I know that this blog is generally very upbeat and light. I like to keep things fun, positive, and somewhat spiritual. I'm still going to try and do that, but I do want to talk about something that has recently happened to me.
It started in mid-April when I found myself in the middle of a faith crisis. It was something that I thought was really big. It didn't just shift what I thought about my religion, but about my fundamental belief in God, and it sort of permeated into every area of my life. It wasn't, "If I could be so wrong about this, what else could I be wrong about?" but, "If I am wrong about this, it doesn't matter what else I am right about." (Sorry to be so coy about this, but I'm not going to elaborate on what exactly it was.) It was breaking my heart into a million pieces. I finally reached an intellectual understanding that I didn't have to understand and know exactly everything about this in order to believe in God and have faith. Despite this, I still felt like my heart was irreparably broken.
As the days and weeks went on, I tried everything I knew how to do to make the bad feelings go away. I found ways to serve others, I kept on reading my scriptures, I doubled down on praying, and I opened up to a few friends for advice. The feeling never dissipated. It felt like where I used to feel super connected – to others, to God and to myself – there was a never-ending pit of extreme despair. And everything that I threw into this pit to alleviate the awful feelings only made it worse. I didn't know what to do. It got to the point where I felt the worst that I had ever felt in my entire life, and I attributed it to the faith crisis since that seemed to start the bad feelings, so I set up a meeting with my bishop (church leader).
After I explained everything to him, he immediately knew what was wrong with me. "Your thoughts are completely irrational," he said. "If it doesn't make any sense, it's because you have anxiety, and you need professional help." He told me to get an appointment with my doctor so I could get medication. He also helped me out with getting counseling from a therapist.
So, I didn't know that I have anxiety. I don't really seem to be a very anxious person. I was also extremely hesitant to get medicine for this, and I think it was because I thought I was stronger than that. I have always been supportive of people who took medication for mental health, understanding that it can be necessary and extremely beneficial. In spite of that, I must have viewed myself as above all that. I know now that I am not, and I have a newfound respect for pharmaceuticals. I called my doctor the next day and got an appointment to be seen. Miraculously, they were able to see me that same day! I told my doctor all about my symptoms, and she prescribed me a couple of medications. Since I take medicine for my thyroid, she also ordered some labs to check my thyroid hormones to make sure that they weren't a contributing factor to my anxiety. I was desperate for any relief, and it felt like I couldn't make it another day without something drastically changing. The medication helped me so much.
I asked God to take this away from me. He didn't. I heard in my mind that I should quit caffeine. I had been drinking about 200 mg of caffeine in the form of sparkling vitamin water nearly every day for the past two or three months. In order to quit fully, I linked the worst of my anxious feeling to caffeine. I quit cold turkey and never intend to drink or consume it ever again. I had bad headaches for a little more than a week, but through the pain, I could tell that avoiding it was absolutely the right thing for me to do. My thyroid levels ended up being high, which could have been contributing to my anxiety. My doctor had me stop my thyroid medicine for a week and prescribed me a lower dose to take afterward.
I also started seeing a wonderful therapist. In our first session, she gave me a few coping techniques. I will include one of them below in a video because I have found it so helpful that I have told almost everyone I come in contact with about it. She also helped me unpack the true source of my anxiety, which is that I have been unhealthily suppressing my feelings about my spinal cord injury. I lost something so huge, but I never properly grieved for it. I just skipped it and went straight into positivity. I was doing whatever I could to survive an impossible situation. I didn't even realize this is what I was doing. I wasn't consciously sweeping these cobwebs under the rug like believing that they would go away. What I thought I was doing was getting rid of them in a healthy way and moving forward.
I have always thought it was unhealthy to focus on negative emotions. It felt stupid to be sad when you could just choose to be happy instead. So I spent the past 23 years choosing to be grateful for the many things I did have instead of spending any amount of time on being sad for the many many many things that I had lost. And I don't think I would change what I did, even though it eventually caught up with me and is making my life really hard right now.
I lost so much the day I was paralyzed. On May 23, 1999, I felt like I was put on earth for two reasons: to be a mother, and to write and play music. These were pillars of my identity. On May 24, 1999 – they were suddenly and permanently gone. I also loved singing, and my voice was destroyed with a tracheotomy. I valued my independence above almost anything else. No longer. Nearly everything that I had liked about myself was taken from me along with countless opportunities. It is a lot to process. I'm not saying this here because I want sympathy. That's the last thing I want. It's just a hard truth that I haven't looked in the eyes before. And right now, I'm trying with everything that I am to get myself out of this hole that I have been quietly and unknowingly sinking in for the past two decades.
I am getting better. First of all, it was incredibly freeing to understand what was happening to me. Understanding that my trouble had a name immediately made my burden feel lighter. I was able to communicate what was wrong with me to others in a brief and easy-to-understand way, which made it so much easier to reach out for help. Secondly, I learned that taking medication for this sort of thing does not mean that you are weak. Thirdly, I am grateful to the professionals out there who take their jobs seriously – my doctor and my therapist. I am able to combat this malady at all angles with their combined support. Penultimately, I know that God is good. He did not want for this to happen to me. I believe that this struggle will make me a better, stronger and more polished person. I know that I will win, and this won't defeat me.
Lastly, I just want to make it abundantly clear that when I say "I will win," I mean that "I will win because I have the love and support of amazing family/friends, medical professionals, (and the inner drive to do whatever it takes until I am better)." I know I can't do this alone. Reaching out for help in this way is way more difficult for me than asking for constant physical assistance. You know, I thought I had this part of my life under control, and lots of people always ask me for my help when it comes to spiritual and emotional issues. To say it is humbling to be brought to this state where I feel as helpless as a baby and like I know absolutely nothing is the world's largest understatement.
I wanted to share this because, even though this is extremely personal, I think it is important to shine a light on mental health issues. (I just found out it is mental health awareness month, so this entry is even more appropriate.) Anyhow, if you are having a hard time of it, you are not alone! I think everyone suffers in the mental health department in different ways and in different intensities. The good news is, though, you don't have to be alone in your suffering. If you need help, ask for it! The other good news is that help is widely available! You don't have to be broken forever. There are resources everywhere. If you are currently and actively working on your own mental health, I commend you. I know now how difficult it can be, and you needn't feel alone/different/distressed for taking care of business. You are absolutely doing the right thing!
In a follow-up appointment with my doctor, she told me that it was very likely that my abnormal thyroid levels were responsible for my anxiety getting that bad because of how quickly I have started to feel better. I am not back to normal yet, but I anticipate that I will be even better than I was before my crisis. I am grateful for my fortunate circumstances which allow me to get the help that I desperately needed/need! I know that I will also be grateful for this trial in the future. Right now, I'm still fighting my way out, and I have been having some really good days and some not-so-good-at-all days. I want really badly to conclude this entry on a high note – to give you some helpful advice or to point out a silver lining. So, the good news is that I am fighting this struggle on every front. The bad news is that I can't just skip to the end where I am okay, and launch right into positivity. I do need to go through the grief that I have unknowingly shelved for the past 23 years.
|Chart on how I am combating my anxiety from every angle|
In fact, today is the anniversary of the last full day I was a walking person. On the anniversary of my accident, I like to spend it doing something fun. I have spent several of these anniversaries at Disneyland or SeaWorld. I could have easily lost my life that day, but I survived. Which is what I am still doing! So, it's not necessarily that I am "celebrating" my accident, but throwing myself a little positivity party for being alive! This year, I'm not going to be doing something fun, but I will be doing something extremely useful – more fully realizing and processing the scope of my grief. I am still learning how to do this, so any pointers you might have I would greatly appreciate!