30 May 2014

All Ends Are Not Sad: Keep Talking, Keep Blogging!

Ends are not bad things, they just mean that something else is about to begin.
And there are many things that don't really end, anyway, they just begin again in a new way.
Ends are not bad and many ends aren't really an ending; some things are never-ending.
~ C. JoyBell C.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.

his has been a week for crazy ADD-land shenanigans; hence, not as much posting of awesomeness.

But have no fear, another Blogathon will appear!  On Sunday to be exact.  And since I’ve had such a great response, both here and on Facebook, to the discussion of mental health, I’ve decided to continue talking about it. 

Mondays here at La Belle will now be known as Mental Health Mondays.  Clichéd perhaps, but it works.  And I hope I can continue to shed some light on the fun and foibles of those of us who suffer, and do my part to destroy the stigma surrounding Mental Illness.

The Blogathon is 30 days of writing madness, so it will keep me (hopefully) on my writerly toes….and fingers.

Until Sunday ~ stay tuned, stay safe, stay sane!

And learn to let go and laugh a little.  It’s all good!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

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28 May 2014

From the Ashes I Rise: The Wisdom of Maya Angelou

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
~ Maya Angelou

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.

f it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly” is some of the silliest advice I’ve ever heard.

I understand what’s being conveyed by that statement: if it’s worth doing, get out there and give it your best shot.  Don’t just sit there worrying whether it’s perfect.

But sometimes, when it’s worth writing, or talking about, it’s worth marinating, editing, tweaking.  Leaving and returning to it later.

My post today was going to touch on one of my hot button issues.  But then I read an epic post on the blog of my virtual writing mentor, Mary Jaksch. Basically, the author, James Chartrand, posits that if it’s worth publishing, it’s worth spending more than an hour or two to write it.

The Epicness of Maya Angelou
Instead, I want to talk about someone who was epic all by herself.  Someone with grace, poise, talent, and a heart the size of North America.  Someone who rose from the ashes of childhood abuse and trauma.  Someone who turned her tears and her sorrow and her pain into words that comforted, inspired, motivated, and called to action.

Dr. Maya Angelou.

I am not a weepy person, but having slept poorly and for only a few hours last night morphed into the world’s most nauseous migraine and exhaustion and when I saw the news about this beautiful national treasure, I almost broke down and cried.  Almost, because you know crying in public is embarrassing and shameful.

Image credit: Redeyesa, Deviant Art
And still I have much to learn, and much to heal from. 

Still I Rise
Every one of her poems has touched me deeply in some way.  Despite our differing backgrounds and experiences and ages, each one touched on some human experience that I could nonetheless relate to and feel and absorb. 

It’s difficult to believe she’s gone.  And as you know, death is not an easy subject for me.  But I believe that in the end, she will rise.

And because she embraced her destiny, because she embraced both past, present, and future, she has left behind an incredible legacy.  Of words and poetry and literature; of love and life and wisdom.

Her life was not easy one and yet she used it as grain for the mill; turning tragedy into something else.  Learning the hard way that you can’t change what happens to you but you can change how you react to it.

“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry;
to get my work done and try to love somebody
and have the courage to accept the love in return.”

If only we all strived to do the same ~ what a wonderful world this would be.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Have you read any of Maya Angelou’s books?  What touched you the most about her life or her work?

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27 May 2014

Take Up Your Cross, Not Mine: Why You Shouldn't Feel Guilty About Your Pain

“Hey, I tell you what is. Big city, hmm? Live, work, huh? But not city only. Only peoples. 
Peoples is peoples.”
~ Pete, The Muppets Take Manhatten

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.

our life sucks: the water heater broke and there’s no money in the budget for it; or your car died on the highway, AAA is late again, and you weren’t planning on spending money on car repair; or you went to the grocery store and when you came out, someone had scraped the side of your just detailed car.

You beat yourself up for wasting a weekend in bed because depression kicked your butt and sucked all the joy and energy out of you.  Again.

And then you meet someone. 

Someone who would love a broken water heater because that means they have a roof over their head.  Someone who would pay for car repair or wouldn’t care about a scratch in their paint because that would mean they have a car.  Someone who would trade days of depression with the prospect of life with two children who suffer from childhood onset schizophrenia.

