The Storms That We Endure Shape Our Beauty and Strengthen Us

***Originally posted on lifeinthespectrum.com.

la jolla - IG

We judge ourselves with the harshest of filters when we are struggling within. We often feel like we are battered by our situations and our emotions. In those times of severe self-critical examination, we fail to notice the beautiful revelations in those moments. We can’t see that the storms that we are enduring will never define us yet they will give us definition.

Our cracked facade is never a sign of our being hopelessly broken but rather proof of our indomitable strength. The perceived faults are our true beauty and the scars are evidence of the roads upon which we have traversed and triumphed. Our lives are miraculous wonders and our stories are anything but happenstance.

Celebrate the rough patches. The sharp edges. The broken corners. The rugged beauty of our human existence is a true wonder to behold.

Don’t ever let the wind or water take you down. You can survive any storm that heads your way, and your being able to read these words proves how far you have already come.

Never give up, never give in, and always always always keep going. You have important things to do, and it’s time to let your true beauty shine.

Much love to you all.  Jo

Does Social Media Intensify Loneliness and Mental Health Problems?

***Originally posted on lifeinthespectrum.com.

crabs1 - bandw ish

People are more lonely today than ever before. We have all heard this, but how is that even possible? We can send a message to someone on the other side of the planet and receive an immediate response. We electronically befriend and befollow (???) those whom we have not seen in decades. Our connections include people from high school and college, our jobs and our neighborhoods, a long wait at the grocery store checkout – basically anyone we know. Or kinda know.

Our having these connections does not mean that we receive honest insight into all of the significant parts of their days. Based on what we see online, most people are in romantic relationships, have children who excel at school, and take many exotic vacations with pedicured feet.

Those shiny updates may be legitimate, but they are by no means the full story.

We keep quiet about our most significant hurts. The dark realities are tough to face, and we often feel deeply embarrassed by them. The last thing we want to do is put them on public display.

That guarded approach is true for 99% of the public social media profiles you see. You may see an odd rough day post here and there, but the serious issues won’t make the cut. And that is a huge problem.

Because we are bombarded with endless fluff, we don’t see the dirt and devastation. We aren’t aware of the physical or emotional abuse that is rife around us. We don’t realize that so many incredible children are struggling desperately just to advance to the next grade. We have no clue that innumerable people we know are drowning in their feelings of low self-worth an hopelessness. And we don’t know that the perpetually cheerful neighbor a few doors down is battling suicidal thoughts behind the smiles.

More often that not, having a social media connection is akin to maintaining a surface acquaintance. That’s okay, but you need real interactions, too. Actual conversations. Shared meals. Genuine human contact.

People aren’t lonely because they don’t know anyone else. They are lonely because they don’t share themselves deeply nor do they directly support others in that capacity. We don’t thrive if we stay in endless hiding. As always, you don’t need to air your dirty laundry out for the world to see. God gave us politicians to fill that role, so consider that part taken. But you can take a quick break from technology so you can have an actual conversation that doesn’t involve YouTube at mealtime. You can get together with a true friend for coffee and trade emotional war stories. You can make a hands-free call in the car to catch up with a family member on the way home from work. You can turn off the mindless games and read a book that will boost your brain instead.

Our minds are rebelling against us because they are bored from a lack of stimulation, but we are also missing out on key requirement of our design. We have an inherent need for human interaction, and no amount of tech can replace that. The more we continue to exclude direct contact with other people, the more we isolate ourselves, and our societal mental health deterioration is a serious reflection of this problem.

Get out of your shell, and take a little time every day to step away from the tech. If you aren’t there yet, at least use it to make a call to a person who matters in your life. If calling isn’t your thing, write something worth reading. Something memorable. Something real. Just make sure that you are doing the thinking – not your tech.

Social media has its benefits, but never forget that the real story is behind the scenes. You have to get past the veil in order to see the truth of others, and you have to let people in so you won’t be alone in yours.

If you don’t feel like you can speak candidly with anyone in your personal life, consider taking up blogging and writing with a sincere voice. The community of friends I have met here is unlike any other, and they have taught me to be braver, more open, and more real than I ever imagined I could be.

