Singing the Blues

It used to make me unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn’t know what to do with it. But now I’ve learned how to make feeling work for me… I don’t know, I just want to feel as much as I can, it’s what ‘soul’ is all about.”  — Janis Joplin

I watched a documentary about Janis Joplin last evening, called Little Girl Blue.  It ripped my heart out in many ways. Hers is a story of that combination of spirit, guts, insecurity, and an insatiable quest to be loved by everyone that can be so difficult to manage in the face of mental illness. Her voice is recognizable by anyone who ever lived during the 60s and 70s, and the years that followed that era. Who hasn’t heard Take Another Piece of My Heart?

Love or hate Joplin’s music, one can’t help but be saddened by the story of her life. It seems she was picked on a great deal during her school years growing up in Texas, mostly for her appearance, but also because she was different from the other kids. The angst of not fitting in and searching for a place to belong is what ultimately drove her to head to California and propelled her into what would become a brilliant but short-lived career.  She found her voice singing the blues, letting out all of her emotions. Indeed, she was bursting at the seams with a multitude of pent-up emotions. Her music tells the story well.

I could relate to Joplin’s quote about emotions, “It used to make me unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn’t know what to do with it. But now I’ve learned how to make feeling work for me… I don’t know, I just want to feel as much as I can, it’s what ‘soul’ is all about.”  — Janis Joplin

Dealing with intense feelings is a hallmark struggle that many people with mental illness face on a daily basis, and we often fall into the trap of seeking any way possible to express or suppress emotions that can be quite overwhelming. Even when we find a way to channel our feelings through art, music, sports, writing, career, or religion, if we are not careful, positive things in our lives can quickly shift to obsessions that rob us of our ability to feel or notice anything. Drugs, food, alcohol, compulsive behaviors are other ways to cope with what we don’t understand about ourselves, and they can quickly lead our vulnerable psyches down the path of self-destruction.

Janis, like my daughter, left home at an early age and discovered she had wonderful talent. She, like my daughter, lacked the maturity and tools to adequately deal with the stress that came with a life so quickly propelled into success. By 27 Janis had died of a heroin overdose after months of being sober. I can understand how this happened, having struggled with an eating disorder until I was about that age. I watched my daughter struggle with the same thing while she was away from home excelling and failing at the same time.

Both my daughter and I were fortunate to be able to slow down enough to get the help we needed and jump onto the path of recovery sooner rather than too late. I managed to make it through those tough years by pouring all of myself wholeheartedly into activities that would support my recovery. My motivation was becoming a mother and knowing the devastation that untreated mental illness can cause. I witnessed it first-hand as my mother spent decades refusing help for her paranoid schizophrenia. My daughter who is 30 now, also accepted the help she needed and worked at it. She is 30 now, living away from home doing what she loves, and while she has good days and bad days, I know she has the tools and resources to get through the tough times.

How sad that Janis ran out of time before she was able to find the tools and support that could have helped her stay afloat and deal with all those strong emotions that she so desperately tried to embrace and understand. How sad that treatment options were so limited at that time.

Now we have many  more resources at our fingertips, and yet our mental healthcare system cannot adequately deal with the needs of so many who need it. Millions of people have trouble gaining access to mental healthcare because of financial or accessibility barriers. Many others are being placed on long waiting lists and/or going weeks and months before being able to receive treatment and medications that could help. Many others refuse to admit their struggles for fear of the stigma that is still attached to mental illness. Much more research needs to be conducted to find answers that will lead to better treatment options.

Let no life lost to mental illness be in vain. Let’s keep pushing for better and more treatment options!

 

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Healing Light – Writer’s Quote Wednesday

IMG_2330“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
― Rumi

I love the above quote by Rumi  and would like to share it for Writer’s Quote Wednesday.


How many times have we heard the sentiment that our trials make us stronger? How many times are we told to look on the bright side when things go wrong?  Often we may hear this from well-meaning people who seem to be living on the sunny-side and don’t have a clue about the hardships we face.  It can be extremely difficult to feel grateful when faced with one problem after another, and even more challenging to try to live up to other people’s expectations that we should rise above it all.

I have found that the truth about coping with hardships is somewhere in between. Eventually we may be able to look back and see how many ways in which the light has made its way through our wounds and made us stronger, more compassionate people. Yet the possibility of future healing doesn’t make  the suffering any less real when it is happening, and it is okay to acknowledge those feelings as well. There is a difference between pretending and being authentic, and becoming real can’t happen until we allow ourselves to genuinely express our feelings. That is why we often feel so much better after crying. The shedding of tears may be the only thing left to do in a particular moment, as we attempt to discern when to let go and when it is time to move in a new direction.

So I leave you with this video from Free to Be Me, which my girls used to love listening to when they were younger, and even sometimes now.

Looking Beyond

IMG_2563For Writer’s Quote Wednesday, on a Thursday – Exploring the possibilities.

I have just discovered Ellen Langer,  a social psychologist at Harvard University who has been conducting mindfulness research for the past 35 years. I was impressed with her approach, which is slightly different from what I’d been familiar with. I had associated mindfulness with two things that are difficult for me to do; one is sitting still and being in a sort of meditative state, and the second is paying attention to what I am doing in the present moment. I’ve always been rather fidgety and easily distracted, so neither of these options came very easily for me.

I listened to Dr. Langer’s On Being interview with Krista Tippet about a month ago and since then I have been able to put into practice a simple approach she described, which involves noticing little things as I go about my day — not only noticing, but considering the multitude of possibilities that exist beyond what I assume to be true based on past experiences and education.

This excerpt from Dr. Langer’s website,  ellenlanger.com, describes her teachings well:

The citation for the APA distinguished contributions award reads, in part, “…her pioneering work revealed the profound effects of increasing mindful behavior…and offers new hope to millions whose problems were previously seen as unalterable and inevitable. Ellen Langer has demonstrated repeatedly how our limits are of our own making.”

For some reason, hearing mindfulness described that way made it feel more tangible to me.  By asking myself questions about the things I encounter during my day, and actively seeking the answers that lie beneath the surface, I have been able to notice what I had previously tuned out.  This inquisitive approach goes beyond trying to pay attention; it is an active way to engage my mind and challenge my perceptions.

What we think we see and know isn’t always the whole story, yet we often look only for the things that support our beliefs rather than seeking the whole picture.

An example of how easy it is to tune out parts of our surroundings is illustrated in the photo I posted today. At first glance, it just looks like a picture of some clouds in a blue sky with a quote at the bottom. When you look more closely, you will see a small crescent moon in the center of the picture.

It is so easy to get into a pattern of  mindlessly going through our longstanding routines. I’ve had the same job for 18 years, and often find myself going about my day on auto-pilot, driving the same route, parking in the same area, walking across the same street, and performing many of the same duties each day, only half aware of what I was doing. I needed to figure out a way to add some dimension to my daily routine.

The biggest impact I’ve noticed since practicing this approach is that I am much more open-minded about the possibilities in life. Even though I am a researcher who places great value on data that tells us the most likely outcomes to expect, I have learned that it is also important to study and pursue the positive outcomes that are less likely to occur but also attainable.  We often become so fixed on our own beliefs based on what we have learned, that we stop short of exploring other possibilities that are yet to be discovered.

Affirmations – Writer’s Quote Wednesday

For my friend, Colleen’s, Writer’s Quote Wednesday I’ve decided to also post a clip of one of Stuart Smalley’s affirmations in case you are feeling under the weather today.  Hopefully it will at least put a smile on your face.

Beyond Sadness – Writer’s Quote Wednesday

My quote for Writer’s Quote Wednesday is a reflection from Zelda Williams, Robin William’s daughter. 1 fp quote 2It is National Suicide Prevention Week, and Robin William’s daughter posted a beautiful Instagram message about how she is coping with his death one year later.  In her message, she acknowledges her own struggles with depression. I cannot imagine how it feels to lose a loved one to suicide, although I know what it feels like to come close. I am extremely grateful that my daughter survived her attempt and is slowly learning how to balance life’s adversities with her own health and well-being.

https://i0.wp.com/www.promipool.de/var/promipool/storage/images/media/images/zelda-und-robin-williams/2149608-1-ger-DE/zelda-und-robin-williams_one_article.jpg

Photo from of http://www.hngn.com

There is much to be understood about the complex issues that may lead to suicide, and even more to learn about how to prevent the suffering that leads someone to this choice.

One thing we can do right now is to stop being so judgmental of people who live with mental illnesses like depression, mood disorders, addictions, and schizophrenia. Especially when they are desperately searching for some kind of relief from their isolation and pain.  A little dose of compassion and  empathy could go a long way in helping a person feel loved and accepted.

I was speaking with a gentleman yesterday who was telling me about the treatments his wife had undergone in the past year to deal with her stage 3 cancer. On several occasions she wanted to give up because it was so excruciating and debilitating, but she was able to continue on because of the love and support she received.

Why should someone with a mental illness receive any less support?

All Are Welcome

IMG_0647My heart is having an open house

And all are welcome.

Did you see the banner hanging

Across the railing on the front porch?

Come on in, take a look around,

And make yourself comfortable.

If you want, you can throw a party here.

All you have to do is set it up

and clean it up when the party’s over.

Here is my heart.

All are welcome.

by Amy Jones

Look Inside: Writer’s Quote Wednesday

quote 8-12-15

I always look forward to Silver Threading’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday when I get to find a quote that really speaks to me.

It is so easy in our culture to get caught up in the “if only I had…” mentality that deprives us of our peace of mind in the moment.  Every single day we are bombarded with messages and images that tell us we can’t really be happy until we have “arrived” or attained that perfect job, body, health, relationship, financial status, free time, or fill in the blank.

Why wait? Why not take a little time to invest in your own peace of mind by slowing down, taking a deep breath, and noticing what is worthwhile about yourself in this very moment.

When I take time to get to know myself just the way I am rather than the way I wish I  could be, I give myself what nobody else can give me – peace of mind.

 

 

Life Gets Messy: A Day in the Life

The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.”
Gerald G. Jampolsky, Love Is Letting Go of Fear

My siblings

My siblings

Today for my A Day in the Life Series, I thought I would focus on the present moment, since my sister is in town and we are all together.

I’ve noticed something this weekend while spending time with my sisters and their families.  As we talk, share stories, and venture to the edge of that vast cavernous space that is the repository of our childhood memories , I sometimes squirm.

There are the stories that are painful to recall, and there are the stories that make us laugh. My sisters love to reminisce about all those near misses when I was a distracted teen responsible for two young siblings.

“Remember when I ran out in front of the car and got hit?” my sister laughed sarcastically.

“The car wasn’t even moving and you were supposed to be holding my hand. I told you not to tell mom and the first thing you did was run in the house and tell her” I replied with mock indignation.

“And what about the time you told me to close my eyes and hold out my hands for a nice surprise, and you put a big ball of slime from the garbage disposal in them…” she continued.

“I don’t remember that!” ( I did that?)

My other sister chimes in, “she took me to Ft. Ancient but we ended up in Eden Park”(I had no sense of direction back then)

The stories continued and of course I had to mention all those times when my sister was living with me in Maryland and her boyfriend (now her husband) didn’t show up at our house until 11:00 every night with a few dozen of his friends.

It is nice to be with the keepers of my childhood stories. Stories that nobody else could possibly understand. It is nice that we can laugh and know that we brought so much joy into each other’s lives, even in the midst of coping with my mom’s illness.

My sisters are close in age and always shared a bedroom growing up. The bond between them is hard to miss.  As I dashed ahead of them on our walk last night (mother nature called) and caught up with them afterwards, I watched these two women walking side by side towards me and could almost see a faint shadow of their younger selves juxtaposed against the pink hues of the evening sky behind them.

My childhood counterpart, Scott, passed away in 2008. Sometimes when my dad, sisters, and I are sitting around the table talking I can feel his presence. He was always so quiet when we were all together. He was a sensitive soul and had trouble keeping some of his childhood memories at bay. But every now and then our eyes would lock and there was this understanding between us that required no words. We were each others strongest allies even before the illness that caused my mom to behave so erratically had a name called paranoid schizophrenia.

I’ve learned that in order to remain present, I need to gently release the stories that can intrude on my happiness in the moment. I do this not by trying to put the memories out of my mind, but  by allowing myself to move through the bewilderment, hurt, and disappointment,  until I can see the stories in a different, more compassionate light.

Make no mistake, there are scars left behind that are far-reaching. There is a definite ongoing recovery process from the traumatic experiences of my youth. I have found that one way to navigate through them is to focus on the deeper meaning in life; that spiritual aspect that exists beneath the surface and is waiting to be discovered, one that is based in love and not fear.

I’ve learned to trust that things are exactly the way they are supposed to be, and I need not wait for circumstances to be presented in some perfect form in order to be happy.

My dad’s favorite saying is  “Life gets messy”.

This messiness is what life is all about, and it is my job to find the joy and love that are hidden beneath the stories that create barriers to my peace of mind.

To see the previous post in my A Day in the Life Series, click here.