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.

Is it “Bitch” or Bipolar

People experience bipolar disorder in very different ways. Many associate bipolar disorder with moodiness, and I can understand why that is. But my mood actually remains quite stable for the most part. I’m not what’s known as a rapid cycler… switching from one mood to another from day to day or from hour to hour. Roommates that have lived with me, people that have worked with me, friends that have known me well all describe me as even-tempered by nature. It is possible to have a personality, and then have a brain disorder on top of that personality.

I’ve heard total bitches described as bipolar. And that’s just not fair. They are just total bitches. Not that you can’t be a total bitch and bipolar at the same time. That happens too. But they don’t necessarily go hand in hand. One thing I have noticed about myself and all bipolar people that I have known or worked with is that we feel things quite deeply. Things strike us at our core.

I know several people diagnosed with bipolar disorder who are the sweetest, most empathetic people around. They are kind natured, empathetic and super sensitive. The kind of people who make really great best friends because they truly understand and care about what you are going through…they’re right there with you emotionally as you’re going through it.

Although to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder you have to have had at least one manic episode and one depressive episode, most bipolar people tend to lean much more toward one side of the pole than the other. I definitely lean more toward the depressive side. I have had three manic episodes in my life. Each one spaced almost exactly 10 years apart. One in my early 20’s, one in my early 30’s and one in my early 40’s. But I have dealt with a lot of depression. Like bad depression. Like I don’t want to live any more kind of depression.

Most people don’t know this about me. Even some of my closer friends. Because even when depressed, I remain surprisingly even tempered….and too depressed to tell anybody about how I feel.

Bipolar depression is very hard to treat, because most anti-depressant drugs cause manic episodes in bipolar people, which is what happened when I had post partum depression after the birth of my second daughter. I was devastatingly depressed and was put on antidepressants, which sent me into a terrible manic episode.   There are antidepressants that can be prescribed, but they usually have to be prescribed with a mood stabilizer. And many depressed bipolar people don’t find the anti-depressants to be very effective.

Treatment for bipolar disorder has come a long way, however, and medications keep getting better and better year after year. Lithium was once the only medication available, and now there are tons of options. Everyone’s personal chemistry is different and a medication regime that works well for one may not work at all for another.

I have difficulty with all medication, because each and every medication has side effects. And for whatever reason…whatever the side effects happen to be, I tend to get them three fold. My system is extremely sensitive to chemicals, whether they be food dyes in food or ingredients in medication. This has made treating my illness quite hard, and has caused me to turn to all kinds of alternative treatments.

Nothing cures bipolar disorder, but many things help to manage it. Decreasing stress and learning ways to provide myself excellent self-care have helped me tremendously. Nothing calms my thought filled mind like sitting in a super hot sauna. Regular exercise helps balance endorphins. Diet and nutrition are key factors in helping me feel my best. Certain vitamins and supplements really do a brain good. Fish oil is being found to be quite magical for many types of brain issues. I could go on and on about the many tricks and tips I’ve found that help me to feel my best.

Although a mental illness can reek havoc on an individual and on a family, I have grown to know that you can have a mental illness, and, at the same time, be emotionally happy and well. I have faith that this is a possibility for everyone. I have worked with people who have very serious psychotic disorders who lead very productive and joy filled lives. When I’m having a bad day I have learned that I can ride my faith to wellness.

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Faith is the trusty white steed that gets me there.

A Guide to the Greatest Generation

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Who’s Surpassing Who

I’ve heard it predicted that this up and coming generation is going to be the first generation that doesn’t surpass the preceding generation. Tom Brokah wrote a book called The Greatest Generation. I think I’ll need to soon write a book called The Greatest of the Greatest Generations…cause I think this next generation I’m helping to raise is pretty great.

My daughters, and their friends, and the youth I work with amaze me every single day. And I ‘m pretty blessed because I don’t feel like with my daughters I end up doing that much “raising”. I do a lot more witnessing. Sure…the occasional disciplinary action is required with daughters only a year a part who share a bedroom. But for the most part I just get to sit on the sidelines and watch this amazing game play out. The game of love takes a lot of fascinating twists and turns and I like to watch closely so I don’t miss anything.

