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I have a flesh eating virus.

The soft tissue of my body has been overtaken by a flesh eating virus.

Or so it feels.

Anxiety making its way up and down my arms.

He is no friend of mine.

He hurts me.

Hurts the ones that love me.

Eats me alive.

Conversations with myself spiral.

Who said that?

What do you want from me?

What is wrong?

Something.

Can you be more specific?

Something is wrong.

NOTHING is ever specific with anxiety.

It’s a flesh eating virus that induces spiraling self-conversations that never get anywhere.

Anxiety is not a friend.

It is a foe.

Equipped with battle gear to fiend off your efforts to rid yourself of him.

A virus without a cure.

Eating you alive.

Anxiety makes everything difficult to understand.

To navigate.

To piece together.

Anxiety fogs reality.

Where are my wipers?

My battle gear?

My cure?

But there is not cure for anxiety.

No quick fix.

No all-protecting battle gear.

Instead, fighting off anxiety takes persistence.

Tenacity.

Grit.

It takes showing up each and everyday ready to take it.

Ready to face the all-powerful, all-consuming anxiety.

Ready to strip it of its power.

The flesh-eating virus puts up a good fight.

But I can handle it.

I can make it through.

I’m showing up everyday and I’m ready.

I won’t back down.

My track record is 100% for surviving my anxiety.

The flesh-eating virus never consumes me.

If I don’t fight back its as if it loses its power.

Anxiety is not all-powerful.

Anxiety is not all-consuming.

Anxiety is an ugly liar.

And anxiety does not win.

My track record proves that.

Does yours?

 

 

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Tread water with me

water

Living with high-functioning mental illness is exhausting and quite isolating.

I have been struggling especially hard with my anxiety and depression over the last couple of years but the majority of my struggle has been behind closed doors.

As a therapist, I can easily imagine my list of diagnoses branded to me by counselors and psychiatrists alike

F43.12 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic

F33.1 Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent episode, Severe

F41.1 Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Z63.5 Disruption of Family by Separation or Divorce

Z91.5 Personal History of Self Harm

Z62.810 Past History of Physical Abuse in Childhood

Z62.810 Past History of Sexual Abuse in Childhood

Yikes.

But people who meet me. People who take me in. Really breathe me in. They don’t see these things. It’s not that I necessarily try to hide them- I’m just in recovery. And healed- for the most part. But scars run deep. And some days they rear their ugly head and I’m crying in a parking lot. Or on the tiles of my bathroom floor. Or on my sons carpeted floor.

The high-functioning part confuses people who are close to me.

I work several positions in the helping field. Achieving credentials and new certifications regularly.

I am a doctoral student.

I am a wife.

A mother.

A volunteer.

A friend.

I am truly the girl who tries to do it all.

However, struggling with the demons of my past while also being a perfectionist and over-achiever can be completely exhausting and isolating.

My highlight reel is *insert 100 emoji here*.

Smiling faces. Matching family outfits. Funny Instagram stories. Perfect skin.

But they are only the highlights.

Don’t be fooled.

There are endless photographs that are never taken. Never posted. Never shared.

Panoramic views of my mascara streaked cheeks on nights when I cry endlessly to my husband that I just can’t do *this* anymore.

Still frames of my toddler hitting me in the face because hitting is really, really entertaining to him right now.

Nonexistent polaroids of me on my knees begging my husband to please forgive my hurtful words after an argument.

These are the pictures I don’t post.

The pictures you don’t see.

Don’t you have these pictures too?

Don’t be fooled by my success.

I. Am. Struggling.

Sometimes.

Just like you.

Because having a childhood filled with trauma, monsters, and haunting streetlights can really impact a girl.

But I don’t give up.

That’s the high-functioning part.

I keep going.

I survive.

But I struggle too.

Do you get that?

Doing both is completely possible.

I’ve learned overtime that being high-functioning doesn’t make my struggles any easier.

Sometimes I’m bobbing along in the ocean. Other times I’m being pulled under, caught up in a riptide and battling the water that is trying to drown me. It may seem as if my struggles are less severe or less intense but its just that I’ve leaned to tread water.

