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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Coping with College Stress

I am enjoying my classes this semester and managing pretty well despite the increased workload on top of working full-time. I am excited that there is an end in sight, and I should be able to finish my master’s program by mid-August.

As hard as it has been, in some ways being an adult learner has its advantages, because I have a different perspective from this vantage point. I have made it through enough of life’s challenges such as balancing family and work, as well as some significant losses, to be able to fully appreciate this opportunity to continue to learn and grow.

Unlike my younger counterparts in college, I don’t have to deal with the same kinds of pressures they face.  Being away from home for the first time, navigating relationships, trying to live up to academic and athletic expectations, and making decisions about alcohol, drugs, and sexual activities can be quite daunting for these young adults at times.

Being a  young student can be an exciting and wonderful experience, and it can also be the source of a lot of additional stress, leading to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. It is so important for young people to know they have a place to turn when they experience emotional difficulties.

Finding the path – Where can college students go for help?

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Active Minds is a wonderful organization that is making its presence known on college campuses in order to provide support to students who are struggling with a mental health issue. They are working hard to diminish the stigma associated with mental health issues by hosting campus-wide mental health awareness events and helping students to navigate where to find help when they need it.

I applaude their efforts and wish there would have been something like that when I was an 18-year-old attempting to go to college for the first time. I could have used someone to help me find resources to deal with my anxiety and eating disorder during their early phases.

I don’t have any regrets now but I am a firm believer that the earlier one receives help for any type of mental illness, the better the outcome and less negative impact it will have on that person’s life.

Active Minds supports the goal to make it as easy to access mental health care as it is to access care for physical illnesses, by eliminating the obstacles like stigma and lack of resources that prevent people from seeking help.

Stop blaming and start helping those with mental illness

John Oliver said it best. I dare you to watch this entire 11 minute video from his show last week. It just might enlighten you to the truth about how mental illness is treated in America and what needs to happen to improve this dire situation.

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.

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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?

Decisions, Decisions

1 a DecisionsWe don’t make our decisions;

Our decisions make us.

A. Jones

How many times have you been in a situation where you were trying to make an important decision and the more you thought about it, the harder it was to decide? This is particularly true for people with any type of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or any other illness that impacts one’s thought processes. Making a tough decision can actually trigger a significant exacerbation in symptoms unless there is a strategy in place to deal with the stress.

What I have learned over the years is to change the way I  think about those decisions. I have come to believe that while there may very well be a better answer for me, there really is no right or wrong answer. That doesn’t mean I am not going to make my list of pros and cons, and consider the possible outcomes. It just means that when it comes time to make that decision, I can relax, knowing there will be valuable lessons to learn no matter where I end up, and I can always choose another path if that one doesn’t work out.

Along the way I have discovered that my ego is often my biggest obstacle, leading me to believe there is a perfect outcome waiting for me, if only I  discover the right way to go.

It is not so much about the big decisions in life, but about all of the little choices I make each day, to stay present in this very moment, because ultimately that is what leads to my peace of mind.

Life doesn’t begin somewhere off in the distance, contingent upon the perfect scenario, it begins right here, right now, no matter which path I decide to take.

“Wear your ego like a loose-fitting garment.”

― Gautama Buddha

I’m a day late, but today’s post is for Silver Threading’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday.

Enjoy!

Look Inside: Writer’s Quote Wednesday

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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.

 

 

Blogging 201: Days 2 and 3

IMG_0665Day 2 assignment: audit your brand — look at all the ways you communicate information about your blog to make sure they’re consistent and focused.

Here are a couple of my thoughts about branding:

  1. My blog is dedicated to my mom, Shirley,  who had paranoid schizophrenia and passed away twenty years ago. I have been trying to figure out the best way to portray  “Shirley’s Heaven”. The intent of my blog is to raise awareness about a broad range of topics related to mental health, and to be a strong advocate for changing the way society treats people with these illnesses. By telling my mom’s story, I am acknowledging the struggles she encountered because of her illness and also the times she found peace through her gardening and being outside in nature.  When I remember my mom now, I like to picture her sitting on a deck surrounded by trees and flowers, on a bright sunny day, in her heaven. I am still searching for an image that can portray that sense of hope and peace, like the one above. 
  2. I have been noticing that some of my favorite blogs definitely have a “brand” that is consistent throughout their site. Here are a couple of sites that do an excellent job of branding:

Day 3 assignment: make sure your site is mobile-friendly, and familiarize yourself with the features of responsive design.

As far as I can tell, my site is mobile-friendly. I will need to do a little more research into the responsive design and how that works. So much to learn!

 

Thoughts

1 snake 2“Sentient beings, self and others, enemies and dear ones–all are made by thoughts. It is like seeing a rope and mistaking it for a snake. When we think that the rope is a snake, we are scared, but once we see that we are looking at a rope, our fear dissipates. We have been deluded by our thoughts. Likewise, mentally fabricating self and others, we generate attachment and aversion.”- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Here is my post for Silver Threading’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday.