Thursday, December 24, 2015

I'd Like One Christmas Miracle, Please.

Christmas is tomorrow and to use a much overused phrase, I'm feeling all the feelings. It's going to be an interesting Christmas, for sure. I'm not really sure how to feel about it.

On the one hand, for the first time in months I feel amazing. Last September I started weaning myself off what I thought was an extra antidepressant I didn't need to be on. (You may remember me complaining about withdrawal. Often.) Well, turns out I really did need to be on it. Once the withdrawal symptoms finally subsided, new but equally unpleasant symptoms showed themselves. I was not in a good place. I was most often angry, bitter, annoyed, anxious, and often overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness. I didn't get back on the medication right away for reasons I won't go into *coughObamacare* but finally I decided enough is enough and got back on it. Literally within a day I felt like a new person. Like my old self. I'd forgotten what it felt like to laugh and smile, to feel happy and normal, to want to get out of bed and do stuff, to get on Facebook and Instagram and smile at the posts and "like" them instead of rolling my eyes and thinking things I'm ashamed of. I am so eternally grateful for modern medicine and self-revelation that showed me what I needed to do.

Yet as I'm skipping through my sunny days now, I watch my own sweet mother spiral ever downward and I've never felt so scared and helpless in my life. Many of you know the severity of her struggles of late but many of you don't. I haven't spoken much publicly about it to respect her privacy, but as time goes on the secrecy just seems silly and frankly, she needs all the prayers and good thoughts she can get. Besides, if she had some serious physical, medical ailment, there would be no secrecy at all, so why should this be any different?

For the last month or more she has been being treated for severe depression at Sacred Heart in Spokane. She is home now but returns once a week for electroshock therapy treatments. So far she's had 12 with no sign of improvement and we're not sure what the next step is. We pray, we fast, we pray some more. We research online and talk to friends and family who've gone through similar things. We talk to doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, etc. We try it all. And when nothing changes, we try not to lose hope. But it's hard. It's so very, very hard.

So you see, I'm not sure what to feel about Christmas this year. How can I be excited and happy when my mom is suffering so agonizingly? What we need is an honest to goodness real life Christmas miracle. If you're the praying type, and feel so inclined, please pray for my angel mother. Maybe with enough prayers we can get that miracle after all.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Happiest Depressed Person I Know

Warning: If you’re prone to feeling like people are “over-sharing” when they share deeply personal things online, feel free to stop reading now.

I’ve never kept my anxiety/depression a secret, but I’m not overly vocal about it, either.  I stopped being ashamed of it a long time ago.  I’ve made peace with the fact that it will be a lifelong struggle for me, that I will be on medication for the rest of my life just to feel…not normal, but as close to normal as I can get.  I’m okay with that.  But some people—a lot of people—don’t get it.  Mental illness still carries such a stigma, despite the growing numbers of people who suffer from it.  It’s still a taboo topic in society and often looked upon with pity, judgment, and misunderstanding.  Unless you’ve suffered from it yourself, or are close to someone who suffers from it, you just don’t get it.  You can’t.  And that’s not your fault.  But you can try.  Try to put yourself in their shoes.  In mine.

I was 14 when I was diagnosed with a chemical imbalance.  I had suffered from severe anxiety attacks my entire childhood but had no name to attach to them.  I just thought I was overly scared of things, things that seemed ridiculous to most people but were very real to me.  I had never heard of anxiety or panic attacks.  Depression was people who slept all the time and talked like Eeyore.  Mental illness was crazy people in psychiatric institutions.  My parents weren’t familiar enough with it either to be able to pinpoint what was wrong with me, or that anything was wrong with me beyond normal childhood fears.

But then puberty hit and with it, hormonal changes.  The chemicals in my brain couldn’t keep up, and the daunting task of starting high school put me over the edge.  I finally got bad enough that my mom saw the need to take me to a psychiatrist.  Here I received my fist diagnosis and a script for an antidepressant.  I learned what a panic attack was, and could finally put a name to the all-consuming, completely debilitating episodes that had plagued me my entire life.  Those times when hell had opened up and had threatened to suck me in.  There was a name for it.  I couldn’t believe it.

But I was angry.  I was scared.  I was in serious denial.  I just wanted to be like all the other kids and be normal and happy and free of stupid, embarrassing fears.  I was furious that I had to take a pill just to feel normal.  So I didn’t.  I only took it every three days when the withdrawal symptoms set in and I couldn’t handle the electric shocks in my brain and the way the room spun every time I moved.  I was young and stupid and didn’t understand that my brain needed that medicine like a diabetic needs insulin. 

I proceeded through high school this way; mostly ok, but totally unable to cope when things in my world went horribly wrong.  I couldn’t handle big changes, especially changes in relationships, and when that happened, I fell apart.  I bounced from therapist to therapist, getting no help at all.  One guy would talk about his other patients, then mutely stare out the window for 5 minutes.  Another one said I was doing too well on my medication and he couldn’t help me unless I stopped taking it and got some of my symptoms back.  After a trip to Seattle to have a psychiatrist tell me I was “textbook” and then proceed to relay everything I had told him in confidence to my mother, we gave up.  (I knew that last guy couldn’t be trusted when I saw a cartoon drawing pinned to his bulletin board in his office, the punchline being something about Prozac.)  I was done with therapists.