I could tell from the time she was a tiny infant that my older daughter was going to surpass me. When she was about 7 months old she was propped up on the arm of the couch (because she was barely sitting up on her own at that point), and she was pulling at a tiny string that had come loose on the fabric. She was barely starting to fine-tune her fine motor skills…but that girl was trying with all her might to figure that string out. I watched her try her hardest to pull and turn and look and study. She wanted to know how that string worked…and she’s been like that with everything she’s done ever since.

Waiting to Start Work

She’s a quiet, wise, old soul and she’s got it together like a hundred times more than I did at her age. I started working when I was 15 and worked full-time through my bachelors and masters degrees to put myself through college without much debt. I didn’t want the same for my daughters. I wanted them to be able to relax a little bit and more fully enjoy their high school and college experiences. So when my daughter got scouted by a fashion photographer and decided she wanted to get a work permit at 14 and start a modeling career…I kind of cringed. (I cringed for other reasons too….modeling has been a hard thing for me to wrap my brain around. But the more I relax and learn to be OK with the fact that some things haven’t yet entirely broken free of their packaging, the better the experience goes for the both of us.)

Master Manifester

How she keeps straight A’s with AP classes to boot, helps head up her varsity swim team as a freshman and works is beyond me. My two girls are like leaps and bounds ahead in surpassing me. They are like master manifesters and are getting really great at creating the lives they want for themselves…and I just love sitting there and loving it.

Out of all the great qualities Chloe has, her tendency to break out in song at the funniest moments is one of my favorites. She’s not ostentasous or loud about it (except when she’s purposely trying to annoy her sister). She’s usually very subtle and the words come out just barely above a whisper…a low hum. The other day the four of us were sitting in the car at a stop light in the middle of a conversation and my husband and I noticed her quiet little singing voice from the back seat singing “Purple shirt….purple shirt. Guy in a puuuuur-ple shiiiiirt.”

And right as she finished singing a guy in a suit with a pastel purple shirt walked in front of our car at the stoplight. We burst out laughing because the melody and the timing of her song was so funny.

Singing Brains

My daughter has been doing this since she was small. When she was about four I made her breakfast, which consisted of a slice of wheat bread slathered in butter and a bowl of strawberries. She said to me, “This food is so good it makes my brain sing.”

My brain does a lot of funny things, but things don’t usually make it sing. Apparently it happens with her on a regular basis. And if I listen closely enough, I get a glimpse of the melody from time to time.  She is a beautiful soul inside and out…and that beauty cuts me to the core every time I take the time to really witness it.

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Excalibur

Souls are a double edged sword.

Cruel and Selfish Psycho Wife

This is Marriage 101

I’m reading the best book right now. It’s called Love and War and is written by married couple James Carville and Mary Matalin. Forget doing marriage counseling anymore.   All I need to do is hand distressed couples this book and say, “This is marriage. If you have any expectations that it’s going to be dissimilar to this, get over them.”

James Carville was Bill Clinton’s campaign manager in the 1992 election victory over George H. W. Bush.   Mary Matalin worked as Bush’s key strategist in the same election, and later became an assistant to George W. Bush after his win against Al Gore.

I’m kind of apolitical. Every once in a while I care about an issue. But for the most part I don’t watch the news, read the paper or follow politicians. My job is too heavy, my need for emotional decompression too great, and my “psychic therapist” ability to feel too keen to get too wrapped up in what is going on in the political world. But when my mom told me about this book, I just had to get it.

The Recipe for Happiness Isn’t the Same for Everyone

The book tells their story from each individual perspective, written in two different fonts to distinguish each voice.   Even though they’re a bit long, I’ve got to quote two great passages from the book. Carville was more than a little upset at the way in which Bush became president after the recount in Florida and Matalin had just started her job as George W. Bush’s assistant in the white house. Matalin writes,

“Matty was five and Emerson was two when I started my big, beautiful, exciting White House dream job for two of the most honorable men and effective leaders I had ever known.

