I have been following Heather on Instagram for a few months now and she has been sharing a little bit about what her son has been going through so I messaged her and asked her if she’d be willing to write this post AND if her son would be willing to share his side as well. I was so happy when they both agreed. These two are amazing examples of putting faith and trust in Heavenly Father.
Heather Herbert is a mother of three teenagers and one still-born daughter. She created the Sweet-Me Project to help other women to live and love in celebration! She also creates products to encourage living a life of gratitude. Blaise is Heather’s oldest child and graduated high school in 2018.
The feeling of always wanting to protect your baby never goes away even when that baby is a 19-year-old adult. Blaise is my first-born, so I lovingly tease him that he is the tester child as my husband and I try to figure out what the heck we are doing. And even though I try my best to teach him all about life, I have quickly discovered that he is teaching me much more.
This has been especially true this last year. The summer before his Senior year in high school, Blaise broke his back. He spent all summer in a back brace, not being able to do the things with his friends that he wanted to do. It took about a year to rehab his back, and after he graduated high school, he decided he wanted to serve a Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He filled out all of his paperwork and met with all of his doctors to get the all clear. He turned in his papers and the Mission Medical office wanted more information on his back. His doctor wrote a letter, and we scheduled another MRI to see if he was a candidate for a procedure that would help with the pain.
Blaise received is Mission call via email, before his MRI, and we had everyone over as he read his call. Winnipeg Canada!! We were all so excited because Blaise really wanted to serve somewhere cold. But literally the next day, Blaise started to get very anxious. He had a sinking feeling that he shouldn’t go. He knew that his doctors had cleared him to go and that he was ok, but he also knew that his back was still hurting him all of the time. He was worried about how the pain would affect his ability to serve. For about two weeks between receiving his call and his MRI, he was on edge. He was really cranky and moody; he wasn’t sleeping, he wasn’t eating, he wasn’t doing well at all.
We went in for his final MRI, and sure enough, we were told that he actually had more damage to his back than we previously thought and that he was not a candidate for the spinal ablation that would help with the pain. With this new news and the loving guidance and counsel from his church leaders, Blaise decided to defer his mission, so that he could do more therapy and healing for his back. He struggled with this decision. He really wanted to go, and he kept telling himself and everyone else that he could do it, through the pain, he just wanted to go. But ultimately I am so grateful that through a lot of prayer and reflection he was able to come to the understanding that putting the health of his back and his future was more important right now, then going out on a mission. So he decided to take a few more months to strengthen his back so that when he does go serve, he can do so without having to deal with so much pain.
Then, as an added trial for him, three weeks after he deferred his mission and started physical therapy, he was in a skiing accident and broke his back again!!! Watching him have to do this all over again, knowing what it meant and the work and time it would take for him to heal was heartbreaking.
My husband and I just sat and cried outside of his hospital room when they told us it was broke again. I remember Blaise saying that he felt he had no purpose anymore because all of his plans were unattainable now. He was devastated and feeling like nothing mattered anymore. The first time he broke his back he became very depressed, so we could only imagine what this time would do.
But this boy of mine, he is a true example of faith. Sure, for the first few days while he still couldn’t walk, he was a mess. I remember sitting outside of his room just crying and praying for him to be ok. Not physically, but mentally and spiritually. I was so worried that this might be the straw that broke the camels back. But about a week after his accident he told me, “I don’t know why this happened right now, and it’s REALLY not fair, but I know I’m going to be ok, no matter what.” And he has not complained about this trial since.
I have seen such a change in him as he has had to deal with these trials. I have seen him turn to prayer first. I have seen him love and support his friends who are struggling and lend them his strength. I have seen him notice and acknowledge the hand of God in his daily life. I have seen him rely on the Lord and act on His promptings. I see a kid who has become a strong, faithful and optimistic young man. He may not be able to serve the mission he was called to, but I know he has a calling in life that he is fulfilling just by being an example of faith, hope, and perseverance. He has taught me to trust in the Lord in all ways and in all things no matter the difficulties. I am so proud of him for deciding to learn and grow from this experience. He knows he has a large support system of family and friends who love him. But most importantly, I know that he KNOWS that his Heavenly Father loves him, and as a mother, that’s what I want most for him.
I was asked to share my recent experience with my decision to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Growing up I didn’t really plan on serving a Mission, but after I graduated High School, I discovered that it was something I wanted to do. I received my call to serve in Winnipeg, Canada but I had strong feelings that this wasn’t my time to go. I broke my back the summer before my senior year, and I was still struggling with daily pain and was worried about how that would affect my ability to serve.
I talked with my Bishop and Stake President a lot and with their help and prayers, and with my many prayers, we decided I should defer my mission. This was hard for me because I didn’t want to defer, but as soon as I made the decision, I felt much relief. I know that peace was a gift from my Heavenly Father to help me to move on and see that He has a plan for me.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later I had a skiing accident and broke my back again! I was super discouraged and frustrated! I was mad at myself because I had a feeling all day not to go skiing. The few days after were rough, and I kind of hated life and had no idea what this would mean for me.
Its been six weeks now, and I am getting stronger every day. I don’t know why I have to deal with this trial again, but I decided to learn and grow from it. I have seen God’s hand in my life, and I know that He will help me to get stronger and better. This past year as I have prepared to serve a mission I have grown closer to the Lord, and I know that he is aware of me and my wants and needs and I have faith that something good will come from this. I have grown to know myself better and have a better understanding of my relationship with Heavenly Father through personal revelation and prayer.
I have been engaged in a wrestle for a majority of 2018. Something has been going on inside me that has made me unsure of the life I knew. It has been a quarter-life crisis of sorts. I feel I need to mention that my testimony hasn’t been at stake, it’s nothing like that. The best way I can think of describing it is a reconversion of sorts. And I haven’t had the words to explain it until an extraordinary aha moment I had in Sunday School back in November.
Our Sunday School lesson was from Isaiah, “How Beautiful upon the Mountains,” and we focused on The Atonement and how it applies to our lives. And sometime during this lesson I had this thought, “I’m trying to figure out how the Atonement works for me.” And since that thought has come into my mind a series of thoughts and impressions have followed and I feel like I have had this vast breakthrough into what I have been wrestling with.
In order to explain this breakthrough, I need to give a little bit of background information…
Growing up in the Gospel I was always told that if I prayed, read my scriptures, went to church, served others, lived the commandments, kept my covenants, obeyed my parents, followed the Prophet, etc. that I would be blessed and that everything would work out. I do believe this to be true, BUT, I also believe that it is not that easy.
We all know by now that while I was serving my mission I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. And those illnesses have forever changed my life and the person that I am. No, the illnesses do not define me, but they have changed me. And I won’t go into that tangent right now, but I need to say that because I was doing all the things that I was taught growing up that I was told would make everything turn out right. When I was diagnosed I was doing them more fervently than ever before. And yet, here I was… a representative of Jesus Christ and my life was not turning out right (at least in my eyes, I know His eyes saw something different).
I had become numb to everything and everyone. I could not see, feel, or hear my Heavenly Father anywhere. I knew my Savior was relying on me to bless His children and I did not care. I knew my companion needed me to go out and bless the lives of the people in our area but I could not get out of bed unless it was in the middle of the night when I was supposed to be sleeping but instead I was experiencing panic attacks and could not relax. Life was a real struggle. Things that I used to do without thinking now took all my focus and energy. And I couldn’t help but wonder why the blessings of living the Gospel were not coming.
I think that has been one of the most frustrating parts of living with a mental illness: feeling like my faith doesn’t overcome my anxieties and learning that those little things that I was told would bless me, haven’t in the way I want them to. Living with anxiety for almost 7 years now has also hindered my ability to receive personal revelation. I can still feel the Spirit, but trying to discern between my thoughts and things from God has become really difficult because my perception of what is real and what is not has become so distorted.
This is something that I already beat myself up for but then to have everyone around me continually say the same things, “pray, read your scriptures, go to church, serve others, live the commandments, keep your covenants, follow the Prophet, etc.,” knowing that it doesn’t work for me… it truly defeats my heart and Spirit. Why should I keep trying if it doesn’t work?! That has been my wrestle as of late. Still doing those things without feeling like Heavenly Father has been blessing me for it.
I want to give an example of what I mean by that, to hopefully help you understand more. When my husband goes out of town, and he has been gone quite a bit the last few months for med school interviews, I have a really hard time. At night I am in a constant state of fear and worry that someone is going to come into our house and take my girls or hurt us. This fear is so real to me that the last time he was gone I stayed at my parents’ 3/6 nights he was gone and the nights I was home I had my girls sleep in my room with me so I could lock the door and protect them more easily. I fell asleep thinking about what I would do if someone did come in.
I read my scriptures and prayed before going to bed. And I was constantly saying prayers that I would be calm and my fears would subside so I could sleep. I thought of the promises of angels coming to aid those who called on them, so I tried doing that and told myself that angels were watching over us. And yet I was still afraid. Why?! Isn’t my faith enough?! Do I not have enough faith if I am still afraid? Faith and fear cannot coexist so what is wrong with me? Why am I still scared?
(And I get that this is all in my head and I just need to think happy thoughts, be present, or whatever. That’s just another reason why all of this is so frustrating. I can’t just magically fix it. I can’t always override my brain, and yes, I’ve tried.)
I have experiences like this fairly often. I tear up just thinking about my lack of faith and how it doesn’t trump my anxieties. So why do I even bother to pray if it doesn’t (seem to) work?
Is this promise in Alma 36 not for me?
3 And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.
And then I received some of the answer to my why that I have been desiring for years… figure out how the Atonement works for YOU.
I need more. I need to learn how to apply The Atonement more. I need to do the little things but I need to take it a step further. Life isn’t as simple as it used to be.
I believe Christ’s Atonement is a one-size fits all – it works for everyone. However, the way that size looks and feels is going to be different for each of us. And I am, and always will do the things that I was taught growing up because I know they are righteous and they will bless me somehow. But I have found that they aren’t going to take away or overcome some of my trials… The Atonement will. I need more.
And what works for me may not work for someone else, and what works for someone else may not work for me. If serving others is what makes you feel better and helps you overcome your hardships, that is wonderful and I am truly happy that helps you. But if that doesn’t work for someone else then please don’t look down on them for not doing it, or continually tell them that will make them feel better.
One of the beauties of the Gospel is that we can each find unique ways that it will help us. We are all so different and yet it is specifically catered for every individual.
And that is how I know that I will get through living with anxiety and depression. Because of Christ’s Atonement. I don’t understand it fully. I still wonder how, why, and when. But I trust in my Savior and my Heavenly Father, and I have faith in Them. I KNOW They sacrificed for me so that one day I will be able to overcome. The little things help, but they aren’t going to entirely overcome my silent struggles.
This realization has cleared up one wrestle and began another: now I need to figure out how The Atonement does work for me. But having my testimony rooted in the Savior will go deeper than the little things, as stated in Helaman 5:12.
12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
Jessica and I met a meet-up a few girls and I did back in August. She is a truly genuine person and radiates all good things. She is one of those people you always want to be around. I am a huge fan of her blog (linked in the next paragraph). I love how honest she is and think what she shares is so relatable.
Jessica is a wife, mother, and former middle school teacher. She intended to return to teaching after a short leave of absence, but now she can’t imagine leaving her happy, spirited toddler, Milo. Her dream (second to being a wife and mother) is to write and illustrate children’s books. She loves house plants, reading biographies and historical fiction, kayaking with her husband, the Utah Jazz, art (especially watercolor painting), and blogging. Writing, she has found, is the perfect outlet for her. She tries to be honest and open on her blog, The Transparent Typist.
Talking about our deeply personal “issues” can be scary. Launching my story into the blogosphere is one of the more vulnerable things I’ve done.
And so is loving the tiny human I call Milo. In fact, loving my baby boy (who’s definitely more of a toddler now than a baby) is THE absolute most vulnerable thing I have ever done. Or ever will do.
Parenthood is like strapping your heart to the outside of your rib cage, totally exposed. It is knowing that at any moment the child for whom you would literally die for could get hurt, feel pain, experience sadness or disappointment or heartache. It is surrendering your control over life and its inevitable tragedies simply because you don’t have a choice.
The tender love of a parent is beautiful in all its rawness, but also terrifying when combined with mental illness. And that is the purpose of this post.
Motherhood, mental illness, and the seemingly impossible question: How will I ever make it through?
I remember about 6 weeks into my pregnancy the round-the-clock morning sickness hit. And so did the deep, penetrating feelings of despair. I agonized over feelings of inadequacy and fear. I obsessed over worse-case-scenarios that I just “knew” were ahead of me and my baby. Doing just the simple things became an impossible feat.
I figured my emotional crisis resulted from my physical one. After all, it’s difficult to be cheerful when you’re camped out on the bathroom floor 24-7, puking your guts out. I clung to the hope that as soon as the baby came, the sadness would depart.
So when that perfect, healthy baby with big eyes and curly dark hair entered my life, I couldn’t figure out why those feelings didn’t just flee. Now don’t get me wrong—I was so happy he was finally here, and I loved him infinitely the moment I laid eyes on him, but those familiar feelings of darkness I’d experienced throughout pregnancy were there, more suffocating than ever.
Like any new mother, I felt overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for such a small human, so fragile and so helpless—and I felt equally fragile and helpless. Even though anxiety and motherhood go hand in hand, I knew what I was feeling was not normal.
Paralyzing fear bit, and it bit hard, especially at night. My body was so desperate for rest, yet I dreaded falling asleep. I worried something horrible would happen to my baby in the night, particularly SIDS. That became an obsessive worry. I would wake up at least every hour in a panic—heart racing, sweat dripping—and lean over my baby’s bed to confirm he was still alive. I slept with the hall light on every night to illuminate his tiny body so that I could monitor the up-and-down movements of his chest. Nothing, including a sleep monitor, seemed to help. Thoughts that he’d be lifeless the next time I woke up tormented me.
The only thing worse than the nighttime anxiety were the intrusive thoughts that pecked at my mind for what seemed my every waking hour. Horrible, scary images popped into my head—thoughts I absolutely detested, thoughts I’d felt I’d done nothing to deserve. I felt stuck in a cloud of darkness that was slowly smothering me. I’d beat myself up over these haunting thoughts. I blamed myself, even though I’d done nothing to merit them.
