Everybody, I’d Like You to Meet My Mental Illness

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Running between the couches in my therapist’s office is a wooden coffee table with a chess set on top. The pieces on his side are charcoal gray. The pieces on mine are gold. We never touch them during our sessions, but we always play.

He types quick notes while I talk and glances at me over the rim of his glasses with the dissecting look of a person who knows how to wait, and that’s his game: wait, coax away knights and bishops until I’m vulnerable, check me, but let me win. I grab fistfuls of tissues and play a different game entirely: overthink, slide a square back after tentatively sliding one forward, stall, protect. In my game, I am the king. The queen is always the harder one to beat.

Last week, my therapist gave her a name and gave me a new strategy: this is an anxiety disorder and you should probably take medication. One to three orange pills per day and one white pill per day, my physician confirmed. They’re bitter on my tongue and I’m told that winning will still be a slow process this way, but I’ll stand a better chance against the despot wreaking havoc on my body.

With boots on, I am 25 1/2 years old, 5’4″, and 114 pounds. The prongs on my belts have begun the thrilling and terrifying exploration of fresh new holes they’ve never been able to reach. I’ve begun the thrilling and terrifying process of leaving my house on my own after work hours and existing like a normal person again. One day, one morning, one hour, one pill at a time. I have to.

I have a mental illness. Most days, I feel reluctant to call it that because there are others who have it much worse. That doesn’t eliminate the fact that my brain is frequently playing its own game of chess, fixating on single pieces and unforeseeable outcomes as it lazily emits the basic data required for me to function: worry worry worry wake up worry worry worry go to work worry worry worry check emails worry worry take care of your loved ones worry remember to eat worry pay rent worry. This has been my life for almost half a year. Until now, I have not had enough mental room to give words to it, enough distance or practice to tell a person what mental illness and anxiety look like. Here’s one more strategy: I’m going to talk about it in every way I know how.

Anxiety is a small, ink-black worry hovering over your mind that only needs to drip once to be everywhere and in everything. It’s a hurricane that you keep on the inside and let silently devastate you, because letting it out means you immediately become a human evacuation order. Mental illness teaches you many sad things, and one is that there are less storm chasers in the world than there are people who flee.

When it’s especially bad, anxiety is waking up to ballistic missiles, stepping out of bed and into a battlefield where you are the only one fighting. Anxiety is slipping out of your pajamas and kneading the curves of your stomach like clay to make sure it’s still capable of holding anything because you’ve been skipping meals again, or so you can berate yourself one more time for every pound of what if and worry that’s found its way there and stayed.

Anxiety is driving in silence because you’re afraid the songs on the radio will somehow trigger panic. Anxiety is sitting at work with a strained smile and solving other peoples’ problems when you’re dealing with a rising hazard that you can barely contain — shallow breaths, a throbbing heart, lack of energy, nausea. Anxiety is rushing to the bathroom so that no one can see you crying, so you can bend yourself over an open toilet just in case, so that you can fold yourself into a corner like a paper crane and pray to not be so delicate. Anxiety is smiling uncomfortably when a coworker says they need a mental health day, because you know you can’t ask for the same thing and be taken seriously when you desperately need to be. Vomit gets you a day off with sympathy and no questions asked. Mental illness does not.

Anxiety is putting your key in the lock when you get home and opening your front door into a cell that you want to leave, but don’t know if you can. It’s hesitantly pulling back the covers and slipping into bed, knowing you will not be roused by pink sunlight filtering through your eyelids but black panic twisting in your gut. Anxiety is the fear of being awake — or for those of you who handle humor better, anxiety is being dragged to a party you never wanted to go to, spending the whole night wondering how you can both seem really chill and quietly want to never leave your house again, and stressing out because your ride out is nowhere to be seen.

I have a collection of metaphors to describe it when I don’t want to feel completely deprived by it, and a growing list of advice from loved ones and friends I’ve told myself I am never to listen to:

“Maybe you need to make different life choices.”
“Run.”
“Just stop worrying.”
“You don’t need to see anybody. There’s nothing wrong with you.”

You don’t win at chess by running from or minimizing the challenge. You win by playing the game one bloody square at a time. Prayer and faith are my squares, my days at a time, and though I know that many people who struggle with mental illness don’t share the same beliefs I do, I know that there is hope. It is sometimes a wild and fleeting thing, perhaps even a distant thing, but never an impossible one. So I’ll get up and I’ll play. Some days I’ll have it really good, and others I’ll struggle. Some days I won’t know how to move and worry myself sick about what will happen if I do. But I won’t quit. Kings don’t quit.

