The Ugly Truth: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Postpartum and Mental Health!

It never occurred to me, the complete, physical, mental and emotional toll that having a child has on a woman. I never really thought about it prior to finding out that I was expecting. Social media often shows us the glitz and glam of pregnancy: The creative pregnancy announcements, beautifully crafted maternity shoots and the impeccable newborn pictures to show off the end result of months of waiting.

I had what many would consider a fairly easy pregnancy. One that, I’ll be honest, many would envy. Despite being horribly sick early on, I was able to maintain a healthy life-style, working out/ weight lifting 3 to 4 days per week, all the way up until the day before I went into labor. I was able to eat whatever I desired most of the time. I had no complications during the pregnancy itself and I gained just enough weight to look like I was pregnant. I was preparing for an all natural birth experience. I Attended birthing classes, read everything I could find to read, and from the outside looking in, I appeared to be holistically well.

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In other words, I did a really good job of hiding the not so good parts of the journey that I was on. However, I won’t even focus on the pregnancy journey here, because the true disconnect didn’t start until after my little one was born.

I knew that I had Postpartum Depression the day that I was released from the hospital.  All of the symptoms were there. I felt sad, hopeless, empty and overwhelmed. I would go on to cry every day for weeks, for reasons I couldn’t identify. I felt overly worried and overly anxious. I was irritable, angry and questioned my ability to even care for my child.  I got up every day for eight weeks and I learned to be a mom, because I had to. Although there were plenty of good times and although my baby girl was just the sweetest from day one, I couldn’t shake the feeling of sadness. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had brought my baby into a bad situation, and I feared the unknown.

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There were many times that I felt like I couldn’t do it. I wanted to call my mom and just cry. I wanted to hand my baby girl off and just run away, because I felt like I didn’t deserve to be her mom and like I was not good enough for her. I would hold her tight in my arms, while sitting on the floor and I would just cry… and after I was done, I would get back up and start being her mom again.

I kept telling myself, I’m a mental health therapist. I can get through this. I can handle it. I don’t need help. I have this under control. The truth was that I didn’t. I was spiraling. It wasn’t until it was time for me to return to work that I really had to get control of my mental state,because well… i’m a mental health therapist and I can’t be out here helping people when I myself am not in good shape. On top of battling Postpartum depression, I was then faced with the mom guilt of having to leave my child at daycare every day for strangers to basically raise her. I would literally cry after dropping her off and then multiple times throughout the day. I was a mess, all while telling everyone that I was fine.

It’s true what they say, the troubles of a strong friend often go unnoticed. I wasn’t myself for months and no one noticed or if they did, they didn’t say anything. (Note: I’m not bashing anyone. I do a really good job of pretending all is well, even to the point of lying to the one person who knows me better than anyone else, my mom).

I knew that I wanted and needed to be my best for myself, my baby and my clients, so I finally got to a point where I was ready to face the fact that the therapist needed therapy. So I called up my therapist and thank God for her willingness, I was able to do a few over the phone mini sessions (my schedule as a working mom, just simply didn’t allow me face to face time with my therapist although I am certain it would have been more effective for me). Through these mini sessions, I was able to truly acknowledge my disconnect and I was able to process the experience I was having and well, the following is what I found as it pertains to motherhood, childbirth and mental health:

  1. No one fully prepares you for how significant of an impact that motherhood/child birth has on your physical, mental and emotional well-being and I’m not so sure it’s something you can really prepare for. It’s one of those things where you should prepare as much as possible, but ultimately be prepared for a roller coaster ride that could change directions at any given moment.
  2. When you are the primary care giver, your whole life literally changes, and ready or not, you have to find a way to boss up and handle it. This can have significant impact on your mental health and it’s important to recognize the warning signs of when you need help. (Fortunately for me, I’m a therapist and had the knowledge of what was going on with me. Others may not be that fortunate.)
  3. One of the things that got me the most was the first time that I looked at my body in the mirror, after having my baby girl. It was literally a culture shock. One that was traumatizing to even think about. To even fathom that the super fit girl from the gym, now had to face the reality of how her life now, as a result of childbirth. The stretch marks (that weren’t there during the pregnancy, might I add), the darkness of your abdominal area, the acne, sagging skin and omg, the hair loss!! Many would say, just work out, eat healthy… even so… it took 9 months-ish for your body to change in such a dramatic way, you can’t expect it to snap back overnight, but listen… I was distraught. My postpartum body was far worse than my pregnancy body. If you know me and how health conscious I am, then you will know why this one was really big for me. In fact, this by far was my biggest hurdle and I’m still dealing with it almost 7 months later and after having lost all of my pregnancy weight. I became self-conscious and ultimately insecure and I’m having to learn to love myself all over again.
  4. It’s a different kind of feeling to be needed 24/7. I had been doing me for 27 years. If I didn’t feel like it, I didn’t. If I wanted to do something, I got up and I did it. Having a child changes all of that, and because I was not fully prepared for this  mentally, I felt as though my freedom was stripped away. It didn’t help that I watched my daughter’s dad continue to, for the most part anyway, live his life as normal, going and coming as he pleased (because lets be real, men don’t carry the responsibility that women do when it comes to children, in most situations). I was resentful and I had some lingering anger even from the pregnancy due to the fact that, I was the one who had to walk around with the evidence of getting pregnant (duh, I’m a woman) outside of marriage, and well… he didn’t.
    • Lets pause for a min as I go off on a tangent here. A bit of my background. I’m a preacher’s kid. Grew up in church. Left church for a short time as an adult, but later returned. Accepted my calling into ministry. Left again, for a short time and then ultimately returned and was serving in church at the time that I became pregnant. Aside from that, my mom had us at a young age, and for a good amount of our lives, she was a single parent, who through some struggle, hard work and determination made it happen for us, always educating us on risk and the potential dangers of making some of the same decisions that she made.

