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Archive for the ‘Life of the mind’ Category

Part of the reason I write this blog is to document my particular struggles with mental health. Having to deal with some kind of challenge that’s within the range of mental health is just as common as dealing with some kind of difficulty with any kind of physical health. In other words, either category is EXTREMELY broad. Physical challenges can range from diabetes or thyroid issues to cancer or gallstones. Any disruption in mental health can lie anywhere in a big range, too. Physical illnesses can sometimes prove tough to pin down, but it seems figuring out a diagnosis of a mental illness can prove consistently more difficult. Even if a diagnosis seems mostly straightforward, finding a treatment that will help the person going through it to get to a fairly “normal” state is far more difficult.

I’m in my mid-40s, and I’ve been diagnosed with depression, bipolar, or atypical bipolar disorder variously over the past 25 years or so. I’ve gone through a number of antidepressants and some medicines that are usually prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. Some have helped for a short time, some haven’t helped at all, some have made me feel worse. Some have helped enough for me to live my life pretty normally. I’ve been seeing a very capable nurse practitioner for the past five or six years, I think, and I’ve been on an antidepressant that’s pretty much kept me mostly in “normal” mode. But I’ve still had bouts (or very, very long, standard stretches) of what I’d just call irritability. And I know that just isn’t ME. I’ve known instinctively that it’s more a quirk in my brain chemistry or something, rather than a defining characteristic of who I am. And my extremely busy life managing a household, taking care of four daughters (now one of whom is married and out of the house, so the dynamics and responsibilities have somewhat changed, but not at all taken her “off the register,” so to say), working from home part-time and volunteering and managing fairly big church responsibilities, just for a short summation, keeps me running at a high level. It’s easy to say it’s “understandable” I’m irritable. But recently I thought it was time to check in with my practitioner and address the irritability again. I’m exhausted from “managing” it. Surely there’s something out there to help me with my underlying mental health so I’m not working so hard to manage and can just live, expending a bit less energy on coping?

pill-bottle_21_G6So we visited a few weeks ago, and talked for a while. She is fantastic because she’s very thoughtful and discusses the issues with me, asks probing questions, revisits assumptions, etc. We’re partners in my care, and I really feel she’s very knowledgeable, and she’s sensitive as well. That’s a biggie. She said to me that perhaps I’m not really on the bipolar spectrum at all. All she could say was that I’m just my own thing. So there might not be either a diagnosis for whatever I present as yet, or because mental health really is so varied and unique to each of us, maybe there isn’t or won’t be, if that makes sense. All we know is there have to be some kinds of ways to help me with some kind of existing medication so I can function better. So she said she’d try something, a medication that psychiatrists sometimes use to help with that part of mood. It’s a seizure medication used off-label in this way. She tried me on a very small dose, and I actually do feel it’s helping. My life is still CRAZY BUSY!, but I feel a little less like I have to work hard to manage my mood even while I’m managing my life. So I’m feeling hopeful and a little happier, just to have an extra tool in my arsenal, and to know that my practitioner is really awesome at her job.

This just leads me to a few conclusions yet again: we still don’t know a lot about mental health and illness. We’re doing better than 30, 50, 70 years ago, but we have far to go. And we need far, far more practitioners who have the training, experience and skills to deal with this complex issue. So many people are suffering and there simply aren’t enough practitioners around to help them. I’m blessed to have found someone who can do what she does. Even that’s not perfect, but it’s really about the best I think there is. Meanwhile, I just wish, wish, wish we had more incentives for people to go into the profession and stay there, that the specialists were available in every small and underserved area.

I write this because I just want to put my voice out there. I’m mostly a “success story,” and that’s just because I’m not crippled by my lapses in mental health, and pretty well functioning, and I’m a very resilient, determined personality. I have at least enough income and resources that I have been able to find someone to really help, but that’s still taken a great deal of time and work on my part. It’s been a long and tough journey. It shouldn’t be this hard.

As we work to try to improve outreach, availability and quality of care, and genuine help for those of us with mental health challenges (again, not at all just a small portion of our population), let’s continue to just be kind, patient and understanding to those around us who struggle and need our help. It still does mean the world.

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Ever had a problem; been frustrated, angry or a little depressed; felt stuck? Ever had someone tell you, “Well, if you just did this ______, you’d be fine?”

