  Don't let the lost battles discourage you.  You are fighting a war, and you will win!  Just keep going.


That We Might Have Joy: Ann's Story

Writing about my life is one of the hardest things to do. It actually makes me think about all my triumphs and pitfalls of the diseases that I had no choice in having. I am leaving a lot of experiences and journeys out during this, but if I didn’t, this would get wayyy to long. One of my most unforgettable journeys is this specific experience:

My boyfriend at the time, husband now, was watching a movie at his house while we were away at college. I started feeling this unbelievable amount of pain in my shoulders. I didn’t think anything of it, so I just had him massage it and thought that I was sitting the wrong way. A couple hours later, I couldn’t raise my arms because of the amount of pain. A while later, he was dropping me off at my dorm, and I had to miss out on a friend’s birthday because of the amount of pain I was in. I didn’t know after crawling into bed, that I would be there for about a month. That was a month of classes that I missed. That was a month that I had to physically move my legs with my hands. That was a month that I had to let swallow my pride and let my roommate take care of me. That was a month that I had to let my boyfriend do the simplest things for me, because I couldn’t move my wrists. I just knew deep down that there was something wrong, and it wasn’t the normal “wrong.”

My mother, who was 75 miles away, was my lifeline to get into a new Rheumatologist, because during that month, they decided that I could no longer go to pediatrics. I finally got into a Rheumatologist who I am grateful for to this day. I would be dead if it was not for her. She had viewed my case and wanted to do blood tests for the disease called Lupus. We had heard the word Lupus, because my mother kept insisting my doctors test me for it, but they always said they didn’t come back conclusive. Well this time, this doctor knew a little more than the previous one. These tests didn’t come back with certain factors that fall into the Lupus category, but I had all the markers for Systemic Lupus.  This disease is one of the hardest things to explain. Everyone’s Lupus affects him or her differently. My lupus isn’t the same as my other “lupie” pals. I have a red butterfly rash that runs across my face, but the majority of my lupus affects my muscles and my blood. The lupus created something called APS, or anti-phospholipid syndrome. Oh great, what is that? It’s sticky blood. Due to this, I am more likely to have miscarriages or blood clots. I have to take baby asprin daily until I get a blood clot. If I were to get a blood clot, I will have to take a stronger blood thinner.

I am 23 years old and I have Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, APS, Raynauds phenomenon, Crohn’s disease, and likely more, but I don’t want to know. My parents gave me the best childhood that I could have ever wanted with my circumstances. I know they struggled with having to watch their child suffer. During those years I have lost faith, and I have gained faith. When I first got diagnosed, I always said, “If God were real, why would He inflict so much pain on a young child who has done no wrong?” It took quite a few years for me to realize that He gives pain to those who need it the most. If I had not became sick, I wouldn’t be the strong-minded person I am today. I wouldn’t have made so many friends that are going through the same trials as me. I have learned how to deal with prejudice, but better yet, I have learned how to speak out against it.


How do I deal with thoughts of wanting to die?

I hesitate writing this for a few reasons: 1) I don't want anyone to worry reading it.  2) I don't want it to sound like things are worse than they are.  3) I don't want this to negatively affect anyone.

But I write because: 1) This topic needs to be addressed.  2) I have found some ways to cope, and I think they need to be shared. 3) Someone out there needs to know that they are not alone.

There is a very disturbing and unpleasant part of everything I am facing, and it is the forced, recurring thoughts of wanting to die.  It doesn't happen every day, it is not my choice, and it comes without warning.

The more I face this difficult part of my illness, the more I learn how to deal with it.  That is what I want to share.

How do I deal with thoughts of wanting to die?

1. I have made a promise to some very close people in my life that I will NEVER act on these feelings.  Making this promise allows me to think of them when these thoughts come and to hold on through the very thick darkness, because I will NEVER go back on this promise.

2. I turn my mind to the past and remember how this has happened before and the light came again, even when I felt like it wouldn't.  I focus on hope and repeat over and over to myself that things will get better, and the darkness won't last forever.

3. I pray.  I usually don't know what to say, and it usually seems like a cluttered, disorganized prayer, but I assume God can make sense of the lack of organization in my words, and I pray anyway.

4. I remind myself that this is not me.  am not the one thinking this.  I have an illness that puts terrible thoughts into my mind, and my only job is to hold on through the pain and try my best to push these thoughts aside until the darkness passes.

5. I reach out.  This is so hard sometimes, but I call someone, text someone, or invite someone over.  I don't always tell them the extent of the darkness plaguing my mind, but this is one of the best ways I have found to distract myself and to lift some of the burden.

6. I chose someone (my husband) who I have decided I will tell the full extent of how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking.  It was extremely hard to tell him the first several times that I was in a really bad place, but it has gotten easier over time.  I trust him and know he is here to help me.  It helps me so much having one person to go to who I can tell exactly what is going on.

7. I hold on.  That's all you can do sometimes.  Sometimes nothing works to take away the thoughts, so I simply hold on and wait for it to pass.  I do all of the things listed above over and over and over again for days knowing that the light is coming soon.

PLEASE do not give up on yourself or on your life.  It WILL get better!  Never give up on the hope that this too shall pass.  You are loved, needed, and wanted!  Forever.


That We Might Have Joy: Tami's Story

On March 18, 2012 at 1:04 am, my whole world was flipped upside down and forever changed. I will never forget that moment. Jayson, both my bothers, my sister-in-law, and baby nephew were all crammed into our car hoping to see Mom before she returned to our Heavenly Father. It was the quietest ride, and the rain seemed to reflect our mood. We made it about half way before my brother got the dreaded call. Mom didn't make it. The feeling of emptiness, pain, and love filled our car as we all sobbed. I held my brothers' hands and Jayson held me as we made our way to my Grandma's house.

Having my mom pass away when I was only 20 and newly married was not on my plan, and I still don't understand why it happened. It has brought much heartache to me and my family, and some unexpected trials even harder than losing my mom. I've spent many nights crying myself to sleep, while Jayson holds me tight just listening to me. The first month or two were the hardest. I just wanted to stop, crawl in a hole, and cry. Sometimes, I would just go to the bathroom or closet, hug my knees to my chest, and sob until Jayson would make me let him come in.

Every day I miss Mom. People try to comfort me by saying she will always be with me spiritually, but it only dulls the pain of never being able to see her hug my sweet babies, hear her sweet voice, or be engulfed in her huge hugs.

This trial has brought many emotions. Obviously sadness and pain, but also love, anger and jealousy. I never have really felt angry at God, even though He didn't heal Mom like I wanted. I've felt anger and jealousy towards anyone lucky enough to still have a Mom on Earth. It often doesn't feel fair that my amazing Mom who I was so close to got ripped away when others who aren't close to their Mom get to keep them. I also felt some anger towards others who said they could relate because they also lost a parent. These were usually people who lost their parents at an old age. Unfortunately, I even would get angry with Jayson for not being able to comprehend how much I hurt and wishing it had been his parents since he wasn't as close to them.

