When it Just Hurts

You know the feeling.

You wake up at first light, eyes puffy, head aching, processing the emotional hangover from the night before.

Miscommunication. Sharp words. Raised voices. Stomping feet. Slamming doors. Hurt feelings. Tears. Sleeplessness. Self-pity, loneliness, despair, isolation…

Being human is hard. We are all complicated beings, shaped by our experiences and our current situations. We carry these things with us and are triggered by things we can’t identify fast enough to avoid the damage they cause. The ones nearest to us get the overflow, and so on and so on. Hurt rarely singles out the original culprit. It seeps and crawls and oozes it’s way into everything you touch, bringing with it the pain and suffering and heartache that started as only a pinprick on your heart. That is the landslide of the power of hurt.

But God.

Yes, I have a sensitive soul. I’ll be the first to admit it. I can still feel the way my heart broke at 6-years-old, watching my parents fight. I can still feel the sadness in 2nd grade learning about MLK Jr., learning for the first time that people hated each other simply for the color of their skin. I can still feel the tears on my face when my favorite cat died. I can still feel the tears falling on my white butterfly comforter when I was told we were moving in 5th grade. I can still feel the dread of going to school in 6th grade because that kid who made fun of me everyday would be there. I can still feel the grip of my car’s steering wheel as I drove through tears after my high-school boyfriend broke up with me. I can still feel the ache of homesickness when I left for college.

I can still feel that hurt. But what I hurt most for, is that girl.

That was a girl that often felt unloved, unworthy, insecure. A girl who stuffed all her hurt inside to please everyone around her and who felt like it was her responsibility alone to keep her world from crumbling. A girl who’s unprotected heart was free range for the world to manipulate and destroy.

But I’m not that girl anymore.

The girl I am now, the woman I am, is different. Her heart resides in a place built on solid ground, a place so safe and beautiful that evil cannot touch her there. Light beams from the windows and never lets the darkness in. It’s clean and comfortable and full of warm blankets and comfy chairs and fresh baked cookies and scented candles and love and safety.

Safety.

My heart lives in the Father’s house now, where there is safety and security and peace. Hurt sometimes makes it up to the front porch, but Jesus sees it, out of the corner of his eye…he goes and grabs a broom from the pantry and quickly sweeps it away. Sometimes the hurt gets bolder, dares to knock at the door, sometimes even manages to crack it open slightly, but Jesus comes over, smiles and says confidently, “No, thank you. You’re not welcome here. Have a nice day!”

And I remain inside, safe and sound, probably on the couch with my blanket and my coffee and my Jesus.

Our world will throw hurt at us faster than we can handle. It is healthy to acknowledge and feel our hurt. But we don’t have to handle it alone. I’m so grateful that I know that now. I’m so grateful for an identity and a heart that is forever safe in Him.

I pray for continued strength, for patience, for a safe place to go when I am hurt. I pray there will always be a warm, inviting, loving place for me on that couch next to Jesus. And I pray that you will hear the best news ever…that there’s plenty of room for you there, too.

There will always be room for you.

From Post to Prayer

Goodness me…where to start.

This year. This few months. This week.

The tension, the noise, the fear, the injustice. All of it is just too much sometimes. And yet what are we doing? We are letting it sweep us away.

It’s happened to me lately and I’m just now realizing it.

I try not to read or watch the news too often. To me it’s only healthy in bite-size, honest doses. But I’ve always defended social media, to some degree. I love seeing what my friends are doing! I love the inspirational stories and causes! Yes, I found this cute dress on my Facebook feed!

But lately I’ve caught myself red-handed. I’ve caught myself scrolling past the good, past the new puppy pics and vacation stories to find the controversy. On purpose. Like it’s some tv show I’m waiting to see play out. What extreme view will this person post today? What names will she be called? How does this side defend themselves to that side?

My Facebook feed has become my favorite new reality show.

Yes, I always try to call people out and remind them to love, no matter what. I try to point them to trust in their faith in the least pushy way possible because I’ve seen the fruit produced from my journey. But even so, I’m still engaging in the endless online banter. I’m still stirring the pot by reacting. And there’s a fine line between acting with love and just trying to prove a point.

But today I spent 30 full minutes just reading the back and forth of responses to someone’s post. The harsh words, the expletives, the public lashings in both directions were terrible, and yet I ate it up. Just couldn’t put it down. It was completely sad and completely entertaining all at the same time.

But it’s just for fun right?

Try to remember…on the other side of the screen are people. Actual, real humans. People with their own stories, their own experiences. People who are being verbally torn down and attacked because they don’t feel real. Because how dare they disagree with you. Because it’s easy to say whatever you want when not looking someone in the eye.

How do I feel after reading that enticing online rant? Or trying to prove a point with my quick-to-judge comment? Refreshed? Satisfied? Justified? Usually not. Maybe for a minute or two, and then I realize the emptiness behind it. Half the time I don’t even know this person. Just because I feel strongly about something, that gives me the right to interject without knowing someone’s story or experience? To think I’m the be-all, know-all on a subject? That because I have emotions about what someone said that I have to react to it just to get my rant out? Oh how I wish we could all go back to old school, hand-written, locking diaries sometimes!