It seemed everything around me posed a threat. I hated leaving the house for fear my baby would contract a life-threatening illness. I refused to drive without my husband because that meant I couldn’t sit next to my baby in the back seat and constantly check that he was still breathing. Even news headlines became toxic. Whenever a disturbing story surfaced, my paranoia peaked. The irrational side of me worried I’d be capable of the monstrosities I read about in the news. I felt like a burden to everyone around me. I began to worry my husband would leave me if I became too much to handle, even though he was so gracious and supportive throughout my struggle. Logically, I knew these fears were irrational, but that’s the thing about mental illness and logic—sometimes the two can’t coexist.
I just felt so… dark. I can’t summon a better adjective. I sought even just a sliver of sunlight from the depths of a dark and lonely ocean.
After almost a month of feeling trapped in my own mind, I contacted my doctor. He diagnosed me with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and prescribed medication. The medication gradually lifted the blanket of sadness, but the extreme panic and the intrusive thoughts lingered. I just didn’t feel like the diagnosis I’d received was complete.
So I continued to struggle, barely keeping my head above water. My husband encouraged me to finally seek help from a therapist.
About a year after Milo’s birth, I met with a wonderful counselor who identified something profound: Not only did I have the symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, I had many of the symptoms of Postpartum OCD.
Postpartum OCD?! I didn’t even know that was a thing! I always associated OCD with excessive hand-washing and episodes of Hoarders, but I was dealing with obsessive thoughts—thoughts that bombarded me and worried me and scared me.
She pointed out that my case of OCD led to anxiety, which led to the feelings of misery and depression. We discussed how the layers and layers of emotional trauma had affected me, and I left that appointment ready to face the underlying problem of Postpartum OCD head-on.
At first, I felt total relief; it was nice to finally have a name for what I was experiencing. Discovering the root of the problem that had dictated my life for over a year was liberating. As I researched the disorder, I felt comfort knowing that what I was thinking and feeling was not my fault, but rather some chemical imbalance wreaking havoc on my brain.
Unfortunately, that sense of relief didn’t last long. I began to let my mental illness define me. I felt guilty and ashamed because of my struggle. I felt like a defective mother.
Useless. Incapable. Broken.
That is why I am eternally grateful for a tiny little moment that eased months and months of pain.
One day I was just feeling so tired of it all. The OCD was so demanding, so emotionally draining, and I felt crushed by the load I was carrying. I began playing the “Why me?” game in my head for the 1,000th time. I yearned to feel like myself again. I wanted to be the optimistic, motivated girl I once knew, not the panicky, paralyzed mom with a stack of postpartum illnesses blackening her personal resume. I wanted out.
Then I felt this all-encompassing feeling of love from on high—so strong it was almost palpable—and I felt the words so clearly, “Yes, those things might be a part of you right now, but first and foremost I need you to know that you are a Child of God.”
That feeling from my Father in Heaven became the catalyst to true and continual healing. I began to call upon Heaven more intensely. I spoke openly about my struggles with Heavenly Father and turned to my lifelines—my infinitely patient husband and my loving mom. I stopped giving the intrusive thoughts so much power and started attaching them to a figurative balloon and let each float away.
Most importantly, I relied on Christ in an unprecedented way. I envisioned Him by my side, helping me fulfill the tasks before me, helping me fight the battles I was too exhausted to face alone. I felt His tangible presence as I took things one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time.
There are days when I wish Heavenly Father would just “uninstall” the OCD from my mind, and thus the accompanying anxiety. And then there are days where I feel truly humbled, even grateful, for this trial. The promise found in Ether 12:27—that our weaknesses can be made into strengths through Christ—has come alive for me.
I see others and their unique trials with more compassion. I have connected with individuals I might not have otherwise. I don’t take Milo or the opportunity to be his mother for granted. Daily I thank my Father for giving me a piece of His heaven by sending Milo to me, despite my imperfections, weaknesses, and shortcomings.
And, oh, Milo is so gracious and forgiving of those shortcomings. He trusts deeply, radiates happiness, and heals my soul with his perfect spirit and bright smile. He brings breathtaking joy to my life.
One of the greatest blessings of this trial is the way it has transformed my relationship with the Savior. I trust Him. I know Him. I have learned that He is unfailingly true to His promise, “I will not leave you comfortless.” I have found Christ in my own personal Gethsemane. I’ve come to know that my hardship is not beyond His reach, that I am not beyond His reach. With outstretched arms and scarred hands, He pulls me from the mire of despair.
Said President Nelson, “In a coming day, you will present yourself before the Savior. You will be overwhelmed to the point of tears to be in His holy presence. You will struggle to find words to thank Him for… healing you from the injuries and injustices of this life. You will thank Him for strengthening you to do the impossible, for turning your weaknesses into strengths, and for making it possible for you to live with Him and your family forever.”
So to those who may be asking the same question I once did of How will I ever make it through this? I say this: The answer is Christ. He stands ready to help and to heal, to soothe and to strengthen. Whatever your own “impossible” might be, Christ has the power to help you conquer it.
I am so indescribably thankful for Him. I am also thankful for an infinitely loving Father in Heaven who gave His perfect Son so that I can be with mine forever.
I met Mindy at the lunch meet-up that I co-hosted with Veronica from Utah Women’s Retreats last Saturday. She was so easy to talk to and I feel like we have already been friends for longer than a week. She is doing amazing things!
Mindy Rowley is a wife and mother of four kids, she is starting a mom coaching business and she loves nature, writing, and art. Also, check out this ebook about anxiety and depression her Father-in-law wrote here.
My whole life I’ve felt two-faced. I’m super nice, but sometimes I would feel so out of control that I would behave in unacceptable ways.
Like in first grade when that boy who always tried to kiss me at recess got the scare of his life when I pulled sharp metal scissors out of my pocket. I just wanted to scare him so he’d leave me alone!
Or the time I punched my dad in the gut when he was “pretending to be me” while talking on the phone to my best friend.
Maybe some childhood circumstances conditioned me to behave this way as a child, but I struggled to grow out of it!
After my husband and I were married I had the horrible thought of killing him while I was holding a knife. There I go again with sharp objects! It was a terrible thought and my husband had done nothing to even make me feel this way. He’s a total sweetheart! However, in my mind, I felt threatened in some inconceivable way.
Or there were the countless times when my oldest daughter was potty training and whenever she’d have an accident I was convinced that she was doing it to make me mad. I felt like I couldn’t control myself and I would spank her. Sometimes so hard it would leave a mark. I knew it was abuse and I felt like such a horrible person and a complete and epic failure at being a mom and disciple of Jesus Christ. I felt like I was spiraling downward.
So many times I had the urge to run away and leave my kids. I felt like they’d be better off without me. Maybe my husband could remarry a really great person and my children could have the mother they deserved? Sometimes I felt like I could hardly breathe, or like I was having a heart attack. I felt like I was suffocating in hopelessness.
There were times that I considered talking to a doctor or therapist, but I was too afraid to even say the words anxiety and depression. I was afraid of what those labels would make of me. Would they make me even more of a monster? I didn’t really think there was hope for me.
Finally, I went to a therapist and I just let it all spill. I cried so hard that I’m sure he didn’t have a clue what I was even saying, but it felt really good to get the dark feelings out. I’ve continued to go to counseling, engage in writing and art therapy, meditation, make changes to my diet and getting more sunshine.
Gradually I have felt life come back into me. I could feel the Spirit of God when I read the scriptures and pray. I know it will always be an uphill struggle for me, but I don’t feel alone in the struggle.