Though I still wish everyday Mom could come back and none of this ever to have happened, I have been able to start to see blessings come from my trial. The night Mom passed away, I received a beautiful and very personal priesthood blessing before we started driving. In the blessing, I was promised to be able to feel my Savior's love stronger than I ever had and that I would gain a stronger testimony of the plan of salvation. I knew then that Mom wouldn't make it, but I pushed that thought far out of my mind. I still had faith that God could and would heal her. That was not God's plan, and one day, I'll fully understand why. For now, I know that, because we are sealed as a family, I get to see Mom again and still have that mother-daughter bond we have always had. Our relationship is eternal. I just have to continue to live righteously, so I can make it back to the Celestial Kingdom. My relationship with my Savior has also grown tremendously, as well as my testimony of His Atonement. My Savior loves me without end, and I have felt his love stronger than I ever have before. I have felt Christ's arms of love encircled about me letting me know He is always there. Even though it frustrates me that no one else knows exactly how I feel, I have come to know that they don't have to understand, because Christ does. That's all who needs to understand what I'm going through.

Jayson and I have become so close and really had to rely on each other, not my parents, our whole marriage, since I hadn't even been married for 7 months when Mom died. When I have a problem I turn to Jayson, Christ, and Heavenly Father, not my Mom. I still wish I could call her for advice, but I've seen how much stronger my marriage is because of it. I have also been able to feel Jayson's love and compassion for me. He has been my rock and helped me feel love and joy during my pain. He didn't sign up for all the baggage that came with this trial, but he is always right there helping me work through it.

I have also been blessed to grow so close with my sister. She has also been my rock. She has had to step up and take on responsibilities she didn't have to but did. Many of these responsibilities have been thrown at her because she is the oldest. I am so grateful that I have her to look to for advice about being a wife and mother. I know I can always go to her and ask her anything, cry, or just tell her how bad something sucks, and she'll get it.

I am also seeing how this trial is shaping me into the woman God needs me to be. My testimony is growing so much. I have also been able to be grateful that I was given such a loving amazing mother even if it was only for 20 years. I would rather have that than a mother who didn't care or love me with all her heart.

I have also been blessed with many family members and friends that have helped me through my trials. So many people have shown their love for my mom and me. It is amazing to see how many people care about me and my mom. It makes me want to live a better life so my love will touch as many people as possible, and I will leave behind a great legacy.


That We Might Have Joy: Olivia's Story

On August 10th, 2016, Matt and I found out we were pregnant with our second child. I was just over 5 weeks, and I had so many different emotions. Excitement, fear, feeling overwhelmed. This child was planned unlike our first, Blakely. She was a complete surprise three months after being married. We had just started trying, and we were not expecting it to happen so quickly. But it did, and we were overjoyed. Matt was a little more excited than me, because the baby was scheduled to be due in April 2017, right in the middle of my last semester and during finals. So I was really overwhelmed. But nevertheless, we were both excited. This pregnancy was automatically different than my first. Blakely made me miserable-- morning sickness the entire time, heartburn, four UTI’s, a kidney infection. BLAH! I was not happy. But this baby, I could eat whatever I wanted, I felt great, I had tons of energy. Also with this baby, we told everyone! The only people we told last time was our family. This time we told family, Blakely, close friends, not so close friends, people at the grocery store. Seriously, we told everyone and anyone who would listen that we were having a baby. We practically shouted it from the rooftops!  We were so excited.

August 30, 2016 was our 3rd wedding anniversary. It was also the day we lost our baby. Yes, you read that right. We lost our baby on our anniversary. The day that we were supposed to celebrate us and our family. The beginning of the happiest days of our lives. Instead, I went to the doctor by myself, because Matt was in school. And we celebrated crying together on our floor. Not how we planned spending the day.

When it happened, I was in shock. I went through the process. I had a million thoughts running through my head. It went like this:

“You know this happens a lot, it’s okay, everything will be okay, I have to to Matt, I have to tell my parents, I have a lot of people to tell…”

Then I looked down at my beautiful almost 2-year old and thought, I have to tell her. In the coming weeks, Blakely was so excited. She was always asking about the baby, she would talk to it every morning, and sing to it, and give my belly kisses. And in that split second moment, the thought of telling my daughter that there was no more baby terrified me more than public speaking (and for those that know me, know what a big deal that is). That’s when I lost it. That’s when I started crying, and I never stopped.

I have struggled with depression my entire life. When I got pregnant with Blakely, I was fully aware of the possibility of getting Postpartum Depression after I had her. And I did get it, not in the way I thought I would, but it was a struggle. So after this devastating event that shook me to my core, I had no idea how I was going to cope. I was so scared of how low I was going to feel. I was angry. I thought, I am a good mom. I am faithful. I follow all the rules. I didn't do anything wrong. There are so many women, women I know, who smoke, drink, and do drugs while being pregnant, and they end up with perfectly healthy babies. Why did this have to happen to me? I did everything right. It’s not fair. 

I went through every single detail of the past eight weeks trying to make sense of it and find some reason why it happened. I would constantly go up to Matt and say, "I think it happened because of this." And bless his heart, no matter how many times I said things like that, he always came back with the same answer, “Olivia, this was not your fault.”

I struggled for a long time, and I am still struggling, but I think something finally hit me. I started looking at my trials like they were blessings. This is very hard, especially when you suffer from depression. I thought why did this have to happen on our anniversary? And then the answer came to me-- Heavenly Father knows each of us, and he knows that my memory is not always the greatest, and he also knows that this is a day I would always want to remember, so he put it on a day that I would never forget, our anniversary. As soon as that answer came, others started to fill my mind. Maybe this was a blessing, in the oddest sense of the word. Before I would have to worry about my finals and having a baby, now Heavenly Father made sure I was going to be able to focus on my school, because He knows how hard I have worked for this. We got pregnant so fast, and others it takes months. We already had Blakely, and I think it would have been harder had we not had any children yet. There were so many blessings surrounding this tragic event that, after I started thinking of them, it was easier to cope with it.

The last blessing that came from our miscarriage was when we had to tell Blakely. This didn't happen until a few weeks after we lost the baby. After it happened, she didn't ask about the baby, which I took as a blessing, because I had no idea what to say. But one day, I was buckling her in her carseat, and she looked up at me and said, “ Mommy has baby in belly.” It took everything in me not to cry, and I said a silent prayer, the first one I said in a long time, asking Heavenly Father to give me the strength to tell her so she understands. And to this day, I still don't know how I came up with this answer, but I said, “Honey, the baby isn't in mommy’s belly anymore. We won't get to see the baby for a long time. The baby knows we love it, and it will be waiting for us, until we get to see it again. But for now, we have to wait. Do you understand?” And like a little child submissive to her parents, she said, “Okay mommy.”

I believe in the plan of salvation, and I KNOW that I will see my baby again. The hardest part is knowing that I won't get to hold him or her for a long time, and that this child won’t know how loved they are on this earth. I won't get to tell them how much they mean to me, and I can’t hold them for a very long time. But I believe that when I see my child again, I will know them, and they will know me. Through the love of Christ, I know that this possible.


Q&A: What does it feel like when Christ is helping you?

Q: Exactly what happens when you feel like Christ is there helping you? I usually hear a lot of people say something about turning to Christ and feeling better, but no details. So I'm wondering how does He help you, and what does it feel like in detail?

A: I've been thinking about how to answer this, and I feel like it's not one simple answer.  It's different almost every single time I need help.  So instead of saying "this is how it feels every time," I'll give several recent examples.