Every morning I cried in the predawn dark while I drove on the deserted highway into the city…I cried while I hung my wet head of hair out the window to dry. I cried while I tried to put on makeup at the stoplights. I cried at the reflection of my exhausted, conflicted face in the rearview mirror. My unhappiness was exasperated by James’s refusal to be even fleetingly happy for me—or remotely proud. Not even close. He was, in fact and in every deed, unsupportive and often downright unpleasant, when he wasn’t totally ignoring me. So I decided to pump up myself instead, hence all the weeping, which was all I could come up with.”

I laughed so hard reading those two paragraphs, because if you took her husband and children’s names out and replaced them with mine, that could have been taken from my own personal journal. I would have never thought I had so much in common with this woman. A 60 year old republican raised in a Chicago suburb. A political strategist turned CNN debate show host who had worked for our last three republican presidents. So funny that we seemed to start many of our days the exact same way.

This book makes me happy on so many levels. Here’s what she wrote about making her husband come to her swearing in as President Bush Jr.’s assistant,

Cruel and Selfish Psycho Wife

“I just stated in that way that precludes negotiation: ‘You’re coming.’ But then, as I raised my hand to take the oath, I looked out at his miserable mug and saw him completely unable to share in the enthusiasm of my day and surrounded on all sides by a sea of uber-conservatives, and I wished he hadn’t come. Instead of reveling in the special day, I hated myself for being such a cruel and selfish psycho wife.”

James Carville has many great things to say too, but I think, as a female and a mom, Mary’s voice just really resonated with me. The love these two have for each other is deeply apparent throughout the book. Love that overcomes the vastly different belief systems they have and the apposing ways in which they view the world and what it needs. Even though these two people are so different, and those differences have made their twenty-year marriage quite difficult…they still invite each other to their round table. They each want to make sure they have the best knights there. (The best dames, damn it!)

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Who do you invite to your round table?

Fake Boobs and a Hookah Bar

So I was at a party years back with a bunch of Mormon girlfriends…and it turned out to be one of the wildest parties I ever attended. One of the girls there had been through an awful bout of cancer. If I remember correctly, it was leukemia…and it had been bad. Weight loss, hair loss, and awful, awful sickness.   By the time of the party she had beat it and was doing well.

She had gotten a boob job fairly recently, not because the cancer had been breast cancer, but because she said the cancer taught her she was not her body. That she was a being separate and apart from her body. And now that her body was better, she (and her husband) wanted to have a little fun with it.  She pulled off her clothes and showed off her knockers and the party turned into a bit of a female feel fest. Not something I ever experienced in my BYU co-ed days.

That party taught me a lot. Number one…Mormon girls are a fun bunch. But I already knew that. Number two…it planted the little lesson seed in my mind that we are not our bodies. The thought of being a being separate and apart from a body, although being something I had heard about, was not something I had fully experienced by that young, inexperienced age.

So…on a totally different topic…whenever I travel, I’m not really a shopper. Stores aren’t where I want to spend my time.  I don’t want stuff. I want experiences. I want to do what the people do. Live how the people live wherever it is I am traveling for the short time I happen to spend there.

Recently I took a trip to Washington DC, where I’ve been many times. Both my brother and my husband’s sister are attorneys there. We’ve done the national mall and the many memorials several times. I mean…you can probably never truly hit it all. But this trip to DC was tacked on the end of a trip to NYC for the girls’ spring break…and by the time we got there we were just in a chill kind of mood didn’t do the usual DC touristy stuff.

I left the girls and my husband at my sister-in-laws house in Alexandria VA to hang out with her, her husband and my niece, and went to spend the night at my brother’s apartment in DC.   DC has quite the interesting racial history.  It’s very diverse these days…but wasn’t always so. My brother lives on the east side of Rock Creek Park, which, up until fairly recently, was mostly a black neighborhood.

We spent the evening hopping from place to place in an area called Adam’s Morgan. We were on the oldish side, as most of the party crowd was college students. My brother joked he was going to give me the real college experience, since from his perspective I had had a watered down one at BYU.  I loved this area.  It definitely gave me an experience.   We ate collard greens and succulent slices of meat at a tapas bar. Then mac and cheese and amazing gravy slathered fries at the place next door. Hate beer, but found a not too sweet hard apple cider I loved to wash it down.