Tread water with me.

 

 

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New year, new me: Align.

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I recently shared a brag post on Facebook about having a 4.0 in my doctorate program. I am extremely proud that I have managed good grades while juggling the different aspects of my life (3 jobs, husband, son, house chores, budgeting, meal planning, volunteering, key spouse duties, community initiatives, etc *this list could go on and on*) so I shared the post without hesitation. A friend of the family commented something along the lines of how amazed she was at how I juggled so many things. And just like that WHAM- I realized how pretty my life looks from the outside looking in. From the outside I am truly the woman I always hoped to be- the one who can do it all. She is a go-getter. She is doting towards her family. She can seamlessly handle and master the various roles she has placed herself into.

But this isn’t always accurate. 

When you’re outside looking in everything can look polished. Perfect. Amazing.

But when you’re inside things are not always pretty. They can be messy.

Especially when the woman who can do it all has suffered with depression and anxiety throughout her lifetime.

This year, 2018, I made it my resolution to say yes to life.

And I did.

I was sick and tired of sitting on the sidelines and being too afraid to say yes to life.

So I went for it.

2018 brought several new, wonderful things into my life.

However, saying yes to life proved to be a bit overwhelming.

You should see my day planner.

It’s exhausting.

Saying yes to life made my life look pretty looking outside in.

But it made things difficult.

Feeling overwhelmed is never a happy place to be.

I somehow took in this mindset that I needed to be busy every single day to be successful. To be worthy. To be happy.

For 2019, I want to say yes to life but also say no.

I want to say I can’t.

I want to say this is not healthy for me.

I want to say I am barely hanging on.

I want to be vulnerable.

I want to say I know this is confusing but some nights I cry myself to sleep. Some nights I feel like I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do everything anymore. I need help.

I want to say that if you’re outside looking in and you feel amazed at how well I juggle things please know that this is not always accurate.

Picture perfect.

Status perfect.

Brag post perfect.

These are not accurate.

For 2019 I want to rest.

I want to recover.

I want to reflect.

So, new year, new me: say yes to life but also say no.

I want to “destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful”.

I want to “embrace the concept that rest, recovery, and reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and ultimately happy life.”- anonymous

HUSTLE 

ALIGN

 

 

 

We are survivors and we will survive.

Today is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

I have the great honor of sharing my testimony at a candlelight vigil today at 2 PM.

But I wanted to take it step further so that I could reach more people with my testimony…

So here I am, posting my story on my blog- in hopes that someone who is hurting and feels all alone can know that I am standing with them. We are survivors and we will survive.

So here it goes:

Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, knows that it forever changes your life. It rocks your world in a way that no other death can. It can leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, and completely lost. The emotions can be overwhelming and the “whys” and “what if’s” can consume you. You can become overcome with anger as you question how the person you loved could have left you here. Grief after a suicide is complicated.

It has been 15 years since my father died by suicide. I was 15 years old when he hooked up a hose to the exhaust of his truck and connected the hose to his bedroom window. His truck ran all night as he fell asleep in a bedroom filled with carbon monoxide. I was a young, naive teenager when I became a suicide survivor. Losing a father to suicide quickly began to define who I was. I was filled with turmoil and unanswered questions  and I quickly began turning to the wrong comforts. I dabbled with alcohol and drug use for a few years of my early 20’s while living with the heavy weight of depression. I seemed to have forgotten the man my father was during my childhood and defined him by his suicide. I was quick to call him selfish. A coward. A disappointing father. I was hurt and not coping well. I think this pattern of self-hatred, guilt, and shame is easy to get wrapped up in when you’re a survivor of suicide.

For suicide survivors, after the initial shock of learning of the death, the “whys” begin- terrible, unending “whys” that we play over and over in our head. The first being “why did he do it?” followed by “why did I not see this coming”. They can spiral from there to “What if’s”- “What if I had called him” … “What if I had seen the signs?”

