Since I moved to Southern California, I have been astounded by the small amount of time people spend outside. This is especially puzzling given that we have one of the most perfect climates on earth. It is a gardener’s dream.
Why not enjoy this marvelous weather and the beautiful vegetation it allows? I want to appreciate it every time I step out of my house. Having grown up in Minneapolis, the prospect of sipping morning coffee out on the patio amid blooming flowers year round makes this place seem like paradise. I want a yard that invites this. And now I have one. But this wasn’t the case last spring.
Since we got a dog a few years before, our yard had become a bit of an embarrassment.
I didn’t expect the Gardens of Versailles. But I needed something more than this dry dirt wasteland … whose only signs of life were random patches of grass, weeds and dog poop, decorated by naked wicker furniture whose cushions were long before devoured by Winston, our big yellow dog.
Even Winston went out there as little as possible. When the poor pooch doesn’t want to go out in the yard it’s time to take some action. So step-by-step, my husband and I started the dreaded project of rehabilitating the yard.
First came the removal of several trees that were so misplaced and overgrown that they threatened to uproot not only the patio, but the house’s actual foundation. Then came the laying of sod. After some tiring weeks of watering by hose, we fixed the built-in sprinklers. Yeah! I knew my time was worth more than functioning as a human irrigation system. The grass was taking root and staying green. Before long it was looking almost respectable.
That’s when I got invested in creating beauty.
I began pulling out the weeds in the many overgrown flowerbeds lining the periphery of the entire property. What an amazing workout – I decided an afternoon of gardening was no easier than a five mile run. The results were immediate and visible – a parcel of earth ready to be cultivated. I found muscles I didn’t know I had; it was such satisfying labor.
I went to sleep visualizing my budding oasis. I imagined the glory of an array of plants and flowers. I daydreamed about transforming the existing but long neglected citrus trees, and considered even putting in a vegetable garden. Oh the possibilities! My dinner table would be adorned with freshly cut day lillies. I could cook delicious meals from tender fruits, savory herbs, and heart healthy vegetables harvested from my own backyard. This was part of the California dream I anticipated when we moved here years ago.
The momentum of getting started, combined with the dramatic results of making the most basic changes, fueled my energy to create something wonderful. That’s when the fun started.
I found myself researching the best options for our climate, soil, and light conditions. I discovered the wonder of Pinterest. The Internet served as my endless source of botanical brilliance. Visiting garden stores became play. (And I won’t lie, a bit expensive). Digging my hands deep into the cool soil felt soul nourishing. I was as happy as a barefoot child in summer. Even pulling out the clumps of weeds provided a grueling satisfaction.
Then came the planting.
The tender placing of each little life in the ground and watching it grow was captivating. I included flowers for big showy color like bougainvillea, mandevilla, impatiens, geraniums, and petunias. Between the perennials and the bulbs like daffodils, calla lilly, and tulips I could expect year-round splendor. The borders would become lush with sweet white alyssum and green ivy. Even the shady spaces below the lemon, orange, peach, and lime trees would eventually be covered in periwinkle. I went wild with succulents and put mixed varieties in various pots.
I was proud to greet every visitor to my fertile sanctuary. I found myself asking a friend, “Won’t you come and have tea in my garden?” Making unexpected spots pretty through use of contrasting and complimentary form, color, and texture made me feel like an artist.
The hours flew by – I was in “flow”.
Each day’s pleasure was only softened by bits of grief I felt when one of my little ones didn’t make it. Yet, even this loss was overcome by learning what change I must make in my method. I also discovered the process of propagation. Now I was generating my own plants rather than merely buying them. This suited my thrifty nature.
My husband built an impressive raised vegetable garden producing a bounty of tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, spinach, kale and peppers. I watched him oversee his miniature crop with the commitment and concern of a Midwest farmer.