First example:  It was at the beginning of all of this new mental illness stuff, when I was experiencing mania/panic one day.  Since it was the beginning, I didn't know what was happening, and I was terrified!  As my legs shook and my chest felt crushed by an impossible amount of darkness, I prayed.  When I got done praying, I got on my phone and found a music video a friend posted on Facebook.  I listened to it over and over and over again until my husband got home.  It helped me feel calm and peaceful through the raging storms in my brain.  Christ didn't take away the storm in that instance, but He helped me find something to keep me calm.

Second example: One day in December, I experienced the worst episode of mania/panic I've ever experienced before. My whole body was overcome with this awful misplaced energy, and it felt like the most overwhelming thing possible. As I was laying in my bed shaking and sobbing in emotional pain, the thought came to my mind that I needed to ask someone to pray for me. I could hardly do anything with my muscles so tight and my mind so weighed down by the burdens of mental illness, but I managed to text a friend and ask her to pray for me. After I sent the text, I curled up in a tight ball and prayed as well. Instead of asking Heavenly Father for help though, I tried to thank Him for every blessing I could think of, especially for this trial and how it is allowing me to grow, to learn, to have compassion, and to help others. A few minutes later, my friend texted back and told me that her and her kids had prayed for me. Suddenly, the awful tension in my heart left and my legs stopped shaking as an overwhelming feeling of peace washed over me.  Normally, prayers aren't answered that quickly, that powerfully, or that miraculously, but that day, they were. I was left feeling exhausted, but, more importantly, so so thankful for the Savior!  That day, He took away my storm for several hours and allowed me to feel a very real calm.

Third example: Another day, I was in the depths of depression.  The sadness I felt was so intense and so overpowering that I did not know how I would overcome.  As I laid curled up in a ball crying, I felt this very comforting message that all of this had a purpose and that my ability to endure it well would bless others.  The pain was not taken away, but my heart was softened, and I knew that I needed to experience this sort of sadness to help others through their similar sadness.

Fourth example:  As in THIS instance and THIS instance, Christ used someone else to help lift my pain and make it bearable.

Fifth example: While in the hospital, I was able to recall scriptures I had read before that brought me comfort and peace through my scary experience.

Sixth example: SEVERAL times, someone has sent me their story for my "That We Might Have Joy" project at my EXACT moment of despair, and it has lifted me.  Like really I can't even count how many times this has happened, and it strengthens me every time to know that other people's trials can bring me joy, even though our trials are different.  I can't help but feel like Christ helps other people have the courage to write their stories so they can send them to me right when I need them.  

Seventh example: Often times, I write as a means of "therapy."  It helps me to process how I feel.  But often times, as I am writing, God teaches me.  It's like I just have to start, and then He does the rest.  One of those times was when I wrote this: "While my heart yearns to question why mental illness must exist in this world, my spirit answers, "Because you need to know how strong you are." And certainly I am proving to myself how strong I am-- every day, every moment, as I fight and conquer the darkness that threatens to overtake me."  I was in so much pain as I was writing that I didn't think I could stand it.  I wanted to share my pain so that I wouldn't feel so alone, but I didn't know what to say.  Then God used this moment to teach me.  He helped me recognize that I was stronger than I knew and that I could make it through that dark night.

Eighth example: I remember having a really rough weekend one weekend.  It was stake conference, and I couldn't sit and listen, because the pain was too much.  I paced the halls at church and ended up sitting in a classroom sobbing.  When I finally got the strength to go back in, the speaker quoted a scripture that had been a comfort to me just a few days before.  I was amazed at God's mindfulness of me to prompt this speaker who didn't know me or my situation to share a certain scripture in their talk that could give me comfort, peace, and strength through my tempest.  

Ninth example: My husband.  That man is amazing!  Often times, I struggle feeling the Spirit or discerning truth from lies when I am drowning in mental illness, but my husband always knows EXACTLY what to say to help me recognize the truth.  I used to wonder how he was so good at knowing what to do or say to help me, but then I realized that he is this powerful instrument in God's hands sent to give me strength and bring me light in my darkness.  And he does an amazing job of it!

I'm not sure if this helps answer the question at all, but I do know that the Savior is able to comfort, bring peace, and heal us.  One of the big blessings about this trial is that it has helped me recognize the many different and specific ways that the Savior brings comfort.  He doesn't always take away the pain, but He ALWAYS provides a way to endure it.  I have felt His comfort more times than I can count, and He is the reason I am still moving forward and finding JOY today!  


That We Might Have Joy: Whitney's Story

Flashback to 2012…. You see before your eyes a girl who is so happy, so sure of herself, and so confident. A girl who was living her dream of being an EFY counselor to many wonderful youth and about to start her junior year of college. A girl who finally found her niche in her major and was excited about what the future would hold. One that was so involved in every school club that she could find the time for and who, as the saying goes, “flew by the seat of her pants.”

All of that flying must come to an end though, right? On November 25th, 2012 on a normal drive home from Montana with a few of my roommates, I was starting to get drowsy at the wheel. I kept telling myself that I could make it to the next town and then take a nap. Pulling in to the next town, finally ready to fill up with gas and to take a much-needed nap, the drowsiness set in.  As I came around the corner toward the stoplight, and in the blink of an eye, I went from being 100 yards from a semi to 30 yards.  Hitting the brakes didn’t matter as the gravel I skidded on made its own decision to have me not fully make the “out of accident” territory turn, and I smashed into the back of a semi-truck.

The airbags went off, a piece of the seat belt flew back and hit one of my roommates, breaking her sinus bone under her eye. Another swore and said that she couldn’t feel her legs. My first thought was, “how could I have been so stupid.?” I always tried to be the safest, most aware.  This was not who I was. After being rushed to the hospital in Dillon, Montana, watching 2 roommates and another passenger being treated, refusing medical attention because of adrenaline, and being interviewed by the sheriff and receiving a ticket for inattentive driving, my passengers were cleared to go, we were picked up by my best friend and her parents and were on our way back to Rexburg.

I tried to continue as my normal, happy, outgoing self, but something was different. I wasn’t that same girl anymore. I didn’t want to go out.  I didn’t want to do anything with anyone anymore. I was essentially a hollow shell of myself. After a whole year of feeling this way and 3 of my best friends telling me that they felt something was off with me, and after receiving many promptings that I should talk to someone about it, I decided to act upon those feelings. I went to the counseling center on the BYU-Idaho campus, and I did their evaluation questionnaire and then met with a counselor. I was diagnosed with situational depression, anxiety, and mild anger. Being a psychology major, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, because from what I had learned, everyone had some depression, anxiety, and anger, among other things, and so I immediately wanted to tell the therapist that she was wrong. She told me that she wanted to be able to meet with me, but right now till the end of the semester they had no openings except for a group therapy session. I chose to attend that and I learned many different things about myself, especially about how to take more control in my life. The following semester, they had openings for me to meet with a counselor, and I began seeing a therapist once a week. At first, I was apprehensive to talk to her about anything. It’s a weird feeling sitting across from someone you don’t know to discuss your internal self that you don’t share with anyone except those closest to you.

As time went on though, I learned to let go of that fear of opening up. I learned where some of my anger stemmed from, I learned how to recognize my anxiety and how to control it, and I learned what situational depression meant and how to recognize and defeat the effects of it. Most importantly though is that I learned about how to use the Atonement in my life in regards to my situation. I learned that I NEED help and that it’s okay for me to ASK for help from others and from my Father in Heaven. I learned that I am not alone through this, and that even though it’s hard to want to do things sometimes, the fact that I’m trying is what’s important.

Finding joy in this trial is not always easy. I continually get frustrated with myself when I see how being my old self would help in certain situations. I have to force myself sometimes to go out and do things. However, despite all of this, I have been able to find joy in who I’ve become now. I have learned to except my limitations and learned how to flourish in my strengths. I have found joy in knowing that my Savior and my Father in Heaven are aware of me in my needs and that they love me so much. I have found joy in learning how to open up to others and let people in, where before I would push people away. I find joy in accomplishing the tasks that I set out to do, despite depression telling me to not try. It is still a daily struggle, and I am still growing and trying to progress but I find hope and joy in knowing that I have grown so much in the last 4 years since my accident. I’m not who I was, but I feel like I am progressing into who God needs me to be, and because of that, I have learned to be grateful in my trials.


12 Cycles

I am on cycle 12.

12 cycles in 11 weeks.

To say that I am exhausted is an understatement.

In this time, I experienced 12 phases of mania/panic, 12 phases of depression, my back went out of place, I spent 2 1/2 days in a mental hospital, our van got 2 flat tires, I have been told some very hurtful things, and now I have been accused of disobeying the law (when I didn't) with a threat to suspend my license.

Luckily, everything was cleared with the law, but I am now suffering the consequences of the stress it caused me.

I am so tired!

I feel like I've experienced more in these last 11 weeks than the whole last year.

And yet, so much good has come out of these 11 testing weeks.

I've met SO MANY people who struggle with mental illness and have been given the beautiful gift of friendship and understanding.  I've started a project that brings me great JOY amidst my own suffering.  I've gotten to see how unconditional my husband's love is.  I've grown to appreciate and understand the atonement in ways that I NEVER could have without all the difficulty.  I've had desperate prayers answered, miracles performed, and blessings given that have been apparent only because of the darkness.  I've been able to help others through my experiences.  I've learned eternal lessons that have allowed me to progress and become.

Would I trade these 11 weeks?  I can't answer that I would want to live them again, but I do know that the good has FAR outweighed the bad.  And for that, I am very thankful!

Looking to the future, I don't know how long this will last.  I don't know how long it will take to get the right medications and the right ratios/dosages.  I don't know what other "surprises" will pop up along the way.

But I do know this-- God will sustain me through whatever I face.  He has not abandoned me.  He is the reason that I have not crumbled yet.

And I know that I will not give up on this fight.  No matter what my brain tries to tell me, I CAN do this!  The light will come again.  It always does.


That We Might Have Joy: April's Story

It’s a unique opportunity to be able to write about my experience and share it with others, and I am so glad Shantelle invited me to share my story. It’s bitter to relive the moments, but also sweet, because talking about it brings healing to me and hopefully others.

My husband, Cory, and I met in 2010 in Las Vegas while both serving missions for the LDS church. Not long after coming home, he looked me up, and we started dating. We got engaged March 20th, 2012. One of the first things I did after we got engaged was buy two newborn outfits. One for a boy and one for a girl. Cory now admits that he thought I was crazy when I showed him the two outfits, but apparently I wasn’t crazy enough for him to back out, because we were married just a few months later.

1,413 days after I bought those outfits (exact calculation) and about a hundred pregnancy tests later (rough estimation), I finally got the two coveted pink lines. Those two little lines sent me straight to pinterest where I started planning nurseries, photo shoots, and how I wanted to announce the pregnancy.

I turned to Dr. Internet where I looked up different nutrition facts and exercises that were safe to do while pregnant. Did I want a midwife or a doctor? What is a doula? I had so many questions. I signed up for at least three different day-by-day pregnancy calendars even though they all said the same information. I was so excited. Cory was excited too.  He even had us take a selfie when I told him, so he could remember the moment, and he NEVER takes selfies.  We were excited. We were very, very excited.

For the next few months, life went on as normal, and my pregnancy progressed as any pregnancy should. I eagerly counted down the appointments until the appointment. The big one where we would find out the gender.  Because as soon as we found out, we could pick out names, and I could buy clothes.  The day of my appointment I finally broke down and told my students that I was expecting—which many of them already suspected—and let them take a guess at the gender. I made it a game and said whoever guessed correctly would get candy the next day.  I went to the appointment and everything was absolutely normal, and in a few short months, we would be welcoming a perfect little girl.

The day after the appointment, we drove to Utah for a weekend visit with both of our families. I was more exhausted than normal and had really bad cramping, which I thought was growing pains of some sort.  Every time I moved around, I felt a gush of fluid, which I didn’t think much of because everyone told me that was normal and would just laugh it off. Unfortunately, none of it was normal.

Saturday night I couldn’t sleep.  I just couldn’t get comfortable, and every time I moved I would feel that uncomfortable gush. Moving was uncomfortable, but holding still felt unbearable. I ended up pacing the short hallway of a family member’s basement and curling up in warm bath water to help ease the pressure. Early, early Sunday morning, so early it still felt like Saturday night, I started bleeding and it wouldn’t stop.  Then the cramps got so bad that I finally realized they were contractions. I woke Cory up, and we headed to the E.R.  I couldn’t even walk myself to the car.  I had to be carried. The E.R. doctor told me I had gone into labor, I was already dilated, and I was barely five months pregnant. They told me to go see my OB/GYN in the morning and hope for the best.

We drove back home and got an appointment right away. At the appointment, we found out that I had lost all the amniotic fluid, and without amniotic fluid, the baby’s lungs wouldn’t develop. The doctor gave us some harrowing statistics and then told us a few different options we could choose from: 1) Go home and letting nature take its course.  2) Get checked in to the hospital and starting antibiotics and hope that the baby could replenish her amniotic fluid and it would stop leaking.

We drove straight to the hospital and I was checked in for the next 48 hours.  Friends and family came to visit, but I still had plenty of time alone with my thoughts-- plenty of time to worry and to research what our odds would be. After my two-day stay, I was sent home with medication and instructions. The goal was to make it to 22 weeks, when I would be checked in to a hospital with a larger NICU.

I made it three more days, and then I realized that I was going to have this baby much earlier than I wanted. It was exactly one week after the visit to the E.R. when everything hit the fan. I remember not feeling ready and being scared, so I knelt and I prayed and I said that I wasn’t ready, that I needed one more day. That prayer was answered, and I did get one more day.

The next morning I checked into the hospital. That day has now been distilled down to a few specific memories that spanned the entire day, but feel like they were moments that were back to back. I remember the way the doctor said “she’s head down, that’s a good sign” and I wanted to cry.  I remember looking away when they first handed her to me because I was too scared.  I remember watching her wiggle and move and try to breathe and feeling so worthless because there was nothing I could do. I remember the doctor standing with his hands on his hips, and mostly speaking to the wall, he said “This is the unfortunate part of obstetrics.”

Later a photographer came and took pictures, and then friends and family were in and out all day.  I talked and handed people my tiny baby to hold, but I don’t remember much of what anyone said. It’s hard to recall the order of events. The only thing that was going through my mind at the time was a nursery prayer on repeat:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Again and again and again that nursery rhyme ran through my head, numbing the pain of knowing that although my daughter wasn’t with me, at least she was with the Lord. The funeral director came at 10:30 pm to take her away, and then we settled in for a long, sleepless night.

It was after the funeral I realized that I really had my work cut out for me. I had to move forward and try to still find the good and joy in life, because life wasn’t going to stop for me. Even though I knew we had to move forward, it doesn’t mean it’s been easy, and it doesn’t mean that everyday has been wonderful. I think a big part of healing is accepting that not every day will be wonderful, or easy, or free from pain, because those feelings are very necessary to healing, and they make it possible for us to recognize the good when it happens. But even with understanding there will be bad days and days full of hurt, I know that I can’t actively choose being bitter.  I chose active bitterness for a while and doing so caused me to change to my core. When something good did happen, I wasn’t able to see it. Looking only for the negative in my situation and focusing on what I didn’t have kept away the joyful and positive moments that wanted to sneak into my day and surprise me, and there are so many small unexpected joys to be grateful for!

On the days that are especially bad, I try to count every little joyful surprise, and that changes everything! When I run out of joyful, daily surprises, I start counting blessings. These two things have been such a lifesaver in helping me remain positive and finding joy. It’s kept me realizing just how much good there is around me and how wonderful life is. I count everything. Running water, my bed, my shoes, indoor plumbing (let’s face it, all our lives would be so very different without that one thing), the fact that I have a job I love. I count everything I can think of, and it doesn’t take long to realize how lucky I am in the grand scheme of things.

I also try to find ways to honor my daughter’s memory and integrate her into my everyday life, so she knows that she is still, and always will be, loved and a part of our family. Sometimes times I read books out loud so she can listen in if she wants to, other times I’ve given little gifts to people on her behalf (even though I don’t necessarily say it is from her), and other times I ask her to go visit her little cousins, because even though we can’t see her doesn’t mean she isn’t nearby. And I think that last point, knowing she is still nearby, is what gives me joy.

I know personally how easy it is to become defeated, to want to give up, and call quits on nearly everything. Life isn’t easy for anyone, but I truly, honestly, and with all my heart believe everyone has someone watching out for them. I know everyone has a Savior, whether they know it or not, that always and unconditionally loves them, and He will somehow help everyone through their trials if they will lean on him and choose to try and move forward.  Knowing that, dear readers, is what helps give me joy!


My Miracle in Darkness

The more I face the darkness of this mental illness, the more I realize that it's the darkness that allows me to recognize the very smallest miracles and blessings.  Those small miracles and blessings bring me the JOY I need to continue moving forward into the unknown future and to hold on with faith through pain and sorrow.

On Sunday, I received a wonderful miracle, an exact answer to a heartfelt plea.  But before I tell about the miracle, I need to give it some context.

I had been in mania/panic for the last few days with all of its shaking, mind racing, chest burning, jaw tightening, little sleeping glory.  Part of the racing thoughts is having these dreadful thoughts come into my mind randomly and having to fight to get them out.  At first, I can fight them pretty well and rationally think through them.  But the more they enter my mind, the more overwhelming they become, to the point where I begin to wonder if they are actually true.

This time, the thoughts started as: You need to be setting goals for this year.  Normally, I LOVE setting goals and finding ways to keep them, but this year, I haven't wanted to think about it.  I don't want to think about everything I could do last year that I simply can't do right now, and I don't know what I can handle so I don't know what kind of goals to set.  I tried to think of some, but anything beyond getting up every day and taking care of my daughter's basic needs felt overwhelming.

Then the thoughts progressed: How will you ever handle having another baby if you can't even set some simple goals?  And think about your scripture study.  It's severely lacking.  Why can't you just do better with that?  When are you going to start exercising regularly again?  Why can't you just push through this and handle everything?  

I picked up a friend on the way to church, which was a great blessing, because I was going alone, so I probably would have ended up crying before even getting inside.

Then, I got to church and figured I would sit in the back by myself, so if I needed to cry, I wouldn't make a scene.  But my wonderful friend asked if I wanted to sit by her, so I agreed.  I could feel all of the emotion swelling inside of me.  And my thoughts were racing around like a bouncy ball bouncing off the walls of my brain, spurring a new thought every time it hit a wall.  The darkness in my heart was continually intensifying, and I felt paralyzed by the fear of hitting a peak of intensity at church.

The opening song was "Joseph Smith's First Prayer."  As I sang, I pictured the darkness Joseph experienced before seeing the light of God and Jesus Christ, a darkness that might have resembled the darkness I felt in that moment.  Then during the sacrament, I read Joseph's account:
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. 
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
The words he used to describe this experience struck me, as they were so closely connected to how I was feeling in that very moment.  Seized upon, overcome, tongue bound, thick darkness, doomed to sudden destruction, sinking into despair, abandoned to destruction.

My thoughts turned to after sacrament meeting, how I was going to have to play piano in primary, then sit in Relief Society, and finally drive home.  It was too much to process and definitely too much to do.  I felt the weight of darkness press down on my body.  I couldn't handle it.  I had to leave.  So I got up, walked out of the chapel, and ran to the bathroom.  The tears were coming, so I needed to get there fast.  I closed myself into a stall and sobbed.  I tried not to let my crying make too much noise, but I wasn't even sure if I cared.

Suddenly, I wanted a hug.  I wanted someone to hold my broken heart for just a moment, to squeeze me tight, and to tell me that everything would be alright.  My husband was home sick, so I felt incredibly alone.  No one else would know to wrap me in their arms while I cried.  I felt trapped.  So I prayed.  I asked God to help someone know to give me a hug, but not just any hug-- a big, tight, warm, healing hug.  I knew no one would give me a hug if I sat in the bathroom stall, and the messages being shared might help me, so after finishing my prayer, I left the stall.  I had the plan of going back into the chapel, finding a seat in the back, and then finding someone after who could give me the hug I desperately needed.  I had it all planned out perfectly.

But just as I was about to open the bathroom door, it opened on its own and in walked my beautiful friend.  She saw me, and without saying a word, wrapped her arms around me and hugged me tight.  I cried in her arms as she held me.  I had felt so broken, so alone, and so afraid, but her hug, the exact answer to my prayer, filled me with joy.  The darkness didn't leave, but I felt warmth, love, and support through the overwhelming darkness.  She repeated back to me my own words: "This challenge is here to prove to you how strong you are."  She genuinely expressed how she wished I didn't have to suffer in this way and that I am strong.  After just a few minutes of healing words and hugs, we walked back into the chapel.  My heart was not made whole, but the broken pieces were bound up and held together by a friend who listened to the Spirit and served me in God's place.


That We Might Have Joy: Talia's Story

This story is about Amelia and the health issues she has, but for me, the trials, and joys, of being a mother started long before that. In January 2015, I felt like Aaron and I were supposed to start our family. I told Aaron this, and he agreed. We found out I was pregnant at the end of March, and I struggled to be excited. I had wanted to get my master's degree before we started a family, and I was simply following an impression. At my first doctor's appointment, we learned that the baby had died just a couple days before. I was alone at my appointment and had to tell Aaron the news by myself after he was done with his classes. We then had to call our parents, ultimately only telling our mothers and asking them to tell our fathers the news. I never knew my heart could break so much. However, as a result, Aaron and I had an opportunity to serve as ordinance workers in the Rexburg Temple for 6 months and I had the opportunity to work alongside sisters who were newly married, expecting their first child, and whose children were all grown. I learned so much from all these wonderful women.