It’s hard enough for my middle-aged brain to comprehend all this online rhetoric right now, but I can’t even imagine how the younger generations are handling all the negative energy out there. I’m so thankful that social media didn’t exist when I was an adolescent…but that’s a whole other topic.

My point is this: what if we took all that energy we want to throw into that post, that online conversation, that thing you just want to scream out for all the world to hear, and said it to the One who can really take it? Who can take your screams for injustice? Who can take your mourning and your anxieties and your deepest fears and use them for good??

What if we turned our posts into prayers?

When I find myself in that dark place, when my heart hurts so bad that I feel lost and alone, I go straight to my Bible app. I search for verses to help with what I am feeling. I seek out a story that will center me and remind me that God is good, all the time. And if I really need to, I will sit down and give it all to Him; whether it’s through prayer, through worship, or just being still and listening. I give it all the One who wants all of me, good, bad and ugly. To the One who has offered to carry all my burden without any conditions.

Will there be a risk of a public mockery? Will I be called names and belittled and shamed for all the world wide web to see? Will I loose friends and followers and risk being censored or banned or exploited?

Not at all.

I will be loved.

Unconditionally, unapologetically, eternally loved.

Seems too good to be true right? In this world where we are turning against each other in droves, where people hide behind screens and tear others down in the name of “justice”, where we label and assume and bully and shame in the name of “love”, it’s hard to imagine that there’s an actual safe place to go. We are all increasingly desperate for that safe, loving place. That place where we are loved and heard and held no matter what our opinions are.

It’s available to me, to you, to all. Jesus doesn’t care about your skin color, your political affiliation, your gender, your sexual orientation. The only thing He cares about is your heart. All He wants is a relationship with you. He wants you to come as you are, to lay everything at His feet, and let go. There’s no risk of cyber bullying or public shaming or losing friends or family. It’s between you and Him, and that’s the simple, beautiful truth.

Be mindful that after you give Him your all through prayer, after begging and pleading and unloading the heaviness in your heart, you may not get immediate answers. You probably won’t hear a big booming voice or a crack of thunder (like in the movies!). In fact, you may not see any change at all. But give it time. Prayer isn’t a magic wand you can waive over a situation to make it all better. It’s a humbling act of spiritual giving that asks for mercy and giving in return. It peels away the layers of our hearts, exposes the darkest parts to the light to be made better. It takes time and patience and trust. It takes new eyes to see and new ears to hear. Sometimes the answers are smaller than dust and quieter than a whisper, but they are there. The more you expose your heart in prayer, the more the answers will become clear. The more you pay attention to the nudges, the more will follow. It’s like seeing the tiniest crack of light in the darkest tunnel, and trusting that everyday, with every prayer, that crack will open just a bit more. It’s our lifeline, our compass, the light unto our path.

Ok, now I’m feeling pushy.

I always hesitate to share my spiritual beliefs with others. I truly respect all people’s beliefs and don’t want anyone to feel that they won’t be loved and accepted because of my views. Most of my blog posts are gentle in my approach, because I get it. I get the scars that people have because of their “religious” friends and family. I get the anxieties of being judged and feeling “not good enough” when it comes to church, even in the eyes of God. I know you think following Christ means you have to follow this ridiculous set of rules. I have heard those lies too and I know many of you still believe them. I have a whole blog about it, in fact.

But these days, when the negative presence and evil in our world feels palpable, when hate is literally breeding at a breakneck pace, where love and humility are being drowned out by all the noise, I can’t not speak up about the freedom that is available to us all through Christ. I can’t sit back and pretend I don’t know the antidote to this madness. In my darkest hours, in my most desperate moments, it’s been my constant. My place of rest.

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes that is the only thing I have left to say.

Do you ever see the same number over and over again? Like you always wake up at the same time? Or you keep seeing the same time when you look at the clock? For me, for the last couple of years, that number has been 4:20. When I’d wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night…4:20. When I’d hear my favorite song…4:20. When I heard shocking news about the health of a friend…4:20.

When it started to become more of a “thing”, I went to a trusted friend (who wouldn’t totally write me off as crazy) and mentioned it. She told me to go to the Bible, see if there was a verse with those numbers that resonated with me. Um, okay…I thought, skeptical. But I kept an open mind and kept digging. There were some good ones, words that spoke to me. But I kept coming back to Acts 4:20.

“For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

I have found so much freedom from anxiety through blogging, through sharing my truth. I love to help others through their own journey, but I always hesitated to bring in my spiritual journey. But this verse spoke loud and clear to me. I have seen and heard the love of Jesus. He has helped me through my darkest hours, filled the voids that nothing else ever could, taught me the power of humility and forgiveness. How could I leave Him out of my story? So it was time to speak.

Still it was hard. I didn’t want to loose friends or offend anyone. To loose a chance to help people with anxiety because they were turned off by my beliefs. And then one day, while hiking up in the north Georgia mountains, the alarm on my phone went off randomly. I took it out of my pocket and looked at the screen.

4:20.

I hadn’t set an alarm, I hardly ever do. I’m sure it was one of my kids, let’s be real. But what are the chances of it being for that specific time? It stopped me in my tracks.

It was time to listen to the nudges.

So here I am. Almost contradicting myself because I’m sharing my thoughts online while telling you to put them into prayer…oops! But sometimes we need a little reminder, a little encouragement to get us going. A story that is authentic and hard to share in the name of inspiring others. To speak of what I have seen and heard… not my political opinions, my annoyances with this or that, my frustrations with society.

I want to speak about the good news. The news that we are all completely loved and enough. That perfect love cannot be offended. The last time I checked, I didn’t see that headline at the top of any recent news story.

What I’m not saying, is don’t act on issues that break your heart. If something bothers you to your core, please speak up to a trusted friend or a reliable source. Slow down and do the work and find the right avenues to accomplish the goal. Pray about it or meditate on it and really process your emotions first before you divulge them all on a public media forum. Take a step back and a deep breath and stop yourself before you add fuel to the already blazing fire. Social media sounding boards may not help you achieve anything, as tempting as it is (yes, I’ve fallen for it too!). I bet if we put down Facebook and put in some face time to solve our issues, we would be making way more progress.

The bottom line is this…we all have a lot to say. We see hate and injustice and evil all around us. We want to fight back and do what’s right and speak our minds. But we must be careful, because as humans, we take offense. We offend others even when we don’t realize it. It’s so hard to avoid right now. The atmosphere of media and online chatter is toxic, it’s so easy and so available to us. But there’s a better way to vent. There’s a Savior that’s always available to you, with open arms and a listening ear and a spirit that doesn’t take offense.

So next time you are angered, upset, even enraged with someone or something that you read online, try turning to prayer instead of that keyboard. Give it to God instead of going on Facebook. Shout it to the heavens instead of the internet.

Then be still, and know that sometimes the best feedback you can get is so quiet that only your soul can hear.

My Mind is Playing Tricks On Me

You are what you think.

Mind over matter.

Think it, be it.

Yes, you’ve heard the phrases, but the idea is the same…our thoughts help shape who we are.

After the trauma and shame of the first few years of my panic attacks started to taper off, I found myself wanting to know more about them. Certainly this occurrence didn’t come without a biological explanation, right? This wasn’t some random crazy voodoo that was making me feel like I was dying all the time, was it? Knowledge is power, and I was determined to get to the bottom of my seemingly broken brain.

So I started to research and read every panic attack and anxiety/depression book that was out there. It was overwhelming, and I got all hung up and intimidated by the big fancy psychological terms and charts and graphs and exercises, finding myself discouraged yet again. Would I ever find out how to understand what was wrong with me?!!

It’s been 15 years since my first panic attack, and it’s been a journey to say the least. But in that time I have definitely gained a better grip on what exactly makes the brain pull these kind of pranks on us. I’ve found that logical explanations based on neuroscience and psychology can really bring a light to the darkness of anxiety.

Let’s start with our cognitive behavior.

When you her the word cognitive, what do you think of? Looks fancy, right? The word cognitive simply refers to our conscious intellectual activity, such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering. It’s basically using our conscious brain in reference to our daily lives. When we think a thought, recall a moment, try to solve a problem, we are being cognitive. Our conscious thoughts, however, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complexity of our mind.

Good old Sigmund Freud conjured up the earliest concept of the three levels of the human mind, which in their complexity are not capable of being scientifically proven, but widely accepted among psychologists as the standard example of how our thoughts are used and stored. This is often referred to as the “iceberg theory” (hence my clever reference above).

Our conscious thoughts, which guide us through our day to day, are just a fraction of what lies beneath the surface. In our subconscious, we store the emotions and associations tied to these thoughts beyond much of our control, based on recent experiences or behaviors. The unconscious level is the deepest and hardest to reach, where blocked-out trauma, carnal human needs, and old forgotten memories reside. For more analysis and explanation, here is a great article that breaks it down.

When you suffer from panic attacks, your number one goal is to make them stop. As I’ve learned and mentioned before, you can manage them, but you will never be able to completely stop them. This is where acceptance is key. You can, however, greatly improve the frequency and intensity of your panic attacks in many different ways. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of my favorite tools in my anxiety toolbox, and I hope it can help you, too.

When you suffer with mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and so on, there is some type of faulty informational feedback loop in your mind that is giving you false or negative thoughts that can impair your everyday quality of life. Basically, what CBT claims is that by working to change your thought patterns, you can change your behavior. There are varying CBT exercises that can help with this theory.

I’m going to try to break it down for you as best I can over the next couple of weeks. Next time, I will explore Cognitive Distortions. When I learned about these, it was a game-changer for me. There is a lot to cover, but all I can do is offer what has best helped me, in the hopes that it can help others as well.

Most importantly, if you are in a place of suffering right now, give yourself a break and realize that you are not alone in this. Whether they choose to share it or hide behind a mask of perfection, so many others around you are struggling with similar issues. Don’t be too quick to judge a person from the outside, as you would not wish that for yourself.

We all have weaknesses. We just have to learn to own them and see them for what they are. If we want change, we have to do the work. If we want to love, we have to love ourselves. If we want to help others, we have to share our stories.

