Love Me Louder

There are days when you wake up early, make coffee, get ready, kill it at your day job, make it to the gym, come home, cook a homemade supper and have this whole adulting thing down. Other days your fiancé finds a white hair on your head, you question everything you’re doing throughout the day, bruise your tailbone at the gym & slice your finger open making zoodles. The latter of those two scenarios is absolutely me this week (and 100% true).

It’s these times, whether it lasts hours, days or weeks, that it’s important to know yourself and protect your mental state and reach out for help when you need it; this is a lesson that took me years to learn. I used to see it as a sign of weakness to ask for help. I didn’t mind when people asked me for help, in fact, I really liked it, but for me to reach out was nearly impossible. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I learned to ask my friends and family for help and I can admit that I’m a better person because of it.

Yesterday, a close friend of mine, reached out to tell me that she had been struggling with depression lately and was taking a step back from her busy lifestyle to focus on her mental health. Seeing that message come through made me so proud for her. She recognized that she was going through something that couldn’t be stifled and sought out the professional help that she needed as well as turning to friends and family to lean on. It’s not an easy decision to put your life on hold and open up to those around you but it’s one that will benefit you for years to come.

I slowly learned that it was okay to be transparent with the people who cared about me the most – and that no one was going to judge me if I asked their opinion on how to respond to a work problem or a cook a supper I had never made (yes, these were actual things I couldn’t bring myself to do for years) – because that’s how you get help. Sometimes that help is professional and sometimes it’s just a hug and someone telling you that you’re going to make it through.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 9.47.25 PM.pngMy decision a couple of years ago to finally rely more on those around me also happened to coincide with my relationship with Adam. I’m not saying the two go hand-in-hand because, if you ask Adam, I’m stubborn as hell and it took me a long time to start asking for help, but having Adam, and the rest of my friends and family, helped. One of the things Adam and I talked about early on in our relationship was what our love language was (and yes, this was absolutely something I had to explain to him first). Laugh all you want, but I wanted to know how to best show my feelings to Adam in a way that would relate to him and also make him aware that my love language was words of affirmation…and lots of them.  About six months ago, I came across this image on Pinterest and sent it to Adam. It was everything that explained the way I often feel in such a small phrase. Sometimes, I get too into my own head and start making up realities that really aren’t there (hello, day job and every relationship ever). Of course, some days truly are bad and I need more help and support on those days, but some days I’m just in a funk for no reason and need someone to tell me that they love and I’ll figure it out.

It took me years to realize that there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help, whether that be professional or just being transparent with those around you.

Some days, you need to be loved a little louder, and that’s perfectly okay.

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You Can’t Stay With Us

Sometimes, when I think about the mental health system in our country, I get really upset. And when I say sometimes, I actually mean always. Why is it that when someone needs medical treatment for a physical illness or disease, they can get immediate attention but when someone willingly reaches out for help with their mental illness it can take days, weeks or months for them to be treated?

Today, I was reminded of a situation I was a bystander to 6 years ago when someone close to me needed to get into a mental health facility but couldn’t. I remember the struggle back then, the family searching for days only to find there weren’t any open facilities in their state at that time. Finally, when they did find a clinic with enough beds that could take the individual, it was hours away in a neighboring state and was available, but for a small fortune. Of course, the family did what they had to do for the sake of the individual, but I remember being so confused why it would be so hard to treat someone who very clearly needed the help. Today, I was faced with a similar situation – someone in my life is going through a similar struggle – and I remembered all too clearly my first run-in with this issue.

In my home state of Iowa, I knew this was an issue. I used to volunteer for a non-profit called Please Pass The Love that was consistently advocating for better mental health laws in the state, including more beds in their facilities. Just two years ago, the governor of Iowa chose to close two of the state mental hospitals meaning that, in a state that it was already difficult to find space for mental health patients, there were now even less beds available for those in crisis. Doesn’t make sense, does it? And the state is doing little to nothing to help rectify the situation; earlier this year a local newspaper wrote that it could still take hours, even days, for someone with a mental illness to get the care they need.

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/10/29/obamacare-hasnt-propelled-mental-health-treatment

Unfortunately, this is something that is common in states across the country. From Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Minnesota and California. Even if an individual is lucky enough to find a bed and get admitted, they will likely be held for 72 hours and then released, often times with heavy suggestion to move on to a long-term facility, but then the struggle to find availability, not to mention the cost of many of these facilities, starts the cycle all over again.

There’s not much I can do from behind my computer but to help educate you and others around you. If you feel inclined, and I hope you do, write your legislature, volunteer with a local mental health organization, or at least share this post. If we can all band together, get educated, and push for a better mental health care system, maybe one day it will actually get better.

#LivingWithMentalIllnessIs

I still get taken aback when I hear, or see, people talking openly about mental health. I know this isn’t something that should surprise me, I want it to be more commonplace, but unfortunately we’re not there yet as a society. Twice this morning I was surprised to hear the media was actually shedding light on the subject; the first was this morning on the Today Show as they were going over suicide statistics for men. The second was when I logged on to Twitter to see #LivingWithMentalIllnessIs was a trending topic.

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Of course, I found myself scrolling through hundreds of Tweets, just to get some insight into these people’s world.

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It took a lot for these people to bare their souls, and a part of their story, to the world via social media. Inevitably, there were people making light of the hashtag or turning political, but for the people who were truly there to give insight into their struggle with mental illness, I was so proud of them. I wanted to reach out and hug every one of them and tell them that I was there if they needed me. Obviously, that would be a bit creepy, so instead, I sat there Liking Tweet after Tweet, trying to let these people know that, in a world that doesn’t want to talk about mental health, they were seen and they were heard.

If you have a minute, or an hour, I’d encourage you to go out and take a look at what hundreds of people are saying it’s like for them to live with mental illness so you, too, can gain some insight.

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The start of a new week can be refreshing and exhausting. How do you like to spend your Sundays? I know lots of people, especially this time of year, like to fill theirs with brunch or social events to watch football. Me? I like to run errands, maybe do something fun, but I cherish my Sunday nights at home. Tonight, the Sunday Scaries and Daylight Savings Time are enough to have me exhausted so instead of writing much tonight, I’ll leave you with this song from Logic. You’ve likely heard it, but the title of the song happens to be the number to the Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you or someone you know needs an outlet, give this song a listen and the number a call.

Goodnight, all.

 

Giving Thanks Part 1

November is a time to reflect on the past year and all that you’re thankful for so I figured that it was time to give a formal thank you to people in my life who have been my support system through all the good and bad times in my life. So I plan to dedicate a handful of posts this month to those people who’ve helped me get this far in life.

And I couldn’t think of a better group of people to start out with than my sisters. Anyone who knows me knows that I am so proud of each of them; I often tell people that I brag about my sisters the way most people brag about their children. A teacher, a scientist, a sign language interpreter…what’s not to be proud of?! Though I’m the youngest of all of us Johnson girls, I’ve gone through my fair share of roles with each of them, as we all have at some point, and it’s helped our relationship grow.

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1146456_10200981734403583_1900677423_nI’ll never forget when my friend Kjrsten died when I was 14. I can recall so many things about that night; I was at play practice with my sister, Danielle, when I got the call. We walked outside and it was dark and rainy. She drove me home in our old yellow beater car and sat with me in silence and in the dark as I cried and tried to make sense of it all.
215030_1749348531529_3260083_n                                                                                                                  When my friend Erika was in a car accident just 2 years later, my sister Alicia picked me up at school so I could go visit her and sat in the waiting room with me for hours as I learned that Erika wasn’t going to make it.

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The day I found out that Luke committed suicide, my oldest sister, Anna, came over to my parents house just to sit and ensured that I knew she was there and was always a short drive or phone call away.

 

 

At 3 of the most pivotal moments in my life, my sisters were there with open arms.

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When my mom was in the hospital we spent every waking moment together, decorating my mom’s house for Christmas when we thought she was going to survive, curled up on hospital benches using coats as blankets trying to catch an hour of sleep, making sure the others were eating. We cried, held each other, and occasionally laughed when we felt uncomfortable (sorry, mom).

After my mom died seeing my sisters hurt and struggle through the aftermath was one of the hardest things for me. Losing my mom broke all of us, but I had experience losing people close to me, my sisters hadn’t – though, losing your mom is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I wanted to be there for my sisters the way they had been there for me at some of the hardest points in my life. We struggled through it and had good days and very, very bad days, we still do, but this also opened up new conversations for us to have with one another. Up until that point, when anything mental health related was talked about it, it was typically aimed in my direction. However, after our mom died, we all went through different emotions and situations and it was nice to know that we always had a safe space to talk about these things.

My sisters are my world and I know that I wouldn’t have made it this far in life, or be the woman I am today, without each of them.

So to Anna, Alicia & Danielle, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve helped me through some of the darkest days in my life and were always forgiving, understanding & patient with me as I managed through them. I promise to always do the same for you.

Sisters

Help Me Understand

Last weekend I had the opportunity to talk to a friend about mental health, these conversations are always so near to my heart, and I jump at any opportunity to have them. This particular friend is recently going through her own struggles and we began talking very high level about mental health as a whole.

