Monday, January 26, 2015

The Mental Illness Perspective

Yesterday our church started a new sermon series (3 week series) on Mental Illness. Every year our church tackles a topic that they call an “Elephant in the Church”. Each year the series has been one of my favourites! This year I am particularly excited about it because I am someone who struggles with mental illness. I was/am very interested in hearing what will be said on the topic. I am particularly interested in hearing about people in the church who are mentally ill and leaders in some capacity. I feel like a lot of people assume that because you are mentally ill you can’t work or lead others. This just isn’t the case. It isn’t my experience. In fact I feel like people who have experienced mental illness have a lot to offer. I have no idea if that will be addressed in the sermons but I am eager to listen and see if it is.

Here’s the thing…I am working on a new ministry at our church. I don’t yet know if it will take off or not but it is a work in progress. Our church leaders need to see if this is something that they are passionate about, have time for and people for. A lot of work and planning goes into running a church of our size (not that I even know the half of what is involved) and figuring out how to use their “man-power” best is something that needs to be prayerfully considered. Most people are just really interested and excited to hear what myself and others are working on for this ministry but there have been a few who know my past with mental illness and have questioned me on whether or not I am capable of taking on something like this. Maybe you are nodding along thinking “Yeah….how can she do this?” or maybe you are sitting there and thinking “what? There is no reason why she can’t.” I get both sides. Of course it stings when someone questions my ability but all that shows me is that either their past experiences or lack of experiences with mental health is skewed. There have been 2 lows in my life (after each baby) where I wasn’t able to do much of anything. Caring for myself was too hard, let alone thinking much of others. I was chemically imbalanced. My body wasn’t adjusting well to hormones and I needed to get on meds to level off. It takes 6-8 weeks to see improvements when on anti-depressants and that is once you have found a medication and dosage that works for you. Each time I had 2-3 months of needing lots of extra support while I got onto meds and came out of (what I call) a dark pit. A really important part of my health and well-being is consistently being on meds. After having Jacob and needing to go on medication I stayed on those pills up until I was pregnant with Livia. I didn’t like the idea of being on my anxiety meds while pregnant so I went off them and decided I might as well be med free for the health of my baby and also went off my anti-depressant.  WRONG CALL….or at least I think I was the wrong call. I don’t know how the pills would have affected Livy but I wasn’t willing to risk it. Instead I risked my well-being and in turn could have potentially risked hers as well.

About half way into my pregnancy with Livia I started to cry a lot, feel really down about life and have little motivation to do anything. I would cry at every doctor appointment and my OB would suggest that I go back on my anti-depressants. I would always say “I will think about it.” One time she gave me a prescription and told me to at least fill it so I would have it on hand if I decide to take them. I never filled it. I just struggled through thinking that I was doing the best thing for my baby when, in actuality, I was potentially putting a lot of stress on her because of what my body was going through. Once she was born the “baby blues” wouldn’t lift. The anxiety crept in quickly. I spent a ton of time outside through the Spring and Summer. Lots of neighbours to hang out with and being social helps me a lot. As Fall hit I went downhill really quickly! I knew it was time to get back on my meds. I was no longer breastfeeding (knowing that I needed to go on meds played into my decision to switch to formula…stopping breastfeeding helped lift some of my anxiety so I thought I could cope without the pills but I was wrong) so I started back on the same meds I had been on before. In hind sight I wish I had at least stayed on my anti-depressant (Zoloft) throughout my pregnancy. The roller coaster of emotions and anxiety was so hard on me and my family. Now that I am on meds consistently I feel significantly better. I still have days where I feel more anxious or more down but I don’t stay down, I come out of it more quickly and I am able to see the signs more quickly and do some simple practical things to help my mood and lower my anxiety.  But doesn’t everyone have days like that? Don’t we all get overwhelmed at times and need a break. Can’t we all benefit from listening to our bodies and learning how to best care for ourselves? I believe so.
Am I mad that people have questioned my abilities based on the fact that I struggle with depression and anxiety? No. All I am trying to get across with this post is that we (society) have a long ways to go with understanding mental illness. I am so happy that our church is lifting the veil on this topic. It’s so nice to hear it being discussed and seeing people genuinely interested in learning how to care for and love someone who is mentally ill. No one needs to fix my “issues” for me. No one needs to protect me from myself or from circumstances that could lead to another dip. No one is responsible for me. Those are my jobs. I need to be on alert for my own well-being. I need to talk to professionals for help. I need to avoid (or carefully engage in) circumstances that could lead to a low. If you want to help someone, just listen. That’s it. It’s pretty simple. J