Every morning I woke up eager to go out and weed, water, and tend. I sprung out of bed on a mission. At the end of the day I strolled around it and let myself pause for a while – simply to be present and appreciate. With nothing short of love, I watched it flourish. Sitting in my garden I felt fulfilled and connected.
Carefully observing any signs of too much water, not enough light, or the threat of a weed satisfied my need to take care of something. I wasn’t just a gardener, I was a caretaker and protector – a giver of life. Not unlike being a mom. How surprising that tending and toiling in my humble little yard taught me how essential it is for me to invest in reproducing and sustaining life. It is primal.
Gardening made me realize my powerful need for an outlet for my nurturing instinct at this “empty nest” time in my life. Since the children went off to college and became busy with their own lives, supporting the development of other living things satisfies a deep desire. Cultivating my garden provided that. This is grace.
The holiday season is over, the last decoration is packed away, and my officially “adult” children have gone off to faraway places. The house is quiet. At the moment, this suits me.
I have some thinking to do – envisioning the year that is well underway, and reflecting on the last one.
My thoughts hover around a noble idea – to become more wholehearted.
Webster defines wholehearted as “completely and sincerely devoted, determined, or enthusiastic” and “marked by complete earnest commitment; free from all reserve or hesitation.”
In this confusing and ephemeral world – so filled with ambiguity and uncertainty – it seems to me that wholeheartedness is something to strive for. To put my best effort into all that I do – in work, marriage, parenting, friendship, faith, wellness, writing, sports, learning … all of my pursuits.
The biggest challenge I faced last year shows me that I have a terrific capacity for wholeheartedness, but I also can be woefully self-limited by its opposite: half-heartedness. The latter functions rather like a skeptical older sibling, always whispering some seemingly prudent words of caution: Watch out! Be careful. Prepare for the worst. Don’t let yourself get hurt. Don’t expect too much.
Here is the situation: I applied for a job. A really big job. One that requires a great deal of experience, talent, and leadership ability. One with an opportunity to have a broad impact on a large community. One that is far more complex and difficult than the program director job I have enjoyed for nearly ten years. One that pays a lot of money! Spoiler alert: I didn’t get it.
But looking back over the process I went through as I prepared for the challenge and waited for the outcome, I recognize that there is a valuable lesson for me. It is about the importance of maximizing my strength of wholeheartedness, and managing my tendency to become half-hearted and self-doubting.
When I was first encouraged to apply, I dismissed the idea as ridiculous. But as I learned more about the position and began to consider what I may have to offer, I changed my mind. I began getting energized and excited about the possibilities. I was determined to give it my absolute best effort, even though I admitted that it was a long shot.
I was filled with love.
As I studied and practiced for the interview I felt entirely focused and bolstered by vision and courage. I even called upon my “Scottish Warrior” (that part of myself that can fight a great battle and prevail). I pictured my past, present, and future and began to detect a red ribbon that was woven through it. Therein I found a spiritual meaning and direction – an essential purpose for so much of what had happened in my life, both joys and sorrows. I saw it all leading up to this imminent challenge. I prayed that God would equip me and trusted that he would.
And he did. I got through the interview with confidence and grace. I quickly recovered from what was a grueling but pretty decent interview. I waited weeks for an answer. A litany of questions soon surrounded my mind.
Then the fear crept in.
No longer full of love, I was full of fear. This was unsettling and unpleasant. It left me feeling uninspired and riddled with self-doubt. I began asking: Who am I to think I can take this on? How grandiose and reckless of me. I allowed the tedium of waiting to generate troubling questions like: What if? What if I get a second interview and it is a flop? What if I get the job and I am not smart enough? What if it is too hard? What if it is too stressful? What if I fail miserably? What if it sends me over the edge? I pictured the jeers of my critics. Of course this left me feeling less capable, less courageous, and more cynical.
I decided I needed to block out that negative energy. I needed to “guard my gates” and not invite in self-limiting messages. But they came so innocently – masquerading as armor and self-protection.