After high school, I got married and got pregnant and things went downhill again. (Pregnancy hormones and mental illness don’t mix well.)  I was a mess and my doctor switched my meds up.  That was when I learned that antidepressants only work for 5-10 years (sometimes less) and then your body decides it’s used to them and they stop working.  This was also the time my diagnosis was switched from “chemical imbalance” to “severe anxiety disorder” and “depression.”

My pregnancies were rough.  The second one rougher than the first.  I barely made it through, and only with the help of an increased dosage of meds and another one added for good measure.  After two miserable bouts of post-partum depression, I knew my body couldn’t do another pregnancy, and that’s something I struggle with every single day.

Moms with anxiety and depression raising young kids deserve some special award for bravery. (Dads too.) It was arguably the hardest thing I have ever done.  Lack of sleep, crying babies, sick kids, the constant demand for attention, is hard enough.  Throw in emotional instability and you have a recipe for disaster.  But here’s the thing:  we can still do it.  People do it every day.  And we’re still amazing parents.  My kids are older now and pretty self-sufficient but the challenge is not gone.  It’s just different. 

So here’s why I don’t talk about my anxiety/depression.  Because people like happy endings.  They don’t mind hearing your story if it’s in the past tense.  But the minute you admit you’re still smack in the middle of that story, things get awkward.  But to most sufferers of mental illness, the happy ending is not “and then I was cured. The end.” It’s “I get through every day, and some of those days are good, and some are crap, but I keep going and that’s something I’m proud of.”  And that’s the happy ending.

Also, remember how I said that people who don’t have it just don’t get it?  Those people like it when they can fit mental illness sufferers into a neat little package with a neat little label on it.  Bipolar.  Schizophrenic.  Manic depressive.  But guess what, Mr. Doctor In Seattle With Totally Unprofessional Cartoon On Wall?  There’s nothing textbook about me, or my illness.  You can’t file me away under one category and call it good.  Despite what my file says under “diagnosis,” I’m not anything that will make sense in anyone’s brain that hasn’t been there.

So what is it like to be in my shoes? I’ll give you an idea.

It’s standing in the middle of your kitchen, seeing the dirty dishes, and being so overwhelmed by the prospect of doing them that the only thing you can think to do is crawl back into bed.

It’s getting on Instagram and seeing all the pictures of fellow moms doing things like baking, and taking their kids to the pumpkin patch, and volunteering at the school, and dreaming about what that must be like, to just decide to do those things and actually be able to do them.

It’s being proud of yourself for showering and putting on real clothes that aren’t pajamas today.

It’s wondering how much longer until your kids start to call you out on things you and they both know you should be doing but aren’t, then realizing it’s already started happening.

It’s being so consumed with self-doubt and guilt and feelings of inadequacy that sometimes you can’t breathe.

It’s falling to your knees and pleading with God to “just feel normal.”

It’s feeling so unbelievably tired that your bones feel like they’re filled with metal instead of marrow, and your brain is full of sand, and the only thing you have energy enough to do is sleep.

It’s dreaming up different ways to try and make your family think you did something other than sleep all day without actually having to lie to them.

It’s thinking back to the days when you were young and carefree and your biggest worry was which CD to buy and wondering if you will ever, ever feel like that again.

It’s wondering why the little things that people do every day, the mundane tasks that they don’t have to work at doing, are like climbing Everest for you.

It’s worrying that even though you think you feel ok, you’re missing out on all the feelings that other people feel every day, because your medicine numbs you, and you’d have no way of ever knowing.

You may read these and think they sound like the statements a severely depressed person would make.  But you’d be wrong.  (At least in my case.) And that’s why I don’t fit into any one mold.  Because I’m a “happy” person.  Ask any of my friends and family members.  I’m talkative, friendly, outgoing.  I laugh and joke around and sing.  I know it seems impossible that that could be one person, but it’s true.  And that’s the beauty (ugliness?) of mental illness.  It doesn’t make any sense.  I don’t fit into the “depression” category.  I don’t even fit perfectly into the “anxiety” category.  I’m not bipolar, either, sleeping all day and moping around and then suddenly singing and dancing and cleaning my house.  I am ALL of these things at ALL the same time.  And when I’m happy and talkative, I’m not hiding my depression either.  It’s still there, just pushed to the back.  It’s all there—the good, the bad—all of it, always.  I am the happiest depressed person I know.

So please, please don’t read this and think, “Wow, I had no idea Alicia was doing so bad.  She needs help.”  I’m getting all the help I can get.  And I’m ok.  This is me.  It’s my life.  It’s always been my life and will always be my life and I will never give up hoping for something better but in the meantime I have to accept what is.