I’ve had people say that to me. And it shuts me up. It doesn’t help me, but it stops me from talking to those people. I don’t know if I’ve ever said it to someone else; I hope I haven’t. I know I’ve thought it. But at least for a long while now, I’ve known better than to say it out loud. And I’ve tried to remind myself of the truth:

Any one of us can have problems and challenges that, compared with someone else, somewhere, can look tiny, easily surmountable. Sometimes it’s helpful to realize others have it worse. If we look at our lives with appreciation and gratitude for the good things we have, it can help. But usually, trying to tell ourselves logically (or have someone else “helpfully” do so) that our problems shouldn’t be such a big deal does squat for our feelings.

Here’s why: we are allowed to feel how we feel. We’re meant to feel. We’re meant to have feelings in response to life situations, whether they’re kind of everyday things or unusual things. We’re meant to have all kinds of feelings all over the spectrum of emotion. And those feelings include “bad” ones. We’re meant to just feel those feelings. And what usually happens is once we allow ourselves to feel them, really feel them, we can move on to other feelings about other life events.

The problem is when we stunt that natural process by telling ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling “so bad” or by having someone else tell us so. It stops us from moving through the feelings, talking or thinking through the ideas and emotions.

Same applies to things we could or should be doing or doing better, not just what we’re feeling. Likely we’re comparing something we’re just naturally not so good at with something that really is easy for someone else, so we feel inadequate. Or we could compare something that’s easy for us with something someone else finds more challenging. And we say those dreaded words: “Just do ___.”

We all not only have a complex mix of weaknesses, strengths, natural talents and acquired skills, but we are at different stages in life. Something that was hard for us 20 years ago might be much easier now. Ditto for those around us. And something that was easy for us a year ago might be harder now because our circumstances are more challenging in other areas or we’re struggling with events that are zapping our emotional strength.

For me, I’m finding that I am feeling a general sadness in one layer of myself/my life because my oldest daughter got married a few weeks ago and moved out. But I hate to say anything to anyone because it just “seems silly.” She lives only an hour’s drive away and we can talk and visit. Every other parent my age has already had children go off to college or serve as missionaries for our church, during which time they’re gone for a solid 18 or 24 months and only generally in contact via email or letter once a week. So I feel ridiculous saying out loud that I’m grieving a little over the “loss” in a way of my first, amazing child. But it does make me sad she’s not around all the time anymore. I miss the daily interaction and talks and jokes and hugs and smiles and everything that was our relationship while I was raising her. Things are changing, have changed. It’s real to me. But I don’t want to say anything to anyone else for fear of being compared, of essentially having my feelings belittled because their “loss” is bigger. Their child is across the country or across the world … or something “bigger.”

I also find that I feel down on myself because I have generally been doing well with eating healthy, cutting out sugar and a lot of carbs, this past 10 months or so. But the past month, since right before my daughter’s wedding and since, I just haven’t had it in me to “diet” properly. I’ve been eating junk, and lots of it, and I feel physically yucky. I feel bad because I had done so well. But I also realize that circumstances are different: I’m “recovering” from all the work and stress of preparing for my daughter’s wedding; my kids are now out of school for the summer and my “alone time” is a lot less; I’m adjusting to the change of our family dynamics, and I’m trying to “play catch-up” for some work and things that got put on hold with all I did for the wedding (because I am not just an awesome mom but very capable in planning things and organizing, and the wedding was awesome too). In short, it takes a lot of work for ME to eat well. And even though I feel yucky physically and would really like to feel better, I have to have the emotional and mental energy to focus on taking care of myself, truly properly. Others might say (and heaven knows plenty of “professionals” and bloggers say) “just do it.” Just stop eating sweets. Just stop emotional eating. Right now, for me, it’s akin to saying, “Just stop smoking. It’s so easy.” I’ve never smoked, but I have certainly heard how hard it is to stop.

I’m trying to allow myself to feel, to validate my own feelings. I’m talking to a few trusted friends who are kind enough to listen and validate as well. I’m also trying to allow myself not to take it too hard that I’ve gained a few pounds and am having a hard time with the junk food. Because I also know that I’ll be fine soon enough and will get back to where I should be. If I’m not there at this very moment, today, it’s OK. I will be soon. And that’ll be OK.

In short, I’m giving myself permission to feel, to not be “my best.” And I strive to do that for others. When they talk about feelings or issues they’re struggling with, I know that even if they sound “easy” for me, they’re not easy for them. I nod, I listen, I hug. I say, to them and to myself, “That is hard. I’m sorry you’re going through that. I love you and care about you.” And it’s true, and that’s really all it takes.

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I love this tribute to Williams by Disney.

