How to Find Gratitude in Growth

Enduring Hard Things

My good friend Jennifer, who I was a Mormon missionary with in Arizona, posted a letter on Facebook from her son who is currently serving a mission in Africa.

“Mundane…that is the word that describes my life!!! haha….There is nothing new to talk about or report….I keep grasping for straws…I’ve got some things to talk about, but I’ve realized that almost every day is the same…I wake up at the same time every day, bucket shower, get dressed, eat, study from the scriptures, study with my companion, go out, teach, find, walk around in the heat, come back home, eat, plan, sleep and repeat…occasionally we have a meeting and it just makes me so happy cause it breaks the monotony of the week!! haha….I honestly think I’d rather endure hard things than endure monotonous things….and I’d say “knock on wood”, but im gonna stand by my statement!!”

I quickly commented to Jen, “Oh no…that boy did not just ask for hard things…”

Mormon missionaries are taught that humility is key in living a Christlike life and in having the ability to draw others to Christ.  We both prayed for it on our mission.  And we both have had some pretty humbling experiences.  But regardless of whether or not you pray for humility, life can be humbling…it kind of comes with the territory.

The Stress Vulnerability Model

My employer sent me to a seminar at Yale to be trained for my current position, and one of the the things those Yale professors stressed was the importance of The Stress Vulnerability Model.  I had heard about this before but it’s always good to be reminded.  The thinking is that pretty much everyone on earth has the potential to become psychotic, but that genetics and stress play a huge role.  If you are more sensitive because of your genetics, it doesn’t take as much stress as it would for someone with less genetic propensity.

For instance, if you take someone who has been screened for exceptional emotional and mental wellness and then deprive them of sleep and start starving them and torturing them, they’ll eventually start to show a psychotic symptom or two.  If psychotic disorders run in your family, however, if could take a much less stressful blip to send you over the edge.

Hail Humility

There are others in my extended family who have psychotic disorders, so when I was born I had genetic risk.  And when I had my first psychotic “break” in high school, the stress was intense.  When I went into the hospital on my mission, I was living on an Indian reservation, working incredibly long days with only a half a day off a week, isolated from contact from family and friends, and incredibly worried about many of the children with whom I worked.  I started losing sleep because of the stress.  The loss of sleep sent me over the edge and I ended up in a mental hospital.  And the experience I had in the hospital didn’t help to relieve any of my stress.  Be careful what you ask for.  Humility came my way.

I learned about the stress vulnerability model over the years and have worked really hard to apply it to my life.  I try really hard to take good care of myself.  I try to get to the spa at least once a month, I try to walk every day for 20 minute increments throughout and while I walk I meditate.  I takes baths with epsom salt or baking soda many times a week.  I’ve gotten much better at asking for help, knowing my limits, and not being hard on myself over a messy house, not being a great host when friends visit…and all the other little details I could nag myself over.  I thought I had my self care routine down pretty good, but still ended up in the hospital in 2013.  Sometimes the stress in your life just can’t be controlled.

A Hard Thing is a Hell of a Teacher

Jennifer and I continued to type back and forth about her son’s letter and I wrote, “You’ve raised one awesome son..who may be about to get even more awesome. Hard things are the best teachers.”

I have learned so much from my illness.  It has been one of the best teachers.  More than anything else I have learned to be kind…to love myself wholly, to not judge my circumstances, to give myself credit for always trying my best, and to accept that hard things come, whether or not we ask for them.

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Cheers.  The love in me toasts to the love in me.

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Me and Jen with some kids we loved.

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Me on the Indian Reservation.

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The therapist I continued to see on my mission after I got out of the hospital,

Dr. Lynn Workman Nodland, me and Jen.

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