"Come on, my enemy, we have yet to wrestle for our lives; but many hard and miserable hours must you endure until that period shall arrive." -Mary Shelley
Ah, insomnia. My old foe.
I was going to save most of this for a blog video I intended to do in the morning. But, alas, yet again I cannot sleep. Which means the likelihood of my being awake and coherent enough to record a video tomorrow morning is slim to none. Yay for yet another one of the side effects of anxiety.
I've spent much of the last two days sleeping--or, at the very least, sleeping in late. Though I've been "feeling better" following my last bout of anxiety/depression flare-up, I am still recovering from the aftermath. As if the actual attacks aren't bad enough, there's the headaches, and the fatigue, and the lightheadedness, and the nausea that follows. So much fun, let me tell you.
You see, there are actually several different types of anxiety disorders, each one with its own symptoms and side-effects, ranging from social anxiety to post traumatic stress disorder to obsessive compulsive disorder. Then there is generalized anxiety disorder, which fits most of the stereotypical molds, and is associated with excessive worry and an almost irrational sense of urgency or sometimes even borderline paranoia.
Then there's the anxiety disorder that I'm cursed with. Panic disorder.
What has surprised me the most about this particular disorder is the severe physiological impact. No one really knows what causes a panic attack, but at any given moment, through a series of rational and even irrational triggers, my body will shoot into full on flight-or-fight mode. My heart rate will shoot up, I'll begin to hyperventilate, the room will spin, and I'll suddenly be overcome with this incredible sense of dread. It's as if my body were screaming from the inside, desperate to get away from some totally unforeseen danger lurking just beneath the skin. If you've ever had to swerve suddenly or slam on the brakes to avoid an accident (or worse, you were involved in a fender-bender), you may have some kind of an idea of what it's like to feel your entire body flood with adrenalin. To have to verbally calm yourself down. To have to remind yourself that you're still alive. You're relatively ok. And everything is going to be alright.
Only instead of being behind the wheel of a car with the fresh smell of rubber against road, you're sobbing on the edge of your bed, or standing in the aisle at the grocery store, or sitting in church after having just contributed to a class discussion.
And as if the hyperventilating and increased heart rate and tightness of the chest and dizziness and fainting (oh yes, there's that too) and there being absolutely NO sudden onset medication that won't completely knock you out cold isnt' bad enough, you get to endure all the symptoms in between and after each panic attack. The constant headaches. The fogginess. The inability to focus. The uncontrollable shaking. The feeling cold all the time for no reason. The irritability. The stomach cramps. The nausea. The utter exhaustion. And the insomnia.
The cursed, cursed insomnia.
"It is said that there are only ten plots in all of fiction, but I believe there is only one: Who am I?"
The tears flow freely, in great racking sobs, as I sit on the edge of my bed one Saturday morning and contemplate everything I'm supposed to do that day. Josh sits next to me, an arm around my shoulder, reminding me to take deep breaths as I begin to slip into erratic fits of hyperventilation. Easier said than done, I think to myself. From the stake activity I'm supposed to go to with my daughter to the adult prom I've talked myself (and my sister) into attending at the last minute, I know--I just KNOW--that somewhere in there I am going to make a mistake. That I'm going to let someone down. That somewhere along the way I have set some unspoken or unrealistic expectation that I can't or won't fulfill. And I'm going to have to deal with the repercussions of it. I would have been better off staying in bed, I scream inside my head.
But I know I'm wrong.
As I have gone from the extremes of maximum overdrive to full-on hermitiness, I have discovered one thing: I love people. I mean really love them. Maybe a little too much, at times. Despite my overwhelming fear of not living up to others' expectations--despite my caring so deeply about someone else that I stop caring about myself--I don't really want to be a hermit any more than I wanted to slam full-steam into a brick wall. Though I tried to convince myself that I was more satisfied with my life than I had ever been before, there was just something about spending all day in bed and binge watching Netflix that wasn't quite right inside. That just wasn't quite enough. So if being a rock star leaves me hospitalized in hyperventilation, and shutting myself off from the world throws me into the deepest throws of irrational despair, then what the heck am I supposed to do?