Somewhere, out there, is someone who bears a cross that would crush you. 
Somewhere, out there, is someone who is sure they can’t make it another day.
Somewhere, out there, is someone whose father/mother/brother/uncle/cousin/neighbor
beats/rapes/tortures/neglects/abuses them.

Somewhere, out there, someone has it worse than you do. 

Suffering is Suffering
Reminds me of a Demotivator poster (I love those guys!):

Image Credit: http://www.despair.com/
What can I say? All wounds benefit from a little gallows humour.

My point is this: suffering is suffering.  My cross may be lighter than yours, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to carry.  What may feel like nothing to you, may debilitate me for days.  And I don’t bat a heavily mascaraed eyelash at things that would make you cringe in horror.

In the not so distant past, I would feel guilty and ashamed that situations and events that other people took for granted would throw me into an emotional tailspin.  And when people would tell me their stories of abandonment, neglect, addiction, and abuse, I would mentally fold up my “depression” blanket and offer comfort but never ask for it. 

Because I didn’t have it as bad as they did.  And I therefore had no right to be depressed.  Or to feel sad.  Or to crave oblivion.

But that isn’t true.  Because not all hearts are built to handle the same amount of tears. 

Take Up Your Cross, Not Mine
There are sixteen different personality types (Myers-Briggs); sixteen different ways of looking and interacting with the world.  And that’s before environmental and genetic factors are put into play.

Last night, I watched a documentary on childhood onset schizophrenia on Discovery and my heart just broke for the Schofield family and for the children who suffer from this very rare disorder.  And I know I wouldn’t be as patient and long suffering as those parents.  I would have given up a long time ago.

Does that make my suffering any less than theirs?  Does it make Susan and Michael’s suffering any less than Jani’s?  Of course not. Suffering is not a competition. 

Your pain is valid. 

It is valid if you are suffering from mental illness.
It is valid if your child is suffering from an emotional disorder.
It is valid if your child is suffering because of your struggle with mental illness.

Who’s to say whether one cross is lighter or heavier than another?  Your shoulders may be broad enough to carry yours but not strong enough to carry mine and vice versa.

So don’t let anyone ever try to brush off how you feel or how much pain you’re in because somewhere, out there, someone else suffers moreIf you’re in pain, it matters.  

And it is worthy of compassion and treatment.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

To learn more about pediatric schizophrenia, visit Jani’s Journey and Discovery Health’s Born Schizophrenic.

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23 May 2014

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Helpful Links

PTSD is a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions.
~ Susan Pease Banitt

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.

emorial Day is not about picnics and three day weekends.

It’s about remembering the men and women who fight to keep our freedoms safe.

Whatever you feel or think about current military conflicts, I hope we never see another time in history where we spit or shun anyone who has fought in a war we didn’t agree with.

What we did to our boys when they came back from ‘Nam was shameful.  They were already suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the horrors of seeing their buddies die beside them.  They needed more support, not less.

Understanding PTSD
So in honor of their sacrifice, I’ve compiled a list of sites that help define PTSD and offers support for both those who suffer from it and those who love them.

And remember, not everyone who suffers from PTSD has suffered a trauma in war, but they have suffered a trauma nonetheless.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Do you or someone you love suffer from PTSD?  What has helped?

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22 May 2014

Love at a Distance: Toxic People and the Geographic Cure

If there is a particular person in your life that is repeatedly choosing not to honor you and is causing you more sadness or pain than they are joy - it might be time to release that friendship back to God and trust that it is not where you belong.
~ Mandy Hale

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.

anctuary.  We all need it.

Yesterday, I was out looking at a possible sanctuary (i.e. property for sale) so didn’t have time to post.

Another word for sanctuary is “geographic cure.”  For those in Al-Anon, this is a familiar concept. 

But it’s less a cure and more of a treatment process.

The Ugly Side of Mental Illness
During this month of mental health awareness, I’ve talked mostly about depression, how I as a sufferer of depression feel and cope (or not) and some ways to be a true friend to someone who suffers from depression.  But mental health is like Janus: there are always two faces to it.  One is the face of suffering.

The other is the face that causes suffering.

Someone who suffers from depression is already operating at less than full capacity in terms of energy, self-esteem, emotional resiliency, etc.  But then you put that person in a relationship with someone who also suffers from some form of mental/emotional illness and you’d better be prepared for the organic matter to hit the oscillating mechanism!  If that relationship is symbiotic, the potential for heart aches and years of therapy is even higher.

This is where the geographic treatment comes in.

I Love You. . .at a Distance
The geographic treatment basically says,

“This relationship has become so toxic, the only way to find peace
and sanity is for me to move far, far away.”

The great thing about this method is that you do get some breathing space.  You don’t have to subject yourself to daily mental and emotional beatings.  You can close the door, draw the blinds, and truly rest and re-charge.  You can find a new “family” that is more supportive. 

You can ramp up the healing process with your therapist because now you can concentrate on doing your psychological “homework” and not expend your precious supply of energy on effective but outdated defense mechanisms.

But it’s only a treatment. 

My geographic treatment usually includes nature and a book.
Image credit: Books Direct
Because once you go back for a visit, you encounter the same hurtful lines, the same negativity, insults, and verbal abuse.  This happens because you’ve begun to change, but the other person hasn’t.  And it’s too easy to fall into old patterns of reaction when the other person refuses (or simply is unable to) learn the steps to your new dance.

So you have to limit the number of times you “dance” with that person.  In the beginning, you may not be able to see them for months.  For the first few weeks, even a phone call may be out of the question.

And that’s okay.

Because your mental health is just as important as how you treat your loved one who also suffers from some form of mental illness.  And if you’re ever going to learn better ways of communicating, more effective coping mechanisms; if you’re ever going to learn to forgive and love that person in a healthier way ~ you need to take care of you. 

And you need a sanctuary in order to do that.

The Golden Rule of Mental Health
More compassion, not less, is key to treating those who suffer from some form of mental illness.  Guilt tripping, screaming, passive aggressive behaviors are not effective and can actually be damaging to your relationships with people who do not suffer from mental illness.

I know this, sadly, from experience.  My poor defense mechanisms protected me while I was growing up.  But they no longer serve me well now that I’m older.  And it took years to even get to the point where I realized, “Oh.  This isn’t how healthy, integrated adults act.  Maybe I need to find someone who can help me learn new ways to cope.”

Tuesday, while I was writing about granting accident forgiveness and learning to be a more effective parent, it struck me that I was advocating a more positive attitude and outlook than I currently have towards my mother. 

And I immediately felt guilty. 

Shouldn’t I be treating her the way I want to be treated?  Shouldn’t I be more compassionate towards her since in many ways, she can’t help what she says and does ~ she’s not integrated either?  As a Christian, I’ve had some people tell me that I need to offer it up, turn the other cheek, and remember the 4th commandment.  And then I reminded myself of something my therapist told me:

“If they tear you down more than you can build them up,
it’s time to walk away.”

I don’t care who you are, what your relationship is, or what role you play.  Abuse, in any form, is never okay.  Bullying, whether it’s done in a school yard, in the office, or in your home, is never okay. 

You don’t have to offer that sh#t up.  That is not what He meant.

My relationship with my mother right now is…unruffled.  But it won’t remain that way and I know this.  She suffers from two forms of emotional illness and she’s not getting effective treatment for either of them.  (And yes, there are idiot therapists out there ~ you should be just as picky about your mental health provider as you are about your heart surgeon.) And so I find myself needing to re-start the geographic treatment again.  Not quite as severely as I needed to fourteen years ago, but it has to be done. 

For both our sakes and definitely for my sanity.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Have you ever taken the “Geographic Treatment?”  Did it help?  Why or why not?

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20 May 2014

The Serrated Edge of Criticism: How to Wound Your Loved Ones

There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front of you!
It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labor of devotion and love!
The colors are like no other, they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish!
And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it!
Why do you do such a thing?
~ C. JoyBell C.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.

riticism has a serrated edge like no other.  It cuts deep and leaves jagged wounds.