Much love to you always.  Jo

Life in the Spectrum – Breaking the Silence About Mental Health Struggles

***Originally posted on Life in the Spectrum.

I keep quiet about the pain because if I reveal the truth, people will judge me. I fear the stigma that will exist once someone sees the me – the real me. I don’t want other people to view me differently, to recognize how dark my shadows can run, to know how lost and alone I often feel. I say I’m fine when I’m not, and I put on the smile. But behind the mask of happiness that I wear on the surface, I have spent years struggling with mental health challenges.

The irony of this whole charade is that I now know that countless people around me and around all of us are just pretending that they are okay, too, even when they are clawing to just hold on. Every single time that I write about depression, multiple individuals post comments or send me messages telling me how they feel the same way but don’t talk about it.

We stay silent in an effort to maintain a facade that allows us to assimilate with society. We want to blend into a world full of people, but those same people are playing that “fake it till you make it” game, too. I’m not suggesting that you display every colorful detail of your life for all to see. More to the point – don’t do that. Big time no to that. Your whole story should not be the world’s business. But you should be able to be honest with people whom you trust. You need a genuine support network, and I guarantee you that they need you more than they are saying, too.

I don’t typically delve into my personal experiences with depression, anxiety, or OCD nor do I discuss my sadness regarding people who lose their lives to suicide or my own survival stories. The nightmare stories of my personal mental health challenges aren’t conversations I would ever have at work nor would I bring those topics up casually or at random with anyone else. I am selective about my audience for those kinds of discussions. Admittedly in this moment my selective audience consists of the entire internet, but the odds are high that you can relate to my words if you are still reading. In truth, the odds are high that almost everyone can relate.

Life can be a seriously rough ride at times, and we don’t always know how to react or even how to feel. We don’t receive a “How to be a Human the Right Way” when we are born, but we spend our lives trying to figure out what that even means. There’s no set answer, life is not black and white, and every person you know has struggled with mental health in one form or another at some point in his or her life.

We need to accept that it is okay to not be okay all the time. We can’t keep pretending like nothing is wrong when we need help. We have to speak up, and we need to be honest with each other. The day you reveal your struggles to others is the day that you will discover that you are anything but alone in this.

So even though I do fear the stigma, the judgement, and the misunderstandings, I know that I can’t live my life hiding the person I really am – good or bad, dark or light. I fall down, but I get back up, too. I sometimes feel like I’m drowning, but I know that I will find my way back to the surface again. My lowest points have been the most revealing moments in my life, and while I would not wish those experiences on anyone else, I wouldn’t eradicate them from my personal history either.

Own all parts of your journey. Learn from the falls whenever you find your way back to your feet once more. Search for the meaning in the madness and the calm in the storm. Discover that brave voice within you, and speak up when you can. And if you can’t find a safe place to speak your truth, I’m always happy to listen. Others have been lighthouses to me in my darkest times. I would love to be yours in return.

Much love to you. Jo

***Before you even ask, I promise you that I really am all good. Like everyone else, I go through waves of feeling like I’m crashing and burning, but I’m not in that place now. Nevertheless I have been there more times than I can count. When we feel that way, we need to find the courage to seek help. Figure out who you want in your inner circle and let those people into your world – all of it. You will be surprised once you learn how many others are struggling in silence as well. You need them, but they need you, too. Be brave and speak up. Always.

https://lifeinthespectrum.com/2018/06/30/breaking-the-silence-about-mental-health-struggles/.

Life in the Spectrum – Depression is Not Black and White

Originally posted on lifeinthespectrum.com.

chickadee - soft (greys)

The use of black and white filters can be striking in the world of photography, but in the world of depression, black and white is nowhere to be found. Everything is shaded with countless shades of grey. I have spent decades attempting to figure out the right way to handle this or respond to that. Hoping to learn how to be more likable and more normal. Searching for a better approach to maintaining fulfilling relationships. Trying desperately to just be okay.

However it isn’t that cut and dry. Life is unpredictable and has a fierce habit of jerking the emotional rug out from under us when we least expect it. And when that happens, we hit the ground. Hard.

