What anxiety has taught me about unconditional love

First things first, when I die, please write this on my headstone:

“I’m sorry for all the Internet messages I never responded to.”

I am overwhelmed and humbled by your response to my last post. Thank you to all who have reached out to me. I’m still working on responding. I appreciate your kindness more than I can say.

This last week since writing about my ongoing struggles with mental illness has been a gradual incline.

Things look a little brighter on my end. Oh, after, that is, an epic emotional breakdown five minutes into our Valentine’s date on Tuesday. We always seem to celebrate on February 13. It’s sentimental for us because five years ago on that date we decided to get married.

Eric showed me again just what a perfect choice he was for me.

He could tell I was on the edge before we left the house.

I was feeling shaken by something silly.

I didn’t have anything to wear.

It’s shameful, really. Now looking back on it with a lucid perspective I see just how flawed and ill my rational was. I was devastated that I had nothing to wear for a night out with my husband, none of my clothes fit (thanks baby weight) and my hair just wasn’t working, why didn’t Eric have a job yet, we are so broke, my kids won’t stop screaming, I have no control over anything in my life….

Needless to say. I was spiraling.

That’s what my anxiety looks like sometimes.

It’s an illogical attack on my reality. It starts with a spark of frustration, sometimes a spark of unexpected pain or setback, and my world unravels.

Did I really have a breakdown over finding something to wear?

Of course not.

My emotions had simply reached full capacity and something had to be released. This was simply the catalyst to my emotional catastrophe.

Often, the release comes through tears. Sometimes anger. Sometimes inexplicable sadness.

It’s an analogy I’ve used before: It’s like someone letting the air out of a balloon. It’s noisy and ungraceful.

This was no different. I have been balancing a lot of changes in my life. Many of which, I feel powerless to. This feeling of powerlessness is a huge trigger for my anxiety. It stems from painful experiences from my past that I am still working to overcome.

As we drove out of our neighborhood, Eric quietly asked me if I wanted to talk about anything.

“NO! I DON’T,” I screamed.

Uh, oh, I thought. Here it comes. This isn’t going to go well. Keep it together. 

But then, everything I had been feeling, that I had been trying to smooth out like a PR liaison between my brain and my emotions in a time of corporate crisis, came spilling out of my mouth frantically.

My thoughts didn’t let up either. Stop it. Don’t do this. You’re ruining everything. You’ve ruined Eric’s night. He can’t stand being married to you. Just get over it. You ruin everything. 

“I feel so crazy,” I bawled.

Eric had pulled into an alley in a small business complex to let me get everything out. A sweet little Asian family was taking out the garbage from their restaurant and their worried, non-covert glances in my direction did little to help me feel more sane.

I kept sobbing, trying to get the words out.

I was in a full on panic attack.

I have no purpose. There’s no use for me. I have no meaning. And other lies rushed across the marquee of negativity in my mind.

Hyperventilating. Snot. Tears. Dizzy from crying.

There was no escaping this.

“I’m so sorry, Eric. I’m so sorry I ruin everything.”

I was referring to my mental illness and how so often it is the uninvited third wheel in our marriage.

“You don’t ruin anything, Emmilie.”

Eric held me in his arms, gave me glove compartment napkins to dry my tears and encouraged me to let all of my emotions out.

He doesn’t understand. Nobody understands. 

Well, I knew someone did.

The Savior.

But I could barely think of him. I had spiraled so deep into my black hole I could barely see my hands in front of my own face, let alone a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

“Please help me.” It was the best I could do.

Like all breakdowns do, this one eventually came to an end. The crying stopped. My breathing steadied. I was able to speak calmly and coherently again. There was no crescendo of clarity that placed each emotion into its proper place. No lightbulb moment that helped me diagnose my own cataclysm.

Sometimes, the monster wins and pain, anxiety, grief will have its way.

And then, I realized the irony of it all.

Here we were on Valentine’s Day. Eric’s tender kindness had navigated me through the minefields of my mind.

When I was all done crying, Eric asked me what I wanted to do.

I didn’t know. I asked him the same question.

“Anything,” he said. “I just want to be with you.”

“How are you real??” I asked him.

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Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I could find someone who could see me in such a vulnerable state — at my lowest of lows — and love me so unconditionally.

He held me in his arms and I felt grateful and guilty for how perfectly he loves me.

I’m working to turn that guilt into nothing but pure gratitude.

We decided on Panda Express for dinner. He surprised me with a gift that made me laugh. We held hands during a movie.

Eric has a saying he shares with me when I’m at my lowest.

“I’m going to hug you so tight that all your broken pieces will fit back together.”

I don’t deserve his unconditional love and support, yet he freely gives it again and again.

I’m grateful to the Savior, who gave me the perfect husband for me always, and especially when I am in a spiral of despair. It’s Eric that helps me see the light on the edge of the horizon when I feel all hope is lost. It’s Eric that helps me remember the Savior because he is such a good example of His love.

I don’t deserve His unconditional love and support, yet He freely gives it again and again.

I’m grateful for the perspective my mental illness gives me. I truly believe that it has helped me to see beauty in dark places.

I believe that our weaknesses can become strengths through Christ. It’s something I’m working on daily.

What weaknesses do you battle? How are you turning them into strengths?

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” – Ether 12:27

On a less spiritual note, however, I have to show you the gift Eric got me for Valentine’s. It’s under my  “Current Obsessions” tab on the blog and you can find it here. Butt jokes are my favorite jokes. Like I said. How is he real??

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Here’s the thing about mental illness

Here’s the thing about mental illness.

It’s really, really lonely.

Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that for me, some of it can be self-inflicted. I’m a champion shutter-outer. For me, it numbs the pain of feeling any emotion at all, a welcome bliss. But it comes at an ugly cost: Alienation.

A lot of the loneliness I feel is simply because of our societal narrative about mental illness. It’s the giant lie that goes roughly like this: “Doing” will fix you.

Well, how often are you working out?

Are you getting out of the house?

Are you being positive?

Are you taking your medication?

Are you saying your prayers reading your scriptures going to church having faith attending the temple regularly etc. etc. etc???

Yaaaaaaas.

Sure, some of these things are tried and true and will very much help mental illness. But not always.  I’m doing all of those things — some of them to a fault — and I still feel like I’m drowning.

I realized just how deep I had plunged when I was on my back last night during yoga looking up at the dotted ceiling some 20 feet above me, staring into the florescent lights trying to fight off the abyss that was threatening to overwhelm me.

I love yoga and how I can normally leave everything on the mat, recalibrating my thoughts that are all too often bombarded with negativity and self-criticism.

But not always. And certainly not tonight.

Because that’s the thing about mental illness. Sometimes, the illness wins. This dark monster has once again set up basecamps in my brain and heart and it honestly feels like nothing I do can conquer it.

It feels terrible to admit this, and I’m sorry for anyone who takes offense. It’s not intended with a capital NOT. But I’ve often wished that I could have battled cancer or heart disease instead of mental illness. I’m sure this is a morbid, selfish thought, but here’s why.

Cancer is a socially acceptable illness. If you’re undergoing chemotherapy, no one tells you to just try being positive. Masses of people ranging from loved ones to Internet strangers run 5Ks and share GoFund me accounts to help support you, building a community around you.

Mental illness is often discussed in whispers in corners or somber tones across family councils that look an awful lot like interventions.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not begging for charity, money or sympathy. Heavens, no. I’m looking for community. I’m looking for an acceptable way to grieve my illness, to struggle and stagger through my symptoms without the heavy weight of stigma bearing down on me.

Oh well, she’s just lazy.

Oh, she’s just looking for attention.

Oh, my gosh, she’s writing about depression again (eye-rolling emoji).

She just needs to apply herself.

She needs to snap out of it.

No. I just have a mental illness.

I hope, oh, how I hope, that these words will help someone else feel like they are not alone.

YOU DO NOT SUFFER ALONE IN THE SHADOWS.

Well, it probably feels like you do.

I hid in my room all day Sunday, trying to quiet my sobs as my family gathered for dinner. I was too ashamed to face them; too ashamed of my debilitating illness that had intensified over the weekend. Because I have no visible scars. Instead, I have a smile on my face and this blog where I try so hard to be positive about negative things.

Here’s the thing about mental illness. It shouldn’t be this way.

I don’t want a fundraiser. I don’t need it.

I don’t want a 5k or GoFund me. I want understanding. Empathy. Someone who will listen without judgement. So many of you readers have listened as you’ve read my words and I’m truly grateful.

I crave that compassion and understanding about this incredibly difficult cross to bear as a wife and as a mother and a human in general.

Please, if you know someone who is struggling with mental illness, love them. Let them know you are thinking of them. Validate their feelings rather then telling them what they should be DOING.

Chances are, they are doing literally everything in their power to fight, to survive, to hang on.

I’ve always been so impressed with bloggers who write about themselves or a family member, chronicling a physical illness, or a recovery from a major accident. They create that incredible community of love and hope as they share recovery and healing updates.

About a year ago, I wanted to do the same for my struggle with prenatal and then postpartum depression. Truthfully, I was far too broken to write then. I feel very broken now. But I believe with my whole heart and soul that God gives us our unique challenges for a purpose. Our job, or at least my job, is to share them in the hopes of lifting another.

So please. Join with me during my continuous fight to improve my mental health. I’m going to write about it, so read it or don’t. I only ask for your empathy and community. I love you, and hope to offer the same to you in whatever monsters you may face.

Because here’s the thing about mental illness.

Our discussions about it have to change. Let’s do it together.