Her Story Is My Story: When Mental Illness Found My Mom

Her Story Is My Story: When Mental Illness Found My Mom

Her Story Is My Story: When Mental Illness Found My Mom

I was 21 and set to go on a Mexican cruise when my mom went to a mental hospital. If during the first two decades of my life you mentioned that MY mother would detox at a mental institution, I would have laughed in your face. That detail didn’t fit inside my family’s narrative. We were the ideal, God-fearing, all-American, one son, one daughter, one dog, vacations to Disneyland, public servant father, and stay-at-home mother sort of family.

But mental illness doesn’t just come to those on the fringes. It doesn’t care what car you drive or which church you go to. It finds all kinds of people, even the best mothers in the world, the lovely ones. For my mom, anxiety and depression found her. And a dose of chronic pain. This mental hospital would be a safe place for this woman I love to withdraw from Hydrocodone and Xanax.When Your Mom Has Mental Illness

I went on that cruise while she detoxed and spent time with other struggling women. It was an odd, helpless moment in my life. When I got back, she had been released, but the effects of withdrawal hadn’t freed their grip on her small body. She was in torment. No words will ever describe the terror my mom went through. We sat on the couch together during this time and watched Something’s Gotta Give with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton on repeat because it was the only thing that would offer brief moments of relief from the pain and intense mental assault she was experiencing. I call this time: Please God, Something’s Gotta Give.

When the withdrawals started doing horrible things to her body, she couldn’t take it anymore and went back to a medical hospital. Desperate. I sat there with her for hours day after day.  A nurse offered her a new medication for the intense nausea. Terrified of putting anything addictive into her body again, she looked to me to make the decision. Suddenly, our roles reversed. The woman who took such good care of me when I was sick, taught me how to tie my shoes and read works of literature, and guided me through my angsty teen years needed my help.

It wasn’t that she wasn’t strong. In fact, she was at her strongest. Xanax is the strongest, fastest acting Benzodiazepine there is – and Benzos are one of only two drugs with a withdrawal that can kill you. She was fighting for her life. Bravely. Choosing to stay alive and alert each minute instead of fading away. She went through hell and chose to keep walking.

She hadn’t wanted to be an addict. She didn’t nonchalantly plan for addiction while reading a novel one boring Tuesday afternoon. My mother was a fun lady who made our family casseroles, went to Bible studies, drank tea, and did crossword puzzles while watching Jeopardy.

But she also had chronic, debilitating migraines. I’m puzzled when I see people out and about complaining they currently have a “migraine.” I grew up with a woman whose migraines meant she had to hide in a pitch-black silent room with ice packs surrounding her head for hours. She needed pain relief, so doctors prescribed Hydrocodone. It only took the edge off.

Then she was really brave one day, a few years before the detox. She admitted to a doctor that she loved her life and her family, but felt anxious and depressed. That was probably an understatement. My mother suffered from untreated anxiety and depression through much of her life. Once we all understood that fact, it was easy to see how long she had been suffering. Her doctor gave her an anti-depressant and Xanax. My mom obeyed. Doctors always know best right?

Her Story Is My Story: When Mental Illness Found My Mom

I didn’t know my mom had anxiety when I was a little girl. To me, she was just the lady who played Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” for living room dance parties. But as a woman looking back on my childhood, it is clear in a simple way.   She was gripped by anxiety, saddened by depression. She wasn’t free to be herself. Each day that went by untreated, it got worse.

Some will argue, but I believe wholeheartedly that fear and shame-based faulty theologies of a demanding God only fed her anxiety and depression. When you think God is mad, you panic and do anything to please him. When women’s Bible studies teach you that good wives have to live THIS way or good moms have to be THAT way, anxiety builds.  In the end, these teachings had more to do with fearful social expectations than they had to do with God, and they fed my mom’s chemical imbalances. All while she was trying to do the right thing.

This dogmatic teaching never told my mother that she was beloved as she was. They taught her she must be better and hide all the rusty parts. Only show the shiny parts. I think I like her rusty parts best.

