Monday, July 27, 2015

I am graduating from Mists of Phineas . . .

Dearest friends, loyal readers, and mom (because I'm pretty sure she was the only one reading, haha ;) ) ...

I am graduating from my lovely Mists of Phineas to a new website! I have loved my little blog but have felt for a long time that I needed to move into a direction of not only blogging about my life but seeking to chance the stigma that exists for people who struggle. With that in mind I will now be blogging at - come follow me there! 

I will continue to blog with the same ideas in mind but will now be able to also seek a broader audience to stop the stigma of mental illness and hopefully help others.

Come and join me friends!

xo ... Mia

Monday, July 6, 2015

Her name was Patty.

Little moments of goodness happen all the time in our lives; its looking for and appreciating them that can be the challenge. I always felt bothered by the advice that when we feel we are in most need of help, of comfort, of being seen, that it is in looking outward to others that we find help and healing. I had practiced that on occasion and felt that it did ring true, forgetting myself and my problems to focus on another brought with it peace and fulfillment. But the peace and fulfillment didn't last forever and naturally my mind would return to my problem or my struggle and I would lapse into a sense of hopelessness that I would ever be able to shake the heaviness that had so easily become ever present.

For me, the hopelessness was a mixture of fear, sadness, anxiety, and pain that I always identified more as heaviness. The heaviness was like the thing you sometimes see out of the corner of your eye but can never really recognize; it was the shadow a child sees on a hot Summer day and believes they can outrun it – so they try – they run around in circles, cutting this way and that, finally finding themselves red faced and out of breath under the shade of a tree claiming victory. However, it's a short-lived victory because they will soon have to step into the sun and the shadow returns. The heaviness is always real for me. But just as real as the heaviness is, so are the moments of light and freedom from the darkness and more often than not, those moments always involve me looking out to others.

One moment in particular came back to me this week as I, once again, began to sink into the darkness, the heaviness. I always hesitate to share these moments but it was one that brought such light to my heart when it happened and continues to motivate me to see others.

Her name was Patty.

I was driving to school one morning last year, late and annoyed. The night before had been awful and I had been plagued by the darkness in a way that had left me feeling like I was trying to outrun my shadow. I wanted out of life, of pain, of responsibility. Sitting at a red light, engrossed in my anger and self-hatred, I saw her. She was a heavy set lady in her early 60's and she was running and waving at a bus that was turning down a hill towards temple square in Salt Lake. My heart instantly went out to her and I began to will the bus driver to see her, to stop.

He didn't stop, he didn't see.

As the bus sped past she slowed her pace and her head dropped down in a way I recognized all too well. It wasn't just a frustration or annoyance I saw, it was distress, it was hopelessness.

By then the light had turned green and I was off in the opposite direction, but when I had seen her head drop the thought had instantly come to me that maybe I could offer her a ride. Just as fast as I had thought I could offer her a ride came the inner dialogue as to why I couldn't … Mia, you are late – you are going in the opposite direction – what would you even say? – she can catch the next bus - she'll think you're crazy or a serial killer – it would be awkward …

Luckily I didn't let my mind stop at why I couldn't and so the counter argument's came . . . Um, late is late, what's an extra few minutes – just turn around right here and go back – just make sure you point out you're not a serial killer, that should work – also point out that you know it's awkward but that you want to help – Mia, you have to go back, you would want someone to see you …

So, I ignored the fear, turned around and drove back to where she was slowly walking with her head hung down. I pulled up beside her and my first words were, "Hi, um, I saw that you missed the bus back there and I hate when that happens – can I give you a ride somewhere? I must seem crazy and I'm not a serial killer or anything, I was just going to school and have some time … (I then trailed off into unintelligible mumbling)"

She came closer and I realized she was crying when she said, "I don't want to bother you."

"It's not a bother at all, I promise, where are you going?"

She got in and we proceeded to talk. Her name was Patty. She was trying to just get to the downtown trax station because she was meeting a friend in Sandy that she hadn't seen in years.  She said when she missed the bus she became upset because she didn't have a cell phone and didn't know how she was going to tell the friend she was late. She told me that she had been out of work for a while and this friend was going to help her get started on finding a job. When she missed the bus she was beside herself. I told her I could take her to Sandy but she said the trax station was just fine. She was a great lady and even though I know we both felt a little awkward at times, it was such a blessing.

We parted ways ten minutes later and I pretty much floated up to school. It felt great to have done something for someone else and more than anything I was grateful to have seen her. She was a neat person and getting out of my head for ten minutes had allowed me to see my own life differently. Thing were hard but I wasn't alone in that, it was hard for her too and for everyone else at some point. The experience also taught me to probably leave out mentioning serial killers when you meet complete strangers ;), not useful and probably makes them more scared of you.

All joking aside, I needed that experience then and I needed the memory of it this week. Of course, what one gets out of service shouldn't be the reason to do it but it's not wrong to accept the good feelings that come. It's not wrong to feel happy that you were able to see another person. I have spent most of my life not feeling seen and the moments in which I have felt seen, I count as some of the most powerful for me.

Life is hard, friends. Everyone struggles and I believe most people are doing the best they can. Sometimes they hurt us or we hurt them and I wish that didn't happen but those mistakes are part of life. If you are struggling today, know you are not alone. If you are struggling today, know that you matter and are seen, even if you don't feel you are or do. Look outside yourself and find someone else to see and while it won't take away all of what is hard for you, it will help – I promise!

Find your Patty, there are always people waiting to be seen . . .    

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

BUSY is my new four letter word . . .

Grandpa Chard ... yup, he is that cool.

One hot summer day when I was eight years old I stole a bike.  The bike belonged to my little brother Mario and so I'm pretty sure I didn't feel that bad about it – basically it was my bike too. We lived on a dead end street in the country, next door to my grandparents; in between our homes was an area of trees and bushes that had been christened the "Ewok Place" due to our undying love for all things Star Wars. It was a magical place where anything could happen - anything including angelic little me deciding that teasing my brother by taking his bike as he screamed and ran behind me calling for me to stop was a fun way to spend an afternoon. 

I stole that bike like a champ as I pumped my way up and out of the Ewok Place, hitting the gravel in front of my grandparent's house, and tasting victory as his little cries of "Mia stop! Give it back!" grew fainter in my ears … Victory!

Victory - that is until I heard the loud, deep voice of my Grandpa call out, "Mia! Mia! Stop and give Mario back his bike!" I froze and was instantly terrified as I immediately dug my heels into the gravel, slowing myself to a stop. Mario caught up to me as I climbed off the bike, grabbing the bike back from me with a triumphant smile as grandpa called for me to come over to the porch where he has been sitting in his favorite brown and beige rocking chair.

I was scared to go over, not because of my grandpa but because of always hating when I got in trouble. My grandpa was a loving and kind man but sometimes could come across a little gruff and I wondered how much trouble I would be in. As I reached the stairs with my held hanging down he said, with his voice quieter and full of love, "Don't tease your brother like that, you know better – now go get us a couple of cokes and sit with me."

I looked up to him smiling at me and went inside to find my way to the kitchen of a house that was just as much my home as the one next door was. In the fridge sat the coveted glass bottles of Coke, grandpa was old school and always had to have Coke from a glass bottle. I popped open the drinks with the bottle opener that was hanging from the wall and was off to the porch. There we sat, he and I, in his favorite brown and beige rockers, the same rockers that not too many years before sat he and Grandma before she passed away. Not much was aid, we just sat and rocked and watched the world around us.

That memory is one of my only two memories that I have of my grandpa and I alone, just the two of us, and I treasure it – I treasure the glimpse it gives me into my personality, I treasure how perfect a moment it was as he stopped my getaway, I treasure the love he offered me and the way I can feel the cold coke in my hand and hear the pop and hiss of the drink as I open the old bottle every time the memory comes back to me – but most of all I treasure the time he gave me, that he wasn't too busy to give me that time.


That word. I hate that word.

Lately, every time I hear that word from someone or I use it myself I think of this memory; I think of my grandpa, on the porch, in his rocking chair. I wonder what he was thinking about – his wife passing away, his children and grandchildren, the way things had changed since he was younger, his own health issues and pains …  I think of this memory and wonder if he would still take that kind of time today – to sit, to think, to be.

It's interesting what we chose to notice. I remember a time when using the word busy was said with a twinge of regret, as if the speaker realized the unhealthiness of being busy and was wanting to get back to a more even pace of life. Now, however, I've begun to notice that word said with pride, said with a conviction that busy is how life should be led; the question is asked, "How are you?" or "How have you been?" and answers come back like Keeping busy - Super busy but good – Oh, you know me, always busy – Good … busy and good, etc.

Life is fast paced these days and it seems like everywhere you go we are busy human beings; I don't believe being busy itself is necessarily a bad thing. There will be times in our lives when we will be busy, there will be a lot going on. I believe the problem comes when being busy becomes a chronic way of living, when we begin to take pride in our busyness and seek to add more to our lives so we can come out the winner in the whom-has-the-most-going-on game. There have been times in my life where I have lied about being busy because I thought that not being busy meant I was less than other people, that I was boring or lazy.

I can remember distinct conversations where I have been honest about not being busy and in return I hear, "You are so lucky that you don’t have to be busy. I can't even imagine what that would be like, to do NOTHING … how lucky for you! My life is never like that, between my work, and family, and friends, and church callings – always busy!" I smile, and we both laugh, and inside I'm thinking, ummm … I just told you I work, and have been going for walks, and spending time with my family – not sure how that's nothing, but okay . . .

There have been other times when I have been busy, when I feel like for weeks all I do is run from one thing to another, always wondering if I'm forgetting something else, wondering if I'm even doing half of the things I'm doing like I should be doing them, wondering when things will slow down but also feeling pride that I am busy and answering those who ask how I am with conviction that I am busy and good – but am I good? I know I'm busy but does that equal good, does busy equal better?

I'm starting to think it doesn't. I'm starting to look back over the last few weeks of my life and those other times in my life where I haven't been busy and what not being busy has allowed me to do – I've had really good conversations with friends, I've been able to observe the needs of others quicker, I've been able to observe others period, I've been able to try and realign myself spiritually. I don't necessarily think busy has everything to do with how many events or things with which I am involved. I believe it can become a state of mind, a way to distract myself from life – from feeling the good and the bad that life brings because feeling things is sometimes too hard.

I'd rather be busy than have to look at the ways in which I could improve, I'd rather say I'm busy than admit to someone that my feelings of anxiety sometimes keep me from engaging with people, I'd rather say I'm busy than allow myself to admit that yesterday my busy was twelve hours of Netflix and a jar of trader Joes cookies and cream, I'd rather say I'm busy than to wonder if my not being busy does mean my life isn't as valuable as the lives of others … I'd rather be busy …

But no, that isn't right. I don't want to be busy, I want to be engaged (in more ways than one, haha jk ;) ). I want to be engaged in the moments of life not just fill my life with things that make me seem busy but that are hollow. I want to acknowledge that a lot going on in my life is good but so are the times when not much is going on. I want to be able to enjoy small moments and let them be enough.

I want to be able to sit on a porch, in rocking chairs, with another person and enjoy a coke in silence . . . all the while knowing . . . that's as busy as I need to be sometimes . . . 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Your pain is not unique . . .

A month ago in a conversation with a friend I respect and appreciate he said something that I took the wrong way at first, something that I let hurt me. We had been talking about some of the experiences I had gone through in my life and the type of pain I felt from them: the loneliness, the shame, the rejection, the hesitation and fear to be open and honest, etc. He said, "I see your pain. I see that it is very real, but Mia, your pain is not unique."

I was crushed. I stopped talking to him and couldn't think. My head pounded out the phrase, "your pain is not unique," over and over again until it morphed into, "YOU are not unique." I was crushed. I wanted to say to him, "Oh yeah?! You try being sexually abused as a kid, keeping it secret, hating yourself for it, not dating or ever having a relationship, trying to end your life and then living through the hell and embarrassment that is a psych ward and then come tell me that that pain is not unique!" Instead, I disengaged and isolated for a while, which is my MO anytime I feel hurt. Then, after the initial emotional flames had died down, I was able to think about what he could have meant and ask myself why such a simple phrase had taken such an emotional toll on me; what I feel I learned from this experience has changed me.

He was absolutely right – my pain is not unique and neither is yours.

Now, this isn't me trying to say a phrase I hate with all my heart, one that is often used when pain is expressed, the "I know how you feel" phrase. I still believe that no one can truly and fully know another's pain because every individual who has lived or ever will live is unique; what I'm wanting to talk about is the understanding that everyone does have pain and even though it's different, it's still at it's core, pain. If one can acknowledge that then one can begin to let others who have experienced pain, whatever the pain may be, sit with them in the hard moments.

In recent years, I feel there has been a surge in people seeking to differentiate their pain: the ALS ice bucket challenge, mental health awareness campaigns, child abuse awareness, walks for diabetes, lupus, cancer, and many other campaigns for the various sufferings or hardships that happen in the world. I feel that it's actually a great thing and that they've started with great purposes – to educate, to bring light to experiences physically and mentally that have been previously ignored. When it is used for that purpose I feel it is powerful. However, this same trend of differentiating pain has also been used to denounce the validity of other painful experiences and has turned into what some have called the "Olympics of suffering." It's as if some are seeking to create a hierarchy of pain with their particular ailment of course being top of the list. There will never be a hierarchy sufficient enough to please everyone and there shouldn't be, it's too subjective an endeavor.

I can honestly say I've been there before. My pain was so tied to my identity that if it was compared against that of others and found equal or wanting then it would mean I was nothing. I would dissolve into the sea of other people's pain and not be able to come back together again as a person. I've learned over the last few years that my inability to allow another's painful story to be told without me wanting to follow it up with my own pain was due to my own insecurity about who I was and if my pain wasn't seen then I wasn't either; and feeling unseen is such a horrifically awful feeling. Being able to allow another to tell their story and really hear it without seeking to input my own has lead to an increase in empathy for others and also a certain type of healing for myself. 

I know that pain not being unique is a seemingly harsh statement but let me explain what I mean. Pain is described in the dictionary as: "1) the physical feeling caused by disease, injury, or something that hurts the body 2) acute mental or emotional distress or suffering 3) someone or something that causes trouble or makes you feel annoyed or angry." At the time of our conversation, my friend was definitely the third definition of pain to me :) I was angry and annoyed . . . but, I was wrong. Lets talk about what he was really trying to teach me.

Pain, according to the above definitions, is universal. The process of just being alive in this world gives way to pain, whether physical, mental, or emotional. All people experience pain. I realized in the moment that he said those words to me that I needed my pain to be unique – I was holding onto my pain for dear life; it defined me, it was me. What did I have if I didn't have my pain?  Twenty years of silence about deep-seated pain and believing myself to be separate from other people (and not separate in a good way but in a less than others way) takes its toll. I was holding onto pain and the crushed feeling came because I wasn't ready to let it go.

In some weird way my pain had comforted me, in my mind I knew who I was - I was the words others had called me, and the bad that had been done to me. I had not allowed others to be aware of what was happening inside my mind and heart and as such, letting go of pain meant a collapsing of all that I thought I was. It was as if, with his words, he had come knocking at the door of my mind and behind that door on rows and rows of shelves sat my pain, my unique pain – categorized and alphabetized (because lets be real – I'm a little OCD) … abused, ashamed, alone, bitter, bullied, depressed, embarrassed, rejected, shamed (in there twice for good measure :) ), victimized, etc. . . . There wasn’t room for anything else. His knocking made me take inventory and believe that if I let all the pain go I would be left with nothing. But that is not true, that is a lie. It is a lie that my pain is telling me because it doesn't want to get kicked out.

What happens when one finally begins to let go of the pain is freedom. Now, I'm not going to tell you I've become pain free, that I've opened up all the pain jars in my mind and threw them away, but what I will tell you is I'm beginning to. I'm allowing myself the chance to imagine what I could be if I freed up some space in my heart and mind for other things. I'm beginning to see that merely the acknowledgment of my pain not being unique is opening doors for me to be comforted and helped. I am slowly letting the words of other people penetrate because I no longer believe us to be on different playing fields. Their words of comfort aren't bouncing back off of the phrase, "Well, you just don't get it, you don't know my pain."

I'm beginning to imagine and experience what it looks like to live in a present moment – to not be haunted by the past or worried about the future. I'm beginning to understand that not only is our pain impermanent but so is our joy . . . nothing last forever, life is constantly changing. I can no more hold onto the joyful moments of life than I can push away pain when it comes. I believe it is in the seeking to cling to the joy and not let go, while also pushing away any ounce of pain that comes, where the real damage and unhappiness occurs. Acceptance of the impermanence of life is what has started to bring me peace . . . In my moments of pain and agony I am trying to say to myself, "this won't last forever, " and the quicker I realize that it doesn't the easier it becomes to stand the pain; likewise, in my moments of happiness and joy I am learning to say, "This won't stay forever so savor it, live IN it," and the more I do that the more joy I feel. I used to turn happy and good moments into pain because I would realize they couldn't last forever and my inability to accept that would cause me to miss living in the good, in the happiness.

So . . . what pain are you holding onto? What could you begin to imagine for yourself if you freed up the space that pain and an unwillingness to accept the impermanence of life takes up in your mind and heart? What comfort could come to you if you began to accept that pain is universal and an acceptance of it not being unique to you doesn't mean at all that you are not unique because you are not your pain? These are only some of the questions I am beginning to ask myself, why don't you join me . . .

Your pain is not unique, YOU are unique and you are NOT your pain . . .   

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A conversation about weight ...

me at 19 with a family friend

            A few weeks back I was at my parent's home. My mom had been going through boxes and had found a photo album I hadn't seen in years; in it was this picture. I hated seeing this picture and could hardly look at it without feeling angry, sad, and disgusted. Just as we were looking at the albums my brother and his family showed up. My four-year-old nephew Jacob came barreling through the door and straight into my arms. "Come on Mia and play with me but first, … kisses," he said as he kissed me and hugged me as tight as he could.
            At that moment the picture was still in my mind and I wanted to believe that I was a different person now; that I wouldn't be recognized now as that person. So, I picked up the picture hoping that if I showed it to Jacob he wouldn't know who it was.
           "Jacob, do you know who this is?" I said pointing to myself. He was still hugging me tight but turned and glanced down, "Yeah, that's Tia Mia. Now come play with me." He was out of my arms and down the stairs in an instant.
           I sat there a little taken aback with two conflicting thoughts and many emotions; the two thoughts being, "Dang it, I hate that he knew it was me." and second, "Wow, he didn't mention my size at all, it wasn't a big deal to him."

I've thought back to this experience many times over the past few weeks. As I look at this picture I see the worst time of my life. I was nineteen in this picture and having a complete mental breakdown but also keeping that hidden from most of my family and friends, I can put on a game face when I have to and it's pretty solid. I had been sexually abused at the age of eleven and never told anyone. A week after the abuse happened I had to go to a barbeque with my parents and my abusers would be there. I remember not wanting to go, fighting with my mom and hating being there. I also remember that barbeque being the first time in my life I ate to the point of making myself sick. Part of me looks at that moment now as me eating to make sure I didn't say anything and the other part believes I was eating to ease the panic, shame, and pain that was there for me as I was once again with people who had hurt me.

After this experience of eating to the point of making myself sick, I began to use food as the means to ease my hurt and stifle my never-ending panic. Eight years after those first few months of using food in that way is this picture and one can see what years of using food as a coping mechanism did to me. During that time in my life I had quit school for a semester and was living at home – I was panicking more and more and having angry outbursts I couldn't contain. I was afraid to go out in public and wanted to spend most of my time sleeping. These were dark days for me. My secret was killing me. My family still loved and supported me and tried to help anyway they could but I still couldn't say anything.

So, that is what I see when I look at the picture but Jacob just saw his Tia Mia. Jacob saw me as the person who loves him, hugs him, listens to him, and plays with him. I've thought often of his reaction and the matter of fact way he said it was me and how quickly that was forgotten, as he was off to more important things, off to play and create and live. I have thought often about why I can't just do that and how can I learn to be more like him. How do I leave behind the years of pain and damage done by myself and a society that seems to be hyper focused on weight and appearance?

I believe growing up society told me that I would have value as a human being based off of two things: appearance and relationship status. Those two topics were everywhere then and even more so now. Think about how many messages we get daily from T.V., music, movies, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, magazines, other people, and many other sources that discuss someone's appearance or relationship status. I'm reading a spy novel for heaven's sake and a psychiatrist in the book is talking about a female doctor that is his friend and he says, "She was too attractive to be single …"  I hear endless songs about relationships and love and outward beauty. I follow inspirational fitness instagram accounts with daily sometimes hourly posts about the right way to exercise or what to eat but more often than not I end up feeling worse about myself because I'm not dedicating every moment to losing weight and when that happens I go back to what has always had the ability to comfort me: food.

Now, I'm not saying it's anyone's fault that I do that that I turn to food for comfort. What I am hoping to bring up is just to say why does weight and appearance always have to be a conversation? (I get the irony of that question as I'm writing this post :) ) When did we stop finding our worth in love of others and service and the intrinsic belief that because I am breathing I am worth it? When did we stop having the childlike ability to not see weight when we look at pictures – skinny or fat, healthy or unhealthy, toned or un-toned? I want to get back to the days when it didn't matter - when I, like Jacob, could look at a picture and see my mother or father, my uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, and even someone famous and see them as the experiences and time they have offered me and not how big or small they are.

Doing that takes time, takes effort and work, and takes owning up to my own weaknesses and wanting to better them. Comparing myself to, competing with, or judging another is not something I want to continue to do. I admit it happens all the time and my judging someone who is "skinny" or "pretty" based off those qualities is just as bad as others judging me for being "fat". That reverse judgment is hardly talked about but just as valid, judging a person based on their appearance is just wrong – whatever that appearance is. I used to see someone skinny or pretty and, especially if they were in a relationship, think, "I hate you, why do you have to have everything. We'd never be friends you are too skinny or pretty to be friends with." What?!?!?! I was so wrong and allowed my own poor and crushed self-esteem as well as what I lacked in the form of a relationship to get in the way of seeing them as a person.

We are all people on this same journey trying to figure life out. What works for one doesn't have to work for all; if a person's passion is fitness – awesome, if a person's passion is makeup – wonderful, if a person's passion is teaching – fantastic, if a person's passion is Parks and Recreation – you are me, if a person's passion is reading – you are better than others ;) jk. . . . And, why can't a person's passion be all of these? I believe it can and a hundred other things.

I want to live a life where I am happy for others and myself in the exact moment they and I are living. I also want to live a life where it's ok and important for me and others to try and be better than we currently are in any aspect of life: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual . .  It doesn't have to be one or the other . . . it can be both . . . it should be both. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Wash your face . . . Say a prayer . . ."

So, I have to admit something that will shock most all who know me …

When I was a little girl/teenager/young adult I was WAY emotional … shocking, right? I know it is difficult to imagine because I am so level headed and emotionally removed now and am able to stay completely emotionally detached in basically all situations especially those I feel passionately about but dig deep and see that it is true, I used to be what people would call – over sensitive.

Just even sensing that someone was about to use the s-word on me (and by that I mean sensitive folks, not what we all normally think about when the s-word is mentioned … supercalifragilisticexpialidocious) I would go postal and get even more emotional and sensitive, "How dare they call me sensitive?!" I would think and sometimes exclaim, " I am not sensitive! The rest of the people in the world are just dead zombies without feelings!"

Now, while I still hold true to my stance that the rest of the world could be without feeling :), I will concede that I could be a tad reactionary …

I mention this only to allow your empathy to be heightened for those poor people that had to live with me during that time – my family, especially my mother. To be fair to young, little, overly emotional Mia, I think anyone would be sensitive to their "loving" brothers breaking into the chorus of  "Let Her Cry" by Hootie and the Blowfish, every time it even looked like tears would come :) We all laugh about it now, after my years of therapy to get over it (haha – jk) However, given that I can now see that I must have been a joy to live with, I can give my mom leeway when I remember the two most hated phrases she would use when I would get too emotional: "Wash your face. Say a prayer." Now, unless you read those phrases in your mind with a proper Latina accent (think Gloria from Modern Family) you cannot appreciate their full power so go back and read them again … I'll wait …

To this day my blood pressure rises and my pulse quickens at those words and I remember that 99.9% percent of the time they only worked to get me even more upset and I would usually end up calmly **cough cough angrily cough cough** saying back, "Don’t tell me to wash my face or say a prayer!!! YOU wash YOUR face, YOU say a prayer!" … Oh, my poor dear mother … Now, she would give that advice to me for any emotion  - if I was sad and crying – if I was rude and fighting with my brothers – if I was justifiably angry at anything – if I had just woken up from a nap and looked like I might, at some point in the next day or so, feel any of the above emotions – she would say, "Mia, go wash your face; say a prayer." Before yesterday, I have never understood why she continued to use the phrase when she always got a negative response from me; but maybe there was a method to her madness because yesterday … yesterday, those words came back to me …

In one of the cosmic jokes of life, I don't often do well when I have extended periods of time without somewhere to go or something to do; even though, when I am in my busy normal life, going places and doing stuff, I wistfully dream of the time when nothing will be exactly what I have to do. So, as you can imagine, the nothing that spring break has given me has had its ups and downs – yesterday was a down. I didn't hardly sleep the night before because my mind was busy thinking over every horrible thing that had even happened and every horrible thing that could possibly happen … it annoyingly does that from time to time (ok, fine - all the time), doesn't yours'?

I had been awake from the early hours just lying in bed feeling the types of things that come when your mind has just finished one of those lovely states of positivity I just mentioned above, and I thought, "I am never getting out of this bed. Life has nothing for me (dramatic, I know …), nothing good will ever happen ever again …" After a couple more hours of laying there I decided if I had to be depressed today, at least I would do so with clean teeth … As I stood in my dark bathroom with my hands on the counter supporting myself - like it took effort to just be standing there - I heard the words I always hated … Wash your face … Say a prayer … and for the first time that morning – I smiled.

I thought back to all the times my mom had said that to me and I laughed as I remembered how angry I would get … I thought back to my mom and her life and how with all my supposed trials, she had grown up in far worse circumstances … I thought about what difficulty would have meant to her and why she would have continued to give me the advice I never ever wanted to hear … I thought about her strength and love and how that strength had to have come from somewhere …

As I thought all those things I decided to put her advice to the test: I washed my face, then walked into my living room, knelt down, and said a prayer. Now after, I didn't miraculously feel better or feel overcome with relief like my overly TV watching/movie going brain was expecting but at least I was up – at least I was beginning to shake the dark fog I had fallen into and think about what I could do that day to help someone else and in the process I knew maybe it could help me.

So, I got ready for life and went outside and did things; the weird part being that the dark, depressing fog never lifted. I felt it all day long but you know what – its ok. I'm fine with that because to me that's life – not everyday is awesome. I used to expect my trying to get me immediate results. Old Mia would have come home at the end of the day and thought, "Well, mom's advice didn't work. I washed my face AND prayed and the feelings never left – she was wrong, God didn’t help me, I'm never doing that again …"

New Mia knows that my mom never washed her face and prayed when life got overwhelming because she thought the results she wanted would come, she did so because she had faith in the process. The process of real life – not the TV/Movie version that gives immediate results to actions; the process that we become who we are in moments, in minutes, in hours … in just continuously trying and not giving in or getting upset when we fail.

So, today I am going to wash my face, say a prayer, and go do things. You should too ... 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ummm .... should you call me fragile?

photo's courtesy of my 7yr. old nephew photog :) Thanks, E.

I hate the words "mental illness". They somehow say to me that my brain is sick, my brain is less than your brain, and as such isn't good enough – is defective. So no, because I have struggle in emotional or mental areas of my life to the point where acting on suicide was a reality of my past does not give anyone the right to label me as mentally ill. To me I am just a human being who is alive and struggling, dealing, learning, and growing. To the individual who called me fragile today, I love you … yet you sparked a fire in me … this is about to get real:

Don't you dare call me "fragile" … I am not some little bird whose wings are broken and need fixing; I am not Tennessee William's Glass Menagerie; I am not fine china that you only bring out during special occasions so that you minimize the risk of damage; and more than anything, I am not something you put in a box and on the outside stamp "Handle with Care" …  

I wasn't handled with care when I was in grade school and kids made fun of me because my mom "talked funny" and looked darker and different than other moms;

I wasn't handled with care when the words 1-800-Jenny-Craig were written on my desk in fifth grade and everyone laughed when I saw it;

I wasn't handled with care when I was sexually abused at the age of eleven and threatened and bullied with what would happen to me if I told;

I wasn't handled with care when I was asked out by a guy a few years ago only to have him drive a mile from my house, tell me he "made a mistake" and didn't want to date me and drove me back to my house;

I wasn't handled with care by the police when I tried to end my life a few years ago and they yelled at me in my car and told me to get out or they would force me out;

I wasn't handle with care when the arrogant psychiatrist at the hospital told me I am lucky the cops didn't charge me with driving under the influence because I tried to end my life in my PARKED car with the keys not even in it and that he felt I needed to stay in his facility to "learn my lesson" …

If ever there was a time when I needed to be handled with care it's already been mentioned so don't put me in your box and label me "fragile". I am not fragile. I am the type of strong you wouldn't even know what to do with. I am the kind of strength that was able to live more than fifteen years with a secret that ate at my soul through demons in memory and words so horrific that I still face the consequences today. I am the kind of strength that didn't allow myself to hurt others like I had been hurt; the kind of strength that held onto a belief in God and a hope to one day fully understand that he can love me and that His loving me isn't manifested in fulfilling my every wish or want. I am the kind of strength that has faced hours, days, weeks, and years alone at the end of every night when I wanted anything but to be alone.

When was the last time it took you three hours to get out of your house because anxiety crippled your every muscle even as you screamed within your mind that there was nothing to be afraid of in walking out your door and facing the world? I have lived a life where that was an almost daily occurrence and to face that is strength in my eyes, not fragility …

I have sat in a psych ward of a hospital, stripped of my humanity and treated like nothing while doing math problems in my head as a last ditch effort to hold it together; so I wouldn't lose my cool, so I wouldn't let them see me panic, so there wouldn't be something else for them to hold against me.

I am privileged to work with children and parents who have gone through some of the most horrible things imaginable and what you would see as fragile and what society would sometimes see as "mentally ill" I see and know as power, as strength.  They wake up, and most days they go to school or work, and they come to therapy to get help facing fear, embarrassment, sadness, humiliation, anger, panic, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares of the sleeping or waking variety; sometimes they fail but that's ok. Failure doesn't minimize their strength in my eyes, it makes me want to be there with them even more – to let them know that I see them, I am with them.

If my life, as well as working with others who have faced trauma, pain, and anguish of the mental and emotional type, has taught me anything - it is that vulnerability and fragility are not the same thing and the mistaking of the two needs to stop. When you saw me sharing who I was and being real about the struggles I have had, continue to have, and know I will have for years to come, that has been me finally understanding that vulnerability is power and strength.  The only way I am going to make it through this life is by harnessing that strength and stepping out of the shadows that have been my home for far too long. 

I am far from fragile - and the billions of other people who wake up around the world each and every day, even and most especially when they don't understand how to or want to, aren't fragile either, they are stronger than they know. So ... the next time you feel the need to handle me with care ... please don't. I got this. 

Boom. Drop the mic.   
 ** or gingerly set it down ... one can never be too careful :) **

Monday, March 9, 2015

I ate a hamburger and fries today . . . A conversation about self-worth.

I ate a hamburger and fries today.

I also did homework, paid bills, called insurance companies for my parents to battle about prescription drug costs, listened to an LDS conference talk, went for a short walk, wrote a letter to a friend in prison, surprised my mom with something small she's been talking about for weeks, mailed a package to a friend who I felt could use a pick me up, cleaned my apartment, went to the grocery store and while there gathered up some random shopping carts spread throughout the parking lot, and called an older gentleman from my mission who doesn't get out much just to see how his weekend went …. but …. I ate a hamburger and fries today, and somehow, that's all that matters.

Now, I cringe as I write the list of things I did today because I'm by no means Mother Teresa (unless one becomes Mother Teresa just by returning shopping carts scattered randomly around parking lots – then I definitely am :) ) and I feel like someone might read the above and think, "Who does she think she is? How prideful can you get?! – Service doesn't count if it's shared and she's just saying it to get attention …" I assure you, that is not my intention and I am way ahead of you in thinking that it could be and judging myself because of it – ha! I beat you! :). Also, just for your information, last Monday I spent the whole day watching Criminal Minds and Drop Dead Diva on Netflix while ignoring every phone call I got … It all evens out in the end folks, it all evens out in the end . . .

I share the list of what I did today to give you context, so we can see together how insane my mind gets about things sometimes and where I go as I search for value and meaning for myself as a person.

In my last post I mentioned bullying and kindness and how I believe that kindness must be taught to children and adults alike. I believe that through acts of kindness, lives can be changed and many of the dark moments of life can be avoided. However, I also know that more often than not, kindness won't always prevail in our lives, so teaching our children (and while I know I don't have my own kids I can take the Michael Jackson approach and know that "children are our future" and see all the world's children as my own, haha) and preparing ourselves for what to do when cruelty and meanness comes is as important as teaching about being kind. People will be mean; comments will continue to be made about one's outward appearance – maybe you are too skinny, or you try too hard, or you are too fat, too ugly, too pretty, too short, too tall; comments will be made about other aspects of your life – what you chose to eat, what you chose to wear, what religion or faith you chose to practice, do you own enough things, take enough trips, are your children getting straight A's and captains of sports teams, do you have too much money, not enough money, are you a stay at home mom or do you work, and on and on and on . . . .

All of these things can press in upon us until we can't breath, until we are running around trying to be enough; that goal being a mirage in the desert because as soon as we make it to what we thought was our destination, the definition of "enough" changes and off we go again. So, what is to be done? Well, I guess we give up.

Now isn't that inspirational?

But, really, give up – give it all up! We all need to figure out how to give up basing our self worth on the opinions of others – especially if those "others" are people who don't even know us or people who purposefully want to hurt us. It isn’t just about giving up the negative opinions that people can have about us but in some degree, also giving up the positive. Now, someone might read that and wonder what in the world I'm talking about … don't worry, my mind asks the other voices in my head all the time that very same question ;) … just stick with me ... 

For as long as I can remember my self worth was based on the opinions of others – if someone said something good about me I was riding high – if they said something bad then I was down in the depths of despair, just hoping that something good would come along to bring me up. It was the worst kind of roller coaster ride, one that had me emotionally all over the map. It started in the roots of trauma with two sentences and has lasted for twenty years. The words have caused more lasting damage than any other aspect of the abuse I suffered at eleven; those sentences being, "You are fat, ugly, pathetic, and disgusting. No one will ever want you."

Those words echo in my head to this day, multiple times a day. I believed them then and was horrified at their truth – I wanted nothing more than for them to be false but each time a hurtful incident happened for me it added power to the truth of those words. So, to survive I searched for my worth in the words of others and placed my ultimate healing in what I saw as an ultimate validation of worth – a husband and children. I told my eleven year old self that it will all be okay, I will make it through middle school and high school and when I grow up and get married I will know I was worth something because to get married meant someone would want me, and then the lie that no one could would finally be proven wrong.

So . . . that was a great rule for an eleven year old and I have to say it got me through my adolescents alive and kicking ... however, if you know me, you know I am not yet married with kids ... oops ... my eleven year old self didn't plan for that ... I can smile now but I can tell you without any hesitation that when that rule came crashing down it created one of the darkest times of my life, a time I am still crawling out of and might be for a while yet to come. As a result, I feel that I need to share what I learned so that I can remember it when other dark times come and so that others can maybe not feel alone in the inner battles they fight with self worth.

Self worth must not be based on the foundation of others words or ideas about who we are. I'm not suggesting we stop allowing others to compliment us or express the good they see in us; I'm only suggesting that we not allow those compliments or words to be the foundation we set ourselves upon. Our foundation must come from within and that takes work and conscious effort. The work is battling the voices of others and allowing ourselves to take charge. If only there was a way to do a before and after picture of our souls? What would our daily focus be if that were our goal instead of seeking the validation that comes when we try to align our lives with the outward standards of society and the world in which we live? Because, at some time or another, all will fall short of those standards ... That doesn't mean I can't strive to keep myself physically healthy but it does mean that health isn't just physical – it's mental, emotional, and spiritual as well – and the before/after shots I'm striving for will now come from those last three areas and will be pictures only I can see.

The dictionary defines self worth as: "a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect." I believe all people deserve respect, even people who have done "bad things" and if I can believe that about others how can I continue to hold back believing that about myself? I can't. That leads me back to where we started: I ate a hamburger and fries today. I did all those other things but what was on my mind basically all day and what I allowed myself to judge myself on was eating that stupid hamburger and fries. I felt no self worth and even became a bully to myself, saying awful mean things and reinforcing the message that I've let rule my life for far too long. So, I give up. I let that be what happened and I soak in the silliness of the stupid hamburger and fries defining my worth for today and tell myself that I'm a good person, who deserves to be treated with respect.

I don't have all the answers and in fact, I fail more days than I succeed at this self worth game . . . but what I do have is determination - just ask anyone who has ever played against me in a friendly board game, on the soccer field, or even in a "friendly" debate about which exit will get you to the U faster, Beck Street or 4th South (obviously it's Beck Street) . . . I don't like to lose . . . so, this self-worth game will continue until I win and I hope yours' will too . . .

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Looking back can be an explanation not an excuse . . .

I stood blinking back tears as my body filled with overwhelming shame and humiliation at what just happened, all the while thinking, "Don't cry, Mia – whatever you do, don't you dare cry – don't let them see you cry … you can go to the bathroom and cry but not here not now." People rushed past me on their way to class and I stood, rooted in the same spot, listening to the laughter of those who had just caused my pain and watched them walk away. The hall was nearly empty when I willed myself to move, knowing I was going to be late for class but not caring, I walked into the bathroom and hid - replaying the scene over and over in my head.

I was at my locker, minding my own business, when I heard him, "Mia! Hey, Mia."
My heart sank and I didn't look up; all I could think was "go away, please leave me alone, go away!"
I acted like I didn't hear him as I closed the locker door and hoped I could just walk around him. He had his usual followers behind him and they were all smiling as he blocked my way and continued to talk, "Please, just listen to me – come on, for a second, I want to say sorry …"
I turned around to walk the other way and he tried again, "Please, come on let me make it up to you, let me say sorry, I promise just listen for a second, I wanted to ask you to the dance..."
Here was the jerk that had made my life hell every time he saw me – he called me names, laughed at me, and got his friends to call me fat – and here he was trying to say sorry and ask me to the dance. I stopped and turned around. "Yeah right," I said, "that's not funny, leave me alone."
"I'm serious. I know I've been mean just let me take you to the dance."
He looked so sincere and for some stupid reason I said, "Ok, fine. Yes." As soon as the words left my mouth and I saw his face I knew it was the worst possibly thing I could have said.
He started to laugh and so did his friends as he then said, "Ha! There is no way I would ever go with someone as fat and ugly as you."

I was a sophomore in high school when this happened and I never told another living soul about this experience until three years ago. Even as I told it to someone that first time I thought how unbelievable it was that people could be so cruel. I felt shame and anger again and the craziest part was that the most intense anger was reserved for myself … how could I have been so stupid to say yes? How was I so pathetic to fall for that and leave myself open to being hurt? Why didn't I tell someone? Why am I even talking about it now?

The reason that I shared it then and the reason I am sharing it now are different. I shared it then because it had been buried too long. The pain didn't go away because I ignored it, in fact, it got worse. It got worse because it was just one more incident to add to all the others that had been accumulating through the years to strengthen the case in my head that proved my unworthiness as a human being. It got worse because it cemented itself into my soul and helped fuel the self-loathing that had already been kindling from the abuse that happened when I was eleven.

Talking about it three years ago gave me the chance to confront it and my distorted thinking about the experience. It gave me the chance to trust someone with one of the most painful moments in my life and have them not reject me for being pathetic or weak, which is what I always feared would happen if I told any of the painful stories I held to myself. I pictured myself being laughed at for holding onto that memory from so long ago; or worse, I pictured the person agreeing with the cruel words about my appearance. Sharing it then helped me allow someone in enough to be sad with me, to feel the comfort that comes when someone shares your pain. Many times before I had begun to try and share with someone some of the deeper pains I held, in their trying to share my sadness I mistakenly saw pity and shut down any chance of letting them in.

The journey to the land of self acceptance and dare I say, self love :) , is still one I am on and I have to consciously battle against the self loathing daily. It started with small normal childhood insecurities and was heightened by trauma and the painful bullying that seemed to follow my school years. I can't go back and change any of that now no matter how much I wish I could. What I can do is fight each day to see myself the way I believe God sees me. What I can do is to tell my story, to try and be real about the struggles of life and to work at finding hope. What I can do is see others in their pain and offer to share it with them and hope they see in me someone they can trust to be sad with them not for them.

I had a friend recently say to me, "Why think about the past?! What good does it do to keep talking about it now that it's over? Just move on, move forward, and leave it alone." Now, they have a point. Thinking about the past too much and living in it can be damning. It can stop progress and make the present a living nightmare. I know that it can because it has happened to me for far too long. However, there is a difference between using the past as an excuse and using it as an explanation. I now look at my past and try to let it explain how I got to my present in a way that can allow me to work to change what isn't helpful for me. Self-loathing is definitely something that isn't helpful for me or for anyone else to get caught in.

The other reason I look at the past is tied to the reason I chose to share this experience now. Someone once said something about not remembering the past means we are condemned to repeat it. I think about this differently than I once did. I think part of remembering the past comes in sharing it with the generations that come after you in hopes that it helps them feel less alone in their struggle. I have been reading far too many stories and articles about children and teenagers committing suicide after experiencing years of torment and pain. I hear news stories report on the bullying that is happening as if it is a new event happening in the lives of young people. Cruelty, meanness, and bullying have been going on since basically, forever. It's been happening for so long that it becomes treated as normal, as kids being kids, as part of growing up. It shouldn't be. It doesn't have to be.

I hear stories of bullying and teenage suicide and I am taken back to my own youth and I think of all the times when I faced moments like what I shared above and I did so in isolation. I had loving and great parents, awesome brothers, and people that I could have shared my pain with but I stayed silent, I suffered alone and truly believed that I was the only one who felt this type of pain; that something was wrong with me at my core that allowed people to hurt me, reject me, and point out my deficiencies. So, I share in hopes that my story would help someone – a teenager, a kid, an adult, anyone - see they aren't alone in pain, they aren't alone in humiliation. I share this now, hoping that it can be something that brings the thoughts back to kindness – how it can help, how it can heal, how one person can make a difference.

Be kind. Teach your children to be kind. Help others be kind and learn to stand up for those who face long days of pain or cruelty. Bullying and unkindness don't just stop when we leave high school – it follows us into college, employment, church, families, and even into social media as we see it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Chose to be kind and to stand up for people when unkindness comes, even if it means standing up to a friend. We are all imperfect people and will end up hurting one another from time to time but it doesn't mean we stop striving and trying to be better tomorrow than we were today.

Looking to the past isn't always bad; look back to remember and share so others can know they are not alone, look back for explanation not excuse, and look back to see how far you've come…

You are doing better than you think you are!!! 

In looking back I can see how far I have come ... Life isn't perfect and I fight everyday to be happy but the darkness that permeated my heart as a child and continued into adolescence, as you can see here in the first two pictures, isn't as deep a part of me as it was. It can get better and allowing it to get better doesn't mean you forget about who you were or you pretend it didn't happen - you don't honor the person you were, who experienced the dark and terrible times, by staying in them; you honor that person by choosing to live now, the moments you missed then ... 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Alive Day

I am blessed. I am alive.

Two years ago today I almost wasn't. This video is a brief snapshot of some of the moments I would have missed.

It hasn't all been amazing and challenging moments remain for me as they do for all of us; however, seeing some of the many good moments all lined up together helps me to retrain my focus towards the positive. I am humbled at all the amazing moments God has granted me over the last two years and I want all those who have loved and supported me to know just how much I love them ... I am alive because good people care about me and see me in my struggles and happiness.

Happy Alive Day everyone :) This day is dedicated to all those who are no longer with us due to the tragedy of suicide .... my heart is with you for I too have faced the darkness and pain of wanting to end your life ... if you are depressed, if you are sad, if anxiety cripples your daily life please feel me with you in the struggle ... KEEP BREATHING...

all my love . . .

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The beginning .. before the middle or the end.

Wait … wait… wait ….
The word reverberated in my head; getting louder each time I said it. Faces are above me, angry faces – wait … two are speaking, I don't know them, no, not speaking, yelling …
Wait … please … wait …

I can hear one of them now but it's like trying to listen to someone yelling against a fierce wind, the words are faint and you make out only a few at a time – "get" … "car" …

Wait … wait… wait … I say in my head again; then finally I find a word, a word to not just say in my head, "Stop!" I hear it; it sounds funny, low and far away. I try again, "Stop! Stop! Wait … Stop!"

On that last word the wind is gone and in a moment everything is loud – sounds loud, feels loud, looks loud.

"Stop!" I say it again but the faces keep talking, both of them, at the same time. I hear them now.

"No! You stop! Get out of the car, we need you out of the car!" says one.

"How many?! How many did you take? No, we're not gonna stop – you need to get out or we'll take you out!" says the other. 

For the first time I see them, they're cops. I don't understand. I feel angry and afraid, so afraid, "Please… wait … wait wait … please …" I say. Everything is too loud; they are too close.

"No!" says the one who's on my side of the door, as he leans in and unbuckles my seatbelt, "We need you out now!"

Looking for the first time in the cop's direction, I see, up and out the open door, my therapist. He's trying to talk to them, he's saying something, I don't know exactly what it is but then I make out some of the words, "Just take it easy, give her a second."

"We don't have time for that, we need her out now," says the cop at my door. He turns to me, "This is gonna be a lot worse if you don't get out."

Everything is so loud, so fast. I hear him but I feel like I'm watching a movie where the sound dubbing is a little off, delayed. I suddenly feel cold and see that my door is open and I want to close it but he's there in front of the door, leaning in and angry. I hear myself say, "ok, just … one secon - ok." Anything to stop the yelling.

     This was the beginning of four of the worst days of my life. The question could then be asked – why go back? Why dredge it all up again; leave it alone, look forward. To that I would say that writing about it is looking forward. Writing about it allows it to no longer hide just under the surface, popping up occasionally to terrify me into believing I'm crazy or incompetent. Writing about it, is me choosing to look at it all, to take command of memory and no longer allow memories to take command of me. I've lived most of my life in control, at least on the outside, holding things together for family, for friends, for myself; while on the inside I was and sometimes still am a tsunami.

     A tsunami is a catastrophic ocean wave that causes great destruction when it reaches land. Earthquakes, or volcanic activity, or some other major disturbance under the sea causes it and the devastation it brings is immense. My destruction and devastation was always internal. Large earthquakes in the form of trauma, bullying, pain, disappointment, loneliness, and rejection would come and destroy the good I had tried to build in spite of the bad. Leading up to that day in January almost two years ago now, the tsunami's had gotten worse. It was no longer a large disturbance that started my devastating wave of emotion, it was now having to deal with traffic, or long lines at the grocery store, or a seemingly innocent conversation that somehow struck a nerve; everything led to a large reaction. 

     When tsunamis begin to come weekly, at first you're a little worried, thinking you can get it under control, you can find a safe place to weather the storm. They then begin to come daily, then before you know it, hourly; and not really knowing or understanding how, you are in your car on a snowy and cold January afternoon with two strangers yelling at you as your only thought is…. wait …. wait … please wait …

*part one of a three to five part series. If you haven't read my first post on this:*