Okay back on subject. So given that brief history, let’s just be honest. I was        embarrassed. I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant outside of marriage. I was supposed to marry, indulge in my successful career and then, when the time was right, plan to have children with my husband. It didn’t work out like that, and while I had full control over whether or not it did. One decision led to another and well yeah, a baby. This had negative implications on my mental health because I felt as though I wasn’t living up to the standards that I and probably others as well, placed on my life. I had to get to a place of being able to process all of this so that I could effectively deal with all of this. So, in my mini sessions, and some work on my own, I let it hurt and then I let it go.

5. Fear! In the mental health world we often talk about fear in terms of different phobias or subconscious fears as our minds process experiences and things around us. For me, I had postpartum fear and a clear postpartum panic disorder. I spent a great deal of time, okay, let me be honest. I spent an obsessive amount of time, researching things like SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), How to avoid baby choking, different diseases a baby may have and more. Dr. google became my worse enemy because at every sign of anything, I feared that something bad was going on with my baby all the while, she was perfectly fine! I was overly anxious about things that had not happened and I constantly worried. Through some self- work, I was able to identify this and I began to use therapeutic tools to help manage my anxiety and panic.

6. While I have experienced a lot in the postpartum journey and have had to deal with my mental in more ways than I can fully explain in a blog post, the last thing that I will mention, although it hasn’t negatively effected me too much,  is how invisible you become when you have a child. In many cases you have to learn to accept the fact that most people will no longer reach out like they used to and when they do, they often wont check on mom.  They are going to want to know how the baby is doing and will be interested in all things baby. Other people will no longer reach out at all, because lets face it, people tend to turn ghost when you have children. I often find myself answering my video calls telling the people on the other line, “you are going to talk to me today,” knowing they are video calling to see the baby. It’s quite comical for me at this point. You see, for me, my sweet girl gave me what I have for quite some time, desired. Less attention on me and what I am doing and more attention on something else.  I understand that many people won’t process this the way that I do, because many people are not as comfortable in their solitude like I am. When you are a person who likes to be left alone, it’s kind of exciting to have people asking about someone else and not all in your business. I did however, want to add this point in because most people need to feel like they haven’t been forgotten. Most people need to feel as though they are still important and when they don’t, it can tamper with their mental health.

Whew! So that was a lot. Bottom line is this, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum and motherhood are all darn right hard. Depending on your situation, you may have a better or worse experience than someone else, but regardless of who you are, it’s an adjustment. When we don’t properly deal with adjustments, we can find ourselves battling some of the hardest times in our lives. Your status, title or experience does not eliminate you from the possibility of dealing with mental health issues. If something feels uneasy or not right, chances are, you could greatly benefit from mental health services. It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay not okay. You are responsible for your healing, and if you happen to become a mom, you are responsible for doing your absolute best to give your child a childhood they won’t have to heal from.

It’s tough. I get it. I’m living it. Disappointments, let downs, labor not going the way you would like, people crowding your space and ultimately the isolation you feel as people stop showing up and become less and less concerned with your new experience. I became very transparent in this post, just as in others with the hope and prayer that people who are not mom’s will read this and be encouraged to better support new mamas. No one can adequately prepare you for an unknown experience, but prepared or not, you have to get through it.

I’m committed to doing the work to make sure I am well and i’m committed to doing the work to make sure other’s have the knowledge they need to become well.

So If you know a new mama or even a seasoned mama, I urge you to hug her just a little bit tighter. Offer up a thank you that she likely hasn’t heard. Let her know she is appreciated. Not because she’s looking for it, but because it could be the very thing that does wonders for her mental health. I cried the first time that my mom told me that I was a good mom and that I was doing a good job with my daughter. That alone helped me to make strides in getting my mental health in tact, and that alone is what I constantly replay in my head when I’m having a rough moment.

Remember, life happens and there is nothing that we can do about it, but the goal is to overcome every mental encounter.

og and mommy

~ Oddesty Kyara Langham, MS, LPC, NCC

 

Battling Bi-Polar!

