Restoration

Just yesterday I was reading about a fresco that was being restored and in the process, the colors revealed were much brighter and more colorful than anticipated. It was debated as to whether they should continue to restore and reveal the more vibrant colors or keep it dark and familiar. I don’t know what the final verdict was, but the story was being compared to how we can treat our own inner “restorations”; what we allow to be revitalized or renewed, or what we would rather keep covered.

As with most of my blog entries, this one originated from an aha moment I received somewhere over the last several months. When we compare our lives to someone else, it’s very easy to go one of two ways: either “they have it way better than me” or “I’m really not that bad off after all”. The first one is generally slathered in envy and the second could sound either grateful or prideful. When we focus on the latter, there is sometimes a temptation to downplay one’s own struggles or life experiences.

“Oh, I haven’t had it as bad as her/him”

“I don’t really have anything to complain about”

“My childhood really wasn’t that bad compared to theirs”

Do any of those sound familiar? They have been engrained in my brain for at least a decade as I’ve muddled through mental health counseling. Unbeknownst to me, I carried a fanny pack of guilt that told me I should just get over this already because I shouldn’t need, AKA don’t deserve, to seek counseling. It wasn’t until recently when I heard someone say that the healthier route is to validate our hurts. True, maybe ours aren’t as “awful” as someone else, but they could still be impacting our choices even today. I’d encourage you to recognize the wounds, big and small, that bother you. Don’t minimize them or push them away. I don’t mean we should put all of our focus on our hurts and dwell or discuss them all the time, but respect them for what they are. Just like the fresco, you deserve to be restored and revitalized, too. If we give respect to our hurts and honor them by doing so, maybe we can lay them down in a healthy way that may free us up to live lighter. Get a bit of counseling if you think it may help. I personally believe that every single human being should seek occasional counseling to help us “stay on top of our game” in life. It has the potential to give us perspective on circumstances, relationships, goals, etc. You are worthy.

 

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Dear Discouraged Brain,

Dear Discouraged Brain,

I know you feel heavy and uneasy. Upon waking up you were probably reminded that you “have this problem” and are apprehensive about the day. The basics feel more like a chore and that scattered feeling in your brain makes it seem like not much is getting accomplished in an organized or timely manner. That irritable button gets pushed a lot at the smallest things. Forcing a smile is almost painful when your sweet children engage in a story or tell you something silly. I know it’s really hard and you hear the thoughts streaming that are saying, “It’s not getting any better”, “I shouldn’t feel like this”, “Why do I have to struggle with this?”

Here’s the honest truth. You do feel the way you do and it is all valid. You are allowed to feel sad and angry that this “thorn” seems to get the better of you some days. BUT, you do not always feel like this! I’m writing this letter from the other side of the hill. It’s not too bad over here. The weather fluctuates with a few rain showers here and there, but overall, life is worth the living! I just did a belly laugh not too long ago and giggled at a meme on social media. I woke up this morning and started thinking right away about something I wanted to accomplish with work and around the house. I feel tired right now and do wish my brain acted a bit more like my neighbor, but all in all, I am doing ok.

Each “setback” on this ebb and flow style of mental illness is an opportunity. That isn’t just a line (even though it sounds like one). When you get practice time, it’s a good thing. Because it’s so easy to forget when it feels heavy, here are a few reminders: When the flood of yuck comes, slow that breath and make room for the discomfort. Practice the “radical acceptance” of every previous step and where you are right now. It is important to make a to-do list to help you feel productive, but leave some room in there for rest and self-care (even if you don’t feel like it). This will pass through and the light will peek in, but only in its own timing. Every circumstance is allowed and purposeful. I am really proud of you and I love you.

Love, On the Brighter Side Brain

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You Down With OCD?

For the past decade or so, I have done everything possible to try and feel better and “fix” myself and my mental health. In addition to regular counseling, I tried a couple drastic elimination diets, journaling, supplements out the wazoo, different doctors, and lots of praying/begging to God. Around January of last year, I remember thinking something like, “This might be a great year where I ‘get it’ and feel better!” But, by late Spring, my tune was quickly changing because my anxiety started acting like a rabid dog had taken a chunk out of my arm. However, through avenues that I am hoping/trusting were God-ordained, I found “Ariel’s Whole New World” in mental health and took a detour that is making a big difference for my little brain.

After over a decade of traditional counseling and years of an ebb and flow pattern, I just felt deep in my gut that I shouldn’t be feeling so awful after all this time and that there’s got to be a different strategy. With my hope hovering on empty, I didn’t know what to do. While casually talking to a friend (that I’d talked anxiety struggles with in the past), she mentioned that I should talk to a friend of hers. A phone call later, a tiny light was peeking through the crevice and I followed it. Over the river and through the woods, it led to an evaluation and diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

When most think OCD, we think, “OMG, I’m so OCD!” or you imagine people washing their hands a million times a day. While there are people deeply struggling with what is called Contamination OCD, millions of others suffer internally and silently with other themes that are not as well known, but still as aggressive. In my beginning research, I learned that it is an average of 14-17 years before a correct diagnosis is given! That blew my mind and in a strange way, was a comfort to me. I finally knew what was wrong and why I think the way I do! A year and a half later after sorting through what medication fits me and working on the co-morbid depression that had also settled in and set up shop over the years, I’m still in the thick of the battle, but it is such a gift to know why and what I can do. I am slowly accepting that this, much like diabetes or other illnesses, is indeed chronic and I have to learn and practice the skills to stay as healthy as I can.

OCD used to be known as the “doubting disease”. The gold standard in treatment for it is something under the CBT umbrella called ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention). The key is being able to practice and eventually learn to better accept uncertainty in life; not being able to prove 100% that something may not happen or that a thought doesn’t mean something you fear it means. There are many categories or subtypes and I have my own personal cocktail of several different ones. Click here for a link to the International OCD Foundation’s brief summary of OCD and this may clarify misconceptions that I had and many others may have.

A friend and I were discussing how often one should share personal things like this, especially on a public forum such as this blog. I hesitated, as I do very often, before posting. In the end I decided that although I would never want this to define me or be what someone thinks of immediately when I come to mind, I think it is worth the risk. I know that finding the help I did came from someone sharing that they had the same struggles. Life is short and if I can be a lifeline to someone wallowing in confusion and discouragement, then I’m willing to share. I won’t blab it to the world, have my Mom make me a personalized button, or publicly share the details of my OCD struggles, but I can try to be transparent and do my part to break the stigma over mental illness.

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Live, Laugh, Lice!

Lice. Little critters that enjoy scurrying around on the human head and laying eggs for more little critters to thrive. They make humans slightly mad with vacuuming, laundry, hair brushing, itching, checking and more checking. When I think of living my best life now, YOLOing, or Living, Laughing and Loving, it doesn’t involve lice in my house. BUT, however they came to visit whether it was from a positive experience like a summer camp full of boys or they joined the fun of my daughter’s long hair, that’s part of this tiny window of our little life and compared to the heartache in other pockets of our community, this is a cakewalk.

When we first detected the lice and had our first overhaul of the house and treated everyone’s head, we sat down to dinner and said our nightly prayer as a family. One of the benefits of prayer is that it has the potential to remind us of a bigger perspective on life. I had a situation from one of my favorite books pop into my mind that connected to this annoyance. In The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a true story of two sisters who ended up in a concentration camp after protecting Jews during the Holocaust, the older sister, Betsie, gives thanks to God for the fleas that had infiltrated their living quarters. Corrie is quite taken aback to hear it because she’s likely feeling quite the opposite of grateful. Betsie goes on to explain that because of the fleas, the guards patrolling the living quarters had avoided the area and that allowed for tender fellowship, Bible reading, and singing among the other ladies. What a perspective!

A friend I have on Instagram is adventuring across the country in an adorable camper with her picture-perfect family. You should see the stunning sights and beautiful pictures! However, her most recent caption gave a behind-the-lens play-by-play of the crappy, real-life obstacles they have overcome over the last couple of weeks! Throw a little dose of lice in their cute camper and that would have been the icing on the cake! It was such a great reminder of this same message: It might not be just how we’d like it to be in this short (or long) season of our life, but we can focus on even the tiniest bit of good that we can find. Many times there is an abundance of good to see right on the surface, but other times we may have to take our hand to manually lift our chin and look up to find something for which we can find thanks. Like lice? We agreed that lice allows us to be mindful of many homes where lice or bedbugs may be a very common occurrence and not as easy to eradicate. It’s given me appreciation for simple things that have made it easier to clean and for the “quality time” where the one getting their head checked and hair brushed got to pick the TV show!

There are times when this message to find the good does seem nearly impossible to me depending on my mental health struggles at the time, but I still type it today to help remind myself and you. I think the ability to filter the challenges of life can vary depending on personality type. Not to say everyone can’t be thankful, but I assume it’s easier for some more than others.

There is a woman from my church that just lost her battle to a rare cancer and although I didn’t know her well, the stories I have heard and the beautiful obituary written about her life were astounding. She was a giver; one who consistently put others before herself. I imagine that in general, gratefulness came easily to her, but battling cancer must have been an overwhelmingly difficult circumstance in which to find the good. From what I hear though, she looked for and found a peace among that raging river of sorrow. What an amazing example.

I am not naturally a glass half-full kind of person and may have a tad more selfishness built in than others. I am doubtful that we can fully change that type of personality characteristic, but oh, how I would like to try! I crave the idea of making the people I’m with feel special and really serving others. I think this starts with our perspectives on our life circumstances. Circling on back to my friends the lice, little by little, we can move towards a more humble and grateful attitude which may in turn move our eyes to others’ life circumstances in an aim to serve them. Little by little. Itch by itch.

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Valentine Baby

On this day ten years ago I was in the hospital anticipating the arrival of my first child. My baby was already revealing his stubborn nature by staying put until I had to be induced at ten days overdue! Because we’d kept his official name secret until he was born and with a February 14th birthday, the family jokes started flowing as to whether he’d be named Valentino.

Labor was intense in the morning due to the induction process, so an epidural was ordered and administered much to my delight. Minor struggles occurred through the afternoon as they tweaked the dosage and we endured a rather intense pushing window, but by 5:15pm, my chunky 9-pound baby had arrived.

