Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let's Talk About Mental Illness: Part 3

One thing I don't think many people realize about mental illness is how connected various disorders are. 

For example, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is often linked with anorexia.  Though I have not suffered from this disorder, dieting is a big challenge for me because of my propensity for extremes and achieving perfection.  If I diet, I restrict myself to the max.  When I count calories, I don't feel I am successful unless I eat much fewer calories than my already low allotment.  On the flip side, if I do not diet, I tend to eat whatever I want whenever I want.  It is very difficult for me to find a middle ground.  Over time and through experience, I have made adjustments.  I am keenly aware of this weakness and strive to keep myself in check.  It is, however, a constant battle.

Similarly, those with OCD often suffer from depression. When an individual has this disorder, there is a level of perfection that he/she is constantly seeking, whether it be 100% cleanliness, perfect obedience to moral law, health, etc.  When that person inevitably falls short of these unrealistic goals, he/she becomes deeply frustrated.  When untreated through therapy and/or medication, obsessive compulsive people live in a perpetual state of failure.  This leads to self-loathing and, sometimes, depression.

Thankfully, depression has not played a significant role in my life.  There was a brief period of time, however, when my inability to achieve all that I demanded of myself became too great for me to bear.  I was serving my mission in Brazil.  As a missionary, we set many goals individually and as a group.  Goals and rules have a completely different connotation for someone with OCD.  If I didn't meet the goals, I failed. It didn't matter what my contribution was; if I didn't do everything exactly right,  all of my offerings were unsatisfactory.  We were challenged to make twenty street contacts a day.  Though I am generally talkative, stopping people in the street was difficult for me. I was lucky if I made three contacts per day, let alone twenty.  Consequently, I felt like the worst missionary in the world. Why did I bother coming on a mission if I was going to fail? Rather than celebrating the small successes, I focused on where I fell short.  I was in agony.  Though I still went through all the motions of what I was supposed to do, I was a zombie.  I began to speak with a counselor over the phone once a week.  She advised me to try medication, and I refused. I was not emotionally ready to accept a diagnosis and a heavy treatment plan.  I chose to rely on my faith in Jesus Christ to help me through the rest of my mission.

There are many out there who may disagree with that decision.  They may scoff at my supposed naivete for thinking that my faith could save me.  But I have always believed in a God of miracles.  He performed a miracle on my mission and broke through the clouds of darkness, blessing me beyond my comprehension.  Halfway through my mission, I was transferred to an area called Passo Fundo and was assigned to work with another sister missionary named Sister Jenny Jones.  She changed my life.  She was an angel on earth, sent by God to heal my heart and teach me what I had not been able to learn on my own.  She taught me how to be obedient and joyful at the same time, something I never mastered before.  We laughed constantly.  We made up operas as we walked in the streets.  We taught the gospel side by side and shared our love for the Savior. We burst out laughing when we stumbled over the Portugues while singing hymns.  She understood the true spirit of missionary work and service in the Lord's kingdom and passed this gift of knowledge to me.  I was happy again.  One of my biggest fears was "relaxing," for fear that I might sin.  But I learned how to let go of my anxiety without feeling disobedient.  Later, she confided that she received a blessing before leaving on her mission that spoke of the significant influence she would have on her companions.

One of the greatest teaching moments of my mission happened at a restaurant when my new mission president and his wife were in town.  There is a dessert in southern Brazil called "torta de bolache" (a cake made with crackers) and it's a favorite among American missionaries.  Sometimes, however, the filling is made with coffee.  Those of you who are familiar with the Mormon faith know that we are counseled not to drink coffee because of the addictive nature of caffeine.  Without knowing, I ate some of the dessert before being alerted.  Though it was an accident and a very small amount, I obsessed over my mistake.  Having an urgent need to confess and be reassured (very typical for individuals with OCD),  I told my mission president's wife about the coffee laced dessert.  She looked at her own plate containing partially eaten torta de bolache, and said, "Oh, whoops!" and took another bite.  I was in awe.  She wasn't angry with herself. She wasn't worried about her standing before God.  She made an honest mistake and realized that, in the scheme of things, it was not a big deal.  She was a righteous, faithful woman who followed the commandments.  She was funny, candid, and delightful.  I admired her deeply, and remembering that experience makes me love and respect her more.  I doubt that's the way she expected to influence the missionaries when she was called to serve, but it is an experience I return to constantly in my mind as a reminder not to "sweat the small stuff." 

When I came home from my mission, the time came for me to seriously consider medication.  I dealt with this disorder my whole life. It was not going away.  But the idea of relying on pills was frightening to me.  I lived as the obsessive version of Katie for 23 years.  It was the non-medicated me who worked hard to get good grades, developed my musicianship, and tried to be a good person. Would taking medication jeopardize me?  Would I stop caring about doing well in school? Would I grow too relaxed and become inactive in the faith I knew was true? As much as I feared medication would change who I was, I knew I had to give it a chance. While I was able to hand my struggle completely over to God for a brief time on my mission, I needed to do my part to stay healthy long-term.  And it turned out to be the right decision for me.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Let's Talk About Mental Illness: Part 2

Scrupulosity: A form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involving religious or moral obsessions.  Scrupulous individuals are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine. 

The above definition comes from, the International OCD Foundation.  To read more about scrupulosity, click here.

I mentioned previously that OCD takes many different forms.  Often, people connect this disorder with extreme cleanliness, fear of germs, frequent hand-washing, or other unique rituals.  If you have seen the TV series "Monk," the main character epitomizes the stereotypical obsessive compulsive individual.  True, OCD sometimes manifests itself in these ways.  In my case, however, I have never been overly concerned about germs and my room is far from organized and tidy.

My biggest fear has always been sin.  And my obsessions revolve around avoiding it at all costs. This is in part because I know that if and when I sin, I will not be able to forgive myself. 

Once, in college, I was backing out of a parking space in the Helaman Halls parking lot at BYU while listening to music.  As the car moved backward, I thought I possibly heard a scraping sound on the right side of my car.  I didn't know if my mind was playing tricks on me or not.  I stopped the car immediately and got outside to look.  The car next to me had seen better years, and it was too difficult to tell if I caused any damage.  But I could not let it go. What if I really did scrape the car and I drove away without confessing what I had (possibly) done? I could never, in a million years, live with myself.  Because there was no way for me to be certain as to whether or not I actually scraped the car, I decided the only way to ease my mind was to reenact the scenario. I pulled back in to the parking space and tried to back out the exact same way I did before.  This time, however, I most definitely DID hit the car next to me.  I ended up leaving a note on the car with my number and no one ever contacted me.

As I recounted that story to my parents, I realized I had a problem I needed to fix.  But deciding to go on medication to control irrational thoughts is not an easy choice, nor is it one I made spontaneously.  It took over a year of the idea brewing before I brought myself to give it a chance.  More on that in a future installment.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Let’s Talk About Mental Illness: Part 1

When I was in high school, I hated required reading for classes.  Ironically, English was my favorite subject. To this day, writing and reading are two of my favorite pastimes. Yet, I struggled whenever I was graded on completion of reading assignments. 
When knew I was being graded on what I read, I was obsessive.  If I didn’t focus on every single word of every single line, I felt like I would be lying if I reported 100% on my reading.  Therefore, I would read the same lines over and over again until I felt like I had given each line the appropriate amount of attention.  Needless to say, reading for homework was a painful process, and one I did not look forward to.  I was dead set, however, on getting good grades, so this created a lot of inner turmoil.
Reading scriptures in my LDS seminary class for homework and reporting it for credit always brought my semester grade down, even though I had near perfect attendance.  It was humiliating to me.  I felt like I failed.  I was supposed to read ten minutes a day; however, if I got distracted during any of that time or did not read for the whole ten minutes, how could I give an honest answer to my seminary teacher? I could never live with the guilt accompanying “lying.” It was better to be safe and tell the whole truth.
Fast forward to college. For a (very) brief moment in time, I contemplated majoring in philosophy of BYU.  This stemmed from my love of English.  I enrolled in two philosophy classes, one being the history of philosophy.  There was an exorbitant amount of required reading, and it was undeniably complex.  We were given a grade at the end of the semester for how many pages we read and this factored heavily in to our semester grade.  Skimming was not a skill I developed, as I did not feel like it was honest.  I put off most of my reading until the end of the semester.  When it came time to report how many pages we read at the end of our written final on the last day before winter break, I knew I had some time on the airplane to get some extra reading done and thus ensure my A- in the class.  Our final paper was due at 5:00 p.m. with the number of pages we read written at the bottom.   With some hesitation, I wrote down about fifty more pages than I had yet read and turned it in before the deadline.  As I traveled home to California that night, I read voraciously to make an honest woman out of myself and finish reading the pages I reported.
I lived with intense guilt for years after that semester.  I felt like I did not deserve my scholarship, or even a diploma.  I agonized over the choice I made. Because I didn’t finish reading until midnight that day and the number of pages I read were due at 5:00 p.m., I lied. I cheated.  I was undeserving of the A-.  Getting good grades helped me get part of my schooling paid for through a scholarship funded by tithing. I was not only lying, I was stealing money from church members.
I could not let it go. I asked for constant reassurance from my family; yet, their validation did not help.  Even if I did finish the fifty pages on the airplane, what if I didn’t read all the pages I reported well enough? What if I skipped words or didn’t focus?  What if I skimmed some of it or didn’t pay attention?
It got to the point where I could not stomach the suffering any longer.  I looked up the email address for my History of Philosophy professor from my freshman year at least two or three years later.  The class was large and there was no way he would remember me.  But I had to tell him everything.  I sent him an email with all the facts.  His response was brief.  Since I completed the reading before the day was over, it was okay and I did not need to worry about it any longer.
The tragedy in this story is that I wasted copious amounts of energy suffering over something that was not worthy of that much attention.  But to me, it was monumental.  It took over my mind.   
Writing a book about my journey with mental illness has been one of my goals for quite some time.  I remember reading a book about people who struggled in the same way I did and feeling so much relief that I was not alone.  Don't get me wrong...I am the first to admit that I lead quite a charmed life.  I am blessed with an incredible family, a job I love,  and dear friends.  My body is healthy. But no one escapes mortality without challenges.  My biggest trials happen to be invisible to the untrained eye.  There are plenty of high profile individuals who have money, fame, and adoration coming out their ears, but they are tortured by something no one can see.  It is easy to assume they have an ideal life without realizing that many trials are suffered privately in one's own mind.   
My actual diagnosis is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety, but the forms OCD takes for each individual are vast.  My experience is not identical to any one else; my hope in sharing this, however, is that there are individuals who can relate to a small portion of my experience.  Or, that there are people who can better understand or love someone who has experiences similar to mine. 
Mental illness is often considered taboo to discuss.  If you have liver failure or a heart defect, you are considered sick.  If you are mentally ill, you are considered crazy.  These may seem like gross generalizations, but I am confident they are opinions shared by many.  Taking medication for a mental illness is seen as a lack of self-mastery. The first time I started going to formal therapy and taking medication for my condition was after my mission.  My first psychologist, Dr. MacArthur, changed my life.  He helped me see that I did not have to live in constant angst simply because my brain was formed differently than many.  Peace of mind was possible through therapy and well-researched medication.  Recently, he posted this comic on his Facebook page to illustrate various attitudes towards individuals who struggle with mental illness.

 I remember the Thanksgiving after I started taking medication to help control my obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors. We were going around the table and sharing one thing we were thankful for. I began to cry as I shared my gratitude for modern medicine.  It wasn't until I started being treated for my illness that I learned what healthy living was really all about.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Happy Birthday to our tiny Cougar!

My best guy friend turns one tomorrow. 


This was the first glimpse I ever got of him on my phone. I burst in to tears when I saw it!

To celebrate his big day, Scotty's family threw him a BYU tailgate party!

Tina asked me to help her figure out how to display Scotty's 12 pictures from each month of his life.  With a cardboard box and paper from American Crafts, plus an hour and a half watching Royal Pains, this is what happened.

Lane and I performed the halftime show with a special arrangement of, "Wheels on the Bus" just for Scotty P.
Scotty loooooves hi work bench from Granna and Papa! And so does his little friend Nile.
Okay, fine, the sweater vest was from me. So of course that's what I took a picture of.  But the elephant in the bottom right corner was from his other Aunt Katie, and I think that's secretly his favorite present. The look of delight when he grabbed it and held it close was priceless.

In conclusion, it's safe to say I'm a little obsessed with this child.




He has brought me unspeakable joy. I love you, Monkus.

Gratitude: The Single Most Important Thing

I am a downright hypocrite. There. I said it. The secret is out. 

But, to be fair, I think many of us are guilty of this, and more often than we realize.  Allow me to elaborate. 

I created a list today of unfair judgements I am guilty of looking at others and making:
  • At a 26 year old woman, saddened by still being single: "She's still in the YSA wards. She has lots of time to meet people and date.  She has no idea what real loneliness feels like." 
  • At a woman heartbroken about not being able to conceive a second child: "She has a husband who loves her and one beautiful child already.  Doesn't she know how much luckier she is than many?"
  • At a mother trying to decide if she should stay home with her kids instead of working outside the home: "She should be grateful she has that choice to make." 
  • At a mom who is frustrated because her husband is gone a lot and she has to take care of her family alone: "She should be happy she has a family to take care of at all."
Of course, these aren't thoughts that I verbalize. They creep in to my heart and fester at the back of my mind, causing me to feel ungrateful for what I have and focus on what I lack.  As I look at this list, I am filled with disgust at how easy it is to diminish others' pain and suffering, especially when I feel so justified in my own. 

 Next to the first list, I made a second with comments people could make about me just as easily.
  • "She's only 31 years old and just barely entered the Mid-Singles scene.  She has lots of time to meet people and date.  She has never felt the agony of losing a spouse or going through a divorce. She has no idea what real pain and loneliness feel like."
  • "She has two legs that walk and run, two ears that hear, two eyes that see, and a voice that sings and communicates her feelings.  Doesn't she realize how much luckier she is than many?"
  • "She should feel grateful she has the freedom and opportunity to explore her ambitions, develop her passions, and strive to make a difference in the world."
  • "She should be happy she has two supportive parents who love her, siblings who are her best friends, and a roommate who is understanding and kind." 
Making these side by side comparisons humbles me deeply. And I realize it is much easier for me to continue the list of all the things I DO have than further develop the list of what is missing. 

Does the longing I feel as I look at others' lives make me a horrible human being? No. It simply makes me a human being.  But, if I fail to stop and recognize how truly blessed I am, I am in danger of leading a life full of resentment and sadness, rather than one full of gratitude and joy for all that I get to do and become in mortality.

And a resentful life is no kind of life at all. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Longest Life Update in the History of Ever

Well, two months have come and gone. I have never gone so long without writing on my blog.  I think I'm in a blog writer's funk.  Who knows if this will persist. But it's 4:42 in the morning and I can't sleep.  My blog is my memory album, among other things, so I cannot desist for family history's sake.  I'm doing it for the children.

So here we go...

Preston's Mission Farewell

I sang, "Come Thou Fount" at my cousin Preston's mission farewell in October.  I got really sick with the whole cold situation for 24 hours this fall, which happened to be exactly the day I was singing. Sweet, right? But it wasn't the end of the world. It was still a special experience for me and I am so excited for darling Preston! Sheralyn and Les have raised such great boys! When I walked in to their church, I had to do a double take when I saw Sister Olason-Tourney sitting at the organ.  She and Leonard are in my cousin's ward! It felt like I was right back home in the Goleta Valley ward in Santa Barbara!

I'm obsessed with him.

We all went shopping the week before together at Downeast outfitters during Priesthood session and showed up wearing our spoils the next Sunday.

The Sweet Sounds of Jazz

Thanks to incredible parents and students, our annual fall dessert fundraiser was a huge success. This year's theme was very close to my heart...JAZZ! Some favorite songs from the program included "Linus and Lucy", "Bumblebee" (performed original by The Real Group), and "Moonriver."  Also, we had student soloists who absolutely rocked the house- one kid sang "Fly me to the Moon" and he brought down the house.  We combined on the last sang with the Chamber Orchestra for Ellington's, "Come Sunday."  That was a little rough due to me being anxious and making some significant conducting errors, but hopefully it wasn't as noticeable to everyone else!

I have the most amazing choir council.  My president's mom made me this beautiful Hawaiian lei that I will keep forever.

Fall Carnival

The stake YM/YW are in charge of a fall carnival every year the week before Halloween.  It's a huge community event.  All of the wards set up booths for the kids and we have corn dogs and prizes kids can redeem with ticket.  I decided to be economical with my costume this year and use the queen bee outfits Traci made us for Girls Camp!

This beanie killed me.

Best ever twins costumes!

Paige and Grant's 4th Birthday!

A couple of our mini besties had a birthday! We just love Paigey and Grant!

After only 2 hours (!!!) I finally got my nails the way I wanted them for Halloween week. Please note the spider web.
We went to Grandma's for her annual Halloween dinner!
Is this woman a doll or what?!
Are you kidding me with that bow tie?!

Michelle and I saw "Thriller" with some of her friends!

I switched it up for Halloween day at Highland by being "Diva Queen Bee" so I'd have an excuse to wear the outrageous purple fake eyelashes my brother put in my stocking last year!

I think my students were a little surprised that I actually dressed up.  I normally don't enjoy dressing up that much, but this year was kind of fun!

Young Women in Excellence: My Personal Pathway to the Temple

Our final stake YW activity of the year turned out beautifully.  I can take zero credit for the amazing decorations, but I had to share pictures of them to remember for the future.  Traci was in charge of the decor, with a lot of help from Janeen.

Traci asked leaders to display their wedding and/or temple dresses.
Each girl got a little handkerchief dress with a poem.

I was in charge of the year end slideshow and the special musical number.  Preparing for the musical number was an incredible experience.  I found a simple arrangement of, "I Love to See the Temple" with a descant.  We got about 13 girls from different wards to come to practice the Sunday before.  During that rehearsal, I felt prompted to share with the girls my testimony of the temple.  I told them, "It will be ten years this June since I went through the temple for the first time. I never thought I would be alone after ten years of going to the temple.  But it's because of the temple that it's okay that I am alone." I then talked about how the temple has supported me, comforted me, and strengthened me.  As a presidency, we talked a lot about making sure the girls realize that, while marriage is one of our most treasured eternal goals, everyone's pathway to the temple is unique. Receiving temple endowments is a very sacred, personal experience and it should be our focus, whether married or single.  As a mid-single YW leader, I feel like sharing my own experience is maybe the most valuable thing I can contribute and possibly the only thing a young woman who goes through a similar experience will remember.  I want to help girls to realize that happiness is living the gospel, plain and simple.And if I can do that...this trial of my faith will be of great worth to me. 
I love, admire, and look up to these women so much.

November Randoms
Allie and Chris are some of Michelle's and my best friends and neighbors. We have dinner together, go to Yogurtland, and watch Cosby every Tuesday.  We've been going strong for at least a year now.  Allie made soup the other week and provided the most incredible gluten-free bread I have ever eaten.
Lane generously donated his time to come perform at our mattress fundraiser!

...along with many students. It was a fun day and we raised $5500 total as a dance, choir, and instrumental department.

My dear Nicole and I had a sleepover.  Nicole is one of the most Christlike, beautiful people I have ever known.  She makes everyone she is with feel like a million bucks.  We are so lucky to have her in our family!

Jessame's sister invited Michelle and I to a "Favorite Things" party.  We each bring three of something we absolutely love under $10 (it's supposed to be three of the same thing but I couldn't help getting three different designs).  I am a stationary freak for those who don't know.  Paper Source has the cutest cards.  Michelle got me some for Christmas two years ago and I absolutely love them.  Can't wait to see what I exchange these for at the party!
After 2.5 years in my cute little apartment, our landlady sold the condo and we had to find a new place to live.  We find a darling little place that happens to be in my exact stake! I don't know how that happened, but it did. And I am so, so grateful.  We have to furnish it, though (we got a slamming deal at our last place).  Michelle told me about this consignment shop on State Street. A. Mazing.  I found this couch/love seat set which seriously looked new for $625.  I made an impulsive decision to buy it after only 20 minutes of walking in to the store. Michelle bought our kitchen table after only about 10 minutes! But I don't think either one of us regret it at all.  I am going back there for all my furniture needs!  I've never had my very own couch before. I kind of feel like an adult or something.