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It’s actually intriguing how we use the term bi-polar to refer to people who we think are emotionally unstable, “crazy,” or those who are nice one minute and then mean the next. The crazy part is that in some ways, these aren’t completely inaccurate symptoms of bi-polar.

Bi-polar is defined by the DSM IV (The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) as being diagnosed when a person has at least one episode of a manic or a hypomanic state or a Cyclothymic disorder (one in which there are mixed depressive states, highs and lows over a longer period of time). Manic and hypomanic states can precede or be followed by depressive states.   A manic state can be defined as one in which a person is showing wild, apparently deranged, excitement and energy. What we often refer to as “highs”.  A Hypomanic state is a more mild form of a manic episode.  The major difference between the two is that a Hypomanic episode will last about 2 to  4 days and not be severe enough to cause marked impairment in social and occupational functioning, while a Manic  will last at least a week and will be severe enough to cause marked impairment in daily functioning.

For the purpose of this post and the others regarding how to recognize when someone you love or yourself may be experiencing  mental illness, I think that it is important to note that Bi-polar diagnosis are often missed because people struggle to admit the symptoms of their highs. They tend to do so because they are either afraid of the diagnosis or because they simply enjoy the highs of their life. They like the mania episodes. These episodes feel euphoric for them. When a family member or close friend is a part of the assessment process, the rate of accurate bi-polar diagnosis increases.

Some symptoms of Bi-Polar include but are not limited to the following: ( I have tried really hard to break these down so that they are easy to understand for even the most uneducated person).

  1. A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least 1 week for Manic and 4 days for Hypomanic (or any duration if hospitalization is necessary).

During the period of mood disturbance as mentioned above in number one, a person will have at least 3 of the following to a significant degree.

  1. Exaggerated or inflated Self-esteem or excessively grand or ambitious
  2. Decreased need for sleep
  3. More talkative than usual
  4. Insomnia or Excessive sleepiness nearly every day during the mood disturbance
  5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (appearing developmentally slow. Others will notice).
  6. Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing. Distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant things.) Easily distracted or fascinated.
  7. Increase in goal-directed activity
  8. Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments).

9. The symptoms of Bi-polar must not be the effect of a substance such as alcohol or drugs and must not be due to a general medical condition.

10. A person may also have a bi-polar disorder when they are experiencing a series of highs and lows over a longer period of time. (i.e. showing clear depressive symptoms over a period of time followed by normal functioning, followed by another depressive state).

The thing about a Bi-polar diagnosis is that if severe enough, it will require hospitalization; However, just because there is not a perceived need for hospitalization, does not mean that one is not bi-polar. Above, I have listed some very basics that I pray will help you to recognize when yourself for someone you love may be experiencing symptoms of bi-polar and may need to see a mental health professional.

The problem with many mental illnesses is that we tend to normalize feelings and functioning that is not meant to be normalized. If left untreated, Bi-polar disorder can cause Poor judgment,  risky behaviors,  irreparable damage to relationships (personal and professional), job loss, business failure, financial ruin, alcohol and drug binges, legal problems, self harm, and subsequent and consequential depressive episodes and increased risk of suicide.

Its in the best interest of yourself and the ones you love to recognize when you may be experiencing bi-polar symptoms and seek help. Here are some ways that you can seek help if you think yourself or someone you love may have bi-polar disorder and also ways that you can begin the conversation with someone you think may be bi-polar:

  1. Let them know that you are genuinely concerned about their well-being and that you want them to be okay. Let them know that not seeking treatment may lead to increased mood disturbances and more severe mood disturbances.
  2. Know that many people have bi-polar disorder and a great deal of research has been done on how to treat it.
  3. The best and most effective way to treat bi-polar disorder at this current time, is medication.
  4. If you or someone else is in any type of danger, call 911 immediately.
  5. If you are someone you love is having a clear manic episode, but are not in any type of foreseeable danger,  seek medical attention immediately.  You can doing this by going to your local hospital. If they are not equipped to handle mental illness, they will be able to get you to the proper facility.
  6. If you think you may be or someone you love, may be bi-polar, but are not having a manic episode or there is no perceived need for immediate hospitalization, you can start to seek help by calling your insurance company and finding out what mental health services your insurance policy may cover. Your insurance carrier can also give you a list of medical professionals that can provide services that they will cover.
  7. If your insurance does not cover mental illness or if you do not have insurance, there are still some options for mental health care. I would encourage you to google free mental health clinics in your area.
  8. Hotlines have also become popular in dealing with mental illnesses, there are suicide prevention hotlines as well as crisis text hotlines that can offer assistance. A few of my favorite hotlines to recommend are as follows: Crisis Text Line: text “CONNECT” to 741741;  National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-800-950-NAMI (6264); Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (1-800-273-8255)

Before I end this post, I also want to offer you an online test that I think is a pretty good starting point to determine if you are bi-polar. While this test is definitely NOT to be used as a substitute for a proper professional diagnosis, if answered truthfully, you can get a good idea of whether or not you need to seek further help. This test can be found at the following link:

https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.bipolar-screening.html

Battling mental illness of any kind can be a challenge. Trust me, I understand that the struggle is definitely sometimes real, but the goal is to overcome every mental encounter. By paying attention to changes within ourselves and paying attention to the actions and behaviors of those around us, we are much more likely to succeed in battling mental illness. Do you know someone who may have Bi-polar Disorder?

