Psych Ward – Day 5 – Bedtime

Sleep would not come. Back to pacing. Up and down. Up and down. Back to bed. I repeated this pattern for hours (at times wondering if I really was crazy)

Sleep eluded me. Up and down. Up and down. I walked the full length of the hamster cage again and again and again watching the hour hand on the clock edge toward midnight. From one set of locked double doors past the men’s rooms on one side, around the curved employee desk, down the women’s rooms past my room by the other set of locked double doors. Back to bed. The bed was surprisingly comfortable for a three-inch mattress on a plastic bed frame bolted to the floor. Sleep would not come. Back to pacing. Up and down. Up and down. Back to bed. I repeated this pattern for hours (at times wondering if I really was crazy) and then finally surrendered.

I walked to the nurse’s station. “Hi Dana, what can I do for you?” It was the kind nurse, the new one – the one who didn’t give me the false smile that faded as soon as she turned away and the cheery Kindergarten teacher voice. No, this nurse was an angel.  “I need something to help me sleep.”

This request was rare for me. I hate taking medication. But this time, the benefit outweighed the risk.

I hadn’t slept well since admission. Who knows why? The psych ward brought with it a state of constant alertness. It could have been a side effect of the new medication. It could have been that I was missing my children. It could have been the fact that I was locked in what was essentially a large room with people with known anger issues, and I was sleeping in a room that didn’t lock with a complete stranger who snored like a chainsaw felling a forest. It could have been the knowledge that I was being watched and assessed constantly as they tracked how much I ate and how much I slept. Who knows?

She smiled, scanned my armband, and handed me a pill. I winced and asked her if she had 80 more back there. I was only kind of joking. It’s the kind of thing you are not supposed to say in the psych ward. She frowned, shook her head, and said, “I have them, but I’m not going to give them to you.” She cared. I could see that she cared. She leaned over the half door, looked straight into my eyes and then through them into my soul, and implored, “Dana, hold on to what is real.”

This woman was the first person that I met who was invested. Don’t get me wrong, most of the people who worked there were kind and dedicated to their jobs. But this woman was different. This nurse made eye contact and talked not like she was trying to pass the time, but like she was trying to help. I at once had a glimpse of what mental health care should or could look like if the perception were different. If instead of treating disorders, we treated people.

My eyes were dry, but inside I wept the tears I could not shed. I swallowed the pill. Back in bed, sleep came quickly. It was the sleep of the dead: dreamless and empty.

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

Refined

Do you ever feel like you will crumble under the weight of the expectations on you?

Note: I do not intend for this blog to be religious. However, as my faith is one of the main lights in my darkness, from time to time, you will get my thoughts on religion. I will always note if this is the case and if that bothers you and you do not want to read it, you are welcome to pass it over and return again another day. 

I used to envision God as a powerful blacksmith standing at his forge hammering away at souls, trying to form them into beautiful, useful, righteous widgets. His commandments and all of the expectations that He has were a big black iron anvil, the hammer was my required obedience, and I was this hideously misshapen lump of semi-precious metal being pounded and pounded and pounded as He tried to form me into something of value.

All that pounding hurt.

This process as you might imagine hardly made me want to keep the commandments, it hardly made me feel loving toward the blacksmith, and it hardly made me feel like any progress was being made. I kept being broken and hurt and He kept hammering away at me trying to fix me. Except I never felt like I was getting any better.

Do you ever feel that constant pounding? Do you ever feel like you will crumble under the weight of the expectations on you? 

There is a scripture in Malachi that is repeated in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants. When this happens, when the Lord repeats Himself, I assume that it is of special importance. It says, “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.”

Silver is a precious metal. It has intrinsic value whenever or wherever it is found. No amount of impurity can take away its value. Period. But a specific amount of refinement is required to make it useful for a certain purpose.

God is not pounding us to make us into something of value. Our value was never in question in His mind. We are His children. We are precious to Him and there is nothing that we can do to negate our value.

This helped me to rethink my mental image. There is no iron anvil, no pounding hammer. The commandments are the heat that help Him to remove our impurities. They provide a standard to live up to and when combined with the grace of Jesus Christ, they help us to be purified. And obedience is not the process by which He hammers us into who He wants us to be, obedience is the process by which we consecrate our lives to Him.

What if I am the way that He made me so that when He refined me and purified me, I would be fit to serve the purpose He has in mind for me? Would that change the way that I feel about my trials?

This is a painful experience. Some days I am still very angry that this is what the refining process entails. But it means a lot to me to know that He allows me to be tried because He knows my worth and He wants to help me to reach my potential. And it means even more to me to know that “He . . . sit[s] as a refiner of silver,” that I am precious to Him, and that I am always in His care.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

A Mighty Oak

She was quiet and strong and permanent.

Fall is acorn season. Thousands of acorns descend from a few mighty oaks in my father-in-law’s backyard. I have a two-year-old and for her it is as though toys are falling freely from the heavens. She is enraptured. She might be part squirrel.

I consider these little seeds. They are so abundant. The squirrels devour most of them, but some when placed in a fortuitous environment become their own trees, growing, blossoming and creating thousands of acorns of their own.

My mother-in-law was a mighty oak. She was quiet and strong and permanent. The rough winds of adversity bent several of her branches. But still she stood strong, deep roots anchored firmly in the rich earth.

Her children and grandchildren loved to spend time in her shade. They are an abundance of acorns, eight children, thirty-two grandchildren some scattered further than the rest. Each one is a new life beginning to take root and grow into beautiful trees of their own.

Last month, Alzheimer’s disease felled the mighty oak. This disease ravaged the remainder or her, what was left over from the personality, and the memories it had already stolen.

I watched Alzheimer’s strip nearly everything away. It stole her humor. It stole her laughter. It stole her hope. It stole her relationships. It stripped her down to her most basic nature. And it left kindness. It left gratitude. It left love. It stole what it could, and left behind what it could not.

Life has a way of doing that: taking everything away from us that it possibly can and exposing our core selves.

Some days, on my really dark days, I feel like everything good that I used to be is slowly being taken from me. It is an agonizing process, as I watch all of these balloons that were keeping me afloat pop one by one. My depression is slowly carving away all of the things that used to hold me together.

Some days I just want to surrender.

It is excruciating to experience, but instructive to watch. All that I thought I was is being peeled away, and I am having to learn to love the woman who is left behind – whoever she is. I have to love her. I have to love her unconditionally even on the days when I feel like all of the things that made her worthy are gone.

But there is hope. There is always hope. Even on the dark days. Hope that even though parts of me are falling away, the woman who is left behind will be wise, and powerful, and beautiful, not despite her trials, but because of them. There is hope that one day I will be a strong and mighty oak like my mother-in-law, with love and kindness and gratitude at my core and an abundance of acorns gathered in my shade.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

Mirrors

Everyone deserves a nice, normal mirror to show them an accurate reflection of their worth.

I have some terribly odd mirrors in my house. They came from my mom who loves: me, a good sale, and furniture (in that order). Although she has a lot of furniture, she has a hard time keeping herself from buying more, so she will sometimes make a gift of the items that she is willing to part with. We are often the beneficiaries of her generosity.

Because of this, there is a gigantic square mirror that sits in our hallway on the floor because it is too heavy to hang. I don’t know that I will ever have a house that is large enough to hang it in because it is massive. Right now it leans against the wall and my toddler uses it as her mirror. But when I walk past it and look at my reflection, it cuts off my entire upper body. There is also a silver mirror shaped like a sunburst in our downstairs bathroom that distorts the edges of your face.

Yesterday, as I was standing in front of one of the good, normal, mirrors in my house, I thought about how careful we need to be about who we allow to be our mirrors.

Mirrors are the people around you who you trust to give you an accurate representation of who you are. I have been blessed with some truly fortunate mirrors in my life. These are people who I can trust to remind me of the good things about myself when I lose sight of them. These mirrors are especially necessary on days when my self-confidence is low. They are also the people who I can trust to call me out and encourage me when I am not reaching my potential.

I hope you have been blessed with good mirrors like mine. But if not, if you have some broken and downright bad mirrors in your life, if their reflection of you is distorted, if they ignore your virtues and only highlight your flaws, get rid of them. Find some new mirrors. Those bad mirrors will only distort your opinion of yourself. Odds are there is nothing wrong with you and the real problem is your mirror. Please be sure that the people in your life are showing you an accurate reflection of who you are, of your intrinsic worth, of your virtues, of your gifts, and of your value as a person.

Let me tell you what I see in you, my friends. You are determined. You are devoted. You are generous. You are beautiful. You are loving. You are valuable. You are brave. You fight hard battles every day, sometimes through the night, and then put on your dented, scorched, war-beaten armor to fight the next day, and the next, and the next. And even though your burdens are taxing, and even though your contributions are often undervalued, you keep fighting. You are incredible.

If like me, you have some unfortunate mirrors in your home or your life, and you can’t get rid of them (my mom checks every time she visits) use different ones. Everyone deserves a nice, normal mirror to show them an accurate reflection of their worth.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

Anxiety

“Oh, you worry too much. Why would you need medication for that? Just don’t think so much.”

I love rollercoasters. There is little that can compare with the sensation of high-speed maneuvers while flying through the air. But the experience that I delight in most is the slow march up the incline at the very beginning. It is the thrill of the unknown. You don’t know what twists and turns lay ahead, you don’t know the exact moment when the pendulum will shift and the free fall will begin. I love that feeling. But I love it because it is temporary. If that feeling of anticipation lasted forever, it wouldn’t be fun, it would be torture.

Anxiety is that torture.

My depression almost drove me to suicide. It put me in the hospital for a week. It annihilated (for a time) my relationship with my children. But if you gave me the choice of trading my depression for anxiety, I would grab my depression with both hands and run for the door.