As the conversation went on, we began talking about how to explain anxiety attacks and depression to people who’ve never had to struggle through them. As we were driving down the road, talking about such a heavy topic, my heart just felt overwhelmingly full. A weird time to feel that way, I know, welcome to my life, I never promised it made sense.

The conversation went on but I couldn’t help but think that people who couldn’t understand what depression, an anxiety attack or suicidal thoughts felt like were so lucky. To not understand those things meant they’ve never been personally affected by them and, for that, I’m so happy for them. But what made my heart so happy, aside from the full mug of coffee to my right and the general conversation we were openly having about mental health, was the fact that people existed in our lives who wanted to learn about these things. Though they don’t currently, and hopefully will never have to, experience them firsthand, they still so badly wanted to understand what it was like to deal with a mental illness so they could better support others around them. And for those people, I say thank you.
Thank you for wanting to know what it’s like and wanting to learn what you can do to better help those around you who struggle with depression, anxiety or any other mental health issues. Thank you for being supportive on a bad day (or week/month/year), thank you for lending an ear, even when there’s no conversation to be had on the other end. Thank you for sitting in silence or helping keep us preoccupied when we needed it most. The world needs more people like you. And, if you’re reading this thinking you’ve never wondered what it’s like to deal with these things or maybe you want to be more supportive, it’s not too late. Ask questions, be open to having the difficult conversations, because I can almost guarantee, there’s at least one person in your life who wants to have these conversations.

Let’s Get Uncomfortable

Day two and I’m back, it’s okay if you had your doubts that I wouldn’t make it this far. I have doubts about myself all the time. Truth be told, as soon as I hit “publish” on last night’s post, I treated myself to a bowl of ice cream and a glass of red wine because I was feeling all of the anxiety.

Truth be told, I’m feeling a lot of it right now. Sharing my story and being transparent with you all isn’t as easy as you may think it is. I don’t share my story because I feel empowered or because it’s easy, I share my story because I wish others had shared theirs with me when I felt like such an outcast for being depressed or barely making it through a rough patch in my life and, because, after my boyfriend died I had a lot of guilt.

Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 10.49.55 PMOne of the many reasons it’s hard for me to share my story (aside being an introverted closed-off person) is because I know it makes people uncomfortable. You may not know this about me but I’m a people pleaser. I hate it, but I can’t deny it. I like to make people feel comfortable and sharing my story has made people very uncomfortable over the past few years. I’ve had numerous family members reach out to me after I’ve written a blog post here that they hope I can move on from things in my past that have hurt me (read: death), move forward, put my past behind me…blah, blah, blah. I know these people had the best intentions and, to be honest, I saw it as just being a little old school. I grew up not talking about my feelings and assumed that, me being this open to anyone on the Internet who has a minute to spare and read a blog post, was highly unheard of and fairly offensive to them. I get it. I’m not judging them for it. But I also won’t allow their feelings toward me sharing my story silence me.

Tonight, as I was talking to one of my sisters, we were going on about our week and I breezed over the fact that I was having a bit of a hard week and just needed extra love and emotional support. I continued on with what I was saying but she stopped me and forced me to talk about what I was going through. Years of coaching and social grooming has taught me to say, “Oh, nothing, I’m fine” because that’s what makes people comfortable and you can bet that’s exactly what I said. A decade ago, we likely would have left the conversation at that, but tonight she prodded me for more information. As I continued with my polite smile-on-my-face-repeat-that-I’m-fine routine she stopped me and told me that it’s okay if I was having a hard time. I swear I could have cried in that moment. It’s such a good feeling to have someone get you, you know? So I admitted that I wasn’t fine and we talked about it and it was so refreshing. It’s moments and conversations like this that I can now have with my friends and family that make me realize how far we’ve come. We talk openly about mental health and our feelings and, though, sometimes the feelings talk still makes me uncomfortable it’s a good uncomfortable.

If you haven’t gotten to this point in your life where you have people you can have uncomfortable, yet productive, conversations with, I highly recommend it. We all need an outlet.

 

My Version of NaNoWriMo

I recently learned about NaNoWriMo, unfortunately, it was too late for me to begin concepting and actually plan to write a novel in 30 days (#goals, though), so instead, I’ve decided that I’m going to create my own version. This is me, standing (sitting, but you get it) before you, promising that I will write here for the next 30 days.

When this blog started over 6 years ago, that wouldn’t have sounded like such a feat. I was freshly broken and struggling to put the pieces back together; in writing here (and endless support from my family and friends, but that’s another story), I slowly – very slowly – healed and learned that sharing my story could help others.

Let me get real here for a second. I’ve been struggling lately. A lot. And I think the only person who sees even a glimpse of that is Adam. That poor man. I am equally grateful and sorry for him every single day for having to put up with me and my daily struggles. Not only have we both recently started new jobs, we’re also planning a wedding (more about those struggles here) and starting the search for our first home. We’re crazy, we know. Just today, while he’s away on work travel, he called me and listened to me while I cried and told him all of the reasons why I wasn’t up for what the day was handing me. He’s amazing and even that is an understatement.

ANYWAY, as I was saying, I’ve been struggling lately. Struggling to write, to be productive, to be a good friend, fiancé, sister and daughter. Even just looking at all of those words is a little overwhelming to me right now. But I want to get better and I want other people to know that, if they’re struggling too, that it can get better. It’ll be tough but we can do it together.

So, here I am before you, vowing to come back here each day and write. Some days I might share my story because there’s a lot more to share, if you could believe it. Otherwise, I just want to be a reminder to you all to share your story or, if you don’t have one, to be open to listening to others. Maybe you’re the other voice on the line consoling someone or maybe you’re the person thinking you’re screwing it all up. I’ve been there. Hear me when I say you’re not alone.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

The Face of Depression

I’ve spoke of this many times before but feel the need to reiterate it now: depression isn’t always hiding under the covers, frowning or crying all the time. You may be sitting at work next to someone now who is fighting depression or you may pass someone on the street who offers you a smile, all the while fighting their own demons and wondering how they’ll make it through the day.

It’s not secret that I’ve had my own off-and-on battle with depression, I think it’s something I’ll always have to deal with. That’s partially why I haven’t written lately…I wasn’t really sure what to say. So many things have happened around me in the past 6 months that relate to mental health and suicide and I just couldn’t bring myself to write. Until now. I saw this video Chester Bennington’s wife posted on Facebook months after her husband died and I knew I had to share it. Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t, but it’s a good reminder that depression doesn’t isn’t all tears and staying in bed, some people are better at hiding it than others. So use this as a reminder to hug your friends & family and always be open to lend a shoulder or a listening ear to someone who may need it.

Keeping Your Memory Alive

As I drove home from work last night I tried to remember where I was 6 years ago. Thanks to apps like TimeHop & Facebook’s On This Day, I have a slight memory of where I was and what I was doing. I couldn’t tell you much about my mindset on July 6, 2011 but I can tell you this:

I was recently 21, working a summer job at a radio station, which included working a summer event series called Nitefall on the River with this guy named Adam who, on this particular night, walked with me up to the steps of the state capitol and we talked about life, dreams & goals. From there, my mind is a little blank.

It didn’t need to soak up all of the events of the day or the week, the emotions I was feeling or anything else because I had no idea that, in hours, my entire life would be turned upside down.

Six years ago I was broken. My world had stopped spinning and I couldn’t focus on anything in front of me. I wrote last year about how I could still feel everything from that day six years ago; that’s still true today. And, thanks to technology, the messages I sent out six years ago still have the ability to transport me to my broken, 21 year old self who wasn’t sure she could make it through the day.

I reluctantly looked at my apps this morning and saw messages like this:

timeHop

Technology can be a beautiful and terrible thing.

I wasn’t sure if I should write this year. As many of you know, I recently got engaged. And, as the rest of you know, much of this blog is about the life lessons or heartbreak I’ve endured since my boyfriend killed himself six years ago. For many people, those are conflicting. Shouldn’t I have moved on by now? Should I no longer feel heartache for someone I truly loved? I’m sure you all have your opinions. Luckily, I have mine too.

Shortly after Luke died, I got a tattoo of his initials on my foot and, though his mom knew how much I loved him, she warned me that someday I’d move on and it might be tough to explain that to the new man in my life. But I didn’t care, and I don’t care, and I’m lucky enough to be in a relationship where my past is respected and understood.

These blog posts are therapeutic to me and are the best way I can keep Luke’s memory alive. Though years have passed and I’ve opened myself up to loving and being loved, it doesn’t mean that I can’t mourn a love I lost; a best friend who left this Earth long before I ever wanted him to.

I wrote earlier that six years ago I was broken. The year following that, I was just as broken, if not more. I’m not standing before you six years later telling you that I have it all together because I don’t. If we’re being honest, I had a breakdown on Monday night and another one last night. I’m not perfect, I hurt and mourn for people who are long gone and a big portion of me thinks that parts of me will always be broken but it’s that brokenness that reminds me of how much, and who, I’ve had to love in this life.

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