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Bless You Internet, Vol. 1

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One of my favorite blogs is SEMI-RAD, mostly because it’s freaking funny and filled with lots of tongue-in-cheek outdoors tips, which I love. The blogger, Brendan Leonard, has a series that he updates every Friday called “Friday Inspiration.” In it, he unloads all of the best stuff he’s found on the Internet that week. As we all know, the Internet can often be the armpit of humanity: dark and disgusting. It’s nice to take a break from all of that and see the silver lining. So, to follow in the footsteps of Brendan Leonard and add what I hope will be a little more joy to the world wide web, here is the first in my own series of best stuff found online. Enjoy!

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Lately, I’ve been

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eating: lots of tacos. I ate six on Cinco de Mayo that were the size of my face and legitimately thought I was going to die. By the end of the summer, I plan on being the Cache Valley white girl taco expert. Thus far, the restaurant formerly known as El Salvador has hands down the best tacos I’ve ever eaten in my life. La Chispita is an okay choice, though, if it’s Taco Tuesday/Thursday and you’re not that far south. The owners are selfless dears, so I’ll recommend them any day.

drinking: too many Swig drinks to count, or should I say highway robberies in a cup, because at least 1/3 of those drinks are ice. Every visit is a sugar rush followed by the bitter taste of having been ripped off. And yet, I can’t stay away, dangit. Suddenly craving one right now…ugh.

reading: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, the Eat, Pray, Love lady. It’s about the importance of ideas and why we should always pursue creative living. I like it so far. It’s really been helping my block.

listening to: NPR. NPR is the best thing on the radio right now. I never walk away from a segment without learning something new or important. I’m almost to the point of donating money to them, which is a very weird, senior citizen-esque thing to do, but they deserve it for their top notch programming.

Aside from NPR, I’ve fallen in love with the following tunes lately (please forgive the messy formatting):

watching: Kubo and the Two Strings. The animation is stunning and the monkey has become one of my favorite animated characters of all time. I also rewatched the last episodes of Stranger Things because it’s the best thing Netflix ever gave to the world. I started watching Schindler’s List, which I thought was thirty years older than it is and therefore had 50 year old FCC standards. It didn’t. It was a very, very big mistake. I was crying into a pillow and very near throwing my guts up in the first thirty minutes. I also have the overwhelming desire to pummel every Nazi that ever lived into the ground. If someone has an edited version of Schindler’s List that I can borrow, hit me up. But maybe don’t, because it’s legitimately the most horrific film I’ve ever partially watched.

doing: aside from work, hiking. I’ve been running to the mountains a lot lately because I’ve had a lot on my mind. I can’t really explain what happens to me when I’m up there. On a trail, my anxiety disappears and I see myself how I really am, blood and bones and insecurities and dreams and all. I’ve spent lots of time chasing trails lately to find myself.

writing: prose and poetry, for the first time in awhile.

wearing: lots of stripes and florals. Literally all of my b&w striped shirts are dirty right now, and I own about five.

looking forward to: promotion. My current employer offered me a pretty neat events planning/marketing position, and I fought it tooth and nail until I suddenly didn’t. I didn’t want to make that choice, but it doesn’t feel like the wrong choice. I’ll be in Logan for about another year unless something dramatic happens. That’s been hard on me, mostly because post-grad life is lonely in Logan, and I’m aching to see more of the world, but I’m excited about the job and the opportunity it will be.

waiting for: some poetry books I ordered from Amazon. I get inordinately excited about Amazon packages being in the mail. It’s almost a letdown when they finally arrive, haha.

struggling with: being real here, loneliness. I haven’t had a Sunday in several weeks when I have not felt achingly lonely. I’ve downplayed it for awhile now, mostly because I don’t know why it’s happening. All I know is that I’ll be sitting in church sometimes and feel like there’s a bottomless ocean inside of me instead of me, like I’m unreachable to everyone somehow. I guess it’s a combination of watching so many people move on and knowing that eventually, that’s what all people do. They get themselves tangled in your life for an exciting moment, and then they move on without you when you were just getting used to the idea of them staying. It’s the saddest thing about being a person.

worried: that I’m either never enough or always too much.

missing: puppies, Washington DC, the boy with the longboard who had an obsession with The Black Keys and made me laugh during silent films freshman year of college, the rush of graduating, my grandpa.

hoping: to find some climbing buddies for the summer, to get back to the gym some day…one day…

learning: that abandoning doing the dishes/eating to write is a bad idea, that endurance is the hardest part about life, that there are times you have to go through hard things alone, that the Savior can carry that burden, incomprehensibly.

wanting: to have a family, to be a mom, to buy a dog, but I can’t. Because landlords.

planning: to visit New York City this winter or save up for Rome. To check off some more parks on my National Park Bucket List. There are 59, you know. That’s no pittance of parks.

hoping: that I’ll figure it all out. One day.