References:

 

Mental Illness Is Not Normal!

 

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I found myself having the same conversation on multiple occasions over the last few weeks. The same conversations that I have with colleagues when discussing how to make a greater, more impactful difference in the lives of those suffering from mental illness. The difference was that, these conversations were now being held with people who had little to no knowledge of mental illness, its effects or the statistics of mental health in  the very community in which they live. These conversations were now being held with regular people who may or may not have even cared what I had to say, but who had somehow been impacted by mental illness in ways it appeared, they didn’t even recognize.

Before I dive deep into what I will go ahead and tell you, is a call to action, let me say this… It is so hard to be a mental health professional in the world we currently live in. From my point of view, if the world was split into three sections, it would  seem like, part of the world is skeptical of the reality of mental illness, while another part chooses to ignore it completely and the final part chooses to attribute everything to mental illness. There are so many misconceptions, misunderstandings and just plain our falsehoods that present as a challenge for those of us working in the field as well as being advocates of the field.

With that being said, I want to begin, over the next few weeks, opening up dialogue and discussing some of the things that I have noticed in relation to mental health. I will start with what I know is one of the most challenging things for people to grasp. That is the truth that Mental Illness is not normal.

I can’t count how many times I have spoken with families of loved ones who committed suicide, people who are now living with depression, bi polar, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and in the mist of conversing with them or their families, I begin to recognize the fact that the person in question had been dealing with mental illness long before it became a big enough problem for the world to take notice.

While I don’t wont to overwhelm you with statistics in this initial post of this series, I do want to make mention that currently, somewhere close to 50% of individuals who have a diagnosable mental illness, are not receiving treatment. In any given year, about a quarter of the population will suffer from some form of mental illness, and in many cases, people suffer, unnecessarily with symptoms of mental illness that could be easily treated.

The problem is that we so often mistake clear symptoms of mental illness for normal phases of life. While life does bring on its challenges, there is a fine line between a phase of life and experiencing symptoms of mental illness. I can’t count how many times I have heard people say things like, “Johnny, he hasn’t been the same since grandma Susie died,” or “That’s just crazy uncle Jim, always drunk swearing he hears voices,” or “Sally, she is just going through puberty, she will get over her emotions,” or “Timmy is just experiencing his terrible twos, threes, and then fours.”

We tend to make up excuses for mental illness and we write them off as normal. The problem with this is that they are not normal. In fact, they are far from it. When we fail to recognize mental illness for what it is, we open up the door for things such as mass shootings, suicides and murder- suicides. While there may be many reasons that we may overlook someone else’s or our own mental illnesses, some of the most common reasons why we overlook them are, lack of knowledge, fear of feeling or being seen as weak, or fear of loss, such as losing a job.

The reality is that lack of knowledge is something that can be easily fixed. It’s part of the reason I started this blog… you know, to educate others on mental illness. Now fear of feeling or being seen as weak, is one that I am finding is beginning to be addressed more commonly. Many organizations are making it their business to raise awareness and encourage people to overcome the stigma of mental illness. While this is definitely a work in progress, I’m seeing dialogue more recently that I never saw before and it’s helping.  Now, when it comes to the fear of loss, such as losing a job I will charge you with this. An untreated mental illness is far more likely to cause you to suffer loss in your life than a treated one. Take it how you want it. The reality is that, mental illness needs to be addressed.

So over the next few weeks, I will be breaking down some of the most common mental illnesses and giving you the knowledge you need to recognize when someone or yourself may be suffering from a mental illness and what actions you can take to get them or yourself help. As I do so, I encourage you to quit ignoring the signs of mental illness. Regardless of how you may view mental illness, the truth is that it is real and it effects the lives of so many. We have a responsibility to the people we love to make sure that we are well and to seek to help them get well, even if that means seeking to help them get treatment for a mental illness they may not recognize that they have.

In this moment I am reminded of the Good Samaritan in the Bible book of Luke. If you are familiar with that parable, then you are familiar with the Good Samaritan being the only one to stop and acknowledge and help the man who had been attacked and robbed after others had passed the man and refused to stop and care. I can only imagine that if instead of being attacked and robbed, the man had been there on the side of the road with clear signs of mental illness, then many of us would be like those who just passed by and ignored what was going on with him. The problem is that when we do this, we fail to be who we are called to be and we fail to live a life of compassion. We get so caught up in our own lives, not even recognizing how ignoring the mental health of someone else can greatly impact our lives (Such as in the instance of mass shootings).

Trust me, I understand that the struggle is definitely sometimes real, but the goal is to overcome every mental encounter and together we can do that! I charge you to begin to pay more attention to the people around you. Ask them if they are okay and truly seek to hear and understand their response. Encourage those who may need help to seek that help, and if it is you, don’t be afraid to ask seek help for yourself. You could be completely wrong about someone having a mental illness, but look, in the times that we are living in… it’s better to be safe than sorry.

 

 

 

A Heart To Get Better!

 

I was in the middle of preparing for the small group that I host a few weeks ago, when God gave me a major revelation as it pertains to moving from Just surviving to thriving with your mental health.

So often I find, in my practice and also in my own life, that we know exactly what to do to help our situation, but the real challenge is having the heart to do it. How many times have we said, I know I need to get the proper rest so that I can feel and be my best, but then continue to over-commit ourselves to things? How many times have we failed to properly take our medications, knowing exactly how they should be taken? How many times have we chosen to suffer in silence, knowing that we need to find someone to talk to? How many times have we failed to give time to exercise and eating well, knowing that our inability to move towards being healthy physically, also hinders us from being well mentally? How many times have we simply chosen not to, because we didn’t feel like it?

So why do we not do the things that we know we should do and how do we correct it? What God showed me, is that we fail to do the things we know we should do because we don’t have the heart to do it. It’s not a matter of we don’t know what to do, its more a matter of lack of motivation to do it! We continuously put things and others before our own self-care, failing to realize that we are only effective in helping others if we are operating from a full cup. We can’t give someone what we don’t have. As we pour out, committing ourselves to the responsibilities of life, we have to be very intentional about making sure that we are getting what we need to be filled back up. When you are dealing with a mental illness, having the heart to get well and stay well, should be a top priority. One that remains a top priority throughout the duration of life.

So today, I want to offer you some practical steps to help you make sure that you always have a heart to get well, and stay well. As usual,  i’m not saying that my way is the best way or only way, but I simply offer you what has worked for myself and many of my clients, dealing with mental illness.

  1. Rediscover a love for yourself. Sometimes it takes us doing some deep soul searching to point out things about ourselves that we love. Other times, it’s rather simple. I encourage you to spend some time doing exactly that. Find something to love about yourself and build from there. Once you discover something that you love about yourself, do whatever you have to do, to make sure that, that thing in your life is magnified. For example, if you love how giving you are towards others, your mission should be to make sure that you are always in a position to give, whether it is in your time or resources. You have to do all that you can to stay well, because if you don’t, you won’t be able to give to others, therefore creating one less thing to love about yourself.
  2. Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable. Sometimes tough love is the best love. You need a few people in your life who will recognize when you do not have the heart to do what you know you need to do, and who will call you out on it. We don’t need a yes man… we need a no man who will  let us know that we need to make some changes and then stick by us as we work to do just that.
  3. Constantly Seek to Gain new Knowledge. I mean we all know that the world is ever growing. New knowledge is presenting itself every day and people like myself are committed to making sure that we are able to obtain that knowledge.  One way to ensure that we maintain our heart to do what we know is right and be well, is to commit to filling ourselves with new knowledge. No one way is ever the set in stone way to conquer our issues with our mental. What works for one person may not work for another and what works for a time period, may not work months later. We have to make sure that as new knowledge becomes available, we are aware of it and utilizing the things that may be beneficial to our personal battles with mental illness.

Today, My desire for you is that you will be able to maintain a heart to get better and stay better. Trust me, I understand that the struggle is definitely sometimes real, but the goal is to overcome every mental encounter. I believe in you. I know that you can and will move from just surviving to thriving and I’m rooting for you the entire way.

The Art of No!

I guess if I had not overextended myself to the point of only being able to get 4 hours of sleep per night I would have had a better chance at fighting against my mental illness. If I had not said yes so many times in order to be accepted by a bunch of people who would have replaced me in five minutes had I said no, I would have been in a much better position on conquer my presenting symptoms.

You see, I had let my natural need for belonging, over intensify and become out of hand to the point where I could not elude my willingness to say yes to things I should have said no to. Those thing included bad relationships, extra jobs, extra workout groups, extra clients,  and extra event engagements. It literally took me becoming completely burnt out to recognize that I needed to learn the art of no.

The Art of No!

 

For the last couple of weeks, I have been sharing things with you all that I use to protect my mental. In week 1, I shared with you all how journaling acts as  a release for me and how I use it to get out what I feel, think and desire. Last week, I shared with you all how exercise has changed the dynamics of my life, and this week I want to share with you all how saying no, has given me the best chance at being able to answer the question, are you okay today, with a Yes!

While I was busy overextending myself,  I was steady becoming more and more mentally ill. I was not getting the rest I needed. My body was not getting the opportunity to reboot and I was not able to focus. I was going through the motions of a busy life without understanding the implications of what I was doing to my mental. While I was out doing and being everything for everyone, I was neglecting myself. I was not practicing proper self-care and I was not acknowledging the imbalance that I felt within myself.

I would become unnecessarily frustrated and I would end up crashing, spending days at a time, in bed every chance I got, because my depression was real and my lack of rest was even more real. I was miserable, and then it really hit me. I can’t be effective in helping others protect their mental, when I was not protecting mine. I can’t help others move from just surviving to thriving when I was just surviving myself.