I am learning to trust the journey even when I do not understand it.”

-Mila Bron

We may not ever fully understand our journeys, but don’t lose hope. Lean in and trust what comes. You are stronger than you think.

Lift the Shade

Happy New Year!

After realizing that it was January 3rd and my outdoor Christmas lights were still on, I reluctantly pulled the plug and slowly started the process of un-decorating.  It’s been frigid cold here in the Southeast (they are predicting snow in Savannah!!!) and it’s been pajamas for days here in the house. The kids have been sleeping in until 9 am and we’ve all got a serious case of the lazies, which is going to make going back to school tomorrow seem impossible.  But, the world keeps turning, and a new year has begun.  So it goes.

I haven’t blogged in forever, and it’s been looming over my head like more of a chore than a necessity.  Since having both kids in school, I’m not sure what I’ve filled my time with, but I’ve kept myself busy.  I’ve missed writing, but haven’t been able to find the inspiration or drive to start typing. My anxiety has been pretty much under control; a quiet, distant memory at least for now, which has meant even less motivation to write. I had all these grand plans for starting an anxiety support group and producing more in-depth blogging to help those struggling with mental illness, but somehow I’ve side-stepped and found myself focused on more mundane efforts (volunteering, organizing the house, workout classes, Christmas perfection coordinator!?!). Life has been moving at a steady, undramatic pace (ok, minus the usual holiday drama).

Last night, however, I felt a shift. I woke up at some odd hour with a pang of longing, an urge to get up and get the words out. I briefly entertained the idea of popping up immediately and opening my computer with wild fervor (like in the movies!) but I decided going back to sleep was more my speed.  So here I am, after another pajama day, finally getting down to it.

I got news the other day that a friend of a friend had taken her own life.  I didn’t get much of the story, but as I browsed over her obituary on Facebook, took in her beautiful smile and pondered over the sweet words describing her kind spirit, I was struck.  She was about my age, married, strikingly beautiful with a successful career.  She looked like someone who had it all together. I sent a text expressing my condolonces to my friend; the girls had been good friends in college.  She said they had just been in Mexico a couple months ago with a group of friends, but she showed no signs of distress. To gaze upon that picture of her sparkling smile and to know that there was so much silent suffering behind it, that beauty and perfection weren’t enough, was a tragedy.

Her story lit a fire in me, and I knew in that instant that I needed to get back to work.  There are too many people out there, quietly struggling with mental illness, to ignore the cause. Too many beautiful souls smiling through their pain. Too many lives that need saving. I can’t sit back and let it go any longer.

Not long after hearing her story, I heard of another young life taken by choice, a close family friend of a friend who’s son had played baseball with hers. He was only 19.

Although there’s no statistical proof that the holidays have an impact of increased suicide rates (this is generally a myth), it can be a hard, lonely time for many.  If loneliness isn’t the problem, there is added holiday stress, financial burdens, family issues, and little down time.  The self-inflicted perfectionists (guilty as charged!) may not sleep until the last present is wrapped and decoration hung.  Top all that off with colder weather and less sunlight and the holidays can be a bit heavy for some.

There is a disconnect in understanding between those who have struggled with anxiety and depression and those who have only heard stories about it.  To realize that you are in need of serious help is either too embarassing and hard to accept or simply just too complicated to self-diagnose. I’m fortunate to have had only a small taste of depression (I’ve had more acute struggles with anxiety and panic), but once you’ve had a taste, you will never forget it.  It’s a disease that causes your own mind to deceive you, to tell you such enormous lies that you begin to question everything, even your own existance.  It is both tragic and infuritating, and it has the potential to affect us all in one way or another. We owe it to ourselves, and to our loved ones, to make an effort to understand and tame this monster.  There’s no easy answer here, but compassion and understanding are huge bridges towards healing.

That being said, it’s a two-way street.  If someone is unwilling to share, to speak up out of their silence, it will remain that way…silent.  You must be vulnerable in your truth. I opened up about my struggles with mental illness and it has granted me such tremendous freedom.  It is not a crutch or an excuse or a plea for sympathy, but simply a way out of silent suffering.  Ownership and acceptance and transparency can change your life, as scary as it may seem.

Another one of the most freeing things I’ve learned in my journey with anxiety is to give yourself permission to fail.  If you always want everything to be perfect, you will most definitely always fall short.  The pressure of perfection is suffocating. Forgive yourself. Laugh at yourself.  Love yourself no matter what. If you can’t, find the courage to learn how. If it means asking for help to find your courage, that’s okay. Asking for help takes a tremendous amount of courage in itself, even though some may fear perceived weakness.

But listen up, here’s some news for you; if someone calls you weak, guess what? Who gives a shit?!!! (I praise this phrase in one of my previous blog posts, and it still proves to be one of my favorites, although it’s usually just said in my head)!!! Keep on doing whatever you need to become secure in your worthiness. No apologies.

Yes, I still have lots of work to do.  We all do in one way or another.  But I can’t sit back and watch another tragedy without at least trying to do the best I can to help others.  It is my purpose and my duty.  I can’t be responsible for each persons journey, but I can help make a positive impact as much as possible.  I can lend an ear over a cup of coffee or a walk or a simple phone call.  I can take the profound darkness I’ve felt in my past and use it for good.  I have ears that hear and a mouth that speaks and a heart that loves.