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When Human Beings are Nets : Thoughts on Suicide

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When you jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, you perhaps expect to slide effortlessly into the water below and quietly cease to exist, like a lit match under the open spout of a kitchen sink. You don’t expect waves to feel like concrete, ocean to chew and then swallow. But it does. Or so that’s what the man being interviewed on NPR says when the reporter asks him how it felt to attempt suicide.

I regretted it the moment I was in freefall, he says. I asked myself, ‘What have I done?’ and prayed, ‘Please, God, save me.’

Since 1937, over 1,700 people have jumped over the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. Only 25 have survived. Kevin Hines, the man with regret, is one.

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The Art of Publicly Sucking at Stuff

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Picture a finger sliding smoothly across the surface of an iced chocolate fudge cake and you’d have a microscopic idea of how I looked on my fourth or fifth time snowboarding; instead of a finger, however, imagine my lifeless body, and instead of an iced cake, imagine ice.

I was barreling down D-Street, an intermediate route at my local ski resort, when I started thinking too hard, caught an edge, and flipped over every vital organ and vertebrae in my body to land straight on my nose in a sheet of hard ice. I then slid 20 feet down the mountain on my face, my arms dragging above me like corpse limbs until I came to a heaping stop right under a lift packed with people who didn’t realize they’d also paid for improv comedy.

If there’s such a thing as an “unfinest hour,” this surely was mine.

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It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

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The best book that I’ve never read opens with the following lines:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

It’s an opening, yes, but it feels like a fitting way to close what has been, in the words of the renown artist known as 2008 Katy Perry, “a hot and cold, yes and no, in and out, up and down” year.

2016 has been a year of personal bests and global worsts. All time highs and sub-zero lows. Good guys seem to get better, and bad guys seem to get worse. Love, when found, is sweet and overwhelmingly beautiful. Hatred is strong and biting. It was a year of Orlandos and Aleppos. A year of La La Lands and Finding Dorys. A year that gave us more Star Wars and Harry Potter, but took away Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher. A gut-wrenching, messy heartache that at its best taught us that we as humanity are still capable of curing disease, welcoming people who are different, winning gold medals for physical strength, saving endangered species (except Harambe, RIP), or making people smile with nothing more than a Chewbacca mask and a Facebook live video feed; and at its worst, it taught us that anger and hate can pull space shuttles back to Earth, redraw lines between color and gender, and erase unprecedented steps for mankind.

I don’t need to speak for the world too much, but looking back at 2016, it’s apparent that something was different. Grittier. Harder.

2016, for me, has been a year of extreme triumph and extreme low. I taught myself how to wax my own eyebrows, for example, thus sparing me a $10 trip to the hair salon — win. I have also waxed 50% of my eyebrows off two times as a result (most of my eyebrows are dot-to-dots right now, and I’d ask that you please refrain from mentioning it in public). I marched in a political protest for something I was passionate about, which was both thrilling and out of character and also terrifying. I also unintentionally severed a good number of friendships that I didn’t realize were dependent upon shared politics. I went on my first Tinder date. I learned that having to prepare a Relief Society lesson as an excuse to go home early will result in Tinder dates never calling you again. I finished my second 100-mile bicycle ride. I cried half the time because it felt like my legs were pulling an Anakin on Mustafar and burning off. I was introduced to Stranger Things. Barb died. The election did not go the way I wanted it to. The election did not go the way I wanted it to. I planned a national park trip and all of my plans were changed when my friends copped out and a fire put us two hours behind schedule. I got to spend the most precious time I’ve ever spent with my dad at Yellowstone on the National Park Service’s 100th birthday and we got to share the Book of Mormon with a couple from our campsite because we were so behind schedule — I also got a picture taken with a park ranger who I forced to wear a party hat and party whistle, and it was INCREDIBLE. I lost almost all of my snowboarding buddies. Snowboarding is now my recharge time and I don’t suck. My car broke down in Yosemite National Park and I cried like a baby. My friends and I were rescued by angels who taught us how to appreciate good Punjabi music and be optimistic, no matter our circumstances. I no longer have the ability to sleep in on Saturday mornings, but I started working at the temple, which is more of a blessing in my life than I can express. I moved out and learned that I can make a mean strawberry/avocado Panini. I also learned moving makes many a friend a stranger, and I don’t know why. My job has given me thicker skin and the ability to take things I may not have been able to before. The mental stress of my job and life has gotten in the way of my writing and I feel like I’m starting all over with this blogging thing. I’ve felt deep connections with good, good friends as they’ve shared their heartache and trials. I’ve felt lonelier than I ever have in my entire life. I don’t feel successful most of the time. I have to rediscover what I love doing every day. I’m not where I want to be yet.