SO there I was, ready to learn the art of saying no. I learned how to say no when I was tired. I learned how to say no, when my schedule was already booked. I learned how to prioritize what was important. I learned that it was okay to not be super woman. I learned that if I didn’t get my list of 100 things that I needed to do, done all in one day, that, that was okay. I learned that my mental health and well being was dependent on my ability to say no, and so I did.

It is my heart’s desire that you would learn the art of no. We spend our lives doing so many things for so many people who wont even take the time to acknowledge that we are struggling mentally. We have to surround ourselves with people who understand that our no is not to be mean or unsupportive, but to help us be the best versions of ourselves that we can be for everything that we commit to. As we intentionally say no to things that can wait, or things that we simply don’t have time for or that it would not be healthy for us to do, we allow ourselves time to rest and practice self-care for the things that we do need to and will commit to .

We can’t be every where are one time, but we can be the best and give our best at the places that we can be. While the struggle is definitely sometimes real, the goal is to over come every mental encounter. My prayer for you this week, is that you would learn to say no when it’s necessary in order to protect your mental.

Exercise To Help Your Mental!

So in continuing this weekly journey of sharing with you all the things that help me survive my mental encounters, today I will give you all a little insight into my workout life. Like journaling, exercising has been something that has change the dynamics of my life. It allows me to release my creativity while also protecting my mental.

The energy released during exercise helps me to truly feel better and remain healthy. I won’t go into all of the benefits of working out in relation to health, as I have bored you all with that science previously. What I will say is that aside from all of the health benefits, working out has been a way for me to take out my frustration, calm my anxiousness and increase my quality of life. I don’t work out because I want to be healthy, I work out because being healthy is the best chance I have at defeating my mental illness.

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Consistently, I work out more often than most people in the United States.  While consistency is definitely key, when it comes to working out, progress or lack thereof can either hinder you or help you in your mental illness. I definitely recommend a workout life for anyone who is physically able to commit to one, but not without the understanding of the following things:

  1. Every day wont be a good day and today happens to be one of those not so good days. So what!!! I don’t always feel like working out, and while I have learned that those are the days that I should probably work out the most, the reality is that sometimes I don’t and well, that’s okay. You can’t beat yourself up over a bad day, and trust me there will be some bad days. Keep moving forward. Keep doing what you can and when you can’t, truly learn to be okay with that.
  2. Never push yourself farther than you can go. Know your limits and when you have reached them, don’t over do it. Soon you will find yourself reaching goals you never thought imaginable, both mentally and physically, until then, do what you can.
  3. Keep coming back, It works if you work it. While this may be familiar as a common saying used in AA or NA meetings, it’s equally true when it comes to working out. You may not feel better after one work out, but if you keep coming back you will most definitely begin to feel it working.

Many people work out too look good or because they need to or want to lose weight. Understand this, you don’t have to be trying to lose weight to work out. Working out can be done in a way that allows you to maintain weight. The reality is that we make up excuses for everything and there are always going to be excuses to not work out. Point is, don’t use them. Trust me, I understand that the struggle is definitely sometimes real, but the goal is to overcome every mental encounter. I’m rooting for you and I believe that working out is one way that you can begin to go from just surviving to thriving.

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Journaling Progress!

Last week I spoke on how writing has been used in my life and in my practice as a mental help therapist to help myself and others move from just surviving to thriving. I was supposed to do a midweek post to show you all how journaling is done in my personal life and offer some tips to help you successfully get the benefits of journaling in your mental health journey, but last week was one of the busiest weeks of my year to date, and well.. it simply didn’t happen.

By the time Thursday was over, I was discouraged and quite sad that I had failed to deliver as I said I would and I will be honest. For a few minutes I was really beating myself up internally. Then I remembered, a part of the process of fighting against your mental illness, is to recognize that you can’t be perfect. Sometimes you will miss the mark and there will definitely be times where your life does not allow you to do all that you want to do.

So instead of continuing to beat myself up about it, I decided to use it as a teaching moment to remind you all, that even when you can’t get everything you would like to get done, accomplished, you are still enough. Prioritize, do your best, and when all else fails, go to sleep and wake up refreshed enough to try again the next day.

Now that we have cleared the air with that one, I do want to invite you all a little into my world of journaling.

As I said in last Monday’s post, I have basically been journaling to some extent for a long as I can remember. This year, I have not only been intentional about journaling, but I have also been intentional about keeping track of my goals, progress and how my days are going. In order to make progress in any area of your life, you must be able to acknowledge how you are currently doing.

Below is my rate your year daily tracker. This year is my first year using this and honestly, it’s something that I will probably use every year because it has been so helpful.