In September 2015, we found out that I was once again pregnant. This time I was truly excited. I had experienced what it is like to be “baby hungry” for the first time in my life. As excited as I was, it was difficult. I was nauseous for the majority of my pregnancy and struggled to cook dinner and clean our little apartment. Luckily, I have a wonderful husband who knows how to cook and rarely complained about having to make dinner and try to find something I could keep down after he had gone to an entire day of classes and work. In December, we found out we were having a girl, and throughout the pregnancy, there were no concerns that she wouldn’t be perfectly healthy. We continued ahead with our plans to move to Tennessee the week before Memorial Day following Aaron’s graduation from BYU-Idaho in April.

On May 9, 2016, we welcomed Amelia Annis into our family. I had never experienced such great joy than at the moment I got to hold my perfect baby girl. I remember thinking she was tiny at 7 pounds, because most of my sisters had been over 8 pounds. We went home from the hospital two days after she was born with orders to get a bilirubin pad because Amelia was pretty jaundiced. We thought everything would be back to “normal” when we stopped needing to use the pad a few days later. However, just before her 2-week appointment, Aaron and my mom noticed a white patch on Amelia’s tongue. When we went to the appointment, we asked about the patch, and got no answer, as none of the doctors had ever seen anything like it. We were also told to start supplementing Amelia with formula because she had dropped from her 7-pound birth weight to 6 pounds 3 ounces. We weren’t too concerned since we already had a pediatrician lined up in Nashville, and we knew that it wasn’t going to affect our plans to pack, bless Amelia, and move a couple days later. Little did we know that our plans would drastically change the next day.

The day after Amelia’s appointment, I was taking a nap while Amelia slept in the afternoon. Aaron thought that he should check on Amelia and noticed that she seemed a little warm, so he took her temperature. It read 104 degrees. Aaron didn’t believe that was correct, so he checked himself and checked Amelia once again. He woke me up, and we talked about what we should do. I called the doctor’s office and they told us to take her straight to the ER, so that’s what we did. When we got there, the ER doctor was very concerned because Amelia wasn’t responsive and didn’t care that they were poking her trying to get blood, do a spinal tap, and start an IV. This was probably one of the hardest moments, knowing there was nothing I could do for her at the time. After they started an IV and some antibiotics, we were admitted to the hospital, taken up to the NICU unit, and put in an isolation room. It was hard to be put in a little room with two semi-comfortable hospital chairs, a bed for Amelia, and no windows or contact with other people in the unit, other than nurses, because we didn’t know if Amelia was contagious. It scared us seeing the nurses put on caps, special gowns, shoe covers, and gloves over their clothes to help prevent contamination. At the time, we were told that Amelia would probably just be in the hospital overnight, because the fever was probably going to break. At one point, late that night, we decided we’d go home and spend one last night in our apartment before we moved.

The next morning, Aaron dropped me off at the hospital and then went back to our apartment to help load the moving truck, since we expected Amelia to be discharged that day. However, when the pediatrician came and talked to us, he said that we wouldn’t be able to be discharged until Amelia had not had a fever for 24 hours. We had to cancel everything, including our flight to Nashville, until we knew that we’d be able to make our flight. Luckily, if you have a doctor’s note, they don’t charge you for cancelling. Instead, they’ll just rebook it when you can make the trip. That day was really hard as I called Aaron and asked him to come back to the hospital to be with me. I was emotionally exhausted at that point, because I was so worried about my baby girl. We felt terrible that so many family members had traveled for Amelia’s blessing. My grandmother and one of my sisters came up that morning from Salt Lake City, Utah; another sister and her family came the night before from Carson City, Nevada; and Aaron’s parents and youngest sister had flown to Utah from Houston, Texas and then driven to Rexburg. It was a blessing that, at one point, my dad and Aaron’s dad were able to come to the hospital and help Aaron give Amelia a blessing. We were also blessed with a visit from our wonderful bishop and his wife who were there in the NICU visiting another family in our ward. At this point we still didn’t know what was wrong or how long we would be there. Our bishop knew we were moving out of our apartment and didn’t have anywhere to go, so he made sure to notify our relief society president about our situation. Luckily, Aaron’s grandma lives about 10 minutes outside of Rexburg and offered to let us stay with her until Amelia was released. At the time, we didn’t really know what else we needed help with as we were still trying to wrap our heads around the situation. After Amelia had been in the hospital for almost 24 hours, she started having respiratory problems and had to be put on oxygen. Because they didn’t know if the oxygen was needed because of a heart problem, they had to do an echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart. We found out that Amelia has two small holes in her heart, but the doctors weren’t concerned because they weren’t letting a lot of blood through. The next day we started to get answers. Amelia’s blood cultures came back with no infection, so they stopped the antibiotic she was on. We thought that we’d be out of the hospital within a couple days because her fever had also gone down to less than 100 degrees. However, the next day the fever came back.

The doctors didn’t know why the fever came back, other than it was some type of virus. They decided they would need to take a spinal tap and have it sent out and tested for a whole bunch of viruses. I went out to the waiting room while the doctor did the spinal tap, and then the doctor ordered that we restart the antibiotic, as well as two antivirals because we were still waiting for one more blood culture, and those three medicines would cover most sicknesses. And this is when the real waiting game began. We literally felt like we were in limbo. We started seeing a neonatologist (baby specialist) once a week and continued to ask the nurses if they’d gotten the results. During this waiting period, we were blessed to be the recipients of service from members of our ward. We were brought dinners each night, which not only brought us some food, but also some much needed association with friends. We also had friends from the ward bring us cookies and ask us if we needed anything when they went to the store. Mark and Shalise will never know how much they blessed us by picking me up a small bottle of contact solution, as we struggled to know how we would make it financially, since neither of us had jobs, and Aaron wouldn’t be working until he finished his internship. 

A week and a half after sending out the spinal tap, we finally got a diagnosis. Amelia had herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes: Type 1, the one that causes cold sores and Type 2, the one that is sexually transmitted. We didn’t know which one Amelia had for several days, however, we finally learned that she has HSV 1 in the central nervous system. We’ve speculated about how she could have gotten it, but the fact is, we will never know. Neither Aaron nor I know if we have it, and we could be carriers but never have any symptoms. And Amelia came into contact with several people that we made sure to see before we moved. Luckily, Acyclovir, the antiviral for HSV had been started before we had the results, so we were already 10 days into the 21-day IV treatment.

In the end, Amelia was in the hospital in Rexburg for 24 days. The day before Amelia’s last day of treatment, they did another spinal tap to make sure that the HSV wasn’t going to make her sick again, because it is a virus that never actually leaves your system. Following the spinal tap, we noticed that the white patch on Amelia’s tongue had become a mass about the width of her tongue. The doctors all thought she just had what is known as a geographical tongue and discharged us without much concern. The day after Amelia’s discharge, we traveled to Salt Lake to finally finish our move to Nashville.

A couple days after we arrived in Nashville, we had an appointment with our pediatrician there to follow up after Amelia’s hospital stay. At this point, the mass on her tongue had grown to span the width of her mouth, and not knowing what it was, our pediatrician referred us to an ENT (ear, nose throat doctor) at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. He looked at the mass, did a scope to see if it was blocking any passageways, and decided to admit us so Amelia could be monitored because of the size. About four days after being admitted to the hospital once again, Amelia had surgery to remove the mass on her tongue. This was the end of June, and at this point, Amelia had spent more of her life in the hospital than out. The pathology came back as rapid-growing granular tissue, which means it was scar tissue that was growing abnormally fast. Even though it wasn’t much of an answer, we were satisfied because that meant it wasn’t a tumor or cancer. However, the doctors wanted an answer, and so they sent it over to the adult pathology and to the top pathology center in the nation. Everywhere came back with the same result.

The middle after Amelia’s surgery, we went and saw an infectious disease doctor, also at Vanderbilt, about the HSV because we knew that she would need to be on the acyclovir orally for a time. They adjusted her dose and told us she would be on it until she was 6 months old, which seemed like forever at the time. We also saw a cardiologist about the murmurs (holes) in Amelia’s heart, but luckily they should close on their own, as one is a fetal heart valve and the other is so close to the wall of the heart that it should close as Amelia grows. We’ll really know if heart surgery is in our future when Amelia’s a year old and has another echo.  In addition, we saw our ENT, Dr. Penn, again as a post-op follow-up. Amelia had healed well, but because of how unusual her case was, Dr. Penn wanted to see us in a month, but to email him with her progress. Just before we were leaving to go to a family reunion, the mass started to come back. We emailed Dr. Penn, monitored it, and then saw him shortly after we got back. We decided to put her on the surgery schedule at the end of August, planning to only stay overnight after the surgery and follow up in a month. The surgery went as well as the first one and we were able to continue with our plan of blessing Amelia over Labor Day weekend.

When we followed up after Amelia’s second surgery, the mass was once again coming back. However, the pathology on the second mass had come back with an answer: there were hemangioma cells (a hemangioma is a growth that is not cancerous, doesn’t usually affect daily functioning, often looks like a red strawberry on the skin, and is most commonly external). There is a team of doctors at Vanderbilt who are using a heart medication to help decrease the size of hemangiomas and we decided that was the next path to pursue with Amelia. She is now on Propranolol, a medicine that helps regulate irregular heart rhythm but has also proved effective in treatment of hemangiomas in infants. She has been on the medicine for 2 months now and the results have been positive. The hemangioma is not gone, but it is shrinking.

After the diagnosis, one of the neonatologists explained to us that HSV has an 80% mortality rate because most parents don’t catch it soon enough and wanted to know how we had known to bring Amelia in to the hospital. Aaron says he just had a feeling to check her, but I strongly believe that it was the Holy Ghost helping us to know how to care for our baby.   He also told us to expect developmental delays because of where the virus was found. We have also been blessed to move to an area where we have easy access to all the specialists Amelia needs, in addition to support from my family. Even with all the trials that have come with Amelia, the joy of having her has greatly outweighed anything negative. She’s slept through the night pretty much from day 1 (made easier for me when I stopped breastfeeding during her first hospital stay). She is happy pretty much all the time, even when she has to have blood drawn or get shots. She makes us laugh with her sounds, silly faces, and giggles on a daily basis. She loves everyone she meets, and everyone loves her. She has had no developmental delays; in fact, she’s done everything earlier than expected (with the exception of crawling, but she’s figuring that out). She also is the best teething baby I’ve met—no fussing until literally two days before the teeth come in and then she’s done. She loves to play and most of all loves her mommy and daddy. Amelia is how I am able to find joy in my trials.


That We Might Have Joy: Cassidy's Story

On April 12, 2016 my husband and I learned that we were unexpectedly expecting another bundle of joy! We were over the moon, yet scared and nervous, because at that time, our little boy was only 6 months old. Together, my dear husband and I prayed for peace and comfort and for the safety of this child. I prayed all the time that the baby was growing healthy and strong.

No sooner than 4 weeks later, at my first ultrasound, I learned that my baby's heart had stopped beating hours earlier. On May 10, 2016, I officially miscarried this child at almost 10 weeks. Although we did not plan to have this child, but we did start to plan to be parents again and welcome another baby into our lives.

When I found out I was pregnant, I prayed that the baby would be safe and told Heavenly Father that, even though I was scared, I was thankful He had chosen me to be its mother.  But then when I lost the baby, I was angry at God and didn't have the desire to go to church or pray.  I felt like God had forgotten about me or wasn't even real. I felt like my prayers didn't matter.  I got really angry with everything and noticed life started to get really hard and just plain crappy.

My husband was scared that I would fall away from the church, but I wanted answers for myself. So I prayed. I prayed hard. I read the scriptures and did everything I was supposed to do.  Even though I didn't know what I believed anymore, I did the things I knew were right. I actually sat in a missionary discussion about the plan of happiness.  Even if everything else wasn't true, this is the one thing I wanted to be a part of, because in the end, everything is good and we can be with our families forever.

I'm still scared, and at times hurt and upset, but I'm happier when I do the things I grew up knowing I needed to do. When I'm serving and searching for my answers, I just feel like there is a purpose for everything that happened. I'm still not 100% okay with everything, but I have found joy again, even more joy, because of leaning on Heavenly Father.  I know He has a plan for me, a plan much greater than I understand right now.

(To read more details of her experience, visit her BLOG)


That We Might Have Joy: Whitney's Story

I’m a college student, a music major. I’m a devoted daughter, sister, and friend. The most important aspect of my life is my relationship with my Heavenly Father and with Jesus Christ.

After getting to know me, people often ask, “How are you so happy all the time?” or they’ll exclaim, “I think you’re the happiest person I know!” If I tell them that I’ve been dealing with chronic depression and anxiety since I was nine, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder since I was thirteen, their eyes cloud over in confusion. I can see on their faces the question in their minds, “How can this be?”

Anxiety is so hard. I’m afraid of everything. I worry that all of the things I need to get done will push me over and then trample me. I’m scared that I won’t be happy in the future. I have nightmares. What if’s plague my mind.

Depression is so frustrating. I feel extra tired and lay in bed all day. I have no motivation to do anything whatsoever. I feel despondent for no reason. Sometimes I don’t even desire to take the steps I need to take in order to pull myself out of it. The future seems bleak.

Sometimes I feel both anxiety and depression both at once.

When I’m trapped in the black abyss I wonder to myself, “Why haven’t I overcome this already? I’ve been dealing with it for ten years. I should be better at this by now.” And I am better at dealing with it now than I used to be, but the problem still persists, because this is mortality, and mortality is just plain hard.

To my puzzled friends, I explain that my walks in the darkness have taught me to love light. The pain I’ve known has taught me to cherish and cleave unto joy. The anguish I’ve felt has brought me closer to my Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

I find joy despite depression through relying on my Savior. It is during my darkest hours that I’ve poured out my heart to my Heavenly Father most fervently and with most sincerity. And it is during these heartfelt conversations with my Maker that I have felt the most tender and profound expressions of His Divine love for me. I can think of nothing else that could possibly bring me greater joy. It is during these times that I desire to jump up and proclaim to the world of the mercy and pure joy that come from our Heavenly Father and His Son and the knowledge of their Redeeming Plan of Happiness.