But life is good.

2016 was the best of times and the worst of times. Here’s to hoping 2017 will be consistently best.

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Sunday Short: The Nativity that Made My Monday

This is the first in a series of short Sunday posts where I share my spiritual thoughts/impressions for the week. Most will be fairly casual, not the most eloquent or organized, but meaningful to me. Leave yours in the comments below! Sharing is caring.

It was the Mondayest of all Mondays, the kind that feels like it would steal your boyfriend, punch you in the face, and unapologetically eat the last slice of chocolate cake you were saving in the fridge just because. Work was a pile of unending problems, I had escalated into full-blown introvert mode by lunchtime (which is the social equivalent of being hangry, but instead of being mad about food, you’re mad about ever having to see or talk to another human again), and I got stuck at Macey’s with a stack of FHE snacks behind a woman straight off the set of Extreme Couponing who spent five to ten minutes arguing with the cashier about the price of a loaf of bread. When I finally got back into my car, it was to be greeted with several messages about more problems at work. I can’t say I didn’t sit in my car and mentally bang my head against a wall for a few moments in frustration. For the past few weeks, this has been my life, a bundle of stress and dissatisfaction with where I’m at. It all came to a head that Monday and left me tired and angry.

As I started my car and drove home, I passed a bustling Tai Pan Trading and an Italian restaurant my one and only Tinder date had taken me to. Then, in a flash, I remembered a little fair trade shop I’d visited a few weeks prior with a friend and how the shop girl had told us to come back in November when their global nativities would be in. It was right around the corner and I decided to stop and go in, because on the Mondayest of Mondays, a girl’s gotta have a break.

I walked through the door and the bells hanging from the frame clamored together. The smell of candles and spices hit me like a warm wave, and I walked slowly across the wooden floor, drinking in the bags and jewelry made by many different artisans. Then I smiled. There, on a display in the middle of the store, were nativities from every corner of the world. There was a nativity from Peru that consisted of three clay miniatures sitting in a small, cup-shaped leaf. There was a nativity with a sombrero-wearing Joseph, a nativity in a small stone stable, an egg-shaped nativity, a narrow, marble nativity…they were all so different and so beautiful and I was so obsessed, because I love nativities more than most things.

Then a certain nativity caught my eye. It was tucked in the back corner of a small shelf and contained three shepherds, three kings, three rudimentary animals, an angel, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. The artists were from Kenya. Each piece of this nativity appeared to be made from leaves (I’d later learn they were plantain leaves from the cashier) and wood. It was not the fanciest nativity. In comparison to some of the others, it was rather homely. There was no paint, no marble, and no stone. But the pieces were crafted with such detail and care that it left me a little breathless. I don’t know who these artisans are, but in their nativity, I see love for the Savior. I bought it immediately, and as I left the shop, I felt peace for the first time that day. Somewhere on the other side of the world, there is someone who loves the Savior like I do, and their love has found its way to my heart. That little nativity now sits in my apartment and I smile every time I see it.

What we forget about the Savior is that His birth was a world event — every human being on every part of this earth has redemption and grace weaved through their creation story because He was born. He is an intimate and important part of their life, whether they be in the United States, in Russia, in Europe, South America, or a little country in Africa. We don’t all have to be in the same place to gather around Him, either. We gather around Him when we choose to be like Him and open ourselves to His love. He, in turn, individually gathers us, and that is cause for the greatest hope. He is the light of the world, all of it, every mountain, valley, city and village in it. He is as familiar with you as He is with the Heavens, and His love can be seen and felt in everything. He is joy and He is hope in a world filled with Mondays. Celebrate His birth. Celebrate Him. It makes all the difference.

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When Did Empathy Become So Political?

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By 10:43 p.m. on election night, Vox.com stats, FiveThirtyEight tweets, Deseret News electoral map updates, and Buzzfeed News’ video feed playing on separate tabs, I knew that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States and I laughed.

At 10:45 p.m., undone laundry and unread library books lying in a heap in my bedroom, it was funny. It was funny in 2015 when Trump said he’d run and all we could think about was The Apprentice. It was funny last Christmas when my family sat on the couch watching Kevin McCallister run smack dab into Donald in Home Alone II. We laughed, “Can you believe this guy’s running for president? What a joke.” At 10:45, it was funny, because his whole campaign, from the very beginning, was supposed to be just funny.

Then came 11:00, when my friends, in a complete panic, sent me a flurry of messages and terrified tweets. Then came 11:15, when I had two missed calls on my phone, one from my mom and one from my Native friend who I couldn’t call back because I knew she was dismayed by this and I didn’t know how to speak to her. Then came 11:30 when I sat in a room with two of the most opinionated people I’ve ever met who had nothing left in them to say. I slowly ate a bowl of ice cream and spun the spoon around the dregs over and over and over again.

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How I Ended Up Camping With Three Indian Men in the Middle of Nowhere Yosemite

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There comes a moment in every person’s life when they are struck by the thought, “Now, how on Earth did I end up here?” For me, that moment happened when I found myself two hours away from my car at the heel-end of a sleeping bag sandwich composed of my fierce Navajo friend Stacie, the most optimistic girl I’ve ever known, and three Indian men we’d met hours earlier who hadn’t stepped foot inside a tent in their entire 20-some odd years of life.

Let’s just say my two truths and a lie game is unbeatable right now.

It all started when my weekend plans fell through and I got tagged by Stacie in the comments of a ridiculously beautiful Instagram pic some chump posted from the top of Taft Point. The envy was insatiable. I packed my bags. I took off work, planning on leaving late Thursday and returning late Sunday with Stacie and our friend Alysha. I watched my dad check the oil and the tires on my car. I messed with my worried parents by dropping questions like, “What would you do if I sat on the edge of Half Dome?” or “How much do you think it would cost to tow a car to Utah from Cali?” Little did I know I’d be sobbing that last question into an iPhone in a park ranger’s car next to some very unsympathetic tranquilizer guns 48 hours later.

But let’s back this thing up to the beginning.

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Be the Good in a World Gone Mad

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.

Les Miserables

For the past month, I have started and then stopped writing at least a dozen blog posts. I’ve opened my laptop with every intention of expressing my thoughts, only to leave it disheartened time after time after time. I’ve been silent, unsure of what to say, how to say it, or if it’s even worth saying. I’ve hated the idea of adding one more heated opinion into an already contentious space. I’ve hated the idea of being confronted, of having to confront. I’ve hated the idea of expressing myself as if I know it all, knowing full well that I don’t, that some days, I’m astounded at how little I actually understand. I’ve allowed fear to eat up the one good thing I feel I have to give back to the world: a voice. I’ve been a coward, and my writing’s gone rusty while I try to figure out how to respond.

Orlando and Dallas and, generally, the state of the world, have just about torn me apart. It seems that just as we begin healing, someone has to cause harm again. Cuts are made on top of scars on top of scars on top of scars. Bodies that have just gone cold have had more bodies thrown on top of them. Life, that delicate, beautiful, and vivid thing we all share is at every corner smothered out and pinned behind the glass some madman labels “A Statement.” Humanity is poisoning itself to prove its worth. And, if you’re like me, you’ve watched on from behind your phones or your computers and felt the devastatingly heavy weight of the thought, “What good can ever be done to end this?” like it’s the lid of a coffin closing on top of you.

This week, I’ve learned what it is that we can do.

We can stop being the same thing we were yesterday, the same cowering person who hides instead of running in to help. We can stop ripping apart the weak, the hurt, and the different, stop hosting pointless, heated wars on social media that do nothing for understanding and instead, polarize further. We can take a long, hard look at ourselves and stop doing bad things or cruel things, justifying our own callousness or conceit. We can be the good in a world gone mad, in a world that keeps doing and saying the same old things that just don’t work.

The world thinks forgiveness is a sign of weakness, that it validates bad choices and enslaves us. So forgive. 

The world thinks evolution botched up on humanity and we’re all destined to be animals. See us as something divine. 

The world thinks an eye for an eye is justified. Show mercy. 

The world thinks outrage is the only way to get anything done. Share love.

We are not a generation of Martin Luther Kings if our immediate reaction to bad things happening is to create chaos. We are not a generation of giants if we resort to violence and rage instead of love and empathy. We won’t do a single bit of good for anything or anybody if we continue to put ourselves in camps. turn ‘us’ into ‘them,’ and make space for hatred.

I can’t seem to say a single thing that isn’t cliche’ when it comes to tragedy right now. Just be good. Just be optimistic, better, and more empathetic. See brothers and sisters instead of enemies. Speak up and speak out, but speak kindly.

Please share more good. Please. We all need it.

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