Is it really the spilled milk?

“Don’t cry over spilled milk” is a saying less commonly used today, but something I heard from time to time when I was a bit younger. Sometimes you might spill some milk and cry, but it doesn’t even have anything to do with the spilled milk itself. It might just be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Crying is an interesting thing to think about. I suppose what intrigues me most are the many different reasons for crying, the many purposes and the beauty of it in general.

Babies cry…and cry and cry and cry. They cry for attention, or for pretty much anything. I’m sure most parents are pretty convinced babies just cry for no other reason than to drive them crazy. Children cry when they are scared, when they “think” they are hurt or “should” cry. People of any age cry, and for so many different reasons. There are tears of joy, tears of sadness, and tears that we can not always explain. Some people cry at the drop of a hat – weddings, birthday parties, your kids’ school plays, and even the humane society’s public announcements showing those adorable dogs in need of new homes. Some people may be the type who can’t even remember they last time they cried. Either way, crying often catches both the often teary eyed, or the usually stoic off guard — striking at a time or place where you don’t want to weep. It may start with a quivering lip, or maybe blinking faster and faster to keep the wetness from escaping. Before you know it, you’re getting teary and then they begin to flow.

I can say, for the first time in quite a while, that I have been feeling great for quite some time now. Going from crying every day to handling stressful situations without a flinch, is a pretty big deal. Aside from recent tragedies around the world that have caused me to tear up from time to time, I don’t actually remember the last time I cried. Unless I am experiencing some sort of depression, it isn’t very normal for me to cry, that’s just me. But today I cried…nothing terrible happened, I wasn’t physically hurt and I could have stopped myself, but I didn’t.

Yes, I excused myself, and went to a place to be alone for a second before I did it. But when I stepped out of the room I just let the tears flow, and after a few seconds I felt some relief. The reason I am writing about this today is because there are so many people who purposely avoid crying, and for a variety of reasons. I do it also. But today for my own sake, I chose to cry and then reflect on it. I don’t feel weak, I know I am not weak, I just had a moment – I am human. I went to bed late, my son was awake before I wanted to wake up, breakfast needed to be made, the dog needed a walk, I burned a couple pancakes, my son cried over something, etc. etc. and before I knew it I just felt like I was going to cry. The point is, I did it, I’m not embarrassed about it, my reasons for it may not be significant enough to warrant crying in others’ opinions, but it was something I needed to do. I feel like there are just so many things that are not accepted and sharing stories about things helps other people feel like they are not alone, that you’re human and they’re human.

The “why” of crying may seem obvious and straightforward: You’re either happy or sad. But that is too simplistic. Crying is an emotional response to certain feelings. It serves an emotional purpose: it’s a release when there is a buildup of energy with feelings. It can also be a survival mechanism, signaling a need to address something. On top of that, crying has a biochemical purpose. It is believed to release stress hormones or toxins from the body. Also, let’s not forget its social function: winning support or sympathy from others, children using it to get their way or its general use as a tool for manipulation.

Over the years, crying has been generally recognized as a sign of weakness. Since we all know we’ve done it, why do we think that way? It’s kind of like farting…it smells gross, it’s embarrassing, we have the urge to poke fun at others for it – but who has never farted? Most people, when asked, will tell you that they felt better after a cry than they did beforehand. I bet most people would agree their stomach felt a lot better after letting a good ole fart rip once they got into a private space to do it. People often have a similar behavior when it comes to crying.

Crying is an uncomfortable thing when you know other people are watching you, and yes other people can get uncomfortable too, but is any of that worth the misery of trying to bottle it up? In my opinion, crying is a lot less embarrassing than a fart, but hey, maybe that’s because I’m a girl. I don’t always want others to see me cry, but the more often people do something openly, the more accepted that thing can become. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can help others to see that things like crying are normal and ok. You don’t need a socially acceptable excuse for it!

So when you spill some milk and you find yourself crying, it may not even be the spilled milk, it can be anything and everything. Cry it out, everyone does it and there is nothing wrong with it. You don’t need a reason to cry, it’s no one else’s business why and once you do you will feel better. Some may ask “why cry about it?” what I am asking is “why the hell not?”

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Choice

When you start feeling anything less than chipper, what type of things do you start to question? The moment things begin to feel uncomfortable in my life my first instinct is to think about everything going on around me as a whole. After I compile a hefty list of each and every thing going on in my busy life, I start to examine them carefully. At first I think about what I could be doing that could be causing me pain. I think about what might be in my past causing me pain; possible triggers to the way I’m feeling. Eventually everything spirals down into the tip of the funnel and I being pointing at myself. I think, “What could I have or should I be doing differently?” I start to analyze myself and focus on the areas of my failure.

I have learned that I cannot change my past, I cannot predict the future and often times things happen in the present day beyond my control. I do however, have one thing that belongs only to me, and that is choice. I can choose to dwell on the mistakes I’ve made, I can let thoughts of worthlessness consume my mind, or I can take a harder look and find something positive in every situation. Now my first question, when I am not feeling well, is “What good thing happened today?” There may be days where there are many good things and days where there may only be one, even if it is simply that I woke up another day. It is also all too easy to soak up the true joy when good is coming into our lives. We need to take note, mark it on the calendar, take a picture, and never forget to remember all the good in this world.

It seems so easy, and almost feels natural to draw toward the negative aspects of life. Something not as easy, but can be with practice, is to start the day with thankfulness for the day I have been given. It is a better idea to step out the front door with an attitude of change and a purpose of living a life of meaning. Terrible, unavoidable things could happen during that day but I can make more change in my life and the lives of others if I set foot on the floor with the mission in mind. I can choose to expect good things and draw them into my life as well as sending good and positivity out into the world.

What is your mission? We all have an ultimate mission, beyond showing up to work, making our mortgage payments, going to the gym, or making dinner. Our ultimate mission is to be a tool on this earth for our Heavenly Father. What tools have you been given? I have been given the tools of my experience, my experience in suffering. I could continue to suffer, or I could use my suffering as a tool to help others. I can show God’s love to others by the way I carry my struggles and move forward from day to day with gratefulness. I am grateful for the strength to make it through some struggles, and the strength to continue to struggle today. Another question I should ask myself when I am feeling low is, “Have I done the very best I could today?”, “have I been purposeful and used the God given talents I have to serve my God?” I have spent most of my life searching for happiness. I have moved on from one thing to the next searching for something fulfilling, choosing my own path, believing I know what is best for me. Each and every time, I have found nothing but emptiness and bitterness. Both things I chose.

When I find myself feeling low during the day, I have a choice about how to continue my day. I can blame myself for anything that has gone wrong already, while making excuses of course, OR, I can decide that I will spend the rest of my day changing my attitude to one of positivity, thankfulness and love. I can love myself in spite of my previous failures and send love out into the world to share with others. Each time something negative comes my way and I simply send more negativity out into the world, I hurt others and I hurt myself. By doing this, I am not healing, I am continuing to suffer. Others suffer by witnessing my pain and feeling discouraged about their own struggles. Showing strength through our struggles plants faith in others that they too can weather the storm.

I realized today that I do need to take a moment each day to believe in myself. I need to make note of the fact that my attitude bears witness to all others I encounter, possibly struggling with something themselves. I need to immerse myself into the idea that my Creator loves me and I am worthy of love. How does one know how to love, if they have not yet felt love themselves? If I cannot love myself, I cannot love others because only my true self knows love. My true self was created by God, who is Love. Everything negative in life can be turned into something positive in one way or another. If I had been told two years ago that I would be doing peer work with others about some of the sufferings I have endured in life, I would not believe it. I had no idea that, helping others through their struggles by letting them know they are not alone, would become a healing source for my own spirit.

I did not seek out healing, the healing came to me. I have realized that my true self is not made up of a long laundry list from my past, it is made up of what I choose to do with that laundry list today. My choices today make me who I am, my choices from the past remind me of why I choose to live differently now. There has never been a time, shockingly enough, that I have shared a story from my past I was not proud of, and ended up feeling ashamed or left with a negative attitude.. First, by making the right choices about people whom I surround myself with, I will not be rejected, but be embraced for my transparency. Second, if I am rejected as who I am today because of the bricks in my past I have used to build the exceedingly stronger foundation I stand on today, I will come to a realization about who knows me for who I really am and cares about me. I have accepted myself, if someone else cannot accept me that is a problem in their own life. I do not have to fear rejection, because it only weeds out negativity in my life and allows more time and space for positive growth. And lastly, I get a sense of freedom. Each time I accept myself, I love myself more. I can see the difference between who I am today and who I have become. What I have become is someone who has a LOT of growing to do. What I have also become is more tolerant, accepting, and aware. I am human.

I have been drenched in the sweat caused by the effort of burying every human mistake I have ever made, but with one swift kick in the sand I can release those skeletons and let their dust carry off into the wind. Life is a journey, no matter how long or short. Sometimes we take the bumpy road, sometimes we take the high road, but I want to travel the road less traveled. I want to take the road that is green with blades of fresh opportunity dripping with the dew of life and love. I want to travel the path not chosen for me by others, but chosen by God. I was put on this earth for something, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t to make mistakes, feel depressed about it, wake up, and repeat.

There is something good in everything and everyone, even if you have to search for it. Sometimes it can be unexpected and sometimes it is intentional. Perhaps God remains anonymous and a coincidence happens. I am blessed to have a place to work where my whole self is a foundation for my work. I can be me, mistakes and all, because “me” is just like everyone else – human. When we accept our whole self, we can truly appreciate how far we have come and change our attitudes about the days yet to come. They can be filled with purpose and meaning, if we choose them to be.

When faced with life’s battles, what will you choose?

When you feel like giving up, will you fight anyway, fight until you find meaning in your suffering? When you feel alone, will you choose to see that you are not? When you don’t want to reach out, will you pick up your phone? When your attitude leaves you empty, will you choose to fill yourself up by changing it? When you are lost and need direction, will you hit your knees and pray for a way? God has a plan and a purpose, if we give up the fight too soon, we may never receive the blessing of being able to fulfill that purpose.

I leave you with this challenge: If there is anything in life, in OR out of your control, leaving you unsettled, use the only thing you have, go beyond yourself. Use the only thing that is truly yours – your choice. Choose your attitude in every circumstance in life, it is the one thing no one can ever take away from you.

 

 

The Veteran

On this Veteran’s Day I would like to express my appreciation and respect for all who have served in the U.S. Military.

Most people either have a friends or relative who is a veteran or  may be one themselves. People are joining the military every day as well as retiring or separating. Some had a choice, some did not. Some have left the service un harmed and some have left with severe mental or physical disabilities. In every case we have all been changed by our experiences and we have one thing in common. Aside from the courageous who fought after being drafted, the majority made the choice to sign on the dotted line.

No matter how long you served or what you did in the military you were still willing to sacrifice your life for the freedom of this country. We were civilians before we joined, then we were active duty. We will never be civilians again, we have been changed. We are veterans.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve my country as well as watch my little brother join not long after me. I am proud to have served along side some amazing military members during my journey of life.
I also want to thank the family members of the active duty and veterans who supported us during our careers without whom, we may not have come as far as we have.

Today I am grateful to work with veterans and to serve veterans.
There is a brotherhood and camaraderie we all experience that is unique to all who have served. Although we no longer wear our uniforms,  we still hold our experiences in our hearts and minds, and we will forever be changed.

22 veterans commit suicide each day, that is nearly one per hour. Although many who have served in the military have been given better opportunities and created better lives for themselves and their families, many have not. Many veterans have lost their freedom and pieces of themselves as a result of war. Many live with unbearable scars; some visible and some not.

Many veterans struggle financially and mentally for a variety of reasons. There were several types of people after high school, ones who went straight into the work force, ones who went to college and those who joined the military. After the service, veterans compete for jobs with their peers who have one, two or maybe even three degrees under their belts already. Veterans also have a difficult time transitioning into the civilian workforce after working a military job that does not pertain to the outside world, often times leaving them with unusable skills.

The work force in the civilian world is also not always equipped to accommodate a mental or physical disability a veteran may have, making it more difficult to maintain a job or find something suitable.

Many veterans elect to begin college after they exit the service and face the challenges of age difference and a cultural difference while attending college.

Veterans can also suffer from a lack of direction after years of taking orders, giving orders amd living in a world which has its own unique set of rules and standards. It can be quite challenging for a veteran to mourn the loss of his or her career for numerous reasons and then learn how to survive in a different world.

There are immeasurable services available to veterans but these procedures and systems are not always easy to navigate. Veteran service offices,  peer networking centers, volunteers and veteran advocates are all helpful resources.

One of the most important resources for a veteran however, is not the services offered, but the people in the community or in the life of a veteran. There are many unnoticeable challenges veterans deal with on a daily basis that can be easily detected with the right education. Veteran suicide is largely a result of post traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorders, survior guilt or simply difficulty with the navigation of civilian life or the resources available to veterans.

Today take a moment to think about all the veterans who have served our country but also think about what role you could play in suicide prevention. Thank a veteran for their service, but recognize that the struggle is still there. Veterans appear to be civilians but the fight doesn’t always end after an enlistment does. Please educate yourselves on the signs and symptoms of PTSD and other challenges veterans face.

Today is a nationally recognized day to remember and thank our veterans, but there are still 22 suicides the other 364 days of the year.

Thank you to all who have served and I urge you all to continue to keep all veterans in your thoughts and prayers always. Their active service may be complete but the scars will remain forever, they will never be civilians again.

Thank you for taking the time to read, happy Veteran’s Day!

The straw that broke the camel’s back: Part One, The Accident

On March 30th of 2012, 31 weeks pregnant with my son, I was woken up by a phone call that would change my life forever. The heard the annoying ringtone at 1:00am and said “hello?” half asleep and confused because the caller ID read “Alyssa.” It wasn’t Alyssa, it was my husband.  My heart started pounding harder and harder quickly rising to my throat as each word came out of his mouth, “You need to come to Carlisle’s house, I’ve crashed a motorcycle and Nathan is in a coma.” This sentence changed my world in a way I never thought it could. I don’t believe I had the time to take even one breath from the moment I hung up the phone until the time I was in the car speeding down the street. I was in sheer disbelief, I still had hope, I was terrified, my world was literally spiraling out of control and I had absolutely no idea what the future had in store.

When I started to get close to the location the accident occurred, I did not need to search for it, there were lights flashing everywhere. I parked my car in someone’s driveway as close as I could get to the scene and rushed out frantically searching for my husband. As I started walking toward the lights my, surroundings started to overwhelm me. Fear and anxiety started flowing through me with a fierceness. German police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians were rushing around. people were calling out orders in German, the lights were blue, red, green and white; there were emergency vehicles everywhere. The very first thing I saw after pushing my way through the crowd, quickly jolted me into reality. Nathan was lying on the sidewalk as an EMT  lifted his shirt to shake his abdomen in search of a response. There was no response, his eyes were opening and closing while his eyes were rolling backward and his mouth was moving involuntarily as they strapped him to a stretcher. There were motorcycle remnants all over the street; plastic, glass and oil.

All of the sudden I saw my husband walk up. I instantly started crying on top of the hyperventilation I had been experiencing from the moment I arrived. His eyes were wide, his shoes were missing, his clothes were all torn up and he was terrified. He was in complete shock. I ran to him and hugged him more tightly than I ever had in my life. He was alive. It was dark and I couldn’t see any of the blood, but he was in my arms and in one piece. My mind had already been running a million miles a minute, I already knew what was happening but he was still with me and he needed me. For the brief moment I got to see him, he hugged be back even tighter, cried so hard and told me he was sorry. Then the Police asked him to come with them. My heart sunk, there was no going back, and this was only the beginning.