 

She visited therapists who just wanted to sit on a couch and regurgitate her childhood again and again. It wasn’t helping. They weren’t teaching her how to cope today. The doctors gave her more Xanax. They were feeding her a drug that can kill you. (All while Marijuana was still illegal. I never understood that.) The medicine helped reduce physical and emotional pain. But she began having withdrawal symptoms while on still on the medication. Her body had become dependent on the amount she was taking and required more.

Of course, she didn’t realize that while it was happening. She only knew she had hit rock bottom and thought she was going to die. That’s when she asked my dad to drive her to the detox facility. The medication, pain, anxiety, and depression were overtaking her body. She was done: mentally, emotionally, spiritually done. But she refused to call it quits. I’m so glad she was brave enough to refuse to check out of our lives.

Eventually, the withdrawals eased.  Months felt like decades. As the Hydrocodone left her body, she was shocked to discover that her migraines decreased each month.   Without the Xanax, she was able to think clearly and find a therapist who gave her tools to help her function day-to-day. This therapist used Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and taught her emotional regulation and mindfulness – how to be fully aware and present in each moment – and acceptance – of herself, her illness, her emotions. This woman taught my mother how to not just survive anxiety and depression, but how to thrive by owning her story and owning all the parts of herself. The DBT even helped her cope with the pain more effectively.Her Story Is My Story: When Mental Illness Found My Mom

I don’t think that medicine is the root of all evil by any means. I am not a doctor or therapist, but I do know some people need medication. In fact, my mom stayed on one safe antidepressant. But I think we can do better in supporting those with mental illness beyond medication:


1. Most importantly, we can support those with mental illness by not denying that they have a real medical condition. If one more person says, “You don’t have depression, you just need to find your joy,” or “You don’t have anxiety, you’re just wound up,” I may lose my shit. Nobody denies that cancer patients have cancer or that diabetics need insulin. Why do we treat people with mental illness like they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and deal with it?

Lesson #1: Mental illness is real. Educate yourself. Also, the archaic narrative of “People with mental illness are weak” is old and ignorant. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Show compassion. Learn and grow.

2. Almost as importantly, we need to know the difference between feeling depressed or anxious and having depression and anxiety. People will tell my mom things like, “I felt depressed a few years back and started a workout regimen. Worked like a charm,” or “I’ve only felt anxious once or twice in my life. I really try to relax.” As if the person with anxiety hadn’t thought about “just relaxing” before!

The best way I can describe the difference is this: If you get bronchitis one winter and have trouble breathing for a few days, you cannot compare yourself to an asthmatic who has had a life of breathing treatments and scary trips to the hospital because their lungs don’t function properly.   Lesson #2: Everybody experiences feeling depressed or anxious, but that IN NO WAY means you know what it’s like to have Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder or other mental illnesses.


Possibly the thing that scares me the most about my mother’s anxiety and depression is the fact that I see traces of it in myself. I feel the overwhelming panic crawl into my chest; I feel the lack of motivation hit me at the oddest moments. We are intimately connected, my mother and I. Her blood runs through my veins. See, I’ve been telling you a part of her story (and it is only a part of a complex, beautiful story), but it’s my story too. Maybe I’m a little rusty too. I think I like the rusty parts best.

Her Story Is My Story: When Mental Illness Found My Mom

But my mother gave me a gift: she walked through hell already. She taught me how to be courageous when all you want to do is give up. She taught me how to express my emotions even when I want to hide. She taught me that you could have mental illness and still THRIVE, not merely survive.

Her Story Is My Story: When Mental Illness Found My Mom

The road has been long for my precious mother. She is the healthiest she’s been in her entire life. Of course there are still rough patches. That’s life. When we look back we will see splotches of blood, puddles of tears, and hills we barely got over.   There’s no perfect ending with a pretty little bow on top. This isn’t “5 Ways to Kick Depression and Anxiety to the Curb.” This is “Life is so hard, but we get through it together.”

