Strengthening My Purpose

I’ve been thinking a lot about the recent activity on my blog (which has started to slow) and my personal response to it. This is no surprise. It’s part of both my writing process and my mental health process to think about myself and my lingering emotions with a gentle, analytical eye. The way I know myself is through interaction and self-reflection. The way I appreciate myself is by looking at my actions and efforts and recognizing the honesty, strength, or kindness behind them. I try not to be too critical of myself other than to recognize mistakes and process how to healthily respond. I think a lot about how I feel and respond to my feelings. I try to think before I act, but that doesn’t always come naturally. 

So I have been thinking–processing–the last few days. I’m really happy with my post about my dad for two reasons. First, I set out to paint a specific picture of a loving father. I feel I succeeded. Second, all of the likes, comments, and shares mean that a lot of people had the chance to find me–find this little corner of the internet where you and I don’t have to be afraid to admit how hard mental illness can be. I love that so many people found out how wonderful my dad is; that was the point of sharing the post. But I really, really love that at least a handful of struggling people found hope and encouragement from the whole blog and the book; that is the point of the project as a whole.

Something else I’ve been doing over the last couple of days is toying with the idea of doing a reading from my book. Once I began thinking about this, I knew immediately which chapter I would want to read if I ever had the chance to share my work that way, so I sat down by myself and decided to read it aloud. In high school I was in theatre, and even went to state twice to compete in poetry interpretation/recitation. I like reading aloud. I think it would be fun to read audiobooks for a living. So, I felt pretty confident in my ability to read something I had written. 

But it turned out to be really tough! I started crying when I tried to read some of the things I had written. These declarations of self-love, purpose, and perseverance that I truly believe were so hard to say out loud even though no one was listening. I wasn’t sad though, I was overwhelmed by my forthrightness. When I write about self-loathing and feeling unloveable, I’m not sure the words do justice to the feelings, but I felt like I came closer when I said them aloud. For years I have wanted to vocalize my pain. I tried to show my pain through cutting. I’ve tried to share my pain through art and writing. But for a talker like me (you think I write a lot…), to vocalize my feelings which have been crafted into an edited, written piece was liberating and moving–even though God was the only one close enough to hear me.

So, when I think about emotionally reading my work aloud and how blessed I have been to have new people find my blog and book unexpectedly, I think about my purpose here on earth and the purpose of my writing. And I think about why I felt compelled to follow up my father’s day post with a clarification of who I am and what this blog is. Basically, my friends and family quite enjoyed my “You Oughta Know” post because, well, it’s just so Laura Grace. I’m not sure there’s a better way to put it. I’m pretty certain of who I am and how I want to be seen, and I’m pretty unwavering on those two things. I’m going to make sure that you know what you’re getting into. I also want you to know that I am more committed to serving the marginalized and suffering than I am to selling a lot of books or garnering a large readership. If you are mentally suffering for whatever reason, then you are welcome here. You may not want to stay once you read what I wrote, but I made this for you just in case it helps you even for one moment of one day.

I think my God-given purpose is to spread hope for healing to other depressed and suicidal people. And often those people are marginalized by society for a variety of reasons. I want all people–marginalized or not–to know that time, effort, and help can make a difference in your ability to fight your illness. I think the reason it was so hard for me to get through reading my post aloud is because I desire so deeply to fulfill this purpose, and I think, on a small scale, it’s happening.

Wanting to die by suicide is really, really horrible. There aren’t exact words for the nagging, gnawing feeling. I can’t think of any worse feeling I’ve personally had. I can’t think of a more overwhelming or compelling feeling I’ve ever had. It is truly horrible. If I can connect with and help provide even momentary relief to someone suffering with suicidal ideation or permeative depression, I want to do that through my writing. 

So, marginalized or mainstream, mentally ill or a caretaker, I’m here for you. I’ll keep writing honestly. I won’t be quiet. Right now, I feel strong enough to fight everyday, so I’ll go with the vanguard. I’ve said it before, and I still mean it: Keep fighting and I’ll keep writing; we’ll be brave together.


A Way Out

A few weeks ago I came across an article about a talk Stephen Hawking gave earlier this year where he compared depression to a black hole. In this talk, Hawking said: “The message of this lecture is that black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out.”

There are so many reasons why I love this so much. First, Stephen Hawking is a super brilliant person whose life story itself is a powerful example of perseverance. It is encouraging to hear someone so respected bring awareness and positivity to depression. 

Second, I really like that Hawking–someone who knows more about black holes than just about anyone–uses black holes as a metaphor for depression. Depression truly is a powerful, scary, seemingly unknown entity that can completely consume you. It honestly seems inescapable. That is why some of us are driven to suicidal thinking or worse. There seems to be no escape–it seems too powerful.

But Hawking reminds us that while we used to believe that black holes were inescapable, now we know better. There is a way out! This is so beautifully true. We do not live in the ages of strict bed rest, lobotomies, or over-prescribed shock therapy. We live in a time when more progressive and less painful treatments exist. We have better medications than before. SSRIs are widely available, and other drugs, like atypical antipsychotics, are being approved to treat people like me with drug-resistant depression. 

There are more choices and options now to help you heal more dynamically. I have done cognitive behavioral therapy throughout my illness and absolutely love it. I also took a dialectical behavioral training skills class–6 months of weekly, 3 hour sessions with a small group. In those classes I learned about mindfulness and gained practical tools to help me fight my illness and get my life back. It was intensive with daily homework, but I learned so much that I still practice today. I recommend that you consider finding a counselor familiar with cognitive and/or dialectical behavioral therapy. Look for someone who will encourage you to work daily on your mental health and keep you accountable by helping you set personal goals and helping you reach those goals through practical assignments. Also, I urge you to really try to put in some effort daily–whatever you can do–to fight against the pull of your depression.

Finally, I love this Hawking quote because I also believe that, like with a black hole, when you escape you may find something on the other side different from before–a different universe, a different you. My life–which I really love–is so different from what I expected of myself when I was younger, before depression. Not only have I been deeply affected, but I have been changed by my depression. I am kinder, stronger, freer than I expected or knew I wanted to be. Almost every day I am grateful for what I have learned through my struggles with depression and how those struggles have changed me for the better.

There is a way out and possibly something beautiful on the other side of your suffering. Every episode I have had has been it’s own black hole, and I may fall into more before I am done, but so far I have survived. I still struggle but I still have hope. I’ve always found a way out, and I have always come out stronger. There is a way out. I can’t tell you how long it will take or what all you’ll have to do to get there, but, with help, you can make it to the other side. 

You Oughta Know

Strangely, my last post has been getting a lot of traffic–since published, 4300 people have viewed it (with and additional 1200 views of other blog posts). I told you that my dad’s church was big! This has been quite unexpected. My usual readership per post is anywhere between 10-100 people. When I started the blog, one day I had 400 people visit, and that was by far my absolute high mark before this post. It has been weird. My blog is, well, confessional, and that’s a lot of people listening to me confess. This wasn’t really the audience I was expecting, and not really the one I had in mind when I wrote. It’s not a problem–at all–just unexpected. It makes me go back and obsessively read it looking not for grammatical mistakes but instead for anywhere I “show too much leg” so to speak. Did I confess something to you, my faithful readers and fellow survivors, that I didn’t intend to broadcast on conservative evangelical radio? Oh well. I posted it, it’s there for everyone to read, and ultimately, I am grateful for the exposure. If one struggling, mentally ill person found my blog because of that post and finds hope or healing, which is always my goal, then my original, simple intention of just sharing my love for my dad with a few readers is moot.

I have a lot of love for my parents and sister. We have always been a strong family unit. I grew up in a really good family. It makes me feel protective of them. I escaped my hometown. Nobody up here knows me or gives a shit who my dad is. It’s pretty awesome for a free-spirit like me. As an adult, I really like being in complete control of my persona. When I lived at home, too many people seemed to have assumptions about me because of who my dad was. I felt compelled to try and be the person others assumed I was. Be happy when you’re supposed to be happy. Be prayerful when you’re supposed to be prayerful. Participate in every church thing. Know the rules and obediently play by them. It wasn’t anything my parents said. It was the unspoken pressure of the crowd, the masses. It was the message I indirectly received. It’s what I thought I had to do to protect and honor my parents. I had to protect this family image that my family seemingly never agreed we’d have.

I don’t do that much anymore. I hate pretending to be something I’m not. The facade I wore as a conservative evangelical youth almost killed me because it made me believe I had to keep my depression and suicidal thoughts a secret. Deep despair and self-loathing didn’t fit the image. So I tried hard to hide it. But I didn’t ignore it. I secretly indulged it. I drew a deep line in the sand between the real, depressed me and the fake, churchy me. I clung closer to my depression as I began to hate the facade I felt forced to wear. Hate it so much. I began to hate every single person who I thought was either responsible for or complicit in my facade. I hated myself because I wore it anyway. I felt like a coward. I also began to hate myself more as the facade became harder to maintain and seemed farther and farther away from the truth.

Everything I said in my post about my dad was honest. But please don’t confuse my deep love and admiration for my genuinely wonderful parent with a full-hearted endorsement of the conservative evangelical community as a whole. If you know me, then you know that that is laughable. I am a political liberal with progressive social and economic values. I believe in love and inclusivity. I believe in equality. There is very little I can imagine that would make me vote for Donald Trump. I will always be an LGBT ally. I believe black lives matter. I am a feminist and totally unashamed to use that word to describe myself. I know it matters very little now, but I am a Bernie Sanders supporter and a democratic socialist.

But I don’t think I have to agree with someone on everything to love him or her deeply. One thing my family has learned through my depression is that God really made us all differently. To me, this shows how multi-faceted God is. If we are all made in his image, then how much understanding must God have–so much more than any one of us. I am NOT into arguing doctrine, and it is not my mission, purpose, or goal to persuade anyone about philosophical right and wrong. If we’re hanging out over a beer and start talking theology or politics, I’m in, but my blog is about acceptance. Acceptance of absolutely everyone who is struggling somehow with mental illness. Having personally felt trapped in a mold and unable to be myself during a difficult time in my life, I want you to know that here you will be loved and accepted for who you are, although I will not tolerate hatefulness toward others here with the same diligence with which I repeatedly beg each of you to treat yourself with love rather than hate.

None of this is news to some of you. But for my new readers, the ones who are here because of my dad, I want you to know what you’re in for if you stick around. To start, you are in for a lot about me–more than you probably want to know. Secondly, you won’t learn that much about my parents or sister here other than good things they have done for me. Like I said earlier, I feel protective of them and want to respect their privacy as much as I can while still being truthful and confessional. Everyone makes mistakes, but, from me concerning my family, you will hear about what I choose to remember and cherish–the good, the sacrifice, the love. Finally, here you will find honesty and sometimes ugliness. Mental illness is messy but you are beautiful. No matter who you are, what you believe, who you vote for, I will be here to support you if you are struggling with depression or caring for a depressed loved one. I will honestly tell you what I have experienced, how I have survived, and how I keep going despite my illness. So many people–my parents first among them–have helped me. The least I can do is share my story so that someone knows that he or she is not alone. You are not the only one who feels empty. You are not the only one weeping. You are not the only one desperate for a way out. I am one of many. I am a fighter, a survivor. You can be, too. I hope you stay and keep reading. I hope you find something useful here. I hope you know, if nothing else, that you are a unique being worthy of love and self-acceptance. Much love, happiness, and health to all of you.

From ebook to print

Just an update…. I am working with my editor on getting a print version of my ebook put together for all of you who prefer paperbacks over ereaders. This is another exciting step in this publishing journey. Thank you for your support!