I currently work as a grief counselor and recently worked with a young girl whose father died by suicide. When the topic of “whys” came up she had a particularly brilliant answer. She said “you know, all we have is our best guess, and our best guess might be wrong”. Our best guess might be wrong- yet; we spend such a great deal of time pondering over these questions. If only we could approach it like this 9-year-old girl.

I spent about a year in counseling working through the shame and guilt I had taken on. I had to work through an abundance of negative self-talk including things like “no one will love me- not even my Dad did” and “I’ll never be good enough- my Dad didn’t think I was worth living for”. I worked through the “What if’s”. Like the self-blame I internalized for not calling him the night he killed himself. The night my Dad killed himself I had picked up the phone with the intention of telling him about me ordering my class ring that day. However, when I picked up the phone my boyfriend was there. The phone didn’t ring. Just coincidence. Remember how that could happen with landlines? I forgot to call my Dad back and the next day I found out he was dead.

I never imagined that I would be standing here- telling my story 15 years later. At some points of my life I wasn’t sure that I would even exist 15 years later.

Now, I can stand proudly and share my story of being a suicide survivor. For I no longer feel ashamed that I am the daughter of a man who killed himself. I now have a new understanding of suicidal ideation and mental illness. I have my master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and have worked as a grief counselor for the last few years. I now know that those who die by suicide are not selfish, nor a coward. They are amazing, wonderfully loved people who see no other way. They are sick and hopeless. When I explain suicide to a young child I may tell them that suicide happens because of a brain attack- much like a heart attack. It’s very physical. The brain is very, very sick and can not see any other way to survive.

My father had a brain attack. He was a warm, funny man who was an amazing Dad. His name was Buddy and he was only 35 years young when he died by suicide. I’ve had time to reflect on the amazing father he was since healing through my grief journey. We would sing karaoke together in my brother’s bedroom. We played hide and go seek and shot a bb gun in the woods behind our house. He scratched my back when I was sick and held my hand when I was scared. He was quick-witted and made me laugh until I cried. He was very intelligent and worked as an electrical engineer. He had a wonderful set of parents and a brother and a sister who loved him dearly. He didn’t live a charmed life by any means. He was divorced three times and suffered from chronic pain for most of his adult life. I don’t remember him being depressed. I was shocked by the suicide and still am to this day. There were no signs we could have seen. There was nothing I could have done.

Unless you have lost someone to suicide, you have no idea what survivors are going through. The degree of hurt, abandonment, betrayal, and confusion we are left with is indescribable. For me, going to counseling and talking about my feelings and hurts and disappointments helped me heal.

Another way I have found healing through my grief journey is by turning my pain into a purpose. I use my struggles to help others however I can. I can’t go back in time and save my Daddy but I can do everything in my power to let other people know that it is okay to ask for help. This outreach ranges from me posting bits of my personal journey on social networking sites to presenting at conferences to help other counselors know how to best work with suicide survivors. I find that my personal experiences have fueled my passion for suicide prevention and awareness and will continue forward with my efforts for as long as I’m able. I encourage you to find a way to turn your pain into a purpose. I’ve known people who do this through blogging, through checking in on friends, or just sharing a suicide hotline on their social media sites. You can do this by smiling at strangers or giving a meal to homeless person. The ways you can utilize your struggles is endless. I also encourage you to tell your story. Memorialize the person that is no longer with us today. Tell stories about them. Don’t let the shame, guilt, and unanswered questions stop you from remembering what you loved about the person. I believe we suicide survivors are strong.

If you are listening to me talk today and wondering how it is possible that I am all better after losing my Dad- let me clear things up. I’m not cured. I am better. But I will always grieve. Grief is not an event in time. Grief is like love. It is a life-long, ever-changing experience. It evolves. It expands. It changes in depth. Volume. Intensity. But it never fades. It changes us. My grief will always be a part of me. Because grief is love. Someone I love died and my life will always be different because of it. But my grief looks different now. My grief encourages me to help others. I have decided to allow my grief to encourage me. What will you do with your grief? It’s up to you.

“Bad things happen. How I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have: life itself”

-Walter Anderson

Is your thinking faulty? Go to war.

Have you ever felt like the Cheshire Cat?

Fading away.

Slipping away.

Until you are no more.

Lately I’ve felt like the disappearing cat from a beloved children’s book. Fading, fading, gone.

Does anyone notice?

Can you still see me?

I feel as if I’m floating.

Barely here.

Barely there.

Stretched so thin that I’m now Gumby.

At what point will I snap?

Am I as indestructible as I hope to be?

Nothing can kill me.

Not even myself.

Pull. Pull. Pull.

You grab one arm.

You grab the other.

My stretchy, indestructible green arms will let you pull and pull but they will not snap.

I will reappear.

My grin wider.

More present.

I am reinventing myself.

Will you like me?

Can you recognize me?

My costume is the same.

Blonde hair.

Spray tanned skin.

Hooped earrings.

But I am not the same.

The strength and indestructibility I feel growing within me is superhuman.

You can’t break me.

He didn’t break me.

Nothing can break me.

Pull and pull with all your might.

This little girl can put up a fight.

Lately I’ve been battling demons.

Calling myself names.

Damaged.

Worthless.

Never. Good. Enough.

But I’ve won the fight. I’ve knocked down the demons. Changed my language.

Vulnerable.

Raw.

Trying.

The. Best. I. Can. Be.

Are you battling demons?

Fading into the background?

Until you’re nothing?

Being stretched every which way?

Me too.

What can you do about it?

Try what I did.

Change your language.

Fight the demons.

Reframe your negative thoughts.

CHALLENGE YOUR THINKING.

Ask yourself- is this true?

How accurate is this thought?

Because I may be damaged but I’m trying.

I am not worthless.

I am hopeful.

I am not always good enough but I am good enough for the people who love me.

Fight the demons.

We are at war.

I am at war with myself. But I’m winning.

I am resurrected and stronger than ever.

I’ll try again.

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I feel as if I never really got better.

The depression will always hang heavy over me.

My limbs have been fighting against it for as long as I remember.

Lifting it up.

Pushing against its weight.

I couldn’t hold it up forever.

It’s as if I painted myself with gold paint.

For so long I was shiny and new.

Reborn.

Strong.

Sparkly from the outside.

But the paint was a thin layer.

That’s peeling at the edges.

Underneath is nasty.

Black.

Decayed.

Fucked up.

Paint doesn’t last forever. Over time it begins to discolor or chip in places and then what was once there is exposed for the world to see.

What I’m wondering is how I fooled everyone with this shiny layer? 

Could they not see my darkness peeking through? 

Did they think I truly changed?

Healed? 

Grew?

I didn’t. 

I’ll always be broken. 

Dingy.

Decayed.

Fucked up.

The moment that monster crawled on top of me.

The moment she turned on that dryer. 

The moment I heard our dogs yelp in agony. 

The moment my Dad fell asleep in a room filled with carbon monoxide.

The moment I cut my wrists on that bathroom floor.

The moment I said I do.

The moment my son was born.

The depression has always been there. Growing. Lingering. Forming. In remission.

I’ve been broken.

Through everything.

The good and the bad.

The paint is peeling.

I don’t know what to do. 

I feel like giving up. 

Throwing in the towel.

Dropping the act.

I feel so ugly.

Decayed.

Fucked up.

Broken.

I don’t want to do this anymore. 

How can I expect someone to paint on another coat? 

It will just peel again.

Or discolor.

I am unfixable.

I came off the manufacturer line fucked up from the beginning.

They should of threw me away. 

Why won’t I give in to the darkness?

Who I really am? 

Why do I keep getting myself repainted only to find the paint peeling in the future?

I am throwing away my used paint brush.

Will you throw me away?

It’s for your own good. 

Just let me go. 

The weight of this darkness, this depression, reminds me of the monsters body. Heavy. Suffocating. Never ending. 

I want to be done. 

But here I am…

Purchasing a new paint brush. And a sander. 

Sand me.

Buffer out my darkness.

Smooth out my flaws.

Then paint me up.

Make me new.

Help me heal.

Take my hand. 

Pull me out of this darkness.

Make me shine.

Or maybe I should paint myself this time.

This darkness is not your burden.

You are not a hired hand.

It is not your job to fix me.

It’s mine.

The shit had to stop: the day I stopped trying to kill myself.

When I was 22 years old I tried to kill myself.

I was crying on my knees in a communal bathroom and remember breaking a razor and slicing my wrists. There was a lot of blood. Sometimes in my dreams I still see the red pools on the floor around me. I remember shaking in shock that this time I had actually done it. After years of toying with the idea and overdosing on tylenol or swerving my car recklessly, I had actually done it. I felt panicked but was glued to the floor. I thought of no one. And things went dark.

I woke up in a hospital room the following day. Alive.

Let me back up a bit.

As a child, things were no walk in the park. My family was dirt poor and broken. There was violence in the home I grew up in. For many years I was ashamed to discuss this because I was dealing with years of family secrets and shame. I didn’t want anyone to think of me as less than. I was hurt as a child. However, I was also loved. It’s not fair for me to gloss over the good in my childhood. I loved singing in pageants and spending Saturday’s at my MaMa’s house. But there were days I feared my Mom would be killed. Or things even worse would happen to me.

Things improved around middle school despite my frizzy hair and constant awkwardness of my life.

Then, my Daddy killed himself my sophomore year of high school.

Feelings of blame, shame, anger, hatred, disgust, abandonment, insecurity, and guilt consumed me.

I became overwhelmingly depressed for years to come.

I battled with depression. Long and hard.

I also had good days. Days I smiled. Days I thought I could do this. Days I moved forward.

But the bad days. They hung heavy. They became me.

I was unfocused.

I was barely existing.

I was more insecure than I feel that words could ever justify.

My existence depended on other people.

If they loved me enough. If they cared about me enough. If they texted me. Then I would live. If they didn’t I would swallow as many pills as I could get my hands on and try to sleep. Hoping for a long, dark sleep.

And then I hit rock bottom.

I joined the military to escape everything. I was shipped off to basic training and 9 days later I slit my wrists in a bathroom with blue walls. This is the day that changed everything for me.

I spent 23 days in the hospital. TWENTY THREE.

I got on medication.

Resisted treatment. Then began to open up.

I let myself feel all the emotions I had pushed aside all those years.

I began to heal.

And I decided I needed a change. I wanted to live. I deserved to live.

Much like an addict, I decided this shit has got to stop.

The self-destruction.

The victim act.

The poor me spectacle.

The shit had to stop.

And it did. I became determined.

Even though I hid my suicide attempt from most of the people in my life (who so graciously believed my lies surrounding my medical discharge from the military), I was empowered. I knew I needed to work in mental health. I knew I had a purpose in life.

And..

Seven short years later and my life is far from perfect but it is absolutely perfect to me. Perfectly imperfect.

I am married to the love of my life. The only person who knows every, single secret that I spent years hiding and loves me anyways.

I have the most wonderful son. With the brightest blue eyes in the world. He is so worthy of life.

I have my work. Where I’m able to empathize to great lengths. I’m able to use my experience to truly understand how shitty life can be but also know how beautiful it can be.

So, if you’re like 22 year old me. Know you’re not alone. LIFE IS HARD,

but it can also be beautiful.

So, so, so, so beautiful.

I thank God daily for my second chance. Not everyone gets that.

I wonder if we had found my Daddy earlier what would things be like. What if we had barreled down his bedroom door and released all the poisonous gas that would fill his body and take him from us. Would he feel the same way? Would he say THANK GOD I FAILED AT THAT. THANK GOD I GET A SECOND CHANCE.

I like to think he would.

Because we could have proven him wrong. He would have held a grandchild in the future. One with big, bright blue eyes who giggles with all the joy of the world.

Don’t do it.

A second chance isn’t guaranteed.