I came across Tisha through Instagram. I love what she shares and the meaning behind her Instagram handle, @havepace_, learn about it here. Tish shares her experience of living with Lupus and how she tries to let it better her instead of leaving her bitter.
Tisha didn’t grow up in Southern Utah but she considers it her home. She falls more and more in love with it the longer 9 years and now gets to be a full-time stay at home mom. There is nothing she loves more than a clean house with a yummy candle burning. She’s obsessed with podcasts and positive parenting books. She’s passionate about connecting with new people, living with purpose, and taking naps.
Shortly after having my sweet baby boy I became very sick, something I can only describe as the worst flu you could possibly imagine and then times that by 10. I became fatigued beyond measure, weak, achy and in a constant whirlwind of hot flashes and feverish chills. My lymph system was out of control and all of my joints were constantly in pain. I remember waking up one night in a complete panic because I was literally unable to get myself out of bed. I called my husband who was working night shifts out of town in the ICU at the time and begged him to come home.
This would result in the first of many ER visits and unanswered questions.
Finally after weeks of Dr. appointments, scans and blood work I was diagnosed with Lupus just before my 26th birthday. I remember the call from my Dr. so well and the relief and gratitude that came over me when he said it was Lupus. I know it seems strange to feel grateful when given a diagnosis like that. But I finally felt like we had something we could work with and something much less scary than the other things being looked into.
When I look back on those months what I remember most is the time that was spent on my knees praying. I would get these surges of overwhelming terrifying emotion where I felt like my world was just going to collapse. It was in those moments that I would pray right that second for the peace and comfort that I so desperately needed. For weeks I felt so alone in this trial and felt like my Heavenly was so unaware of me. Until one day I was sitting on my bed with my two children silently thanking God for them when clear as day this voice came to me and said, “Peace be unto you, my child, everything is going to be okay.” I’m so grateful for this tender mercy and gift that this message has been to me. This experience has carried me through the bulk of this trial. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with emotions of the unknown, remembering this moment always brings me so much peace.
This trial has been difficult in so many various ways. One of them being that I have always been a fiercely independent person, perfectly capable of handling hard things on my own. So becoming this person that was dependent on the help of my loved ones was something that was very difficult for me to accept. There was a time at the beginning of my diagnosis that I could barely hold my 9-pound baby. Accepting the help of my incredibly loving mother-in-law to take care of my new baby was such a humbling experience for me.
I have not always handled this trial with grace and perfection, there are still times that I’m angry and frustrated about things such as not being able to have any more babies. But I know that when I put my faith in my Savior Jesus Christ and my Heavenly Father I’m able to have pace and move forward. I’m determined to let this trial make me better not bitter.
I found Jenna through Instagram and I love the things she shares and talks about, one of those being raising a child with a disability. I especially love the analogy she shared in her story below about what it’s like. She is a radiant Mother and a beautiful soul.
Jenna Gines is the oldest of 5. She grew up in Tooele, UT. She went to Utah State University after she graduated high school in 2005. She served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Birmingham, Alabama from 2008 to 2010. There she met her husband. They both served in the same area for around 6 months. There were three sets of missionaries and they all became good friends. He got home in January and she got home in February. He went to her homecoming talk she gave in church and the rest is history… They got married in August 2010 in the Salt Lake City Temple. They now reside in Utah and have 3 beautiful children who she gets to stay home with.
When I went to college in 2005 I started working at a residential program for people with disabilities. I worked at two different homes and eventually became a manager for one. I worked at a preschool for kids with autism and a summer camp that had all ages and all types of disabilities. Working with these people became my passion. They brought me so much joy! I thought about doing Special Education so I began taking classes. I loved all that I learned, especially disability etiquette and all the different types of disabilities. It was so interesting to me for some reason. I became very passionate about the fact that it’s the largest minority group and any one of us could join it at any time. I became very passionate about the treatment of people with disabilities. I wanted to be an advocate for them.
And then I started my other dream job in 2014 when my first son was born, a stay-at-home Mom! It was quite a transition for me but I loved it. I’ve always looked forward to being a Mom but I missed my other passion.
And then my second son was born.
He was a surprise for us in every way. From getting pregnant, when our first was only 10 months old, to my water breaking and him being born 3 weeks early. He was healthy, beautiful and THE best baby ever. Literally. He ate when he was hungry, fell asleep whenever he was tired, so chill and so perfect. From the very beginning, I knew there was something about him. I remember telling my husband, there’s something about this boy. I didn’t know what but I could feel it.
When he was around 8 months old, family asked us if we noticed his eyes. They were kind of clicky when you rocked him back and forth. I hadn’t noticed it and I said, I’ll mention it to the pediatrician. So I text our doctor and sent him a movie clip of his eyes. He said it looks like he has nystagmus, do you notice anything else about him? And I thought, well now that you say that, he’s not sitting up, he’s not rolling very much. Even brother who crawled at 14 months and walked at 20, was sitting at 8 months. He said, let’s have you go see a neurologist to make sure it’s just his eyes and nothing else is going on.
The neurologist had us do an MRI, EEG, go to the eye doctor and blood work. The MRI was normal. Such a relief! The EEG was normal. No seizure activity. Such a relief. He did, in fact, have a little nystagmus and strabismus, which is crossed eyes, and he needed glasses. Cutest thing ever!
After they received the blood work, she had us come back in and said, we think Jackson has Congenital Disorder of Glycosylation, type 2. Wait, what? How do you say that? Will he walk? Will he talk? And I got emotional. When we started this process I knew we would receive a diagnosis. I just knew. But it was like I forgot that day. It kind of caught me off guard.
I mourned the little boy I thought I had. I mourned the life I thought we were going to have. I was so excited to have two boys, 17 months apart. I was so excited to watch them grow up and go through life together, play sports or whatever they wanted to do together. Of course, they still would, it would just be different.
I let myself feel everything. Process it. Let it sink in and then I accepted it. It wasn’t the life I was picturing but it was a new life. And that’s exactly what it is when you receive a diagnosis for your sweet baby or child! It’s a new life.
This poem below explains it perfectly.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
by Emily Perl Kingsley
“I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, ‘Welcome to Holland.’
‘Holland?!?’ you say. ‘What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.’
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, ‘Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.’
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”
I didn’t think I would personally go to Holland. I just wanted to work there, enjoy everything about it and the beauty by visiting. Little did I know that I would have a change in my own flight and land there. Little did I know that my two passions would be combined.
When you see someone who walks, talks or acts differently, say hi and make a new friend! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t hush your child who is asking questions. It’s okay to be curious. It’s okay to want to learn. Staring and not saying anything at all can be more hurtful. Talk about the things that are different and then talk about the things that are the same. I promise you’ll find more in common than different.
So here we are enjoying every beautiful flower and hoping that we can help others see the beauty that we see every single day.
Having a disability or a child with a disability isn’t sad, it’s different. That’s what I want people to know and see. It’s a beautiful, new life!
I found Julie through watching her on a Hi-Five Live with Ganel-Lyn Condie and then was lucky enough to meet her at a launch party in May. We have become close friends since and she has been a huge blessing to me in my life, I don’t know what I would do without her. Her story is one that I believe many can relate to.
