Sunday, November 30, 2014

Let's Talk About "Mental Illness": Part 5

The other day, I was chatting with my sister-in-law about this series.  I addressed the stigma that mental illness is often viewed as something controllable by the individual.  Many think it's "all in one's head."  She said, "Yes, just look at what people call it...mental illness" [emphasis added]. I always knew something sounded off with that designation.  Do any readers have better suggestions? What can it be called to illustrate what it really is?

One of the biggest battles I fight as a sufferer of OCD is learning to love and accept myself.  I constantly dwell on all the areas where I am falling short, and they are magnified in my mind. I couldn't understand why this was something so difficult for me to overcome. I had parents and siblings who loved and supported me endlessly. They constantly told me they were proud of me and loved me. But it was never enough to satisfy my need for perfection.  Good wasn't good enough. People often say, "Do your best. That's all anyone can ask of you." But I always rebutted this idea in my mind.  I thought, "If I am really trying my best, I wouldn't make mistakes. I know how I am supposed to act; therefore, when I don't do it, I am not trying my best." 

When I was in the music ed program in college, I was required to participate in  master classes with all the other vocal emphasis majors. They were horrifying.  We had to prepare a song to sing in front of the group and wait while our professor gave us public feedback.  I was particularly self-conscious because I was an education major and not a vocal performance major.  My voice, therefore, was not at the same level as some of my vocal performance peers.  The first time I had to perform in this group setting, I fasted and prayed for at least a week beforehand so I could conquer my fear.

During one particular master class, I was in a group with a professor in the vocal performance department who I didn't know well because he was not one of my class instructors or my voice teacher.  I sang my piece and waited for his response.  He looked at me and said, "Katie, you are very hard on yourself."  I nodded, as this is something I was accustomed to hearing.  He then uttered words that bore in to my soul:  "But because you're hard on yourself, you're also hard on other people." I was stunned and, quite frankly, mortified.  Never before had I considered that I imposed my own struggle to accept myself on other people.  He was telling me I held myself and everyone else to an impossible standard.  I don't really remember what he said after that, but it doesn't matter. I got the message.

Later, my professor apologized to me for saying something so personal in front of my peers, especially when he didn't know me very well.  But I think it was an inspired message.  I don't know how he hit the nail on the head when he barely knew my name.  No one else in that class will ever remember what he said.  I doubt he remembers. But I will never, ever forget. I reflect on that evening often. He was right. I spent a good deal of time judging others.  That's how my mind was programmed because I was judging myself the rest of the time. 

I have changed a lot since that class nearly ten years ago.  Medication has definitely helped; however, a huge part of OCD is stepping away from one's own mind and recognizing irrational thoughts.  These are techniques I learned in therapy.  I can now accept my own imperfections much more readily as I see them for what they really are: Human.  Normal. Acceptable.  Opportunities to grow.  I also accept the weaknesses of others. Before, everything seemed black and white. Follow the rules and you are good.  Break the rules and you are bad.  There was only one way to reach the end goal: do everything right all the time  Now, I recognize there are millions of journeys to eternal happiness, and none of them are bad.  In fact, what I before recognized as the one and only route I now see as laden with misunderstanding.  There are better ways to get there. 

A friend recently asked me about my favorite scriptures.  Ether 12 is one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Mormon because I connect it in many ways to my struggles with anxiety.  Here are a few of my favorite parts with notes on why they resonate with me.  I hope they can bring comfort to someone else.

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

It is my faith in God that is my anchor when I lose faith in myself. I pray to Him and he never fails to show me his boundless love for me in His own way.  

 For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.

 12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

I remind myself of this often when it feels like the Lord hasn't heard my prayers for relief.  I must first exercise my faith in Him.  It is only after that He blesses me with a miracle.  But He is always there. This verse reminds me to hold on for the miracle.  It will come.  

 27 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.

I have read this verse many times. It was one we studied in seminary when I was in high school.  But as I reflected on it last night, I saw the last phrase in an entirely new light.  Through faith, my weaknesses can be made strong; this doesn't mean, however, that they will go away.  It means that I will draw strength from them.  My weaknesses will also strengthen me as a person.  They will give me courage.  For me, sharing my story with others who may be similarly struggling is part of the journey of finding strength in my weakness.

 29 And I, Moroni, having heard these words, was comforted, and said: O Lord, thy righteous will be done, for I know that thou workest unto the children of men according to their faith;

The gospel brings me so much comfort and joy. God is real. His love is constant.  

 41 And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Thanksgiving Break

 I am taking a small break from my mental illness series to record my most wonderful weekend with the family of my dreams :-).

We spend Christmas together every other year. Sometimes, on the off year, we are fortunate enough to get together for Thanksgiving.  When we do, we do, "Thanksmas" and have a mini celebration to exchange our Christmas gifts.

To kick off the long weekend, Anna made this absolutely TDF gluten free muffins. Because my sister-in-law and niece are both gluten-free as well, my family does a lot of GF cooking when we are all together and it's heavenly.


Our appetizer, made by ALH

We introduced Shana to "White Christmas!" Love, love, love this movie.

We began a tally of how many times Anna gets called Christina and vise versa.  Right now, it's about 16 for Anna and 4 for Tina. Poor Annie Buddah. I'm one of the WORST offenders.

It's the family joke (except it's rue) that I am in charge of setting the table whenever we all get together.  I used to hate cooking and would rather do anything else. I actually like it much better now, but setting the table is still my special job.

Ella helped me make place-cards.

Scotty borrowed cousin Keiana's rain boots.
Just missing Daddat!
One of the best parts of the meal was gravy made from the turkey drippings and thickened with corn starch to keep it GF.
They had one job...
It was so fun that Keiana could join us! Don't she and Anna look alike?

The two that made it all possible...
I know you probably think I'm biased, but there isn't a sweeter brother in the world...

We opened our traditional holiday crackers with crowns, jokes, and prizes inside. We Houstons just love those crowns.

Sweet photo bomb, cuz.

Cutie Mommy!

Watching this masterpiece is our yearly holiday tradition. I can basically guarantee we are the only family in the world with this tradition, as there are few people who even know this movie exists. But we can all quote most of it.  "I love you Snowball. I love you very, very much!"
I love this sweet little girl so much.
Still lovebirds :-).
Anna got in touch with the Julia Child within this vacation, as per usual. 

One of Ella's favorite thing to do is play animal.  So far, she has been a puppy, horsey, kitty, frog...and I probably missed several.  It is the cutest thing. I don't think I've ever met a child that loves animals as much as she does!


We took the kids to my grandfather's farm to visit the animals.  As you may have guessed, this was especially a treat for Miss. Ella!
Too bright!

Anna, Joe and I spent a good part of the day making this Christmas craft out of scrapbook paper, thanks to American Crafts where my brother-in-law works.  We are going to use them to hold holiday treats!

We were particularly moved by the outfit Christina wore home that night. Short cowgirl boots, oversized purple workout pants, an orange sweater, green scarf, and a leather jacket.  That's what happens when you borrow PJ pants and don't want to change, but only have the shoes for your other outfit.  Work it. 


We started a new tradition out of an old tradition.  When we were little, my parents would take us to the mall for Family Home Evening so we could all buy our Christmas presents for each other. We would go off in pairs or trios and then meet back at a designated time and place to switch groups until all the presents were purchased.  I got a little intense this year and made instructions, along with gift ideas, for each person to have as they went shopping. It was a lot of fun!
We had a family meeting on my parents' bed before the swap to explain the rules.  Okay, so it's glaringly obvious that I'm a teacher.

Rather than going to the mall, we decided the best spot was the area my sister calls the "trifecta."  Old Navy, TJ Maxx, and Ross. It was perfect. We had many options for every person.
Scotty was a doll during our shopping adventures.  His latest thing is to have full blown conversations in baby talk.  It is the funniest thing! His little personality is coming out in full force.
Before the gift swap, we enjoyed enchiladas made by--you guessed it--the lovely Anna.
After dinner, we all wrote things we were grateful for on little pieces of paper and took turns reading them out loud.

For our gift swap, we decided not to draw names. Instead, we had a $5 limit per person. If we wanted to go in on something together, we could pool our $5 together.  This did not include grandkids, who received all kinds of presents, all outside of the budget :-).  Needless to say, we had a ton of presents to open that evening!
This little one was excited to get started!

Stud earrings!

These baseball slippers from Aunt Shana and Uncle Joe were a RIOT.

Ella looked at herself with a smile in her new outfit and boots and said, "Why do I look like that?!"

Three of us went in on Jer's $15 basketball :-).

Ella was STOKED about her advent calendar from Granna!

At the risk of "tooting our own horn", Jer and I nailed it with the present we went in on together for my brother.
When he was a teenager, my brother learned how to do all kinds of amazing things with his yo-yo.  He started playing with the one we gave him and he hadn't lost his touch!

Mini grinder salt and paper shakers for Shana...

Butter dish for Granna!

We all went in on new slippers for my dad (the kind you can wear both inside and out!). The ones I got him from Brazil wore completely out this month.  They had a good 7 1/2 year run!
All my siblings and in-laws pooled their $5 together to get me tights and boots, both things I desperately wanted!

A lovely candle from her husband!

Aunt Anna knows exactly what kind of gifts to get her niece! Check out the cat ears and the bow!  Every time Ella opened a new present, she either put it on or carried it around with her.  It was darling.  By the end, of the evening, she ran out of hands!
Papa found an old kids saddle online as a surprise for Ella.  They will take it back to the farm to ride the horse!  She enjoyed riding it on Papa's knee for quite awhile :-).

Luckily, we all have one more day together!