Call 1-800-273-8255 if you need someone to talk to.

No one else can play your part.

no one else

We all have baggage.

suitcase

Since starting this blog I have received messages from those close to me and from those I wasn’t sure knew I existed, concerning the content of blog posts, personal experiences they have had, and even outcries of hopelessness.

It was never exactly my intention to help others through my writing. More so, an outlet for me to become more transparent and process my own life.

However, it has ended up accomplishing both.

One of the messages I received came from a girl I barely knew in my high school years. We continued being connected on social media but hadn’t spoke at all for the ten + years since we walked the same hallways of our youth.

The message she sent me eloquently explained that she always assumed there were two types of people in the world: people who needed help and then those who had it all together. She was honestly shocked to see someone self-proclaim themselves as a “counselor with a counselor”.

And here I am- weeks later- stuck on the idea that people truly believe this notion. You either have it together- or you don’t.

Everyone has baggage.

Everyone, from the most broken to the most obviously successful, has baggage.

However, our society STILL encourages people to hide their crazy.

In a training I attended today, the speaker discussed how we should not post on social media things we wouldn’t post as a banner on our homes. She gave the examples of relational problems and financial struggles.

It took everything inside of me not to interrupt. Not to scream. Not to rush to the front of the room and say BUT WHY.

Why must we hide our crazy?

Why must we be one or the other- needing help or having it all together?

Why must we continue the facade of our lives on social media?

We don’t have to.

We can have it together but need help sometimes, too.

We can blast our crazy.

We can become transparent.

We can work to stop the isolation that the facade of social media creates.

You are not alone.

Social media is our highlight reel. Not reality.

We all have baggage.

I have baggage.

Years of abuse.

A traumatic loss.

A fractured family.

Suicide attempts.

Chronic mental illness.

But I am not ashamed.

For, you can have it together but sometimes not.

My baggage is packed nicely. Neatly. Its contents organized and previously examined. I’ve thrown some things out over the years. The bag is zipped tight. Stored under my bed.

You can have baggage and still get your life together. Trust me.

Tomorrow I’ll make my banner: “Counselor with a Counselor”. I’ll hang it above my garage. Because everything I share on social media can be shown to the world. I am human. I have baggage. And so do you. Stop hiding it.

Be real. Be vulnerable. Be brave.

 

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I was drowning in my grief rather than sitting in it.

More and more each day I am realizing that our society is the cheer up society.

cheer up

The idea of sadness terrifies us.

Sadness is a hallmark symptom of grief. It is the ultimate consequence of losing something or someone we care about. I consider sadness and love ultimately linked.

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hallow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” -Jamie Anderson

Grief is love.

But yet, we spend a significant amount of time trying to cheer people up.

Because we consider that being sad is bad.

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However, I want to challenge you today to consider the idea that being sad isn’t bad.

It’s love.

I spent the first seven years of my grief drowning.

I was in the middle of an ocean of grief- desperately trying to keep my head above water.

My legs were concrete. My arms were large rocks.

I was tired.

Exhausted.

Consumed with my struggle.

I was drowning in my grief rather than sitting in it.

Everyone around me tried to comfort me. Tried to save me. Tried to cheer me up.

“He’s in a better place,”

“God will never give you more than you can handle,”

“He wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

These attempts to comfort me failed miserably. I didn’t need to be comforted. I needed to sit in my grief. I needed the permission to feel sad. I needed permission to feel.

In this clip from Inside Out you see Bing Bong lose something he loved.

Joy attempts to cheer him up. And fails.

Sadness sits with him. Sits with his grief. She empathizes with him.

This is what I needed. When I was drowning. I needed to sit in my grief.

If you know someone who has lost someone or something they love. Maybe something in their life has changed, sit with them. Sit with them even through the uncomfortableness of sadness. Encourage them to feel. Give them the permission they may need.

And remember- you are loved. And sad is not bad.

Grief is love with no place to go.

Grief lasts as long as love lasts- forever.

Somehow, I hope that love becomes light in all of our darknesses of grief.