Julie Bristow is originally from Holladay, Utah, but has resided in Orem, Utah for the past 13 years with her husband and 3 young children (including boy/girl twins). She graduated from the University of Utah in Human Development and Family Studies. She is passionate about people and making meaningful connections. She worked in health administration at various clinics and hospitals for over a decade after college graduation. She met her husband, Jared, when they were both working as “Especially For Youth” counselors in Rexburg, Idaho. Currently, she is a full-time stay at home mom. She is incredibly passionate about being a mental health advocate. She aims to break the stigma associated with mental health in hopes to pave the way for open conversation of such critical matters. Mental health struggles, mainly in the form of chronic depression and anxiety, have been a part of her life since she was a teenager. She is determined to live a life full of joy despite any darkness trying to pull her down. Some of her other passions include: time spent with family, interior design and decor, writing, photography, dancing in the kitchen with her family, and naps.
“Joy Amidst the Sorrow”
I am not depression and anxiety. I am Julie. Just a regular person. My circumstances and hardships do not define me. Your circumstances and hardships do not define you. They are a part of our earthly experience. Twenty-one years of suffering from chronic depression and anxiety are part of my story. I have to accept that. Remembering that along the way our trials help shape and mold us in the refiner’s fire so that we may someday reach our Divine potential. To that end, I endure. To that end, I find joy, hope, and fulfillment despite the darkness, pain, and loneliness.
In my personal experience, I am taught that joy and pain can coexist. That even though I often feel wrapped up in darkness, somehow a knowledge of hope somewhere deep inside of me gets me through one day at a time. I am living, breathing, walking proof of daily struggle and daily joy.
I first felt of depression and anxiety when I was 17-years-old. Between my Junior and Senior years of high school.
I had no reason to be depressed. No trauma, no unpleasant situations or experiences. No environmental factors. Nothing. In fact, my life had been pretty golden. Why, one day, could I not get out of bed? I still don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that a medical history of depression and anxiety run heavily in my family. At this time, I was the Junior Class president in my high school, a nearly straight-A student, surrounded with a good family, amazing friends, a joyful countenance, and a testimony of Jesus Christ.
I then went to not being able to get out of bed by my Senior year of high school. I remember missing my morning classes and sometimes full days. My friends teased me that I had “senioritis”. I laughed with them, while simultaneously feeling hurt and confused inside. I didn’t know how to explain to them what was going on because I myself didn’t know what was going on. I was just reacting to this strange, new way of being as it came creeping in day by day.
My dear mom eventually dragged me to see some sort of mental health specialist. I don’t remember who because I was too busy throwing an epic fit of protest. I screamed, cried, and yelled at her. I didn’t want to be different from my peers. I didn’t want to have problems. I told her I didn’t need medicine and that if I just had enough faith and believed in Jesus Christ enough, that He could heal me. I really thought I could pray it away. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t pray my depression and anxiety away. I ended up starting on some medication and counseling, which is what I personally needed.
High school graduation came and I did graduate from high school, although not with the grades I had kept up my whole schooling and really hoped to graduate with. But I did graduate. That was the beginning of many miracles that the Lord would provide for me as I continued and tried my hardest to be faithful to what I believed to be true despite feeling awful inside due to depression and anxiety plaguing me.
After high school, I attended college and graduated by another God-given miracle. Part of that particular miracle was the American with Disabilities Act. After missing so many classes and finding it nearly impossible to focus and study with the raging depression and anxiety I went to the disabilities office on campus and asked what I needed to do to qualify. I needed a note from both my counselor and psychiatrist. I turned in the notes with my diagnosis and recommendations from my doctors and now I was on the “disabled” list which in effect meant I had extra time to get my homework in and extra time to take tests or turn in projects. I don’t know that I would have graduated college without that.
But I did, I graduated college with a Major in Human Development and Family Studies. I cannot deny God’s hand in the achievement of yet another milestone of my life. It was another life line He threw out to help me achieve my dreams to live the kind of life I so desperately wanted despite my limitations and challenges.
Entering the full-time workforce after college graduation was no easy task. I have had a job ever since I was fifteen years old. After the depression and anxiety kicked in, there wasn’t one job or employer that I held where I didn’t get reprimanded for tardiness. Tardiness usually because getting out of bed felt next to impossible. It was always so humiliating. But, for the most part, employers were understanding, compassionate, and gave me second chances as long as our communication remained open. I found it was so important to speak up about my struggles when it was needed. To give people a chance to give me a chance.
I had good dating experiences throughout high school and college.
I met my now husband, Jared, in my early twenties while we were both working as counselors at Especially For Youth up at BYU Idaho. We started dating and fell in love fairly quickly. I think Jared a little more quickly than me. 🙂
I told him two months after we started dating about my struggles with depression and anxiety. He stayed with me and he supported me. He saw me at my best of times and at my worst of times.
Our dating life and engagement was not easy. Satan used my already established illness of anxiety and depression and messed with my mind big time as I tried to make a decision as big as choosing an eternal companion. I would have these moments of distinct clarity and felt like I was making the right decision, a righteous one to choose and accept Jared as a potential husband. But then, when the anxiety and depression were dialed up, my doubt crept back in and became unbearable at times. To make a long story short, Jared and I endured through the hard times and continued to fight for each other.
We dated a little over a year and were married and sealed in the Salt Lake City temple in 2005.
We decided a few years after we are married that we were ready to try for children. We went on to struggle with the heartbreak of infertility and other health issues. Eventually, we were blessed with three miracle children.
Our firstborn a daughter, and a few years later we welcomed boy/girl twins into the world.
When the twins were born, we went from one child to three overnight. Three children 3 and under.
I wish I could say it has been bliss ever since because we got what we pleaded and prayed for. But it would be dishonest to say that. It was and has been hard… really hard. However, through this process, especially of having twins, I was sent earthly angels in the form of family, friends, and neighbors who buoyed us up and kept us going that first year or two. Earthly angels. Life was even harder, but I desperately wanted my children. I fought hard for them and I will never forget that fight.
It used to be that taking care of only myself, waking up, and showering was considered a “good day” for me… a feat to be overcome. Heck, if I brushed my teeth it was a GREAT day. A reality of living with depression and anxiety is that sometimes the simplest of tasks seem DAUNTING.
I now had four people who depended on me. I was a mother and a wife of a family of five. Often I still feel inadequate to take care of myself, let alone my home and my family. The feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, shame, and guilt are there and are very real.
But I’m here and I’m doing it. I have a good husband by my side. I have the support of family and friends when I need it. We are a happy family, despite all the struggles, we truly have so much joy in our home.
And I really don’t know how, but by the grace of God, I am plugging along one day at a time. Another miracle.
Twenty-one years later after that first encounter of this illness, I still take medication. I see my psychiatrist every 2-3 months. We often change things around. Adding this, taking away that, or trying something entirely new. I’ve tried going off medicine as well, and that is not an option right now. I crash every time and I really cannot function. I am thankful for modern-day medicine to take the edge off even if it doesn’t fully take away my symptoms. No single treatment has ever really worked for me. Medication may not be the answer for everyone. There are many things out there to help, but it is there for those who need it, like me. I still go to counseling intermittently and I still need all the support and help I can get. My particular diagnosis is called “Treatment Refractory Depression and Anxiety” which means that conventional methods of treating depression and anxiety don’t work for me.
As of late, anxiety has been more prominent in my life lately than straight depression, even though they go hand in hand in a vicious cycle.
Stress and anxiety are part of life, no matter who we are.
Stress (and even anxiety) provide motivation to get something done or to overcome an obstacle. However, sometimes it turns into more negative forms and the very things that can propel us in life can cripple us. My particular anxiety is categorized under “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” which more or less means I often feel intense anxiety or panic about nothing in particular. It simply is just there.
The only way I’ve been able to explain my experience with it to those who are not familiar with the feeling is this:
Imagine you have just received a phone call from the hospital that your child, your parent, or a sibling has just been in a terrible accident and they are in the operating room. You get to the hospital waiting room and all you can do is pace back-and-forth not knowing whether that person is going to live or die. Essentially, you are in a state of panic for fear of the worst.
Now take those same feelings of fear and panic of something horrible happening, and imagine feeling that way, but for NO APPARENT REASON. And with this, I try so hard to figure the WHY of you feeling this way, but simply cannot.
Sometimes these episodes lead to debilitation. Sometimes all I can do is maybe curl up in a ball underneath the covers and ride out the storm.
Many times the discomfort of anxiety has been so bad, I’ve barely been able to bring food to the table for my kids. I’ve barely been able to cope and function throughout the day.
Periodically, when Jared arrives home from work, I literally see no way out of the pain, than to just go to my room and “check-out” by trying to fall asleep. Exhausted with the mental and physical battle that has been raging in my body all day long, I escape again to the unconscious mind. You could say that sleep is my “drug” of choice.
I have felt like I wanted to die because of the deep, uncomfortable pain. I, myself, have not been truly suicidal, but suicide is real. I have lost loved ones to this due to mental illness. I have witnessed that they felt like they were a burden to the ones they loved, and they honestly felt that the world around them would be better if they were gone.
When I personally go through periods of deep darkness and hopelessness, I logically know I’ll make it through even though it feels like I won’t. I consider that knowledge of hope one of the greatest blessings of my life even when I can’t feel hope. It’s a perspective that has taken many, many years with lots of therapy to fully grasp.
For me, after enduring the darkness, I know the Heavenly promises come and that there are joys on the other side of that dark tunnel, even when the dark seemed impenetrable. I have felt that dark. I have felt the light. Little by little I sense that I will see the sun rise again, no matter how many days I have missed it and I vow to never stop fighting.
In Alma Chapter 26 we read about the prophet Ammon who led his brethren who were seeking to do missionary work among the Lamanites against much opposition. At one point in their journey, they were so overcome with defeat they were ready to turn back. In verse 27 it says: “Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.”
I myself, am still learning to bear with patience mine afflictions. I have not always done it with grace, but I have seen time and time again the success that the Lord has given unto me as I continue to endure. I am still fighting. The battle of this illness continues every single day.
I know that I am not alone. I am not broken, even though I may feel otherwise. As with any physical illness, I continue to seek treatment for my brain. I don’t know why it stopped functioning optimally. It wasn’t caused by anyone else’s actions, or by any fault of my own. I’m not sure why the serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in my brain isn’t balanced. I don’t know why the synapses and neurotransmitters are not doing their job correctly. What I do know is how I feel. I do know how it feels to be severely depressed, to have chronic debilitating, paralyzing anxiety on a daily basis. I do know what it feels like to want to be in bed all day,
My struggles, my illness are not a punishment from God. In fact, I feel that they help keep me headed towards God and focused on my Savior, for through His Atonement is the ONLY way I can make it through this. The Book of Mormon teaches us in the book of Jacob: “Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.” And so it is by my weakness, my human struggle that I am reminded of my great dependence on my Savior.
President Russell M. Nelson said:
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives…..if we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?”
When I reflect about this principle of truth and the different trials we go through as well as times of reprieve, I realize that sometimes we get to stand in the sun, enjoy its rays, feel of its warmth and light. Other times in life, we have to rely on our memories of that warmth and sunshine. In either situation, there is always room for the light to enter our souls and permeate us with joy.
I want to reemphasize that as much as I talk about hope and joy, a lot of the time I do not always feel hope and joy. I often don’t have the relationship with the Holy Ghost that I wish I did, because sometimes the very faculties to reach my Father in Heaven are the ones that are crippled. That is where obedience comes in. Remaining true to my covenants and having faith in Heavenly Father’s promises. So, at times it is my knowledge of hope and joy that carry me through on my darkest of days when feeling anything like joy just isn’t possible.
That knowledge that carries me through is my testimony of Jesus Christ and this gift of endurance is given only in and through Him. So I have hope. Not necessarily hope that this trial will be taken away from me permanently, but hope that I can continue to endure, endure it well, and find joy amidst the pain. Ultimately becoming the person Heavenly Father intended me to be.
I met Kim at a launch party back in May and have been following her on Instagram since. I also had the opportunity to hear her roundtable discussion at SALT in September. The term “boss babe” comes to mind when I think of Kim because she is so gorgeous and just read her bio. She has a heart of gold and I am excited to see what other amazing things she does. I love how she opened up about having postpartum depression and how she used mindfulness to help her overcome.
Kimberly is a freelance writer, journalist, creative brand namer, and book-loving mom. She talks about mindfulness, motherhood, and books online at Talk Wordy to Me, and is a contributor on Utah’s top lifestyle show, Studio 5. She is co-creator of the Loom Journal, a revolutionary parent-child journal that fosters mindfulness and screen-free connection and development. She’s also working on a historical romance novel inspired by her visit to the picturesque Cotswolds in the English countryside. She is a fan of BBC dramas, teaching and practicing yoga, ice cream, traveling the world, simplifying her life and home, and encouraging other women to live their dreams.
How mindfulness helped me out of postpartum depression and how it can help all of us
I had just had my third child—the sweetest addition to our family and our most mild-mannered baby. We were so happy to have her. We had tried for her for awhile, and had a few scares during my pregnancy that we’d lose her due to a significant blood clot I had in my uterus. So when she arrived, healthy and whole, we were overwhelmed with gratitude.
But despite that gratitude and her sweet temperament, I started struggling with postpartum depression about four months after she was born.
The days felt like a never ending carousel of overwhelm and not being able to meet my three little childrens’ needs. Every day felt like a gigantic wave crashing harshly against a cliff, then retreating back, just to crash into the cliffs again.
Adding a child to the family is overwhelming for everyone, but I could tell there was something else going on aside from the normal adjustment to having a new baby. I didn’t feel like myself. Anger, sadness, anxiety, and stress pervaded my thoughts and emotions and I felt like I could never quite rise above it.
Anyone who has experienced any form of depression knows what it feels like to have that heavy cloud following you around everywhere. Life just doesn’t hold the vibrancy or hope it used to, and self-love is far away. It’s replaced with shame, despair, and a desire to disappear.
Sometimes, when I was driving the car with all of my kids in it, one of them would freak out or fight or melt down, and I felt an intense loss of control. I remember wanting to crash the car on more than one occasion. I just wanted to escape.
The worst of it for me was that I started feeling uncharacteristic anger. It’s hard to explain the intensity of it, but something would trigger it, like a child’s meltdown, and I reached a point where I couldn’t process my anger or keep it inside any more. It was like it wasn’t even part of me, but something that rose up like an ugly monster when it was set off. I had to do something physical to release it. I would slam a wall, throw something, or knock something over to release this wave of emotion that was too strong for me to handle. I lost it with my kids too. I didn’t hurt them, but I had thoughts of doing so. And sometimes I yelled, swore (all the words), and grabbed them too harshly. Those moments scared me, and they scared my kids. They were always followed by a wave of intense shame and guilt, and a desire to escape this monster inside of me.
Here’s something I wrote in my journal about my newfound anger before I learned that anger can be an indicator of postpartum depression:
It’s the thing I hate the most about myself.
It makes it harder that it’s not even something I struggled with until I became a mom of multiple children.I’m trying to figure out where the frustration comes from.
I went on to write about a time my boy (4 years old at the time) was relentlessly begging and whining about something he could not have. After trying to hold it together for awhile, I eventually lost my temper.
Something about the sound and the loss of control and ability to reason with him breaks something in me and I snap. So, I did. I pushed a small table down and a few things tumbled to the ground. I swore too.
Camden’s cries changed instantly from whiny “I want my way” cries to more genuine “mom is scary” cries. He yelled to me that I was being mean and breaking our things, and he ran to his room. I thought I should do the same, so I proclaimed a time-out and shut myself in my room to write this.
Meanwhile, Ellie broke into sobs and started calling for me.
I, of course, felt like the piece of something I yelled out in my rage minutes before and hugged and apologized to my son, then did the same with my girl.
Those apologies are becoming pretty commonplace around here. I hope they don’t lose their meaning.
More than that, I hope to God that my sweet children’s childhood memories are not laced with vivid (or even blurry) scenes of me losing it out of frustration with them.
What does that do to their self-esteem? What does that teach them? How will my behavior affect them as they grow up and become parents?
How is it affecting them now? Ellie and Camden both “lose it” out of frustration for each other and for us. They threaten to hit and throw just like I catch myself doing from time to time. They yell and scream, just like I do. Is that my fault? Would they be much kinder and more patient if I was?
How do I break this habit? How is it possible to break a reaction to something negative when the negative thing isn’t going to change?
The guilt I feel over this behavior of mine is a bottomless pit. I wish I could magic it away, but it keeps coming back. Worse when I’m tired.
Would I be able to control my temper better if I worked less? Was less involved in Instagram and blogging? If I planned my days around my children instead of around my agenda? How do I even go about doing that?
First, I’ll start with prayer.
Prayer to know if there are things, distractions in my life that I need to let go of. And to know which ones are important for me to hold on to. Because I don’t think letting go of everything I’m doing outside of motherhood is the answer. I think the other things I do go a long way to help me feel fulfilled and more well-rounded and happy as a person and mom.
But what is causing this imbalance?
Is there a change I can make in my health that will help me have more balance, more calm, more control, more energy?
Is there something lacking in my spiritual life? Will reading scriptures more, going to the temple help me overcome this weakness?
Do I need to cut way back on Instagram and being on my phone? How do I stick to disciplinary goals I’ve made in that regard?
I know I want to be more in tune with my kids. Their needs, what makes them tick. I want them to feel so heard, understood and valued. I want them to know they are more important to me than anything else.
Looking at my phone while they talk to me is not going to communicate that. Kids can tell if they’re being put first or not. I need to put more energy into making them my primary focus.
Because these years are short. They go by quickly, then there’s no time to start over or go back and spend more time with them or erase the parental temper tantrums. This is what I’ve got. Today. So I need to pay attention.
Five years from now, will I look back and be happy with how I spent my time? Addicted to social media and the responses I get there? Is there a middle ground? I’d like to be part of it, but not consumed by it.
As I pray for guidance in this anger issue and social media addiction issue, I hope I will get an answer that will lead me to a better, more present and productive version of myself.
I did get that answer. It came as three distinct steps:
First, I needed help. I wanted to fix things on my own, but I realized that was I was experiencing was not entirely in my control. I saw a therapist who diagnosed me with postpartum depression and helped me realize that many of the feelings I was struggling with (including the anger) was not my fault. I did not need to keep shaming myself for it. She gave me some tools for processing emotion that I still use today.
Second, I needed to look after myself in a productive, meaningful way. I needed to reconnect to who I was and what made me feel whole.
Third, I needed to care less about the world of my to-do list and my phone, and more about the little people in front of me.
At this time, mindfulness was becoming a buzzword. It’s been around for centuries, but we are all learning about it now because of social media and technology, instead of it being kept in therapist’s offices or monasteries. When I started learning about mindfulness, is felt like I was refamiliarizing myself with grounding practices that were already a part of my intuition, I just had forgotten how to access them.
Studies show that mindfulness can help prevent and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. It helped me in a huge way to climb out of the darkness I was in and it continues to help me access happiness and stay grounded every day. Here are just a few ways mindfulness helps me:
Mindful technology and social media use
The worst thing about this PPD and social media addiction I was experiencing was that they disconnected me from my kids and my husband. I wasn’t connected to the things that really mattered–the life and the people right in front of me. They disconnected me from my own intuition, the voice that tells me what I need to be doing instead of just watching what everyone else is doing and trying to fit myself into that box was quieted by the whoosh of my scrolling and tapping.
Once I had my wake-up call, I set some ground rules with my phone. No more going to it first thing in the morning. Instead, I turned it off by 10 at night and kept it out of my bedroom. I stashed it in a drawer during the day in favor of more eye contact with my kids. I left it behind on purpose. I still used it, but with intention instead of mindlessness now. My kids noticed, and our relationships and their behavior improved. All of our behavior improved. Our kids deserve so much more than being brushed off in favor of a screen. My social media use still gets out of whack sometimes, but creating boundaries and staying connected to my real-life relationships has helped immensely. I wrote more tips on healthy social media use in this article.
2. Meditative moments
I love meditation, but an hour-long session of seated silence just isn’t realistic for me right now. Instead, I find other ways to “meditate” throughout the day:
A three-minute guided meditation on Headspace
Three deep breaths anytime during the day
Anchoring myself in moments by observing all of my senses
Making a mental gratitude list
Working these moments of pause into my day go a long way to helping me feel more calm and grounded.
3. Thought work
All of our emotions are a result of our thoughts. Everything we believe, do, and are starts in our thoughts. Once I started paying attention to and changing the course of my thoughts, I noticed a huge change in my emotional health. I stopped believing everything I thought and chose my thoughts instead of letting them rule my emotions.
No one is immune to feeling the effects of depression and anxiety. We are all on the spectrum, and there are things that trigger it and things we can do to prevent and manage it. Beyond the medication that is necessary in some cases, I think mindfulness is the most powerful thing we can invest in to take care of our mental health.
Cami found me on Instagram and sent me a message saying that she was also passionate about bringing struggles to light and that if I needed a story, she had one. It breaks my heart to learn about and see children who grow up without one or both of their parents. I’m so grateful Cami was willing to share about losing her Dad.
Cami Moss is a wife and a mom of 3 little kids. She grew up in Utah and went to BYU and the U of U and received her RN. She worked as a hospice nurse for a few years before becoming a mom and then quit that to become a full-time mom. Among many things, she enjoys calligraphy, Anne of Green Gables, podcasting, baking, and anything Italian (art, culture, food, – you name it). Getting to meet new people and have meaningful, deep conversations about life is what she’s about.
I remember the day it happened all too well. It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1996 and me, my older brother, and younger sister were playing the game of “Life” in our living room when my mother’s best friend, Kathie, rushed through the door with a look of panic on her face. She asked where my mom was and we told her that we thought she was up in her room. Kathie ran up the stairs and us kids went back to playing our game. Only a few minutes later, we heard pounding coming from upstairs. At first, we ignored it, but then it kept happening so we thought we should go up and find out what was going on. As we walked into her room, we knew immediately there was something really wrong. Without even explaining the situation, I remember my mom falling to her knees and telling us we needed to join her in prayer. As she prayed, it became obvious what was happening…
If we pause the story and back up to 3:00 am that morning, my dad had woken up to get ready for a business trip and had woken up my mom. As they talked my mom told my dad that even though he had been on a ton of business trips and had traveled often, that for some reason she felt sick about him going on this one. She told him how much she didn’t like the small plane that he and his colleagues often flew in and really didn’t feel good about it. He tried to pacify her and in the end said to her “Carrie, if God wants me, He will take me.” And that was the end of the conversation. Around 7:00 am, my mom received a phone call from one of my dad’s co-workers saying that the plane had crashed and they didn’t know anything else.
So as we sat there praying, my mom begged for my dad’s safety as well as the safety of the other men on board the plane. Shortly after, everything started becoming blurry and surreal as I went to my room to pack my bag to go to the grandparents’ house and my mom got ready to make the trip up to Malad, Idaho where the plane had crashed. I remember being at my grandparents’ house, watching TV and having several of my mom’s siblings in the room. Honestly, in my 9-year-old mind, I honestly felt like my dad was going to walk away with maybe a broken leg or some crazy story that he could tell for years to come. I think my mind went there because even though I knew that trials were a part of life, I thought we had taken our turn as a family. At that point, my older brother had had a very rare form of leukemia twice and in my mind, I thought we couldn’t have any more trials – we had taken our turn. After watching TV for a short time, my grandma came in, and turned off the TV and told us that the plane had crashed and no one survived… all 8 men on the plane, including our dad, were dead. It felt like the whole world was spinning and time just stopped. I remember going into the bathroom, just staring at myself in the mirror, just crying. After a while I remember coming out and eating lunch and then going to play with my cousin who lived across the street. It felt so surreal that I thought if I just ignored it, it would somehow go away.
Later that day, I remember my mom coming to my grandparents’ house and sitting us down to talk to us kids about the funeral. I remember her asking us what we thought and what things we should have included and I felt like a pressure cooker. I had so much emotion bottled up inside of me and as we sat there starting to plan the funeral, I was so angry. I was angry because I felt like we had taken our turn and why couldn’t someone else have a turn? I remember standing up and yelling at her, “What do you want me to do? I don’t know how to plan a funeral. I’m 9 years old”.
The day of the funeral came and we went to the church and of course, everyone stood for us as we came in and I just remember hating my life. It seemed so unfair to me that not only did we have big trials happen to us, but that they were so public.
When the whirlwind of the funeral came and went, it seemed so surreal – until 6:00 pm every night when he didn’t walk through the door. The days, weeks, and months after that, especially the first year, seemed like an eternity.
I remember our first Christmas after my dad died. My mom tried so hard to make it special, but she cried all day long. Every holiday was some version of that because everything that used to be so perfect was now so painful. But, there were some amazing things that happened that year and the subsequent years that followed. My mom’s best friend, Kathie, became a literal angel in our lives. So and her family took us into their home for weekends, nights, holidays, and vacations. They literally became our second family and because of them, we were able to be distracted from the sharpness of our pain, laugh, and be in a place that didn’t constantly remind us that we were missing someone. I owe so much to her and her family.
On a personal level, I had no idea how to cope with the grief and so I turned to the only thing that I knew and that was my faith. I had faith in God and I prayed to Him often, telling Him how hard it was and that I knew that He had the power to turn back time and change what had happened. And even though that clearly didn’t happen, through those prayers I felt so much peace. I felt assurance that God was taking care of my dad and that God would also take care of me.
I remember also feeling so much comfort in songs – particularly songs that talked about angels and loved ones that had passed on. I felt like those songs gave me the words that I couldn’t speak, but felt so deeply in my heart.
Now, my healing includes doing things that keep him alive in my heart and mind. A few years ago, I tracked down everyone I could who had written meaningful sympathy cards at the time of my dad’s death and interviewed them, as well as my old neighbors about what my dad was like and any memories they had of him. That process was so healing for me.
I make sure I talk about him often to my husband and children so they can know what I love and think about my dad. I take my kids and go to his grave often and have picnics and bring him homemade flower arrangements, wreaths, notes, and pictures.
Surprisingly, talking and being able to relate to others is also something I have found to be so healing. It gives meaning to the pain that I wished would go away so badly. I’ve gotten to the point now that even if I could go back and change what happened, I wouldn’t because so much of the good, sensitive, and empathetic parts of me came as a result of my dad’s death.
October 3, 2012, was a Wednesday just like today. How do I know that? Because it was the last day I would be known as “Hermana Harris.”
The age change was announced the weekend I came home from my mission. I was shocked like everyone else, and that shock eventually turned into anger and fueled more of my bitterness of returning home earlier than anticipated.
“Are you kidding me?! You made me wait until I was 21, put me through Hell, and then the weekend I get home you announce that 19-year-old Girls can go?!”
It was a cruel irony to me. And now as I see these young girls get called and leave I struggle to be excited for them. I think negative thoughts like, “I hope your mission doesn’t ruin you like it ruined me. I was excited and wanted to serve all my life and look where it got me.” Etc. I feel like I’ve been ruined and I find myself envious of these young women who prepare and return with that missionary fire. (I feel like my flames were put out with 3 different fire hoses.)
But that’s not the only way I feel like my outlook has changed.
I used to hear things like, “You choose to be happy,” or, “Serving others will help you forget about yourself,” or, “You create the life you want,” and agree completely.
Not anymore. I was so naive.
Now I listen to conversations, speeches, and sit in church meetings wanting to contest those types of statements. I get that there is good intention behind them, but that’s not sufficient anymore. Because I know that happiness is not always a choice. I know that serving others isn’t going to just take away pain and suffering. I know that you can’t always creat the life you want.
And my mental illness already makes me feel guilty for not having enough faith, I don’t need someone to add to it. Because I KNOW that doing the small and simple things will bless my life, but I still struggle. I do believe in praying, reading your scriptures, going to church, etc. because all those things strengthen our testimonies and bless our lives, but when they’re used for the cure-all that’s when it bothers me.
Christ is the cure-all. The Atonement is the cure-all.
So the next time you’re giving a talk, a speech, or commenting in a church class and you want to tell everyone that life is all rainbows and sunshine if they just have more faith or pray harder or read their scriptures longer or serve others more… think about the lost sheep. The one that Christ went after. He didn’t scold the sheep or tell the sheep that it wasn’t doing enough, He just went to it and brought it back. Go after that sheep and think about what your comment will do to them.
I know that might be asking a lot, but that is another way we can set ourselves apart from the world. We have the opportunity to go after those lost sheep just like our Savior, and we need to do that now more than ever.
You might be reading this thinking that I now have a super negative outlook on life. I’ll be the first to admit that yes, I kind of do. I have become a little more bitter and cynical because anxiety and depression are pits of darkness, and although I feel like my pit isn’t as big as it used to be I can’t erase the memories of that larger pit. But at the same time, I know the pits that I experienced have helped me become an advocate for others who are feeling the same way. I can, hopefully, help others climb out of their own pits. I may have been too scared to say things in the past, but not anymore.