A New Resolution

People have been asking me over the past week what my new year’s resolutions are. Up until this point, I have been in survival mode. I wasn’t thinking about the year… I was simply trying to get through the day. But today, the dust seems to have finally settled, and I discovered the one thing that I really want to do this year.

I simply want to be myself.

I spent so much of last year being sick, either physically or mentally, that I just couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. I couldn’t talk to people. I couldn’t exercise or play sports. I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t do little random acts of kindness. I couldn’t help around the house. I did some of these things anyway, but it took everything out of me.

This year, I want to enjoy being me. I want to go running just because I feel like it. And I want to talk to new people at church. I want to bake a cake and make cookies and get dinner ready, just for fun, just because I can. And I want to wash dishes and do extra laundry loads and vacuum. (Oh how I want to vacuum!) I just want to be able to do all the things my illnesses prevented me from doing.

You don’t really realize how precious those things are until you lose them. Having depression made me miss exercise so much. Breaking my thumb made me miss simply being able to tie my own shoes. Having anxiety and depression made me miss just being able to have a normal conversation with someone. And my health issues and depression made me miss being able to maintain a clean house.

So, though it may not seem like much to an outsider, I am excited to be able to do the normal stuff this year. And my resolution is simply to enjoy doing it because I have waited so long for this moment.

Depression

I have been incredibly honest in my journey of life. Since my suicide attempt 7 years ago until now, I have told people how I feel and tried to find words to explain the darkness. But when I’m really suffering, there are no words to explain it. I just hurt.

Depression for me is very physical. In fact, it’s almost all physical. When I actually get in depth with someone about how I feel, I break down while explaining that my life is beautiful. My life is completely wonderful. I have amazing friends. I have a good job with friendly coworkers and an understanding boss. I love my church and what I am studying in school and my family. My life is incredibly good and I know it. But… I still feel this way.

I have never had depression like this. Every other time I had depression, there was something wrong with my thoughts. I would get in cycles of hating myself, thinking that I was flawed and broken, thinking that I wasn’t good enough. When I wasn’t insulting myself, I was scared and lonely and hurt.

This time is different. My thought patterns are positive. I see the good in me and in my life. I enjoy my life. I love what I do and who I do things with. But there is a pain that won’t go away. There is a darkness that surrounds me. The depression grips me so that I cannot breathe and I fall. I plead for the pain to go away, for the darkness to end, for relief.

Yes, depression is an illness. It is physical, mental, and emotional. It is not something that can go away with positive thinking. And it can be debilitating. It can mean lying in bed without the strength to move. It can mean wondering when the end will come. And yes, it is in my mind but that is the worst place for an illness to be because your mind makes the rest of you work. This illness of the mind permeates every other aspect of your body because the mind is everything and when your mind is not healthy, how can anything else be healthy?

I Am Loved

As I was lying in bed in that dazed state of half asleep and half awake, these thoughts came to my mind.

Do you know how loved you are, Chewie? Do you know how much you do? You aren’t just a little loved. You aren’t just sometimes needed. You are incredibly loved and always needed.

I feel very blessed to be so loved and needed. I know that people appreciate me. At work, I have a stack of thank you and recognition cards for all the things I have done (and those are just the ones that are written down). My phone has dozens of saved messages from people thanking me for kind things I have done or simply for being their friend. My Facebook is filled with gratitude from people whose lives I have saved or changed for the better. My desk is filled with letters from friends. My life is filled with love.

I am loved and appreciated everywhere I go. People notice the good I do and they recognize my efforts and goodness and dedication. It is almost strange to think that someone who is so loved, so appreciated, so valuable, considers themselves to be so lonely, so desolate, and so worthless.

I ask myself, why do you not see what everyone else does? You are obviously loved. Look at the evidence. The cruelest person in your life is yourself. Everyone else sees goodness in you, and they love you for it.

Why do I want to die when I am so loved? Why do I want to hurt myself when I have done so much good?

The answer comes down to a simple fact. Mental illness is just what the name says, illness. This sickness of the mind doesn’t just make me sad as some people may believe about depression. Mental illness is sickness because it literally changes your healthy thoughts into unhealthy thoughts. I don’t just push away good thoughts. I desperately cling to good thoughts as my mind warps all thoughts into things that hurt me.

I am loved. I am wanted. I am needed. I am appreciated. I am not alone.

I don’t think these thoughts very often, but this morning as I lie in bed, I feel the truth of these words. Maybe tonight I will feel sick again and like the flu that won’t go away, I will feel the heaviness of my body and the inability to do all that is required of me, but right now, I see the truth. I am loved. I am not alone.

20160603_053430

I am grateful to truly believe that this morning.

Eating Disorders and Health Issues

I recently committed to a new diet. The hardest part of that commitment was committing to eat. I don’t have an eating disorder right now, but I have had one before. Having health issues related to food has brought back memories of that time.

Back then, it was easy to hide my disorder because I could isolate myself and no one would have known if I didn’t tell them. Now, with these health issues, it was easy to slip back into that lifestyle because I had an excuse. People knew I wasn’t eating, but they also knew why. So no one questioned the sanctity of my actions.

I have tried to downplay the seriousness of my eating habits, both to others and to myself. But the truth is that starving yourself for physical reasons is just as bad as starving yourself for emotional reasons.

I don’t know how I recovered from my eating disorder. I do remember that it took a long time. I remember that I had to make deliberate choices to change. I remember that it involved changing my environment and basically starting over.

Once again, I find myself in recovery. This time it is not an eating disorder; it is simply disordered eating. Still, it takes a lot of the same things. I have a reason to get better. I have changed my environment. I am consistently making the hard choices to change.

When I tell people about my diet restrictions, they are quick to feel sorry for me or offer solutions. Although helpful to some extent, the solutions fail to recognize one important factor in my recovery. I have not just faced health issues, I have straddled the edge of an eating disorder that would have been all too easy to fall into.

I don’t write these posts so you will feel sorry for me. I write these posts so you will understand. Everyone sees me as so capable. They see a health issue with solutions. They see actions that need to happen. But it’s not just health that needs to recover. For me, it has never been just health. It is a comprehensive recovery. I am recovering mentally and physically and emotionally. It’s not from an eating disorder, but it may as well be because the behavior and recovery are strikingly similar.

I have a lot more resources this time though. I have a lot more reasons to be healthy. My mind is more clear than it ever has been. So I have hope that recovery will be easier this time. I have hope that I will be okay. I have hope that I can avoid the temptations of an eating disorder and become healthy again.

You Have a Right to Mourn

I decided to give up gluten at the beginning of this week. I had already given up most foods that have gluten in them, but I hadn’t completely cut it out yet. In the past six months, I have limited my diet to foods with little fat, oil, sugar, acid, lactose, and sodium content. For the most part it has worked, but I haven’t followed the diet strictly until recently.

Going gluten free was a lost battle for me. It meant admitting that something really is wrong and accepting that it may never change. In a few weeks, it may not seem like a big deal. But it is a big deal right now, which has made me realize something.

I never thought of an autism diagnosis as a big deal. It was simply a name for a set of symptoms that already exist. I didn’t understand the need to mourn or the devastation someone may feel. But now I understand better. Parents don’t mourn the child or the diagnosis. They mourn the inability to hold onto something they wanted to have.

Right now, I am mourning that I may never enjoy pizza again, that I don’t remember the last cream filled donut I ate, that I do not know if I will ever again feel the sensory adrenaline of hot sauce. To other people who haven’t experienced this or who have been living with these problems for a while, it may not seem like a big deal. People who don’t know, who can’t know, or who know all too well, are giving me suggestions and advice, solutions for what they perceive to be my problem. But they all miss the point. I don’t need solutions right now. I just need to mourn.

Give me solutions in a week or two. Tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I can be doing better, just wait until I have had a chance to mourn first. Let me breathe in the reality of my situation for a moment. Let me process what this means and what it changes. Let me not be okay for a little bit. Then you can bombard me with your advice and solutions because maybe then I can handle it.

I am sorry for not understanding the need to mourn before. I am sorry for wanting people to realize that autism isn’t so bad before they are ready to. I am sorry for not recognizing your right to mourn.

You have the right to mourn what you wish could be. You have a right to cry and be sad or afraid. You have a right to not be okay for a while.

And maybe when you’re ready, we can discuss advice. Maybe when you have mourned, we can solve this together. Maybe once you have processed this, it won’t seem quite so overwhelming. In the meantime, I understand your need to mourn. And I respect that right. I hope people can understand and respect mine too.

