Is Mental Illness Weakness?

To many, those who wrestle with mental illness seem weak. They see some people unable to work, going to countless doctor visits and counseling appointments, taking medication, or needing to take a “mental health day”. While many people wrestling with mental illness do utilize some of these things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are weak.

Weakness…Its a feeling that I myself have felt throughout my entire journey wrestling with mental illness. You would think by now with all of the information and personal accounts at our fingertips, that the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness would be eradicated. After all, it is 2021.

Sadly, this notion could not be farther from the truth. While we have made great strides in battling the stigma surrounding mental health, there is still so much work to be done. Those of us struggling with mental health issues should not be hearing things like, “Why are you depressed? You have nothing to be depressed about”, when sharing a vulnerable struggle with someone. These are words I heard just a couple of weeks ago.

I used to think that I was weak for having panic attacks every day in high school and needing to go to a different type of schooling. I used to think that I was weak for having to return home after a bad depressive episode in college. I used to think that I was weak for battling with suicidal thoughts. I thought that I was weak for having to cancel plans or obligations so that my mind and body could rest. I’ve thought I was weak for needing countless therapy appointments and doctor visits. I also thought that I was weak when needing to take time off of work to go through IOP (intense outpatient program).

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I finally had a change of perspective. As I was pushing through work, shaking, while enduring a four hour long panic attack, I realized that I am not weak for struggling with mental illness, it’s actually quite the opposite. I am so incredibly strong because God has strengthened me to fight day in and day out.

What those who don’t battle with mental illness fail to understand is that it is quite literally a battle of war waging within your mind and body. Depression is much more than when neurotypical people experience sadness or fatigue. Anxiety disorders are much more complex and overwhelming than the average anxiety most humans need to survive.

Mental illness is often desperately wanting to accomplish your goals, chores, and obligations but being so beyond exhausted that any little thing becomes overwhelming. It’s wanting to be vulnerable with those we love but not wanting to be the heavy weight in the air. It’s wanting to continue to be invited to events but having to constantly cancel because we just can’t fake being happy for one more hour. It’s wanting to go to bed early but also fearing another restless night of sleep. It’s the constant built up tension in our bodies creating pain. It’s the constant dread every morning when our alarm goes off that we have to face yet another day. It’s the vegging out and losing ourselves in technology to try and silence the negativity in our minds for just a moment. The war that goes on within is this and so much more.

Mental illness looks different for everyone. Contrary to what this person said to me, there doesn’t have to be any tangible experience that makes one fall into depression or most mental illnesses. Someone can have the happiest life on this earth, yet their brain can fall ill.

After all, that is what mental illness really is. It’s an ailment of a major organ…The brain. You wouldn’t tell someone who has a heart ailment to “just exercise”. You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to “just eat healthy” if their body needs insulin. You also wouldn’t tell someone with a broken bone to “just be grateful and happy for the blessings in their life” when their bone clearly needs mending. Those responses shouldn’t be given when a person expresses vulnerability in their struggle with mental illness either.

Mental illness is real and needs to be taken seriously.

Now that we have an idea of what mental illness really looks like… is mental illness weakness? Does enduring mental illness mean that a person is weak?

Had you asked me this question a few weeks ago I would have shouted from the rooftops that mental illness is NOT weakness; however, I’ve had a slight change in my perception after a sermon that was preached at my church recently.

I still firmly believe that those of us who wrestle with mental illness are some of the strongest people you will ever meet. I just think that where we get our strength from is important and says a lot about who we are.

In the case of my personal journey with mental illness, I would not be alive today had I not had the strength of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ.

When I am in some of my darkest seasons of life, battling my mind day in and day out, dreading each morning, I pray to God to give me the strength to face whatever comes that day. On the days that I don’t say this prayer, I feel fragile and dare I say, weak.

I’m not going to sugar coat by saying that this prayer automatically makes me feel strong enough to face my mental anguish. There are certainly days when I say this prayer and still feel overwhelmed; however, the days that I do make a point to say it, I feel peace knowing that I am not fighting all alone in my own strength.

The reality is, I could sit here and boast about how strong I am to endure a panic attack lasting hours and continuing to work, but I would be lying to say that it was in my own strength.

Those of us wrestling with mental illness are NOT weak people. We are people struggling to find the strength to face each and every day but we don’t have to find the strength on our own.

My strength to face each mental battle must come from the Lord or I will not win each daily fight. It is in my weakness that God shines through and gives me the strength I need.

Where is your strength coming from? Is it coming from your own self or from something far greater than yourself? Are you just barely surviving or are you resting in knowing your strength doesn’t have to come from your own accord? These are important check in questions we should all be asking ourselves in the midst of each and every battle no matter the cause.

I’m not perfect. I don’t have all of this together. I still have days in which I can barely muster a word to God. I take heart, however, knowing He knows exactly what I need without me saying a word. That alone gives me strength.

Thank you for reading my rambles.

Hope

Hope.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

At the end of 2020, I was completely out of hope. I felt hopeless in so many areas of my life, my relationships, my future, and my health.

We all know 2020 was a crappy year for everyone. The end of 2020 was exceptionally hard for me. I made excruciatingly painful decisions to put firm boundaries in place, to the point that I needed to cut one of my parents completely out of my life.

This decision left me feeling utterly hopeless. I would get asked, “what do you hope your relationship with so and so could look like?” and I would be left stunned because I had no hope left in me for something better. I couldn’t even fathom the thought of something different.

I’m not one to make new years resolutions or even pick a word of the year, but As 2020 came to a close and 2021 rolled in, I kept hearing the word hope, without the “less” attached to the end. It came to mind repeatedly. I knew in my heart that I needed to focus on the word hope for the coming year. For I knew that if I didn’t, living without hope would create a hardened, depressed heart and soul in me.

So, I unofficially, chose the word hope to represent my 2021. I’ve kept it pretty much to myself until now. I honestly had kind of forgotten that I had chosen this word to represent my year. That is until I found this (pictured below) as I was trimming a tree inside one of my accounts at work the other day.

I was instantly taken aback, and couldn’t help but smile. You see, I have been feeling rather distant from God as of late. Depression will do that to you. Earlier in the day as I was driving on my route, I began praying. Praying that the Holy Spirit would open my heart and eyes to see His love for me (I have a really hard time accepting and believing He loves me unconditionally). I prayed that He would speak to me and that I would see Him all around.

While I didn’t visually see Him or angels, I saw this. A reminder of the word that he placed on my heart just a few weeks prior as we all looked to the future. I honestly could not believe my eyes. I probably looked like a dweeb standing there reaching up into the tree to take pictures of something so small, yet so big.

It is so hard for me to have hope when our world is crashing in all around us. It is so incredibly hard for me to have hope when my relationships with the people I love the most and desperately long to be loved in, crumble. It is so hard for me to have hope when my health fluctuates and leaves me lethargic in my bed.

But I believe in a God who created the entire universe, all the way down to me and the very plants I love to care for. I believe in a savior who came as a tiny helpless human, lived a rough life, and willingly died so that I could be saved from an eternity away from my creator. These are the things I find my hope in.

I still struggle to find hope in said relationships and in the world around me, but it’s something I desperately want to work towards this year. It won’t be easy, but with little reminders like these, I know it will happen. ❤

What are you hoping for this year? Do you have a word of the year that you are working towards? I’d love to hear about it below.

Thank you for reading my rambles.

My 2020 Journey

2020, am I right? It’s safe to say that 2020 was a hard year for everyone globally. It’s crazy to think back to a year ago. We had absolutely no idea what we were in for in the coming year. While I could sit here and list off all of the things that made 2020 hard for me personally, I’d much rather focus on how I’ve grown this year. Because I was not on social media to share my life updates with everyone, I decided I will share several of them here.