However, sometimes God doesn’t take away the pain immediately. Occasionally, I have to stick it out, and it’s really tough. Really tough. Sometimes it will last for days or weeks. In fact, I’ve been through periods of months marked by continual depression and anxiety. But this I know for a fact: no matter how bleak the darkness may be, or how gray the nothingness and numbness of life may feel, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is the light that emanates from the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I know that life is full of joy. It can be found. Sometimes we must dig really deep to find that joy, but when we do, it is that much more meaningful and rewarding.


Ta-Da List

Several months ago, I read a blog post on a friend's blog where she talked about "Ta-Da Lists."  What is a "Ta-Da List" you may ask?  Well it's similar to a "To-Do List," except that you write it after you get things done instead of before.

Making "Ta-Da Lists" has made a huge difference to me these last couple of months.  It means that I get credit for getting out of bed, getting dressed, taking care of my daughter, and surviving on the days that that's all I can do.

But some days, I have a few hours of feeling really good, and I pack that time full of all the things I have been wanting to do for a long time and haven't been able to.  My "Ta-Da List" looks really good on those days.

And then some glorious, wonderful, blessed days, I feel good the entire day and get to enjoy the splendor of feeling normal again.  My "Ta-Da List" looks exceptional on those days!

Yesterday was one of those days-- a glorious, wonderful, blessed, "normal" day-- and this was my "Ta-Da List":
  • I made cream of wheat for breakfast (I have not made breakfast without Kyle home in a VERY long time!)
  • I did my hair (seriously, this is a big deal most days)
  • Brooklyn and I went to the pet shop just for fun (leaving the house is a big deal too)
  • We also went to the library (we used to go every week but we haven't gone regularly in a long time so it was good to spend time there again)
  • We also also went to play at a friend's house (this isn't a big deal because I love this friend but it was still something I did)
  • I listened to scriptures
  • I crocheted
  • I got all the dishes done (this is usually a daily struggle but not yesterday!) 
  • I got all the laundry washed and dried (this might just be considered a miracle)  :)
Perhaps the best part of making my "Ta-Da Lists" is texting them to my husband throughout the day.  He celebrates with me, he congratulates me, he tells me he appreciates my efforts, and he recognizes that I am trying.  He blesses my life so much!

I am learning to celebrate this life as it is-- to fully enjoy the days of light and to be patient with myself on the days of darkness.  Because getting out of bed and surviving should be considered an accomplishment if that's the greatest thing I do some days!  


Light Breaking through the Darkness

These last few days, I was surrounded by darkness, a darkness so thick and so intense that I was sure I would be defeated.  I was sure that it would never let up and that I would never see the light again or live to tell the story of my darkness.  I held on with all my might as the mania/panic/whatever-else-it-could-be coursed through my veins like poison.  And I cried.  The tears flowed freely through the pain and confusion.

A large part of the pain was the fact that my diagnosis was removed and that the name for the awful feelings was removed with it.  Was I feeling panic?  Was I feeling mania?  Was it something completely different from those two things?  How would anyone begin to understand all the frightening feelings I was experiencing if they didn't even have a name?  It shouldn't have mattered if they had a name or not, but for some reason it did, and it weighed on my mind and heart so heavily.  I was filled with loneliness and fear.

Then thoughts of death began to enter my mind, but they weren't my own thoughts.  They would come suddenly, randomly, and uncontrollably, but I knew for a fact that I didn't invite them in.  I fought to remove them, but I was so tired and so weak.  So I cried and I slept a lot.  Crying helped relieve some of the intense pain, and sleeping acted as an escape from the terror.

I tried serving others to see if that would bring some light into my life, but the darkness was stubborn and wouldn't go away, so I cried as I served.  I bore my testimony on Sunday, because I knew that I needed to hear myself say what I know.  It felt like the only bit of strength I could hold onto.

Yesterday, I was supposed to go grocery shopping.  I woke up in the morning feeling an overwhelming weight of stress about going shopping.  How would I ever figure out the menus, make a shopping list, go to two stores, find everything, buy it, load it in the car, come home, bring some of it up (Kyle does most of that part), and put it away?  I couldn't fathom it.  Not to mention the overwhelming thought of having to prepare that food for the next two weeks.  I probably could have told Kyle how I felt and I'm sure he would have helped, but I didn't want to burden him with yet another thing that I couldn't do.  I was busy in the morning with something, but coming home, I cried.  I couldn't do it.  I just couldn't do it.

I came inside my apartment and went to my room to take a nap.  I needed to escape again.  But first, I cried some more.  I felt like I was stuck living in a nightmare, and I didn't know how I would ever be strong enough to endure until I could feel some relief.  These were the thoughts on my mind as I drifted off to sleep.

After who knows how long, I woke up to hear my phone vibrating.  It was a text.  It read:
My wife, Mary, has always loved sunflowers. She rejoices when they, in quite improbable places, appear on the roadside. There is a dirt road that leads to the home where my grandparents lived. When we started down that road, Mary would often exclaim, “Do you think we will see those amazing sunflowers today?” We were surprised that sunflowers flourish in soil which has been impacted by farm and snow removal equipment and the accumulation of materials that would not be considered ideal soil for wildflowers to grow. One of the remarkable characteristics of young wild sunflowers, in addition to growing in soil that is not hospitable, is how the young flower bud follows the sun across the sky. In doing so, it receives life-sustaining energy before bursting forth in its glorious yellow color. Like the young sunflower, when we follow the Savior of the world, the Son of God, we flourish and become glorious despite the many terrible circumstances that surround us. He truly is our light and life.
Just as soon as I had read the text, I got a call from a local florist asking if it was a good time to deliver flowers.  I answered that it was, and she said that she would come by sometime in the next hour.

Feeling a surge of energy from imagining myself as a sunflower flourishing despite the darkness of mental illness, I got up and started the shopping list.  I still didn't know how I would manage to do everything required to complete the grocery shopping, but I knew I could at least make the list.  When the list was done, there was a knock at the door.  I answered it and was greeted by a florist holding a beautiful bouquet of yellow flowers.

My eyes immediately filled with happy, thankful tears as I took this beautiful bouquet of light into my kitchen.  It filled me with the light and joy that had been missing from my life the last few days.  It filled me with energy and gave me hope.  I couldn't help but smile as I looked at these beautiful flowers!

I left to go shopping and cried the whole way to the store as I reflected on how a dear friend had followed the Spirit and had blessed my life in a way that only God could have known I needed.  I thanked Heavenly Father for this tender gift of service and felt an overwhelming feeling of His mindfulness of me.

And then...

I GOT THE GROCERY SHOPPING DONE!!!  That doesn't sound like a miracle, but it was literally a miracle!  The whole time I was shopping, I thought about this experience with the flowers and felt the strength of the Savior helping me to keep going and lifting the darkness that had filled my heart and mind for a few days.  I knew that I had won one more battle, and I was one step closer to winning the war.

When I got home, my husband commented that I was being silly, goofy, and energetic.  I couldn't help but thank God again for how this courageous act of following the Spirit had transformed my day and my weekend, so that I could enjoy the evening with my husband before he had to go back to work.

From this experience, I learned:

  • Light is always there!  It will always return, even when it leaves for a time.
  • Do not give up when the darkness fills your life.  There is always hope and always a reason to live.
  • God often meets our needs through other people.
  • Never forego following a prompting from the Spirit.  You never know how much that person needs it!
  • We can grow and flourish through all of the most difficult circumstances.
  • We can do hard things!