do not leave small children unattended

I have the best couch to nap on. It’s comfy, it reclines, the dog fits on the seat next to me. It also, as I have discovered, likes to eat smartphones.

I had fallen asleep, legs up and back fully reclined, dog curled up next to me, and had apparently left my phone sit on the back of the seat. All was well and good until the dog decided he was done with this napping nonsense and got up, shifting the distributed weight and causing the chair to come back to an upright position.

*clunk*

There went the phone, somewhere into the depths of the couch. After some rudimentary poking around, I couldn’t feel it, so I used the Apple Watch’s ping phone feature to see if I could figure out where it was. And it worked! The phone was… in the couch. 

So I crawled under the couch (literally – recliner, remember?), found a pen and a quarter and a ton of dog fur… but no phone. And then I got stuck under the couch because Dakota decided to crawl in after me and blocked me in. When we finally emerged from the couch, I glared at him, and he just tilted his head with the, “Whatcha doin, Momma? Is food?” look on his face. 

I pinged the phone again to see if I could narrow down where in the couch my phone was. I thought I had it, so I reached into the couch… and got my hand stuck between some wood and metal. 

After I freed myself from the couch again, I moved the thing, thinking it was somewhere on the floor that I just couldn’t see with the flashlight. Nope, pinging the phone said it was IN the couch. 

Literally. It got stuck in the fabric backing the couch, and I had to very slowly slide the phone across the back of the couch and maneuver it out the small slit on the side.

I should maybe not mention that this is the third time I’ve used the ping feature to find my phone only to find the phone within two feet of me (the first time it was in my back pocket), but, well…

And people trust me to adult. All by myself. 

ocd and the damn table

Every year, we host a party at our house for that epic football game. So this past Sunday, my husband started cleaning and putting stuff away to get the house ready. At some point, he looked at me and said, “I want to clear off that table and move your knitting stuff downstairs so the kids don’t get all in it.”

Now, let me just point out: this table and my stuff have been there for months. Years. It has never been an issue. But, whatever. My one and only (okay, not only) goal for the week has been to do something about this table.

Today was the day. Table day. And I. Freaked. Out. First of all, it wasn’t enough that I had to find a home for or throw out all the stuff on and around it (what if I need this? What if I move it and forget where I put it? What if this empty box that has sat here for 2 months is important?).  It was in the wrong place. The whole room suddenly made no sense with the table where it was and I had to move it right now. Except then I was overwhelmed with the fear that if I put the table in the wrong spot, the whole party would be a disaster, so what the hell was I going to do with the table?

This was not “the table’s crooked; I have to straighten it”. This was “the table needs to move or something awful is going to happen on Sunday.”

Half an hour of this worrying before I chose a spot. By then I was so worked up I couldn’t do anything and I was so not okay in my head.

Meanwhile, I was chatting back and forth with someone about this table and the world ending, and I’m sure I sounded like a freaking lunatic. You know what they said? “Everything IS ok… your little super bowl party will be just fine if the damn table isn’t 10 feet to the side.”

And you know what? This person is right. Nobody is going to care about anything except the food (I’m still stressing about the food, but that’s a different story) and the game. And whether or not there’s an outlet to charge their phone. 

Fighting OCD thoughts is hard. The thoughts are time consuming, the anxiety is nerve wracking, and the compulsions to neutralize or counteract the obsessive thoughts have to be done or else something bad will happen. This is the mind of an OCD person. 

It took someone yelling at me (well, as much as one can yell via an electronic screen) to come to grips with the fact that I was letting the OCD take over and win, and that I didn’t have to let it win.

But I still moved the damn table.

on why i sing

This will be my ninth year as a singer on my church’s worship team. Nine years. Crazy. 

So why do it? Why invest 26 early hour Sundays and 52 late night Mondays just to sing 4 or 5 songs at the beginning of a church service? Because music is my love language with and through God. It not only heals my spirit, but our worship teams heal the spirits of those we lead, too. I don’t sing for the recognition; in fact I don’t think I’m that great (but that’s a story for a different time). But those times when people approach me afterward and tell me that worship has touched them and made them glad to come to church and that the songs spoke directly to their heart? 

That’s not me. That’s God. 

I am merely his instrument. 

Worship is more than just getting up there and singing or playing an instrument just to look good and draw attention to yourself on the platform. Far from it. It is praise and prayer, healing and adoration for the one who loves us no matter where we are in life. 

He has planted the song in my heart; I just help everyone else to hear it. 

because it’s become an faq: anxiety

What’s the difference between generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder?

Really simplistic answer?

Everybody has experienced anxiety before. GAD causes you to be anxious about everything all the time. It exaggerates what the initial anxiety was about.

Panic disorder is characterized by repeated physically debilitating panic attacks. 

Do you/can you have both?

Yes and yes.

What is it like for you to have a panic attack?

My heart feels like it’s racing and pounding uncontrollably out of my chest. Each heartbeat feels like I’m being stabbed with an ice pick. The blood that comes coursing out of my heart feels like ice water, and I can’t breathe. It’s like suffocating and drowning, but still being able to breathe – just not deep enough. I will eventually start hyperventilating and crying, which does not help the breathing situation. I can’t focus, I can’t hear, and I leave my body. It literally feels like I’m dying.

What can I do to help?

Some of these sound ridiculous, but the key is to distract me and bring me back into my body and into the present:

  1. Help me find a secluded place and stay with me until I am calm again
  2. Run through basic math problems with me
  3. Word association
  4. Asking me random trivia about myself
  5. Repeatedly telling me that I am okay, I am not going to die, and this will not last forever 
  6. Actual physical contact, whether it’s a hand on my back or shoulder or arm, but don’t overcrowd me or I’ll start panicking again.
  7. Get me next to a wall so I can touch it
  8. Get me my meds (I always carry them with me)
  9. Help me breathe. I have an app on my phone that does this. 

How come you never look like you’re panicking or anxious?

Because, as one of my doctors previously put it, I am the calmest looking panicked person he’s ever met. I don’t like people to know how I’m feeling. I only trust very few people to drop the façade.

Will it get better?

Who knows. Hopefully. 

the greater good

One of my friends was recently accused as being a fame-seeking writer for writing an article about what it is like for her to experience bipolar and how she has learned to live with it. Mental illness is not the latest fad to hit the medical community; it is is a legitimate disease that takes many forms and manifests uniquely in each individual. 

This is not to say that there are people out there who write for the self attention, garnering pity, and to exaggerate events to make themselves look like a heroine.

I write with no audience in mind except for myself. I couldn’t care about the volume of my readership. I write because it helps to make sense of the thoughts in my head. And if, along the way, a reader catches a glimpse of their own thoughts or says, “that makes so much more sense now”, awesome. Most of us write to bring awareness to something that typically only gets talked about in broad brush strokes.

Yes, I’ve written and spoken about what I’ve lived through because that is what stigma fighting is. It is not a publicity stunt. It is not story time. It is not a ploy to get more people to pay attention to me. It is writing to be real and to answer questions people ask of me. 

I admire Jenn for writing from her heart, for writing in such a way that the focus is on awareness, not wanting people to pay attention to her. She’s a great woman, and has been published everywhere, and not once has it gotten to her head. 

If you want to write for personal reasons, then write. Your page views and reader count shouldn’t be your motivation. 

world suicide prevention day 2015

I’m writing this in the WordPress app on my phone, and the prompt for the content section says “Share your story…”. I’ve done that, several times over. I’ve shared it on this blog not just once, not twice, not three, not four, but at least five times that I can recall off the top of my head. It is recorded on YouTube from when I was a part of the This Is My Brave cast. 

So much of why I talked openly about what it’s like to have this unrelenting mental illness was to help the ignorant. Yes, I used that word, a word that causes so much personal offense, because it’s accurate. There are so many people out there who glean their information from sensational headlines and buzzfeed articles and one panel comics and pretty pictures with quotes on them… and don’t have a clue what it’s really like but act like they do. Sounds a lot like most things in life, doesn’t it?

I no longer feel qualified to speak out against the stigma or to fight for understanding. Why? Because I feel like I have failed. I’ve written so much on this blog, and shared in public in front of strangers and in front of my church family… and then had my brain chemistry so massively screwed up by medications that I fell spectacularly. I’ve gotten up each time, and I got up again this time. Surprisingly, this time I got up feeling better than ever. But that didn’t matter. The point was that I fell. And nobody could see past the point that I fell. Who cares that I got up yet again?

I discovered who my fair weather friends are, and I’m glad for that, because it’s changed a lot of my perspective. I’ve silently sat, non-reacting, listening to comments poking fun at what I’ve been through and what I deal with. I have reached out to people who have made light of the situation and brushed it off, or who have told me they don’t want to support me. 

I want to believe that it’s the anxiety telling me that I can’t trust anyone. That I can’t be friends with people unless I am having (or am pretending to have) a good day. That I am a horrible person for not always being able to control the way my brain works. That people are manipulating my fears in order to get me to feel awful about myself. But people have shown me it isn’t all in my head. 

And so here we are, at World Suicide Prevention Day, and I have nothing to say. No statistics. No stories. Those who have been around for a while are probably wondering when the uplifting paragraph comes, because there is always one of those. But I feel so defeated.

Without intending to, I changed my profile picture on Facebook to something that ties in well with suicide prevention week and day. Maybe that’s the best I can do this year, and leave you with one last thought. Consider this: maybe that person you keep urging to talk to someone doesn’t feel safe talking to just anybody, and they are trying to talk to someone — you. You don’t have to become a superhero and save the day. Don’t just hear; listen. Don’t assume you know, don’t assume you can fix it (or that they even want you to fix it). It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. 

Listen.

you call me brave

Back in April, I had the privilege of being asked to join the cast of This Is My Brave. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, then this isn’t news to you. However, I’ve held off on publishing the essay that I delivered until today. One year ago today, I tried to end my story. The thing about stories, though, is sometimes they write themselves… and mine wasn’t ready to be finished.

To be honest, being at the one year mark doesn’t feel much like an accomplishment. I am constantly beleaguered by thoughts of “I should be much more grateful to be alive” or “I should be in a better place by now”. It’s hard to not feel like a failure when you set the bar so high for yourself. But then, it doesn’t seem to me that being glad to be alive should be considered a high standard.

I digress.

The creators of This Is My Brave are passionate about their belief that storytelling saves lives. We connect with each other and realize that we’re not alone. Someone out there gets it. And someday, there will be a time when talking about mental illness won’t be seen as an act of bravery; it’ll just be seen as a conversation.

But until then, you can call me brave.

You know how every once in a while, something happens and you say to yourself, “If someone had told me five, ten, twenty years ago that I would be here, doing this thing or that thing, I’d have never believed it”? If you had told me when I graduated high school that I would be not only a regular church-goer, but someone who sang on a church worship team, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I’d move to Amish country and still be there twelve years later, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I would be placed in a psychiatric hospital four times in three years, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I would someday be standing in front of strangers talking about the inner workings of my mind, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you. Sometimes, the thoughts inside my head really shouldn’t meet the outside world. And yet… here I am.

Last year, when This Is My Brave debuted, I briefly toyed with the idea of auditioning for the show, and then immediately convinced myself that – ironically – I wasn’t brave enough to get up in front of people and tell my story. It’s one thing for me to blog about my struggles with being bipolar and rant online about the unfairness of mental health stigma, because writing it is the easy part when nobody knows who you are.

I have lived with anxiety and mood disorders for essentially my entire life, but it wasn’t until about eight years ago that a big, cataclysmic trigger set me on a path of therapists and medications and hospitals. I kept a lot of what was going on with me to myself for the most part, largely because my family had just gone through a traumatic couple of years. I heard over and over again how amazing it was that I had the strength to get through it, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to tell people that in the end, I lost that strength.

After my second hospitalization, I started becoming more open and direct on my blog. It was therapeutic for me, and helpful for friends of mine to understand what I was trying to say when I couldn’t find the words to say it in spoken conversation. But still, it was only a handful of people who knew that I was the one authoring these words.

And then came the day that I was asked by my worship pastor to give a very brief testimony during our worship set about an experience I had when I wanted to commit suicide, and received a very personal display of grace from God. Now, I have to explain something here: I’m one of those people who has a very difficult time saying no, so when he asked me to do this less than a week before the Sunday I was to tell the story, I immediately said, “Sure! No problem!” Anxiety? Big problem. I remember one of my first thoughts being, “YES! We’re finally going to have somebody say SOMETHING about mental illness in church!” The thought immediately behind that was “Oh, crud. That someone is ME.”

That Sunday morning, I was terrified as I stood up there singing, knowing what was coming. Honestly, the only thing going through my mind was, “Really? I still have to sing after this?” I had no notes, but somehow managed to tell a story that made sense and seemed to make an emotional connection with the congregation.

A few weeks after that Sunday, a woman came up to me to thank me for telling my story and said how powerful and moving it was. I was in the middle of trying to figure out how to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” at the same time without sounding completely awkward when she finished with “especially because I always thought you were so perfect and put together”.

Wait… what?

No.

I’m so not perfect, nor am I even remotely close to being put together.

If I was a perfect, put together, normal human being, I would not have found myself in critical condition in the Medical ICU of the University of Maryland Medical Center last summer, waiting to see if my liver and kidneys were going to completely fail after I had attempted to kill myself for the second time in two months. The human body is an amazingly resilient being, and I can stand here today and say that I am a suicide attempt survivor.

I know how incredibly lucky I am to have people in my life who truly do understand what it’s like, and to also have people who know how to simply  listen when they don’t understand. I have an amazing mental health professional team who work with me in my treatment and recovery process. I have people who have seen me at my very worst and have never left my side. I have people who tell me that their office door is always open, and if I need to just sit and be in the presence of someone who cares, I can. These are the people who let me know that even when I’m not okay, I am still a person of value, and that I can get through to the other side.

I’ve been complimented with words like “strong”, “courageous”, and yes, even “brave”, because I have been bold enough to step out of the darkness and say, “HEY! This is what it’s like for me to have bipolar disorder and be suicidal.” And maybe, just maybe, those people are right. So this year, when This Is My Brave put out the call, I became determined to claim my brave.

This is my story.

This is my brave.

the musings of some stranger

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