Monday, August 31, 2015

When Your Heart Feels Heavy.

Elder Richard G. Scott hit the nail on the head when he said this, "We live in trying times.  I need not list all of the sources of evil in the world.  It is not necessary to describe all of the possible challenges and heartaches that are a part of mortality.  Each of us is intimately aware of our own struggles with temptation, pain, and sadness."

This post is simple — I want to share some of my favorite, and perhaps lesser known, scriptures that have comforted me.  If your heart is heavy... if you feel an irrepressible gloom pervading your soul, I hope these "packages of light" will give you an added measure of peace.

1. Isaiah 26:3-4 
"Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.  Trust ye in the Lord forever: for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength." 

"Everlasting strength" — now that is a beautiful promise.  It reminds me of grace.  Grace doesn't suddenly kick into action after you have given your best.  It's like an engine.  It is constantly running to give you that everlasting strength and love from God — every day, every hour, every minute.

2.  Psalm 30:5
"For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

I'm a crier.  I'm especially a crier at night when I reflect upon the day and seem only to notice my failures, my disappointments, and my pain.  But joy does come in the morning... if not tomorrow morning, then the next morning, or the next, or the next.  Sometimes, we have to look for joy.

3.  Psalm 56:9
"When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know: for God is for me.

That truth, that "God is for me," ought to be branded into our souls.  No matter what trials we face, no matter what mistakes we make, no matter how much the world changes, Heavenly Father loves us and watches over us.  He is our Father, and we are His beloved children. And "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

4.  Psalm 4:1
"Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer."

There are times when we plead with Heavenly Father to hear our prayers.  He hears them, but what happens when our petitions seem unanswered?  We have to recognize that in these moments, He is enlarging our souls to be stronger.  He is shaping our backs, so we can better bear our burdens.

5.  Psalm 18:36
"Thou has enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip."

There's that word "enlarged" again.  We all have mountains to climb and treacherous paths to walk.  However hard these journeys are, Heavenly Father will not intervene by removing the mountains or smoothing the paths.  Instead, He will enlarge our feet.  In other words, we will be able to proceed with new strength and understanding.  Heavenly Father shapes us and not the nature of our trials.

6.  Romans 4:18
"Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, so shall thy seed be."

This scripture refers to Abraham, and I love the first part of the scripture.  Sometimes, it seems as if life is flushing hope down the toilet.  Do we believe in hope even when it seems like there is no hope? Because of Christ's Atonement, there is ALWAYS hope.  The challenge is always believing that.

7.  Romans 5:3-5
"And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

When I think about my experiences with a mental disorder, I don't think I was patient.  Nope, not at all.  It's hard to be patient when you hurt so much.  But I know that I have more experience, and I can give hope to others who are struggling.  If only we can always remember that our trials refine us! They truly shape us into people who are stronger, wiser, more compassionate, and more beautiful.

8.  James 4:3
"Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss..."

When I was in the midst of despair and anguish, my prayers sounded like this, "Make it stop. Make it stop. Please, please, please... make it stop." Will Heavenly Father ever deprive us of the learning, the experience, and the growth that comes from trials? Nope.  Do you have the courage to say, "Father, please bless me with the faith to accept whatever outcome Thou hast planned for me"? Do you have the faith to say, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done"?

9.  Romans 8:18
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."

I often get frustrated because I think my brain is broken.  I sometimes wonder if the suffering that I have endured and that others have endured was/is all worth it.  But the glory we shall receive if we endure patiently will be wonderful, beautiful, and breathtaking.  We will understand why things happened the way they did.  We will see how God was with us every step of the way.  And it will be glorious.

It's okay if your heart feels heavy — it really is, and it happens to everybody.  Luckily, we have so many resources at hand to bring us comfort, peace, and hope.  God speaks to us through the scriptures.  It's about time we bask in his loving words!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Here's My Story. This is Me.

My blog is mainly for me.  I feel good when I write.  I reflect when I write.  I see my own growth when I write.  That being said, I'm okay that this is a low-traffic blog.  This post, however, is for me, and you, and the community of strong and courageous individuals who suffer with mental or emotional disorders.

Jonathan Gottschall said, "If you want a message to burrow into a human mind, work it into a story." Well... here I am, and this is my story. 

Four years ago, my best friend said, "I wonder what it's like to have your brain. Do you ever get tired of it?"  To answer briefly, and bluntly, and emphatically, YES!!! Anxiety, depression, fits of hysteria and irrationality? I've felt it.  It started early, too.

In fifth grade, our class was learning about fractions.  After the first lesson, I felt like the numbers and fractions committed every deplorable assault upon my brain.  I sat in the corner of the classroom, and then I sobbed and shook, almost convulsively.  My teacher, a gentle man, probably broke every rule in the book.  He kneeled in front of me and held me firmly so that my classmates could not see my panic attack. 

During my fourth year of Girls Camp, I had a panic attack at midnight.  I thought I was dying.  I screamed, and shook, and cried, and scared my poor friends out of their wits.  They probably thought a bear was gnawing on my arm.  In the morning, before my parents took me home, I lied to my friends about what happened.  I told them that I was feeling sick.  I wanted to spare myself from shame and embarrassment. 

In my last semester of college, I felt intensely depressed, and I experienced hypomanic episodes where all rationality was tossed out the window with a bag of cats.  Call it bipolar II, a mood disorder, whatever.  The bottom line is that those episodes were scary — I felt destructive, and alone, and scared.  I often drove in my car in an attempt to clear my mind, but I sincerely wished that a reckless driver would kill me.  I spent hours upon hours in bed.  It hurt to move.  I counted to three to coax my limbs into moving out of bed.  I showed up to church and school with scars on my arms.  People asked, "Whoa! What happened?"  My responses got more and more creative. "Oh, you know I hate cats!" or "I'm terrible at long-boarding!" or "I've taken up juggling with knives!" or "The Wolverine came trick-or-treating this year!"  What would people really say if I told them that I went kamikaze-style on my arms with a shard of glass?

That last experience was quite recent, and it seemed like such a terribly long ordeal. While it still deeply frightens me, it has opened my eyes to a world where friends, family, and acquaintances don't quite understand mental health.  I'm not angry with them.  Their reactions are understandable.  My story is one of those stories that make people feel uncomfortable.  People might have already quit their browser and Googled adorable puppy pictures. If I've made you uncomfortable, I'm sorry.... but I'm also not sorry. 

Here's why.  Lousy mental health is real and everywhere.  I'll bet you have a family member or a friend who struggles mentally or emotionally — they just hide it.   And their instinct to hide their struggles makes sense to me.  Some people's responses to these afflictions can be foolish, ignorant, and offensive.  A friend emailed me recently, and her message saddened me.  She struggles with depression, and when she opened up to a friend, he replied, "Just be happy.  You're sad because you want to be sad, and you need to snap out of this dramatic behavior."

What's hard is that some wounding comments come from loved ones, people who are well meaning but fail to see the harm in their words.  "Just pray a little harder!" or "It could be least you're not like [think of a poor child in Africa who is starving]!" or "You're probably just PMS-ing!" or "Life is hard.  Tough it out like the rest of us!" or "Get out! Be happy! Go for a walk!" or "Be grateful you don't have a real illness."  That last one is a particular favorite of mine.

And the list goes on.

So here is my invitation to you.  I didn't write this post to garner sympathy.  That's just not me.  I've kept this post saved as a draft for months because I felt too ashamed to disclose my problems, I feared the reception that I would receive, and I didn't want to ruin the image of a girl who people say shines and spreads joy.  Now, I've grown, and I am including my story because I'll bet that some of you had no idea that I dealt and continue to deal with this.  If you think I'm being too presumptuous, then fine.  But just know this: I have a mood disorder, I am anxious, I feel depressed, but I can still radiate, shine, and spread joy.  I'm still Bekki.  But now, I'm the Bekki that would be really interesting to talk to if you were stuck in a broken elevator with me for an hour.

There are others like me, who appear happy, but they live in the shadows.  The world has become, in a way, inhospitable to them because they don't know where to turn for comfort.  I ask you to be kind, be sensitive, and be a listener.  Words are so powerful.  They can heal or hurt, so think about what you say.  If you don't know how to respond when someone seeks your help, that's okay.  All you need to say is, "I don't understand what you're feeling, but it must be so hard.  I love you.  I am here for you.  I am praying for you."  

It's time for change.  I believe it with all my heart.  I want to improve the attitudes of people everywhere towards individuals with mental or emotional problems.  I want to reduce the stigma.  I want to encourage others to be open about their mental health problems ­— don't be ashamed, my friends!  I know that is a hard request.  I'm living proof! But it's like what Jeffrey R. Holland said in Like a Broken Vessel.  Show no shame in acknowledging your problems.  It's no different than admitting that you have high blood pressure, or diabetes, or a funny looking mole on your rear.  Yes... while our stories vary, they are personal, and personal stories make people squirm.  But this is something we need to be open about, to spread understanding, compassion, and love. 

I'm passionate about this.  I want people to see my passion, understand my passion, and hopefully, accept my passion.  I feel slightly embarrassed in this request, but if you could share this post with someone you love, someone who might need this, do so thoughtfully, appropriately, and lovingly! Mental and emotional turmoil is real — it's time that people START NOW to accept it, understand it, and feel comfortable to talk about it.  It only took me over a decade, but here I am, and this is me.

Love, Bekki 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Taking it SLO.

NO... I did not spell "slow" wrong.

I spent about 9 days in California.  That's right — that Golden State with beautiful weather, breathtaking sites, expensive estates, and no money.  (Think twice before you complain about paying property taxes, friends.)

Our main destinations were Cupertino, San Jose, and my favorite, San Luis Obispo (SLO).  We visited, what I call, the Asian family — grandparents, cousins, second cousins, and others.  I dined with distant relatives that I don't even know and quickly realized that they are quick to speak their minds.  I am convinced that I am not Asian because my relatives look super Asian, and...well, I don't.

Perhaps most exciting was seeing my little nephew, Theo.  (His parents are great, too).  It is thrilling and almost sad to see him grow up so fast.  That chubster is a little boy now, and holy stars, he can squawk.  He's smart and knows what pleases his audience.  His parents can no longer eat ice-cream in peace, as he's realized that Heavenly Father has sanctioned ice-cream as celestial, delicious, and holy food.  He is the cutest thing that has ever graced this planet, and I am most proud to be his (cool) aunt.

Whenever we visit SLO, we go to the beaches.  Morro Bay is about 10 minutes away, and it's a favorite spot.  The salt water taffy tastes like magic salt water taffy, and the beach, while brisk and windy, is beautiful and open.  Morro Bay is most famous for its rock.  If you think you read wrong, you didn't.  I did indeed write "rock" — a big rock in the middle of the beach with a whole bunch of seagull poop on top.  It's pretty and more majestic than it sounds.  Trust me!

Then there's Cambria.  My family has gone to this beach ever since I was a little girl.  There is this particularly rocky area where, if the tide is right, the water will crash onto the rocks and splash everybody.  That morning was cool and foggy, and there was no splashing, but I loved the views!

It would have been funny if that bird pooped on him.

I can't describe the details of the whole trip.  That would take ages.  I can, however, summarize with some highlights.

1.  Obviously, seeing my Gung-Gung and Nai-Nai was wonderful.  They're funny, generous, and unique.  My Gung-Gung advised me to quit grad school as my health was paramount, and he remarked that the recent typhoon that struck Taiwan contributes to its greenness and beauty.  His logic is beautiful.

2.  The Madonna Inn is so gaudy, it's mesmerizing.  Their black forest cake is even more mesmerizing.  It's the BEST cake I have ever had IN MY LIFE.  Food porn? This is it.
3.  Downtown San Luis is so much fun.  There are plenty of shops, live music, and quirky little spots that you won't even believe are real.  Bubblegum Alley, for instance.  Imagine years upon years of saliva-filled gum stuck on a smelly wall.  Disgusting? Absolutely.  Pretty cool? Darn right.  But hey, you take one, you leave one. (Just kidding.)

4.  My grandparents' house is home to the relics of my mom's past.  I found her senior pictures, her childhood pictures, and one family picture where she looks (sorry, Mom) smoking.  My oldest sister's baby pictures are organized neatly in a large photo album in the house.  I found my baby pictures in a dusty and bug-infested box in the garage.  Feeling the love.

5.  Evening walks were pleasant, and the weather was perfect.  The neighbors' flowers were blooming and beautiful, so I borrowed some flowers and assembled a bouquet.  I just didn't give the flowers back.

6.  I liked spending time with my family.  12 hours in a minivan with them got a little...challenging, but I am glad that I could feel so close to them before I start a new chapter in my life.

Perfect vacation.  That being said, I am thrilled to sleep in my own bed, shower in my own shower, drink my own delicious tap water, and use my own toilet.  (Some of those rest stop toilets? I might have contracted AIDS.)