For someone with depression, an emotional takedown can be utterly debilitating. Maybe your energy drains to nonexistence and you find yourself unable to move or leave your bed. Perhaps you become enraged and begin to actively push away anyone who cares enough to try to offer support. Some people physically hurt themselves or try to anesthetize the pain away with alcohol or drugs. Others lose hope, give in to the pain and the lies their minds tell them, and give up altogether.

I genuinely understand the indescribable heaviness you feel when you are facing that dark night of the soul. I promise that I truly do. But I also know that no matter how dark it is in that moment – even if that moment feels like it has gone on and on – it does not stay like that. It always get better. Ironically it will go back to crappy again, too, but the good news is that the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth. As always, just remember to wait it out whenever that happens.

The truth is that this is how life goes for everyone. You don’t need to be a card-carrying member of the mental health diagnosis club to feel like an outsider, to believe that you are lost, or to be in a place of tremendous sadness or hurt.

We may focus on our weaknesses, but the heaviest of times often reveal our greatest strengths, too. If you can’t get out of bed today, that’s okay. The weight of that kind of emotional exhaustion can be suffocating, but the world will keep spinning for now. But get out of bed tomorrow.

If you are being offered genuine help from someone who loves and wants to be there for you, open the door instead of slamming it closed.

Avoid trying to mask to pain with alcohol or drugs. I get that it feels good in the moment, but those will tear you down on so many levels. The numbness won’t last, and you are left with a deeper emotional hole with every further attempt to hide from your life.

Open up to others in your life who will help you find your footing again, and seek professional help.

Above all, don’t ever give in to the pain, and don’t ever lose hope.

I don’t believe on any level that suicide is an indication of cowardice. Rather I see it as an act of absolute desperation and total confusion. People who take their lives become tremendously lost regarding what seems real versus what actually is real. They can recognize the absolute truth that every new day holds a promise of something better. Now I’ll admit that that doesn’t mean that the better whatever will come along today. But then again, it definitely could. If not, that greatly improves the odds for an even better tomorrow, so it makes practical sense to keep sticking around.

Although it might simplify our days, a world of black and white would be tedious and dull. We may perceive endless shades of grey in our lives, but we are also blessed with an endless array of other colors to brighten our days. Don’t forget to notice them in their innumerable forms, and don’t ever hide your own colors, your brilliance, or your beauty in an effort to blend in or be normal. You are so much better than normal, and you are so much more than mere black and white.

Much love to you always.  Jo

chickadee - soft (color)
Life is more beautiful with a splash of color.

Life in the Spectrum – The Loneliness of Depression

moon flight

I don’t enjoy writing about depression. My insecurities rise to the surface as my innumerable failings are put on display. I worry that people will read my words and judge me. That I will be seen as weak. Or whiny. Or pathetic. In my mind, I am already giving myself a severe beat down, so sharing my tales to invite more opposing boxers to the ring feels like a seriously foolish idea. No one else could possibly understand the crazy sentiments racing through my mind. No one else could possibly relate.

But that’s entirely untrue. These kinds of feelings are rampant. Countless people face these struggles every single day, and too many of them lose the battle with anxiety and depression. They feel so isolated. Broken. Helpless. Hopeless. They put out the light before the sun has a chance to find its way through the darkness once more.

So even though I am embarrassed to share my struggles, I recognize that someone out there in this moment needs to know that they aren’t alone in theirs. That they aren’t the only ones feeling broken, destroyed, or terminally unworthy of love. That another person is in it, too, and that maybe there’s some chance that it can get better. That holding on is possible, and that sticking around is worth it.

It does get better. It doesn’t stay dark and heavy forever. And you aren’t alone in it.

You are absolutely worthy of love. You are not broken. You can make it through this.

If someone doesn’t get what you are going through, they are luckier than they know. If they judge you for being imperfect, well… definitely don’t sweat that because no one is. And if you feel like you are alone, drop me a line. But whatever you do, please don’t give up.

It won’t stay dark forever, you are stronger than you can imagine, and despite the way you may feel, you are never ever alone.

Big hugs to you.  Jo

***I wrote this post for a new blog I just started at lifeinthespectrum.com. This site focuses on the challenges that come with depression, anxiety, OCD, and similar mental health issues. If you discuss these issues in your writing, please let me know and I will gladly send readers your way. You may notice that I have also reblogged some of my relevant older posts to that site, so a few of the entries may look familiar.

Much love to all of you. I wish you happiness, healing, and joy always.

Working Through Mental Health Heaviness with a Little Gardening

garden.jpgWhen I am struggling, I tend to shut down or lash out. Or I lash out and then shut down. It’s a game time decision and basically not really a decision at all because I never know how I’m going to react in the moment. To put it ever so delicately, I think that it must insanely suck to be part of my family (or within ten miles of me) whenever I’m spiraling. I don’t hide it at all. It’s not in my nature nor is it in my innate set of skills. I basically exude “Hot Mess Here!” when I’m in that place. And I hate it.

I don’t believe in taking medications (I AM ONLY SPEAKING FOR MYSELF ON THIS – I absolutely do NOT speak for others nor am I advising anyone else to toss their pills ever), and I can’t muster the willpower or energy to exercise. It’s like slogging through tar. Or old Velveeta on a sponge. Eck. That’s the worst, no?

When I have a mental meltdown, I operate in full-out sour puss mode. Eventually I move to doing projects. That could be painting a mural, gardening, refinishing an old something, doing design work, photography, or any other number of things that will require an extensive level of detail and concentration. If I’m lucky, I get started on the project long before the crazy brain hits, but that isn’t always the case. Sadly I did not get in front of the downward spiral before it struck this past weekend, but I did manage to pull myself out of it with the succulent garden pallet (thank heavens).

I wrote the post below on anotherjoproject.com detailing how I put together the above garden as a light DIY piece for other creative gardeners out there. I didn’t delve into the why but I don’t get into the mental explanations on that blog. I keep those posts light because I it gives me a sense of comfort (false though it may be) when I feel like there’s a small place in my life that isn’t marred by the emotional roller coaster that I never fully exit.

DIY – Creating a Succulent Garden with a Pallet

If you need a pick me up or other general DIY project ideas, feel free to check the site.

Just remember that although the dark times may feel deep and real and raw right then, but they are not permanent residents. Do not allow those heavy days (weeks / years) to defeat you or destroy your relationships. As my abundantly wise friend Louise Gallagher at https://dareboldly.com/ reminded me, now is not forever. It really isn’t.

Such wisdom in those words.

If you feel like you are caught up in the heaviness of the now, allow yourself the meltdown and then move another direction. Drink a cup of coffee, drag your butt out of bed, and do something. Write. Draw. Garden. Paint. Sing. Read. Whatever. Just find your way back.

If you are stuck, I’m here and am always happy to remind you that the sun is still there even when you can’t see past the clouds. I need those reminders, too.

Now is not forever.

Dig past the rough spots and uncover the life that you are meant to have. It’s there. It just gets a little hidden sometimes.

Love, light, and hugs – Jo

Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Losing the Battle With My Mind

I hate feeling this way. It’s like my mind decided to take a trip to Crazyville, and I can’t get off the damn bus.

It frightens me when I feel this way. I don’t like facing the sense of being out of control. My thoughts race. My emotions whipsaw back and forth at random. And I can’t even tell you what set it off.

Maybe my hormones bought a ticket on the world’s crappiest roller coaster. Maybe I’m overwhelmed with the endless day to day everything. Maybe I’m tired. I just don’t know, but that almost makes it worse. I am a looney without a cause, and I don’t like it. I feel lost.

But what I do know for certain is this – the main thing to hold onto during these rotten mind screw moments is the knowledge that what feels like reality in this moment is not actually as definitive as it seems. In fact it’s a total mental sham.

So I’m going to find some way to redirect my brain back onto the rails and keep holding on until that happens. My mind will settle back to normal sooner or later (very much hoping that it opts for sooner). This isn’t my favorite moment. Not at all. But I will be okay. The clouds always clear. I just need to give time for the sun to peek through once more. It will. It always does.

Much love to anyone else who is in this moment, too. I’m so picking up what you are putting down my friend, but we will get through it.

Hugs to you. Jo

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