  • I began 2020 in January with purchasing a new to me car! My jeep broke down in November of 2019, and while I desperately wanted to purchase a new to me vehicle, I was waiting for the best fit. Thanks to the help of my dad, we found an amazing deal on facebook, and I have loved my little car since! I had to jump through several hoops to get it in my possession, but I’m so grateful that I did and that God blessed me with it.
  • January also brought my new challenge of staying off of social media. This was very hard for me, but I knew in the long run it would be worth it. I definitely had some times where I did give in and get on social media, but they weren’t for long. I’m really proud of myself for how well I did with that challenge, and given the year we had it ended up being a huge blessing. More to come on this later.
  • I bought myself a membership to the local Botanical Gardens, which has been one of my favorite purchases by far! This purchase also helped me develop my interest in plant photography (with my phone of course). I just can’t seem to take enough photos of plants.
  • March decided to throw a curveball in everyone’s lives, mine included. When schools shut down, I got laid off from my job. I took the opportunity to work on several projects around my Dad’s house, as I’m sure many of you did as well. I eventually was able to work from home creating program plans before returning to work in June.
  • I had a VERY successful and full garden with some new additions to my garden space. After being too burnt out and depressed in 2019 to even care for my garden at all, I came back in 2020 with SO much passion to make it thrive again. It was a lot of hard work, but I had so much fun and we are still using it’s harvests into winter.
  • Summer was busy with working full time at the club and working in my garden. Come August, however, things got pretty crazy. I ended up leaving my job after 3 years. It was hard, but a much needed change in my life.
  • The day after leaving my job, I moved to an adorable studio apartment in a new city! This was such a leap of faith, and honestly crazy how it all happened so quickly. I barely had time to think or process it all. God works in crazy ways.
  • The day after moving, I went on a small vacation to Michigan to go rock hunting. It was such a relaxing and peaceful time away that truly helped me to transition into my new life changes.
  • That next week, I began my full-time position with a small business. I get to travel all over the local area taking care of houseplants inside of businesses, restaurants, hospitals, homes… you name it! I LOVE my new job. I love the people I work with and work for, and that has made such a huge difference in my life and mental health.
  • With my job change, came an astronomical increase in my houseplant collection! I have not only bought a ton more plants for myself, but I get to take home rescue plants! My friends and family joke that soon enough they won’t be able to find me in my apartment! I love it as plants bring me so much joy.
  • I was pretty sad about leaving behind working with kids, and I was afraid I would lose out on using those passions and gifts. I was so excited, honored, and grateful to be asked to step in and lead children’s ministry on Wednesday nights for my church. While it has brought new challenges, I have loved being able to use my gifts in this way and serve my church family. I truly feel like God worked all of it perfectly and aligned everything to make this happen.
  • Around the same time as all of these life changes, I also began a new journey towards healing. I joined my Church’s Celebrate Recovery Step Study. This was extremely hard for me as it required me to be vulnerable rather quickly with people I barely knew. I’m so grateful I listened to that call from the Holy Spirit, however, because I have created lasting friendships. I still have a long way to go in this study, but I am so eager to truly get healing and to grow in all areas of my life.
  • It wouldn’t be 2020 without it ending rather challenging. I made the really hard decision to set firm boundaries with people I love dearly. It’s been painful and heart wrenching, but I know it was the right decision. To me, it shows another area in which I have grown tremendously in the past year and for that I am grateful.
  • While I did end up spending Christmas alone, I have been so grateful for relaxation and rest. 2020 was a painful year for everyone. I’ve truly been going through grief as I begin to process the hard things we endured. Knowing that I’m not alone, has kept me going. It’s really hard to acknowledge the many good things that happened over the past year, when you’re in a hard spot emotionally, but listing out all of the incredible ways God has moved in my life this year is such an encouragement.

It is my hope that as we begin this new year, you are able to recognize the many ways in which God has blessed you. I don’t know what the new year will bring, but I trust that whatever comes our way, Jesus will be with us through it all, just as He was this year.

Thank you so much for being patient with my lack of posting this year. I hope to post more in the new year with more of my passions, joys and challenges. Thank you for reading my rambles.







God Prepares Us

As we are now onto our fourth week in quarantine or “social distancing”, there is one thing that continues to be laid on my heart and mind: the truth that God prepares us for situations in life, even when we have no idea what He is doing.

I know that for many, this time being stuck at home has been a shock, adjustment and oftentimes challenging. I completely understand that. I want you to take a moment to pause and take a deep breath with me. Just take a deep breath in, hold it for four seconds, and let it out slowly.

Now, think about some of your more difficult seasons in life that you felt were impossible to overcome. Bear with me. Don’t focus on the bad but think about how you overcame them. Think about who, what and how you were strengthened to face those difficult seasons. Think about the lessons you learned from them.

Personally I’ve been thinking about this global situation and this topic a lot. I can’t help but look back on 2019 and imagine how I would have handled a global pandemic thrown into the mix of everything I was already dealing with. Let’s just say, I would have been even more of a mess than I already was. Thinking about this, often leaves me feeling humbled, proud and so very grateful for the progress I have made and the way God prepared me for such a time as this. I cherish His love for me in this way.

I figured I would give you some background information to let you know why this topic has been on my heart and mind throughout this. God spent the whole year of 2019 preparing me for what was to come in 2020. I truly and honestly believe that. If you haven’t read my previous blog posts, 2019 was a very challenging year for my mental and physical health. Because of how rough my health became over the year, I ended up taking two months off of work to focus on myself and gain healing. You can probably understand what I mean when I say that God prepared me for this time at home. Those two months taught me how to have self-discipline, reach out when I need connection and community, stay in a routine, exercise and grow my mind. All of which have been so very helpful for this past month of social distancing. He truly prepared me for this time and situation.

Maybe you aren’t in a similar place as me right now. Maybe you feel very unprepared and ill-equipped to be stuck in one place for such an extended period of time. Maybe your mental or physical health isn’t in a good spot, and you feel like you are drowning in fear. Believe me, I get it. But even if this time has been challenging, I still want to remind you that God has not left your side, He is strengthening you, and He is establishing your steps even now.

Isaiah 58:11 states, “And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” This verse is so encouraging and beautiful to me. The phrase”Make your bones strong” is so powerful! God not only sustains us and never leaves us during hardships, but He strengthens our bones both physically and mentally. God used my circumstances in 2019 and throughout my entire life to strengthen me.

Many of us around the world are questioning and wondering why God would allow this awful disease to spread and take so many lives. We often believe that if WE were God, we would never allow this to happen. We read in Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” The reality is we are NOT God and for good reason. We can plan our lives out down to the second, but it doesn’t mean that’s how life will happen. Most of the time, we plan our lives and it goes a completely different way than we imagined. Yet, somehow we look back and can’t imagine our life going any other way.

That’s because God knows what is best for us. I couldn’t possibly see how anything good could come out of my trials last year, but I am having manageable anxiety in the midst of a global pandemic. To even say those words is a miracle and testament to God’s process of strengthening His children. I had no idea why God would allow those things to happen in my life, and I even got frustrated with Him. I am now grateful for those experiences.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the fear, doubt, and anger during this pandemic. Media is constantly trying to bombard us with the latest numbers, stories, and heartbreak. But instead of focusing on the media and the fear, focus on how strong you really are. Focus on how much you have overcome in your life. Focus on the ways God has established your steps when you thought you couldn’t take one more. When we focus on those things, we gain confidence in ourselves and in God’s ability to turn this horrible situation into something beautiful. We begin to see the possible good that could be happening in the midst of such heartache.

I sincerely hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. I hope this post gives you something positive to reflect on and focus your mind and heart on during this crazy time. I know this topic has helped me to change my mindset and attitude and has kept my focus on our Heavenly Father. It’s truly helped keep me sane, hopeful and healthy. I hope it helps you too.

I know that for many, this pandemic has brought unimaginable pain and heartache. My heart, thoughts, and prayers are going out to everyone affected.

I hope all who read this know that you are loved so deeply by our creator and our savior. He can handle our pain, sadness, and anger towards Him. He desires for us to come to Him in your pain. I believe that’s when He moves in us the most. It is my hope and prayer that this painful time makes us stronger as individuals, as Christ-followers, and as a community. Most importantly, I hope we learn how to love a little more like Jesus.

Hang in there. God’s got this. You are stronger than you know. Thank you for reading my rambles.

If You are Praying For a Good Year…

As we are in the start of a new year, I often hear people hoping and even praying that this new year would “be good to them”. It’s completely understandable. Who wouldn’t want to ask God for a good year? If you didn’t want that, I would probably be a bit concerned at your lack of optimism. But this brings an important question that I haven’t heard very many people discuss. What are we really asking God for when we pray for things to be good?

I’ll be honest with you, I used to pray these prayers almost daily, until about six to eight months ago when I had a lightbulb go off in my mind as I was going through my usual prayer routine. Around this time I was being awakened to the goodness of my Heavenly Father and His love for me. My eyes were beginning to open to the many ways He shows His love. I began questioning myself on why I would pray for my day to be good, when I knew in my heart that God is good and whether or not a day is “good” is solely contingent on how I choose to view the day and the day’s events.

When we ask God to bless us with a “good” day, week, month or even year, are we really asking for it to be good or are we asking for it to be easy? I know for me personally when I was praying those types of prayers, it wasn’t me praying to God that I would see His goodness around me, but that I wanted things to be easy for me. To me easy equaled good. But that isn’t the message we get from scripture about life here on earth. When diving deeper into this very topic I had three truths jump out at me…

1. God is Good

Let’s first look at what scripture says is “good”. In Genesis we see that after each day and thing God created He called it good. So God’s creation is good, or at least it was before sin took over. Even greater than creation being good, we see in scriptures time and time again that God is good. God the creator of all things is good.

Nahum 1:7 (ESV)
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.

Psalm 145:9
The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

The topic of God’s goodness is seen regularly throughout scripture, and is often followed up with a quality about Him that helps show His goodness. Sometimes the phrase is also followed up with a quality that believers should have to glorify our good God. Both of these qualities are seen in these verses.

2. Christians are Called to Suffering

We are also told in scripture that those who follow Christ will endure suffering. It’s inevitable that we will struggle and suffer because we live in a broken, sinful world. Whether or not we look back on our day, week, month or even year and the hardships we endure, and see it as good, is our own choice.

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

I love this verse because it blatantly tells us that God’s plans are not evil or bad, but that His plans are good and full of hope. Evil things may happen in this world, but God’s plans are NOT evil or ill-willed for us. He can turn every “bad” or evil situation into good.

James 1:2-4 (ESV)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

This passage always left me slightly confused. I had heard many people preach this passage, or share it with others who are going through something hard in life; however, I never fully understood what “steadfastness” meant. According to my study ESV Bible, steadfastness is “a life of faithful endurance amid troubles and afflictions”. The oxford dictionary definition of steadfastness is “The quality of being resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.” Thus, when we face trials, it may be hard, but it produces a faith in us that grows stronger and can’t be broken and that is good.

Romans 5:3-5
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

This passage always shook me to my core. Rejoicing in our sufferings? Are they kidding? But then In a book I’ve been reading here and there over the past few months (yes I said months, don’t judge me for my ADD), the author, Lysa Terkeurst talks about this very subject of suffering and God’s goodness. In reference to John 9 in which Jesus heals the blind man who has been blind since birth, she writes:

“This man’s blindness-his own form of hardship and long-suffering – wasn’t because of choices he made or ones his parents made. This suffering was placed on him. But it was for a reason. He was handpicked to display the works of God. Through his story Jesus would shine the light of truth and hope for others lives to not be so dark. And then Jesus brought healing out of the man’s brokenness”(TerKeurst, 2018, pg. 133).

The reality is that we all suffer and struggle on this earth, and suffering sucks. But if we can get to a place in the midst of our suffering or even when we finally get out of our suffering, to see the goodness in it, that is glorious. Sometimes it might take us asking God why we are having to endure what we are enduring, and sometimes we may not get an answer for years. Please don’t grow hard or cold to the possibility of goodness coming from your pain though. This quote from TerKeurst left a profound impact in the way I view the hardships and challenges in my life, my day and my year. God can use anything in our lives for the goodness of His glory, to help others, and to shine His light in a dark world. I used to think God had left me to suffer on my own, when in reality my suffering could very well be the thing used to draw me closer to Him.

3. God is in Control

God created everything that is good. We learned that God is good. We know that life on this earth comes with suffering. And we also see over and over in scripture that God is in control. So If God is good, and God is in control, then the sufferings we endure can and will be used for good.

Romans 8:28 (ESV)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

“All things work together for good”, this implies that everything, even the hard and painful things are a part of something that is good. It may not be easy, but it is still good.

Romans 11:36 (ESV)
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Again, this shows that God has His hand in all things, and He has a good plan.

So this all brings me back to my original question. When we are praying for our day, week, month, or year to be “good”, what is it that we are really asking for? We’ve seen in scripture that God is good and goodness comes from God. We see that we are called to suffering and it is inevitable. And we also see that God is in control. By praying for our day, week, month or year to be good, we are essentially missing out on the opportunity and responsibility as believers to look for God’s goodness around us.

For my own personal journey, I switched my prayers for things to be good to asking God to show me His goodness all around me. I began to pray for God to give me His eyes to see His love, beauty and goodness in all situations and people I come in contact with. Once I started praying those prayers instead, I began to see and feel the work of the Holy Spirit all around me in ways I never had before. I began to see God’s love for not only myself but everyone I came in contact with. By praying to have eyes like our Father’s, I am able to see the hard things around me in a new light, full of hope. This realization and hope helps me to look ahead to this new year with excitement for ALL that it will bring, the fun and exciting, and the scary and challenging. For I know that no matter what this year brings me, it will be used to glorify God who is good. I hope and pray that for all of you too.

I encourage you to reflect on your own prayer life. Let me know what you are praying for this new year! This is just something I have been realizing in my own personal journey, so I would love to hear your input.

Thank you for reading my rambles.

Resources
TerKeurst, Lysa. Its Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered. Nelson Books, an Imprint of Thomas Nelson, 2018.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j25JqWgjDF4

Hello 2020,

It’s so nice to see you; however, I’ll be honest with you in that I’m a little nervous for what could be in store in this new year. No matter how much I plan, hope and dream for things to work out, the reality is that I’m never really in control. It’s definitely a scary and anxiety inducing thought. I’ve actually had to catch myself from thinking worst possible scenarios you could bring and turn my eyes to Jesus and the hope He brings.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not only feeling anxious about you. I feel a lot of excitement, hope, passion and motivation. I’m reminding myself that whatever comes along with you, will be used for God’s glory and that excites me!

I’m not putting myself through my typical New Years torture of setting unlikely and unattainable expectations of you and of myself. I have some goals and hopes for things I’d love to accomplish during my time with you, but if 2019 taught me anything it’s that it is not healthy to hold myself to such high, strict expectations. I’ve learned that my worth isn’t based on what goals I accomplish or even how quickly they are accomplished. My worth is in Christ alone, so yes, goals are great, but putting unnecessary pressure on myself is not. If I don’t achieve my hopes/goals for 2020, that’s okay. As long as I can face the end of 2020 knowing that I grew as a person and follower of Christ, that is all that matters.

That being said, I will lay out a few of my attainable hopes and goals for the year. Perhaps if I write about them now, I will get more accountability from my community of supporters to motivate me to achieve them. My top 6 hopes for 2020 are:

  1. To grow closer to God.
  2. To write and share my life testimony and struggles with others in my circle.
  3. To stay off of social media for the entire year (using my time more wisely to pursue God).
  4. To plan and stick to a budget.
  5. To treat my body, mind and soul with love.
  6. To write more blog posts.

2020, whatever you bring me and my life story, I know God will use for His glory. You may seem daunting, scary and doubtful, but I know that if my eyes look to Jesus every day, nothing can stand in my way. I’m buckled up and as ready for this ride as I can be. Oh, and Welcome to my story!

Sincerely,
Sarah

P.S. I definitely did not mean to rhyme there at the end, but it works 😀

Goodbye 2019…

Dear 2019,

Yes, this is my break up letter with you.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Our relationship just didn’t go the way I had hoped or envisioned it. You brought me a lot more heartache, exhaustion and disappointment than I would care to admit. You also brought terrible panic attacks, ER visits, physical and mental exhaustion, depression, physical and emotional pain, financial hardship, and fractured relationships. So you can see why I am breaking up with you…

I guess you weren’t completely horrible though. You did bring me a lot of blessings such as: new friendships, a new job, vulnerability and acceptance, a closer relationship with God, self love, new diagnoses, repaired relationships, forgiveness, better physical health and so much love.

You also taught me many lessons in our time together. You taught me to love myself. Something I have needed to learn my entire life. You helped me develop my voice. Something that I felt I never had or deserved. You put me in my place and taught me to rest. You taught me that it’s not about how much money you make by the end of the year, but its about how you grew, how you were blessed and how much love you received and gave. You taught me that my God is good no matter what is happening around me. You taught me that I am loved and I am lovable. You taught me to care for myself and others in ways I never have before.

Thank you 2019. You tried to break me, and you almost succeeded; however, you only showed me how strong I am and how faithful my God is. Thank you for breaking my pride, my self hatred and my negative outlook. Thank you for the heartbreak and the pain, for it helped me to see the good and the light.

Goodbye 2019… I’ll be sure to remember you for all of the good that you brought to my life.

with love,

Sarah

Intensive Outpatient Program (I. O. P.) Pt. 3: What IOP Taught me

If you have not read part one or part two of this blog series, I highly encourage you to check those out before continuing on through this post. Those two posts give a lot of context to what I’ll be talking about here.

My time in IOP was not only very much needed, but it taught me so much about myself and the world around me. Below I have explained eleven lessons I learned in IOP.

#11 My Emotions are There to Help Me

One of the main exercises we did in IOP were “emotional sculpts.” This is where you assign one of the “Inside Out” emotion characters to each member in the group, you stand in the center of the room and you place the emotions in proximity to you based on how you feel them. The emotions act out or say whatever it is they have been saying to you in your mind, and then you get to rearrange them to how you need them to be. You change their actions and words to become positive so they are now on your side.

This exercise changed the way I view my emotions of fear, anger, disgust, joy, sadness and even my distraction methods. By seeing them as a team, there to help me, it makes it easier to ride the waves of these feelings when they arise. It taught me to sit back and process each emotion and what they could be helping me with. It taught me not to fear my emotions anymore, but to lean into them.

#10: Rest is Essential

While going through my Intensive Outpatient Program, I was also on a leave from work. I was intentional about using my time off to rest my body and my mind. I got into a healthier sleep routine. I got on medicine to help me get restful sleep because prior to my time off I was waking up every hour in the night. I allowed myself to nap when needed and to have days of staying in bed a little longer. I began to understand how rest can impact not only my mental health but my physical health too. I learned how much rest my body needs to thrive. Giving my body rest taught me how to listen to my body and to better care for myself.

#9: It’s okay to Reach out for Help

I am a type A personality. I have rigid expectations for myself, and I often feel as though I need to push myself to reach those. Asking for help has always been a huge struggle for me. Asking for help involves taking a risk, making yourself vulnerable, and it often feels defeating. When I was offered the chance to do IOP my pride and ego screamed, “NO!” My mind kept telling me that if I were to take this step it would mean that my mental health was unfixable, I was hopeless, and I must be “crazy”. I knew in my heart it was what I needed, but my pride got in the way for far too long.

By being humbled into the position of having to do IOP, I learned that not only is it OKAY to reach out for help, but when I do reach out for help, I will be able to see how much people love and care about me. I learned and finally realized that it takes strength and courage to reach out for help.

I’m living proof that reaching out for help very well could be the best thing you ever do. Reaching out for help could be God’s way of blessing you with relationships and things you never even knew you needed. Reaching out for help could be a way for God to show you how much He loves you.

#8: It’s Okay to Take Care of Myself

Nobody can care for you the way you can care for yourself.

Let that sink in for a moment. Nobody can take care of you the way you can care for yourself because they are not you. This was a huge revelation for me. Again, this wasn’t something I had never heard before, but it was something that I never allowed to take hold within me.

Prior to my time off, I had already begun to care for myself in the food I ate and getting more exercise; however, I wasn’t actually listening to my body. When I would go on diets and exercise in the past it was because I wanted to look better or I thought others would like me more if I lost weight. Unhealthy, right?

By taking time off of work, resting, going through IOP, and learning to love myself, I began to WANT to take care of myself. When you love yourself as you are, you begin to want the best for yourself. I began to learn how to listen to my body. Thus, I learned not only that it is OKAY to take care of myself and put myself first in certain situations, but I learned that I feel better when I do and can give more of myself to others. Now, I am more in tune with my body and I know what my body needs. I love and care about myself now, thus I desire to be healthy and care for myself. It’s amazing what self-love and compassion can do for all areas of your life.

#7: Vulnerability opens doors

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
M. Scott Peck

Like many people, vulnerability is a scary thing for me. It’s scary to risk your reputation, your heart and your relationships. I kept so many things bottled up inside for so many years. I feared that I would no longer be loved if I shared the dark parts of me with those I love so dearly. I was so very wrong. By sharing those very things with those around me, it allowed me to be loved more deeply than I could have ever imagined. It allowed me to have true community with those around me. To be fully seen and to be loved despite my faults, my sins, and the things I thought made me unlovable, is so powerful.

#6: Acceptance

The activities and experiences I did in IOP helped me to learn to accept where I am at in life, the things that have happened in my life, and who I am. It gave me such an appreciation and different perspective on the experiences I have had and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. I learned to accept myself as I am, so that I can love myself, but also so that I can move forward and continue to grow. If we do not accept who we are and where we are at in life, we get stuck. Accepting where you are in life is the first step in moving forward because you know you’re starting point. By accepting yourself, you learn to also accept others.

Not only that, but I saw first hand that by being vulnerable about my struggles, it opened the doors for others to feel comfortable enough to share in their own struggles with me. It created bonds and connections with others who were experiencing the very same thing that I was. It encouraged trust and community. I now know that vulnerability is the only way to have true community because it allows others to see and love all parts of you.

#5: It’s Okay to Let Go

One of the most memorable experiences in IOP was the experience of letting go. We had to make a collage using words and pictures from magazines that represented things we were holding onto that we needed to let go of. Once we all finished our collages, we sat in a circle and shared what each thing in our collage represented.

We all stood around a trash can. One at a time we would hold our collage out over the trash can, share with the group the negative impacts that holding onto those things had in our lives. Each time we shared a negative impact, a member in the group would place a hand on top of our hand. This was to represent the weight we feel when we hold on to things we shouldn’t. Finally, when everyone’s hands were pressing down, we had to answer the dreaded question… “Are you ready to let these things go?”. When we were ready, the weights came off of the hand as we dropped the collage into the trash.

This experience will forever stay in my heart. It taught me that it is not only okay to let go of things in our lives, but that it is necessary in order to move on and make progress. When I am weighed down by things, I get stuck. By giving up control to God and letting go of those things, I am lighter and free to move forward.

#4: Self Forgiveness

Forgiveness is such a challenging thing to do for many people, myself included; however, in IOP I learned that it is much easier for me to forgive others when they hurt me or do not meet my expectations. The person I rarely offer forgiveness and compassion to is myself. I learned that in order to be able to offer true forgiveness and compassion to others, we have to first be able to offer compassion and forgiveness to ourselves. How can we love others deeply if we cannot first love the person we spend the most amount of time with?

I learned that self forgiveness is something I have to continually practice. As a type A personality, I hold myself to such high, unobtainable expectations and when I don’t meet them, I beat myself to a pulp. My self talk used to be awful, and it’s definitely something I still struggle with; however, I’m more aware of the way it impacts me and am able to reframe my thinking. Just take a moment and think about what message you tell yourself when you make a mistake? Is it, “that’s okay, you’re human.” or do you say something like, “you’re so stupid, why did you do that?”.

Reframing the way I talk to and treat myself, has made a way for me to be able to not only love myself but it has opened the door for me to see myself the way God sees me. It has shown me a small glimpse of the kind of love He has for me.

#3: I Am Not Alone

IOP taught me that I am not alone in my struggles. No matter how many forums, facebook groups, or chats you have online with those who are struggling with similar issues, it cannot replace the connection of face to face interaction. I knew I wasn’t alone in my struggles with anxiety and depression before going into IOP, but connecting with people face to face who were in similar circumstances as me, was invaluable. Being surrounded and embraced by people who get it, have been there, and thus have nothing but love and acceptance for you is something you can never replace with online communication. I am not alone, and YOU are not alone in whatever it is you are facing.

#2: I Can Love Myself

Like most people, I have gone my entire life being my own worst critic. I offer so much compassion, empathy, and forgiveness to others, but I beat myself up.

I learned to forgive myself for not meeting my own unrealistic expectations, my part in things that have happened in life, and most importantly I learned that it is okay to have compassion for myself. In order for us to love others, we first have to learn to love ourselves. I now know to listen to my body, care for my body and mind, and to treat myself with the compassion and respect I give to others. When I view myself the way God sees me and I look back on how far I have come, I can’t help but appreciate who I am and who He made me to be.

#1: I Am Loved and Accepted

This wasn’t the first time I had ever heard or felt that I am loved and can be accepted, but it was the first time in a long time that I truly felt it within my soul. My IOP group became a little family. Everyone was there for similar reasons, so there was no judgement, just pure acceptance. It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I wasn’t alone and felt like other people truly understood what I was experiencing. I was able to be vulnerable with them and I got nothing but love and acceptance in return.

Even though it wasn’t the first time I had heard these lessons, it was the first time in a long time that I felt God reaching His arms around me and loving me via strangers. After finishing my last IOP session, I was filled with so many emotions. I wept the entire 45 minute drive home because I was filled with so much gratitude that God chose to love me in such a tangible way. I just kept thanking Him for using IOP to show me a glimpse of how loved I am. It’s a moment and feeling I hope to never forget. It’s a feeling I hope every person can experience.

Conclusion

If there is anything I want my readers to take away from this three part series, it is this: reaching out for help does not mean you are weak, it means you are strong and courageous. Taking time to process life, who you are, and what God is trying to show you is worth more than you can imagine. This life is but a glimpse in terms of eternity. Don’t get so caught up in work and life that you cannot take time to process and acknowledge the work of God in your life. Don’t keep pushing yourself until you are forced to stop and rest from illness or injury, begin resting and being present now.

If IOP is something you think you need, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for it. If you think community and vulnerability is something you need, share that with a trusted person in your life. I don’t think God wants us to just be busy bodies, He wants us to be present and in deep community with Him and others. Please take care of yourself. You are the only you in this world, and you have one life. Live it well and know you are loved more than you could ever imagine.

Thank you so much for reading my rambles and supporting my work. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

As always, I am not a licensed therapist and these thoughts are all my own. If you are in crisis or feel hopeless, please call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Edited by Morgan Rice