The deception goes like this: I can’t set myself up for a fall. Don’t invest too much. I must regulate my enthusiasm. It makes me too vulnerable. I won’t let myself be disappointed.
Yet this defensive stance becomes incredibly self-limiting. It prevents me from applying my best energy and chokes out what might otherwise be one of my greatest strengths – my wholeheartedness.
I decided to reject the fear-based mentality of self-protection. It causes me to hold back, be too cautious, and ultimately makes me half-hearted.
The logic goes like this: If I give my whole heart and lose, it will be too devastating. I must prepare myself for the big NO or I will be caught off guard when it comes. Don’t invest too much or expect too much and I won’t be disappointed.
But in doing this, I became smaller. Passion was replaced with protectionism. Love was replaced by fear. I trudged through my days barely able to lead myself through my next task much less lead others to inspired work.
ENOUGH! I said to myself. That self-protective instinct is not serving me well. It only resulted in diminished energy, limited joy, and an absence of vision for my life’s possibilities.
I recalled the advice of my dear friend and mentor Yvette. She said, “Lisa, you need to let it go and let it flow. Do not sell yourself short.”
As I remembered her loving words I decided that I would prevail. Regardless of the outcome, I would win the battle. I would be wholehearted.
Guess what? I didn’t get a second interview. But as far as the battle went, I triumphed.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
― T.S. Eliot
Everyone experiences some level of anxiety. But it’s so unpleasant. Wouldn’t it be nice to always feel calm, cool, and collected?
Interestingly, research suggests that the only people who never feel anxious are those with sociopathic tendencies. The worry-free life may not be available to folks with a conscience.
Although it is one of the less popular emotions, anxiety actually serves a very useful purpose. You may be asking, “Are you serious? What good is something that makes me feel nervous, sick in my stomach, shaky all over, sweaty, obsessive, and like my heart is going to jump out of my chest?”
Consider this: without a certain amount of anxiety we would never get our paperwork done, do the taxes, or schedule that mammogram. And in an emergency, without huge doses of it, we wouldn’t have the adrenaline rush needed for the “fight, flight, or freeze” response that may save our life!
The problem with anxiety is that it doesn’t often come in the right dose at the right time. It can come on like a flood and overwhelm our capacity to cope. The trick is to maximize its benefits, and develop the ability to regulate it so that it doesn’t interfere with our performance or, in its worst extreme, diminish our quality of life.
Fear sharpens the senses. Anxiety paralyzes them. (Scott Stossel quoting Kurt Goldstein).
A multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry is founded on our incapacity to regulate it naturally. Medication may be beneficial for the worst variety, but first consider what is possible with your “internal pharmacy” (i.e. the dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin elevating benefits of things like exercise, hobbies, or even sex).
I thought I knew a great deal about anxiety as an experienced licensed clinical social worker, who also, ten years ago, overcame an extreme form of depression with anxiety. But having just finished My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel, I discovered there was so much more to understand, integrate, and apply to my life.
Stossel, who happens to be the highly respected editor of The Atlantic, is an incredible writer – witty, intelligent, clear, and absolutely thorough. He also suffers from the most oppressive case of lifelong anxiety I have ever known. It was his heroic effort to solve his own troubles with anxiety that led him to chronicle it in his self-revelatory book. My Age of Anxiety is refreshingly unique and hard to categorize: it is a 400 page encyclopedic montage of memoir, historical analysis, cultural commentary, philosophical exploration, and medical examination of anxiety from the beginning of recorded history to the present time.
Stossel’s determination to always get it just right makes for comically embarrassing personal stories and extreme psycho-educational learning. The man never took a short cut in his life. A self-described neurotic – and perfectionist to the core – he is not given to approximations nor willing to withhold a single nuance. Nothing is easy. Nothing is black or white. And nothing is explained from a single perspective or theory. It is all very complicated and subject to interpretation – not unlike the neurological mystery of our brains, the worldview of an anxious mind, or life itself. Never simple … but infinitely interesting.
