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.

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Technology can be a butthole: a memoir

*FULL DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links. Probably. 

Up until recently I taught writing, including blogging, at BYU-Idaho (where you are most definitely not allowed to use the word “butthole.”) Now that I’m trying to delve deeper into the blogosphere and make what’s it called? oh, money doing it, I offer a deep, throaty laugh of resentment.

Amazon affiliates, anyone? Send help/experts.

I digress.

But I have a point with all of this.

Authenticity.

When I taught about blogging, I often had a florescent-lit sea of blank, slightly terrified, faces staring back up at me.

They didn’t know how or often what to blog. Each semester our class discussion would arrive at the same destination: Authenticity. There are a handful of key difference between mundane content and masterful content. For me, one of the most important is authenticity.

The Return of the Whitlocks

And lately, I’ve been brooding about this very subject. Itching to write about my new life in Arizona, inhibited by my own internal stream of criticism and overarching need for perfection.

Continue reading “Technology can be a butthole: a memoir”

You too? I love you.

 

Today I couldn’t help but smile as my daughter clapped as she watched Moana.
“Yea, Moana!” she said over and over.
Moana had just come across the boats hidden deep within her island, revealing her people’s past as great voyagers, adventurers.
Moana is brave and empowering.
I was proud my daughter has such a strong role model.
Then I hopped on Facebook.
Now I’m clapping. Clapping for my brave and empowering sisters and brothers who are coming forward with two simple words:
#metoo

Continue reading “You too? I love you.”

Can everyone just shut up about breastfeeding?

I’ve about had it.

Can we all just collectively agree that parenting is hard. Any aspect of it. Motherhood, fatherhood, pregnancy, infertility – all of it. It is HARD.

But my goodness, if we don’t make it harder for each other than we need to.

I came across a Facebook post earlier today that talked about how women aren’t “lucky” to be able to breastfeed, they are just more determined and stubborn than you. While this wasn’t the exact wording, this was the clear message.

I walked away feeling like the only difference between moms that breastfeed and moms that don’t is their sheer desire to give their baby what’s best.

I call a big, fat, hearty load of B.S.

Continue reading “Can everyone just shut up about breastfeeding?”

The love that was missing from my marriage

I don’t know if it was because of my unrealistic expectations on marriage or the hundreds of romantic comedies I’d watched in the quarter of a century I lived before marriage, but I wasn’t prepared to be a wife. I wasn’t prepared for marriage.

Not the romantic, annoying, yucky love stuff. I was pretty good at that, as evidenced by my social media. I’m still sorry for every obnoxious selfie Eric and I shared for the first two years of our marriage. I’m still just as obsessed with my husband and now we’ve added two babes to the mix who are squishy, sassy bundles of pure joy.

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I love my family. I love my marriage. I love my life.

What was missing from the equation for quite a while was a love for myself.

Specifically, in my new role as a wife and later, a mother.

It was like being doused with a bucket of cold water the other day when I came across a friend’s Instagram post. Sonja was married a little under a year ago, and posted some raw thoughts on how she had felt so lost since being married. Of course she was happy, ridiculously so, but still, something was off.

I felt every word that she wrote so deeply. I too struggled with depression after getting married. Even more so when I was pregnant and after the birth of both of my babies.

It’s hard. Change in any form is hard.

I spent years, 25 to be exact, trying to figure out who the heck I was. I spent thousands of dollars on schooling. I invested countless hours in creating a social scene and a niche in that scene. I made friends who shaped my interests and personality. I spent 18 months serving a mission, carving out yet another piece of myself. I developed hobbies and passions, including my beloved blog.

Then poof.

Suddenly, all of that was put on hold for a minute and my sole focus was on this amazing man who had waltzed into my life. I’m not ashamed of my tunnel vision. I was in love. It happens.

While we were dating I was swept away in the fantasy of it all. It was a magical, nearly perfect time of life for me.

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When the fairy dust settled after our wedding and honeymoon — spoiler alert — life kept happening. And suddenly, I had to try to make pieces of my old life, my old self, fit into this new life. It was awkward to say the least. My husband was amazing in every way. I just felt…off.

Eric worked two jobs, often late into the night. I was working as a writer for the Deseret News. I enjoyed my work. I loved seeing Eric when I could. We had lots of Harry Potter marathons and went out to eat often so I could avoid cooking us dinner at 11 pm.

I was happy, but…

There was always that big, fat, bootylicious BUT in the back of my mind.

I felt like I was out of place in my own life. It was awful. And no one prepared me for it.

I struggled like this for quite awhile. Hindsight has given me the words. But during the thick of it all, it just felt uncomfortable. Like I was lost, but didn’t know what I was really looking for.

I’ve learned since then; I was looking for myself. At least a familiar version of her.

Because you see, I had it all wrong.

I learned at an early age that you are responsible for your own happiness. Rather than placing a deadline on your happiness, like “I’ll be happy when I graduate,” or “I could be happy if I just had a boyfriend,” I always tried to be happy exactly as I was.

What that gave me was a lot of time to develop things I loved about myself.

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I value my education deeply. I became a journalist after college and worked for a few different newspapers. I blogged, and wrote columns for a local news organization. I now teach journalism at BYU-Idaho.

mission

I valued my mission. It taught me a love of people, a love of teaching and an unshakable faith in and love of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

School, friends, hobbies, mission, everything I had filled my life with before marriage and motherhood had made me who I was. I knew that God had directed me to all of those things before I married Eric and before Bellamy and Lincoln came along.

One day, during a total emotional breakdown about motherhood, the Spirit taught me a very important lesson.

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If God had led me to all of these wonderful things, my education, my career, my blog, my hobbies, it was for a purpose. And that purpose didn’t suddenly evaporate once I became a wife and mother.

All of those things about me were a part of me, and still needed to be a part of me.

Rather than creating a new version of myself, this revelation allowed me to rise from the ashes of my single life, a better, more complete version of myself. It helped me to love myself.

Instead of dropping everything I loved outside of my family to support a husband and raise children, I could use everything that I had developed in myself FOR my family. I didn’t suddenly stop being me and loving the things I loved.

It helped me to understand God’s plan for my life a bit more. I knew that as a mother I could teach my children the importance of education by continuing my own. I could teach them the value of work by balancing a job along with my motherhood. I could teach them the truths of our faith as I strive to live them each day.

My past is what will make me a better wife, a better mother. My past is what has led me to my family now. I can’t simply abandon it.

Back to my friend Sonja. She gave some wise advice about redefining her life. She’s absolutely right. I find that I am still redefining my life as I cling gratefully to the best parts of my past that has given me such a wonderful present.

Now I know that everyone’s path is different. So please, don’t compare yours to mine. Instead, be you unapologetically. You are what your family needs. You are what your children need. Become the best version of yourself.

Because you deserve the best.

Check out Sonja’s blog, The Joubert Den, where she blogs about life, marriage, faith and fashion.

An accidental vacation

I recently wrote about my desires to live more intentionally. Well, sometimes life offers you a chance for spontaneity and you have to take it.

Such was the case for the Whitlock Family {Accidental} Summer Vacation 2017.

Last Wednesday I decided to take our kids to visit my mom. I had gotten off the phone with her early that morning and told Eric, “I need to go to Utah today.” He thought I was crazy agreed and rearranged a few things at work so he could come too while I packed up our car for a couple days in Utah.

On the way there, we heard the news that Eric’s sister’s water had just broken and she was having her sweet baby girl, Eden. We joked about going to Arizona after our time in Utah.

Eric and I looked at each other.

“Why don’t we?” I said.

Continue reading “An accidental vacation”

Life, intentionally

Last time I blogged, I got pretty real about my struggle with postpartum depression.

I’d like to get real again and sing the praises of my doctor and modern medicine. I started medication for my PPD over a month ago. It has been quite literally life changing. I feel like I have walked out of a haze and fog into the brilliant sunlight. It has helped my mind return to equilibrium. 

Since starting the medication, I have found so much joy in motherhood. Part of that has been the SSRIs, and part, I’d like to think, has been my resolve to live more intentionally. What you may not know is that I suffered from debilitating depression my entire second pregnancy. One day I’ll write about it. But not yet.

Continue reading “Life, intentionally”