Attachment Styles and Updates

You have probably heard of attachment styles in some form, whether you know about the study done on infants or you are familiar with clingy companions. Basically, attachment styles refer to how you bond in a relationship. You can have secure, anxious, avoidant, or fearful attachments. For brevity, I’m not going to go into the definitions of each attachment style, but feel free to look them up if you are interested.

People usually think of attachments styles as developing from infancy through your relationships with your parents/ caregivers. While it is true that your parents play a large role in forming your attachments styles, there are other factors and relationships that influence it as well. In my case, I would say I have a pretty secure attachment with my family. Although I do get a little anxious with them sometimes, I mostly trust them and feel safe with them.

However, my early relationships outside of my immediate family heavily influenced my attachment styles with everyone else. I lost all of my childhood friends at age seven, and after that I was teased and bullied, isolated and punished. Because of all that, I have an anxious/ fearful attachment style in most of my relationships. I don’t trust people. I am afraid of getting close to people. I am afraid of allowing myself to be vulnerable. I am constantly afraid of being hurt, abandoned, taken advantage of, ignored, and basically afraid of letting anyone get close to me physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Anyway, I have been thinking about this lately because I have an ultrasound tomorrow and an endoscopy next week, and I am super nervous. I waited as long as I felt I could to make these appointments because it is really hard for me to trust people. It is hard to be vulnerable, and going to the doctor is just about as vulnerable as it gets. You have no control at the doctor’s office. You have to do what they say and trust that they are doing their job and that whatever test they put you through is going to help them figure out what is wrong.

The hardest thing about this is not having a secure relationship to hold onto during these tests and procedures. I don’t have parents or siblings to take me to appointments and be there for me. I am simply left to my fear and anxiety. And I have to convince myself to trust, if only for a moment, which is perhaps the hardest thing. If I wasn’t genuinely concerned about my health, I would not allow myself to be this vulnerable even for a doctor’s visit. But I feel I have no choice if I ever want to get better.

 

Basically, what I am saying is that I am scared. I’m terrified. I’m desperately longing for an escape as I go towards what I know must be done. This isn’t one of my usual posts. It doesn’t end with everything bundled up in a happy ending or inspirational message. It’s simply me being real because being vulnerable is scary. Being vulnerable on here is scary, but being vulnerable in real life is even scarier. And I just want you to know that as positive as I may seem most of the time, I still just get really scared sometimes, and I don’t have all the answers.

Lessons of Pain

Pain teaches you things. Sometimes, the more intense the pain is, the more it teaches you. Today I have been in excruciating pain, and I have been thinking about the lessons pain has taught me.

  1. My body is amazing. Sometimes we tell ourselves how much we hate our bodies because they are not what we want them to be. When it becomes hard to move because of pain, you realize just how amazing your body really is.
  2. My body needs just as much love as I do. I learned this by  unintentionally starving my body. Eating causes me pain and time is a short commodity, so I simply did not eat meals for two weeks. By the time I realized what was happening, my body needed a whole lot of love to get back to normal.
  3. Everyone suffers. Most of the time, no one knows I am in pain. I resist the urge to slide to the floor and curl up in fetal position when I’m talking to someone. It has made me wonder how many other people resist similar urges and what unseen pain they may be suffering.
  4. You may never fully understand the power of a hug. When I am in intense pain, physical touch can sometimes be unwelcome. But a hug is almost always something I want. A hug releases some of the tension, alleviates some of the pain, and above all, let’s me know I’m not alone.
  5. Compassion and empathy. Everyone experiences pain differently, but because I know what pain feels like for me, I can sympathize when you describe what pain feels like for you.
  6. Gratitude. When I have a good day, when I feel well enough to do something extra, when pain doesn’t describe my state of being, I am so grateful. It makes me grateful for the little things like being able to stand and able to eat and sleep, etc.
  7. Pain is temporary. Even though I am almost always in some kind of pain, I have realized that the intense pain is temporary. It may feel unbearable in the moment, but eventually it will become bearable again.
  8. Sleep is my friend. Sometimes I delay sleeping because of depression. Sleeping seems like a darkness that I do not want to enter, but sleeping almost always helps me feel better.
  9. People care. Pain didn’t really teach me that people care, people taught me that they care. But pain made me realize and notice people caring.
  10. Service. Pain makes you realize the frailty of life. It helps you realize what is most important. To me, what is most important is other people. If I can make someone’s life better, if I can make them a little happier, if I can help someone, I want to do it. My pain does not disqualify me from trying to help someone else.

