A Birthday Reflection

Yesterday I turned 26 years old. I had an absolutely wonderful day spent with my family and my boyfriend. There was nothing lavish or anything but it was time well spent and I felt appreciated by everyone.

One of my love languages is quality time so getting to spend time with the people I’m closest with was awesome.

It is amazing how a few years can change your perspective about life.

I remember when I turned 24 I reflected upon how I was celebrating my birthday while I struggled each day to live. This happened towards the end of my 7-month severe depressive episode, I had no idea that my suicidal thoughts were going to soon be quiet.

I thought to myself, “This is so odd. How can I celebrate my life when all I want to do is die?”

Soon after April 13, 2017, I found the right antidepressants and was finally able to attend therapy only once a week instead of twice. I got a new job plus a side gig that cut my stress level by over half.

I fell in love when I thought I never would again.

Later that year I got to see the most beautiful sunset ever in Las Vegas and go to the desert in California (two places I had never been before).

Right now my mental health is doing pretty well so in this reflection, I am glad that I didn’t kill myself. I’m glad that there was a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, I hope that this post gives you perspective. In the moment you think that life will never get better. But it does.

What’s the Make, Model, and Year of Your Mental Health Struggle?

Hi, I’m Chelsea. I drive a minivan.

I didn’t want to drive a minivan. When people learn that I do drive one, they start assuming other things about me. They also assume: I drive slow, am distracted, have no taste in vehicles, have children, will make a bad decision whilst driving because I’m probably turned around yelling at said children, and that I shop at Costco every day.

Now…. some of those things might be true. But, guess what? am not the minivan. I just drive it. am a person. My name is Chelsea. I am not slow, distracted, tasteless, children, bad decisions, or Costco. I am a human and I am also worthwhile.

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When you go out into the world, what sort of vehicle do you drive? Van? Jeep? Truck? Bicycle? Bus? Sedan? Train?

Are you large, difficult to turn, and roomy like that van? Are you fun outside but hard on the joints over speedbumps like a Jeep? How about pushy and a bit too high off the ground like a truck? Maybe you can’t really afford much in life or are environmentally conscious like a bicycle.

Our mental health struggles are our vehicles.

Say that you go out to the workplace after a difficult morning, only to snap at someone because they echoed a mean thought your Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder chugged and chugged and chugged. That wasn’t you, though. That was the OCD you have to take to work.

What about the night that Depression was your ride? That dark interior, battered trim, and iffy transmission was only how you got to the party, not who came inside.

And let’s not forget the lunchtime meeting you had with Anxiety. Your mechanic still shakes his head over the number of ‘strange noises’ you swear it kept making, the sudden stops, and its refusal to even start when you were at a traffic light.

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Thinking about mental illness as a vehicle might make you say, “Well, then, why can’t we just get another car?” Money, mostly. Circumstance. What your insurance will cover. What you need for your size of family, parking space, parking expenses, and (again) budget.

That’s not to say you’re stuck forever in your quirky transport, nor that you can’t address some of its more-limiting issues. In fact, you really need to address them.

-If you are repeatedly blocked from getting the engine to even start

-If you are constantly arriving late

-If you cannot seem to ever get out of the seatbelt when necessary

It’s time to see a mechanic -er, a therapist or mental health doctor of some sort.

No matter the age or condition of the vehicle, they can always help. No, your car will not be the same as when you first unknowingly signed that crappy contract and drove it home -but, do you want it to be?

And, sometimes, you do get a different ride. Sometimes you have no choice. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes worse. But, the car you drive is still not you.

You are you. Most importantly, you are always the driver. Never forget that.

Photo credit:
Rodolfo Mari
Pixabay
James Sullivan

Less is More

Something I have learned over the course of the last 17 years in struggling with mental illness, is the application of the principle in the title: “less is more.”  Learning how to do this was not easy for me, but it has helped me in so many ways.

The old me–the me of not that many years ago, lived with a different mantra: “If less is good, then more is better.”  I had this idea that the more elaborate and complex something was, the better it was.  Also, the more time and effort I spent on the something, the more value it had, and the more value I had.

Let me give you some examples.  When my older children were small, I would read to them often.  Reading to children is good right?  Well, I made it better.  I didn’t just read, I made it fun.  I did all the voices and sound effects.  And I didn’t just read a couple books, I would read a whole stack.  “Less is good, but more is better.”  I’m sure my kids really liked this, but I felt exhausted afterward.  Present day me knows that if something makes me exhausted, it’s probably a good idea to tone it down.  However, at the time, this was proof that I loved my children and wanted to do what was best for them.  I had done more than the bare minimum, therefore it was better.

Here’s another example.  When having family over for dessert, or planning a family get together for my son’s birthday, it was not enough to grab a cake mix and some ice cream and call it good.  That would never do.  This is my family, we’re talking about!  Only the best for them.  That means everything baked from scratch.  This meant hours in the kitchen, preparing not one, but multiple dessert items so that there would be options.  More is better, remember?  Exhausting work, but–had to be done!  The more I work, the more love goes into it–right?

Another example: I was asked to serve in a position at church that would involve me overseeing all of the children, including their Sunday and weekday classes and activities.  It was a big responsibility.  This was the perfect opportunity to really dig in and put everything I had into making this the best run children’s program ever!  Was it enough to do the bare minimum?  Are you kidding me?  Of course not.  These kids deserved better than that!  I went the extra mile in every way possible and ended up completely burnt out after serving just shy of 2 years in this position.

I could go on and on with examples because this was literally my guiding star.  If I didn’t almost kill myself to do every little thing in my life, then it wasn’t good enough.  Oh sure–it was good enough for everyone else.  But it was not good enough for me.  I could not accept it—I could not accept me, if I wasn’t going above and beyond.

Then, deep depression hit–you know the story.  After my youngest son was born everything came crashing down.  Not only could I no longer go the extra mile, I couldn’t really do much of anything.  And I can honestly say, especially when discussing this particular topic, that I am so glad depression slowed me down.  I was forced by my circumstances to do a complete reset on how I approached my life.  I got to start over.  I got to learn a new way of living that helps me be a much happier, much more balanced person.

How was it a reset, you ask?  I couldn’t function in life. I could barely get through from minute to minute.  I was doing the barest of bare minimum efforts required to keep myself and my family alive.  As I got feeling a little better over time, I had to be careful, when adding things to my life, that I didn’t overload myself.  So I rebuilt my efforts from the ground up.

Now, instead of going above and beyond, I ask myself, “What is sufficient?  What is the simplest way to do this?  How can I expend the least amount of energy and still get the job done right?”  This is a much more relaxing way to approach life.

I learned a lot through this process.  Among other things, I learned that I could read a couple of books to my children when I have time, and that would be good enough.  I figured out that I really dislike entertaining and so avoid doing this these days.  When birthdays roll around, I reach for the cake mix and ice cream.  And I figured out that when given a task or assignment, I don’t have to make it bigger than it is.  I can just do my best to do what needs to be done and that is enough.

I find it much easier to manage my bipolar symptoms with the philosophy “less is more.”  I now have minimal amounts of stress in my life.  Because I am not killing myself to get things done all the time and trying to “wow” everyone with how hard I am working, I have more down time.  This translates into living at a slower pace, which I find very beneficial for my overall health and happiness.

“Less is more” can be applied to so many areas in life.  I have also benefited from using this wisdom to guide me when making purchases, or decluttering.  “What is sufficient for my needs?”  is a great guiding question that is helpful in these circumstances.

How have you benefited from following the philosophy “less is more?”  Do you ever find yourself caught in the trap of thinking you have to go the extra mile all the time?

As always, I would love to hear your story.  Comment below to share your experience.