What is it like to have a parent with mental illness? Hard sometimes, and scary. But beautiful too. I’ve received the rare opportunity to see my mother as a human being, not simply a mom. “Mother” is her role, not her identity. The person she really is – well, she’s a mixture of rusty and shiny.

But I think I like her rusty parts best.

Perfectly shiny is TOTALLY overrated. 

When Your Mom Has Mental Illness


Please share my mother’s story on social media to help bring awareness of mental illness, not as some idea that we like to analyze, but as a story. A common story that touches the lives of at least 1 in 5 adults in the US. Let’s work together to de-stigmatize mental illness and lock arms in support of those we love and those we too often forget about.  Or, perhaps, her story will help somebody not feel so alone.

Her Story Is My Story: When Mental Illness Found My Mom

Rape Culture Proves There’s Still More To Go For Women

Rape Culture Proves There’s Still More To Go For Women

rape culture

Trigger Warning: I discuss rape culture in this article.  This is sensitive material.


I’ve heard people say that women have achieved equality in the United States, so women’s rights activists need to back off.  They say there’s no space for feminism (even positive feminism) anymore.  Personally, I’ve had comments from those asking me for proof that women still struggle.  I thought it was self-evident, but apparently not.

So here’s some proof:

There are hundreds of metrics you can still use to “prove” that women are still fighting to be viewed as human beings.  One of these metrics, and arguably one of the most important, is the fact that rape culture still permeates our “developed” nation.

rapecultureultraviolet

Some statistics tell you that 1 out of 6 women have been raped.  Others say 1 in 5.  While that seems bad enough, remember most women are too frightened or ashamed to report rape.  If all women were able to speak freely without repercussion, the stats would be altered to a terrifyingly high percentage.  Let’s be holistic in our approach – men get raped too.  But the stats are significantly lower. Approximately 9% of rape incidents happen to males.  That doesn’t lessen the fact that this is horrendous for them too.  It’s an issue that crosses gender lines, but women are being terrorized FAR more often.

Don’t be fooled, rape culture seeps much further than the violent act of rape.  Rape culture is found in a woman walking down a street.  She is sexually harassed by a man and has to make a decision.  Do I stand up for myself?  Or do I smile it off and not upset him?  This is an extremely difficult and degrading decision.

I was walking down Fremont Street in Las Vegas by myself during the day.  Two men walked up to me and started talking about my “sweet ass.”  This was no genuine and respectful comment.  This was harassment, and it scared me.  My gut reaction was to tell them to “f*ck off” – but my fear said, “Be polite, Taylor, be polite and stay safe.”  I sheepishly smiled at the men who were harassing me. I HATE THAT.  That is rape culture too.

Rape101

Thinking two steps ahead about where to park, figuring out how to get to safety before the sun goes down or how to make other men think your boyfriend is at home when he’s gone, being forced to stay inside until a potential predator walks away – These are things children must do.  When women are being forced to act like fragile children in this world, there is still a problem.

Lady Gaga recently wrote and released a disturbing and extremely important video about the mass occurrence of women being raped in college.  I’ll post it here and highly recommend that you watch it.  But know it is graphic and uncomfortable, and rape is depicted:

“Til it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels.  Until it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real.”

To those needing PROOF that women are not equal in America – I could feed you statistics all day long, but that’s a drop in the bucket.  Statistics pale in comparison to the stories of women everywhere.  “What’s truer than truth? A story.” I’ve sat next to countless women who share their stories of harassment and sexual assault.  That’s where rape culture kills: in the stories, in the lives it crushes, in the individual woman who can’t breathe anymore. When we look outside America, the stories only grow in number with fewer options for hope.  It’s desperate.

When women are treated like objects, they’re stripped of humanity.  Crying for help isn’t about bashing men or saying that women should be better than men. Women’s stories are wrecked by rape culture; demanding an end to the violence isn’t being a “Femi-Nazi” – it’s a cry for our humanity!  

So feel free to wave your “You don’t need feminism. Women are already equal.” banner.  Instead, I’ll be waving the banner for the brave people and organizations that get their hands dirty to do something about this atrocity.  THE HOPE BRINGERS!!!  They are the people who don’t need statistics to prove what they heard from their sister or mother or cousin or friend.  They are the people saying: “I’m going to be a solution of hope.”  They are the people creating beautiful and brave art from a terrible global monstrosity – like my friend Kelly did with this incredible, raw, and enlightening poem “An Ode to the Rapist” (FOUND HERE).  I love and admire these people.

Here is a list of incredible organizations that are doing important things for women globally.

Here is the number of the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE

And I still think this is best video EVER about what consent is – so great! “Unconscious people don’t want tea.” (Language warning)

Blogging: I’m Coming Back to the Heart of It

Blogging: I’m Coming Back to the Heart of It

I started blogging because I had something to say, and I liked to write. Somewhere between then and now I lost the IT.  The WHY THE HELL am I doing this.  I’m taking it back.

If you’re not in the blogosphere, you may not know that there are literally THOUSANDS of articles out there on how to create the perfect blog/post to receive views.  Tips to go viral, build readership, etc. The more views you get, the more followers you get and opportunities to write PAID sponsored posts and advertisement.

That’s all great.  There is nothing wrong with this; everybody should learn about their craft AND pay the bills.  Nobody wants to do a lot of work to get only 5 hits on your new blog post.  But I had slowly felt inundated with feelings of inadequacy when reading about these algorithms to get high views and followers.

Things like:

the exact way to phrase a title to make it totally Pin-able

the exact way to create images for Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest

the exact group to join to boost your comments

the fonts and hashtags to use and not use

the phrases and topics to use and avoid

the way to format your paragraphs just right for optimal reading

the need for writing 6 posts a week that are all the “correct” word count

the exact way to become a social media master

I couldn’t keep up.  I had SO MUCH anxiety.  Instead of enjoying writing about topics I’m passionate about, I was freaking out and spending SO MUCH TIME putting out these “perfect” posts that followed x, y, and z.  Some did go mildly viral.  My following even grew some.  But I lost the IT of why I wanted to blog.  I wasn’t always being fully true to myself.

All this info on blogging is valuable and may be the exact way I should be doing things to make money, grow, and extend my reach.  If you’re a blogger, it may be some of the most solid advice you can take.  But I’ve come to my own personal conclusion since I can’t keep up anymore:

To put it eloquently, F*CK IT!

I’m tired of trying to force my words and ideas into a certain box that’s considered the “way to do it” even though it truly may be the way to do it.  I’m doing it MY way. I want my \ blog to be so incredibly…me.

I sat in bed this morning and looked at some of the blogs I adore that got me into blogging.  These are all HUGELY popular.  I noticed something.  They aren’t all the same or following the same “rules.”  Not by a long shot.  And they don’t always have perfectly cropped and edited images.  Each of these blogging women simply have interesting lives and ideas, and they share them with their readers. 

On one of her “Big Magic” podcasts, Elizabeth Gilbert (my idol and author of Eat, Pray, Love) said that in order to be interesting you have to be interested.  I want my blog to be interesting.  Instead of spending all my time studying how to make a Pin on Pinterest bring in thousands of views, I want to soak up all the things I’m interested in.  That interest I have will seep through and make my blog interesting.

And you guys – My life IS interesting.  For example:

I woke up this morning (Sunday) in my studio in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, not knowing what I was going to do today.  Hours later I was belly down on the net of a catamaran and three dolphins swimming RIGHT underneath me!!!!  I could almost touch them!!!  They would jump in and out of the water as if they were putting on a dance.  It was rad.

Maybe a better blogger would have had a camera right there to capture the moment to share it with their readers.  But GUYS!!!!!   I was too busy seeing the dolphins to think about getting the perfect shot.  And you already know what a dolphin looks like!  If not, here is a stock photo:

dolphin-203875_1280

BUT WAIT!  THERE’S MORE!

Then, with snorkeling gear in hand, I went down the catamaran’s slide and into the Pacific.  I saw schools of yellow and blue fish.  AND THEN I HELD A REAL LIFE OCTOPUS!!!!!!  Or rather, it held me.  It suctioned right on to my arm.  AND THEN I HELD A REAL LIFE PUFFER FISH!!!!!!!   I also didn’t get a picture of any of these instances.  Holding an octopus makes you forget to pull out your iPhone and decide on the perfect VSCO filter for your blog.  Here’s a stock photo (not me, obviously):

octopus-523654_1280

I want to share that stuff with you guys.  To me, that’s what’s interesting.  I don’t have the time or the emotional strength to follow all the rules that are supposed to make your blog the latest and greatest.  I’m too busy being interested in other things.  But I promise to share those interesting things with you!

Here’s what to expect: I’ll be writing two or three posts each week that will probably be on travel, womanhood, faith/spirituality, creativity, love, and whatever crazy things/opinions I have up my sleeve.  We can talk about how not to just survive life, but to really THRIVE!  We can talk about the hard and controversial things.  It won’t always be pretty because my life isn’t always pretty.  I may cuss.  I’m not shying away from topics that would traditionally be considered bad for keeping followers.  I will attack the real oooey-goooey parts of life.

I have plenty of freelance clients who can use my knowledge of algorithms and creating viral content.  Here, this is just me.  All my opinions, ideas, and interesting parts of my life.  Without the fear of how many people will click to read.

 

P.S. If you’re a blogger choosing to do your blog a different way, I TOTALLY SUPPORT YOU.

P.S.S. Here is a pic we actually did take today.  Onward, fellow travelers of life!

20150920_172656

An Open Letter To My Teenage Female Cousins

Open_Letter_cousins

Lovely young ladies,

I’m older than you.  But I’m not too old.  Old enough to know a few things, young enough for you to still think I’m cool (you do think I’m cool, right?  Say yes).  So let me tell you a few important things about life:

  1. Mirrors are made of liquid metal and glass.  That’s it.  Don’t give them any power. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think “Oh no, I look fat!” or “Why can’t my hair look like her hair?” or “Damn you, large pimple!” But that’s giving the mirror way too much credit. The mirror can’t see that I’m really funny or smart or kind. Don’t let a mirror convince you that you’re not amazing, because you totally are.
  1. Boys must be good. Boys are weird, but you probably already know that because you each have brothers and fathers, and I personally know they’re weird. But they’re also pretty amazing, right? I know your dads and brothers love you like precious treasures. Not every boy will love you like that. Don’t give those boys the time of day! If they make you feel small or stupid or worthless, they are not allowed in your life.
  1. Be brave. Life takes guts. You’re gonna need to put on some courage each day. Being brave doesn’t mean you can’t show your emotions or have bad days or get scared. Being brave means doing the right thing even when you have a bad day or you are scared. Many people will tell you to be hard and toughen up, I think you should stay soft and lovely and open-hearted. But do all of these things while being brave.   Stand up for what’s right, stand up for yourself, and do it with kindness.  Always.
  1. Learn how to say NO. If somebody asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, say “no.” If somebody pressures you to do something that will not serve you, say “no.” If a guy wants you to do things that you don’t want to do, say “no.” If a girlfriend encourages you to be mean to somebody else in order to be cool, say “no.” You are a strong human being, and you have the right to say NO!
  1. Do what you love. Be the type of person who does awesome things. Don’t turn down opportunities to do the things you love, and never feel like the things you love to do are stupid. You only get one life, and I know it feels like you have SO MUCH TIME. And, in a way, you do. But in another way, it goes by so quickly. Don’t waste that time.  Fill up your days with things that make you smile on your face and in your heart.
  1. Interesting is better than cool; in fact, interesting is the real cool When I was a teenager, I thought being like everybody else was cool. Listening to the music everyone liked, dressing how everyone else dressed, buying things just because other people buy those things. I wanted to be cool. But if everyone else is doing it, it’s really not all that interesting, is it? It’s the same ol’ story. Be an original instead of a copy.
  1. No matter what, I love you. You are going to screw up.  You are going to fail.   You’ll probably fall in love with somebody who is all wrong for you. You’ll say rude things you don’t mean, and you’ll say rude things you do mean.  You’re a person, and nobody can do it perfectly. But you will always have a friend in me. I will always love you no matter what.  Luckily for all of us, we have a family that will always love us too. Not everybody else has family like that. So be that same source of love for other people.

With hugs and love,

Your big cousin xo


An Open Letter is part of a series to share positive, uplifting letters to the people of this world.  Open letters on blogs have a reputation for being biting and judgmental.  An Open Letter strives to bring hope and life and kindness back to the art of writing letters.

An Open Letter to My Little Brother on His 19th Birthday

An Open Letter to Millennials from a Gen Xer

I Don’t Want to be Judged by my Uterus

I Don’t Want to be Judged by my Uterus

judged by my uterus
Let’s be honest ladies, we aren’t always known for being each other’s champions. We too often place each other into categories and anybody who is out – is out. It’s like Mean Girls we don’t grow up from. Apparently, we haven’t matured out of high school cliques simply because we no longer have history exams or pass notes to cute boys.

The craziest part: all this female division, judgment, and rivalry is so often based upon reproduction. A basic scientific truth is that we can grow babies within our bodies. We have sex, then sometimes a human-creature-baby emerges in an otherwise useless body part: The Uterus. Then that human-creature-baby grows eyelashes and fingernails and eventually escapes The Uterus. Our lives are forever changed and forever divided by that truth. Women are classified by our relation to this scientific phenomenon of birth.

We have:

The Stay-at-Home-Mom and the The Working Mom camps.

The “I never want kids!” camp.

The Organic, Baby-Wearing Mom camp.

The “Let the kids eat GMOs, I did and survived” camp.

The Unwed Mother camp.

The “Oops, the condom broke” camp.

The “I want kids, but can’t” camp.

The Adoptive Mother camp.

The Abortive Mother camp.

The Young Mother and the Old Mother camps.

The Grandma camp.

The Mother-in-Law camp.

The “I’d Rather Be an Auntie” camp.

The “Maybe I want kids someday, but stop asking me when that will be” camp.

The I just have sex because I love it camp.

Sound familiar?

We are categorized as women based on our mommy (or not-mommy) status and, all too often, are judged for the camp we’re in.uterus

I don’t have kids and I don’t want them right now. I believe in birth control, lots of it. But I might want kids someday. I can see myself being strict when it comes to education, lax when it comes to cleaning up. I can see myself ordering out most meals, hiring a nanny so I can work some, and caring more about messy, glittery art projects than paying bills on time. All of this might be entirely untrue, I might surprise myself.  Or I may never have a biological child. I honestly don’t know.

But this I do know:  My worth to this universe does not hang solely on my Mommy-status or lack thereof.  My worth does not depend entirely on what my Uterus does or does not do. Neither does yours.

We each have our own stories, every woman is an individual.  But our individual stories weave into a beautiful tapestry of interesting textures and colors. Motherhood (in all its various modes) or lack of motherhood (for all its various reasons) are not the ONLY aspects of our lives.

Mothers are important and special and wonderful. But no woman is ever only a mother. In the same way no man is ever only a father. We have complex, interesting lives. And within those lives are various chapters. When we boil down our lives to one aspect, we lose out on the whole story.  And we make lots of room for attacks, judgement, and unhealthy competition.

In Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, Amy shares her motto:  “Good for her, not for me.”  This should be our response to the women around us. Good for her that she adopted that baby from China. Good for her that she decided to have twelve kids. Good for her that cooks every single organic meal. Good for her that she works that killer job instead. Good for her that she decided to remain childless. Good for her that she fosters. Good for her that she uses breast milk OR uses formula (that means she’s FEEDING HER CHILD!).  Good for her that she wants to wait a long time before having kids. Good for her.

You can know with every ounce of your being that her decision is not for you. And you can still extend a hug instead of an eye roll.

Here’s the bottom line: I don’t want to be judged by my Uterus. And I’m guessing you don’t want to be either.

Let’s cut it out.