The problem is, anyone who knows me well knows I don't "do" moderation. For me there is no in-between. Either I'm going to do it right or not at all. Go big or go home. And therein lies the problem.
"Maybe that's why you get so irritated at anything that involves NOT being a hermit," said one of my closest friends and all-around life coaches. "You make it into too big of a production in your mind."
You feel powerless, knowing full well there is no way you can ever accomplish that "big production" you painted such a pretty picture of in your mind. (Especially since you procrastinated the entire thing until the last minute--because you didn't really want to do it in the first place, or you refused to ask for or accept help because you were completely determined you could do it on your own, or both--to the point where even the smallest hiccup in execution now throws you into a total meltdown.)
So you do nothing. You give up. You call in sick. You come up with an excuse. You cancel the whole thing and you crawl into bed. And then you lie there and stare at the ceiling and do what? That's right, you feel guilty. And the cycle starts all over again.
But do you know what the beauty of being stuck in a cycle is? At any point you can get off.
And the whole thing will stop.
What's the best way to do that? What's the best way to stop trying so hard to live up to expectations, or panicking and feeling powerless when you can't?
Insert infamous life-coach advice here:
"Just be who you are... I know who I am. I'm comfortable with me. I know what's expected of me and for the most part I'm aware of my deficiencies... I still act in many ways based on others' expectations, but typically it is people with higher priority now."
That's great, but how do I do that? How do I go about finding "me"? And doesn't my "me" change over time? And what if my "me" doesn't fit into what other people think my "me" should be?
Finding My "Me" (and the expectations that go with it)
After a few (sometimes painfully introspective) conversations with a couple different personal life coaches, our Bishop, and my number 1 counselor, Josh, I came up with a game plan for how I was going to answer those questions: An entire "week of introspection" (which originally would have included a weekend-long camping trip if not for the seemingly erroneous 3-day-straight thunder storm warnings), where I would cut off nearly all connection to the outside world and ponder a barrage of different sources of guidance and direction.
And I had some amazingly insightful results.
1. Go to the Temple:
My greatest source of guidance, there was no place better to more deeply and soulfully find the answers to "Who am I?" and "What is expected of me?" than within the sacred walls of the holy temple. In the space of only a few hours I was able to find inspiration and insight which I had been desperately searching for for months. I'd like to be able to say the whole experience was a pleasant one, but I'm afraid it was quite the opposite. Thanks to the now-too-small-to-zip-up dress I hadn't put on in years and the debauchery that was loosing my proxy name card--to feeling the incredible weight of chastisement upon my shoulders at the realization that I, in fact, had not been keeping my covenants at all (seriously, no wonder I was struggling so badly) and the difficult conversation with my companion that ensued because of it--my feelings of utter inadequacy were best described in the concerned expression of the sweet sister worker who obviously could sense my uneasiness as I stepped out the door. "Please come back again," she sincerely pleaded. I smiled and nodded politely, though at the time I had absolutely no intention to. Ever.
"Who am I?" I think to myself as I stare out the passenger side window at the endless waves of rolling pastures between the temple and my house. "Entirely too far gone, it would seem."
But by the end of the day, after a two-hour dinner and a four-hour drive (along with a six-hour conversation), I realized I had a choice. I could either woefully accept that my "me" was terminally flawed, hopelessly hardened, and invariably screwed. Or I could force aside my fear, doubt, and despair, embrace the fullness of the grace and healing power of the Atonement, and actively work towards the "me" I was always meant to be. The "me" that I had chosen to be.
Fortunately despite my pride and lack of enthusiasm at the thought of all the work involved with the latter, I deemed the consequences of the first option to be overwhelmingly depressing.
And downright scary.
2. My Patriarchal Blessing:
I can still remember the day I received my patriarchal blessing. At 14 years old, I sat through the sacrament meeting with my father, glancing every few minutes at the man who sat up on the stand in my tiny branch next to the branch president. We hadn't heard his introduction nor had we been informed that the patriarch would be visiting from the stake on that particular Sunday, but I knew exactly who he was. I found out later he had picked me out of the small crowd as well, also "recognizing" me without need for introduction, and knowing full-well that I was the young woman for whom he had made the over hour-long drive.
I remember being disappointed at what I had heard that day. Not so much at what I heard, as what I hadn't. Earlier that summer there were so many things that had drastically changed--so many things that had drastically changed me--and like most who receive their patriarchal blessing I walked into that room desperately hoping that it would answer many of my questions about who I was and what I was supposed to do. It would be decades before I realized that the blessings I received that Sunday afternoon were exactly what I would need to answer those very questions. Questions I would struggle with for most of my life.
"Patriarchal blessings help us understand our identity," said Robert S. Patterson. "By declaring our place in the family of Israel, our Heavenly Father informs us who we are. We need not consider ourselves subject to the ephemeral, material, and superficial images promoted by the world. Through a simple statement of lineage, we are given a message of profound significance. Our sights are elevated, our vision is expanded, and our understanding is deepened. We are helped to see ourselves in noble and powerful terms. Those who enjoy the status of membership in Israel should know that they have distinguished themselves in the pre-mortal existence. They reveal the uniqueness of each of us, and they highlight the fact that God sees in us what we do not see in one another or in ourselves."
Of course, being the princess of pragmatic that I am, just rereading my patriarchal blessing wasn't enough. I had to study it. To break it down into digestible chunks which would allow me to better understand (and more practically apply) the guidance and principles it was meant to impart upon me. So I divided a sheet of paper into 3 sections, labelled them "Characteristics," "Callings (To-Dos)," and "Blessings," and then poured through the pages of my patriarchal blessing, ultimately jotting down another entire page-full of notes. Suddenly the guidance and direction I had read dozens of times, such as praying night and day and seeking counsel from the worthy priesthood holders in my life, made sense to me in a way it never had before. It was guidance and direction personalized and unique to me and me alone. And it was guidance and direction that ultimately could have saved me quite a bit of heartache.
If only I'd known this stuff 20 years ago, right?
3. Words of the Living Prophets, and Such:
compared to a rain cloud, which continually pours down upon us if we would but put aside our umbrellas of fear, doubt, and sin. Deep in the throws of a bout of hermitiness at the time, I originally had no desire whatsoever to attend this FHE but was very much prompted to do so. I didn't quite understand what the message was trying to tell me, so I decided to go ahead and watch President Uchtdorf's full talk. Surely, there was something more I was supposed to get out of this, I thought. No other message had touched me so deeply or perfectly as this message had in the very moment I needed it the most. It was as if it had been prepared just for me.
I enjoyed and got so much out of President Uchtdorf's October 2014 talk, I began to search for other sources from the general authorities of the Church to read and ponder during my introspection. I stumbled upon additional conference talks by President Monson and President Uchtdorf, as well as a beloved gift book, given to me years ago, which contains 3 of Elder Ballard's classic messages about the role women play in the kingdom of God. So much I learned through and loved about these messages that I cannot even begin to list here. One thing that I will mention is how surprised I was at the difference between my interpretation of stories that I had read or heard of years before. The same portions of Elder Ballard's talk which I had once internalized to mean that I was more than just a mom, that I had unique talents and characteristics to share, now meant to me that my children would only be with me for a short time and therefore needed my focus most of all. A story from President Monson's talk, about a mother who had lost all four of her children while making the long journey from East Prussia to West Germany on foot after World War II, suddenly changed from one of insurmountable heartache and loss to one of indescribable hope and faith.
Other words of living prophets and overall Church teachings I consulted to better learn who I was and what was really expected of me included Chapter 10 of Daughters in My Kingdom: Live Up to Your Privilege and Chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel: How Do I Develop Christlike Attributes?. I'm sure there are many, many more that I haven't even discovered yet, but these were a fantastic start!