Eating

If you haven’t noticed from my posts lately, I have been pretty much drowning the past couple weeks. I was suicidal and depressed and anxious and basically couldn’t handle life. Of course, feeling that way isn’t a foreign concept for me, especially with the added stress in my life, so I didn’t think anything of it. Until today I didn’t realize why I have been going insane.

This afternoon though, it became fairly obvious what the real problem was. If you want to go insane, not eating meals for two weeks is a pretty sure way to lose your sanity.  I didn’t intentionally not eat; I simply didn’t have the time or motivation to prepare anything to eat. For the past two weeks, my daily diet consisted of a couple fruits, maybe a yogurt or cheese stick, a few pieces of bread, and some crackers or nuts. I justified this because I take a multivitamin and a protein supplement. And I have been so busy that I didn’t even realize how little I was eating. I ate in every spare moment, just nothing with much substance.

Anyway, the reason I’m posting this is: one, so you won’t worry about me because of my suicidal posts lately, and two, so you can look at your own life to see something simple you may be missing.

It was easy for me to miss that I wasn’t eating enough because I am constantly in pain, so hunger pains don’t register any more than the rest of my pain. It was easy for me not to realize that anything was different because I don’t own a scale and it’s hard to notice just by looking in the mirror that you’re unintentionally losing 3-6% of your body weight every week. It was easy for me to dismiss that something was physically wrong because I’m so used to things being emotionally wrong that I hardly consider the physical aspects.

Depression and anxiety and mental illness isn’t something you can just wish away or make disappear by simply taking care of your physical needs, but taking care of yourself physically definitely has a powerful impact on your mental health. So if you’re struggling more than normal or feeling more tired or less able to handle life, look at your physical needs first before you dismiss them because of your mental health. They may be having a bigger impact on you than you realize.

Grateful for GERD

I realized this morning that I forgot to do a gratitude post last night. So I will try to post two gratitude posts today.

I have gastroesophageal reflux disease, aka GERD. Basically what this means is that my stomach isn’t great at keeping food where it should be. Usually this isn’t really a problem. I have some discomfort from eating food, but it is something I have grown accustomed to and I adjust my food habits accordingly. Occasionally, usually due to stress and less than healthy eating habits, GERD does become an issue and I have to take a step back from normal life to address it. This has been the case over the past month or so.

But I am grateful for GERD because it makes me take a step back from normal everyday life and reevaluate how I conduct myself. It makes me really consider what I want and what I need. GERD forces me to determine what is essential and to cling to those essential things, while getting rid of what is not essential. I am grateful for this need to evaluate. I am grateful for the opportunity to not have everything I want all the time because it makes me appreciate when I can have what I want.

Some people have asked me if it’s hard to have GERD or if I get distressed because I’m in constant pain or if I’m sad that I can’t eat certain things, but I really am okay with it. GERD is one of my least debilitating problems, and the benefits of it outweigh the costs in my opinion. I am probably healthier, more self reflective and more grateful because I have GERD, which makes it all worth it.

Grateful for Health

I haven’t been able to eat much for the last few days. Even things that I would normally consider safe foods have been bothering me. But I am super grateful because I know it won’t last forever and if GERD is my biggest health issue, I’m doing pretty good.

Some people would say to be grateful you don’t have cancer or a heart condition, etc. I don’t really believe in that kind of gratitude. I think that it devalues a person’s suffering and hypersensitizes some issues while disregarding others. Instead, I like to focus on what I do have.

I am grateful for my health. I am grateful that I can get out of bed in the morning, make it through the day, and then get back in bed at night. I am grateful that I can usually eat and enjoy most foods with a bearable amount of discomfort. I am grateful that I can run and jump and swim and exercise, even though I don’t do those things nearly as often as I would like. I am grateful to be able to see doctors when I need them, take medicine to help me feel better, and have effective ways to prevent illness and stay healthy.

I am grateful to be alive, coherent, functioning, and in overall good health. I know health comes and goes sometimes, so I will be as grateful as I can be while it lasts.