Mental Illness…The Universe’s Gift

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I was seven years old the first time I thought “My brain is broken”. I spent the next twenty-five years finding ways to punish myself for being broken. I thought it was a curse because I was a bad person but I have come to see it as a gift.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t wish a mental illness like depression, PTSD or an eating disorder on anyone. It is an indescribably painful journey. I also wouldn’t change the gifts my journey has given me. I never thought I could get to the point where I would be thankful for my life, for being me. I can honestly say I am thankful for my life.

Dealing with mental illness is different from physical illness in many ways. If a person says they can’t eat something because they have diabetes or they are unable to concentrate on school or work because they have broken bones people understand. It is not the same if you say your mind is broken. Someone with an eating disorder says they can’t eat something because their mind is yelling at them not too and it takes all their energy just to breath. People tend to respond with little sympathy believing it is a choice. Someone is too physically exhausted to get out of bed because they are constantly drowning in an ocean of sadness or paralyzed with anxiety. Others don’t buy them flowers and offer support like they would if the same person was lying in bed because of a heart attack.

I can always tell someone who has been touched by mental illness because they have an understanding the rest of the world doesn’t. Many who have never experienced it react with fear or with pity, believing I am suddening less “normal” or capable because I have experienced the strength building trials I have. A person who has battled or loved someone who has a mental illness has a compassion but respect in their eyes knowing the courage it takes to face each and every day.

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I used to be ashamed of my mind, my journey and my struggles. I am not any more. My mental illness gave me the gift of compassion. It has given me unconditional love for and from others. It has given me friendships and lessons that I never would have experienced without it. I would rather have a mind that was sad because I was hurt or that was once critical of myself than to have a mind that would purposely hurt someone. There is too much hurt in the world. I am grateful that I xan see the hurt and try not to add to it. I wouldn’t have that gift if it wasn’t for my journey.

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Each step in my journey with my mental illness brought new lessons, new friendship, new gifts, new insights, new blessings. At the time I was going through the denial and pain of my struggles I couldn’t see anything good about it. But as I look at each phase of my life and my journey to happiness is filled with love and blessings.

There have been times I have been able to help another, to have empathy, to be a blessing to them because I walked a similar path years earlier. I have felt completely alone in my life at times. The first time I tried to kill myself I was 8. There were several conscious and sub-conscious attempts in the twenty years that followed. All because I thought I was alone, I was broken and I had nothing to offer the universe. But I had it all wrong. It was because of my struggles, my mind, I was needed on earth. It was my mental illness that gave me the gifts I most cherish about myself and my life.

I know I am loved unconditionally because my family loved me through my illness. I met my most precious friends and was in the place where the universe gave me my incredible daughter, because of my journey. I have seen suffering and offered compassion letting someone else know they were not alone…because I had felt alone in my darkest days. It helped me realize my mental illness wasn’t a punishment from God for being abused when I was five, it was a gift from the universe so I could find the perfect place for me to find a life of peace and love.

In my youth I prayed for God to cure me, to make me a better person. I would ask Him why He would give me this burden. But I was asking the wrong question.

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I didn’t realize my struggles were His gift to help me be a better person. His biggest commandment was “Love One Another”…my mental illness was His gift to teach me how.

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When My Weaknesses Define Me Even The Cat FacePalms Me

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There are moments in life none of us are proud of. Those times when our weaknesses define us until our strengths kick in. I unfortunately have many such experiences. The older I’ve gotten, the fewer things will get to me. I had a situation this week where I was upset and reacted through emotion before taking time to think.

I seem to either not think at all or think the hell out of a situation there is no in between. It makes it very difficult to interact with other people. I venture out or initiate contact just long enough to completely humiliate myself then realize I am better giving myself a buffer zone…like when Saturday Night Live has a guest they think will swear or do something they aren’t allowed to on t.v. They put a delay on the show for a few seconds. That is what I usually love about the internet. It allows me to have contact with others, stay connected and not be isolated but lets me stay in my save haven and have a delay option on my thoughts. Sometimes though I hit send before I should. I write the email that should go to a therapist to a customer service agent just trying to do her job. My bad day becomes her bad day. I hate it when my weaknesses define me.

I try not to let it happen but sometimes…. it’s a bad day.

Breathe

I have learned as years have gone by, and as I have reflected on my life that it is not those weaknesses that define a life. It is what you do with that. Yes, I will have to eat some humble pie and apologize for taking my incredibly monsterously bad day out on an unsuspecting undeserving email customer service agent, but I will have grown. I don’t get mad very often but God has a way of using each time as a learning experience in my life. From this experience I learned to forgive myself. I use to think because every few years I would have a stressed out day and I would say or do something regrettable that made me a bad person….I would dwell on it for years as an example of why I sucked as a human being. Now I see it as an opportunity to be a better person. I get a chance to use and build some strengths…I have no problem admitting I am wrong. That is easy for me. Believing I could do something right is more my issue.

I used to hate the thought of growing older. I don’t anymore. I find it peaceful and filled with joy. The older I get the less things get to me. Yes, I still have my moments of stupidity but they are fewer and farther between. I don’t stress about then nearly as much and I think they help me feel empathy for others when I don’t always understand their actions or choices. It isn’t for me to understand. I do know the compassion I hope for as I swallow any small smidgeon of pride I had and apologize for telling the company their bills were proof they were evil incarnate (I did not swear or become completely disrespectful as I might have in my teens or 20s. I just told them how hard it was to make ends meet with the world constantly bleeding you dry….and lets face it…I cannot be the only person who has ever felt frustrated and needed to vent when life is throwing one expense after another at you. As I’ve gotten older I find it only takes me a short time to realize I am stupid or my weaknesses are outshining my strengths.

I am able to see the blessings around the trials. What used to seem like the end of the world in your 20s is just a new learning experience and bump in the road 20 years later. So I don’t look at it as a failure at life when I am not at my best. It was just a moment that sucked….so I better make the next one twice as awesome. I did extra good deeds, will sincerely apologize to who I offend and to myself for not being my best. Yes. life gets better with age…and hopefully (though a little slower than I would like) I do too.

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The Universe Believes In You

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The Universe Believes In You- song written March 21

It’s okay

 you don’t believe in the universe,

Because it believes in you,

It knows the power you have,

And the things you will do,

Hold on a little while,

Don’t give in just yet,

Some day your smile,

Will return I bet,

The sun will shine,

 the clouds will part,

If fortune has a line,

 you’ll be at the start,

As unlikely as it seems,

 rainbows will appear,

So whisper your dreams

for the universe to hear,

It’s okay

you don’t believe in the universe,

Because it believes in you

It knows the powers you have

And the things that you will do

They say that you are weak

but they haven’t got a clue,

The strength they each seek

Is found deep within you,

Your novel is coming along

a new page with each new day,

Soon the perfect song

Will be the one you play,

Your miracle is hiding

just around the bend,

The universe is biding,

While your souls wounds mend,

No matter where you start from,

please have peace along the way,

You have the wisdom

you didn’t have yesterday,

It’s okay

You don’t believe in the universe,

Because it believes in you

It knows the power you have,

And the things that you will do,

It’s a rough road that you’ve taken,

You’re nothing like you were before,

Your faith along the way has been so shaken,

You don’t know what to believe anymore,

You feel you’ve lost your way,

And life doesn’t seem fair,

You want someone to say,

They want and need you there,

It’s okay

You don’t believe in the universe,

Because it believes in you,

It know the power you have,

And the things you’ll do,

You are a shining star,

Brighter than ever before,

You’ve made it this far,

Just hold on a little more,

There are more verses

 in your heart song,

Don’t worry now

 it won’t be very long,

Before the sun breaks

 through the clouds above,

And the universe makes

 Your life with love,

It’s ok if you don’t believe in the universe,

Because it believes in you,

It knows the power you have,

And the things you’ll do.

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Caregivers are the voice of care…

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I recently read a story of a Saskatchewan nurse that was charged with professional misconduct for posting her opinion on Facebook. She expressed her concern over some of the care she saw while her grandfather was dying in Palliative Care. She did not name any names. She simply stated that some care could have been batter. The post in question is below:

 

“My grandfather spent a week in palliative care before he died and after hearing about his and my family’s experience there, it is evident that not everyone is ‘up to speed’ on how to approach end of life care or how to help maintain an ageing senior’s dignity,” 

Carolyn Strom was shocked to learn she was reported to the SRNA over her Facebook post. (Facebook)

“I challenge the people involved in decision making with that facility to please get all your staff a refresher on this topic and more. Don’t get me wrong, ‘some’ people have provided excellent care so I thank you so very much for your efforts, but to those who made Grandpa’s last years less than desirable, please do better next time,” she added.

Strom went on to caution those with loved ones in a health-care facility to keep an eye on their family members, and to ask people who work in health care to be more compassionate.

“As an RN [registered nurse] and avid health care advocate myself, I just have to speak up,”

 “Whatever reasons/excuses people give for not giving quality of life care, I do not care. It just needs to be fixed.”

(http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/facebook-post-prince-albert-nurse-charged-professional-misconduct-1.3400676)

I find it outrageous and very scary that we are trying to silence caregivers who are the voice for their family, clients, patients, etc. Is that not part of a caregivers role?

We all like to pretend we have patient centered care everywhere. Policies and Programs are advertised and promoted saying how much we compassionately care but -do we really?

Corners are cut, care is rushed and policies are only there to cover management and government when someone speaks up. I have worked in LTC and hospitals where it was standard practise to rush through care because of understaffing. Patients would be fed by a psw who was feeding three other people in the same 15 minutes. I worked on a floor where patients were put to bed at 2:30 in the afternoon and expected to use an adult brief until the next morning because of understaffing and uncompassionate staff.

The politics of working in the healthcare field are more draining than anything we have to do with clients or patients. It is exhausting to try and give compassionate care when the system fights it all the way. Staff are allowed to slack off and not consider patients feelings- simply concentrating on what bare minimum work they can get away with and still get paid.

I recently talked to a nursing student that worked on a Mental Health floor where all the staff spent the majority of their time in the nurses station. When asked why they worked there they said it was great because they did a lot less work and spent their shift talking amongst themselves. I have witnessed hours, days and weeks of this while visiting patients I have known receiving mental health inpatient care. Why is someone in the profession not speaking up, not re-educating nurses to truly care about the people they are there to care for.

Patients and their families are not some annoyance that gets in the way of job…..caring for them is the whole purpose of our job. I don’t think Florence Nightengale sat in a nurses station the whole time she was on a floor, worrying about what benefits she was getting and who was in scheduling that day. She was there to care for patients, to offer compassion to human beings in need. It was not about what the union rules were or what her job discripition said it wasn’t about her at all. It was about the patient.

The first patient that ever died on my shift as a PSW at the hospital was difficult for me. He died in his wardroom with three other patients, he was palliative. When I said I wish I had been there to hold his hand or wipe his brow a nurse said to me “There’s work to do, we don’t have time for stuff like that.” I was shocked how cold the environment was when the family was notified they came to say goodbye, still in a ward room, with only a curtain between them and the three other patients. No nurse walked them to the elevator, offered them water or hugged them to say sorry for their loss. I was yelled at by a nurse for taking the time to do so. It is not right, the lack of caring by those who are paid to care. And it is wrong when those that do care are told to be quiet or sanctioned.

Every caregiver in the country needs to speak out for patients not treated with dignity or compassion.  The people that brought charges against Strom for professional misconduct were right about one thing. Caregivers should be held to a higher standard. The problem is Storm is the only one that I see in this situation acting like a professional caregiver. It is not about reputation or media, it is not about bruised egos of those who think she was talking about them. It is about every human being getting respect, dignity and compassion when being cared for.

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Grateful for my life, trials and all…

 

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I have often heard people say “if everyone put their troubles in a pile and could choose from it which you must bear…you would choose the ones you have over those of another.”

I consider myself a grateful person, though I realize now how oblivious I often am to just how blessed my life is. The past year has had me take pause and think about this. Perhaps that is why this truly was the best year of my life….because I realized just how blessed I am.

I have nothing materially to call my own. I don’t have savings, or a house I own or a fancy life. I do have all I need…a warm roof over my head, a family that loves and accepts me, food in my tummy, clothes to wear, I live in a country of peace and plenty. I have had times in my life when I didn’t know where I would lay my head in the near future or how I would find our next meal. Those trials have given me a heart that is aware of those who have greater trials than mine. Those who have no one to turn to for help, no home as a haven from the world and no food to end their hunger pains. I am grateful for those who helped me in life, for family and friends who are there to be a miracle in my time of need. Even when I thought I was…I have never been alone in this world. That made me think of how grateful I am for those who have always been there. How grateful I am that they are still there. I am blessed. It took my trials to make me see I am blessed to have had loved ones who unconditionally love me. For those who are gone but loved me before they passed on, I am grateful for the memories, the love shared and the blessing of having them in my life for even a moment in time. I will take my trial of losing them over never having had them at all.

At times in life I have been separated from the people I love most. I am blessed to have them in my life, to have a child I love so much it hurt physically and mentally to be apart. To be blessed after a long separation with the incredible joy and overwhelming gratitude when we were able to be reunited. I cherish every second with her now. Perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate the joy of every moment together before the pain of every moment apart. I try not to take for granted any time we have together. I think the pain of that trial has helped my heart empathize and offer comfort to the several friends I have who have lost their child on earth. I know my trial was not the same…but I weep with them knowing how horrifically painful it was to be apart when I thought it was forever. No trial I face could compare to their pain. And while I know nothing I do or say can make it better, I start and end each day praying for their heart to be comforted and them to know they are loved. I could never find the words to express how they have blessed my life. I am grateful for the strength they have, the blessing they are to me and the gift their example is to me. I could not have their strength and courage they show each and every day in life. I am sorry for their pain and wish I could take it away, I would give anything to take it away. Their strength inspires others to be more, care more, love more. They make the world a more loving and caring place and for them and their difficult mission they accept and face, I am grateful.

I read a post today by a healthcare worker saying how everyone in healthcare hates their job and the things they have to do…I couldn’t even comprehend that statement. I love my job. I love what I do. I love that I am blessed with the job I have and can actually get paid to help people. How awesome is that? I am grateful to have a job. There are many in the world who don’t. I am grateful to be healthy enough to perform my job. Many can’t. I will take the trials of my career gratefully and wish that was the biggest trial of anyone’s life…to have to go to work and care for people. To spend your day being able to offer comfort, happiness and care to someone most in need. To beable to have the honour of being someone’s hands, feet and mind when theirs fails them. I am blessed to be a caregiver. I wish all caregivers realized how very blessed they are to have such an incredible mission of compassion and love for their life.

I am grateful I am a caregiver and not one in need. A friend who relies on a motorized wheel chair had their chair break down, leaving them without the ability to be mobile at all. I had to apologize to them because as we talked I said “I understand how horribly frustrated and sad you must be right now.” I really don’t understand. I can’t begin to imagine what their trials are like each day. I do know that they face their life with grace, gratitude and strength that makes them one of the heroes in my life. I know that their example makes me grateful every day for the blessing of being able to move my body freely, to walk across the room to pick up something I want, to beable to get in a car and drive to the store when I feel like it and do all the little things in life on my own. Don’t get me wrong…there is no “sympathy” for this individual. They have a beautiful life, they are a beautiful person and have accepted the challenge of their life and inspires many around them. To me living a life that inspires others to love life and others more is the greatest most beautiful life there is. I am grateful for the blessing of every stubbed toe, every time I have to run to the bathroom and make it, every ache and pain and cramp I get. I am alive, I am blessed. I am grateful for every trial I have and every blessing I am given.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger….it makes the world stronger too. I am grateful for those who are stronger than me, who face trials and pain I could not even begin to comprehend much less cope with. I am grateful for their example, their strength and their courage to face their mission on life and inspire the world (and me) to be more grateful, more loving and more compassionate. I am blessed.

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Merry Little Christmas…

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 I am as excited as a child waiting for Santa to arrive. It doesn’t really feel like Christmas with no snow and not planning a traditional celebration. This is a year of peace and happiness for me and a special Christmas because my daughter and I are going away for a working vacation. It is the first real vacation we have ever be able to take. This has been an incredible year of firsts for us.

My daughter finished her first semester of college. She got her first college A. (and her second). I always knew she could do it…but this is the first time I think she is realizing that she can. It is amazing to watch someone start to see a glimmer of their potential. She will be an incredible Art Therapist. She has conquered the first step of that dream this year.

It makes me excited for the future. I see more blessings in each day of life. Life is good. Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year when life is good.

There have been many years that I didn’t feel the holiday spirit. I was struggling, or life seemed overwhelming at the time. I think of those years a lot, but not of the struggle. I think of the loved ones who showed me kindness, who gave me the miracle I needed to find a smile  during a difficult time.

My best friend/sista was the family we shared Christmas with for many years. The past few years we have been provinces apart. I miss her every day but miss her even more when  this time of year rolls around. Missing her, her , daughter, her sister and other dear friends reminds me of just how blessed I am to have them in my life- even from a far.

I think of my parents who went to incredible lengths and sacrifice to make life good and Christmas magical. When I was a child there was never a time I was in need, No Christmas I was disappointed. As I had a child of my own I realized how difficult a task that is. There were many of my daughters childhood Christmases that were magical because of their sacrifice and help when I struggled to do it all.

At the holidays I feel even more heartbroken that my big brother is not here to share the festivities with us. Our families should be laughing over an epic Crib tournament and exchanging joke gifts of ugly Christmas sweaters. It always gets me thinking about the time we did have together. I am blessed to have him as my brother…no matter how briefly he was here on earth. Mortal life is but a blink of the eye in eternal perspective. My excitement as I think of seeing him again is like a child on Christmas eve. We will have so many stories to share and so much to catch up on. I feel blessed to have that to look forward to.

I have friends and loved ones from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds. Each one enriches and blesses my life. A reminder of how blessed I have always been and forever will be. I can say that because they have been with me through thick and thin, the worst of my life and are still here at the best of my life. I love this time of year because I feel overwhelming gratitude for every act of kindness, every lesson and blessing, every moment that lead me to this Christmas. To a life that is filled with Peace, Joy and Love no matter where it takes me.

The angel on the top of my Christmas tree reminds me of how many angels I have in my life. They have answered prayers, wiped tears, relieved worries and created smiles. I am blessed with Angels in my life.

May each of you find Peace, Joy and Love in your daily life. It is there. Sometimes you have to search harder to see it because of the worries and trials of life but there are many who love you, that in itself is a reason for peace in your heart and when you have love and peace in your life how can you not feel some joy.

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Be Kind

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I was reading some news stories on line today. Each one was sad, disturbing, heart-wrenching. There was a story of children being abused, neglected and dying. Bodies of two more preschool children found in a storage locker. There were stories of fires where everyone lost everything and another where a 12 year old shot and killed an 11 year old. There was a story of someone killing themselves and another who killed their family. A teen girl raped by a group of boys. Robberies where toys for children who have nothing were stolen and another of a hate crime against someone just walking down the street. Each story was from current news. Each made me think of the survivors, the pain and loss, the anger and regrets. Lives falling apart at the hands of another. Worlds changed forever because of the dysfunctional, self absorbed world around them.

I often look through missing person pages on line. I have no way of helping these distraught families but I read of their loved one as a way to honour them. It is an unbearable burden to not know where a loved one is or if they are safe. Many families never have closure, spending the rest of their own lives wondering, worrying, waiting for answers. I think of them and pray for them often, but particularly at this time of year. A time for family. You want everyone there, all your loved ones safe and comfortable. It isn’t the gift from them you would miss if they weren’t there, it is the person you love.

Sometimes life gets busy or we get weighed down by the pressures of the day. Fighting our own battles. We can get preoccupied – having all our loved ones around us but not being with them. Sitting in a room staring at our phones or computers, watching television or day dreaming about being some place else. Being short in conversations because we are busy worrying about something in the future. I am trying to be more present in the moment. I need to stop worrying about the future and enjoy the present more. To appreciate my loved ones more and be completely grateful they are there. Love the moment I am in and be kind to all I meet because it may be a tough moment in their life that I can make just a little better by being kind.

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