4. The Experiences of Others:
Of course, you don't have to be a general authority, or even a member, to share personal insights that can be ground-breakingly inspiring and uplifting to others. Some of my favorite writings on topics that have better helped me understand who I am and the roles I play or have encouraged me to hang-in-there (no matter how much I didn't want to) include Mary, Martha, and Me by Camile Fronk Olson, Weakness is Not Sin by Wendy Ulrich, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as well as Highly Effective Families and Highly Effective Marriages by Stephen R. Covey, Becoming Celestial Soul Mates by Trafford R. Cole, Strangling Your Husband is Not an Option by Merrilee Browne Boyack, and the quirky but motivating musings of Al Fox Carraway and Marla Ciley.
5. Additional Tools of Self-Reflection:
As you begin to discover who you are, not only as a Child of God but as an individual as well, you will also begin to discover your strengths and weaknesses. The incredible importance of self-awareness is often missed, but one simply cannot understand who they are or what they can become without first recognizing their talents and faults. My dear companion is perhaps better at this than anyone I know. Working for a Fortune 500 company which thrives on personal development, he graciously purchased additional copies of the books he had been presented with to allow him personal insights, in order that I might learn my own as well. These books, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and Strengths Finder 2.0, guided me through short but thorough online quizzes which not only revealed my own strengths or weaknesses, but also gave me very specific guidance on how to cultivate or improve them.
Even the Church has its own personal development programs. Though many of them are geared toward the youth, they too can be invaluable to your own personal insight and development, no matter your age. Whether it be through the Young Women's Personal Progress or the missionary program's Preach My Gospel, there are countless tools available on LDS.org and through your local stake, ward, or branch.
Just keep your covenants, and everything will be alright.
So in the end, what did I learn most through this "week of introspection"? Well, for one thing, you can't always trust the weather guy. (Seriously, would have been perfect camping weather, I tell you. Perfect!) And second, just keep your covenants and everything will be alright. The one theme that played over and over again through every conversation, every step of the endowment session, every line of my patriarchal blessing, and every general conference talk I read or listened to this week was the importance of knowing and keeping your covenants. I know that there are so many things as members--so many "basic gospel principles"--that we hear over and over again. So much so perhaps that they become commonplace and invariably tuned-out in our every day lives. But there is a reason we hear them over and over and over again. It is because they warrant repeating over and over again! It is because through these small and simple principles we can be strengthened, we can be uplifted, we can be edified, we can be comforted, we can be reassured, we can be reminded.
And we can know and become who we were always meant to be.
"The perfect is the enemy of the good." -Voltaire
I like to think I haven't written much (or quite frankly, anything) lately because I haven't the time. Unfortunately, it's the opposite. I have more time than I know what to do with. Since both of my children are currently attending public school and my husband has finally graduated college (no more editing papers about SWOT analysis and opportunity costs for me), it seems like there is no end to what I can accomplish during the day. From the 3-hour workout I finished on Friday to my meticulously decorated kitchen, the possibilities seem only as finite as my financial resources. And yet, the one thing I have always wanted to do--the one thing I know I SHOULD be doing--is the one thing that I have tried the hardest to avoid.
And why is that exactly?
As I sat through Sunday School yesterday, discussing an early founder of my faith who was persecuted beyond imagining for what he believed in and yet bravely endured to the very end, I came to a realization. Where there are still many areas of the world where Mormanism, and indeed Christianity as a whole, is still met with violent backlash, for the most part we no longer have to endure great physical persecution from others for what we believe. We no longer have to fear being tarred and feathered by an angry mob, or being run from our homes in horse-drawn carriages during the dead of winter.
What we do have to fear, however, is ourselves.
Some of us create such a complexity of expectations for ourselves that it is difficult to cope with the magnitude of them. Sometimes we establish so many particulars by which to evaluate and rate ourselves that it becomes difficult to feel successful and worthy to any degree at anytime.
I step back into my kitchen that afternoon, after having attended a large get-together at a close friend's house. Their home, spacious, beautifully decorated and chalk full of yumminess, was all a-buzz with the sounds of siblings playing, and adults richly varied in impressive and intimidating callings (ranging from auxiliary and priesthood presidents to bishops) chatting amongst themselves. My kitchen, in contrast, is still a mess from the day before (thanks to an depressive episode), my home quiet with the sound of no more than the two children my husband and I have miraculously been blessed with over the course of nearly 14 years of marriage.
It's a painful reminder of everything we've given up or will never have, thanks to all my mistakes, weaknesses, and inadequacies. The lack of a large family. The calling as Elder's Quorum President my husband felt the need to walk away from to aid me through my recovery after a total break down. The extra 40 lbs I put on through my emotional roller-coast ride of coping, and the complete and total inability to now fit into ANY of my clothes because of it. (I may or may not have indulged in pumpkin cookies, pear pie, and a phenomenal banana pudding last night.)
I spend the rest of the evening moping and crying over it.
One of the most liberating and joyful things a person can learn to do is to stop trying so hard to please other people— stop caring so much about what they say or think and simply try to please the Lord. -Brent L. Top
This morning I wake up feeling better, a fresh perspective rolling in with the now beautiful Spring sunshine. Sometimes having moods that are so directly affected by the weather can get really frustrating. The one good thing, however, is my ability to take a fresh look at what was really going through my mind at the time, now that my mood has so drastically changed with the departure of the storms.
The real truth is that it is not at all about what we think others think of us or how we believe they perceive us. I am very well aware of the fact that I have lots of amazing cheerleaders--including my incredible husband--who quite frankly think the world of me. What matters to me even more than that, however, is what I think of myself. I not only need to learn to let go of trying to "please others," but need to let go of trying so hard to fit some unrealistic image of myself that I quite frankly may never attain in this life.
I really, really need to stop beating myself up for not attaining temporally what may take an eternity to achieve.
Instead of torturing ourselves, we can speak gently, though truthfully, to ourselves as we would to a troubled friend or our own erring child; we can help, encourage, and understand ourselves as we would a lonely stranger in need; we can be patient and supportive, though firm, with ourselves as we would with family members or other loved ones in crisis. In other words, we must learn to treat ourselves as Jesus Christ would have us treat ourselves. Only then can we see ourselves as He sees us and become what He would have us be.
So why is it so hard for me to actually want to sit down and write? Why do I continue to beat myself up for not obtaining goals that would make an Olympian waiver? Why am I so ridiculously hard on myself? Because deep down inside, I know what I am capable of ultimately attaining.
And it scares me to death.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.
I've always felt very strongly that life would be so much easier as a hermit. I know what I can do and am fully prepared to meet those standards. I can keep an immaculately clean house, when the spirit so moves me. I can craft and decorate my home and plan super-fun and motivating activities for my family like nobody's business. I can be beautiful and fit and well-dressed when it comes to prancing around in front of my husband in the comfort of our own home. I so totally got this! And I don't just got it, I can hit it out of the park and then sit back and enjoy the rest of the night.
But it becomes a whole 'nother ballgame once I walk out my front door. It becomes a whole different world when I hit that "publish" button and decide that I'm going to extend my talents and influence and motivations past my own walls.
And that's when suddenly the bar seems so much higher. And SO much more work!
That elusive feeling of self-worth and inner peace came not from what she could do, but from what the Lord can do with her.-Brent L. Top (from 'Finding Inner Peace: Lessons Learned from Trying Too Hard)
Unfortunately in the end I have to accept one simple and solitary truth. If indeed this is the work the Lord would have me do, if indeed the experiences which I have endured, my talents as a writer, and my insights into the world around me is truly what I am here to share, then it doesn't matter at all what I think. I does not matter how hard I perceive it shall be or whether or not I will ever, EVER live up to what I someday envision achieving. It does not matter if I can proudly step into a clean kitchen or hit that "publish" button with full confidence. All that really matters is that I try my best to follow the promptings of the Spirit, that I draw closer to my Father in Heaven, and that I love all those whom I come into contact with.
Why I Left the Church
The Importance of Friendship
Secrets to Staying Sane
Fighting the Rain