Anxiety is as different from your everyday worry as depression is from sadness. I do not have generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder and for that, I am so very, very, grateful. I have, however, experienced anxiety for a time, due to one of my antidepressants, and it taught me compassion and empathy for those who experience this disorder on a daily basis.

Can you imagine for instance thinking about doing something normal, like driving your children to daycare only to have a swarm of harpies shrieking all of the possible negative things that could happen as a result of your actions? What if we get into an accident? What if they get kidnapped? These negative thoughts are so real and so powerful as you contemplate them in your mind that you can visualize them happening.

You are paralyzed because anything you do will be the wrong thing and will set off a negative series of events that will destroy everything. The worst part is that you know, in your mind, that you are overreacting. You know logically that all of those bad things probably won’t happen, but you are so trapped in the possibility of them happening, so trapped in the feeling of fear, that you are literally immobilized.

This is not a trivial experience. The physiological component of anxiety is powerful. Here are a few of the fun things that those with severe anxiety disorder or panic disorder may experience according to Mayo Clinic: fatigue, restlessness, or sweating; hypervigilance or irritability; racing thoughts or unwanted thoughts; excessive worry, fear, feeling of impending doom, insomnia, nausea, poor concentration, sensation of an abnormal heartbeat, or trembling. Now imagine having this happen for hours, days, months, years. Imagine the fear you might develop of having to experience this anxiety. It would change your entire life. You would actively avoid anything that might trigger your anxiety.

Can you imagine that? Imagine that was your life on a regular basis. Now imagine that you tell people this, people whose worries flutter by their heads like butterflies, occasionally landing or during very stressful times making slow revolutions around their head. They have “strong minds.” They can contemplate their concerns sometimes constantly and then move through them. They can worry but still function.

So although they may try to understand, they cannot, because it is something that must be experienced to be understood. “Oh, you worry too much. Why would you need medication for that? Just don’t think so much.” The implication is that if you can’t control your anxiety, then you are weak. If you tried harder to be stronger, you could be normal just like them.

Anxiety is not weak people dealing poorly with the normal worries and concerns of life. Anxiety is a disorder that strong people bear, that distorts the normal worries of life into living nightmares and triggers a constant state of high alert that drains the energy, peace, and hope from your soul. Anxiety can be debilitating. But it is not weakness. Anyone who could survive with this illness for weeks, months, years has strength that I cannot begin to fathom.

I met a woman once who suffered debilitating anxiety every morning. All she could do was sit and rock slowly back and forth. She felt every moment like she was ready to crawl out of her skin. It was incessant torture. So one day, her husband found her in their backyard, a long kitchen knife grasped in her fist contemplating suicide. Thankfully, she asked for help and thankfully there are medications that help her to manage her anxiety.

Next time you encounter someone with anxiety and you wonder why they can’t just forget about it and move on, just be grateful that you aren’t strapped into that never ending rollercoaster. Be gentle with them. They are fighting a hard battle.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

On Vulnerability

Being vulnerable is terrifying and exhausting but it is also healing.

I like to keep to myself. I know this blog belies that fact, but this whole sharing my business with the world thing is not normal for me. I’d much rather be sleeping.

But it has been an interesting experience sharing my deepest darkest secrets with my close friends and family and complete strangers. Here are some things I have learned:

  1. Being vulnerable is terrifying and exhausting but it is also healing. I really struggled with what to name this blog because I wanted it to be a call to action. Light the darkness is about truth and honesty. It’s about throwing open the shutters and airing out that musty smell. Darkness thrives on secrecy. And as terrifying as honesty and openness are for me, I needed to throw open the shutters and let in the light, because light is a great antiseptic (also throwing open the shudders means I don’t have to go outside).
  1. People do care and they want to help. Sometimes it feels like there is this great divide between us and everyone else: This impenetrable chasm that separates us from one another. That is an illusion. There is so much that unites us as humans. Everyone knows pain and sorrow. Everyone knows struggle and sadness. The challenges may be different, but the human experience is not really unique to any of us. And because we all live this shared experience, if we are willing we can allow our personal trials to drive us to empathy for one another. We are so much more alike than we think.
  1. Sharing teaches me about myself. In the process of having to share these experiences, instead of shoving them down into the dark nether regions of my mind and burying them under my large pile of broken dreams, I have learned how to find the good. I have spent a lot of time being angry about my trials: angry with myself and angry with God and it just doesn’t fix things. And as painful as this whole “sharing my feelings” thing is, it forces me to find the light in the darkness of my trials and when there is no light to be found, it forces me to make some light in my darkness.
  1. (Almost) Everyone else is struggling. Comparison is poison. It hurts everyone involved. But processing my problems and being open about them has helped me to place them in their proper perspective. They are not that big a deal in the grand scheme. Are they hard? Yes. Do they make life difficult? Yes. But other people are struggling too. I don’t need to compare my problems with theirs and assign them each a weighted average. I can just accept both as facts. I am struggling. Others are struggling. Period. The nice thing is when I can use my struggling to help other people with their struggling.
  1. I’m made of stronger stuff than I thought. I’m just gonna leave that there . . .

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels