Resilient AF

Those of us with mental illnesses often get called weak. Or needy. Or difficult. And to someone with a normal brain, we probably are those things, and worse.

What they don’t see is how many times we’ve been knocked down and gotten back up.

How many times we couldn’t bear to get out of bed but did anyway.

How many times we have been forced to hide our disease so we don’t get fired or lose a relationship.

How often we feel as anxious as if a dozen poisonous snakes were trapped in our clothing, but we still do what’s expected of us. Or try to.

How obsessed we have been FOR THE LAST DECADE about something we know is silly, yet it ruins days and weeks and years at a time.

How our depression can make the act of picking up a pencil feel like we are competing in a weightlifting championship without training.

No one else may see it, but that’s what we are: RESILIENT. We have more literal and figurative scars than a locker room of football players, yet to this point, not one of those daily injuries has been able to declare victory.

We keep getting out of bed for one more day; we keep being misunderstood one more time without becoming hermits; we keep messing up at our jobs and in our families because we have a second full-time (terrible) job inside of our heads, and we keep fighting to do better tomorrow.

We may never get any recognition from the outside world, but I am here to tell you, we are RESILIENT AF.

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I am now posting more regularly on Facebook because distribution is so much easier. If you’re on FB, like my TKWANA page: www.facebook.com/toknowwearenotalone.

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Mental Illness and Physical Pain: When the Brain Destroys the Body

My body is a clunker! And a great deal of the reason is that mental illness and physical pain are inextricably intertwined. Unlike most other illnesses, which are contained in one part of the body, mental illness sabotages the whole organism, much like the flu.

When I was about thirteen or fourteen, maybe even younger, I was at the dentist. He noticed that my canine teeth (the sharp ones that would look like fangs if they were longer) were completely flat. He was stunned that at my young age, I had already done that much damage to my teeth. His first question, asked almost in a joking tone, was, “Are you stressed out or something?” I sheepishly nodded “yes,” and he almost chuckled and asked, “What does a guy your age have to be stressed about?!” I wanted to say, “Everything in the whole world!” but by then I had learned that my obsessive brain made me weird, and so rather than answer him, I just nodded and gave him a you’re-right-my-life-is-blissful smile.

Grinding my teeth was only the first physical symptom of mental illness and physical pain joining forces in my body. Throughout high school, every doctor or PE teacher who has ever tested my flexibility (that sounds naughty if you have a brain like mine) has concluded the same thing: “Wow, Tim, you’re really tight!” As a kid taking the Presidential Fitness Test, I never thought anything of this consistent observation. It just seemed to be the way I was.

Then, two years ago, I developed severe tendenitis in my elbows. I tried to ignore it for awhile, but eventually I reached out to pick up my phone, and the twinge of pain was more than I could stand, so I dropped it. This seemed like a good time to call a doctor, which I did, and before long, I had my first doses of cortisone in each elbow. Over time, I would have 5 more between the two elbows. Oh, and one surgery with another soon to follow. I would put some good money that my tightness and my elbows were/are symptoms of my brain’s problems. My body simply shouldn’t be breaking down like this at my age.

There are plenty more examples where mental illness and physical pain intersect, such as my chronically bad back and persistent headaches, but the last one I want to mention is a horrible way that the brain harms the body in a very literal and deliberate sense: self-harm. On the inside of my upper left bicep – the most tender part – there are 8 prominent scars, slightly raised, looking like organized rows in a garden.

On my inner right forearm there are countless smaller and less conspicuous similar scars. That night the inner pain wasn’t quite so all consuming and I didn’t feel the need to be as aggressive in my pain seeking. I both cut and burned that time, but none of the scars show unless you look quite closely.

And on my inner right thigh, there are two red marks that have taken over a year to fade to skin color. Those are my most recent episodes of self-harm, brought on when someone I considered a friend reached out to tell me that she had unfriended me on Facebook because what I said was too negative for her. Already nearing desperation, I broke. I got my knife and lighter and decided to see how hot I could make the knife and how long I could touch it to my skin.

The first examples are about the unconscious harm our brains do to our bodies, while the self-harm examples demonstrate that sometimes our brains come out of hiding and demand that we do ourselves harm. It’s quite literally insane that anyone could get twisted up enough to start hurting himself. No one does it for fun. People do it because, in an odd way that no one could understand unless they had done themselves harm, it alleviates the horror of that particular moment. Imagine the despair of a brain seeking to inflict harm on the body that houses it, like a car that flattens its own tire.

Mental illness doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t follow the rules of logic or normalcy, and that’s why many people call us “crazy.” For those who suffer from any form of bodily harm at the mercy of your brain, I wish for you the ability to love your broken self. I hope you will see that broken people are the best part of being on this earth. We are the ones who are forced to do what some others will never learn to do: love ourselves, forgive ourselves, and accept ourselves.

And for those of you who are trying your best to support us but get tired of our incessant aches and pains, do your best to put yourself in our shoes. Imagine having a stroke. Suddenly the right side of your body is worthless. But neither you nor any of your friends think you’re faking it because it can be seen on an X-ray. The only difference is you’ll have to trust us and the doctors who diagnose us that there really is something very wrong in our brains. Our bodily symptoms are no different than stroke symptoms: the brain turning on the body.

And for all of you, please know that you are never alone. I am here for you, always available on this page or at toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com. And I hope that if you don’t already have them, you will find friends who speak the language of mental illness.

And supporters, you, too, can email me. And I urge you, too, to find friends who have a similar situation as your own. You need grace and kindness for yourselves as well. This is very hard; no one fully understands it.

We are all driving through a 5-mile, pitch-black tunnel without working headlights. The least we can do is to pile in the same car and face our fate together.
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I write this blog because I want people to feel encouraged that they are not alone. Please share it with someone who might need to read it. Thanks!

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Mental Illness and Exhaustion: Give Yourself a Break

Mental illness and exhaustion: Friends that seem like conjoined twins.

My friend texted to say she’d had a rough trip with her family. “Lots of stressors and I forgot my Xanax,” she said. By the time she texted, she was hiding in the bathroom, running the shower so people would think she was just taking a long shower, and sobbing.

Which got me thinking about mental illness and exhaustion, something virtually every mentally ill person I know deals with.

Any psychologist will warn you about stressors in your environment. My psychiatrist even tells me that she could make literally anyone psychotic if she were allowed to put them under certain kinds of stress. As she is a 5’2”, kind-as-can-be female, I don’t get too concerned when she celebrates this fact.

Everyone has stressors, and everyone can be pushed over the edge; it’s just that those of us with a mental illness are a good bit less capable of dealing with mental/emotional/psychological ones. And at least for me, here’s why: I already have about 80% of my capacity for stress happening inside of my brain at all times.

Whether it’s depression or anxiety or OCD or bi-polar disorder, if our illness(es) are up and running, we already feel like a normal person probably would after their most stressful week at work: Boss in a terrible mood, layoffs on the horizon, huge projects coming due, 70 hours, and missed three of your kids’ events to boot.

After all that, even a normal person would probably be pretty unhappy to find out that s/he had Friday night dinner guests coming over. But they could probably take a deep breath, muster up the last vestiges of energy they had, and smile when the guests arrived.

Now, maybe, we’re on a level playing field: you with your long week and me with my brain that never stops questioningaskingwonderingwhatifing, are both running on fumes, but if we hit the lights green and put the car in neutral as we’re going downhill, we can make it to the gas station. Maybe. If we’re lucky. If things go well, we might even enjoy the evening.

But we’re on exhausted and not at our best. If someone says the wrong thing; if your kid spills a drink; if your spouse uses that tone with you; or a million other “ifs,” we’re going to have to use the last of our energy to keep from performing professional wrestling moves on our dining room table. Actually, we’ll probably become angrily quiet and use the bathroom seven times until these intruders finally leave and we can go to bed or yell at our innocent families or pets.

I offer this not as an excuse but as an explanation from someone who has been both people in the above scenario. In my younger days, before my depression became overwhelming enough that it might well end my life if I ignore it, I could work a 70 hour week and still hang out with friends on a Friday night. Without even planning to slash their tires on my way out. I could even stomach a couple of busy weeks in a row with a not-very-restful weekend in between. Looking back, it seems like I had a puppy’s energy level in those days. I dealt with OCD back then, but it was well-medicated and fairly calm. I was pretty “normal.”

Not anymore, though. Between my OCD and my often-crippling depression, I feel like I’ve had a long week when I wake up after ten hours of sleep. If the kids are loud, or in bad moods, I’m pretending I need to use the bathroom for half an hour at a time just to attempt a reset. Which almost never works. Depression makes me feel completely sapped of energy, much like you would on the worst day of a bad cold. Technically, I probably could do the tasks that need doing, but just standing up from a chair feels like tasks 1-34. Then the guilt sets in that I can’t just suck it up and do what everyone else is able to do. And now I’m at war with two demons: the energy-drain of mental illness AND the guilt of being a human being who wants and wishes to do more.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve found a medical solution for this problem regarding our constant exhaustion. Maybe someday. But for now I offer two small things: First, you are not alone. If I can tell you anything from doing this work for awhile it’s that exhaustion is one of the most common symptoms of mental illness. I promise that you are not alone in this feeling. Second, give yourself grace. Any healing that might happen has to start there. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with providing for yourself the kind of care you need. Imagine if your body was lifting weights all day, every day, and even when you slept. You’d expect it to be exhausted. And that’s what your brain is actually doing.

To sum up: You’re very tired, and so am I. Others may not see why, but we can see why in ourselves and in others. So give yourself grace, and when you’re up for it, let someone else know they are not alone in their pain.

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BEFORE YOU GO: Friends, in my consistently inconsistent fashion, I have finally gotten started with the page I began working on about six months ago. I’m as excited about it as anything I’ve ever done because it takes my story out of the center of this blog and puts yours there instead. Please head over to https://tkwana.org/stories-about-mental-illness/ and listen to one or two of the stories there. THEN email me and let me know you would like to add yours. I’ll send you instructions. It can be anonymous if you want. I can even mask your voice a bit through the magic of technology. So don’t be shy! ALSO, NO MATTER WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY, YOUR STORY WOULD HELP SOMEONE. It doesn’t have to be jaw-dropping. The more ordinary the better. I just want people to know they have company in this world. I want there to be hundreds of 15-30 minute stories there eventually. All you need is a smart phone and a quiet place to record. I can edit out all of your mess-ups so you can just talk and not worry. Please, please consider joining in the effort and email me at: toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com

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Articles for further reading:

From The Mighty

From the Mental Illness Alphabet

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I write this blog because I want people to feel encouraged that they are not alone. Please share it with someone who might need to read it. Thanks!

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These Only Go to 7: Mood Disorders and Healthy Expectations

In the cult classic “mockumentary”, “This is Spinal Tap,” there’s a famous scene where a would-be rock star explains to an interviewer why his amplifiers go to 11, not the usual 10. Rather than try to capture the magic for you, I’ll let you watch for yourself…

I haven’t seen that movie in over twenty years, but I still regularly say “these go to 11” just about every time I am stumped and don’t have a proper response.

Over the past few years, I’ve had so many doctors ask me to use the 1-10 scale to tell them how I’m doing with my mood disorders that I’ve become accustomed to thinking in those terms. I’ve certainly never made it to 11, but the truth is that I rarely live above a 5. What got me thinking was a great evening I had the other night. Ann went out with some friends, so I took my kids out for pizza and ice cream. A lot of times, sitting around the dinner table, trying to figure out how to have a meaningful dialogue with small children can be hard for me. I tend to feel like I’m failing unless we’re discussing the pros and cons of universal healthcare or something like that. But they had recently downloaded the game Family Feud on my phone. Just like the TV version, the game we were playing gave us a certain amount of time to guess what the top answers were to some random question.

We had a blast playing this game while we waited for our food. Everyone was happy, even me. Then the pizza came and it was delicious. Afterwards we walked across the street for ice cream. We got in the car; no one spilled their ice cream; I don’t think I had to referee even one argument for the entire evening. Once we were home, everyone did their own thing for a bit, and then I put my babies to bed.

A perfect daddy/kids date night, right?!

Well, almost. Ish. I mean I hate to say no, but the truth is that I’d rate the night about a 7. The reason for the 3 docked points? Simple: my mood-disorder-laden brain.

My brain that, even while playing Family Feud was racing with all the possible negative outcomes for the evening or just for life in general. I couldn’t help but psychoanalyze the picture perfect family in the corner, knowing that, as with all such families, it takes a lot of work to seem so put together, to pretend so hard. And every time someone wandered through the door, there was my grim, obsessive reminder that all mass shootings begin with someone innocently walking through a door. I played out scenarios in my head, wondering what I’d do. Would I be able to protect my kids? What if I turned out to be a coward and got one of my kids killed? Would I kill myself? And of course, there was the meta analysis of my own situation: I wondered why I couldn’t just relax. I chastised myself for failing to relax. I took some deep breaths. But nothing calmed my uncalmable brain.

We boxed up our left-over pizza and headed for ice cream. It was delicious. My daughter asked for a taste of the flavor I always get and then ordered herself a cup. She seemed so grown up, ordering something other than chocolate ice cream with sprinkles. So I began thinking of how much I want to hold onto her and keep her safe. I thought about the mean girls and mean boys that are just starting to enter her social world. I thought of how much harder it will get in a few years when the hormones knock all of us upside the head for a few years. I just love her so much; can’t I keep her from getting hurt in any way, shape, or form? Please! Grant me this one power!

And I thought about my little boy who is still every bit a little boy, naive to all the complex realities of life that his sister is starting to taste. He likes Legos and Hot Wheels. And I adore him and want him to stay like he is. But I also want to help him grow up. What if I’m not up to the task?

So by the time we arrived home I was far off in a distant land, pondering the same things I ponder day in and day out, worrying about the same things, obsessing over the same things…scared of letting my family down, but also wanting a massive stroke to take me out any day now so I can be done with this incessant pain.

When I thought about our perfect evening together, I realized I’d probably give it a 7. Not because anything was wrong, but because for me, even when everything is right, the broken wires in my brain tell me not to get too comfortable because that’s when disaster strikes. The broken wires force me to feel like some futuristic movie robot who is constantly receiving a Google search’s worth of information about everything I lay eyes on. Maybe in an ideal world, I could shift my expectations and just accept that, for me, what I experienced that night was, in fact, a 10. Hell, you can call 10 whatever you want to, just like the Spinal Tap so wisely teaches us.

But not really, unfortunately. There’s something in the human brain…or even in an animal’s brain come to think of it…that knows when things aren’t quite right. No amount of wishing or wanting has enabled my brain to simply accept reality on its own terms, to embrace an evening that is a “Perfect 7”. Plain and simple, there is just something broken: call it depression or bi-polar disorder or the more vague-sounding “mood disorder”…Whatever it is, it won’t let me turn the nob past seven.

And this is my message yet again. It will be the same message in 20 years I’m sure: People with a mental illness deserve some grace just as much as people who are in a wheelchair or bald with terminal cancer. Life is different for us…fundamentally and irrevocably different. I even had a therapist balk at this concept one time – the idea that a mental illness qualifies as a disability. She didn’t want me thinking I could just get away with a poor-me attitude all the time. And I get that. That’s not helpful for someone who has cancer or is in a wheelchair or who has a mental illness.

On the other hand, I think it can be very helpful to recognize that we are in fact different and we have different needs and capabilities because of our broken parts. For me at least, this doesn’t lead to a woe-is-me mentality as much as it leads me to have grace for myself when I need more time alone than others or when I can’t handle a chaotic restaurant or when I feel both joyful and profoundly sad when I spend time with my kids because my brain won’t let me forget how temporary this all is. I’ve spent my whole life chastising myself for not being able to “just get over” certain things. But when I treat myself with respect and grace and kindness, seeing the unique ways that my brokenness comes with a flip side of compassion and understanding for others, I can treat my “weakness” a bit differently.

I’m still sad that my amps only go to 7. Very sad. Devastated, actually. But having compassion for myself inches me a bit closer to feeling like that 7 is something to be excited about, even though it will never be a 10 (or 11).

 
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I write this blog to let people know they are not alone. If you know someone who might need to read something like this, please pass it along or encourage them to email me at toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com.
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To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help with a small (or large) donation if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with relationships or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

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The Haunted Dreams of Mental Illness

I tell people that my brain never stops worrying, even in the middle of the night, and it’s true. If I wake up to pee, the thing I went to be worrying about is still churning, churning, churning. Sleep is the closest thing to relief that I get, but last night’s dream demonstrates that even my dreams are haunted by obsessive worry.

In the dream, I was in my psychiatrist’s waiting room. When the dream began it was just me and a couple of other people. Apparently, I didn’t have a set appointment but needed a refill on one of the medicines I take that gives me a few hours of relief from the internal strife. My doctor had come out from her office in the back to talk to me, and we were discussing whether it was in fact time for a refill on this medicine. She was worried that I was possibly abusing it (this is something that is a real-life concern of hers, though it’s unfounded). We weren’t exactly arguing, but I wasn’t convincing her that I actually needed the refill. In typical “dream time” fashion, the waiting room was suddenly full of about twenty people, all with appointments to see her. I was holding them up, in other words, and in the dream, I was well aware of how far behind my doctor now was.

And that was about it. There was no clear ending to the dream. It just stopped. So let me play Freud here and offer an analysis…

First, I’m constantly worried about not having the right medication. There have been times when I’ve waited too long to refill my meds and then the pharmacy is out of something or my insurance company has decided they need prior authorization for a medicine I’ve taken for seven years or something like that. I freak out, come close to panicking, and then it gets resolved like no big deal. If only I could live in that reality – that it will work out – when it happens.

Second, there’s the worry that my doctor will quit giving me this particular medication that offers me some relief. It’s true that I have addictive tendencies, but it’s also true that I have never abused this medication. In fact, I don’t even take it as often as I’m allowed to because I’m afraid of getting addicted to it and because I always want to have a little left over to prevent the situation in #1.

Third, I am constantly anxious about time, thus the part of the dream where my doctor is running late because of me. My siblings and I joke about how my mom used to have dinner ready at 6:00 sharp. This didn’t mean 6:01 or 6:07, like it would in most households. It meant 5:59:43. If any of us happened to be out and about in the car and 5:57 rolled around and we weren’t home yet, the old school car phone would ring and we knew exactly why: “Where are you? We’re about to sit down. We’re going to start because everyone else is here and the food is warm.” Most of us were pulling up the driveway because we knew not to be late. But that call was inevitable unless you were 15 minutes early. So, to this day, when I start to sense that I’m going to be late or that I’m making someone else late, my anxiety level quadruples.

Finally, I want people to like me. In the dream, I could see the frustration building in the waiting room, and naturally, they were all blaming me for taking the doctor’s time rather than blaming the doctor who wouldn’t just write the prescription. I’ve said before that I battle an unwinnable internal cognitive dissonance: 49% of me wants everyone to like me; 51% of me wants to speak my mind and feel heard. These two do not play well together to say the least. Every time I pick one, I’m slaughtering the other half of myself essentially. But the part that needs to speak up usually wins out, and in this case, I needed for my doctor to understand my need for a refill, even if it meant all the other people hated me. But of course, that didn’t mean I didn’t have to suffer with all the anxiety that came with people being angry with me.

So there you have it: a night in the life of my anxious brain. There’s another dream I have, a sort of recurring (thematic) dream in which I need to get somewhere or escape something dangerous, but I am moving in slow motion or stuck in quick sand. The dream never comes to a conclusion…I just try to escape something or get somewhere with no hope of ever doing so.

There’s no off switch. Alcohol helps, but it makes me angry. Not good. Pot helps, but it makes me too numb. Not good. Psychiatric meds help, but in a slow and subtle way that quits feeling very magical after a few weeks. I’ve heard good things about Heroin, but I’ve also heard it comes with a drawback or two. Sleep helps, but only if I’m not having an anxious dream, and I have a lot of them. I honestly don’t remember life without profound anxiety, even extending into my dreams. It often feels like torture to be fully honest.

I wish I had a solution, like warm milk before bed, but I’m writing more to identify with those of you who feel like there is no escape than to provide some remedy. And twisted as it might be, that’s always my goal, really…not to fix you, but to encourage you. I know you’re out there and you’re not alone. Talk to someone who understands; hell, email me if you need to. But as always, my belief is that one of the best forms of help in our situation is to know that others are in the boat with you.

Sweet dreams.

 
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I write this blog to let people know they are not alone. If you know someone who might need to read something like this, please pass it along or encourage them to email me at toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com.
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To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help with a small (or large) donation if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with relationships or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

*****

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]
 

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Aftermath

If you read my day-after-the-election post you saw my reactionary nature in action. I’m not proud of that, but being hypersensitive is a fundamental part of being mentally ill. Our brains are already on the precipice of disaster, pain, sorrow, anger, and it doesn’t take much to tip them over the edge. This same quality affects our day-to-day relationships, our careers, and our overall sense of sanity. You want proof that our brains work differently: just take a look at how poorly we handle over-stimulation of any sort. Like, say, having a possibly Fascist, certainly racist, definitely sexist man elected to run our country for the next (God, if you’re there, please make it only) 4 years.

Having a couple of weeks of perspective under my belt hasn’t helped too much. I still feel that this defeat is personal. I still feel betrayed by everyone I know who claims to care about the “little guy” and then voted into office the Great Bully of my lifetime. I still don’t know how to talk to the people in my life with whom I want to maintain relationships but at whom I’m so angry that the right words just won’t come out. I still feel crushed beyond words that the crowd I used to proudly run with – evangelicals – bought into Trump so thoroughly that it’s going to be a challenged to maintain those relationships with the mutual respect I would have hoped to perpetuate.

I’m not a little guy when you look at the outside: White, private schools, post-graduate education, wealthy upbringing…I’m privileged in so many ways on the surface. But on the inside, I’m something very different. The control panel inside my being’s core functions like a little guy’s: scared (always, even about nothing); feeling impotent when I try to tell people what I’m really feeling; powerless to change my own situation – having sat at the mercy of 8 psychiatrists and been told so many different things, I wonder if it isn’t somewhat like being kicked around the welfare system must be like. Simply put, I feel like a little guy is someone who can’t be sure her voice will ever be heard by someone with enough power to help. And in that regard, with The Great Bully as our president, I feel more like a helpless little guy than ever before.

But I don’t want this to be a political post any more than it already is. The deed is done. Now what?

This rally cry may sound very worn-out and even trite, but most cliches have a lot of truth wrapped up inside: We need to band together. Not just to fight for mental health research and reform in our government, but on a more basic level than that. More than ever, we need to let each other know we are not alone.

I wrote a post in a Hillary Clinton fan group the other night, and as a result 5 or 6 people who I do not know from Adam sent me friend requests. I accepted them and have already felt encouraged to see their posts in my feed. I’ve liked their’s, and vice versa, and voila – I feel like I’ve made some new friends who see the world in a similar way as I do. All of my problems aren’t solved, but I feel more connected to people I believe in and genuinely like. So, (I hate the words I’m about to use)…I “challenge” (that’s the one I hate) you to use this site to do the same thing: find some friends on here. If you keep seeing someone’s name pop up, send them a friend request. Hell, send me a friend request and let’s get to know each other beyond this forum.

I need you guys. I need you to survive. Literally. I need people who get it and who see the same quandaries and dilemmas in the world around them as I do. My core belief throughout my entire life has been simply this: We need each other. We don’t know who God is or where God is or if God is. We don’t know which political system is going to be best for us. We don’t even know if butter is going to turn out to be good for us or if it will kill us. We don’t know much. But I know that humans are pack animals, and I know that I need you. Reach out to each other; support each other; love each other. Start here. Or start somewhere. But be brave…do it.

 
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To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help with a small (or large) donation if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with relationships or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

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Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Podcast: Do What Works (but how do I know if it’s working?!)

Show Notes:
In this podcast, Tim discusses a mantra that he often references: “Do What Works.” The truth is that, for those who are mentally ill, it can be very hard to know what’s working since it often feels like nothing works. Tim attempts to offer some new ways to look at life that redefine what is or is not effective.

In the podcast, Tim references Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a therapeutic model based around the mantra, “do what works.” More information on DBT can be found at one of these links:

http://psychcentral.com/lib/an-overview-of-dialectical-behavior-therapy/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy

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To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

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Podcast: Two of Tim’s Friends Discuss Their Journeys with Religion and Mental Illness

In this episode, the final episode of a three part series on religion and mental illness, two of Tim’s friends, Alison and Matt, share their own journeys with mental illness and religion. While Alison comes to similar conclusions as Tim, Matt’s journey has ended differently. Please enjoy, and please know that I promise to be done with this topic for awhile!

Music Credit: Lady Antebellum, “Compass”

 
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To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

*****

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Dear Taylor Swift

This was originally published a year and a half ago. For some reason it was on my mind again and I thought I’d re-share.

 

Dear Taylor Swift,

Yes, I am a 40-year-old man writing a letter to you, but don’t get weirded out just yet. Give me a minute to explain myself.

You see, this morning on the way to my daughter’s school, she (as usual) asked for my phone so she could listen (primarily) to your music. She’s 7, and you are her favorite (and don’t tell anyone but I do love your music, too while I pretend to be strictly a Death Metal sort of guy). This morning, my little girl played your song, “Never Grow Up.”

I am somewhat sure it changed my life. No, seriously.

As is often the case in the morning, I was a tad grumpy, and to be entirely honest, I gave her the phone in part so I wouldn’t have to feign fascination with 7-year-old questions and observations. Now don’t go judging me, Taylor, until you have kids of your own. They’re amazing, but they ask a lot of questions, and at least in my daughter’s case, come out of the womb with plenty to say and may well never stop talking for 7 years. But back to my life being changed…

So I’m not a big crier. I suppose that for a male I might be somewhere in the normal range, which means I might tear up at a movie when a dog dies or when the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is especially awesome, but for the most part, it’s mainly when that irritating thing called death comes close to home that I do my real crying. Unfortunately, that means someone close to me has to die about twice a year so I can get my stuffed-inside-pretty-damn-deep-emotions out. I will admit that once the tears make their way over my lower eyelids, they can tend to be all-consuming for a few minutes. But that’s usually the end of it, even when death happens.

But thanks to you, for literally the only time in my life that I can remember, I cried all day. As my daughter played the song this morning, it was just a little tearing up that led me to reach back and grab her hand just to hold it for a minute. Suddenly, instead of wanting the carpool trip to be over, I found myself wanting to hit pause so I could absorb the maniacal beauty of this fast-fleeting time in life when kids’ shrieks (some good, some bad) dominate my life.

But when she got out of the car, I started to replay that song over and over. I don’t know what in the world attracts us to things that evoke that mixture of joy and pain that makes us do that strange thing known as crying, but whatever that impulse is kept me listening over and over again. And gradually, the watery eyes turned into actual rolling tears. And then I couldn’t stop…for hours. There was so much wrapped up in the words of your song that got me crying…

I cried because I love my kids so damn much it actually hurts sometimes.

I cried because I don’t always do a great job of expressing it to them, and sometimes I’m sure I hurt them in ways even they won’t understand until they have their own day-of-crying at age 40.

I cried because I wished I could go back to my own childhood, but not because it was so blissfully naive. It was quite the opposite. I spent my childhood petrified of all manner of things: being left somewhere by my parents, germs that might fly into my body invisibly, accidentally telling a lie, making God mad and being sent to hell, and just generally of something tragic happening to my loved ones. I obsessively ended conversations with my parents with “I love you” because when you have OCD and hear one of those horrific stories that I think people make up just to scare the shit out of kids so they’ll appreciate their parents more, you tend not to forget such scary stories (you know, the story where a kid doesn’t get what he wants for his birthday, tells his parents he hates them, storms off, and then during the day, they’re hit by a Mack truck, and the kid comes home to find the present he wanted waiting as a surprise which had been planned all along (did you hear these same stories, Taylor? For me, they struck a nerve that was already all too alive.)). So I cried for myself, honestly, for the fact that I have felt far too “grown up” since I was 4. I cried because your song says that to a child “everything is funny,” but I don’t remember anything funny about being a child; I just remember being confused and unbelievably scared. Are you sure you didn’t mean to say that to a child “everything is scary as hell”?

I cried because last year one of my students did a talent show dance to your song and needed a little ballerina to join her, and she asked my daughter. When it actually took place, I only teared up, beating myself up inside that I couldn’t shed some real tears about this overwhelmingly perfect moment in time. But I made up for that lack of tears today.

Ellie Ruth in last year's Wesleyan Talent Show

I cried because that memory reminded me that I’ve had to step away from a lot of people and activities I love to try to get better in my brain.

I cried because I used to believe that God loved me and cared about me, but nowadays I struggle mightily to believe anything of the sort. It’s not that I wanted that foundation to crumble; sometimes foundations start crumbling and don’t know how to stop, it would seem…sort of goes along with the whole loss of innocence your song is about, I guess. You don’t want to lose your innocence (or maybe you actually do) but you don’t really have much of a choice once the cage door is opened.

You’re probably getting depressed, but I’m done with my sad list now, and I’m actually writing to say thank you, so let me get to that part.

Thank you for helping some dam inside of me break open. The truth is, many people, at least historically, have perceived me as put-together and on-the-ball. You know: stable, self-assured, level-headed…those sorts of things. But on the inside I’ve always been very aware that I’m a pretty emotional guy. Unfortunately, the emotion I’m best at expressing is anger, but you and I and the 7 people who might read this now know that my anger, humor, and sarcasm are actually masks for a lot of pain I feel inside but don’t know how to get out. I got a lot out today, so thank you for providing the chisel that broke a dam I’ve been building all my life.

Thank you, also, for a poignant reminder that our little ones do grow up. The part that really gets me is the bridge where you talk about daddy’s coming home and remembering little brother’s favorite songs. During that part, my daughter blurted out, “Josiah’s favorite song is definitely Jingle Bells!” since that is literally the ONLY song he ever wants to listen to. If he wants music, it’s that song on repeat since Christmas of 2013. But all day as I’ve listened over and over to your song (enough times to move that song up a few notches on the charts), when it comes to that part, I really crack. Those images are so relevant to me, and I dread the day when the “DADDY!!!!!!” shrieks fade into unintelligible grunts when I walk through the door.

Finally, Taylor, and please keep this between us as I’m very private about these things, I’ve been going through a bit of a tough time lately. Usually, when someone close to me dies, the tears are incredibly cathartic. It’s probably pretty obvious to say that crying is a natural part of grieving, but I am quite sure I haven’t begun to grieve the recent losses I’ve experienced.

Until today.

So thank you for playing a small, unwitting part in this cathartic ripping open that I apparently haven’t solved just yet. Maybe when you read this post you can have a good cry, too, for you have had to grow up pretty fast for different reasons than I did. You seem to be handling it pretty well, but then again, perhaps, like me, you’re spending most of your energy to stay “put together” so the 29 zillion people who recognize you won’t see the little kid inside of you. The same one that’s inside all of us; the same one that we all need to take good care of, to “re-parent” as the psychology term says, to cherish and love because no one will ever understand us as well as we understand ourselves.

Sincerely,

Tim

P.S. My daughter really wants to meet you, so let us know when you’re available to meet. I’m sure you can squeeze us in, right?

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Well, the time has come to ask what I hate asking because I am pathologically afraid of annoying people. But the reality is that this endeavor has grown beyond a simple blog. I’m already spending a couple of thousand dollars a year now that I’m podcasting and doing some advertising (promoting) on Facebook. Currently, the ball is rolling to start at least one and hopefully multiple small groups dedicated specifically to helping mentally ill people know they have company. That, too, will require time and money. Long story short, I need some additional resources. Now that I have 501(c)(3) status, I can ask you for help while at the very least offering you a tax deduction. There are 3 ways to donate:

    1. You can transfer money directly from your bank via PayPal donations (seriously, why don’t you have a PayPal account by now, people?!).
    2. You can use PayPal to make a credit card donation.

FOR THE TWO ABOVE, YOU CAN MAKE THEM RECURRING MONTHLY IF YOU’D LIKE TO. Just check the box to this effect.

  1. You can write an old-school checks (ask your grandmother to show you how to write one, and then email me at toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com for the mailing address).

All covering-up-my-discomfort-with-humor aside, I want to grow this endeavor into something that helps more people and helps them in more of a variety of ways. Anything you can contribute would be profoundly appreciated.

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More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

*****

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

 

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Parenting Your Inner Riley

When my friend Riley died, I reacted how I always react when someone dies: I went numb. Around me, people cried and told stories and cried some more and laughed and told some more stories, but I just sat through it all, numb. Of course I didn’t want to feel this way. Well maybe some part of me did want to so I didn’t have to feel the pain. But I knew that being numb wouldn’t last forever, and while it did last, it only would make me feel like a jerk for seeming cold or distant or uncaring.

But I couldn’t stay numb forever. One of my dearest friends – one of the people who really understood me – was gone. I was bound to break.

Three weeks later, I sat in a Mexican restaurant and the dam decided to burst. Neither the stares of the other patrons nor the periodic stopping by of the waiter could embarrass me enough to stop the flow of tears. With my poor friend sitting across from me, helpless, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I couldn’t stop.

My Mexican-restaurant friend couldn’t possibly have handled it any better. He let me cry and he didn’t try to offer stupid platitudes that were supposed to make me feel better or stop crying. After I had been going for a while you gently asked me, “Tim do you know anyone else who has the same sorts of struggles and battles that you have? Anyone who might have felt like you feel now?” I told him through a sardonic laugh, “yeah, but he just died!” And then he asked me something life-changing. He said: “Tim, if you knew that Riley was feeling like you’re feeling right now, what would you tell him to do?”

At that time, for me, the answer was obvious: I was in a miserable work situation that was making my life harder and harder by the moment for many reasons I won’t list here. I knew I needed a break, if not forever, for at least a good while. But this decision came with a lot of unknowns and a lot of fear. If I were talking to Riley, I would have told him these things would work themselves out, that his sanity was worth more than any paycheck or job security. But in my own life, I simply couldn’t accept the advice I would’ve freely offered to Riley. I was trying to muddle through, even if it killed me.

I don’t want it to seem that I was crying about my job; I was crying about Riley. But I also knew that my job was contributing to my extreme depression, the kind that might well lead me down the road Riley had just taken, a dangerous intake of alcohol and drugs that stopped his heart. I knew that my job was a weight on my shoulders that would make it impossible for me to move forward or heal in the way I needed to at that time. I knew I needed to walk away from my job, at least for awhile. I knew that’s what I would tell Riley to do.

Psychologists often talk about parenting your “inner child”. It’s really a beautiful practice to take out an actual picture of yourself as a precious little boy or girl whose eyes indicate a deep hunger to understand and to be understood…to be cherished…to be safe…to be loved. We have all been that child. In psychological terms, inner child work means treating your current self as you would that little boy or little girl who is easy to feel compassion for.

And sometimes when I’m trying to have compassion for myself, I imagine the little boy in the pictures I have who is in fact me. I have a few different pictures in my mind of myself as a seven or eight-year-old child, and I can see the pain and struggle behind those eyes. It’s easy to feel deep compassion and love for that little boy.

But I don’t always imagine my childhood self in order to feel compassion for my inner self. Sometimes, it’s easier to think of someone else for whom compassion comes easily. Believe it or not, I often imagine Riley. Sometimes it’s easier to have compassion for someone else than for ourselves. That day in the Mexican restaurant, the person I imagined who was hurting and desperate was Riley. And Riley was a stand-in for me, for my inner child. As I thought about my job and how much it was harming me, I imagined what I would tell Riley to do if he were in the same situation, and it wasn’t even difficult to know the right thing to say. I told him that he deserved a break, that he was fighting a damn hard battle, that he deserved to wake up in the morning and want to be wherever he had to be that day, that he deserved a work environment where he was supported and loved and accepted for exactly who he was. Talking to my inner child as if I were Riley made it remarkably easy for me to know what to do.

It’s never hard for me to find compassion or grace for Riley. Sure he had addictions and mental health problems that Some might say made him imperfect, but never for one second do I feel incapable of loving the person who he was inside, who cared for people so much that it almost hurt him more than he could bear. I feel that way too, but I’m also far too hard on myself. So when I imagine my inner child, or my inner Riley, I can be a lot easier on myself because I know that I’m hurting and I know that I’m scared and lonely and broken and often desperate. But like Riley, I also know that I’m trying my best.

So that’s the lasting legacy, among others, that Riley has left with me. In a weird sense, he is my inner child. I can always have the proper perspective on myself when I look inside and see that I’m a lot like Riley, just someone who’s trying my hardest – often failing, but always trying.

I’m grateful to Riley for many things. He will forever be one of the people who really understood me. I will always be able to imagine conversations with Riley where I felt understood and loved and appreciated no matter how warped I actually felt. When I can’t bring myself to care for the little boy inside of me, I can always look to Riley and imagine how I would care for him. And if I care for myself in that way, I can care for myself the right way. For that and for many other things, I will always be grateful to Riley for teaching me how to love myself a little better.
 
 
For more about Riley, check out the foundation Riley’s Wish
 
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Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!

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Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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