Standing alone in the cold, with insufficient clothing for the weather conditions, I felt nothing. I was in shock as I watched the police give my husband a preliminary breath test, treating his as though he were a dangerous criminal. I watched Alyssa frantically climb into the back of the ambulance, tears streaming down her face, to escort her husband to the emergency room down town in Kaiserslautern, Germany. For a brief moment, I glanced down toward the ground; something had caught my eye. The street light hit the Tungsten at the right angle and I saw it out of the corner of my eye; it was Nathan’s wedding ring. I picked it up, put it in my pocket and not even a second later, the German police officer informed me they would be taking my husband to the police station. It all happened so fast. They told me I could follow them but they must have been driving 120 kilometers per hour because I could barely keep up with them. I had no idea where the station was, I was not very skilled at driving our little Honda Civic with its manual transmission and I could barely see through my tears or catch my breath for what seemed like forever but was really only about ten or twelve minutes

From the time I arrived at the accident scene to the time I arrived to the police station, only about thirty minutes had passed. Rab was already inside when I got there and all I was told was that I would have to wait outside and someone would come let me know what was going on. I walked outside and sat on the sidewalk. It was the first moment I got to stop and think about what was really happening. I felt our son kick inside my belly, and as I looked down I sobbed.

I sat outside in the cold crying nearly an hour, out of what would actually be a total of five, still waiting on a Police officer to give me any information at all, and my phone rang. Once again my caller ID read “Alyssa.” She was calling to tell me the doctors were saying that Nathan was brain dead.

To be continued…

Forgive yourself

I have never heard of anyone who has never made a mistake. I’m sure we have all done wrong at one point or another. Some people handle it differently than others. Often times it is easy for us to forgive others or to even ask forgiveness of another person. So, why is it so difficult for us to forgive ourselves? What are some people doing differently than others? How come some people die from their mistakes, yet others thrive regardless?

Guilt is something everyone, with the exception of maybe a sociopath, might experience at one time or another. It is however, not exactly the worst thing a person could experience. Guilt actually prepares an individual to be more equipped when trying to have empathy for others. It is also a great motivating force for encouraging people to improve themselves. Although guilt is a natural feeling, it can be overwhelming and unrelenting at times. An individual may even seek out punishment for themselves over and over again as the feeling of guilt simmers in the unconscious. If not dealt with in a proper manner, it can become insidious and extremely self-destructive.

One of the negative things our guilt can lead to is a sense of low self-esteem. Sometimes we even take the blame for others’ behavior. I know there have been many times I have found a reason why something that had nothing to do with me was most definitely my fault. It is also not uncommon for people to judge themselves based on false accusations emanating from others. We need to decide for ourselves who we are and be able to make decisions for ourselves which we can respect. If we cannot respect ourselves, how are we supposed to get over guilt and move forward?

Personally, I do not enjoy being stuck in the past. I don’t enjoy the feelings of anger and resentment that are married to guilt. I begin to feel upset, not only at myself, but toward others sometimes, in order to justify my actions. Unprocessed guilt feeds depression and eliminates all pleasure in life. It is a destructive force creating irrational beliefs, constructing nothing but a roadblock in life. All I wish to do is move forward in my life, but it is not always the easiest thing to do when I cannot always identify an irrational thought.

When we are feeling what we think is guilt, is it possible that it is shame? Shame causes an individual to feel inferior, inadequate, and bad about who we are instead of feeling bad about something we have done. If we allow ourselves to continue with irrational thinking and our unhealthy feelings are not absolved, this guilt can lead to shame. Shame and guilt are two completely different things, there is nothing healthy about shame at all. Shame is not constructive in any way, and does not enhance self-improvement or increase our ability to empathize with others. We end up in a pool of self-preoccupation which undermines the self and every relationship we try to maintain.

If someone is already experiencing feelings of low self-esteem or has difficulty dealing with shame, it may be challenging to distinguish what one feels guilty about. If we cannot understand what we are guilty about, we may never be able to get past it or deal with it in the proper manner. Sometimes simply identifying something can be the beginning of the healing process. How can we heal if we cannot decipher what we are feeling? I often feel guilty about a lot of things I cannot explain. When I do identify them, it turns out many of these things are unnecessary. I have to set aside time to figure out which things are real and which ones are irrational thoughts before I begin taking action or decide how to proceed with something. I take into consideration how I am treating myself ,and how I am treating others when making these decisions.

I know continuing to beat myself up about things I have done in the past will only prolong the guilt and shame that has been damaging my self-esteem all along. If I take action and accept responsibility for what I have done, I have no rational reason to keep carrying it around other than for use as a guideline of where I have been and what I should avoid. The most important thing to understand about forgiveness, specifically forgiveness of oneself, is that we can never enjoy life or relationships until we feel guilt and then forgive ourselves. Unhealthy guilt could be the one thing standing between an individual and their own self-acceptance. This subsequently results as a hindrance when trying to be in a relationship with another human being.

Forgiveness of oneself is the first step in self-acceptance. This allows us to maintain healthy relationships and ultimately lead a happy and meaningful life. I am trying to focus on the realization that I can both forgive myself, and believe I was at fault for something. We often forgive others for something after they have admitted they are wrong as well as believing they were wrong. A more healthy type of feeling this could lead to would be called regret. There is nothing wrong with having feelings of regret as long as you accept that you are human and you have made mistakes, and will continue to make mistakes.

I am not the same person today as the person I was when I made some of my past mistakes. Each and every one of us will grow a little bit each day into someone a little different than the person we were yesterday. I believe God intended us to be this way. Perhaps we have all done out best, given the circumstances we were under. Our awareness, maturity, and experience at the time of our mistakes make have been different than it is now. Maintaining a humble attitude like this is far healthier than holding onto guilt and shame. That guilt and shame will only keep us from growing. If we grow we can be better, not repeat the same mistakes, and stop  the irrational belief we ARE our mistakes.

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity in life to live and learn from my mistakes. When I have experienced something myself, I can either learn from it or let it destroy me. Each time I overcome something, it is an opportunity for me to share with others and to be an example of how human beings were designed. Sometimes things are done the hard way, but I believe that to be the best way. Some of the strongest people have earned their armor by going through life without a helmet. It is all what we make of it and how we choose to deal with the decisions we have made in life. Just as each mistake we have made is a choice, so is how we deal with it after. Will you let your mistakes be the weapon that stones you to death, or will you turn them into stepping stones taking you further in life than you ever imagined?  

Our mistakes do not define who we are, it is the action we take after that does. It is the intent of growing through learning from our mistakes that better characterizes who we are, and what we are on our way to.

 

 

The letter “H”

If you were limited to only a few words to describe the people you care about, how long would it take you to choose them? It took me a while to boil everything down to a few words to describe my best friend Heather. After considering all my options, I came to a decision on four words. These four words are the first few words I immediately thought of when I started thinking about this. The words I would use to describe Heather: Friend, Fighter, Sister, Survivor.

Heather and I met at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Troy Michigan right before we were about to head out for Air Force basic military training. It has been five years and nine days since then. I remember when we first met, talking to each other and getting to know one another. We ate our final lunch together (a boxed nasty) before we left for the airport. We rode on the bus to the airport next to each other. We did everything together from the moment we met. The more time we spent together, the more we realized we had in common. All through basic training we were there for each other, we had a special loyalty to each other. I remember my mother driving from Michigan to Texas because she found out she would be allowed to take me out to dinner on thanksgiving, Heather came with us. Our parents were actually talking to each other while we were in basic together and we ended up meeting each other’s families at our graduation. This was the first time I was with Heather. The next time I saw her was shortly after that during a little break between basic training and technical training, we spent one evening together at Max & Erma’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The last time I saw Heather was three and a half years ago at my wedding. When I called her to let her know I was getting married, all she asked was, “what day do I need to get my plane ticket for?” She didn’t think twice about it, and she already knew she was going to be my maid of Honor. It is interesting to look back and see how we have stayed so close but were only together in person a total of three times. I used to look at pictures from my wedding day and the carefree smiles on our faces and think, “how lucky those two were.” I would always wish to go back in time to that moment, the time before anything bad happened. This is because at that time, neither one of us had any idea what was in store the following year.

I’ll never forget the day Heather told me she had cancer. As soon as the words came out, there was no taking them back. She said, “it’s cancer babe.”  I cried so hard. I couldn’t believe my best friend, four months younger than me, had breast cancer. I couldn’t believe that I was in Germany and pregnant and wouldn’t be able to be with her every day while she battled this awful disease. I never knew what to do, I didn’t understand what she was going through but I knew I loved her and I knew I hated the cancer that was causing so much grief in her life. All I could do was pray.

Have you ever really thought about what it truly means to “fight” cancer? We hear that all the time, but what does it mean? Some people get diagnosed with cancer and believe they’ve just been given a death sentence by their Oncologist. Not Heather. Two quotes by Austrian Neurologist, Psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, remind me of Heather and how she chose to deal with her diagnosis. Taken from his Book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Heather knew the cancer was there, she knew she was going to have to get treatment and see doctors. She knew she would have to do everything else anyone with cancer would do if they wanted to try and survive. What she did different in her situation is not about the treatment she got, it’s that she chose to FIGHT. She chose to change herself; she called upon her Lord and chose to believe she would survive. It was the only thing she could do, her choice was the only thing she had control over. A second quote by Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Heather chose to have an attitude of gratitude and was thankful in EVERY situation. Jesus was with her through the storm, but she was the one who chose to ask him to be there. She could have chosen a different attitude but she believed in herself and she believed in her God. Today my friend Heather is a breast cancer SURVIVOR. She is one of the bravest people I have ever met and she is someone I am proud to call a best friend. She was there for me in the midst of battling cancer and is still there for me while she is struggling with the aftermath of cancer. She never left my side no matter what she was dealing with personally.

Someone who fights for themselves and also fights for their friends cannot be limited to a characterization as simple as fighter or survivor. When I think about the letter “H” I think of Heather, not only because that is the first letter of her name but it is the first letter of the word I would use to describe her if I was forced to choose only one. Heather is a Hero.  She fought cancer and still fights today. She was my friend 5 years ago and she still is today. I have learned a lot by observing her through her struggles and paying close attention to how she handled herself and still does to this day. There are a few people who have influenced me to be the best person I can be or people I look up to for advice, Heather is one of those people.

I wanted to make this post during the month of October because it is breast cancer awareness month. This is not a letter to Heather, I will write that one another day, a day when I have more tissues.  This is to recognize Heather for the hero she is and to share with others what an inspiration she has been to me. I have never been concerned with the quantity friends I have, the quality is much more important. One passage from the scripture that reminds me of my dear friend and sister, Heather is Proverbs 17:17, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”

Today I think about the next time I will see Heather, I miss her so much. I will be sure to get a picture to add to my collection so I can look at those smiles and I be reminded of how we stood by each other’s sides battling different things from so far away. I will see us as our stronger selves knowing how different we are and what we have made it through. I will look at the picture of us and be proud of who we have become and proud to call her my friend. Next time, I will look at us and think, “how lucky (blessed) those two are.”

C-PTSD

Is there anything in your life you have difficulty explaining to others? What might be something you keep bottled up inside because you don’t feel like you can reach out for help? Consider what might be the most challenging thing you have in your life to explain to another human being. I have thought of a couple things I might find difficulty with such as: things I know I will face, like explaining to my son where babies come from. Next I think about direct questions people will, and have asked, and how I can explain myself. Last but not least I have the most difficulty in attempting to communicate with any other human being about my daily battle with PTSD.

What is PTSD? It stands for Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder. What it is NOT: something only military members are vulnerable to. Anyone can suffer from this; there are no exceptions. If you have had a traumatic experience in your life that you are still suffering from because of thoughts, feelings, flashbacks, or even behaviors you cannot identify, you may be suffering from PTSD. It is very simple yet extremely difficult to explain and/or understand. Each individual lives in a different mental prison because of what this disorder has done to them. Each person suffers from this as a result of a myriad of experiences. There is also more than one type. Now I will tell you about mine and reference a lot of information from outofthefog.net to best articulate the clinical description paired with my own personal experience.

Not many people know I have PTSD and not many people know why. Also, there is only one other person who knows I have C-PTSD. I am a veteran with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it is completely unrelated to combat.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a psychological injury that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape, such as in cases of: domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse, childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse, long term imprisonment and torture, repeated violations of personal boundaries, long-term objectification and long-term exposure to crisis conditions.

There are more examples, these are just a few. I have experienced several of these and some I have not. I will explain how this relates to me. I was trapped in a mentally taxing situation for a long period of time with no control after experiencing several traumatic events throughout my lifetime. Currently, this causes me to live with an intense feeling of discomfort EVERY day, even though I am no longer in the situation I was in before. This feeling comes from experiencing how bad things can really be and that it can possibly happen again. I also know that if it ever does happen again, it could be worse than before. Sometimes the smallest things cause me to lose control, and I am in fear almost every day of losing control, as well as extremely thankful for the days I do not. Sometimes my biggest accomplishment for the day is just surviving. I do not want to imagine something traumatic happening to me again in the state I am in, in fact, I do almost everything I can to avoid thinking about it. This is a state of constant, unrelenting misery from which I can only escape through coping skills from minute to minute. I used to live with anticipation of sleep as my only relief, until I could no longer sleep. Then I lived in fear of never being able to escape. Today I live a significantly more comfortable life than I did a year ago, but it is only because I choose to. I have sought counseling, educated myself, and I make a daily decision to keep fighting.

Here is something important to know about C-PTSD and why it is so difficult to talk about. The degree of trauma cannot be defined merely by the exact trauma a person has experienced. Every individual is different and has a different tolerance to trauma; therefore more or less exposure to trauma does not make the disorder more or less severe. I have been asked why I have PTSD and the only think I want to reply with is, “It’s a long story.” 1. because it really is a long story, 2. because I don’t need advice on how to get over something from someone who does not, and I hope never will(from first-hand experience), understand how I feel inside, and 3. because how I feel is how I feel. If I say I feel so terrible I do not feel like I can go on another day, I am not exaggerating, I really do feel THAT terrible. I am unique and I will not respond well to someone putting a degree of severity on my experiences based on how they would respond to them, or how they have watched others respond to them. Neither will anyone else suffering from this disorder. Everyone is different. It is very typical for someone suffering from C-PTSD to suppress their emotional reaction to traumatic events without resolution for several reasons. First, they often see each traumatic event as insignificant by itself, they often believe others will discount their experiences, and sometimes they simply HAVE NO DAMN CLUE WHAT IS GOING ON.

People who suffer from PTSD are some of the hardest to reach out to and some of the hardest to relate to because of the extreme difficulty in understanding how this happens and how a person actually feels. if you have never felt it yourself, you may never fully understand it. Part of the reason I choose to share my story is because I want to at least make my best effort to reach others and let them know they are not alone. I would not use the word “incapable” to describe my ability to effectively communicate with another human being. I rarely fail at articulating exactly what I mean by something and perpetually confirm someone’s understanding before I terminate the discussion. With that being said, I often respond to questions related to PTSD, and C-PTSD in my case, with, “there really aren’t words to express…”, or “there is no translation.” These responses are not a result of avoidance; these are actual things I say to people with whom I sincerely wish to share; people I desire to reach out to. It is really that difficult to describe.

The “Complex” part of this disorder describes how one layer after another of trauma can interact with one another. The “most” traumatic experience (according to the individual) may not actually be the straw that broke the camel’s back. This describes my situation perfectly. I could not understand what I was experiencing or what single thing had happened to cause everything I was going through. I kept being told I was displaying behaviors of someone with PTSD but everything simply wasn’t adding up. The classic PTSD diagnosis typically comes from the evaluation of one’s emotional responses to a single or discrete number of traumatic events. C-PTSD results from chronic repetitive stress with little chance of escape. PTSD can result from single events or short-term exposure to extreme stress or trauma. E.g. a child who witnesses a suicide may exhibit symptoms of PTSD and a child who grew up in a home with physical, verbal, or sexual abuse may exhibit the additional symptoms of C-PTSD.

Do you think you are beginning to see the difference between the two?

By now I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth happened to me. This time I will not respond with “It’s a long story” and leave it at that. It is most definitely a long story, but I will share it with you. I have encountered numerous traumatic experiences in my life to include bullying, sexual abuse, assault, symptoms of mental disorders, and a sizeable amount of life changes. The result of all of this has led to multiple mental disorders, varying types of substance abuse (often referred to as self-medicating), self-harm, and the daily struggle I continue to cope with every single day. I also experience a paradoxical effect from nearly every pharmaceutical drug I have tried to help cope with some of the symptoms I deal with. Most of my traumatic experiences happened before I joined the military in 2009 and I was able to cope with them, in my opinion, somewhat easily. I think some were more difficult than others but for the most part things started off extremely uncomfortable in every situation but I would slowly start to gain relief, which kept me positive and left me with hope if nothing else. The last traumatic experience was 14 months of exposure to the same stress with varying degrees and what seemed to be a million obstacles throughout the time period, eventually leading to a mental breakdown and complete loss of hope. The last experience is “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Now that you may understand a little bit about PTSD, C-PTSD, and me, I will post “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and how C-PTSD feels. Stay tuned.

Rules?

So I’ve been wondering, aside from the Bible, where exactly is this “Rule Book” that everyone uses to find the information they use to judge others and to set norms?

Life itself has no real rules. Sure, the county/township you live in, state, country, work place, etc. provides rules you must follow and guidelines on how to conduct yourself in certain areas of your life. To keep peace and stay alive mainly; E.g. Speed limits, controlled carry zones. There are rules upon rules everywhere you go. Some are not meant to target everyone but I sure am thankful for some, like when you see a sign that says “Employees must wash hands before leaving the restroom.” When I was stationed in Germany, I found out about an actual German law that said it was mandatory to walk your dog at least three times a day. My first thought was, “really?” I understand some rules are set in place because clearly standards need to be set. However, if you are following all “the rules”, and by rules I mean, the ones you have to follow to stay out of jail kind of rules, who makes the rest of the rules?

So….setting all religious beliefs aside, and again, we are not talking about laws here, but rules that are not documented. We are talking about people telling others what to do or deciding what is right for them when each person has a right to their own free will. Now, I don’t want to get too controversial here but, if this is the only life I have to live, WHY would I allow another individual to tell me how to live it? It was Jimi Hendrix who said, “I’m the one who’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.” Why should someone care if I choose to tattoo every inch of my body? Why should someone care what I eat? Whose business is it if I’m a 28-year old woman who still sleeps with a blankie? If you can show me a legitimate rule on what age you are no longer allowed to sleep with a blankie, I might “consider” giving it up. No, actually not really, I will probably just unfriend you 🙂

So what is living anyway? I’m sitting here thinking to myself, “How am I living?” But wait a minute, let me turn this up a notch. AM I living? Or am I existing? We all have the right to do with our bodies/selves what we want, the rule is what YOU see fit, not what others see fit. They don’t live in your body. Sure, some people may be damaging their bodies but why shouldn’t someone be allowed to do that? If you want to significantly shorten your life span because of a certain way you want to live? I love you, so I will applaud you for living versus existing in a world where all you ever do is live to please others. Others sure aren’t living to please you. I don’t work out so you can look good and when I eat a pound of bacon, it sure isn’t putting cellulite on your thighs 🙂

People will always expect you to conform, I’ve been there. I was that person with expectations of others. I’m beginning to feel like I should probably give all of this a long hard thought. As much as others have judged me, ordered me around, and had expectations of me, I have done the same. I have also allowed the judgments, orders, and expectations to affect my life in ways I know I don’t have to. I MAKE THE RULES. YOU MAKE THE RULES. Time to break this chain around my neck and live instead of exist. Those of you who know me well watched me finish my undergrad in English where I was forced to read a lot of poetry and literature I didn’t always think applied to my life, well one day I came across a meaningful quote by Oscar Wilde. It said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Do I want to be a part of the prosaic uniformity I am subject to or do I want to be the master of my own destiny? Of course I will try and elucidate the locus of my life and argue that my actions are merely a side effect of every event and close examination of the elements constructing my make-up. That is complete unabridged tomfoolery; utter NONSENSE. If I’m in a bad situation and I want to stay there, that is me choosing to. Each individual makes conscious decisions about which direction they want to take their lives and guess what? Not. My. Business. How much of my time am I wasting worrying about what others are doing, and how much time am I wasting listening to what others are telling me I should be doing?

I don’t believe fate has a bias toward anyone or plays favorites. Tomorrow could be the day you kick the bucket. Do you ever wonder if what you’re doing today is what you’d want to be doing if it was your last day to live? Are you treating others with kindness and respect and choosing to live in a way you would want people to remember you for? Your bucket might get dumped out, but the memory of you will still be strewn around until the end of time.

This really makes me think about my purpose; my goals. What do I want to accomplish in life? WHY am I doing what I’m doing and why did I choose this over something else. Maybe this is something important to think about. Maybe I haven’t even begun to live yet. If I choose to live, what is stopping me? I can change everything if I want to, there are no rules stating otherwise.

No one will die if you don’t give them an explanation of why you decided to do something a litte differently than everyone else. We are all born a little different from each other anayway, so why should we all act that same? I know that if I am not living my life working toward my dreams, loving myself, and embracing the journey along the way, I am wasting my time. Life is the greatest gift someone can be given but it is up to us to write the manual on how to live it. I want to be happy and spend more time living instead of existing.

I’ll leave you with one last quote, a little food for thought. “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”- George Bernard Shaw

What I’m saying is…Write your own rules…there is nothing saying you can’t.

Gratitude

How often do you think about the word “Gratitude”, what it means to you, and how you use it in your life?

Gratitude is a type of emotion individuals use to express their appreciation for what they have as opposed to focusing on the societal norm; heavy emphasis on one’s “wants” and “needs”. Gratitude is an emotion we have the ability to deliberately cultivate in order to increase our own well-being. We have the power to choose happiness over misery in doing so. Grateful thinking with specific emphasis on the expression of that thinking to others leads to positive energy, optimism, and empathy.

When times get tough, it can be extremely difficult to see the positive things in life when obstacles are blaring and fears are looming. It is during times like this we should be most grateful. It is important to remember and appreciate not the things making our lives more difficult, but the things that don’t. Gratitude helps us see whatever situation we are facing in a different light allowing panic to lessen and our minds to open up to a change in thinking.

Here are some things to think about with an attitude of gratitude 🙂 One of the most amazing things about gratitude is its affirmation that there IS goodness in this world we often perceive as awful. When we express gratitude we affirm there are good things in the world, we remember gifts re have received, we think about the things and people that make us smile. Gratitude is also the conscious recognition that there are sources of goodness in our world outside of our own being and the happiness we try to construct for ourselves. It is a time when we have a moment to acknowledge other people, and God, for the many ways they have helped us achieve goodness in our lives. Gratitude strengthens and builds relationships. For it to happen, we must first take a close look at how we have been supported through our lives, who it came from, and how it was delivered. We now focus on being affirmed and loved by the people in our lives.

Being grateful and making the choice to have an attitude of gratitude not only changes your perspective in a positive way, it empowers you to choose your own happiness. Gratitude encourages us not only to appreciate what we have in life but to live life from day to day paying that forward. Everyone deserves a reason to be grateful today and that reason could be you!

I am grateful to each and every one of you who take the time to read what I have to say and be a part of my healing and growth process. Xoxo.

-Amanda

Depression, A Truth

Aside from warping your reality of the world, depression and all the baggage that comes along with it can thoroughly consume your life as you perceive it and drain you of any energy that might hearten your spirit. There is no predetermined scope of time to elapse before depression symptoms will subside. The grimness of depression and its subsequent effects are likely to produce a gruesome and unstable quest for relief.

It is not uncommon for anyone suffering from depression to see their world though an entirely negative and unrealistic lens. It is a regular occurrence to find difficulty in maintaining a rational and realistic perspective on nearly everything in life.

So let’s get down to a reality from a first-hand perspective. I feel the effects of depression on a daily basis and have several days a week, during which times I am expected to perform at peak levels, where I cannot function properly due to how I am feeling. Lately I have been feeling the effects of a 55-hour work week paired with full-time graduate school and the amount of studying it takes for my 28-year old brain to achieve marks that will allow me opportunities furthering my education in a doctoral program. The problem is not the work, it is not the studying, it’s not even the time or attention and the way I live life from hour to hour with no exceptions. The effect I feel is the emotional need for contact with other human beings, mainly my family and specifically my son with whom I was a stay at home mother for the first 18 months of his life. I have little time to do anything to treat myself without feeling guilty and the reason I lose focus most is because I know when I am at school or at work, I’m not at home with my family.

I remember times as a kid, unaware of how the world really worked, actually thinking my dad didn’t love me because he was not around as often as I would have liked. I didn’t realize that my dad was even working several jobs at one once at times so we could pay bills and be taken care of. He was taking care of me, but he couldn’t do it from inside the house. He was also sacrificing a lot of himself I was always unaware of. There is no set model of what it means to take care of your kids, sometimes you just do what you gotta do and work with what you have. After having a mental break down nearly a year and a half ago, I am still in the process of healing. I am healing through the things I am learning in school and the way I am able to help others at work. I have a sense of fulfillment I did not have before and it allows me to be the person I am from day to day. That doesn’t mean depression goes away, it means I have the strength to fight it and to cope from day to day in order to lead the most comfortable life I can provide for myself mentally.

One common denominator with everyone who suffers from depression is their eventual defeat or ability to cope with this debilitating condition. The change is often made by making a major alteration to one’s life in order to achieve this. I have used school and work and the sense of purpose I find through them as an immeasurable source of coping techniques. The journey will vary with each individual but it is possible. With personal determination combined with inner strength and character, one can cross the barrier and break the boundaries.

I will continue to fight this battle and I will fight on levels I never knew existed, I know because it is happening today. So when I feel depressed, on days like today, I will remind myself of why I am doing what I am doing. I will have more time with my family one day and that time will be spent in happiness, not a cloud of depression as I cry tears of sweat to pave the road to my future and the future for my family. Last but not least, I will never forget to give credit to those I reached out to and the support I received during my darkest hours. Xoxo, Debbie and Dad.