I love this tribute to Williams by Disney.

Four days after the devastating news of Robin Williams’ suicide, I’m still feeling the loss of someone I never even knew personally. Perhaps it’s because his genius acting work has been a part of my life pretty much ever since I can remember (oh, yes, I was watching when he first hit the airwaves with “Mork and Mindy”). I can mark important times in my life with what movie he was doing at the time; for instance, my husband and I saw “Aladdin” on our first date nearly 22 years ago. Even now, our family quotes from that movie.

But another part of the reason this event has affected me so deeply is that it strikes close to home. I started this blog to write, in part, about mental illness, to just put my own experience out there. And Williams’ death has had me thinking a great deal in relation to how I can understand it and how I want to be able to continue to share my feelings with others. There have been some poignant tributes and some spot-on blog posts and articles about suicide, about depression, about the almighty struggle some experience with their mental health. I don’t think I can do any better, but I can just share my viewpoint.

Just a few weeks ago, I participated in a study focusing on cognitive issues in women who have breast cancer (I was part of the control group). I was happy to do my part for science, even if I had to drive a few hours away to get to Stanford University. Since the study is looking at cognitive effects of cancer or the treatment for it, it included questions and assessments not only about impairment of cognitive processes overall but also about emotional status. Since I had indicated on the questionnaires and intake forms that I take medication for depression, the researcher who worked with me asked me at the end of our time a little bit about my feelings and opinions on it. She said she focuses on psychology and has noticed in her time studying it that there are still not nearly enough treatments available for depression and other mental illnesses. Some people in the blogosphere and media have wondered why Williams, for example, didn’t just “get help.”

Here’s the sad truth: there isn’t nearly enough adequate “help” out there, whether it’s in the form of medications and other medical interventions and treatments or it’s in the form of professionals and non-professionals who really are good at what they do and can give superior guidance.

There is still an epic shortage (in my experience and opinion) in the number of qualified professionals who can treat people from all economic and health-care-coverage situations. This is particularly true in the case of the number of doctors or other practitioners who specialize in and are licensed to provide medications. In my experience, for instance, there are three psychiatrists covered by my health insurance (which might also be the total of all the psychiatrists in my city), and only one is taking new patients. That one I didn’t particularly like, and it’s crucial to have a certain level of rapport with someone who’s treating you for your brain chemistry. So I was lucky enough to hear about another provider who ended up being a better fit for me, but her office is an hour’s drive from my home, and her practice is not covered by my insurance. I am also lucky enough to be able to afford paying out of pocket for her care. But what about those who don’t have insurance at all, who can’t afford out-of-pocket costs, who don’t have access to transportation, etc.? There are a LOT of people not being served.

Then we move on to the issue of actual treatments available, even when one has unlimited access to doctors, therapists, and whatever medical intervention is available. And as the researcher and I discussed a few weeks ago, there are far too few options. I’m on an antidepressant that’s worked well enough for me the past couple of years to get me to where I can cope adequately with life’s challenges without being taken down completely. But there have been times medications weren’t doing enough for me, and it was hard.

There have been at least the number of times I can count on one hand, and possibly up to two hands, moments I’ve been in the blackest and deepest abyss and felt suicidal, even if it was only briefly. And I could go on and on about how if you haven’t been there, you can’t possibly know what it’s like. Logically, in a part of my brain, I knew I didn’t want to hurt my loved ones, didn’t want to deprive them of me. (That’s addressing the “selfish act” observation…) But it was a very distant part of my brain and one that was clouded over by the overwhelming despair and hopelessness of my feelings. As I’ve written before, it’s those times and others that I now feel my brain chemistry betrayed me. And it’s a very weird, unnerving feeling to have your brain working against itself and yourself. Even though I could logically call to mind times I enjoyed life and felt fulfilled and useful and vital and important to others, to the world, I just didn’t FEEL it. And it became impossible to imagine or believe I would feel that way again.

No amount of love and support and encouraging words from others (assuming the best, that one does have that kind of support system — believe me, there are plenty who don’t have that, making things even worse) can make that feeling go away. If your brain chemistry is off, it’s off. And that’s why we absolutely MUST find more options to treat that chemistry. There are far too few options now.

