Thursday, November 05, 2015

From the Beginning

So, I recently have realized something.  A week ago, maybe even less than that, if given this title, I would have started my post with, "When I was 12 years old, my brother died..." but slowly I am realizing, this is not the beginning at all.  More than a decade of life occurred before this moment, but I have somehow made my brother's death the beginning of my story.  My therapist explained it like this to me, "When you lost your brother, you essentially killed off yourself at that moment, and replaced your whole identity in his untimely and undeserved death."  So where do I go from there?  What is the focus for my treatment?  We both agree that I can't try and regain the childhood I lost, and threw into a great abyss.  Because even if I didn't grieve the way I did, if I didn't die inside and abandon every part of me that once knew my brother, 20 years have passed, and a healthy adult would have changed so much from that 12 year old girl.  That should not be my goal.

But maybe I can share a little of my beginnings and regain the memory of who she was, both for those reading and for myself.

I was born into a family of six, my mom and dad, my sister, the oldest, and my two brothers.  My first four years were spent in Ozark, Arkansas, in a small white house with a pump faucet in the front used for many muddy adventures, and an auto shop down the alley behind it with a glitchy pop machine that would spit out six orange soda drinks at once if you hit the button just right.  I found myself playing alone quite a bit since my sister was six years older than me, and the boys were old enough to run around the neighborhood on their own.  But I am pretty sure I had a good imagination that kept me occupied.  I was a sensitive girl, easily brought to tears, and lived to please everyone around me.

At the age of four, we moved to Pensacola, Florida, for my dad to continue school at the Bible College there.  We lived in a small brick rent house for about a year, then had an opportunity to move 30 minutes outside of Pensacola to a small Christian campground to live as caretakers onsite.  It was a young kid's dream place to grow up.  We had paths through thick woods, a swinging rope bridge over a creek/swimming hole, a large canyon with every color sand you can imagine, and so much to explore.  We lived very meagerly, rent-free, growing our own vegetables, and rotating two sets of uniforms for the private Christian school we were able to attend tuition-free as part of our role as camp caretakers.  My dad continued school while working two and three jobs at a time.  I grew closer to my brothers during this time of my life, but still spent a lot of time in my own world.

When I was six years old, my family made our final move to Oklahoma to live closer to my mom's side of the family.  We found an amazing two-story rent house that used to be a parsonage for the next-door Presbyterian church.  My mom put us into public school my second grade year, and we established ourselves in the small community of Chandler and the Baptist church.  The people from this town are cherished to me because they are the part of my life that best knows who my brother, Josh, was.  They grew up with him and our whole family, and were impacted the most when he died at the age of 16 in 1995.

So there is a little "from the beginning"...  there isn't a whole lot more to add.  I have the facts, some anecdotal things told over the years to me.  And I don't know that I will ever regain all those years.  If there is anything certain about my dissociate disorder, my life prior to age 12 is a time I have almost completely dissociated from.  Maybe it was out of necessity, maybe it was a mistake, maybe it was involuntary.  But now, I just need to regain who I am today.  And that is what I am working on every day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to Help Your Friend Suffering from [fill in the blank]

Want to know a big secret?  I don't know how you can help your friends with anything they are suffering from.  Why not?  Because I don't know who your friends are, what they are suffering with, and most importantly, I don't know what it feels like to suffer for them.

This is the most difficult thing about mental health and illness awareness.  Just because I have a dissociative disorder does not mean I completely understand every other person with the same disorder.  Mental disorders are always experienced on a spectrum, often with secondary diagnosis that changes the symptoms of the primary tremendously.

So what can any one person do, to break down the walls of misunderstanding, when every person they try to help has a new story and a new way of coping with life?  What is beneficial for one friend may be totally detrimental to the next.  While I believe the viral posts that we often see that describe depression or anxiety in a very raw and vulnerable way are powerful, inspirational, and even world-changing, I sometimes shy away from sharing the post when I see some aspect of depression that doesn't at all describe how I feel when I am depressed.  How else do people with mental disorders communicate to their friends and family what to do when they are in their deepest, darkest moments?  But that post isn't about is about the author, and we all have to be authors, and you all have to be readers.

You must read and come to know your friends first-hand.  Know that if they share a post about mental illness, it doesn't mean that is exactly how they feel.  It just means something to them.  Maybe ask them what they identify with.  Ask for honest feedback in how you approach them during hard times.  But basically, be there for them in all times, and you will already know how to help your friend when they struggle.

So...  I guess this is where I need to take my own the author, tell my story, and allow people to know how to help ME!  Next post, I'll be sure to give my raw and vulnerable account of what it is to be me.  Til' then...

Monday, October 26, 2015

When I say too much

It's a very thin line, almost invisible, between saying the words that need to be said, the ones that express exactly how you feel and believe, and saying too much.  But the difference I witness in the face of the listener is crystal clear.  When I share too much of myself, I see the slightest retraction of their eyes, they back away just a little bit, and immediately try and cover it up with a smile.  That awkward smile...  screaming to me that I just lost another potential friend to the misunderstanding and stigma of my mental illness.

What I have never understood is what changed in that moment.  I know it wasn't me, and guessing that this is not a new reaction for them, they didn't change either.  Really nothing changed, other than the realization that I struggle with something that cannot be seen by the naked eye.  Perhaps they believe I am asking them to do something, to help me, to save me.  But I am not.  I am only trying to be 100% who I am, and all I want is acceptance, and the occasional "Me too!"

But here is the best part of this conversation I am having today.  There are so very few people out there that I can never say too much to.  Instead of furrowing their brow, backing away, and fleeing the awkwardness, they lean in, wanting to know more, wanting to understand, wanting me to be 100% who I am and nothing more.  And honestly,  I think it is a good thing for now.  I don't think I could handle everyone always open to what I have to say.  But one or two...  I couldn't live without those few, who see me and not my mental illness. 

If you find yourself in one of those borderline conversations, next time, try to lean in, try to relax your expressions, and try to see that nothing has changed from one moment to the next.  Be grateful that person is letting you into the other side of their world.  You may learn more than you expect!