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Here was this little human being that my husband and I were now completely responsible for and although we’d taken the classes and read the books, it was a little (lot) scary. The unknown was looming. My little brain wanted so badly to be well and handle the stress of a newborn and the challenges that awaited us when we went home. Long nights and the zombie phase came and went, my anxiety disorder intensified in his first year of life and I experienced an arduous battle over the first several years of his life. But, as I look back at the last decade and see the challenges that have been allowed through the providence of God, I also see tenderness and love. This little boy carries several habits and traits of mine and that allows for locking of horns at times, but like I’ve begun to tell him so often that I get eye rolls, I LOVE being his mother. He is bright, funny,  and clever. We both love to read and often share read-aloud time at night. Like his Daddy, he is so wonderful with younger kids and often plays so well with his little sister. It brings me immense joy to think that she has him for the rest of her life; a caring, protective big brother. He has been especially brave this past year by starting a new sport and will be heading away for a real summer camp in a few months.

As an older friend of mine said, it can be sad when all of the sweet little kid seasons pass and you mourn the gentle baby you can hold in your arms, BUT what fun it is to see them grow up! There are numerous seasons to come that I get to be a part of and I’m honored. My little boy is ten years old today; my Valentine Baby. I love him and as I prayed when he was tiny, I pray that he will lead others to Christ, learn and develop a servant’s heart, and most importantly, I hope he will always know that he is loved, NO MATTER WHAT. Happy 10th Birthday, Sweet Boy! I love you!

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It’s (“Supposed to be”) the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

We just made Christmas cookies that looked like sprinkled blobs and then threw a dozen burnt ones in the trash. I barked at my daughter for eating the flour. 3/4 of our Christmas tree lights went out last week and it’s likely to stay that way until the tree gets dragged to the street with a needle or two still intact. The Christmas season sometimes just ain’t what it’s cracked up be.

I read an article recently that discussed why our culture is so ate up with the Hallmark movie genre. Believe me, I’ve become one of the first suckers to the DVR to record The Mistletoe Promise or Christmas Bride. It’s because we love the happy ending and the cozy world it allows us to visit. The real world can be harsh and scary, so the escape is lovely at times. I see nothing wrong with it, but I hate to think about the rat race that we can enter that has us desperately trying to recreate that image in our own reality.

In the midst of our “joyous” cookie time tonight, I was proud of myself for recognizing that I wasn’t feeling sad and disappointed like I have so many other times when it wasn’t Hallmark quality. I was rolling with it and just didn’t give a hoot that I’d added too much butter to the dough and that my kids were pouring sprinkles down the hatch straight from the jar! It felt great! Maybe that new anti-depressant of mine is kicking in or maybe, just maybe, I’m just getting to be more aware of how imperfect life really is and that it’s really OK.

Hear this, dear reader, everyone really does have something that stinks in their life. Looks are incredibly deceiving. Just last week I learned about something really lousy about someone that I truly thought had it all together. I would have NEVER guessed they had such struggles, but it ended up allowing me to further respect them and empathize with their pain.

Christmas can be complete and utter joy with twinkle lights, beautifully iced cookies, and the most amazing gifts under the tree. It can also be emptiness, grief and stress; maybe even a bit of both. I write tonight to encourage you to remember that. You never know what someone is feeling, despite the beautiful family photo they post on social media. Look for the little bits of joy and soak up that full feeling you get when it’s beautiful. But also be ok when it falls below your expectations. Heck, the movie It’s a Wonderful Life hits the nail on the head with this lesson! It can be a wonderful life, heartache and all. We have to look for the good.

Merry Christmas!

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Cheers to Twenty Years!

I loved high school. Almost every bit of it. Academics were not my forte, but I sure loved all the fun and the school spirit of being a Palmetto Tiger. Which is why it was so surprising for me to not want to attend my 20-year reunion this past weekend. I’ve been feeling dumpy and even though I’d helped a bit on the reunion organizing committee, I had been undecided as to whether I would attend. Luckily, I decided to go and am so very glad I did!

Maybe this is true about many schools, but there is something incredibly special about the group of folks I graduated with. I know that time makes the heart grow fonder and we’ve all matured a great deal, but even so, my heart is warmed by reflecting on my high school days and our time this weekend. I was almost proud of us last night. We were real grownups loving each other and doing a great deal of silly shenanigans (and I didn’t even make it to the extended late night after party!). I can be a touch sentimental about things like this, but it was such a delightful thing.

My favorite thing about this group is the beautiful diversity. It’s always been one of my favorite parts of both growing up and also teaching in my hometown; the great mix of cultures and community. There didn’t seem to be a lick of racial or political tension as we came together to celebrate and I hope everyone else felt the same. Times are tough in our country and I like to think that in our own small way, we are working to heal and love.

Like my dear friend (and Senior Class President that did an amazing job leading the reunion organization) Nikki said last night, “I wish we could do this every year!” There were so many faces I wished could have made it and several that died too young that would have loved to celebrate with us. We missed you!

Thank you, PHS Class of ‘97! Go Tigers!

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