Journaling Progress

This portion of my journal allows me to track each day and rate it, a great day, good day, a so-so day, a bad day or a horrible day. This is so good for me, because it allows me to really reflect on my days at the end of each day and recognize that a bad moment, does not equate to a bad day. I may have hated the 12pm hour of my day, but over all my day was really good and I can track that here and then write details on the regular pages of my journal. So far this year, I have had mostly good days, one great day and two so-so days… hasn’t been a bad year so far and that in itself is encouraging.

Aside from keeping track of my days, I journal during my quite time with God and studying my Bible, as well as my thoughts, feelings and whatever else I need to release for the day.

Journaling Progress!

Above are most of my full journals since 2014. A few are missing, because I don’t know where I put them, but this picture allows you to get a good view of how serious I take this journaling thing. Honestly, journaling has saved my life.

Below you will see a bit into my recent study time and quite time and time of reflection. These are actual inserts from the pages of my current journal and a look into how I maintain my balance and keep my sanity. Its so important to me when journaling that I write a lot about my spirituality and relationship with God, because it has been a driving force in me being able to overcome difficulties with my mental health.

Journaling Progress!

 

 

Journaling Progress!

Journaling Progress

As you can see, these journal entries not only deal with my spirituality, but they deal with my mental. They allow me to really release at the end of each day. Sometimes on the pages of my journals, there are nothing but tears. Sometimes, I write so much that my hand hurts.

If you have never tried journaling, I encourage you to do so. Sometimes people simply wont understand what we are going through. They won’t get how we feel or how our mental is impacting our lives. One thing that we can’t deny is that even when the world doesn’t get it, our journals wont reject us. If you would like to see how journaling makes a difference in your life, I encourage you to start with a 90 day journal challenge. Journal daily or as often as possible for 90 days and pay attention to how much of a release you get from it as well as watch your progress over the next 90 days.

Trust me, I understand that that struggle is definitely sometimes real. Journaling is one way that we can work to overcome our difficulties and deal with our emotions concerning them. While the struggle will always be real at times, the goal is overcome every mental encounter.

 

Take Note!

I grew up with a desire to write. I’d write on whatever I could find. Paper, notepads, paper towels, tissue… anything that I could get a pen or pencil to work on, there I was writing on it. Little did I know that years later, writing, or journaling rather would become my main outlet. The number one way that I would release my thoughts and feelings as I journeyed through life taking on the challenges that it would bring.

As a mental health therapist, journaling is also an often used intervention strategy, as I have mentioned before as it not only allows my clients to release their thoughts and feelings concerning their circumstances, but It also allows me to be able to gain better understanding about the experiences of the ones who trust me to help them move from surviving to thriving.

Not only have I seen writing/journaling be effective in my own life, but I have seen my clients from page one of a journal to the last page of the journal, make remarkable strides and be able to go back and see the progress that has taken place in their lives, simply because they took the time to go through their process in writing.

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So why a whole blog post on journaling? I’m glad you asked. I was contemplating creative ways to help you all in your journey to becoming better, as I have become all too familiar with how boring life can be when you are so focused on getting better that you forget that change can be good and that different things open our eyes to new possibilities. In trying to find ways to be more creative in my attempt to help I kept hearing actions speak louder, so… over the next few weeks I will be sharing interventions that have not only helped my clients in their journey to better, but that have helped me also. Along with my normal Monday post, there will also be a midweek post that features an example of the intervention discussed in the Monday post.

I have learned over time, that it’s one thing to tell someone what to do to help them get better, but with different learning styles, sometimes people benefit from seeing things demonstrated. So in another attempt to help you by any means necessary, I will become very transparent over the next few weeks and invite you all into my personal world for a dose of my daily survival mechanisms.

So check back Wednesday for my midweek post for this first week, as I  take you into the life of my journaling experience. While the struggle is definitely sometimes real, the goal is to overcome every mental encounter… and in 2018, my goal is to help you do just that.

 

My Faith and My Mental!

As the connection between mind, body and spirit becomes popular in conversation among Mental Health Professionals, I as an out spoken believer in Jesus Christ and Mental Health Therapist, find it extremely necessary that I take another Monday to talk about what I have been talking about since I first began combating my mental illness in 2010.

Today, however, I want to take some time to be a little more transparent than I have been because I believe that in doing so, others will be inspired to continue fighting like hell in the fight of their life.

In 2010, I was 3 stories high, crying after dealing with a bad breakup that left me miserable, lost and wanting to end my life. I had spent the last however much time, engaging in a relationship with a man who throughout the course of that relationship had contributed to me losing myself and my sense of purpose. So there I was, depressed, suicidal and struggling with anxiety. I had come up with a plan to end my life and right as I was about to start writing my final goodbyes, in walks my roommate. It was so God that she walked in, in that moment and instantly became concerned with the state in which she found me. Even to this day, I’m not quite sure if she realizes how much of God she portrayed for me in that moment. It was almost as if God was speaking to me directly through her and well 8 years later, and I thank God that I’m here to talk about it.

I thank God that I didn’t end my life that day and I thank  Him that my mental illness has not gained so much control over my life since then to get me to the point being about to end it all (although I will admit that there has been a couple of times when I thought about whether or not the world and those close to me would be better off without me).