Next we listened to live music at a place called Madam’s Organ…which was a place to behold. It had quite the collection of taxidermied animals…from raccoons to bison heads. And tons of naked lady statues…all missing their heads, I suppose to draw your gaze down to the organ. We ended our night at a hookah bar…something I have never before done.

This place was wild…especially for a Mormon grown girl like me. They had lost their liquor license…which was fine by me.  There’s only so much sensory stimulation I can handle at one time, (or maybe I can handle a lot and don’t like to have my senses too dulled…not sure which?)

We ordered a black raspberry vodka flavored hookah and some water and my brother taught me how to puff…which I never quite got the hang of. I’m just not that cool…and there were a lot of cool people in this place. Like cool in the way they shared an experience. This one table had about 10 people…and they pulsed as if they were the heartbeat inside one body. Some pulsed on the top of the beat near the heart, and some pulsed on the bottom of the beat, near the feet. But they moved as one.

While I have come to fully understand that I am not my body, I have learned to thoroughly enjoy having one. I use my senses to inform my soul. And when my soul is well informed….it smiles.

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Me learning to inhale Black Raspberry Hookah.

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My super cool, can’t believe he’s still single cause he’s a total catch, awesome little brother.

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The heartbeat table.

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Smiling with all my senses.

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Camelot is the whole shebang.

The good and the bad, the squire to the queen…the trusty white steed to the Holy Grail. Everything working together to create a magical experience.

Following

20141127_134717So my two teenager daughters just joined instagram. It’s their first experience with social media and they’ve been busy following people. Being followed. Hearting and smiling at people, being hearted and smiled at…and all the other little things that go along with it.

I decided to put up a Damsel in Depression instagram to go with along with my blog, but most tech stuff is way over my head…so my younger daughter helped me set it up. I was grateful and squeezed her and said, “Thanks! Now I can follow you.”

In her funny little way she said.

 “No, mom. No.”

 “But why? It’ll be fun,” I replied.

 “Because I can’t have a damsel in depression following me. “

 “But I’m not a damsel in depression. I’m a dame damn it.”

 “Mooo-om. No. Just no. That’s just weird.”

 She put up her “Talk-to-the-hand” hand and shook her head no, with a playful gleam in her eye. I laughed at her and said “OK. I won’t follow you.”

Little does she know that I follow her every little move. Her love of all things animal. Her strong sense of self and her great body image. Her archetypal advocate self, always rooting for the underdog. Her gorgeous purple hair and her gigantic saucer eyes. Her wicked quick wit and her seriously contagious giggle.

She’s growning up into an amazing young woman. A woman of whom I am very proud. And I am a damsel in depression. Following. Following her every minute that I can.

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Cemen and the Standing Woman

So we’re in NYC and DC for the girls’ spring break this week. Kids from their school are on a school trip here too, but we didn’t let the girls go on the school trip. Not because we’re over protective or anything like that. But basically because we’re cheap. To go on the trip with the school was something like $2800 per child. We knew we could take the whole family for far less than the $5600 that it would have cost to send both girls with the school…so off we went on an East Coast adventure.

One of the things we just had to do while in NYC was take in a Broadway show…and with our ties to the Mormon Church, we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity for $69 Book of Mormon tickets. Matt and Trey are more than a little raunchy, and the BOM is full of little boy humour…but at its heart it is a very sweet story about overcoming adversity through faith and hope and loving one another.

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There are running penis gags throughout the play and our laughter carried through to the next day, which we spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There seemed to be penises everywhere and we just couldn’t stop giggling. The first area we entered was full of Greek and Roman statues and we noticed that the most masculine of the men were all missing their maleness, while the little tiny boy babies had been able to hold on to their bulges.

We then entered a room filled with Papau New Guinean art and came across these amazing things called Bis Poles.

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Each pole is carved from a single piece of wood.   The carvers select trees with huge roots and remove all but one of the roots. They then invert the tree and form the one remaining root into a wing-like projection called a cemen. The plaque says “The cemen represents the pole’s phallus…which is associated with fertility.”

It was all a little confusing, because their seemed to be a phallus underneath the phallus…so we determined that the smaller phallus must be that of the deceased ancestor represented in the bis, and the larger phallus was the pole’s or the bis’s phallus? Made sense to us, anyway. I like how this particular guy is holding his “bis”ness.

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Eventually we left the phallic room and I came across this lady, called Standing Woman, by Gaston Lachaise. We had passed by Miros and Picassos, O’Keefes and Degas. But this bronze statue of this strong standing woman struck me to my core. I fell instantly in love. I related to her body shape (although I’m flat chested and have more of a Buddha belly). I loved her standing on her tippy toes with her eyes closed and her arms upraised.

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I’m not sure what she’s doing…but she seems to be so in the moment. Fully engulfed in whatever’s going on with her. I relate to her because I’m a strong standing woman. There have been many things in my life that have knocked me to my knees. There have been times I’ve felt smashed flat. But I’m still standing…and standing tall. I’ve had a health problem (or two), and my brain doesn’t work quite like other people’s. But I have learned to close my eyes, breath deeply, and truly enjoy myself.

I am a woman standing. And for that I am grateful. I love seeing other women standing. Women who aren’t worrying about what they look like…or even noticing if others are looking at them or not. Women standing tall and growing taller…up on their tippy toes. Reaching for the sky. Standing women. Woman Standing.

 The love in me toasts to the love in her. Standing woman.

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Cheers!

Book Forward

So I just finished my book forward. A bit long, but thought I’d share it here.

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was seventeen. The psychiatrist told my parents I wouldn’t make it in college and to keep me at home. They were in the middle of an ugly divorce when college time came, and I took off from California to attend Brigham Young University in Utah anyway. I left my medication at home, and did pretty well the first three years.

My junior year, when I was twenty one, I went on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. While living on an Indian Reservation, some Indian children created a ritual to adopt me into their tribe. Their ceremony included a mysterious tea. Soon after the ceremony, I ended up in a mental hospital. I later attempted to retrieve my records from this hospital, but was informed that the hospital had burned down. I do not know what diagnosis I received there.

In my early thirties, after the birth of my second child, I suffered from severe post partum depression. After seeing a psychiatrist, I was put on antidepressants. These medications sent me into a manic episode, which required a second hospitalization, and follow up medication for a while after that.

I had been fairly stable for ten years with little need for medication, when in my early 40’s I started having several health issues related to peri-menopause and hormonal problems (migraines, extremely heavy periods, hair loss, fatigue.) I was put on a hormonal regime, which included estrogen and testosterone. These appeared to be causing manic symptoms and I was hospitalized a third time.

While in the hospital, my husband told my boss at work that I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. With the hospitalization, the sharing of my diagnosis, the hormonal issues I was struggling with and the exhaustion from the mania, I was falling into a deep depression. This book was written during that time. I was desperately grasping for any spiritual beliefs I hoped were true, any psychological interventions I’d come across in my career as a therapist, and any metaphors or reframes I could use to make me feel better. And what I came up with…actually helped me.

Throughout my life I have been on and off medication. I work with a psychiatrist to keep me feeling well, but do not need to be on medications on a daily basis. I collaborate with my family, my psychiatrist, holistic practitioners and my many inner selves to function at the highest level that I can. My needs change from time to time…when I travel, when I am under certain amounts of stress…or sometimes just because.

I have learned to be grateful for this problem of mine. It is a double-edged sword. Having struggled with mental health issues throughout my life makes me a talented and empathetic therapist. It is a weakness, that, through the help of others, I have learned to turn into a strength.

I left this book alone for a year after it was written, and when I went to pick it up again I was in a different space. I cringed at some of the writing, and wanted to change it to make it much more “professional”. Ultimately, however, with the encouragement of my husband, I decided to leave it as is. It feels more truthful that way.

I feel my purpose here on earth is to help people learn that you can have a mental illness, and still be emotionally well and live a profoundly happy life. It’s not easy. Life can be hard. It is full of bittersweetness. But bittersweet is the best kind of chocolate. I hope you can enjoy my story and glean a little something from what I have learned, regardless of your mental or emotional state.

I’d like to thank my family…my brothers, my husband, and my children. For inspiring me to stay healthy, and for pointing out when I am on roads that are not leading me in that direction. I am blessed with the best of family and friends.  I want to thank the therapist I saw when I first got hospitalized over 20 years ago, Dr. Lynn Nodland, who saw me simply as a person, not as a seriously mentally ill person.  I’d like to thank all the other great treatment providers I’ve worked with ever since, both as a consumer of mental health services, and as a provider of them.  I’d also like to thank all my spiritual guides, Gods and Goddesses who broke me out of the Tower and brought me back to the kingdom.

This book is dedicated to my Mom, one of the damnedest dames I know.

Lots of love,

Karalee

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Target Practice

I love nature. I really do. But every once in a while when I’ve had a rough night’s sleep, and wake up at 5 AM to tons of birds chirping right outside my window…I just want to shoot them all.

“God damn it, effin’ birds! Can you just give me an hour and half more sleep?”

I (silently) beg and plead. But the wild parrots that live in our neighborhood are just being birds. They have their routines. Why can’t I be like a bird? I have a hard time with routines. Getting in the groove of things has just never been my forte. If I could wake up singing a tune every morning at 5 AM, my day might go a little smoother. I might be a little more productive and efficient. But some days waking up at all seems a very tall order. Do the birds ever fight the light and want to just sleep in? Do birds ever have a bad morning and just want to hide under a pillow?

I wonder if animals in the wild ever deal with depression at all? I mean, I know when humans get involved they do. The gorilla who paces, sways and rocks in the corner of his cage. The orca with the collapsed dorsal fin. But do they get depressed when living out in their natural habitat? I’m talking clinically depressed. Not feeling sad in reaction to something like the death of their baby, or separation from their family. Just feeling depressed for no apparent reason at all.   I’ve never heard of such a thing. And I venture to guess that innate routines have a lot to do with it.

I mean, I know they establish routines for animals in the zoo. But they can’t migrate south for the winter. And I’ve never seen a lion hunting live animals at the wild animal park. What are my innate routines? And what routines do the human race share? I eat every day. I guess that’s a routine. I sleep most nights. I guess that’s a routine. But I am not one of those people who are a creature of habit. I wouldn’t notice it so much except that my husband is so damn predictable. He makes the same thing for breakfast every morning. Goes to the same restaurant to pick up food every Friday night. Put’s his keys in the same place when he gets home every day. And he never feels depressed. Sad from time to time. But never depressed like I get depressed.

People who are depressed tend to eat and sleep in unpredictable patterns. And they aren’t always the best at regular exercise. But the way we eat, sleep and move really makes a difference when we’re down. Although jumping on the hamster wheel at the gym isn’t my idea of fun…and all those drones staring at TV’s on treadmills appear to be acting as if under a curse, movement really does make you feel better. And regular movement really improves your mood a lot. And I need to remember (and follow through on) the fact that movement outside in the sunlight can help me feel great.

But why can it be so hard to get my butt in gear? Even when I know I could use the burst of serotonin that the exercise and sunlight provide, I often still find myself sitting on my ass throughout the day. Kind of like a zoo animal, we get stuck in our own little cages…the four walls of our office space…the seat of a car during our crazy commute. “ Movement” needs to be my mantra. “Stretch” needs to be my chant.

So I’m making a deal. No more elevators when I only need to go a floor or two.   That’s a routine I can keep. (Ughh! Do I really want to agree to that when I’m wearing some honkin’ heels?) I don’t have to start running marathons overnight. But I do have start somewhere. So stairs it is. Since its two floors up to my office (and thankfully, the stairs are outside,) I should be able to get 10 or 12 flights of stairs by going up and down them several times a day. It’s not running like a wild antelope…but it’s something.

I guess I should learn something from those birds chirping outside my window. If I get a good night’s sleep maybe I’ll feel more like singing a tune in the morning. And I’ll have a better chance of getting a good night’s sleep if I get some good movement in during the day. I guess I could be a bird. (As long as I can be one of those parrots who can say, “Eff off, already.”)

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Getting some shut eye for  some added protection through the day.

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…and time for a little target practice.

Homeless or Happy?