So this year, if you see me around, or if you think you need to talk, or if you’re not sure if you need to talk but just need to cry or laugh or hug me, my door is open.  There is no story too silly or embarassing that will phase me.  I’ve been afraid to sit at a stoplight before, I’m still afraid of the dark, and I’ve gone into panic attacks on the most G-rated Disney rides.  I still shutter at the thought of being on a subway, in a crowded room or even just driving a car full of people around. I am working hard at being comfortable being uncomfortable, but it is slow going. There is no shame here, people. If it bothers you, it’s legit.  You can talk about it.  I’m here for you.

Let’s make this year the best ever.  Fear and shame and darkness will fall victim to your light. Just let go and let the shade lift, friend. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

You are so worth it. 

Shirts That Say Things

Right now they are all the rage. You know what I’m talking about…the shirts. The ones with all the words. The statement tees. 

I have a bunch…Mind Over Matter. Keep Calm and (fill-in-the-blank). Good Times and Tan Lines. But First…Coffee. Namast’ay At Home. I Really Want Abs (…olutely all the tacos). 

Okay, that last one still makes me laugh pretty hard.

I like statement tees. They’re cute and fun, a playful way to express yourself. But I yearn for more. I want more than a few catchy phrases hinting at your life’s story. I want the whole story.

When I started struggling with this anxiety stuff, I remember wishing for a shirt that would explain this silent illness to people around me. I would appear calm and put together while crumbling on the inside. There was a disconnect, a fear of showing my true emotions, and shame and frustration in explaining it to people. Yes, I’m laughing and engaging in conversation with you, but I’m also starting to freak out because it’s getting kind of hot in this elevator and I am terrified of having a panic attack but I don’t want to be rude and interrupt you and I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand or care anyway so I’ll just sit here and act like everything is okay so you won’t think less of me but hiding my emotions makes me panic more so that’s why I am fidgety and nervous and taking deep breaths and sweating but please go on and ignore me and act like everything is totally fine. 

Phew. Try putting that on a shirt.

We are lucky enough to be heading out on vacation today. So of course I’m spending the morning at the airport, immersed in a sea of people. I do love the vast variety of people passing by, although sometimes the crowds can be a bit unnerving. All the while, I am vividly aware that my eyes are only witnessing what’s on the surface, and what I see is a fraction of what lies underneath.

I long for their stories. I want to know where they are going. Where they have been. I want to know their fears, what ails them, what their dreams are. I want to know what makes them human.

Of course, compassion is not always my first response . Take the guy behind me in his car the other day, impatiently honking and throwing his hands up while waiting for me to turn left at a busy intersection; he most certainly did not receive my compassionate thoughts at first. And I may have taken a liiiiitle longer to turn with the hopes of teaching him a quick lesson in patience. But beyond my spiteful reaction, I stop to wonder the reason behind his frustration. There’s always more to the story.

Think of the people you encounter everyday, the ones you pass judgment on without knowing so much as their outward appearance or spoken words. What story do they have to tell? Would it help us to understand their words or actions? Their appearance? Their attitude?

Some of them may not want to share their stories. They may be too painful to relive, or perceived as too shameful. They may believe they are all alone in their suffering, without an empathetic ear in the world.

If they only knew.

There is almost always someone else, someone who knows, who can empathize. They ache for a story to parallel their own. It’s out there, just often hidden in the most unexpected places, covered up and buried by the demons of pride and fear.

I’ve been trying something new lately. Whenever someone on the street asks me for money, I ask them, what’s your story? How did you get here? Okay, so I’ve only ever been brave enough to ask two people. The answers were short, generic even…lost my job, health went south, couldn’t pay the bills. But still I wonder…is there more? And does anyone care? How does it feel to be in their shoes? To be ignored and essentially forgotten? Do they even want to try? Am I insensitive to ask? Is their life’s story any of my business? And what can I do about it anyway?

It’s easier to walk by. Some would probably argue that it’s safer too. But these are people. And we as humans ourselves know that there are a lot of long, hard hours logged into being a living, breathing soul. As passers-by we only witness seconds of a full life lived. This is fascinating to me.

So again, what can I do? 

I think the most important thing I could do, that we all can do, is the easiest.

We can listen. 

We can stop and take the time to hear their story, their journey. It costs nothing to us but time, compassion, and a little patience.

And I don’t just mean the homeless guy on the streets, people. The people who need to be heard the most are often the ones you would never, ever guess. The neighbor with the perfectly manicured yard and a house that would make Joanna Gaines jealous. The mom at church whose family looks like they walked straight out of a catalog. The company president who is driving that brand new car.

What you see isn’t always what you get. The people that seem the most put together on the outside are often the ones who are falling apart on the inside.

Perhaps they are afraid, worried that any hint of internal issues may signal weakness and result in social separation and isolation. Maybe their outward appearance is their shield, a powerful suit of armor against the truth that suffocates them. Maybe to them, anything less than perfect is unacceptable.