I appreciated this one article on Mashable, for example, that asserted, “Finally, We’re Talking About Mental Illness Like Adults.” People have generally been very thoughtful this week as they’ve discussed Williams. I sincerely and strongly hope that this discussion can continue, that a few important good things may come from this tragedy: 1) Let’s stamp out the stigma for good. Let’s work towards a culture in which people who experience any kind of mental illness can talk openly about it without fear of being judged or misunderstood or mistreated. Let’s make it as easy to talk about as any other illness that’s more “physical.” 2) We need to push for more research into more varied medications. There are a number of drugs out there (but not nearly enough) that are made for the treatment of mental illnesses, but a lot of them are similar to each other and work the same way. Pharmaceutical companies need to branch out and work on far more kinds of medications that attack mental illnesses in different ways, from different directions, etc. 3) We need more doctors. We need more prescribing practitioners available everywhere to everyone. This will not only be the kind thing to do, but one that will contribute to reducing many other existing societal problems: homelessness, joblessness, some violent crimes.

These aren’t easily attainable goals. But we certainly need to work towards them. It will make a world of difference to millions.

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You know when you dream about eating something off-diet and demanding of some complete (thin) strangers walking by, “Do you ever eat?!”, you’re self-conscious (and frustrated) about your weight.

I’m half-proud, half-embarrassed for myself that I embarked on a strict diet last week, mainly because, yes, I want to look better. And I want it to happen fast. Here’s the thing: I have felt very self-conscious about my weight in photos of late, and I have several big events coming up for which I’ll be in numerous photographs, and I don’t want to look fat.

Yep, there it is.

Yep, my self-image is pretty distorted right now.

Yep, my self-image is pretty distorted right now.

As much as I talk about self-image and how bad our society is about focusing on looks, whether it’s regarding weight, age, or relative size of body parts, I still struggle with it myself. Sometimes not so much, other times mightily. As I most recently mentioned to my therapist, “I feel horrible about how I look.” Her response: “Right now you’re very stressed and not feeling good about yourself in lots of other ways, so that’s not surprising.” Meaning, essentially, try not to worry about it; it’ll pass when you manage to process everything else that’s had you down.

So I kind of feel like a hypocrite when I’m urging everyone, male and female, to be more aware of how media and society all around us dose us liberally and continually with the religion of thinness and image, of airbrushed (impossible-to-achieve) perfection, and I am struggling with it so much still.

It’s complicated by the matter of health: when I’m stressed, I eat sweets. I overeat. That’s simply not good for my body, and that’s important. So I do also want to work on that. I want to break my physical and emotional addiction to sugar and my reliance on food as a crutch. But I would like to figure out how to separate that out from my worries about how those habits affect my LOOKS.

Here’s another thing: plenty of people out there have far worse eating habits than I do, but they’re thin. So their health might be in need of improvement, but they either don’t worry about it, or they don’t worry about others seeing them as fat. Because don’t we tend to judge people who are overweight? We automatically think, They need to eat less. They need to have better self-control. They need to take better care of themselves. But health and thinness are not always directly correlated.

That’s not to say I excuse myself for slipping into bad habits. I can do better by my body sometimes. But our society judges on appearance, and I judge myself. I have a lifetime of negative messages to overcome. And that simply makes it much more difficult to just take care of myself the way I should because I’m devoting so much emotional energy to the image part of the equation, which is NOT the important part; overall health is.

I have had a lot to deal with the past months, the past year, with a few breaks in the onslaught of expectations, responsibilities, and struggles to catch my breath. I anticipate having some breaks to catch my breath and focus more accurately on taking care of my health — emotional, mental, spiritual and physical — fairly soon, but in the meantime, I’m just getting through it as well as I can.

And dieting. Like I said, I’m a little embarrassed because I’m doing it almost exclusively for the reward of looking better in pictures. It’s not the example I’d like to set but I’m doing it anyway, just because right now so much has beaten me down I don’t feel good about myself in many ways; I feel weak and run-down and just not up to snuff. I feel like I’m letting people down left and right because I simply can’t do everything everyone needs me to do at all times. So that feeling extends to how I look.

I’m going to keep working on my self-image, my self-esteem, the ways I look at myself and talk to myself. I’m going to do better. Just forgive me the lapses right now in my actions and how they don’t match my ideals. It’s a process for me, and it’s a process for us all as individuals and as a society. For me, this topic mixes my mental health awareness-raising with my awareness-raising about society and image. The intersection is a little delicate, and I’m navigating it as well as I can in this tricky time. I hope I’m making progress in it all because all I can do is just hope I’m slowly doing better. I’m going to just try to remember to pat myself on the back for what I’m doing better: life isn’t about improving overnight. It’s a journey with all kinds of intertwined paths leading to a place where we’re our best selves in all aspects.