I filled up the white space on so many pages as I recorded my own reactions to Stossel’s thought-provoking discussion of anxiety. Stossel examines the source of anxiety (the proverbial nature versus nurture question) by mining the writings of Plato, Epictetus, Darwin, Kierkegaard, and Freud, to name just a few. Despite the aggregate wisdom of this great pantheon of thinkers, we continue to be flummoxed by anxiety. National Institute of Mental Health data indicates that 18% of individuals suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder. This is an issue central to our nation’s health and well-being.
I found myself interacting with this book deeply and without restraint, because frankly, I feel that I am a bit of an expert on the subject. I present as evidence the fact that, as a junior high student, when my peers were enthralled with John Hughes movies and Star Wars mania, my favorites were of the Woody Allen variety. Annie Hall was my role model. Need I say more?
There is hope for those suffering with mild and even extreme anxiety. I have had more than my share of anxiety and have found some effective methods of managing it. The concept of neuroplasticity suggests that new ways of being can strengthen one’s capacity for anxiety-busting qualities like resilience and self-efficacy.
Extensive research on veterans has demonstrated that certain characteristics such as resilience and acceptance are what have allowed some people to maintain or reclaim mental health. These qualities may be in-born, but can also be learned. As Stossel describes, “These include optimism, altruism, having a moral compass or set of beliefs that cannot be shattered, faith and spirituality, humor, having a role model, social supports, facing fear (or leaving one’s comfort zone), having a mission or meaning in life, and practice in meeting and overcoming challenges.”
Another important concept for preventing and overcoming anxiety is “self-efficacy.” Cognitive psychologist Albert Bandura wrote brilliantly on this subject. Stossel reports, “… repeatedly proving to oneself one’s competence and ability to master situations, and doing so in spite of feelings of anxiety, depression, or vulnerability, builds up self-confidence and psychological strength that can provide a bulwark against anxiety and depression.”
YES! I know this through my experience as a runner. I find that each run is a lesson in self-efficacy. Yesterday, preparing for the Fontana half-marathon, my running club had an 8-mile, race-pace training run to get through. When I woke up, I was tired, still stressed from a difficult work week, and not sure that I was up for the challenge.
But getting into my routine, putting on my gear without any thought of having another option, enjoying my morning coffee … I set off at 7 am to meet my running group. And sure enough, surrounded by the support and camaraderie of others with a shared goal, I was able to rise to a higher purpose and not be dragged down by my weakest impulses (e.g. parking myself in my cozy reading chair all morning). The anxiety receded. As it churned a bit during the run (Can I do it? Do I have the energy?) being part of the group and putting one foot in front of the other helped me remain focused on the goal. Before I knew it, my self-doubt was eliminated; the 8-mile run was finished. And, the beautiful end product was a feeling of accomplishment and calm. My internal pharmacy was well stocked.
You are not your anxiety. You can find methods to regulate it and have your best possible life. I recommend The Age of Anxiety as a means of understanding anxiety and exploring the many avenues for hope and healing. And, might I suggest running (or any other form of exercise)? It has been a lifesaver for me, and has left me – if only for brief periods – calm, cool, and collected.
After the worst drought Southern California has had on record, our elusive wet friend has finally arrived. The precious rain came with a stormy ferocity – thrilling the farmers, confounding the commuters, and inciting the news teams.
I personally welcomed it by taking a four-mile run in the morning downpour with my yellow Lab Winston. Even though I was getting soaked to the bone I felt exhilarated … strengthened … refreshed. Judging by Winston’s jaunty gait and wagging tail, he also found it heavenly. For me, running has always been a source of replenishment; the rain was not going to stop me. And Winston? He was born for the water.
But, regardless of whether we take pleasure in the precipitation or consider it a nuisance, there is no denying one fact: rain is essential for renewing life.
As spring arrives, we think not only of April showers, we think of growth, rebirth, and restoration. As the rains enriched our parched land, I encourage you to ask yourself a few key questions: Has my life become a little dry? Could I use a fresh source of nourishment? What might I do this season to promote personal renewal?
There is no better time than Spring for growth. Consider the many aspects of yourself that may need recharging: the social, physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Try focusing on one key domain that could use some revitalization. (To explore further see my October, 2013 post Keeping Your Balance with a Wellness Wheel). Write down a few steps you can take to bolster that area. Start today.
One area that most of us would benefit from stimulating is our physical health. How about focusing on getting more exercise, or even just incorporating more movement into your day? This will also have a reviving impact on other life areas.
In his new book Eat, Move, Sleep, author Tom Rath suggests, with research to back it up, that increasing the amount you move each day will have a powerful effect on your mood, risk of disease, cognitive functioning, and energy level. It will even make you live longer.
He describes how our ancestors had a physical way of life that supported greater health. Daily survival required them to expend a body-enriching amount of energy. They spent most of every day moving about on foot, without the “benefit” of state-of-the-art conveniences and technology. But us moderns spend more time sitting down than sleeping. This is terribly damaging to the human body. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are but a few of the consequences. Isn’t it a sad paradox that our “advancements” have inadvertently set us back?
You can make changes today to counteract this problem of a dangerously sedentary lifestyle. Start moving more. Expend more energy to have more energy.
Rath offers a number of helpful ideas. During your workday – about every 30 minutes – get up and stretch, walk around, and perhaps step outside. If you find it helpful, set your smart phone timer to prompt you. This movement will enhance your productivity, brighten your mood, and help your body deal with the demands of hours of sitting in an office.
I have incorporated Rath’s advice into my workday in the last few weeks. Getting up from my desk and walking around the office, as well as taking a few minutes in the morning and the afternoon to do some stretches has made me more relaxed and efficient. I have felt less fatigued and more energetic when I leave work. This new habit, among others, has been like a delightful spring shower – just the kind of renewal I needed.
“I want to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” (John O’Donahue, Irish Poet)
Starting at the Finish Line:
One woman’s triumphant journey from disabling illness to half-marathon runner
If you met my friend Jeannine, you would like her. She is one of those gracious people that seems naturally friendly, naturally smart, naturally kind, naturally strong. If you met her at the Inland Empire Running Club (IERC), you would also guess that she was a natural born runner. During the workweek, she fastidiously follows the training plan set forth by Reggie, her Boston Marathon runner-husband. This is after teaching science to junior high students all day.
In the last two years she has run seven half-marathons and has achieved a “PR” (personal record) every time. You may be starting to think, “Well, it’s easy for people like that.” Well, let me tell you something about Jeannine you would never guess if you met her. Just three years ago, she suffered from an illness that nearly destroyed her life.
What started as sore muscles and joint pain soon turned into an illness that left her bedridden, burning with fever, unable to eat, frightfully thin, dehydrated, with barely the energy to speak. In her words, “I was literally molting; my hair fell out and my skin fell off!”
She had to take a leave from her teaching job, let her husband take care of the kids and the house, and allow her mother to move in to care for her. At one point, her daughter asked, “Is Mama going to die?” Day after day, leaning on her husband’s arm, she hobbled into dozens of doctor’s appointments seeking a diagnosis for her ailment. It took months for the team of specialists to determine that it was “Stills Disease,” an autoimmune disorder that is often life-long and permanently disabling.
When the mysterious malady was finally labeled, the proper treatment could be administered. This led to slow but steady progress. Before long Jeannine could leave the house and do short errands. Mustering up her strength, she pushed herself toward a small goal: to greet Reggie at the finish line when he ran the San Diego Marathon.
She explains, “I was in so much pain that day – as I approached him, I nearly stumbled. I had only left the hospital two weeks prior.”
Then she saw something that changed her life: the San Diego sun beaming on a throng of people: black, brown, yellow, white; they were young and old, thick and thin, male and female, perfect form and pitiable form – every one of them finishing the race. As she moved through the dizzying mob of fatigued but ebullient runners, each drenched in sweat and smiles as they approached the finish … Jeannine had an epiphany:
“In one year I will complete the half-marathon race – running, walking, or crawling … I will cross this finish line.”
Preparing for that half-marathon became the cornerstone of her recovery. It took five months for her to be able to walk even a mile. But, one step at a time, she worked her way up to several miles. It hurt and she was tired, but she kept on going. She was determined to get healthy enough to accomplish her goal. Over a period of months she strengthened, eventually able to walk 5, then 7, and finally 9 miles through her Chino Hills community.
Jeannine explains, “Pretty soon walking 9 miles got boring, so I started jogging – just a little bit.” It was February – the race was only four months away. She had never entered races before, and certainly never considered herself “a runner.” Her husband asked her repeatedly to come join him at IERC. When he explained that they have walkers who complete races, Jeannine reluctantly agreed.
Reggie reports, “I knew she would finish the race. And I also knew she would not walk; she would run.”
Jeannine showed up at IERC the next Saturday morning and found herself amongst kind and helpful people, all eager to support her success. She was embraced by her walk/run pace leader, Lizette, now a dear friend. With her new group of allies, Jeannine painstakingly prepared for victory – over the wretched illness and over the 13.1 mile race.
On race day there was no surprise. Jeannine completed the distance, finishing strong. She not only ran it, she crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with Reggie.
Two years later Jeannine and I are sipping coffee at Starbucks. We discuss the pain and the pleasure of running and what it has done to enhance our lives. Her smile is wide and she radiates health. Looking gorgeously fit, she may be in the best shape of her life (certainly the best shape of anyone in that Starbucks). Grasping for the right words to describe her process, she makes a teacherly gesture with her thumb and forefinger. Thoughtfully, she tells me,
“When I first start each run, I don’t want to move – my muscles are tight and my knees ache. Eventually my legs warm up, the pain is gone, and I can pick up my speed. What keeps me going? Knowing the pain is temporary. It won’t keep feeling like this. Even though it is intense and you don’t think you can endure, if you keep going, you get through it. And then somehow, it’s an important and meaningful part of you. I guess now, I can call myself a runner. That’s how life is.”
If you like the support of a group, you can visit IERC on a Saturday morning in Chino Hills at Butterfield Ranch Elementary School at 7:00 am. For more information regarding IERC, check out our website at ierunningclub.com , visit our Facebook page, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
*This article was first published in Chino Hills Life Magazine (Hibu company).
Although I have been a mental health professional for 28 years, I learned most about my own stigma through having lived experience with mental illness. This was 12 years ago … when I developed severe major depression.
My family had moved to Southern California from the Seattle area only 9 months before, when my husband accepted a new pastoral call. I was 36, had two elementary age children, went through a stressful re-location, and then landed the worst job of my life after arriving in California.
I had always been a goal-focused person: able to take on challenges and, in most instances, succeed. But it seemed there were too many challenges happening all at once. I was rapidly developing anxiety problems, losing my focus and confidence, and, worst of all, finding myself unable to sleep. Combine all this with a genetic vulnerability toward mental illness … and swiftly, it became too much for me.
Although it had rarely been discussed openly, I had long been aware of the mental illness on my mother’s side of the family. Early in life, I developed a steely determination to avoid such a fate. One of my deepest drives was to never have problems like my mother.
My grandmother had an unnamed mental illness. Nobody talked about Grandma’s ailment, and I’m not sure they knew what it was. But my father told me one day, in a rare moment of openness, that one time Grandma was psychiatrically hospitalized. It seemed she tried to jump off the roof of the house – she thought she could fly.