I drove by a church the other day that had one of the best signs I’d ever seen. It said, Perfect People Not Allowed. It made me want to visit right then. I don’t remember anything else about the church, but that sign was all I needed.  This is the message I needed, that we all need.

No one is perfect. Come as you are. We are all worthy of love. 

If only we were all required to wear a shirt with those words. A shirt that sent the message that no matter what your story, you are important . I could argue that it should be our uniform for being human.

Don’t be afraid to share your story.  Even if the words aren’t printed on your shirt for the world to see, they are still there, imprinted on your heart.  Their content is what makes you unlike anyone else in the world, and yet so much like so many.  Your story can be a bridge, a new pathway, a shining light.  No matter what your statement is, just go ahead and put on that t-shirt. Do not apologize for it.  Wear it proudly and know that it was custom-made just for you.

Project Me

*I wrote this post back in early January and never ended up posting it. I felt like time had passed and it was irrelevant after a couple of weeks.  It has been a busy, but positive couple of months since. But I still feel like it’s important to share where I’ve been. Plus, I haven’t posted in forever! So here you go!

I skipped my coffee today.

When it gets to the point that I fear even the mild effects of a cup of half-caff, I know its time to come to terms with my mental state.

Here I am again, my fear and me.  Funny how sometimes it creeps in so slowly that it seems to come out of nowhere are knock the wind out of you. At least that’s what happened to me a few days ago.

I was taking Jack home from school one day, driving the short journey home, when it struck.  The panic.  There was no warning.  It hit me like a bolt of lightning.  Quick, sharp, terrifying. As quickly as it came, it proceeded to disappear.  But the damage was done.  The aftershocks of fear shook me to the core, alerted me to a bigger problem.  What just happened? Why did this happen? How did I get here?

I continued on as usual, the day to day routine unfolding before me. But my mind circled anxiously.

Hello there, a-hole brain.  I was hoping we wouldn’t have to meet again on these terms. 

One of the most frustrating and complicated aspects of anxiety and depression is its ability to seep into your life ever so slowly, camouflaging itself in a variety of reactions and emotions, until all of a sudden you find yourself grasping and reaching to steady yourself, already far below the surface of stability.  I am so thankful for the ability to recognize my symptoms early, before descending too far into the dark.  But it is a complex puzzle.  Unlike the obvious clues of a sickness; a sore throat, a cough, a fever, mental illness has no such clues.  They are subtle, invisible discrepancies, slowly chipping away at our soul without much notice.  What’s even tougher to realize is that the people closest to us hardly notice either.

When you struggle with anxiety and depression, you learn that there is no cure. There is only management. In managing anything, there is a risk of unraveling, of finding ourselves back in a situation that needs some tweaking and reworking. Accepting this reality is a must.  I’ve spent too much time pouring useless anger and energy into my inability to have a perfect life.  I know now, that it does little to serve me.  Sure, I have a period of mourning, I have myself a few days of a big ol’ pity-party, but then its time to buck up and get to work.  It’s what a good manager must do.

I have made so many notable gains in the past year. I can’t discount my accomplishments.  In fact, it’s almost been an entire year since I have started this blog.  Last year around this same time, I found myself in a similar place mentally.  I was at a low place, searching for answers everywhere but within.  But then I let the words loose, and out they poured, and through this release began the most healing and progressive year I’ve had since starting this journey.  Which is why it is harder to find myself back at this place.  The higher you climb, the harder you fall. On the contrary, I’m better equipped to cushion the landing.  I have more knowledge, more experience, more support.  But still, getting back to work will be difficult.

Let me lead you through a typical cycle of hitting a low point when it comes to my mental state (since I’ve been through more than several now):

  1. Leading up to the “panic event” (let’s call it the awakening) there are subtle mood changes.  I may be more critical of myself or those close to me.  I find myself frustrated more, able to concentrate less, my mind obsesses more about little fears, about what others think.  I am drained of energy more often, I am in a general funk, and unable to pinpoint why.
  2. There is usually a change, whether it’s an event, a change in routine, or even a change of season. Sometimes just the quiet, meandering days post-holiday, when we find ourselves enjoying the quiet but also realizing we are stuck in the house for days on end, trying to dig ourselves out of old and new clutter, probably surrounded by restless children who’s routine is also upended, can be enough to break us.  It’s also January, and maybe you haven’t seen the sun in days, or you are buried under a blanket of snow and it hasn’t been above freezing in a week.  The third week of January is the week associated with the biggest rise in depression and suicide. It is a tough season for many.
  3. After the awakening event occurs, I go through the typical shame cycle. I am scared, I am confused, I am discouraged, I am angry, I am sad. This is when the pity-party ensues.  I mope around, wondering why me, and try to figure out how I’m going to live like this.
  4. I start looking for answers.  I obsess over small ailments and wonder if there’s a bigger problem.  I’ve been dizzy lately…am I getting vertigo? Maybe it’s just my sinuses? What if it’s a brain tumor? Is my eye-sight getting worse?
  5. I realize I am being paranoid and start working on a management plan.  I start carving out some more me time.  I go to yoga.  I go for a run.  I start my nightly meditations and prayers.  I make time to write.  I force myself to spend time on my hobbies; I write poetry, play the piano and the guitar (even if it messes up my nails!).
  6. I make an appointment to see my PA at the psychiatrist’s office.  I need to pay attention to my medication management and stay on top of it.
  7. I slowly feel the cloud start to dissapate. Hope always remains.

I have to remain patient during this process.  I have to come to grips with the fact that I may find myself in this difficult place many more times in my lifetime.  Most importantly, I have to be okay with this.  I must embrace it.  My stubborn personality despises this, but that will not change things.  As I explained in an earlier post, I must lean into change. 

I have started up poetry again for the first time in over 15 years, and have decided to publish it (much to my initial resistance), mostly because it is usually written in the most raw, emotional moments.  Sometimes the words come so quickly, it’s alarming. But this is a coping mechanism, and I feel like I need to share it. If even one person can connect to my words, my job is done. The purpose is worth the risk and vulnerability.  I wrote this poem in the parking lot of Publix, sitting in my car, feeling as if I were wrapped in thick, grey clouds. The only way I felt I could get out of my funk was to write right then, in that moment. The words aren’t always pretty, but they help take the weight off. It’s a wonderful gift. You can check this particular poem out (yikes!!!) at the end of this post. Ugh, being transparent is soooo scary! 

So if I seem off these days, I apologize.  I’m grappling with a big project right now, and it seems that I need to put in a little extra work.  Most likely, I will present to you a version of myself that shows little to no struggle, which is just how I operate. I try hard to always share my light, even when I am shadowed within. My pain is often encased in a shiny, sparkling shell. Which I why I am thankful for the opportunity to share these words, to share my heart of truth with you, even if you can’t see it on my face.

We are all works in progress; continual projects in need of proper managment and often times restructuring. Don’t be afraid to call an emergency meeting with yourself.  Open the door and have that hard conversation. Sometimes a little performance review can motivate and move you in a new, better direction. And don’t forget, you’re not allowed to quit. You are the most important job you will ever have.

Now, off to work I go.

This Friend I Know

Starting a post at 11:30pm is never a good idea, but inspiration is not known for being timely. So here I go.

I’ve been thinking all day about this friend I know.

It’s not a new friend, but it’s someone I haven’t treated like a friend lately. Or ever, perhaps. I started thinking about her this morning.

We had some family in town, and I was doing my best to be a gracious and put-together hostess (even though these were probably the easiest-going house guests one could ever have).  So, of course I was worried about the normal hostess things like my house being a mess and what do I offer them to drink and shoot, sorry I’m out of regular coffee, now you won’t be able to function thanks to me. I do love having people in my house, don’t get me wrong. But I have major performance anxiety about it.  I’m always second guessing myself in this situation. Am I entertaining them enough? Am I leaving them alone enough? Do my towels smell clean?  I’m so judgemental of myself in this position.

I have always felt that although I love having people over, I despise hosting. I’m not sure if this makes sense, but the only way I can untangle this thought is by guessing that since I like helping people and doing things for others, welcoming people into your home is a positive, people-pleasing move.  That same people-pleasing tendency, however, can get wound up so tightly in perfection that you feel the responsibility of this pleasing business squeezing all the air right out of you.

I relayed this insecure perspective to someone the other day, while I was going on about how excited I was to have everyone over to our house in a couple of weeks for a party, but how I was already starting to get crazy-eyed over all the crap I have to do to get my house looking absolutely perfect. You’re home is so warm and welcoming! You have nothing to worry about! I went on to explain my theory of “house anorexia”: that I have a distorted image of how my house looks and it will never look good enough. This is obviously not as serious of a disorder, but it’s still disheartening. Such a shallow, first-world problem, I know. I hate even wasting thoughts on this as I read it back. But sadly, I know I’m not alone in this shallow trap of superficial suburban comparison. There’s so much good in my life, and I’m worried about my role as a domestic goddess? Tisk, tisk. 

Anyway, this was all brought to light this morning as I was apologizing again to my house guest about the mess. I was in the laundry room making sure she was able to switch over her laundry okay.

Sorry it’s such a mess! I grumbled with a bit of an eye-roll.

Don’t worry about it! It’s just a laundry room! She smiled at me.

It’s just a laundry room. 

I went back to put a smidge of make-up on, and ruminated over all the times I had apologized about stupid things that morning. Apologized about the coffee. Apologized about the kids being loud. About having not enough variety of breakfast food. About being a mess. About being a terrible mom for not making my kids lunches the night before (ok, so this happens pretty much every morning).

Pretty much everything I did was followed by an apology.

Why am I doing this? What am I apologizing for?! I stared at myself in the mirror for a minute. Then I stopped.  I started over.

Hi there, I said to myself, silently. How are you? You look nice today! And what a great house you have! So warm and welcoming. You are so gracious to have people stay with you. You are doing a great job. 

Just like that, the weight lifted. I was as light as air. I felt a pang of confidence and reassurance in my veins. Simply by being a good friend…to myself. 

I know I mentioned in my last post about how thought distortions can really shape who we are in our daily lives. Our thoughts can be so deeply hidden in our subconscious, however, that it can be difficult to unmask them. But this morning they were loud and clear.