I’m not talking about literary criticism. 

Or the critic a writer asks her beta readers to give her.

Or the critique of a fine wine or good restaurant.

I’m talking about negative criticism that tears down confidence, shreds self-esteem, batters the heart, and breaks the spirit.

But I Say This Because I Love You…
The problem with most of us is that we speak before we think.  We eagerly leap to correct someone without getting all the facts (Facebook, anyone?).  We delight in pointing out flaws ~ either character, moral, or simply “You missed a spot there.”

And we usually brush off any pain caused by our omniscient fault-finding by saying “I’m only trying to help.  Don’t you want to be better/turn in a good report/do your best?”

No one is more guilty of this than parents.

I know.  Many of my friends are parents and will probably cry foul.  “But Junior is doing X, Y, and Z!  How else am I to raise an upstanding citizen?!  He has to learn right and wrong.”

True, he does.  No one wants to raise the next criminal mastermind.  But will your negative words really inspire him to greatness?  Has yelling, screaming, or insulting ever produced healthy, integrated results?
Words credit: Handsfreemama.com
Image credit: Google
No.  It produces broken, anxious people.

Nine times out of ten, when we are frustrated with someone ~ be they a child or another adult ~ it’s not because we love them

It’s because we love our ideals and they aren’t living up to them. 

Now, does this mean that children shouldn’t be taught right from wrong?  Of course not!  But teaching them manners and morals doesn’t have to be done at the cost of their dignity and self-esteem.

Rachel Stafford over at Hands Free Mama has an excellent article today on this very topic: To Build (or Break) A Child’s Spirit.  She admits to being that negative parent and talks about the devastating effect it had on her daughter.  She ceased to see her as her own person, and became either a project to be worked on and perfected.  Or a nuisance to be dealt with.

She was so focused on the fly that she stopped seeing the beautiful work of art.

Happily, she realized the damage she was doing and changed the way she interacted with her child.  And her daughter blossomed again.

Accident Forgiveness for All
How many of us grew up in a home where no matter what we did, it was never good enough?  Or where we were “too much” ~ too loud, too quiet, too energetic, too lethargic, etc.

I may be a grown woman, with years of experience and accomplishments behind me, but even today, both my parents (although my mother is much worse about it) still find fault with everything I do or say. I tried confronting her about once, but that is another story for another day (or a whole chapter in my memoir).  Suffice it to say, my own criticism didn’t go over very well.

One of my co-workers has a sign on her wall that says
You cannot live wanting mercy for yourself
and judgment for others.

And yet that’s how most of us live, isn’t it?  We want everyone else to be perfect, but if we screw up, we want immediate and unconditional “accident forgiveness.”

Isn’t it time we started granting some accident forgiveness to others ~ as well as ourselves?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

There’s an old poem that starts out “if a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.”  Read it, print it out, and tape it to your bathroom mirror and your back door.  Make one change in how you interact and react to others, especially your children if you have any.  See if there’s a difference in their demeanor and behavior.

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19 May 2014

Avoidance Solves Nothing - But Writing About It Might

Only fear can defeat life. . . . .
It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease.
It begins in your mind, always ... so you must fight hard to express it.
You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it.
Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid,
perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear
because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.
~ Yann Martel, Life of Pi

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.

voidance is one of my specialties.  Depression and anxiety only make this particular dark star of mine “shine” even brighter (Darker?  Hmmm.)

A bill is due?
Ignore it until they start threatening to take your firstborn as payment.

A report for work is needed?
Wait until the afternoon before it’s expected to begin asking people for input.

Having people over for dinner on Sunday?
Panic and rush around the grocery store on Saturday afternoon wondering what the hell you’re going to serve.

Notice some weird medical issues?
Wait until you’re writhing in pain and they have to take you to the ER.

Sign up to help X do any number of fun or helpful things.
Become so anxious the night before that you give yourself a migraine and digestive issues.

It’s Going to Take CSI to ID this Body of Problems
On a good day (or if I’m really lucky, a good string of days), bills are paid on time, reports are completed and edited and reviewed a week early, dinners are planned with clockwork precision, doctor’s appointments are made before things get tricky, and social engagements are driven to with excitement and flare.

But most “strings of days” aren’t like that.

Life ebbs and flows.  I could have a week where three days are good and two days are quiet and one day is really bad.  Other times, things cycle in the space of just 12 hours.

Today for instance, is a good day.  But it could easily go to pot.  And not the good kind.  In the morning, I felt really good.  I whipped out a clean notebook (they’re an addiction – all those blank pages!), wrote up all my “To Dos” that had been pinging my brain, and set to work getting things done.

And they aren’t tedious things.  They’re fun things.  Good things.  Actions that will help make some people’s days brighter, ease another’s stress, and make my life a little easier, and the holiday weekend more relaxing.

But then something happened.
Image credit: Sarah Brandis

I don’t know what it was.  A drop in my endorphins?  A dip in some other brain chemical?  Something I ate this morning?

Maybe it was the fact that my co-worker was in a car accident over the weekend (she’s fine!) and won’t be in until Thursday.
Maybe it’s the fact that I have to compress my work day by a couple of hours today in order to make a writing class (which is fun!)
Or maybe something on that To Do list makes me nervous. 
There are a couple of entries that assume that I’m talented in a certain area.  A couple more include making plans with people at least a few weeks in advance. And one involves spending time with a difficult person.
Ahhh.  And there it is.  Without even knowing it, my subconscious grabbed on to that event and began wringing its hands:
Why in the world did you think that was a good idea?  You do realize that instead of just “here is X amount of money – knock yourself out” you chose to go big.  Now you’re stuck with this person not just for the event, but for the drive to the event, dinner before the event, and the drive after the event.  Which by the way, will include our most hated pastime ~ sitting in traffic.  Way to go, genius!  You never think these things through, do you?  Gods, you’re an idiot.

Make Like an Ostrich and Stick It
The whispers weren’t audible.  But the drop in “warm fuzzies” was noticeable.  And so what did I do?  I avoided. 

The Internet is a great tool for the Avoider.  Forget FB and Pinterest ~ which I told you are like weed and crack.  Email is the best drug, because it makes us feel like we’re being productive.  See?  I’m answering your email about the thing.  And being all happy-happy and busy-busy. 

Not avoiding.  Nope. No avoiding going on here. Noooo.

This chart applies to any fears we may have.
Image credit: The Strangest Situation Blog

The truth is, I’m afraid.  

I’m afraid that the choice I made (regarding attending the event with said difficult person) will blow up in my face.  Unfortunately, this isn’t based in bad juju or a fantasy.  This is based on past experience.  Which again makes me call my IQ into question regarding the initial decision.

And this reminds me of a well-known fable, The Scorpion and the Frog:
A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out, “But you knew I was a scorpion.” 
I Wanna See You Be Brave
The lesson could be that I am indeed an idiot who should have thought “Yes, that is a nice idea, but X is not a stable person and will likely make the evening a living hell for you.  Best to just write her a check.”  But that’s in the past and can’t be undone ~ I don’t have an in with the Doctor.

And it doesn’t help me face my issue using avoidance as way to cope with fear.  But writing about it does.

So, today started out as a good day.  And then it turned panicked and bad.  The To Do list sat with only one lone red line through it.  All the other tasks languished.  But one of those tasks was to write today’s post.  And in the writing, I figured out what was at the root of my avoidance.

The real lesson then, is that, sometimes, when we’re anxious, or sad, or panicked, or upset ~ we need to talk it out.  This is something we can do every now and then with a supportive friend who is a good listener.  And it’s something we should do with a well-trained supportive therapist on a regular basis.

But it’s also something we can do when we’re alone.  A journal ~ whether in book or computer form ~ can’t give you feedback or positive reinforcement.  But it can help you to gather your thoughts, to help clarify your feelings, and sometimes, even show you the solution to your problem.

So today, if things aren’t going so well, I encourage you to “fight hard to shine the light of words upon” whatever it is you feel you can’t face.  Call a friend, call your therapist, call a hotline.  And write down everything you feel.

Together, let’s fill the wordless void with the light of shining words.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

How do you cope when things don’t go as planned or when you’re feeling anxious?

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