I'm a mentally ill person raising another mentally ill person. With chickens.

Posts tagged ‘Advice’

Thoughts on purpose

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

–Neil Gaiman

I stumbled across that piece of Neil Gaiman’s commencement address today, and it suited my mood. Partly because I couldn’t really decide what to write about but I didn’t want to skip a day, and partly because of a conversation about mental illness and failure that I had with a friend yesterday.

He brought up the fact that he felt his life was a failure. And usually I can find something positive to say to things like that, but I didn’t want to give him a bunch of BS, so I told him the truth. I struggle with that too. He and I have similar stories: loads of education that was hard-earned, but that is now not going to use because we are at home receiving Social Security Disability benefits. And we need those benefits, because neither one of us can function without medication and regular visits to a psychiatrist. Before I had disability I went without insurance and medication for long periods, two of which ended in the psych ward. That is the reality of mental illness: it has to be treated like any other illness or it’s dangerous. But like any other treatment, psychiatric treatment isn’t without side effects. I’ve had meds that made my weight balloon up, ones that made me constantly nauseous, ones that gave me headaches, ones that gave me “cognitive difficulties”,  ones that kept me awake for days, and ones that made me sleep for days. Finding the right medication combination for a person is really an art, more than a science, and that is one of the things that makes working difficult. The other thing that makes it difficult is the illness itself of course.

I don’t always know that my mood is off. A lot of the time I think something is physically wrong with me because I will be sore or tired or have a stomach ache. But those things can signal depression too. Several of the times I’ve been fired have been for having too many sick days, and that’s more than fair, because I’ve thought I was sick, or maybe stressed myself sick, more times than most people. During my practicum semester at the middle school I had the stomach flu NINE times. And I wasn’t faking, my stomach did act up; I was very stressed out and unhappy and those are conditions that make for all kinds of symptoms to show up. I knew I had a mental illness when I went back for my Master’s, I just underestimated it. I assumed that because things had been quiet for a long time that they would stay quiet.  I hadn’t really challenged myself  in years, and it turned out to be too much. I can run on caffeine and hypomania for a while, but that takes a toll.

I ended up taking a part-time semester after the stomach flu semester and almost didn’t finish my degree. I probably shouldn’t have, seeing how much use it’s getting. But I had plans. That’s where the whole “my life is a failure” thing comes in. I had plans. My friend had plans. Being mentally ill was NOT part of those plans. I don’t know how to tell him his life isn’t a failure because it’s hard to find purpose in mine too.  Yes, I know, I’m a mom and a wife and those are important jobs, but they aren’t all I intended for myself.  In that semester that I cut down to part-time I took a creative writing class in order to still have financial aid and it was the most fun I had throughout my whole Master’s program. It was the most motivated I was too, I actually did assignments ahead of time. It’s been interesting to do this every day, because once in a while I remember little things like that class that was kind of an accident. Maybe it was a “mistake” that I needed to make, so that now, when I’m looking for purpose, I can remember that there’s something I enjoy?

I’m telling you now

So before I continue giving my younger self advice (there really is a lot to say) I just want to say how happy I am with last nights election results.  Maybe we will start to actually look the first world country we’re supposed to be over the next four years.  I doubt it, but today anyway I’m hopeful.  (I can still get more affordable health and dental in Central America, but at least now I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.)

Younger Julie:

You will look for family everywhere, attaching to people like one of those sucker fish on a whale.  I don’t know why, but I suspect it’s an abandonment issue.   Figure it out or you will make choices that you will later regret.

Do not rush into marriage or parenthood.  They are both so much harder than you think they are going to be.  And while marriage can be undone, divorce isn’t the pain of ripping off a band-aid, it’s the pain of losing a limb.  And it doesn’t begin to compare with the pain that children can bring.  Not that children are bad.  They are a gift that I don’t have words to describe.  But loving them is a fierce and powerful thing; it is not the stuff of bunnies and teddy bears that you think it will be.  And that child-birth video from Mr. Baake’s class?  Remember how awful you thought it was?  The real thing is worse.

I know it seems like I have had nothing nice to say about relationships.  I’m trying to find something encouraging and I can’t.  So let that be a warning in itself.  If you spend your high school and college years settling for boys who don’t deserve you, you will be a bitter 40-year-old who thinks relationships are merely a necessary evil and that sex is a tool to get something you want.  You will be complacent and comfortable, but you will not be happy.

Do not settle for someone who doesn’t attract you: you are worthy.  Do not settle for someone who belittles your interests:   you are fascinating.  Do not settle for someone who wants to rescue you: you are a warrior.  Do not settle for someone who makes you feel guilty: you are blameless.  Do not settle for someone who tells you you need to be more.  You are perfect.

Love,

40-year-old you

More advice for younger me

So I’ve decided to continue the theme of giving advice to my past/younger self.  She was really not working with all the information she should have had and should The Doctor show up with his TARDIS (9 or 10 please–sorry Matt Smith, you’re just not my type) I’d like to be prepared to pass on some of my hard-won wisdom and maybe help her avoid some of the worst experiences, or maybe just help her HAVE some experiences.

Younger Julie:

You should travel.  I know you are a weird eater sometimes, but get over it and see the world.  Your parents will make this difficult because they see the possibility of death and dismemberment everywhere.  Travel anyway.  Because life without seeing the world is its own kind of slow death and they have warned you about every danger except the one right in front of you.

Don’t be so trusting.  Not everyone is nice.  Most people aren’t.  That’s the danger your parents didn’t warn you about and it is a lot scarier than the possibility of a car crash.  I don’t know if they thought being surrounded by Lutherans/Christians would keep you safe but it didn’t.  It won’t.  Bad people like to hide at church, it gives them a sense of power.  Trust your gut.

You are adopted and that comes with identity issues.  You grew up in a town of 2000 so no one talked about any of that, but it’s perfectly normal and it should have been addressed.  You are allowed to have questions.  You are SUPPOSED to have questions.  Telling you nothing is NOT protecting you as much as everyone thinks it is, because you are different from your parents and your sister (and your brother, who is even more different than you are and who also should have been told more).  It is not a crime to be an extrovert.  And it is not a bad thing to be prettier than your sister.  You can’t help it and you shouldn’t have to feel bad about it.  And you will if you don’t accept the fact that being adopted does matter.  Try not to be too angry; it was a different generation and your parents were following the wisdom of the day.

You love fashion: clothes and hair and make-up and jewelery.  You have style and you are not appreciated in your town or by your family.  Try not to let it get to you.  And more importantly try to find a way to make a living with that love.  Maybe you aren’t great at sewing (although try harder at this, you’ll thank yourself later) and you aren’t great at drawing–it doesn’t matter.  There are a million jobs in fashion that you haven’t heard of yet and you shouldn’t give up.  And loving clothes doesn’t make you shallow or vain.  I know what you’ve been told and you need to just ignore it.  You’re allowed to love what you love and not be judged by anyone.  Trust me when I say stifling yourself will have consequences later in life.

You are easily swayed by others.  Knock it off.  There is nothing to gained by being a people pleaser.  If you stay on this path you will stop liking people altogether.  You won’t believe this, because you think all people are fascinating and have an interesting story to tell and you love meeting people.  If you want to keep that sense of wonder, stop trying to make everyone happy and worry about making yourself happy.  The only way to love others is to love yourself.  You’ve been called vain and selfish a lot of times, so you’ll find that hard to believe, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one.

It is OK to be alone.  You must learn to do things by  yourself.  You do not need a best friend or a boy friend to go everywhere with you and do everything with you.  You are a perfectly capable person all on your own.  This fear of being alone is going to come back and bite you later (husband and kids way before your ready) if you’re not careful.  Get out there and enjoy your own company.  You’re fun!

Love,

Your 40 year old self

 

NaBloPoMo: Better late than never

Well I was supposed to start writing last week, but first my oldest killed my computer and then I had company so better late than never I suppose.  And honestly, I don’t know when I’ve ever done anything on time, so why would I want to start now?  My friend is doing NaNoWriMo which I truly admire.  I’ve always  wanted to be a writer, but the thought of a novel is way to intimidating to consider.  I consider myself more of an Ann Landers/Dear Abby type writer than a novelist type.  I need a prompt to get anything done, and I LOVE to hand out advice.  (Hence the Counseling degree, which is going to great use.)  Anyway, I’m back at it after a year away from blogging, or writing of any kind at all.  Mostly things are the same, except I won my disability case so I am OFFICALLY crazy and getting paid for it.  Yay me.  I won based on the mental illness, the judge disregarded my digestive issues.  I find that somewhat amusing because the mental illness makes me really fun most of the time (hypomania, gotta love it) but the digestive stuff is really really hard to live with.  Strange standards these guys have, but whatever, after 18 months of fighting I’m disabled and getting a check again.

So I mentioned I need a prompt, and its true, I do.  And I saw a fun one today:  Write a letter to your 14-year-old self.  Interesting task since I’m 40 and that was a completely different life ago, but I’ll give it a shot:

Dear Fourteen year old Julie,

Please believe me when I tell you that boys are absolutely nothing like in the movies or in books.  I know that you love Sweet Valley High and all those teen romance novels, and you think that Footloose and Girls Just Want to Have Fun are the greatest movies ever, but you need to broaden your horizons and read and watch things that are dark.  Because you are going to get hurt.  Boys aren’t that nice.  Even the ones that are supposed to be–like the ones from church– just aren’t. I know you go to a religious school and no one has told you anything except that sex is for having babies, but trust me when I tell you it is SOOOOOO much more complicated than that. Boys want to have sex with you because they are chemically driven to have sex with as many people as possible in their lifetime.  You want to have sex with boys because you think you have an emotional bond with them and that sex cements that bond.  That’s basically how boy/girl brains are different.    Boys do NOT think you are the most fascinating person in the world and they do not really want to spend an entire day doing nothing with you.  Ferris Bueller is great but he does not exist in real life.  Same goes for Lloyd Dobbler.  I know that you will not believe this because you believe in romance and that everybody has a “one”  but try to at least consider the possibility that the boy trying to stick his hand up your skirt really doesn’t care what book you’re reading or what your parents do for a living.

And those things matter.  Who you are as a person–not an object–matters.  Spend less time worrying about boys and relationships and more time figuring out yourself.  You ARE smart.  I know right now everyone things that you aren’t, because you have a big loud personality and you think before you speak (work on that!) but you are smarter than you are given credit for and you are talented.  Figure out who YOU want to be and stop trying to be who your parents are.  You actually think psychology is interesting and you are surrounded by dysfunctional family and you have great people skills.  Do what YOU want to do, don’t just pick a career path because you’re too lazy to figure yourself out so you do what your parents do.  Same goes for your college choice.  Pick smart, not easy.  You will have many opportunities, pick the best one, do the research even though its boring.

LISTEN to that nagging voice in the back of your head.  It is usually right and you almost always regret it when you don’t.  If the situation feels wrong or uncomfortable, get out!  If you think you’re making a bad choice, you probably are.  Listen.

Find a person to talk to.  You are going to need a therapist (not a pastor, and not someone too emotional).  It will help you not be an angry adult and help you understand that your parents weren’t actually perfect.  It will also help with the identity issue that will always be there.

Finally, and these seem small, but they’re not:  Find a form of exercise that you like and take care of your teeth.   You are so much more beautiful than you realize (it is not vain to value yourself, just ignore those people) but you need to take care of yourself or you will regret it.  Also, smoking is bad bad bad!

Love,

40 year old you.