So I had a meeting at the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health in downtown Los Angeles the other day. They are causing major mental breakdowns with the way they handle parking. There must be 100 frustrated people waiting to get into the parking structure. The mental meltdown down continued when I got inside. I now have a picture in their system where I look pretty thick and like I have no chin.

A chunky beaker from the muppet’s? Or Patrick, the star fish with a little bit hair.

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To be fair to LADMH, I’ve seen some great miracles happen on a pretty tight budget.  I just recently ran into someone I worked with 15 years ago, diagnosed with schizophrenia.  He now has a JD and is a mental health advocate.  I guess it’s good they don’t spend tax payer money on unneeded necessities like good camera equipment, or helpful parking attendants.  There are lots of other worthy causes that need attention.

After my meeting I took a short walk to grab some lunch and water. While I was walking back to my car a homeless person stopped me on the street, and questioned me about my leftovers. “Will you be eating that any time soon?” He inquired. “No. Would you like some lunch?” I asked. “I would be most grateful, he responded.” “Come, come, come and sit down so we can talk for a minute. “ He persuaded me, and so I did. The home he had built outside the Department of Mental Health was quite beautiful and I commented on it. “Oh, will you take a picture of it? Then email it to me? I would love to have a picture of my home. “ I thought, “Why not?” And proceeded to take one.  I asked him what was hanging from the trees. He explained they were tea bags he threw up there for decoration.  He also had some plants and was growing his own food.

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He asked me for a favor.  He was trying to get help through the courts for his disability.  He had worked as a fisherman in Alaska when he came to this country, but had sustained an injury along the way and could no longer walk.  You can see his wheelchair if you look closely.  It no longer works, but it’s leaning up against the tree with what looks like a picture of woman taped to the wheel.

He was in need of an address to have court papers sent to.  We talked for a while about the particulars.  He showed me his paperwork that had been stamped by the court.  I was bound to have another LADMH meeting and thought I could definitely bring his mail by in the near future and drop it off for him.

In my job here in LA I work with many homeless youth.  I run a program for 15-26 year olds who are showing signs of psychotic disorders.  Homelessness is a big problem among this age group.  In 2011 it was estimated that roughly 4,000 youth were homeless in LA. With 80% of them being individuals and 20% being homeless youth with children. That’s a lot of kids sleeping on the streets. Many of them grew up abused or neglected and are products of the foster care system.

I work with many collaborative groups throughout South LA to address this problem. And one of the biggest problems they have is not having an address.  No address to use on applications for jobs or housing, or to use for mailing or identification cards. Not having an address hinders you in every way and the homeless in Los Angeles have not found a way around this glitch in the system. Anyway, I told Izaz I would let him use my private practice address for his court paperwork. He was very grateful and bowed to me what seemed like a hundred times.

I then told him I had a website and asked if I could put his picture and email address up on it. He said many people had asked him that “but I don’t understand why?” “Maybe someone else will help you too”, I explained. He said “Ok. Yes. You can put it on your website.”

So here is Izaz Khan.20150304_124818

His home is located at 523 Shatto Place in Los Angeles, 90020. Behind the Department of Mental health building. He is a beautiful and grateful man, who honestly…didn’t ask for much. My leftovers…my mailbox.

He then asked me to get him some cigarettes. I almost immediately said no. Cigarettes are a hard limit for me. But he handed me a box full of the money to cover the cost. “Please. I cannot walk to the store. It is right over there. I would be most grateful.”  And to my surprise I found myself walking over to the Walgreens to buy the cigarettes. I had never bought cigarettes in my life, and was 100% sure there would never be such an occasion. But life continues to teach me that when I think I know something 100%, the universe finds a way to turn it upside down and inside out. There are layers of reasons for the things people do. And at that moment I couldn’t find it in me to judge him for smoking. Or it in me to judge me for not being able to hold my hard limit. His gracious, glowing spirit made me happy. And I wanted to make him happy in return.

Feel free to email Izaz at khanizazaero@gmail.com.  Or bring him a cup of tea. He will bow and thank you and make you feel a little less unstable than you may have felt when you started your day.

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Lady in Waiting

Serving all the Royalty around me.