My battle with mental illness since 2010 has been rough. In fact, in going through it, I realized that I had been dealing with parts of it, since childhood. In fact, I had made something that was not normal, functional for me because it started so early in my life that I had not yet developed the knowledge to understand it and I didn’t know how to communicate it, so I thought it was just how life was.

I went on from that day in 2010 of seriously wanting to die, to being diagnosed with depression and generalize anxiety disorders. I went on a journey of exploring different medications to help me “feel normal” again, some that made me worse, and others that seemed to work a bit, for a while. Some that made me feel like I was about to have a heart attack and some that helped with one diagnosis, but made the other one peak.

I went on to begin seeing a therapist and then on to becoming one. I learned that there will be some bad days, but that one bad moment doesn’t equate to a bad day. I went through a lot that those close to me don’t know about. I had my heart broken a couple times after that and because of that first experience, I knew how to deal with it. I learned to not let any circumstance control me. I learned how to be healthy and whole and it has greatly contributed to my ability to help others become healthy and whole. Because I overcame my irregular experience, I became someone who could help others overcome their irregular experiences.

… but, out of every experience that I have had in dealing with my mental illness, the most important lesson that I feel that I have learned, is that God will never leave me nor will He forsake me. It’s so God how He shows up right when I’m about to break down. It’s so God how He gives me exactly the right words to say when I’m the one with the mic, tasked with filling people with knowledge about Jesus or mental health. It’s so God that the same anxiety I feel as I’m walking out on the platform becomes the same energy that God uses to strengthen me for the task. It’s so God how He allowed me to go through it, so that I could not only help others from my educational background, but from my experience.

I am a firm believer that we go through wilderness seasons in order to prepare us for our next assignment. In fact, I wrote a whole blog about it on my Christian Lifestyle blog http://www.heart4truthmovement.org.  God will use the most unlikely circumstances to shape us for our destiny. My relationship with God works better than any medicine ever did to keep me pushing through in this fight (I’m not telling you to quit taking your medicine, I’m simply sharing how God has been a great solution for me). My relationship with God allows me to know that no matter how low I get in dealing with my mental illness, I can look high to the one who is in full control.

I know how hard it is to deal with a mental illness. I know how it can be embarrassing to talk  about. I know how people don’t understand. I know how sometimes you just want to scream because everyone wants to tell you to get over it. I know what it’s like to not be okay. I know what it means to need help. I know how scary it can be to ask for help, but I a also know how helpful it can be to seek God while dealing with all of it. My peace comes from knowing that God is with me. A songwriter Candy West, once said… ” contentment is knowing that You are never unaware and no matter where I am You will always be there.” God has proven that to me time after time after time and that is where my hope comes from.

My hope for you is that you will continue to move forward, and that you will discover that your mental illness is bigger than you. Someone needs to hear your story. While the struggle is definitely sometimes real, the goal is to overcome every mental encounter.

And Then, Another Monday!

 

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… And so we have made it to the fourth Monday of the year and well… it doesn’t change the fact that it’s Monday. In fact, even in this new year… I still didn’t want to get up this morning, the weekend still didn’t last long enough, I still feel unrested and annoyed, and guess what?? You guessed, I am still dealing with one hell of a mental illness that just wont let me forget it exists. If I were to take a wild guess, I would say, that many of you feel that same why that I do. You are tired of being tired and want a solution to your dilemma.

Listen, if you don’t get anything else out of this post, get this!! Change your perspective, change your life!!! 

So what do I do, when it’s Monday and it seems like the weight of the world is upon me. I stop, I thank my higher being for the strength that He has, that I so desperately need in this moment. I lace up my sneakers, put my workout gear on, and I lift it up off of me.

One of the hardest things to do when suffering from a mental illness of any degree, is to find a way to push through the moments that seem to have you stuck in place. You have to make up your mind that no matter what it takes, you will not be defeated. Moments of failure do not equate to a lifetime of defeat. The tough times are meant to develop our character. The hardships are meant to strengthen our minds. The breakdowns are meant to show us how much we were built to be in relationship with others. As I have said, many times before, this is not the time to suffer in silence. This is the time to develop a network of people who are for you and with you in this fight of your life.

Monday’s or any days don’t have to be all bad. A bad moment is not a bad day. A bad day is not a bad week, A bad week is not a bad month, and a bad month is not a bad year, though we tend to magnify our bad times. Your life isn’t horrible, that moment was. You have to take it for what it was and decide to move past it. You have a decision to make and how your respond to that bad moment, will determine how the rest of your moments play out.

I know this post is a bit different than my usual post, but I felt very compelled to make this fourth Monday of the year about motivating you and myself to keep fighting like hell in the fight of our lives. It’s not over until God says its over!

You are strong enough. You are brave enough. You are enough, and guess what, You will get through this Monday. I’m rooting for you because I know all too well, that while the struggle is definitely sometimes real, the goal is to overcome every mental encounter.