Feature Friday: Kim C

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.

360A5174
Photo by Brittany Allred

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:

  1. 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
  • Youtube yoga
  • Meaningful prayer
  • Journaling
  • 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.

Click here for Kimberly’s guide, Everyday Mindfulness: Simple practices for a more present, peaceful, purposeful life.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Lauren

Lauren and I met at my Galentine’s Day: Self-Love Event back in February. We went to dinner a few months later and were able to talk more there. She shared with me her story of coming home early, since we have that in common, and agreed to write a post too. She has become a dear friend and I’m so grateful our paths crossed.
Lauren is Mom to a 1-year-old boy, Jude, and “dog mom” of a Golden Retriever. She’s a graphic designer currently serving as the Creative Director of a startup branding agency. She’s a huge Harry Potter nerd (and a Slytherin, if anyone’s wondering). She also loves running, fantasy novels, and nature documentaries. She and her husband met in Orlando, FL and miss the weather, beaches, and lush, green landscape.

IMG_2356

I, like many, heard the historic “Age Change Announcement” and knew immediately that I had to go. I got my papers in within a week, received my call to Orlando, Florida 3 weeks later, and went into the MTC December 19th, 2012 with the first wave of 18 and 19-year-old missionaries. It was completely surreal to be a part of.

Despite a family history of mental illness and even experiencing depression my senior year of High School (not really recognizing that that’s what was going on or doing much about it until it lifted on its own), I had no clue I was primed for another depressive period until it hit me like a ton of bricks. Because there were so many sister missionaries coming out, we started splitting areas and that meant a lot of non-glamorous work and a lot of training. I trained as soon as my first 12 weeks were up, and opened new areas for sisters every 6 weeks after that – while continuing to train. I knew I was dealing with massive amounts of stress and change, and my body was being pushed to the limit, but like many, I felt confident that if I remained completely obedient and gave my whole heart and soul to the work, I’d have the strength to “run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.” And truly, I felt so much satisfaction and joy in the work that it was easy to ignore those warning signs. After running on fumes for weeks, all it took was some bad news from home to send me completely over the edge.

Over the course of three transfers, I went from being inexplicably tired and struggling with major stomach problems to only able to leave the apartment for a few hours a day. After seeing a couple of specialists, trying antidepressants, and meeting with the area therapist (who told me that just by looking at me and my positive demeanor, he was floored that I was battling suicidal thoughts), it was suggested I return home for treatment. Surprisingly, and thankfully, I felt at peace about the decision. I was convinced I’d be back out in a transfer or two, anyway.

My symptoms only worsened as I got home. Ward members had no clue what to say, especially because I’d always been “the perfect member” (read: perfectionist and people-pleaser). In the short span of 7 months, most of my friends had moved away, gotten married, or had generally “moved on.” I was too sick to go back to school, and too sick to work. I felt completely isolated, broken and lonely. Though I knew I’d given the Lord my all on the mission, I felt like I’d failed at coming home. The anxiety, insomnia, and depression were so bad, I hardly left my bed for an entire year. My stomach problems made it incredibly painful to eat.

Attending church was one of the hardest parts for me in coming home, and I wish this was talked about more. As is typical of that stage of life/living in Utah County, my mission got brought up constantly. And not just whether you served, but people always seemed to ask when you served and it inevitably came up that I returned home early – which meant I was always explaining why. I literally could not sit through any talk about missionary work – I got sweaty, my heart started racing, and I had the feeling that I had to get out of there NOW. I distinctly remember sobbing uncontrollably at my cousin’s farewell talk. It was only a few months ago, 5 years after returning home, that I realized I can now sit through (most) homecoming/farewell talks without feeling like I’m going to throw up. The social aspect of coming home early has gotten so much easier as time has gone on. The conversation about mental health in the Church has come a long way, and I’m out of the phase of life where a mission (and basically what you’re doing with your life) isn’t brought up in every. single. conversation. I’m learning how to really cultivate and utilize a support system, which is huge. I’ve made leaps and bounds in my ability to say “no” respectfully and not base my goodness or sense of self-worth on how someone else reacts to me.

Anyway, back to the story. A few months after my return, one of my dearest companions emailed me and told me she was coming home, too, to receive treatment for her foot after being hit by a car. She wasn’t released, and since she only lived about 30 minutes from me, I got to be her companion often – it helped me tremendously to talk and be with her. But I found myself feeling deeply hurt and confused by the fact that she didn’t get released, and got to go back and finish her 18 months. Her reason for coming home was also clearly visible, and people constantly told her how strong she was, and how much of a fighter she was to endure such a trial. And she absolutely was! She’s one of the best, most exemplary people I know. But I only ever heard encouragement like that from my immediate family. Mostly, people avoided the topic. I usually sensed pity.

A year and a half after I returned home, I went back to visit Orlando with that same companion. While there, I had the strong prompting to move back – the first time since coming home that I felt God speak to me through that fog of mental illness (and one of two times I’ve felt the Spirit guide me so directly). So, a month later, I found myself back in Orlando, living in the same apartment complex as I had my first area, incredibly. It was there that I met my now-husband. He’s also from Utah, and has absolutely no ties to Florida; he moved down there after grad school to work for The Golf Channel. Amazingly, it was through my husband that I was introduced to the doctor who FINALLY diagnosed me with hypothyroidism. My healing has not been linear whatsoever, and that has been beyond frustrating at times. We’ve been married for 2.5 years, and have a one-year-old boy that is perfect in every way and my bright light in the darkness.

When my son was about 4 months, I felt that dreaded dark cloud creep up on me. My greatest fear when I got pregnant was Post-Partum Depression because I’d had a decent handle on my health for about a year and this time I’d have a sweet, little human to take care of. Unfortunately, it got worse and continued for 7 months. I’ve finally experienced more good days than bad for about three weeks now. I’m afraid of getting my hopes up, but something in my gut tells me that the worst is over. I survived, and my son is thriving.

I experienced a lot of anger with PPD. I guess I hoped that I had enough resources and tools that if / when the depression hit again, I’d be able to fight it off. Especially because we knew about my thyroid problem. Yes, I had more help and more tools, and I can certainly say that my perspective was different this time around, but that didn’t mean I could just pull myself out of it (you’d think I’d know that already). It felt quite different because of my life situation and I experienced entirely new challenges and temptations. I’ve been angry that nothing I try seems to make a real difference. I’ve been angry at God because my son and my husband don’t deserve this version of me. I’ve been angry at myself because, apparently, I’m not humble enough or learning what’s necessary to move past this. I’ve cried to God countless times, “This is obviously not working. I’m not becoming more empathetic or gaining more knowledge and faith like I did those years after my mission. All this is doing is making me more cynical, more unsure about my worth in Thine eyes, more hopeless about my ability to create a meaningful life for my family, and more doubtful that I’ll be able to endure to the end and not turn away from Thee.” The adversary came at me so hard this time around, and for months I thought I’d completely failed and lost my testimony – until I read this: “There is a spirit of doubt that the adversary uses very effectively. It has more to do with temptation than it does with a lack of faith, though it can look and feel as though it is the latter.”

These days, I’m just trying to move forward and re-learn how to trust my Father in Heaven again. I’ve prayed a lot over the past seven months, but the cloud of depression disconnects you from everything – so I’m working on re-kindling relationships and doing things that help me feel like “me” again, like running and fun creative projects aside from working as a graphic designer. Worth the Wrestle by Sheri Dew has been a huge comfort, and taking a step back from social media (using it almost exclusively for connecting with close friends instead of work / un-following a whole bunch of accounts) has helped me give myself grace. I’m trying really hard not to worry about when another depressive episode might hit, and allow space for whatever feelings I’m experiencing at the moment.

Writing out my story like this helped me organize my thoughts and put words to my feelings – especially about the new challenges that the past 7 months of PPD brought. And because some of the most healing conversations I’ve had have been with almost-strangers who’ve shared experiences in similar trials, I’m going to throw this out there: I’d love to talk about everything or nothing with anyone who needs it. Trust me, I’m someone who would rather skip the small talk and have a real heart-to-heart (consistent with my INFJ personality, if you’re into the Meyers-Briggs personality types like I am). Find me on Instagram @laurenhessdesign. We can groan over frilly motivational quotes together.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Jodi

Jodi is one of my friend’s in-laws and I really love the things that she shares and posts on Facebook so I asked her if she’d write something for me. I love her perspective on life and that she has chosen happiness, despite the hardships she’s gone through.
“Hi, I’m Jodi! To be honest, I’m just winging this. I am no writing expert. My expertise is in parenting blunders and how to make the perfect s’more. I’m an advocate for getting out of one’s comfort zone and doing hard things, because I know that our failures can pave the way to our success. I love my family and Savior Jesus Christ with my whole heart and am extremely grateful them. I’m a firm believer that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us and for our benefit. I’m a strong and equal “red/yellow” personality (if you know the Color Code, then you know what I’m talking about), so I refer to myself as “sunshine mixed with a little hurricane.” I love to work hard and stay busy, but mostly love finding joy/fun in my life journey. Life was meant to be lived, difficult at times, loved, enjoyed, and mixed with lots of vacations and dance parties! This is me, my story — raw and real.”

21640718_10214132887256455_8995189749240389523_o
Photo by Wolf Photography.

Oh To Be Happy And Loved

Please note: I use the word “happiness” throughout this article. To me, it’s an all-encompassing word with how I want to feel. Some might refer to this as joy, peaceful, lively, etc. f the word “happiness” doesn’t work for you, choose a word that does.

One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that when things go wrong, don’t go with them. These past few years have been a roller coaster ride. A lot of happiness and growth mixed with devastation and complete loneliness, and then feeling the power of love and how it can transform and heal anything, even during the darkest and hardest of times.

For those that follow me on Instagram (@treatinyourmacros) you know I try and promote health and happiness. I’m not afraid to be vulnerable. For some reason, when Allyson asked me to write this article, I was stumped. One of my life goals is to be a motivational speaker — inspire women, help them learn that they are not alone, that God is fully aware of them and that they are loved unconditionally. If this is what I have been working towards, and someone was offering me the chance to share my words, thoughts, and feelings, why couldn’t I think of anything to say? Instead of trying to come up with “words of wisdom,” I went back to the drawing board, prayed, and concluded that the following is what I am going to share with you: My story. You may be able to relate, you may not, but this is what I feel needs to be written. This is me, imperfect Jodi, searching for answers, truth, love, acceptance, guidance, and purpose, and this is how I found it.

It started about three and a half years ago. Well, if I’m being honest, it actually started about 8 years ago, the day that I was married. I was on cloud nine. I found the perfect man to share the rest of my life with. We were going to school, working several jobs, and despite how busy we were, life seemed to be perfect. Our first year of marriage was complete bliss. I remember thinking, “People think this is hard?” I wasn’t sure how anyone could feel that way…. Then our second year hit, and it was a lot rockier. Looking back, there wasn’t anything life changing (that I can remember) that made it hard, it was just hard! I wasn’t my usual happy self. I remember thinking, “I have to be happy.” It’s part of the “checklist”, ya know, that imaginary checklist people seem to create in order to be happy. “Get married in the temple, CHECK! Go to school and get an education, CHECK. Have kids, CHECK!” (Well, we were expecting our first at the time.) Maybe I am the only one that has created this happiness checklist, but I doubt it. After reviewing that “checklist” I knew I was suppose to be happy, but in truth… I just wasn’t. I would see these people that appeared truly happy, and I wanted that happy feeling. I wanted fun, adventure, and true happiness. However, I felt like I was just going through the everyday motions, living, but not really living.

Life seemed to get better and things started to turn around. We had our first baby, Leo, and life seemed to be wonderful. I had this beautiful baby boy who I couldn’t love more. Our marriage was much better, but I still continued to feel like I was just going through the motions. I worked hard and tried to stay busy. I even started my own photography business — but I’m not sure how to explain it, I just felt “meh.” Content (I guess), but not TRULY happy. If I haven’t lost you yet in this confusing story, hold on for a little longer, it gets better. Promise.

26060308_10215024489865963_6202012552798145638_o
Photo by Wolf Photography.

Fast forward a couple years to when something happened that completely rocked my family’s world. My oldest sister Stephanie, my example, best friend, therapist, supporter, and everything a big sister is, unexpectedly passed away while giving birth to her fifth child. Even though it’s been three and a half years, I remember everything about that night, every detail.

Of course I had felt sadness before, depression even (post-partum depression is a real thing), but nothing had dropped me this low before. It was a scary low. I remember crying out so loud because the pain cut so deep that I didn’t think I could make it through. Deep down in my heart I knew our Heavenly Father didn’t make mistakes, but it was really hard to wrap my head around this. “How could she be needed more in Heaven than with her five children and husband?” It just didn’t make sense. I tried to not be angry. I will say, I thought I did a pretty good job about not blaming God, but on the flip side, I now realize I did start to doubt Him. The hurt, frustration, and confusion were all too real.

So when I say “When things go wrong, don’t go with them,” that is exactly what I mean. Life is all about choices. Everyone has hard things, some things being harder than others. I will definitely take my hardships over those that that I’ve witnessed others experience. The trials I have had to deal with, including personal health problems, loss of a loved one, and others, have turned into million-dollar experiences. I wouldn’t pay even one dollar to experience them again, but I wouldn’t trade them either. ANWAY… Sorry, we are getting off track… Life is about choices, right? I allowed myself to go down the wrong path. I started doubting my faith, saying I still believed in Christ but wasn’t so sure about the whole church thing anymore. I was at my unhappiest of times, pretending to be happy and have it all figured out, justifying my thoughts and actions.

Finally, the unhappiness got to me. I knew that I couldn’t live like that anymore. There was a legitimate dark cloud around me, feeding me negative energy. I knew that I wasn’t me, and I was desperate to find me again. I wanted true happiness. The first thing I committed to doing in my quest for true happiness was praying again. They were simple prayers at first. I prayed for clarity and help to tear down the walls I had put around my heart so that I could start feeling the spirit and love again. For any of you that have felt that same way, it wasn’t a one-and-done type of deal. I did this for a while. Then finally one day, while my family and I were sitting in church during Sacrament meeting on a Fast Sunday, I just kept praying in my heart for me to be happy, to feel love, and to have peace. The congregation started singing “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (which happens to be my favorite hymn) and my whole being seemed to fill with love, unconditional and pure love. I have never felt anything so strong, and I cannot deny that my Heavenly Father was wrapping His arms around me at that moment. The tears came quickly, uncontrollably. It was the first time I had felt peace, love, content, forgiveness, and what I was searching for: happiness. Those feelings lasted through the whole hymn. I determined right there and then that I was going to change. I needed to stop playing a victim (yes, I see now that I was playing the victim). My mentality was, “Poor me, I’m so confused, I don’t know what to do, I tried that and it didn’t work,” and a lot of other nonsense and multiple excuses. The problem that we have with having a victim mentality is that we forget to see the blessings of the day. When we have this mindset, our spirits are poisoned instead of nourished. We need to stop looking at the negative things and focus on the positive. There may not be anything that you can do to change those things anyway, so why use your energy to focus on what you can’t change? Find the positive. Happiness is a choice, and to feel loved is a choice

So now that we have all that out of the way, how did I overcome all of this? If you were to ask me now, “Are you TRULY happy? Do you feel love?” The answer is 100% YES! I feel more grateful for my Savior than I ever have. I feel so grateful for life that there are days where I feel I cannot contain it. Here’s my secret (that isn’t really a secret)…. Learn to love yourself. Learn to be happy with yourself. Learn to congratulate yourself on your successes, and don’t be afraid to fail.

Another sister of mine (and my dearest friend) pointed out to me one of the Lord’s commandments: Love thy neighbor as thyself. She asked me, “Do you love yourself?” At the time I didn’t feel that I could answer, because the answer was no. I was too embarrassed admit it. Let me ask, how can we fully give ourselves to God’s work and learn to love others unconditionally as we have been commanded, if we do not love ourselves?

We can learn to love ourselves, accept ourselves, improve ourselves, taking small and large steps to make these things happen, and true happiness will come. True love will come too, and you will start seeing more good than bad, even through the most difficult of times.

Everyone is different on how they may go about this. I am going to share what worked for me and what made the biggest difference. I had tried to work from the inside-out to heal myself. After a while I started to see that that wasn’t working. I stopped doing what wasn’t working and found a new path. I hired a personal trainer and started working on myself, giving myself “Me time”. It soon became clear that I had to work from the outside-in. Many women I know (I’ll throw myself in here as well) including mothers, sisters, friends, and grandmothers, give of ourselves all the time, but do we take time to build ourselves up? That to me is the most important because you cannot fully help someone else when you yourself aren’t in a good state. You have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror. How you appear to others can be important, but how you appear to YOU is also of great importance.

I started with my trainer, knowing that I was in for a long, difficult journey. I made a promise to myself however, to finish what I had started and to give it 100%. (Remember, WE CAN DO HARD THINGS!) While words have power, our actions are what will truly change and shape our lives. I committed to change, and I followed through, even when it was painful.

31206474_10216085863959652_2971202759841284096_o
Photo by Simply Shelby Photography.

I started what I thought was a fitness journey (it turned into my spiritual journey) back in 2017. My life will never be the same. As I pushed myself physically, I got stronger mentally. While getting stronger mentally, I started tearing down emotional walls that I had put up. There were several times where I cried while running on the treadmill and let the emotions flow. Talk about embarrassing… Sometimes I knew why I was emotional, but the majority of the time I had no idea, the tears just came. As those walls started coming down, I felt more connected to the Savior. It was through this experience that I created a love for myself. I created happiness. I realize now looking back on the harder times in my marriage, my personal health struggles, my sister’s passing, and life struggles in general, that it was ME. I wasn’t progressing in life, and when one isn’t progressing, they are regressing. Regression gives feelings of regret, unhappiness, discontent, and leads us to just go through the motions without satisfaction.

No one is responsible for your happiness except for you. Throw that imaginary checklist away and start doing the difficult things that allow changes needed in your life, especially those things that allow Christ to be a part of it. When He is the focus, life is better. Know that when you feel that He has left you, we are actually the ones that have strayed from Him. Make the commitment to get back on track. We all stray to a degree now and then, either physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. It’s OK. Just choose to not continue to do so. Choose to learn from your trials.

With that being said, while I miss my sister dearly and would love to see and talk to her, I have learned so many things that I never would have if her passing never happened. Life is working for you, not against you. Your choices do affect your happiness. Don’t allow anyone to feed your energy if they aren’t serving you in a positive way. Choose to maximize the potential Heavenly Father gave you; create an extraordinary life filled with happiness, love, and purpose. Then pass it on.

XOXO,
Jodi

Motherhood With A Mental Illness

Happy Mother’s Day! And to those of you who are not yet Mothers, my heart goes out to you. I wish I knew your why, and I wish I knew what to say to take away your ache and heartbreak. Just know you are loved, prayed for, and thought about constantly.

I wrote this post for my personal blog almost two and a half years ago and I had several promptings that I needed to share it here, so with Mother’s Day being tomorrow, it seemed like a good time to finally do so. I deleted some things that were no longer pertinent and updated it to add how I’m currently dealing with this illness as a Mom.

Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. It is not something you do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.” – Neil L. Anderson

5H7A8397
Photo by Jennie Grange Photography.

Sometimes it’s really hard for me to admit that I struggle with mental illness, especially as a Mom. And for some reason writing about it helps. I guess I do this to know that I’m not alone and that there are others experiencing the same thing. And also because when I share others share too, and we can learn and grow from each other.

In March of 2015, I decided to go off my Prozac. When I found out I was pregnant that was one of the first questions I had, would being on this medication affect my baby? My doctor told me that I would be ok until the last few weeks of my pregnancy and should go off it then if I could. I ran out of refills in March and that was what forced the plunge. I haven’t been back on medication since, with the exception of taking Xanax twice when we flew to Hawaii in January of this year. I haven’t wanted to be on a medication roller coaster through pregnancies and breastfeeding, especially because there was only one month of no pregnancy or breastfeeding between Hayley and Evelyn.

The work of a mother is hard, too often unheralded work… Mothers, we acknowledge and esteem your faith in every footstep. Please know that it is worth it then, now, and forever. – Jeffrey R. Holland (Because She Is a Mother)

No love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child.
To all of our mothers everywhere, past, present, or future, I say, “Thank you. Thank you for giving birth, for shaping souls, for forming character, and for demonstrating the pure love of Christ.” To Mother Eve, to Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, to Mary of Nazareth, and to a Mother in Heaven, I say, “Thank you for your crucial role in fulfilling the purposes of eternity.” To all mothers in every circumstance, including those who struggle—and all will—I say, “Be peaceful. Believe in God and yourself. You are doing better than you think you are. In fact, you are saviors on Mount Zion, and like the Master you follow, your love ‘never faileth.’ – Jeffrey R. Holland (Behold Thy Mother)

IMG_7240
Photo by DeannaPaige Photography.

After going off my medication when I was pregnant with Hayley I had a really hard month full of school and finals, and then stressed about her arrival, but did surprisingly well after she was born… until about two months postpartum. It was then I went to my Doctor and discussed my options with him. I was going to go back on medication when she was six months old but ended up switching my major in school so that I could be done sooner and focus on her, while also avoiding loads of stress from the Athletic Training program. I toughed out a final semester of school and felt pretty good about life.

Then I got pregnant with Evelyn in August of 2016. I struggled practically every day with her pregnancy; emotionally, physically, and mentally (surprise right?). All of my symptoms came on sooner and it seemed like they were worse too. I think I have some PTSD from that pregnancy (and giving birth) because I am absolutely terrified of going through another one. Like there is going to need to be divine intervention for me to go through this again.

There is no role in life more essential and more eternal than that of motherhood.
There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. – M. Russell Ballard (Daughters of God)

1V4A6113
Photo by Elise Airmet Photo.

My second daughter, Evelyn, turned one last week and I was feeling weird about it all day. I realized the reason I was feeling so weird about it is that I feel this pressure to now have another baby, and I’m so not ready for that. Anyone else feel like they need to have kids about every two years? I don’t know if it’s my age, the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, the fact that I actually can have kids when so many can’t and long for them, or something else. Whatever the cause is… it’s there.

And I know I have so much to be thankful for and that I am truly blessed, and that’s why having anxiety and depression is so extremely frustrating – I know I have so many blessings and things to be happy about but I just can’t sometimes. I cannot “choose to be happy.” I feel alone because of what this illness does to me. And it’s hard for me to talk about it with people who don’t understand because sometimes that only gets me more frustrated and depressed. It’s a horrible cycle. I know it’s not their fault for not being able to understand so I just don’t say anything to avoid the conversation I know is coming that won’t do me any good. And maybe that’s selfish of me but I need to be a little selfish with this illness or things only get worse than they need to. And when I can’t take care of myself then I can’t take care of others and I really hate not being able to do anything for others, especially my husband and daughters.

Your children are the greatest gift God will give to you, and their souls the heaviest responsibility He will place in your hands. Take time with them, teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can faith. When you are old, nothing else you’ve done will have mattered as much.” – Lisa Wingate

Hayward, Allyson 2016-05-05-25
Photo by Fotofly.

Becoming a Mother is a huge life changer, I know any Mother can tell you that. Since I’ve become a Mother I don’t get as much time with my husband, I feel like I don’t have as many friends as I used to, I don’t have much of a social life, and I don’t get any time to myself because it’s harder to do things with people or for yourself when you have a demanding little human that needs to eat 3-4 hours and take naps and play and be held and all the things that babies need leaving you with little time for anything else. Even when I do get out I still have to put Hayley and Evelyn first and “miss out” on things because I’m feeding them or changing a diaper or they’re crying/throwing a tantrum and I have to calm her down. And I know that every Mom deals with this but when it’s coupled with anxiety and depression it’s different. I worry about all that the future will bring and how I am going to deal with it. Constantly.

At the same time that being a Mother gives me anxiety and depression, it also heals it. I am so grateful for Hayley and Evelyn. They are the reasons I can handle this as well as I do, most of the time. I think that if they weren’t here I would be doing a lot worse, they are the reasons that I have to get out of bed. They rely on me for almost everything but I need them more than they need me. When I have hard days, weak moments, struggles, etc. they will bring me back to life with their smiles or laughter or the new thing that they learned or do. I have been blessed with beautiful daughters and I love them more than they’ll ever know.

Mom was the biggest word in her world. It made her want to dance, and it made her want to hide. And on some nights, when the house was dark and still and the moon peeked through the window, it made her wonder. – Emily Watts (Once There Was a Mom)

DSC_7779bw
Photo by Brittany Stewart Photography.

I know those previous two paragraphs contradict each other but that’s what having a mental illness will do to you. Welcome to the life of someone living with one. The same thing that runs you into the ground can also be the thing that lifts you out of that hole.

And of course, there’s the loss of identity that we feel as new Moms, and even as experienced Moms. There becomes little time to do the things we love and enjoy, therefore we learn how key it is to MAKE TIME for our hobbies, but even then that time has limitations. Everyone talks about finding the balance, but I am on the fence about believing if it even exists. I do believe in prioritizing, and I’m slowly learning that me, myself, sometimes needs to be placed higher on that priority list. I need to feel like Ally every once in a while, instead of Hayley and Evelyn’s Mom. And let’s just get rid of and let go of the “mom guilt” we feel when we do focus on ourselves. My dear Mom has told me for years that I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone else. Can I get an amen? Crazy how this works, but that helps me be a better Mom and feel good about my role as Mother when I’ve taken time to fill my needs. It also helps a lot with managing my anxiety and depression.

Motherehood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels. – First Presidency Message

IMG_3876
Photo by Moments by Ally Photography.

I had this thought in December of 2015, it was Fast Sunday during Sacrament Meeting. I was thinking about my mission, where all of this started, and how hard it was while serving and since then. I thought about how “unfair” I thought it all was, and what it did to me. I was a different person while suffering through it on my mission and when I came home. Of course, I will never be the same, and most of the time I can live with that, but other times I still resent the person this illness causes me to be. And as I was thinking all this I turned to look at my baby girl in my husband’s arms and thought about the baby blessing he gave her in September. I thought about how she was blessed to be a source of happiness and brighten other’s lives… and it hit me, that she is going to do that more for me than possibly anyone else. She was given to me by a Heavenly Father who understood what I went through and still go through, and I don’t have to do it alone. She is going to help me through it all. Hayley (and now Evelyn) is going to be my saving grace. My heart just about burst as I had all these thoughts and I feel so overwhelmed with love from my Father in Heaven and grateful that He is so aware of my needs and sends me the help that will get me through my trials.

I feel like having kids has helped my depression lessen but totally increased my anxiety. There are so many more things to worry about and kids are hard to control, and I like to be in control. I’ve definitely had more panic attacks since having kids. A vacation is not a vacation when your children are with you. I feel overwhelmed by all the things I should be doing and teaching or feeding them. And then I feel guilty when I’m not. Or I feel guilty for how easily frustrated I get with these little people who are just trying to learn and figure out their own emotions. And I definitely enjoy their company and the fun we have but most days I’m counting down until it’s bedtime. Every so often I have thoughts of, “I don’t get paid enough for this!” It’s hard and draining and I’m already looking for grey hairs.

The spiritual rewards of motherhood are available to all women. Nurturing the young, comforting the frightened, protecting the vulnerable, teaching, and giving encouragement need not – and should not – be limited to our own children. – Russell M. Nelson

So why do we do it? I have those days where I wonder what on earth I’m doing and if I’m really making a difference. Did I really agree to this? If only I would’ve known what I was signing up for… but I guess it’s good I didn’t? Someone else could be a better Mom for these sweet little girls. Am I doing everything I should, and I am I doing it right? Am I good enough?

But then Heavenly Father steps in… He’s so good, isn’t He? And He reminds me that I’m doing the most important work there is. He tells me it’s worth it and that I’m doing better than I think. And my girls… Evelyn finally smiles and laughs with me. She gets super excited and is so happy to see me. She crawls over to me and once I pick her up she rests her head on my chest. Hayley always tells me how pretty I look when I get dressed for work or church. She randomly tells me I’m the best. She thanks Heavenly Father for me in her prayers. And that’s why we do it.

A Mother is she who can take the place of all others, but whose place no one else can take. – Unknown

I’m so grateful for the Plan of Salvation and that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a Mom. I’m grateful for how it stretches me, teaches me, pushes me to my limits, and rewards me. And I’m grateful for YOU. I’m grateful for your help in mothering my children, for your examples, for your strength and faith, for your advice, for your sacrifices, all of it. Whether you have given birth or not, you’re a Mom if you’ve helped a child. Thank you!

Hayley and Evelyn are huge reasons I can cope but I would be ungrateful if I didn’t mention that my husband and my family also make a huge difference in how I’ve been able to deal with this, too. They will never know how much their help means to me. The words from Come, Come Ye Saints come to mind as I think about the future and how I’m going to tackle it all… happy day, all is well! And all will be well, as long as I stay close to Him who knows me best and take things with one arm in Daniel’s and the other wrapped around my girls.

I hope that you mothers will realize that when all is said and done, you have no more compelling responsibility, nor any laden with greater rewards, than the nurture you give your children in an environment of security, peace, companionship, love, and motivation to grow and do well. – Gordon B. Hinckley (Stand Strong against the Wiles of the World)

I remind mothers everywhere of the sanctity of your calling. No other can adequately take your place. No responsibility is greater, no obligation more binding than that you rear in love and peace and integrity those whom you have brought into the world. – Gordon B. Hinckley (Bring Up a Child in the Way He Should Go)

You have nothing in this world more precious than your children. When you grow old, when your hair turns white and your body grows weary, when you are prone to sit in a rocker and meditate on the things of your life, nothing will be so important as the question of how your children have turned out. – Gordon B. Hinckley (Your Greatest Challenge, Mother)

 

Feature Friday: Alli N

Alli and I have known each other since we were little kids. We were baptized on the same day, Halloween, were friends all through high school and have stayed in touch via social media. She has always been someone I’ve admired.
Alli was born and raised in Utah. She was a happy go lucky kind of girl growing up and was always happy, laughing, and just enjoyed life. She met her best friend and husband during a singles ward activity in 2010 and they were married six months later in the SLC Temple. They have been happily married for six and a half years now and have three beautiful children ages 4, 3, and 1.5. Her family is everything to me. She is a HIGH Fitness instructor and loves being able to help others feel the happiness that comes from a great workout.  She also loves to cook, spend time with her family, shop… for workout clothes… and eat ice cream.
One of my biggest dreams had always been to be a mom. I wanted it more than anything in the world. When my husband and I felt the strong impression to start a family back in 2012 we were ecstatic and spent our time as most soon to be parents do… tracking milestones, assembling nursery furniture, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of our sweet baby. After what seemed to be the longest nine months one could endure, our tiny little girl was born and little did I know at that moment, my life would change forever. Not only as a new mother but as a fighter of Post Partum Depression.
The day our sweet Hadley made her way from Heaven into our arms was one of the happiest I can remember. Joy, Pure Joy! We had a very exciting few weeks following her birth including bringing her home on a crisp snowy Christmas Eve, our first Christmas as a family of three, a visit and help from my mom and mother in law, a break from school for my husband, parental leave, visits from family and friends, and lots of snuggling our little girl. Then…slowly, the excitement started to fade, and ordinary life began to creep in. Christmas decorations were put away, Brad returned to school and work, family returned home (which at the time was three hours away) and there I sat, alone, with our tiny baby, crying and wondering  “what now?” “I should be happy” I would tell myself “I just had a baby, and get to stay home and be a mom just like I have always dreamed!” but deep in the corner of my new mom self, I was sad, desperately sad, and very lonely. I was terrified that I was overcome with such feelings of darkness. I cried, I ate, I slept…anything to distract me from the pain I was feeling but nothing seemed to fill the void within me.
I have always been a strong-willed person. The type of person that struggles to ask for help and believes that I can “fix it all on my own”. Because of the pride of my heart, I hid the struggle I was facing from everyone… even my husband. I thought that if anyone found out they would think that something was wrong with me as a person. I never considered that it was Post Partum Depression. I just thought something was wrong with me and I did my best to live day to day.
In my purist to “fix myself” I found a love for exercise and healthy eating. It helped immensely and after six months of struggle, I was finally feeling hope for healing. That was until my hormones took a terrifying plummet with the pregnancy and delivery of our second beautiful baby girl…a devastating miscarriage… and the pregnancy and delivery of our perfect little boy. I began to torment myself relentlessly by comparing myself to anyone and everyone, especially those close to me whom I view as the most amazingly beautiful and gifted women in the world. I began to dislike myself, my self-confidence was nonexistent, I was constantly consumed with thoughts of self-doubt and no matter what I tried, and they never went away. “You aren’t pretty enough.”, “you aren’t good enough.” “You aren’t skinny or fit enough.” “No one truly loves you.” “You will never be a good enough mom.” “You will never be a good enough wife.” You don’t have any useful skills or talents.” “Your family would be happier and better off without you.”…The self-destructive thoughts were endless. I felt broken. Satan had overcome my mind and I was too weak to fight back. I fully believed every lie that was whispered into my mind.  After our little boy was born I was completely overwhelmed with the thought of raising our three tiny kiddos while my husband continued working and going to school full time. I had some very difficult days. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning most days, but would put on my bravest face and go through the motions of mommying… I spent most of my time however withdrawn from my children and family. I felt like a bystander and an onlooker in my own family and in my own life. A move to a new city caused more stress than I ever thought imaginable and towards the end of July 2016, after a day went wrong and words misunderstood, spending hours sobbing to my sweet husband about how horrible I was. I told him that I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t wake up in the morning. As he held me close while I could hardly breathe a light clicked within me and I knew I needed help.
Throughout the course of my 4-year struggle:
I finally mustered up enough strength to tell my Husband about what I was going through, and even though he suggested I visit the Doctor, again my pride refused.
I turned to my Heavenly Father with desperate pleas at night, begging Him to take this cross away from me. Promising that I would be a better mom and wife If He would just take it away. Like the loving Heavenly Father He is, he did not take it away.  But gave words through Elder Jeffery R Holland in his October 2013 General Conference Talk “Like a Broken Vessel” and through hymns that would enter my mind during times of despair. “Where can I turn for peace…where is my solace… when other sources seem to make me whole…who has the quiet hand to calm my anguish… who, who can understand? He, only one” “Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side…with patience bear thy cross of grief or pain” “I believe in Christ, so come what may” these words always brought such peace.
Asked for and received more Priesthood blessings of peace and comfort than I have in my entire life, and received loving counsel from my Heavenly Father on how to feel happy.
Put aside my pride and started asking for help. I told my family the struggles I had been facing and started going to a therapist.
My first visit to my therapist, I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression. I was always completely against medications until my therapist explained what I was going through so vividly after spending an hour with her, she calmly went to the whiteboard that hung on her wall and drew a picture that will forever be engraved in my mind. She drew a picture of the layers of the ocean and a beaming sun. She explained that everyone has waves in their lives, ups and downs, just as there are waves on the sea. When you are dealing with depression, your mind sinks down under the water until that level becomes your new normal and it becomes harder to see the sunshine. She went on to explain that I had allowed myself to sink to the lowest level on her diagram, where it is nearly impossible to see the sunshine. She warned that medication would be the only thing to help get me back to the light, and after her beautiful explanation, I knew she was right. This was an ah-ha moment for me, and I quickly started my medications.
I have been in recovery for a year now. And along with taking my medications daily, I have become a fitness instructor, and love feeling the happiness that a great sweat can bring. Medication has not been a cure-all, and this is a struggle that I will most likely face the rest of my life… but I know that God has a purpose in His divine plan for me to experience what I have gone through. Even though I do not know the reasoning behind it, I will continue to trust in Him and lean on Him as I did in my deepest darkest moments. Because He is the only one who has been with me through this entire journey and carried me when I could not carry myself.
“Don’t you give up. Don’t you quit. You keep walking, you keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead Trust God, and believe in good things to come.”
                                         -Elder Jeffery R. Holland

Feature Friday: Allie S

I am lucky enough to be able to serve with Allie in the YW’s in our ward. She has such a light about her and her bubbliness is contagious.
Allie was born and raised in Ogden, UT. She’s the middle child of 5. She graduated in Family Life at BYU and married her high school crush in the Salt Lake Temple! She’s now the mother of two, Lydia and Benson. She loves being a stay-at-home mom and does a little photography & videography on the side. She also loves cleaning, shopping, and playing tennis! Allie is also my visiting teacher and she mentioned to me that she had postpartum depression and anxiety. She agreed to share her story when I asked her if she would be willing and so here it is.

THE SCARIEST THING I’VE DONE…

Here I am 3 weeks into one of the scariest things I’ve done. The experience I had after having my first baby scared me so much I thought I would never attempt it again, but somehow I mustered up the courage and here, 3 weeks in to this (is it bad to label this stage as crappy!?) newborn stage and I’m still a little scared to death. Luckily, this time hasn’t been as bad postpartum depression-wise, but the anxiety has still crept in and been a little nasty. Again I wonder why time seems to glide along when life is easy and going as planned, but when hard times hit it seems as though time stands soooo still despite your desire of it to speed along?? I’ve once again felt a little “stuck” in a place I really don’t like and become obsessed with the future (6 weeks when I feel more “normal” and he smiles for real or 4 months when he is capable of sleeping through the night, etc. etc.) and when things will be good again. I’m trying to simply pass time, yet enjoy and be “present” but at the same time “present” kind of hurts. Thankfully, Lydia has been my daily distraction and such a joy to me, which is a little ironic given she was the reason causing my pain just 3 years ago. But, I’m also reminded how my favorite stage in her is being wished away to get Benson to the stage I want (is having my cake and eating it too too much to ask!?) I’m so grateful for modern medicine and formula, which I owe a lot of my sanity this go-round to, not to mention my very supportive family and husband. I’ve pondered a lot on God’s plan for our lives–it seems though the one thing he is trying to teach us through trials, is letting go of control. I think I’ve always thought of control as a positive attribute since it associates with organization and planning well, but the more I’ve pondered I realize control isn’t a Godly attribute even though God is in control. Controlling was part of Lucifer’s plan and our desire to control everything in our lives comes from the natural man, not our divine nature. So, here I carry on…trying to give up my control and trust in a Heavenly Father who has a perfect plan for my life.

This is Allie’s experience after having her first baby:

July 4, 2014—I can still remember the tender feelings I had so keenly. That Independence Day was different than any other 4th of July Holiday. The feelings were surreal, everything was so new and it kind of felt like a dream. You were born that morning at 1:17am and between our yawns of exhaustion we laughed that the one day I did not want you to come on (my thoughts were why combine your celebrations when you can have two full days of it!?), you made your appearance, a whole week late at that! Instead of hustling around all day trying to take full advantage of every festivities going on (the 4th of July has always been a favorite holiday!), we walked down the quiet hospital maternal floor that night to a set of large windows and watched fireworks from all over the area as we ate dinner. The view was amazing (sorry we had to leave you back at the nursery!) and the night seemed perfect.

Now, a couple months later, the name “Independence Day” has never hit more home. That day, every American celebrated our nation’s independence. Now, we will forever celebrate it as your very own Independence Day and entrance into our lives. In retrospect, the name Independence is exactly what was gained, not just for our nation, but for me particularly. It seemed not long after we left the hospital and walked in the door of our home, that…

the feelings came.

Feelings I had never felt before (or at least that intense). The only way to describe it was the feeling of being stuck. Stuck in a situation I couldn’t escape. Stuck in feelings I couldn’t seem to overcome. Feelings of sadness, depression, anger, hopelessness, loneliness, and the most overwhelming, anxiety, took over and I felt my freedom had been stripped right from me. Yet, I still felt stuck because there was no way of getting out of it, only going directly through it (as much as I wanted (oh please forgive me in my unhealthy mind!), I knew putting you up for adoption was not going to happen (your Dad just wouldn’t let me! thankfully!), and though I look back and laugh, it was real at the moment). I had frantically tried anything and everything I could to simply get back to my normal happy self, but despite my attempts, it just seemed like “Allie wasn’t home” and still, I just felt…

stuck.

I was trying to keep a balance between allowing myself some room since it could be the post-partum hormones and also a little nudge to force myself to adjust since it could be just me (I do NOT do good with change). Either way, it was how I felt and I couldn’t seem to get out on top. Day after day was an unbearable battle. Prayer, family, and the Lord’s tender mercies saved me, literally (and I will forever be grateful for them). Some days that little 10-minute feeling of hope was the only light I seemed to see. I remember my sister making the comment, not by mere coincidence,

“Allie, what if she is your freedom?”

And one day (August 11, 2014), the freedom finally came! The freedom from the hell I had been stuck in for nearly 5 weeks. The freedom from an over-anxious mind that wouldn’t stop thinking and simply just feel. The freedom of looking into your eyes and seeing worlds without end. It didn’t seem like I did anything different, but I was just able to keep on top instead of drowned in the emotions that consumed me. It came and I thank my Heavenly Father every day for the miracle He provided me this summer and…

the freedom he gave me with you.

So, Independence Day it is and I couldn’t be happier! Heavenly Father works in wondrous ways and I’ll forever be grateful for Him, my Savior, my family and friends, and that amazing, patient, unconditionally-loving Dad of your, well ours.

After much thought and pondering, I have felt that perhaps I experienced what I did for others; and, even more, close to home…

perhaps you.

I hurt for you to think you may ever have to experience it, but then again I remember the big picture and know that through such difficulty comes strength and testimonies beyond our own.

In my case, some may label it as “Post-Partum Depression” and blame it on hormones. Others do not believe in such and may consider it a difficulty adjusting. I have realized, whatever it is truly is does not matter. You feel it and it is real. If it is something you will draw closer to God with, can we not consider it a divine design in our creation, whether hormone- or personality-induced. You will spend more time arguing with yourself about what it is than ever come to a conclusion. It could be both (as I do not discount hormones and adjustment difficulties definitely play big parts in our life experiences). But, I do know that…

it is real.

Just as you can’t change the weather, you cannot always change the way you feel. But…

you are entitled to peace.

And remember that, it will save you as it did for me. You keep trying. You keep your head up for “better days to come” because…

they come.

“Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come”).

Feature Friday: Kate

Kate was in my ward growing up, but I didn’t know her very well. Thank goodness for social media where we can follow each other and get to know people better. I found out through her Instagram that she struggles with mental illness and she was kind enough to write this story for the blog. You will not regret reading it! It brought tears to my eyes multiple times and I am so impressed with her and how she has handled this trial. She is a strong, amazing woman!
Kate is a wife to an adventurous, adorable husband Jake, a mother of three beautiful children and a USU graduate. Since having her third baby, a little over a year ago, she has experienced postpartum anxiety, depression and panic disorder. She still works on these illnesses every day. As difficult as these challenges have been, they’ve definitely helped her come to know Christ in such a personal way. And it makes her want to share my testimony of Him so much!! In truth, His Grace IS the story. It’s what saved her before, during and after postpartum depression.

To begin with, a little backstory. I have three kids. No depression after our first son, but then a few years later I experienced my first panic attack a few months after our second baby, a daughter, was born. I subsequently dealt with some anxiety that made me apprehensive to ever have another baby. A few years passed. But, my husband and I felt that we would have another baby and when we made the decision on faith to have another baby, we felt the Spirit very strongly affirming that we had made the right decision. It felt like the angels rejoiced! That spiritual experience gave me a lot of courage moving forward. Not long after we made that decision, we were asked to be a Ma and Pa on our ward’s youth pioneer trek. Sweet, huh!? Inside I was like, “what if I get pregnant and have to walk across the plains all sick and uncomfortable?” But, I was also excited about the opportunity. And the months rolled by and we weren’t expecting yet, so Trek was a go and we headed off. Later, I would learn how this experience would prove how very aware God is of our situations and will teach us in ways we understand to prepare us and uphold us BEFORE, DURING and AFTER our trials. You see, that’s the amazing thing about the Infinite Atonement- His Grace is always there and reaches us in all directions to cover us.

So, on Trek, my husband Jake and I were given the assignment to represent a couple who had lived and crossed the plains with the Martin and Willie Handcart companies, Jens and Elsie Nielsen. Near Rocky Ridge, we were to reenact an event that happened to them. So, Jens and Elsie had come from Denmark and had a young son, Nels and were also bringing a little girl with them for another family named Bodil. After both the children had already died, Jens and Elsie continued on the trail and as they neared Rocky Ridge, Jens’ feet were so frozen he sat down on the side of the trail and told Elsie to leave him there. But Elsie couldn’t leave him and courageously told her husband to get in the cart and she would pull him. So, while the youth and other leaders moved on ahead of us on our pioneer trek, we were instructed to hang back and then when they were at the top of a hill, listening to the story while Jake sat down and acted like his feet were hurt and then I would help him into the cart and try and pull him. I think at the time, I thought for sure I could pull him a little. It wasn’t in deep snow, and I was in good physical shape. But when I put my hands on the wood handle and tried to pull,  my feet slid and I struggled and couldn’t move the cart even one inch. Now i was in tears thinking of the miracle of little Elsie pulling her husband over Rocky Ridge and how the angels HAD to have been there to help her. At that moment, the youth watching us up ahead started running down the hill and surrounded the cart and we took off. We not only walked up the hill, WE RAN. It was a testament to me that God is there to help us in our trials. We are not required to face them alone. I laughed in exhilaration and gratitude as I thought this running up that hill.

A few months following our trek experience, we were absolutely thrilled to find out we were expecting a baby the following May. The pregnancy went well and our darling Holland James was born! A week or so after he was born, I felt the very familiar anxiety that I had experienced before and let my family know as well as the Relief Society President that I would be needing some help. What followed were several months of miracles and severe difficulties I could not have anticipated.  I would feel very very discouraged and overwhelmed about the simplest of tasks. The exhaustion became overpowering and tears were plentiful and common. I had previously enjoyed baking, gardening and caring for my family, but couldn’t convince myself to do much and lost interest in doing so. My appetite fluctuated a lot and had a lot of difficulties sleeping even when the baby would sleep. I started blacking out, having dizzy spells and feeling nauseous often. Cognitive function slowed to a snail pace.

Through the months I received calls, text messages, meals and offers to help often several times a day, just to check and see how I was doing. I call these angels “cart pullers.” I was doing my very best to care for my family and usually made it thru the day, okay, but functioning was quite painful and difficult. I visited the doctor and got counseling. I still taught YW lessons and attended church, prayed very often day and night, studied scriptures and listened to sacred music. And even with all this, the illness didn’t go away.

Come October, I began having multiple panic attacks per day, brought on by a parade, driving in a car and upbeat music. After a visit to a psychiatrist where his diagnosis was panic disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder, he prescribed a medication and I felt very hopeful about things that night after I had started the first dose. I went to bed and a few hours later was awakened with a burst of heat and pop in my heart and it started to race and my body began to shake. I woke my husband and he alerted a neighbor who is an EMT to come help with a reaction to medicine. He monitored my heart rate and although it was racing he kept reassuring me that my color looked good, that it wasn’t an actual heart attack. I shook in terror and was barraged with intrusive suicidal thoughts for about 45 minutes to an hour and then was able to get up and then had to go outside and run and walk for nearly 5 hours to just tolerate the pain and panic. I listened to songs about Christ as I walked the streets in our neighborhood. I noticed a broken sprinkler in our neighbor’s yard. We texted her to let her know we would try and turn off the water so her basement wouldn’t flood. She came outside in her pajamas all bleary-eyed and told me, “you’re so good to walk with anxiety. I just lay in bed and shake.” It totally caught me off guard and made me laugh. We got her water turned off and chatted for a few minutes in her front room in the middle of the night. I saw it as a tender mercy. She had experienced panic before and gave me the reassurance I needed right then in my darkest hour. When I could finally go inside my house and pace, I walked and read the Book of Mormon and then when I could sit down, I would sit and focus all my energy on allowing myself to feel the pain. I plead with the Lord for His comfort, strength, and protection to become infused into my body. I placed a large painting of Christ at the end of the couch so that I could look at Him. You see, those suicidal thoughts were overpowering. Not that I planned or had any desire to hurt or kill myself, it was just an overwhelming fear that I would lose control and do something to hurt myself. My uncle had taken his life years earlier and I was terrified that it would happen to me.

This experience caused me to lose my appetite. I started dropping pounds and couldn’t sleep most nights because as soon as I would drift off, a panic attack would wake me up.

I think it was so so difficult because I was doing everything I knew to help myself get better and my family was rallying around me and friends were helping us, and it wasn’t getting better. It was getting worse. I was pleading with God to teach me and heal me and felt abandoned. I had only ever wanted to be a mom and raise my family, which I felt were good desires. But I would listen to, “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go” and felt strengthened. I would pour out my heart to God and the only answer I got was to keep going, that He was there and that I needed to pass thru this experience for His purposes. I remember questioning why I had this illness. Was it because of something I was doing wrong or a punishment of some sort? But the Spirit would remind me of the blind man who was born that way. The people asked the Lord who had sinned, the man or his parents? But the Lord taught that his blindness was to show forth the power of God in healing Him. So, that helped me be patient.

Also, as I would prepare Young Women Lessons (I’m serving as a Laurel Advisor), there were always lessons I desperately needed at the time. Like the Gratitude lesson… I studied about how we are to thank God in ALL circumstances and was prompted to thank God not only for everything surrounding the illness, like making my son a sandwich or fixing my daughters hair and getting thru the day but to thank Him for the illness itself. It was humbling and hard, but when I did, I felt my heart open a little bit and the Lord showed me how my testimony of Christ and my relationship with Him was becoming stronger, even unbreakable as I passed thru this trial and exercised faith and patience in His plan.

One day, I was at church and a gal was giving a lesson about our homes being a holy place. She asked us to close our eyes and imagine our homes. She asked us if Christ would feel at home there. At that moment, I had a very strong impression as I pictured my living room and kitchen with lunch still on the table and some messes around from getting ready for church that day and I pictured the Savior there with me, smiling as He said, “I’ve been here before. Remember that night? I was right here with you.” And I knew in retrospect that He had carried me thru that night of the bad reaction.

Things started to get a little better, but the memory of that night and the dark thoughts created more material for the illness to work with. Sometimes I felt absolutely abandoned and as the illness worsened, it became very difficult to feel warmth or the Holy Ghost anymore. It was like I was pounding on the doors of Heaven and no one was answering. But even though the illness made me unable to feel it, He sent others who could to reassure me and remind me He was still there. An example of this was one night I went to a young women activity and was having one of those dark dark days. My friend Kristina was standing behind me and when I turned to face her, she had tears in her eyes and said, “Why do I feel like I need to hug you?” She was unaware of my struggles but was in tune with the Spirit and it was a tangible witness that God was aware and even though I couldn’t feel Him, He loved me and was still there. I knew I could keep enduring. Her hug kept me going.

For a time, foot zoning, exercise, and sunshine got me through, but by Christmas time, I was sicker than ever. I went 3 days and 3 nights without really eating or sleeping at all. In desperation, I had made 3 more doctor’s appointments that week to try and find help. By the 3rd, my sister was driving me there and I tried to eat an orange and found I could no longer swallow. My body shook and I was terrified. I asked my sister to take me to the Emergency Room. There was a social worker there and when she walked into the little room, I looked at her and honestly, my first thought was that she looked like a fairy godmother. Pretty, brown eyes, silver hair, a long dress and little glasses on the end of her nose. Her name was Kelly. She listened to me tell her how I could no longer eat, sleep or even really sit up straight. I felt on the verge of psychosis and was attacked by intrusive thoughts about hurting myself or my baby. She looked at me so kindly and boldly told me, “I know I don’t know you very well, but from what I can tell, you’re not going to do those things.” She told me I needed to start meditating using Headspace, start baking again, recommended some therapists and that the doctor needed me to take some medication (Ativan) to try and reset my nervous system. Having so much fear of medication from last experience, I was afraid what it might do to me. She said, “I want you to take a deep breath and say to yourself, ‘this is going to help.” I took it and it did help. For the next week, I took a little before bed and ever so slowly and steadily, things improved. I weaned my baby from nursing him, which was hard, but he did great in formula. Things have taken a turn for the better and the warmth and light have come back since the first part of January. I found a good therapist, a supplement Q96 that is helping, I meditate and am learning great coping techniques that ARE working. I am happy, cooking dinner, running, sleeping, living again and I feel Heavenly Father’s love every day now.

There are still setbacks and difficulties at times, but I continue to look for ways to help. I have since started another medication and this time it’s helping!!

I think one of the most important things I needed to know when the darkness was so thick, it was that the Savior was there with me, He understood and would help me endure, that struggles can be changed into rejoicing someday thru His Grace and that I could and WOULD get better. It was hard to see that I would ever improve at the time. I want to help other people to know these things so much!!!!!! And, lastly, my baby is absolutely wonderful. I adore my family and we are doing well. Life is still stressful and busy, but I am enjoying it so much again… I would say even more than I ever have before.

Oh, and the whole pioneer trek experience was something I come back to often in my struggles that reminds me there are people pulling with me on both sides of the veil. I feel that experience was a tender mercy that took place to help me thru what was coming. And it did!! It still does. Those pioneers did what they did for us! God’s plan is so detailed and perfect and expansive!