If there has ever been a more difficult year in my life to be thankful than 2016, I can’t remember it. Ada went from being medically healthy in 2015 to being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and generalized and separation anxieties. I had just barely recovered from my own medical issue–facing off against depression again–when Ada’s diagnosis plunged me back in to the cold waters of depression.
But I fought. I focused on Ada’s needs and learned to accept her diagnosis just in time for her anxieties to become debilitating. But now we are making progress there, too. And I self-published a book! That is certainly something to be thankful for. More importantly to me though, I have been writing and posting on my blog throughout all of 2016. Despite my mental ups and downs this year, I kept writing (although there were some dry spells). I am proud of the work. I am thankful for how it helps me process my emotions, fight back my depression, feel valuable, and feel confident that I can keep going.
The last thing I want to mention is how thankful I am for all of you here on facebook and the blog. Our interactions are sometimes the highlight of my (at times lonely) stay at home days. I have hope because so many of you remind me of two wonderful things: 1. Each of us is truly unique. Some of us are better at showing it (ha!), but no two of you–and there are over 500 of you–are the same. How amazing and inspiring! 2. Despite all of the differences among you, many of us share some important qualities. Namely, I see most of you as loving and kind, encouraging and supportive.
I make myself a bit of an open book on facebook and the blog. It is very intentional. I attempt to be as honest as possible while still using good judgement in order to attempt to stay accessible to people. I find that people value honesty, and if I’m always happy or productive in my online persona, then I am not being honest about my depression or myself.
And lastly, I need a supportive, available community for love and inspiration–you pick me up when I am down and you rejoice with me in my successes. Thank you–all of you–for indulging me, engaging me, and encouraging me. I’m truly thankful for you.
There is this great Kanye West song called “Runaway”. (Here is a link to the video: ) It’s great for a lot of reasons, but I want to use it as a starting point for talking about w…
Can it really be 12 days since the election? Are you tired of hearing about it? I certainly feel like I ought to move on but I can’t seem to. I don’t mean to ignore the very real consequences of the election, but I feel that I should by now have moved on from that single emotional moment. I should be able to wake up fresh, no longer haunted by the moment I gave up hope for Hillary. I was sitting on my back stoop with my husband at around 7pm pacific time looking at the New York Times election predictor. Every moment since then is an emotional blur.
I feel like, in that moment, a pin was pulled and ever since I have been trying to fix it. When I feel that pin pulled, I am on a timer. I have to stop the explosion. I have to use my skills–mindfulness, positivity, distraction, gratefulness, meditation, connection, love. I’ve used them all in the last 12 days, and yet I am still struggling to recover. I thought by stopping the grenade from exploding I would be okay. I thought that stopping reading the news and focusing on my health would work. But it’s not a grenade. I am instead a slowly deflating balloon. I didn’t pop on November 8, but I have been getting more and more empty. The more positivity I put out, the less I have left.
The other day I wrote the following:
“I’m trying all kinds of things. But I feel so helpless. My brain is going off the rails. There is so much everywhere and no escape from it. I can do nothing without my mental health but I can do so little with it, and that fact makes me feel terrible and selfish and small. I feel so bad. There is so much pain and divisiveness. Connections feel empty because everything has changed and nothing has changed.
I thought this might happen. That my positive acceptance of the election outcome was my cognitive skills in action. But sometimes skills aren’t enough to stop the onslaught of emotion. I feel tired and drained. I should stay away from media but that feels irresponsible. I should be more outspoken but I am too weak to take the backlash. I should be positive but that feels insensitive. I should be angry but I am too afraid. There is so much that my sick brain is on high alert–tense and scared. But I am safe. I am fine. My brain just can’t get the message. I feel so mercurial. Positive one moment and disgusted the next. I can’t take all of this contrasting info.
God created us so differently. I usually celebrate it but today I am asking “Why?”. Not an angry why just a lost and confused why. What are we supposed to learn? What am I supposed to do? I feel too anxious to just be, and yet I know that that is what this mental crisis calls for. I don’t want to prioritize my mental health. I want to be normal and prioritize the work. I don’t want feel so out of control when I’ve been trying so hard to do the right thing and respond the right way. I feel so sad and helpless.”
I keep pushing back–I keep fighting–but I’m getting small and empty. This is when I feel disabled. This is when this burden feels onerous. Now is the time to work–to love our neighbors actively. Now we must stand up for our friends. This is a time to feel and act. But I am frozen in hopelessness. I am unable to do anything. I cannot read anymore about the hate; I cannot read anymore about what I need to do because I can do nothing.
You don’t know. You don’t know. I can’t control my brain. It’s so frustrating. Everyday is a fight to be hopeful enough to make it to tomorrow. Every day. But what hope is left in this nation? I see you. I hear you. I hate myself for not speaking louder. I hate myself for my fear of my own anger. I can’t express it without the desire to self-harm. This world is making it so hard for me. What is God’s plan for us? Why must I keep going?
I feel all I can do is sit in my room and block it all out. When I can’t see or hear any of you it gets better until I remember that I cannot stay isolated. And I don’t want to stay isolated either. I want to be and do more. I want to save us. But I can’t. Maybe together we can, but there is no promise that progress will win. We do not know what will happen, which seems to make everything scarier.
So what am I going to do? Take care of myself. Step one: put it all on paper–catharsis. Step two: move forward.
Ha! Move forward? I’ve spent this entire post complaining about my inability to do this very thing despite my best efforts. It doesn’t matter. Even if I never recover, I will still fight because this is my biggest potential danger. Without my mental health I am dead. I guarantee it. And my time is not up. I know its not. I’m meant to live a long time even if I suffer. I believe it because I have to.
Its not going to get easier. I’m sure of it. As we enter the next four years, it will get harder. But I can’t stop. I have my daughter. I desire to give her a full life full of happiness and longevity. I set my goal small and close to home because I can’t see much farther without losing control. Likewise, I have to trust that my purpose–my calling–is enough to start. I recently read an interview with Dr. Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, where he describes a Christian’s calling: “In the most basic sense, Jesus calls us to follow him. This is the calling that frames our daily being and tasks. …Calling helps us recover the groundedness out of which our whole life and community emerges and develops.”
So this is what I’ll do to refind my groundedness–I’ll follow my calling. Jesus has called me to be the wife of an academic, leftist, atheist and the mother of a free-spirited type1 diabetic. He has called me to be a liberal Christian from a conservative evangelical background, and he has called me to be a mental health writer and activist. My calling is small, my purpose is focused, but my commitment is firm nevertheless. I will love my little family and care for their needs. And I will attempt to continue to contribute to mental health awareness. All I know how to do is tell my story–the past and the present. All I can do is share my struggle and persevere. But that is my calling, so I will do it whether it makes a difference or not.
You may be like me–completely overwhelmed and thrown off balance by the news. You may feel the desperate need to disconnect followed by extreme guilt–I feel it, too. You may feel hopeless and helpless. But we aren’t. Those of us with mental illnesses must approach the world carefully and differently. We must always remember that our brains don’t want to cooperate but that we are still not helpless. Focus on your immediate circle–family and friends–and if you know your calling or purpose grab hold and don’t let go. Focus on your calling and do the work you are called to do. Focus, prioritize, and act. You can fight and you can succeed. If you don’t know your calling, if you haven’t found your purpose, let me give you one goal: Survive. You are here on this earth, and you are meant to survive as long as you can.
And lastly, take care of yourself with gentleness. Hell, it’s 12 days out and I’m still a mess. It takes us time to heal. It takes us time to regain control and refind our balance. It’s part of the gig. So, keep pressing forward, keep fighting, and keep surviving. For today that is enough. And tomorrow may hold wonders unknown to you yet. Sending you love and peace today and always.
November 14 is World Diabetes Day, and it has given me a lot to think about. This is my first year actively observing this day of global awareness because 2016 is my family’s first year with Type 1 Diabetes.
January 12 of this year I took my then-6 year old daughter to the doctor for what I thought was a simple UTI. She had been urinating a lot and even wetting the bed. She had also quickly lost weight over the previous few months, but I thought nothing of it. I was happy to see her slimming up. Little did I know that these 2 symptoms along with her increased thirst are the most common early symptoms of T1D.
T1D wasn’t really on my radar. I didn’t know of any relatives with it, I didn’t know any T1 people well enough to recognize it, and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. However, I will never forget the moment that my daughter’s pediatrician told me that I needed to take her to the hospital because of the amount of sugar in her urine. It was shocking. Time slowed down but my heart was beating so fast. My mothering instinct took over and I graciously (of all things) accepted the news and focused on the action I needed to take. But in an instant our lives changed. I was both calm and panicked. Externally I was focused. Internally I was afraid of the unknown. I worked hard to maintain my composure throughout our 3 day hospital stay. I actively involved myself in my daughter’s care as soon as they would allow me to do it myself. but I began to slowly deflate in short burst of big emotion. The next few months were tough, and the last few have continued to be challenging, but we are still focused on the necessary action we must regularly take to maintain control of my daughter’s body.
Despite all this, I have gained some important things this year as a result of my daughter’s T1D: understanding, perspective, and admiration.
Not only have I gained knowledge concerning T1D and disability accommodations, I have also gained a greater understanding of the importance of accessibility. My daughter loses out on little things because of T1D. When kids in her class bring in cupcakes to celebrate a birthday, Ada gets left out unless I am given prior notice to provide her with an alternative snack without carbohydrates. This discourages her as she feels frustrated when T1D stands in the way of her joining in the fun of her peers. And this is quite minor compared to some of the real inaccessibilities that may differently abled people face. I spend more time trying to imagine how disheartening problems of accessibility are for some.
Similarly, as my daughter has struggled with both generalized and separation anxiety since her T1D diagnosis, I have gained a greater understanding of the importance of dynamic support for people who suffer from physical disabilities or ailments. When your body is warring against itself or is not functioning fully, it takes a toll. My daughter struggles with heightened emotions and fears all because of her non functioning pancreas and all of the stuff we have to do at least 5 times a day to make up for it. I don’t get what it is like, but I do understand that it isn’t easy and that I must listen to my daughter and others to better provide equal opportunities for access and success to people of all physical abilities.
My perspective has definitely shifted over the last year. Certain issues in my life seem far less important–even my depression seems less important, although I am no less vigilant about keeping it in check–than they did before my daughter’s T1D diagnosis. I spend my time and money differently, and old rules have been replaced by new routines. For example, when my daughter is out of control emotionally, I cannot immediately discipline her; she could be high or low, or dropping or rising. Or it could be anxiety rather than misbehavior or direct disobedience. I see her as a more complex being because her complexities are more recognizably in flux than the average child. I think more about my interactions with her and what I say and do with her as a result.
I also think about how fortunate I am to have been healthy for my entire childhood. Childhood illness is rough. My daughter’s body and brain are still developing and the responsibilities and pressures of chronic illness seem too heavy for a child to bear. But at the same time, her illness is manageable. It has yet to be cured, but we can manage it. What a blessing this is! This diagnosis is not a death sentence or a even a roadblock. It will not stop her; it will not permanently slow her down. it will teach her and hopefully make her a more understanding and empathetic person. For all the lessons depression has taught me over the last 15 years, my daughter has even more time to grow and bloom into something beautifully reflective of her unique perspective.
I have always loved my daughter and admired her free spirit, but I now admire her tenacity, too. She faces T1D with grace and positivity. She willingly submits to each shot and each finger prick. She reminds me to check her ketones when I forget. She comforts me if I feel guilty for giving her a shot that hurts. She ignores the tiny bruises on her stomach, arms, and legs. She laughs and sings and plays and dances and happily adheres to the rules concerning when and what she can eat even when her friends are eating as they please. She even recently offered her friends some of her halloween candy even though she couldn’t eat any at the time. She sees T1D as her reality without judging it. She accepts her body as is and takes its care seriously.
Above all, I admire her joy. She is the happiest kid at times, and she rarely gets down about her T1D. Her anxiety sometimes makes it hard for her to remember, but she certainly tries, and she always bounces back.
On this, my first real observance of World Diabetes Day, I am grateful for two things. First, I am grateful for Ada’s life and health. Some T1D people are not diagnosed in time to be saved. Some T1D people do not live in a place where they can access the life-saving medicine and equipment required to manage T1D. This is a life-threatening condition, and yet, despite the time and cost, I am so grateful that I can keep her healthy. Second, I am grateful for another chance to hopefully become a better human being and world citizen. In such a divisive time in the USA, I feel so grateful for this personal opportunity to learn and grow into a more empathetic person. If I could give Ada a functioning pancreas, I would. But since I cannot, I will be grateful for what I have in exchange.
Tuesday was wild. All of the last polls said Hillary Clinton would win, and yet Tuesday night Donald Trump won. By about 7pm pacific time, I began to believe that he would win, and I began to get uncomfortable. Physically I began to shut down; I was anxious and nervous and depressed but it was so shocking to my system that I laid down and was asleep by 8pm.
I got back up around midnight. It was all over. Trump will be our next president. That’s when my anxiety really hit. I was lying in bed trying to go back to sleep, but my adrenaline was pumping; I was obsessively rubbing my feet together to try to get the energy out of my body. My mind began to race, and I began to cry. I was having a panic attack.
I immediately got up to change my location–I cannot stay where the anxiety begins or I feel trapped. I moved to the couch, turned on mindless tv, and tried to drown out my thoughts while allowing myself to cry. No ruminating–just thoughtless weeping. And I fell asleep on the couch after another hour.
In the morning–on 11/9–I felt sad and tired. I was angry and disappointed, but I immediately noticed that old depression thoughts were trying to creep in to the internal conversation. I began to feel that there was no hope, no help, no escape. But that is not necessarily true; at least there is no proof that this is the End of All Things. It may be bad or not so bad, but time will pass, and in the meantime we all have the opportunity to get more involved to effect the changes we desire.
I began to see my depression latching on to my very really disappointment like a parasite. It would suck all the life out of my real feelings and use them to take me to a place of hopeless despair. A place where nothing matters, where I am the problem, and where my only agency seems to be in my own death.
Nope. Not today. Not when I can stop it. I cannot let my grief take hold. I must redirect my despair into proactive healing, and I must do it now. I know my brain–I know the signs, and I know that I am not helpless yet.
I want to do more and say more to help people. I want to write more and finish my next book. I want to get more politically involved as well as connecting with people on any side of the aisle. I want you to know that your politics, while an integral part of who are, do not determine your basic value any more than mine do. Politics change, people change, but your unique personhood is valuable simply because it exists. You matter; we are not helpless; we can recover. Heal in the way that is best for you, but have hope for healing. Never give up hope. I’ve said it before, but always remember, “tomorrow is another day,” and another day is another chance for change and hope.
During this emotionally heightened time, I want to once again out myself as an ally for people suffering or targeted by hate or bigotry. I am often on facebook and am regularly available through the facebook message feature on my Confessions of a Chronic Depressive facebook page should you need online support. I can’t promise I can help you, but if you are struggling emotionally or mentally, feel free to reach out. I’m here. I want to help you if I can. Keep fighting, stay safe, and spread love.