Are You Hiding Your Pain?

Recently someone on Twitter posted about hiding pain behind a smile … it sure struck a chord with me.

I can’t tell you how many years I acted like I was fine, how long I smiled through the pain. How often people remarked about my lovely smile, even though inside I was filled with despair, self-loathing and such a deep longing for love and acceptance. I have always tried to smile a lot. I think it’s important to smile, it feels good inside and it’s a very warm way to greet others. But when you are smiling on the outside and hurting on the inside, it sure doesn’t feel so good.

That smile can be the ultimate oxymoron. Sometimes people refer to this same kind of behavior as wearing a mask. Wearing the mask can become second nature, all in an effort to bury and hide the pain. It may even be more comfortable after time to hide the pain, to wear that mask (no matter how heavy it may be), rather than feel the pain even for a moment.

Hiding the pain behind a smile, behind a mask, can lead to all kinds of unpleasant coping techniques. (Should I count just how many of these I’ve tried? Nope.) Even worse than the unhealthy coping mechanisms, I think is how you can almost die to yourself if you do not allow yourself to express and show your pain at appropriate times. I haven’t mastered this…in fact, I seem to go from one end of the spectrum to the other at times. I work hard to be more positive than I was in the past, I work hard to feel better and to wear a smile more often, yet it can be easy to fall into old patterns and behaviors.

Thankfully, some people can see through it. Just yesterday I saw my brother briefly… I met him in a parking lot to pick something up from him. I was wearing sunglasses, my eyes were completely covered. My hair was fixed. I looked pretty “normal” on the outside. But somehow, as soon as he saw me he noticed something… he said, “You don’t look like you feel very good.” All at the same time I was shocked that he could tell and I was also thankful. My eyes welled up with tears… he couldn’t see that. It really was sweet relief to have my pain acknowledged (even if it was more emotional pain than anything). Being strong, stoic and brave behind a smile is exhausting!

Just as I am skilled at hiding pain behind a smile, I am equally skilled at complaining, some might even call it whining. It’s a fine line. Talking about the same problems over and over again gets old. It’s gets old for the listener and for the teller. Dwelling on the negative can become second nature to me as well, if I allow it. I seem to wander back and forth between these two extremes. I certainly feel my best when I am somewhere in the middle, acknowledging the challenges in my life but seeking positive and beauty in the midst. That is what I am really striving to do here, on a consistent basis. I won’t pretend that I have this licked, that I have it all down to a science, but this is what I strive for and I feel passionate about it.

Admittedly, consistency is tough when you live with pain that is sporadic, when you have good days and bad days physically and emotionally. Consistency is tough when life throws things at you, difficult things, different things on different days. But there are some consistencies in life that we can rely on, and these things can help us get through even the most difficult of times.

If you are hiding pain, if you are living behind a mask, I ask you what do you risk by allowing yourself to feel some of that pain? Does it feel like you will lose all control if you feel it? Do you feel like it will overcome you? I have felt that way before… and the truth is, it might overcome you for a while, but if you have support in line (a counselor, a therapist, a trusted pastor or friend) you can trust yourself to feel that pain and move through it. It may be a process, perhaps a long one, but in my experience moving through it always leads to a better place.

Sometimes we get stuck, but we have to remember to keep pushing through it… if we get stuck in the complaining, in the murky waters of self-pity, we have to keep forging ahead and look for solutions. We must look for the things that we do have control over, the ways that we can improve our situations and/or our health, and most importantly keep looking if you don’t see them right away.

I tell you this as much as I tell myself… but in order to live a more beautiful life, we can’t live it hiding behind a smile, we can’t live a life of constantly hiding the pain. Free yourself from that burden, give yourself that gift today.

I have out my solution detector (like a metal detector but it seeks out solutions) right now, it’s getting kind of heavy (I did tell you I am good at whining) but I still have it and I’m going to keep on using it. Will you keep looking too?

Before All is Lost

Yesterday I made a little bit of a “ranty” video about my frustrations with our systems in America. Our health systems, our legal system, our assistance systems, all seem to be so based on waiting for worst possible scenarios before providing assistance, and it’s frustrating.

Take the health care and mental health field for instance. When a person is suffering from severe depression (or any kind of mental health issue) that has reached a very unhealthy level, they must be suicidal or homicidal in order to be mandated (by law) to get inpatient treatment of any kind. I would so hate for anyone to be hospitalized against their will (it’s hard enough voluntarily), but sometimes people are so ill that they do not realize that they are on the brink of losing everything because of their illness. Medical intervention is necessary, but if they are not suicidal or homicidal, then sorry….we can’t help. Why must we wait until someone is literally on the brink of death or violence to help? This is just one metaphor for the way our systems are set up. It’s much the same when someone faces foreclosure.

When a person is behind on a mortgage payment, the bank will not provide any assistance until the homeowner is 3 months behind. Then, the assistance they provide requires an arrangement to pay back missed payments making the new payments even higher than before. Never mind if the homeowner is facing unemployment and can’t make the original payment to begin with. It’s just backwards.

Legal assistance is only available to women for free or reduced rates if they are being abused (it’s not enough if they are afraid of being abused or are being emotionally abused) or if they have already separated from their husband. Until they are actually separated, then his income is considered to be hers and any assistance she might be eligible for in order to make it possible to start anew is not available. Let’s put her and her kids on the street first, then we might help.

Mental health assistance and counseling for the uninsured is available at a “reduced rate”, like say $70.00 per hour (I did find one service that provides it for $30 per session – still unaffordable for multiple people and on a regular basis, and not provided by highly qualified professionals in my opinion). So, if you need help before you’ve lost everything, you really can’t afford to get it. Once you’ve lost everything then you might qualify for a further reduced rate, but how will you pay for it, you now have nothing. Get my drift?

I know there are some different circumstances and some very generous organizations out there, but it is incredibly difficult to find the resources we need in this country to get ahead with our health and finances, if we are strapped for cash, but yet not at the disaster level. It just seems wrong, why aren’t we helping people to avoid disaster before it happens?

So, here comes my video speaking to the topic, saying much of the same, but it’s me speaking, not just written word. Would you consider sharing this post and video? Something must be done so that we can help people before all is lost. Pick an area where you can help or where you can speak out and do it? Share ideas here in the comments, and by all means share resources, if you know of them, too. Disadvantaged people, (who have yet to lose it all) need our help in every facet of life. Thank You!

Just catching up…

Swirling a Mystery
Image by qthomasbower via Flickr

I post a lot about specific topics here, or share a particular challenge I am having, or try to be inspirational now and then, but it’s been a long time since I just told you what was going on with me and my life. I thought now is as good of a time as any to catch you up!

Really, I am pretty busy, even if it is all in my mind or inside my home, I feel busy.

My kids are growing and changing and challenging me in ways I didn’t know they would or could and I’m afraid it’s just going to keep on going like that! The are in 5th grade and kindergarten and there is always something going on in both. I did sign up to be a room parent this year for the kindergarten class and I am fairly certain the other room parents are wondering why I did because I am always the one pitching in at the last minute.

I am loving my work as a Community Leader at WEGO Health. I am busier than ever with my work, so if my blog posts seem to be tapering a bit, that is why. Never fear though, I will not disappear. (Kind of funny, I’m not sure how very many would notice if I did, but for the handful of my devoted readers I am most grateful!) I post a lot at WEGO Health in a variety of health communities including Depression, Fibromyalgia, Mental Health, ADHD and Women’s Health, so come visit me there, too!

I am proud to say that I am now a board member of the newly forming Kansas City Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We had a great meeting this past weekend and I am thrilled to be a part of the foundation of this new chapter. This is a cause and an organization I feel most passionate about supporting, so it is with a happy heart that I join this endeavor and commit myself to it!

Una Vita Bella – The Community is growing, slowly but surely, and more participation is evolving. I’ve added new groups and I’m gaining more direction. I am still thinking I’m might be flopping around like a fish a bit as the network creator/community manager, but you know… I’m juggling a lot at the moment, so I’ll give myself some slack.

I’ve begun to cook more, which has been a lot of fun. It doesn’t come naturally to me, I have this bizarre need to do everything “just right”. I am a recipe girl and I want to make sure I follow the instructions precisely. So, I’m working on being a little more brave in the kitchen… using new spices, less direction, and I am either calling my friend Rebecca or my mom quite frequently around dinner time to ask what to do next! By the way, I have learned, it is a lot of fun to make a mess in the kitchen, but no so much fun to clean it all up. I have also learned that I need new knives and cookware please. I have a long way to go before I am able to just throw something together on a regular basis, but like most things… it’s a process and I am enjoying the process.

The Mental Health and Social Media Chat on Twitter (#mhsm) is going strong (Tuesday nights at 9pm Eastern), and most of the credit goes to Cindy @NAMIMass for keeping it going. As I am unable to host the chats on a regular basis, she is our main moderator and does an awesome job. I was happy to moderate a couple of weeks in December, it felt good to be back in the moderator seat and it is so fabulous when I get to participate and interact with everyone involved. A post I wrote about the chat was featured on the NAMI Mass blog recently, I hope you will check it out so that you can learn more about the chat and how it started! You can check out our page on Facebook, too, right here.

Hmmm…what else is going on in my life? Did I mention kids? Yes, I did. They are the most wonderful icing on top of the cake and the yummy delicious cake itself, they are enough to keep me plenty busy, but… I also have a lot of personal goals and ambitions that are always swirling through my mind. I want to do so much and I know that I will…in time. First thing I have to tackle is this health thing, getting my mind and body as healthy as I can, which, we all know, can be a huge challenge. I simply must get this body in motion more often and put healthy things in it. So, suffice it to say, I don’t think I’ll be taking on any more projects at the moment. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy!

I hope you enjoyed catching up with me. Writing it all out helps me to understand why I feel so busy all of the time, I truly am!

What’s the Price of Mental Health?

Break on through
Image by Sebastiano Pitruzzello (aka gorillaradio) via Flickr

While I am no stranger to the cost of mental health services, I am finding it especially difficult to swallow when I have no health insurance and while I also recognize the need for myself and my family to have access to these services. I am saddened, frustrated, and scared by the state of our mental health system.

As you likely know, I am continuously striving to live better, healthier and to be the best I can be, and still I am aware of the need for help and guidance. As a person who has struggled with depression and other mental health issues for almost 20 years, it is not hard for me to recognize nor is it hard for me to accept or share that my family and I need some additional help right now. What is hard for me to say, is how completely deplorable it is that it should be so difficult to find good care that doesn’t cost a fortune and does not require health insurance.

Last year, I lived in a different state (Missouri) and I was able to find good counseling services for a very reasonable rate. I called the same program, now in our new state of residence (Kansas), and the price is more than four times the amount for the same service, because Kansas does not have some kind of state levy tax or something or other. ( I don’t know what that means, except that we cannot afford to access their services because a counseling session costs $70 versus the $15 I paid for a family member in Missouri. My family is in and has been facing financial hard times, much like the rest of America, and it is not remotely possible to spend $70 for a counseling session and believe me, I would if I could. Now take the $70 and multiply it by three, for three family members… that makes the cost incomprehensible.

I have spent time hospitalized for depression in previous years, myself and my family has spent thousands of dollars on my mental health (and this was with health insurance). My mental health, anyone’s mental health for that matter, is worth the cost, but what do you do when you absolutely do not have the money to spend and it is required up front to obtain services. This is not a new conundrum, this is the same old story that people are talking about all across our nation. This problem is not unique to me, but it sure feels personal right now.

I spent time on the phone with the United Way today, a great organization, as they worked to help me find some counseling services in my area that might be low cost. It’s too bad that out of the three resources they gave me, one of the numbers was out of service and another was for family planning (pregnancy and such) rather than family counseling. I have left a message with the third, hoping for a return phone call in the not too distant future, but who knows what the cost of therapy will be even there.

This isn’t a post for pity, it is a post to raise a ruckus about the dire state of our mental health system. When a family is looking for help, but unable to find it… it’s just so sad. How can  I advocate for people and fight to reduce stigma, how can I persuade others to get over the fear of getting help, when they might very well be met with denied access to help or assistance that is far too costly?  That is exactly the predicament we have.

One day, our world will recognize that our brains are connected to the rest of our body, that our wellness is in the world’s best interest, that separating mental health from “regular health” is like asking us to amputate a limb and pretend it’s still there. I will not forget the importance of mental health and neither will all of the hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by mental health issues every single day. There is no six degrees of separation when it comes to mental health concerns, it touches each of us, no separation.

The Tougher Choice: Don’t Give Up

It would be so easy for me to write a post about all that is on my mind and troubling my heart. It would be just like me to dwell in a bit of self-pity right now, but I have to do something different. I don’t know how I am going to go to sleep tonight without a few more tears, but I know this…I have to keep trying, keep putting one foot in front of the other and do my very best to get healthier.

It’s so hard when you feel like you just want to quit, throw your arms up in the air and say “I’m done! I give up!” But I believe it may be even harder to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “What can I do differently to make tomorrow a better day?” As much as I would like to point the finger at external sources of pain and frustration, all I’ve got to work with is me… Amy. I am the only one that can call the shots for me, I am the only one that can put in the extra effort, make the lifestyle changes, and do the work that needs to be done to be the best me I can be. Ugh… that sucks!

But, in truth, it is empowering. I have power to make a difference. I have the power to make life more enjoyable, to find ways to be healthier and more in tune with myself… mind, body and spirit. So when I wake tomorrow, I will remind myself of this post, remind myself of the choices I can make and I will choose to at least do one thing differently tomorrow, to at least do one thing to better my life and my circumstances. I won’t give up.

What will you do? Are you looking in the mirror and encouraging yourself to make better choices because you can? Or are you pointing the finger elsewhere? (It’s okay, we all want to.)

P.S. Before I sleep tonight, I will remind myself that no matter what, I am loved by my Creator. He is proud of me, no matter how many times I don’t “do it right”, He is still cheering for me and believing in me. For that I am so grateful.  Whatever your beliefs, I believe you, too, are loved.

For some extra inspiration check out:  “Don’t Give Up (You are Loved)” by Josh Groban. I picked it out just for you (and me!).