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The Gilbert Arizona Temple, photo courtesy of lds.org

The Gilbert Arizona Temple, photo courtesy of lds.org

I just came across this brief article about a Jewish rabbi visiting a newly built temple of my faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “What I learned from visiting the new Mormon temple.” I am always interested to hear what others think about visiting our sacred sites, and I enjoy discussion and interaction with other people of faith, regardless of their doctrines or denominations. I heartily agree that we can all learn from each other, which is hardly a revelation, but a simple but important reminder. What struck me tonight was this sentence from his article: “My Jewish beliefs are strongly built on the Jewish idea of covenant (humans as partners with God) and Israel (humans wrestling with God).”

This really encapsulates what I’ve been experiencing myself, today alone, and the past weeks. I’ve been going back and forth, sometimes within minutes or hours, between the partnering with God and the wrestling with God. I have moments of clarity, of Spirit, of confidence that I can keep moving forward, of just-enough-hope, and then moments of frustration, anger, sadness, fear, and not-enough-hope. I’m seesawing.

I am all too aware of my firm belief that we lived as spirit beings with God before coming to this life. We knew we were coming here, and it was part of a plan for us to grow from spiritual toddlers to at least spiritual adolescents (that last bit is my little twist). I believe that I accepted and understood, at least in some measure, that life would be challenging, most of the time. But for some reason, right now, with whatever mixture of things that are working on me (a series of particularly challenging events, my particular chemical balances or imbalances, my background, my expectations, my hopes for my own future and those of my children …), I’m finding it difficult to feel consistently optimistic about my ability to just keep up, to keep pushing forward, “enduring to the end,” as scripture puts it. I’m wondering just how much faith I had in myself back in that time I can’t remember right now, when I was eager to come to this life, even knowing some degree of how difficult it would be. The question always is: how much did I really know then? How could I really know without having experienced it yet?

I’m really digging down deep to try to change some ingrained mental habits, and they’re fighting back hard. I know that my faith is both getting me through/should be getting me through. I’m trying to figure out how to truly rely on God at a level I most surely have not yet attained. I am all too aware that I’m trying to do too much on my own without being yoked with the Savior. But getting from point A, where I am, to point B, where I know I could/should be, is a bit of a mystery to me at this very moment.

My spirit soars when I experience those moments of covenant, of successfully partnering with God to do something good, to serve and uplift someone else, to create, to make something or someone better. But I’m still struggling mightily. I’m coming to appreciate more fully the concept of wrestling.

So this evening, I thank this good rabbi for his simple words. He probably had no idea what sharing a brief blurb about his beliefs would do for my thinking. I’m still going to be wrestling for a while, but it’s a mitzvah to have new insights.

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Thanks to the magic of WordPress, I just found out (a couple of weeks into the party) about the 2014 Blog for Mental Health. How nifty! I began this blog nearly two years ago because I wanted to share my own experiences with mental health, among other things. I’m happy to see others speaking out about their own experiences with quirks of the mind, or with those of loved ones.

Yes, there is most certainly a stigma surrounding the topic of mental health/mental illness. Our culture is making progress but we still have a long way to go. If someone were to “go public” with their diagnosis of cancer or diabetes, for instance, pretty much everyone else around them would know what it meant, how it was going to affect the person, and maybe even how to be of support. But use the same scenario but with the diagnosis one of a mental illness, then far fewer people would know what that diagnosis entailed, how it was affecting the person, or how to be of support.

I will concede that mental health is a little trickier to diagnose or pin down with such clarity or certainty as other physical diseases or conditions. But that does not mean it doesn’t exist or that it’s a person’s “fault” or some sign of weakness. There are still many people, even in 2014, an age where we have pretty much eradicated polio and can easily and cheaply treat other diseases that used to decimate communities, who consider mental illness either “all in someone’s head” or something that could easily be defeated if someone just tried hard enough. That’s simply not OK. Too many people are suffering without proper help because of too much misunderstanding and not enough support. I admit that I feel a tad nervous sharing what I experience (despite my being a fairly outspoken person) because I know what others’ misconceptions can be, and life is tough enough already, folks.

So I say, Kudos to the people at A Canvas of the Minds who began this project two years ago. I repeat the words they share from the founder: “I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

Blog for Mental Health 2014 badge

 

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The past months have just seemed nonstop stressful (well, to be completely honest and accurate, they’ve been nearly-nonstop stressful; I’ve had a few days here and there that weren’t). With the holidays and some big projects wrapped up, I now stand at the beginning of a new year.

While I’m not striving for a “new year, new me” (I cringe every time I see that in any media source the first few weeks of any January), I really have been searching within to figure out what I can do a bit better for myself, so I can feel less stressed even as life is most definitely going to continue to be hectic. After all, I’m launching an adult into the world in mere months, to provide just one example of the life experiences I’m going through. (Giving birth is a big job and one that launches a new person into the world after nine months of gestation; at this stage, I’ve been actively parenting for 18 years to make sure this person can be a full-fledged independent being. It’s exhilarating and all of a sudden terrifying.)

I’ve noted, not for the first time, that I compare myself, my strengths, weaknesses, abilities, energies, visible-to-others “products” (children, writing and editing projects, volunteering efforts), etc., to those of others all the time. Social media is a blessing in many ways, connecting me at least in small part with far-flung friends who bring various gifts into my life, but it can also be a nasty tool for comparison. Day in and day out, I see photos of friends my age who still have the same figure (at least what I can see) they had 20 years ago; I see perfect family portraits; I see kids of these friends who are doing unbelievably impressive things in music or sports. It’s easy to look askance at my own figure, which is now no longer the one I had even a decade ago; to briefly (and, honestly, selfishly) wish I’d put my kids in more activities and lessons so they could do more with their own talents; to wonder why I cannot get just four kids to smile normally all at the same time.

Even worse, I compare my current self, at age 43 years and 8 months, to the self I was (or at least imagined I was, which might be more accurate) a decade or two ago. This body is 50 pounds heavier than it was at those times, when I wore a size-6 dress and had a great figure and pretty, shapely calves. To be honest, my habits aren’t much different. I have exercised an hour every day for 20 years. I have generally eaten healthy. But I now struggle mightily with my weight. (I emotionally eat and always have, and at times it’s worse than others, but it hits me harder now.)

In examining myself, I feel weak, impatient, tired, not nearly as capable as I used to be. I almost felt I had the parenting thing down somewhere in the middle of this 18-year mothering journey I’ve been on so far: I had fewer worries for my girls and felt I’d hit my stride. Now that they’re older and the stakes feel higher somehow, it’s a whole new world and I once again feel inadequate more than I’d like.

I mostly pinpointed maybe 10 years ago the kinds of mental challenges that are my particular “cross to bear” and have been on medication pretty much ever since, have consistently gone to counseling, have tried to stay aware of where I am so I can stay or get balanced. But even with the awareness, the knowing, I am honestly terrible at balancing out my capacity to give and do with what I think I need to do and be. My mental mouth is always bigger than my emotional stomach: I put so much on my plate and live to regret it. (I either metaphorically stuff myself or throw the plate against the wall…)

I guess I feel frustrated with myself because I still somehow don’t get it yet. I don’t feel a whole heck of a lot different, stronger, wiser, than I did when I was younger. I’m just older and tireder and flabbier.

I see people around me who have double the number of kids I do. I see peers who have experienced the death of a child or a spouse, who have gone through cancer, who have what I’d term other real crises or catastrophic events. One part of me thinks when considering those things, “I should feel more appreciative of what I have” (and I really am appreciative and grateful), and another part speaks up: “I can barely handle the challenges I have, and they don’t seem nearly as ‘big’ or ‘bad’ as those others’ challenges. Man, I’m a mess if I fall apart at stupid little things.” I compare my trials to others’ trials and come up feeling inadequate! Now that’s pretty ridiculous.

So that’s where I’m at. At least part of me is an optimist, someone who’s very grateful and happy for all I have and get to experience in life. I readily smile; it truly is the natural and comfortable way for my facial muscles to arrange themselves. Even so, I can easily feel disappointed in myself for just not “getting it,” even after what should be plenty of opportunities to do so.

I guess the truth is that I really have grown stronger and more resilient as life has thrown me the same kinds of trials, just constantly tweaked, over and over. I just can’t tell. It’s not obvious. Maybe if I were able to put my current self back into what I thought was a difficult time 15 or 20 years ago, I’d sail right through without batting an eyelash. But life doesn’t usually give us that kind of opportunity. It keeps upping the ante, tightening the screws, adding on five pounds of weight to the stack as we lift.

Meantime, I keep lifting. I will also keep working on rewording my thoughts and inner instantaneous reactions so I don’t compare my right-now self to my earlier self or anyone else. I suspect I won’t be completely successful in this life, but I’ll edge ever so closer.

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