The Audit

I performed an informal audit of my life this weekend.

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I performed an informal audit of my life this weekend.

Some people do this just before January 1st.

I do it just before Thanksgiving as a gesture of good faith that my body will survive the avalanche of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that I will subject it to.

Here is what I discovered during my audit: If everything that I care about was assigned a value according to my “Time Spent Voluntarily” with or doing that thing, Facebook might be at the top of the list. I mean, I would make a chart, but that might be embarrassing . . . okay, you win. See my Life Audit Chart of Shame below:

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Suffice it to say, I have cut my Facebook usage down to zero for the foreseeable future.

But it made me think about what an incredibly accurate unit of measurement “Time Spent Voluntarily” is. If you value something, you spend time doing it. If you value someone, you spend time with that person. You don’t have to be forced or coerced or threatened, you engage voluntarily because you want to.

Time is also an unflinchingly honest measure. Time doesn’t lie. If you are an artist, and you consistently spend exactly 0% of your available time drawing or painting or sculpting, then your art probably is not really of value to you. If you value your family more than you value fishing, and you regularly spend twice as much time alone in a kayak with a fishing rod than you do at home, you may need to reassess which you really value more.

There are obviously things that are more or less out of our control like working hours (although there is something to be said for spending those hours doing something that you value too) and sleep hours (for me those are sacrosanct). But for the rest of our lives, how we spend our time says everything.

Sometimes we just get into our routine, and we lose track of where our available time is going. We think we are putting it into the things that we value most, but our timecard tells another story. If that is you, consider doing a life audit of your own. Watch where your available time goes for a day or a week and assess if you are putting those free hours toward the things that you value most.

Please do not believe that I am saying that you should never spend time on things you like (fishing is awesome as is art), I am actually proposing the opposite. Spend your free time doing things and being with the people you love. Be intentional about how you spend your time and you will never regret it.

Light The Darkness,

Dana Nevels

Enough

When you do your best, it is enough.

I have learned something about love from being a parent. Not from my love for my children, but from their love for me. I feel like everyone is born with a heart the size of the universe and life does its level best to shrink it down small enough to fit inside your chest. Then we spend the rest of our lives trying to make it grow back again.

But the love of a child is so earnest, so pure. You don’t have to do much to retain it or earn it. When you do your best, it is enough.

If you are a parent or a human you inevitably have times when you feel like you are not worthy because you are flawed. But you are worthy. You are enough. Just you. Just as you are. Do you have room to improve? Yes. Are there things about you that can be better? You bet. Are you a work in progress? We all are.

Being enough is not failure. Enough can take you past perfectionism. Enough can ease you through self-doubt. Enough can bring you to the point where you can start to like yourself again. Enough can carry you safely through the darkest of nights into the sunlight beyond. Please do not feel ashamed of just being enough. It is all you ever need to be.

Light The Darkness,

Dana Nevels

The Forgotten

Before all of this happened, my greatest fear was losing control.

On my drive to church yesterday, I saw someone from the psych ward. This happens from time to time. Mostly, these are people who exist on the fringe of our society – the forgotten. For the past six months, I have had one foot firmly planted in their world and one in my own. But just when I start to forget my time at the hospital and step back into my life, the universe places someone in my path to remind me. I will admit that I still feel a twinge of embarrassment when I think of my hospitalization, but mostly I wonder about them, my fellow “inmates.” I wonder how their treatment is going. I wonder if they have been healed.

I wonder too if I will be healed – if my doctor and I will ever perfect the med regimen to get rid of all of the symptoms. I still wrestle with some of them daily and most days they win.

What if this is my new normal? What if I never have both feet planted back in the mental illness free world? What if I become one of the forgotten?

Before all of this happened, my greatest fear was losing control. So being thrown into a place where everything was controlled for me except for my meal plan for the next day cured me of that. Now my greatest fear is that I will forget: that compassion costs me nothing, that the circumstances people find themselves in are not always of their making, that people are not their illnesses, and that everyone I encounter has infinite value.

I don’t want to have both feet in my world if it means that I will forget.

Light The Darkness,

Dana Nevels

My Paper Chain of Woe

Sometimes we experience miserable chronic illnesses and as they drag on, we wonder if they are going to remain forever.

We have an amazing doctor. We have had a few miraculous experiences with her that lead me to believe that it is no coincidence that she is our doctor. Aside from those experiences, we just like her very much. She is plain spoken, intelligent, and she cares about her patients.

I recently got over a month long cold. When I was three weeks into my miserable upper respiratory infection, I took my child to the doctor for a check up. While I was there, I whined a bit about my cold, and I asked her in my most pathetic voice, “Am I going to be sick forever?” I will never forget the penetrating look that she gave me when she looked me in the eye and said firmly, “No.”

Colds come and go. They are miserable for a time but then they are gone so completely that it is hard to remember what it was even like to be sick.

Sometimes we experience miserable chronic illnesses and as they drag on, we wonder if they are going to remain forever. There is no timeline on these things. Oh, how I wish there were. But in the face of an interminable illness, it is hard not to wonder when it will end.

Part of what makes depression so hard is that I can’t help but keep score. I have built my paper chain of woe, link by link and day by day and I carry all of them with me everywhere I go.

But slowly I am learning to let go of each day as it passes. Good or bad it is gone and I cannot get it back.

Perhaps I really will be sick forever, I am hopeful that I won’t. But regardless of what my future holds, my burden will be lighter if I only bear the cares of one day at a time.

Light The Darkness,

Dana Nevels

Don’t Say No To Me

How do you accept a negative answer when you know that your parent can give you what you want?

I have a toddler. The word “no” erupts from my lips more than 100 times per day. I hate it. My toddler hates it. So many “nos.” We are at the point where sass has entered my little one’s soul. I don’t know when it happened, but one day she became my little mirror. Where once my little sunflower would absorb everything, now everything I send out gets shot right back at me. It is terrifying when she reflects me. There is so much about myself that I need to change. So very much.

My little one, like everyone else, has a limit.

“Don’t say no to me,” is what I hear when she has reached her limit.

She is more like me than I would wish.

“Don’t say no to me.” Those words have been on my lips daily for the past six months when I speak to my Father.

How do you accept a negative answer when you know that your parent can give you what you want?

It makes her angry. It makes me angry.

Somehow I have to teach her. Somehow I have to help her understand why I say “no” when she wants to help me take something out of a hot oven, or cut vegetables, or when she doesn’t want to sit in her car seat. But she doesn’t understand. Not yet. Not really. Not today.

One day she will understand why I said “no”. One day she will know that I only had her best interests at heart. One day she will know that I only said “no” because I love her.

I hope that one day I will understand all of His “nos” too.

Light The Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

 

 

 

The Metronome

In high school, I was a band nerd (I say that with affection). I played several instruments and I was truthfully never very good at any of them. But I wanted to be. The guidance of my band director was always to practice difficult passages at half tempo with a metronome until it is perfect. He said that the worst thing you can do is play notes faster than your accuracy allows because it ingrains the wrong notes into your brain. You play it right every time, no matter how slow you need to go. Eventually, the speed comes by itself.

That was always really hard for me because it’s boring and slow and the progress that you make is so incremental that it feels non-existent. I would start off at half-tempo and then inevitably speed it up and play it wrong, because I wanted to learn it right now.

I want things fast. I want things now. Right now. I want to feel good every day right now, and be successful right now, and be the perfect wife and mother right now. And because of that, I’m playing the piece all wrong. I’ve been practicing for 30 years and I don’t feel like I’m any better than I was when I started.

Here’s what I’m learning, though:

Perfection. You can’t wait until the piece is perfect before you perform. First of all, perfection is not a thing. Even if something is really really good, it can always be better. Perfection does not exist for us mere mortals and the quest for it can prevent us from trying altogether. You can still make beautiful music even if it isn’t perfect.

It’s not about you. The music is not just about you. It is about a shared experience of communication with someone else. So too with life, it isn’t just about you. You can’t spend so much time focused on yourself that you forget to look outwards and make a positive impact on the people around you.

Passion. The greatest musicians of all-time have one thing in common. They care passionately about what they do. They care enough to spend the time when they are tired. They care enough to practice when there are other things to do. Their passion is what drives them to greatness.

Work. If you want to get better at anything, you have to work for it and work at it. Consistent practice is the only way to improve. And although you may not improve as quickly you’d like, it is the only way to reach your full potential.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

Crazy Pills

Please don’t be afraid.

Disclaimer: If you are considering starting or currently taking prescribed psychiatric medications, please READ TO THE END. Also, I’m not a doctor. This is personal opinion, not medical advice. Please consult a doctor if you feel you may need help.


Every day I think about going off my medication. Every. Single. Day. That’s crazy. I know it is. I won’t do it. And yet this very real, very strong temptation is ever present.

There are a number of reason why it is hard to stay on antidepressants. These don’t all apply in my case, but I’ve had a number of people ask why it is so tempting not to adhere to the recommended dosage schedule, so here are some pros and cons to taking antidepressants:

THE CONS

It’s a pain.

As with any daily medication, it becomes so routine that it is easy to forget. And as your brain chemistry normalizes after you have been taking them for a while, and you start to feel normal, it becomes hard to remember why you ever started taking them in the first place. You’re healed, right?

Negative side effects.

Each medication comes with a comprehensive list of possible side effects ranging from barely noticeable to bad. These effects vary from medication to medication, from person to person, and from dose to dose. You may have several, or you may not have any. Sometimes you have to weigh the positive against the potential negative and choose which one you can live with. My choice was life or death, so it was an easy choice for me. But there are a ton of options out there so if one medication doesn’t work, there are plenty more to try.

It makes you feel weak.

There is this thing about your brain that you cannot control or fix on your own. That is a difficult thing to accept. You feel like your mind has betrayed you. The part of you that defines you is malfunctioning and you have to rely on medication to balance you out.

It is different (not necessarily harder) than physical disorders because all of the other organs feel like ancillaries to the “headquarter” of the brain. They are all important, but the brain is what defines who you are. If it doesn’t work, if it breaks, then who are you?

You worry people will think you are crazy.

Or broken. Or both. Mental health disorders are still not very well understood. They’re just not. I mean it makes sense that you can have a chemical imbalance in your brain that would affect how it functions. Your brain is an organ just like any other organ. But the concept of not having complete control over every aspect of the mind is a terrifying possibility.

I think many people are afraid to acknowledge the reality of mental disorders because these disorders do not discriminate. That means that anyone could develop one at any time. It’s easier to discount them as a fraud because then you never have to worry about having one. But it also makes getting treatment more difficult because of the perceptions of others.

You are afraid of the unknown.

As bad as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia and other mental health disorders are, when you have lived with them for as long as many of us have, they become your normal. It is human nature to prefer the known to the unknown. And it is terrifying to imagine yourself or your life being different.

What if the medication just masks the real me? What if it changes my personality? What if people like the medicated me way more than the non-medicated me? Which one is the real me? What if antidepressants make me a zombie? 

THE PROS

When you find the right ones they really do help. 

I let fear prevent me from taking medication for my depression for far too long. I wish that I hadn’t. I wish that I had those years back. I wish that I could have been as balanced as I am now. I wish that I had some of the confidence that I have now. If you are considering going to a doctor and seeking out medication, please don’t be afraid. It may take some time to find the right medication, but I can honestly say that it’s worth it.

I need them.

I may wish that I didn’t, but my brain needs medication to work right. I hate taking medication in general, but when I’m sick (which I am) and my body needs it (which it does), then I do it.

They make you stronger.

Being on medication has had the opposite effect that I thought it would. I was afraid that it would change my personality. But if anything, I feel more like myself, more at home in my skin than I did before I started taking them. I can’t guarantee that that will be the case for everyone, but I can offer the hope that it is possible.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

If you are hurting, please don’t let fear stop you from asking for the help you need. It will get better.

If you are in crisis, please call 911 (US) or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255. If you are in another country, please call the corresponding emergency number for your country.

As with all of my posts, please share this if you think it might help someone you know.