I just need to quickly add that in my lows people have rallied around me in a really positive way! I have had great friends and family members who have just listened, dropped off a little pick me up, sent me a sweet text or facebook message letting me know they were thinking of me or asked me the best question, “What can I do for you?”  However, I know that my tendency can be to try and fix what I perceive to be other peoples’ areas of need. I need to check myself when I am caring for others. I need to listen more and talk less. Keep it simple, cause it is simple. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Lifestyle change + a video

I haven't blogged much since Livia arrived (almost 10 months ago....GAH! Where has the time gone?!?!). I have been feeling like I don't really have much to share. I am a stay-at-home mom without many hobbies or much of a life outside raising my kids, so what do I possibly have to offer? A blogger friend  told me the other day that I have plenty to share. I started thinking about it more and more and realized that even if I have nothing interesting for others to read, I write for me. I write because it is an outlet. I am also an OVERLY open person and enjoying sharing my life with others. So if people keep reading, I will try and keep writing. If people don't read, I will still try and keep writing. :)

I have been battling mental illness for a few years now (actually much longer but was diagnosed a few years ago). I struggle with anxiety and depression. Those are both forms of mental illness and even though there tends to be a pretty big stigma around the term "mental illness" I am not ashamed. Most days. Some days I do feel embarrassed that I struggle with this stuff and can't seem to shake it. I don't like needing to take meds every day. I don't like that I can quickly feel if I have missed a dose. I don't like the roller coaster that I have been on for many years. However, this is my life. It is what it is and there are things I can change and things I can't change. Since I can't get rid of my anxiety and depression completely, I choose to get rid of my own stigma. Maybe I will even change a few peoples' stigma's along the way too. ;)

One of the biggest hurtles in my life is sleep. Ohhhhh sleep. I almost hate talking about. I have actually asked Steve to stop asking me every morning, "How was your night?" because I hate my answer every morning. I don't sleep much. I can usually fall asleep quickly but I wake up often and after 2-4 hours I tend to have such a busy mind that I can't sleep any more. I also have a lot of pain (due to having fibromyalgia) which just adds to me sleep issues. I function pretty well on 4 hours of sleep but anything less is really hard on me. Steve does an amazing job of giving me opportunities to nap or sleep in (if I can) when he is home and I am so thankful that I have a husband who understands how important sleep is to me.

Due to my depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia and insomnia I am working on some lifestyle changes in hopes of seeing some improvement in at least one area. But wouldn't it be great if all FOUR improved?!?!

I have 2 awesome friends who work in the fitness industry and have helped me so much with figuring out a good workout routine. They are both super encouraging and check in with me regularly asking how my fitness stuff is going. I am doing 30mins of cardio 3x/week and then weights 3-5x/week. Because I have asthma I need to take the cardio slow until my lungs get used to it (I have also had a setback the last week with my asthma...I must remember to take my inhaler before doing my cardio).

I plan to run a 5km race in May so my main goal is to work up to that- should be totally obtainable. My other goal is to make exercise part of my lifestyle and weekly routine. I can't commit to going to the gym more than 3x a week or I know I won't go. I also know that I can't majorly work on changing my food right now because it's too much too soon. Baby steps. I need my lifestyle to change and that can't happen overnight. I turn 30 in June and I want my 30s to be my best years yet! I want to feel healthier. I want more energy. I want less pain. I want more restful sleep. I want to be happy and less anxious. Notice how I am not saying I want to lose weight or inches. I am not saying I want to look more beautiful. I am trying to care more about my overall health then my appearances. I am refusing to make a certain weight my goal. I know I will be discouraged if I don't see the pounds coming off quickly. Instead of seeing the difference I want to FEEL the difference.

I need accountability because I have always sucked at staying on a fitness routine. Please don't hesitate to check in with me once in a while and ask if I am keeping up with my workouts. (Oh, and I will totally be someone who posts workout photos on instagram. I am proud of myself for even starting this and making this healthy change so I am TOTALLY going to post about fact I already have a few times.)

Also....totally off topic. My amazing brother, Robbie, made a video for me (with the help of my other brother Brad, an amazing editor/photographer, Michelle, and many of my friends and family members) for Christmas. I was completely surprised. I cried. I watched it many more times and cried again and again. It's so special. I believe Robbie made this because of my most recent battle with a low season of depression in the Fall. I will watch this every time I feel like I am alone or feel worthless. Thank you Robbie and everyone else who contributed!!

If you have 13 mins feel free to watch it. :)