I’m not good enough. Im a failure. Im not worthy. 

I didn’t just hear the words as I moped around apologizing, I felt them, heavy like a lead blanket, crushing me under it’s weight. That is, until I made my new friend.

The way we talk to ourselves is so harsh sometimes. Would you ever talk to a friend that way? Of course not! When you stop and change the perspective around a bit, it can be shockingly profound. We worry so much about pleasing others, about being a good friend, yet we go around talking to ourselves like the scum of the earth.

Take care how you speak to yourself, because you are listening. 

How can such a simple concept be so difficult? No wonder I have anxiety issues; look how I talk to myself. I’m my own worst enemy, my harshest critic, bound by the chains of perfection. All the while, I’m missing out on the good. Fretting about trivial imperfections while this beautiful life is happening right in front of me.
That’s why I’m trying something new. I’m going to be a good friend…to myself. This sounds so corny, I know. But I’m not sure if I’ve ever been a friend to myself. And this is the most important friendship I think I could ever have. It’s way, way overdue.

It will take some time to build our friendship. We have a lot of ground to cover, and lots of catching up to do. But it’s time to make an effort.

This special friend is so, so worth it.

Want to connect more? Visit my Facebook Page here.

Shine On, Shame Out

The past 24 hours have been filled with heart-overflowing gratefulness.  I’m another year older and even more validated in who I am.  The responses to the blog have been more overwhelming than I could’ve ever imagined; so much support, love and encouragement from so, so many. It has been the best birthday gift ever.  AND I got to eat cake.

What was even more profound than the outpouring of support, were my friends who opened up and shared their own experiences with panic.  Some of these people I had known almost my entire life, and I never knew.  But it doesn’t surprise me.  Anxiety is not something that you are exactly proud of. Mental health issues aren’t something you want associated with your image, right? We all strive for love and acceptance, to feel like we are just “normal”.  In a world obsessed with labeling others, mental illness is one label you are not necessarily lining up for.

Here are some of the actual quotes I received after my blog went live:

“I never would have thought that. You always seem so happy and never stressed.”

“You fooled me. Had no idea.”

“Wow, someone who actually came forward.”

The element of surprise is so common here. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me, “but you seem so happy!” I would be a rich woman.  People who have anxiety issues are some of the nicest people you have ever met. You would never guess that they are struggling on the inside.  This is typical.  We are emotional masterminds; we have learned to stifle and hide our fear to the point where it breaks us.  We are people-pleasers that would never want to burden anyone else with our problems.  We are so worried about acceptance and love from others that we don’t want our negative issues to threaten that.  All of the hiding and burying of the terror we really feel feeds panic disorder.  Until we can break out of the shame spiral that it brings upon us, we will continue to suffer.

Tonight I had the privilege to listen to an amazing woman, Rachel Faulkner Brown, tell her story.  She has overcome some unimaginable loss in her life.  One of her talking points touched on “the fear of man”. Basically, what others think of you.  If we dwell too much on this, it will destroy the light meant to shine from within us.   I am so guilty of this.  I worry about what people think of me all the time.  Why? Some of us are more insecure than others.  I have always felt like the team mascot for insecurity.  People who struggle with insecurity tend to overcompensate  by burying their own emotions to please and accommodate others. This is a breeding ground for anxiety disorders.

I was 23 when I had my first full-blown panic attack.  But hiding behind a perma-smile was a life-long talent.  Sure, I am a genuinely happy, positive person.  But I have never been good at handling or channeling my stress for fear of upsetting others. It took many, many years after that first attack to even start to accept that this was happening to me, and even longer to share it with others.  But the simple truth is, the more open and vulnerable you are, the smaller the fear becomes.  Just simple acceptance makes a huge difference in starting the battle against the panic trick.

Why are we so afraid to speak out? Why is there such a stigma associated with this disorder? There doesn’t have to be.  In her talk tonight, Rachel mentioned that “we think about ourselves more than anyone else does”. We worry about “the fear of man” and what others will think if we speak out about what’s on our hearts and minds.  But realistically, everyone is too busy worrying about themselves and their own issues to really care.

I dare you to try it.  If you are just starting to feel the loneliness of panic disorder and hiding behind your fear, try telling one person.  If you are too afraid to talk, write it down.  Or, just start by talking to your fear.  Introduce yourself, and accept it for what it is.  Tell it you’re not here to fight with it, but to live with it, to learn from it, and to watch it eventually get bored with you when you aren’t putting up the good fight.  We all have those people in our lives who are looking to pick fights with everyone, who are constantly stirring up drama.  Fear and anxiety are those people.  The more drama you give them, the more they are going to get out of it.  They want you to fight back.  But guess what? There’s nothing a dramatic pot-stirrer hates more than someone who doesn’t give them any material to work with.

My fear-friend is still hanging out with me, but we are on much better terms.  I’m slowly learning to ignore his shenanigans. My hope for you is that you can stop hiding behind your shame and let your own light shine, whatever it is.  That light will cast a shadow over your fear.  And who knows, maybe it’s afraid of the dark and will choose to disappear for good.