What is my purpose in telling you all of this?  Understanding.  Understanding for the person in your life who suffers from any mental illness.  Because I promise you there is someone.  Understand they are not less than.  Understand they can still be happy and act normal and they are not faking it.  Understand that things you take for granted being able to do every day are monumental feats for them to accomplish.  Understand that the best thing you can do for them is to listen when they want to talk about it, show compassion, and don’t try to fix them.  Because you can’t.  That is worth repeating: YOU CAN’T FIX THEM.  Trying will only make them resent you.  Tell them that you love them, no matter what, and you are so sorry they have to deal with stuff that you can’t even begin to imagine on a daily basis.  Make sure they know you are always there for them.  Most importantly, don’t judge.  Until you’ve been there, you can’t judge.  And if you have been there, then why would you judge??!!

Feel free to text/message/call/email me if you have questions or want to talk.  I am ALWAYS willing to talk about this, and I am always amazed at how many people suffer from it.  People who are suffering in silence, people who are scared to speak up because of the reasons I listed above.  To those I say, please know you are not alone. 

Let’s rid the world of the stigma that surrounds mental illness and start talking about it. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Hi. I'm Alicia. I'm a Christian and I Love Gay People.

I have read two separate articles/blog posts today written by people in support of traditional marriage.  Both posts began with the authors saying how nervous they were to be writing about the topic, because of the side they happen to be on.  One said his fingers were literally trembling at his keyboard.

Why is that?

Why should we, or anyone for that matter, be so terrified to speak up about something in which we/they believe so strongly?  What are we so afraid of? 

Being judged?  Yes.

Being hated?  Yes.

Hurting the feelings of people we love and respect?  Absolutely.

Being called narrow-minded, hateful, bigoted?  Most definitely.

We have every reason to be scared.  Because so much of the world hates us right now.  Hates us for being religious, a word they spit out with disgust and venom.  Hates us for worshiping and following a God they see as a fairytale, or worse.  Hates us for being the "modern-day KKK," the proverbial white man on the bus ("religious person") making Rosa Parks ("gay person") move to the back.  Because she's lesser, not equal, not as good as us.  You laugh at the ridiculousness, I know, but the comparison has been made, and sadly enough, it's not the worst thing being said.

And yet, the hypocrisy is unbelievable.  Advocates of gay marriage stand on a platform of equality, acceptance, and LOVE FOR ALL*.  See fine print: *"All" encompasses only those who support gay marriage.  If you don't, you are a hateful, bigoted spawn of Satan who deserves to be beheaded. 

See the irony?

And here's the crazy part:  I DO LOVE ALL!!! 

Hi.  My name is Alicia.  I'm a Christian--a Mormon, nonetheless (gasp)--and I love gay people.  I love transgendered people.  I love everyone.  I even want everyone to be happy.  I want everyone to feel equal and no one to feel less-than or discriminated against.  Is this often a conflict with my belief that marriage is ordained by God and should only be between a man and a woman?

Every.  Single.  Day.

Because I know that by fighting to maintain that sacred definition of marriage, millions of people feel discriminated against.  Do I hate that?  Yes.  Does it mean I'm going to give up my belief, nay, my knowledge that marriage is ordained by God when done the way He intended?  Never in a million years.

So you see?  It's possible to disagree with someone's choices and beliefs and still feel love and compassion for them.  I know so many people don't want to believe that.  It's easier to get mad and feel angry and spew vitriol at those of us who believe differently than they do.  It's easier to refuse to believe that we still love and accept the very people who have made choices we don't agree with.  So weird, but, the very word "Christian" actually means "follower of Christ."  We strive to pattern our lives after Christ's.  And Christ was, is, and always will be the very definition of unconditional love.  Did he love that the woman being stoned had committed adultery?  Heck no.  Did he love the woman?  Without a doubt.  See?  It can be done.  And it is done.  By millions of Christians, every single day.

Are all Christians accepting and loving and not hateful toward gays?  No.  Does that mean all Christians should be lumped together into one big ball of hateful, narrow-minded, unaccepting people?  No.  Because that would be....yep, bigotry.

All I ask is for some fairness.  All I ask is to be given the same acceptance, tolerance, and love, despite my differing beliefs, that those on the opposing side are fighting so hard for.  I ask for the hypocrisy to stop and the equality that is so desired to be given to ALL people, including people like me, who oppose gay marriage.  Because that is true equality, is it not?

And lastly, I ask my fellow Christians, my fellow supporters of traditional marriage, to speak up too.  I plead with you to stop hiding behind your computer screens and quietly feeling anger and frustration and fear.  Because I know you want to speak up too, or, at least, you have things you'd love to say.  You wouldn't believe how many people have messaged me privately, ardently agreeing with me and saying they feel exactly the same way.  But why are they messaging me in private?! Why won't they speak out??  Because of fear, and because they, like me, know and love people that they would undoubtedly offend.  But I ask you this: Has my post about acceptance and love offended you?  Any of you?

The time for silence is over.  The time to speak is now.  Our side needs a voice too, and we are being drowned out by the opposition.  The world cannot know how strongly we feel about our convictions unless we tell it.  Not by bashing the opposing side but by stating our beliefs in a loving, Christlike way.  Because if we all truly acted in the name of love--as we are all claiming to--maybe we could start to see eye to eye.  And wouldn't that be a wonderful thing?