When I was a child, we had to be very quiet around her because of her “nerves.” Although grandma was gentle and loving, she could not tolerate lights, noise, television, or active children.
My mother is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. While I was growing up she had to be hospitalized a number of times for what was then called “nervous breakdowns.” She was treated with Electro Convulsive Shock Therapy (ECT), and took medication that made her seem less lively, detached, and kind of dull. She hid the bottles of medication in her bedroom dresser, tucked between her nightgowns. She never let us four kids see her take it.
As an observant young girl, I got the impression this medicine was something to be ashamed of because it must be hidden from others. I also learned early on that the kind of hospital she went to was not something to tell people about. Not if you want them to like you. I sure wanted to be normal and accepted, so I learned the rules quickly.
Rules we learn from our families aren’t easily changed. So, as an adult, even though I was a therapist myself, when I began having symptoms, I felt too ashamed and overwhelmed to seek help until it was too late. I plunged into the most devastating depression imaginable. Seemingly overnight, I went from being the treatment provider to being the treated patient. I no longer knew myself. I felt like I had shattered into a million pieces.
Why take the risk to share this story publicly? Why violate the rules and beliefs that I learned as a child? Especially that mental illness is something to be ashamed of, and that it is not something nice people talk about? Why? Because I have come to believe that those are lies.
In recovering from my own depression, I learned how profoundly I was affected by stigma – both external (which came from the culture surrounding me) and internal (which came from within me).
The stigma I held – about my mother’s mental illness, and eventually my own, kept me from properly addressing my symptoms as they arose. This was not a recipe for healing. Instead, it was the key ingredient for disaster.
When I finally got treatment, my stigma was a gargantuan wall I had to break down to fully accept treatment for my life-threatening case of depression. It’s not an exaggeration then, to suggest to you this: My stigma almost killed me.
Am I a little scared to write about this? Yes. But stories need to be told. And … I spent enough years being ashamed. All it did was contribute to me getting sick and staying sick. It compromised my humanity and robbed me of my joy. My wise mother had a good reason for giving me the middle name Joy. I intend to live up to it!
The great American writer Maya Angelou said this, “You may not control all of the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
It is critical to do everything we can to combat stigma in all its forms. It was stigma that kept my mother from ever properly managing her mental illness. It was stigma that made me wait dangerously long before seeking therapy. It was stigma that prevented me from benefitting from treatment for many long months. I consider it a miracle that I even survived those terrible days.
But, fortunately, I have not only recovered, I have pro-covered. In short, to me that means I came out of it an upgraded edition of myself – Lisa 2.0 if you will. My life is fuller, more joyful and abundant than ever. I now have a better understanding of myself – both my strengths and my vulnerabilities. I am acutely aware of the many holistic and healthy practices that are necessary for sustained wellness. My effectiveness as a social worker has been deeply enhanced. I have even worked through most of my stigma.
Overcoming my stigma allows me to share a bit of my story. I hope it may give you some understanding and help you overcome any stigma that you have toward those living with mental illness.
10 Recovery Lessons I learned the Hard Way:
- The pathway to joy is gratitude.
- What other people think of me is none of my business.
- Mental illness can strike anyone, at any time.
- It is no one’s fault.
- I can choose to forgive myself and others for not knowing or doing what was best in times of trouble.
- People recover, and often develop lives that are more purposeful and satisfying than the ones they had before their illness.
- Wellness requires a holistic approach – supporting all aspects of the human being.
- Wellness is a lifelong commitment and a daily lifestyle.
- Getting well and staying well isn’t possible without “grit.” (Definition of grit: “the tendency to work strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failures, adversity, and plateaus in progress”).
- Resources, education, and support are extremely important. Here are a few I recommend:
– NAMI (link)
– Pacific Clinics (link)
– Each Mind Matters (link)
– Bring Change 2 Mind (link)
“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.” -Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams