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My Mental Illness and Why I Can’t Have Children

When I sat in the brown room of my doctor’s office, the many side effects she listed began to blur together. At this point I had tried two other medications for my bipolar and was already confused about which ones were supposed to cause me to gain weight and which ones  I couldn’t drink grapefruit juice on (I know, the grapefruit juice thing is weird. It has something to do with how the liver processes stuff). But one thing she said to me did not go over my head into oblivion.

“You can’t get pregnant on this medication. It would be really bad for the development of the child. If you want to have children, we’ll have to figure out a solution and you would have to go off of your medication.”

That afternoon, I went home and did some of my own research. My medication was like many other bipolar medications and would harm the development of the child if I got pregnant. But not being on the medication could be equally bad because extreme depression can also hamper proper development and who knows what those pregnancy hormones would do to my brain. I also discovered that if you have bipolar, you have a 50 percent chance of passing on some kind of psychiatric problems to your kids.

I have always wanted to have kids. Having a big family has been a dream of mine since I was a kid and being a mom was the first job I ever wanted to have. But I knew, in the moment I found that statistic, that I could never have kids of my own. I could not risk the damage that my brokenness could cause my child. I don’t want to bring someone else into the world that has to face the same pain that I have to on a regular basis. In addition, I would be put at risk if I went off my medication. Especially because sometimes the medication is less effective when you go back on.

I want to stress that this is a decision that Bryan (my husband) and I reached together about what was best for our family. I am not saying that people with mental illnesses should never have kids. I read the story of one woman with bipolar who took the risk and was very happy with her decision and the child that was brought into her life. But that risk is just not one that we are willing to take.

Besides, if Bryan and I want to have a family, there are other options. Both he and I want to adopt children at some point. But right now I have to get to a better place mentally. There are some days where I can barely take care of my dog, so I don’t think I’m ready for a child. Hopefully that is something that will change soon.

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The Christian Question

If you walk around in Christian circles you’ve probably heard Christian leadership ringing the alarm bells as millennials leave the church in droves. Honestly, I can understand why many are leaving. I have seen the hypocrisy in the Church. I have seen the bitter, angry, mean parts of the Church. I have seen hate in the community where one of the biggest commandments is to “love thy neighbor.” But despite everything I have seen, I still cling to my faith.

You may wonder why I haven’t followed so many of my peers and left the church. That is a very good question. Maybe some of it is habit. I don’t like change and the thought of abandoning the church is honestly terrifying for me. Christianity has been my life raft for so long that the thought of floating on my own seems so foreign. I have thought about it though, considered the validity of my faith and doubted my conviction. At times Christianity seems ridiculous and continuing to follow it seems pointless.

Despite these doubts I stick with Christianity because I have also seen all the good that can come from it. I have seen great openness and generosity. In highschool, on the way to a speech and debate tournament, our van broke down in the middle of Iowa. It needed a new transmission and there was no way it would be fixed in time for us to make it to the tournament. Somehow we were put in contact with another homeschool family that was in the area and they let us borrow their van. They didn’t know us. We were complete strangers and they had no guarentee that we would bring the van back. It was a pastor and his wife, and because of their faith they trusted us with their vehicle and we were able to make the tournament. This may seem like a small thing, but it was huge for me then and still astounds me today.

One of the biggest causes of my doubt is how contrary so much Christian rhetoric seems to what I feel is right. Some would say that this is the “corruption” inside me skewing my perspective. But the holy spirit is also supposed to be within me telling me what to do right? So how do I know it’s not that. I don’t think hate and exclusion is at all in line with the God I see in the Bible. But I also don’t think that, because some Christians are hateful, it completely delegitimizes the whole religion.

It’s been a complex, whirling, cyclone of thoughts inside my head as I try and reconcile these two ideas. But I think I have come to some peace. I believe that when the Bible says, “‘all things are lawful’, but not all things are helpful” it means that many of the “laws” that Christians hold to are really more recommendations and Christianity doesn’t have to be rigid and legalistic. I think that there is room for many different shades of Christianity and we are too quick to assume that our way is the right way. I also think that many who have rejected the church might be able to find a home somewhere else if they look. But I also understand how difficult it can be to return to something that may have hurt you greatly.

Coming to that realization helped me a lot with my faith, and attending our current church helped me even more. Right now we are going to Reality Church in Papillion, NE (I know, the name is kind of weird) and it is the first church I have ever been to that has felt like home. To be fair, a lot of this is due to the fact that we switched churches so often when I was a child. When we got back from Ethiopia, we went to eight different churches in ten years and as a shy child I was always the new girl that never belonged anywhere. However, Reality is the first church where I felt accepted and have actually begun to build relationships. I feel like the people here have made an effort to include me and Bryan in the church. I don’t know if that is because I’m finally past the cliquey teenage stage, but so far my adulthood at church has been much better than my childhood.

As the daughter of two missionaries, one who now has his PhD in Theology, faith has always been a big part of my life. My desire to keep my faith could just be one of habit, but I think it is more than that. To me, it just makes sense that there is a loving God watching over us. I know that my faith is not always going to be perfect, and I am going to have doubts, but my belief is a part of me as vital as my lungs. I don’t think I could have gotten through the trial of this past year and my diagnosis without it. I will continue to question my faith and learn more about it (if it can’t stand up to interrogation than it isn’t something worth holding on to), but I don’t think it will be going anywhere any time soon.

 

My Confusing Name Conundrum

I have two names and it’s not as exciting as it sounds. One is my legal name that I acquired after I got married and the other is the name I use on all of my writing and professional stuff. It’s kind of like having a secret identity, but lamer. Having two names is kind of confusing. I’m not always sure when I should use each one and it can confuse a lot of people. It’s almost more trouble than it’s worth, and yet I still keep at it.

This all might seem kind of muddled to you, so let me explain. No, there is too much, let me sum up. Growing up, I never thought about the possibility that I would keep my name after I got married. I grew up in conservative circles where keeping your last name wasn’t even considered. So the instant I got married,  I changed my name without a second thought. I was excited with my new name and was perfectly content to be a single name woman for the rest of my life. But then there was a complication. I competed in college forensics for two years before I got married. In forensics, names are important. They provide recognition and can help give you credibility in rounds. It was important to remain connected to my maiden name, but I didn’t wan’t to completely ignore my new married name, so I hyphenated it. It made my name an unholy length, but I enjoyed having a special name specifically for forensics.

Once I graduated, you would have thought that I would simply drop my forensics name and go back to only using my married one. But I had grown attached to the name I used in forensics. I felt like it exemplified my identity more than the lonely singular name I now had on my drivers licence. I loved the new name I created not only because it was such a big part of my identity but because it connects my old family with my new family. You might ask why I don’t just change my name again and to to that I respond, because the court system is dumb and it would be a lot of bother and cost money to do (also it is really long and so filling out official documents with it would be kind of a pain).

So, I decided to use my legal name for legal stuff and my other name for writing and professional stuff. But this is where things got confusing. In databases (like the school database where I teach), I am listed as my legal name which gets confusing for students when I use my professional name. Also, I am applying for jobs now, which name do I put on the application? Does it depend on the job? How should I introduce myself to people? All of these things are so confusing and it is almost enough to make me want to drop my second name, but I can’t.

You see, names are important. They define who we are, whether we want them to or not. I love my second name because it feels more like me. It feels like my own thing and my own identity that I have built. I don’t have the same feeling with my legal name. The significance that names hold over us is great and can’t be underestimated. That’s why people get so annoyed when you get their name wrong, you are messing with part of their identity.

Maybe in the future I will legally change my name. I’m not sure. But for now I will stay as the person with two names and continue to confuse all of my students when they start my class.

’16 Going on ’17

 

After a brief hiatus spent spending time with family and generally recovering from last semester, I have returned to the blogosphere. Although I am a little late to ring in the new year, I decided to write a post on it anyway. Because, as anyone who knows me would tell you, I am late to pretty much everything. That would probably be a good idea for a new year’s resolution, but I don’t do those.

It was interesting watching the end of  the old year pass especially since 2016 got a whole lot of hate. In fact, I think the year 2016 might have been the most hated thing of 2016. I can genuinely sympathize with most of the people agonizing over the past year. 2016 was a tough year for me too and, as far as the years of my life go, it hasn’t been one of my top 5. But by focusing only on the negative, I ignore all the good things that did happen this year. As humans, we tend to remember the negative things that happen more than the positive things. This skews our perspective and can color how we look at life and our experiences. So with this post, I have decided to take back my memories of 2016 and focus on the great things that happened.

First, I found out I have bipolar and ADHD. This might not seem like a good thing, but the diagnosis has honestly been the best thing for me as I finally have solutions in place to help me deal with my mental health issues. I am so much better off than I was at this same point last year. Even if I now have to take an unholy amount of pills every single day.

This year we also got a dog. For the longest time, I didn’t think that I would become a dog owner, but in order to help with my anxiety and depression we decided that a four legged friend might be good. This little fuzzy butt brings me so much joy everyday and I can’t imagine life without her.

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Little baby Ahsoka

This summer, I went to Cape Town, South Africa. It was such a last minute and

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Me on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town

spontaneous adventure and I am so glad that I decided to make the trip. Sometimes you need to do big and special things to add more joy to your life and to the world around you. That trip added to my life experiences and I am a better person because of it. And on the flight there, I got to visit London, which has always been a dream of mine. Also, I got a position as a fellow in the organization I volunteered for in Cape Town and I plan on going back again this summer.

South Africa wasn’t the only trip I took this year. In the fall I traveled to Chicago and really

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Bryan and I in Chicago

got to visit the city for the first time (I had been there before, just never as just a tourist). It was an exciting place and getting to watch the League of Legends World Championship was definitely a great experience. You can read more about that here.

This was also the year I discovered my love for creative writing. For so many years, that love sat dormant and to have it now makes me excited about the future. Obviously, this blog is one of the results of the discovery, but I have also had other writing opportunities come may way because of it. I am so glad I found this passion. I finally feel like I have access to something that I didn’t even know I was missing.

In addition to these big events, I had so many little moments of joy. Completing my third semester of grad school is definitely high on my list and celebrating 3 years of marriage with Bryan is up there too. I have honestly been very blessed in my life and I often forget how much good I have when I only think about the bad. When I really think about it, 2016 wasn’t so terrible and here’s hoping that 2017 will also bring with it much joy.

 

 

The Perspective of a (Mostly) Recovered Grade Addict

I just turned in the grades for the last of my classes I TA for and every semester it surprises me the number of students who simply don’t care about getting good grades. I have always been a good student. Wait, let me correct that, I have always been an obsessive student. My first semester at UNO, I was already getting an A in my survey of criminal justice class and I almost did a 25 point extra credit assignment because I was afraid that I might bomb the last test. Thankfully, my now husband convinced me that this much obsession was unnecessary. Since then he has continued his habit of curtailing my more ridiculous concerns about school.

Despite the anxiety created by such an obsessive view of schooling, it got results. I had a solid 4.0 my first year of school. I always showed up to class on time. I turned in all my assignments. I put so much energy into getting good grades it was exhausting at times. But then came that dreaded Spanish class. The other day I was talking with my Grandmother about learning languages and how much difficulty she had when she was a missionary. Apparently, I inherited her language skills because that class kicked my butt and I only just managed to pull out a B after a significant struggle.

For me, that B was like a black blot on my transcript, destroying my pristine record. I hated it. But at the same time, it was also freeing. I didn’t have to worry any more about breaking my streak of straight As because it was already broken. Some of the pressure was off and that was nice. Despite this new found freedom, I was not quite free from the my addiction to good grades and I still wanted to get as high a GPA as I could. But my GPA was destined to take a few more dings before I graduated.

I have been trying to figure out why grades matter so much that the thought of not getting an A can literally give me a panic attack. I think my perfectionism combined with my competitiveness means I always want to be the best and I don’t want others to do better than me. But I also think it has a lot to do with where I put my self worth. Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of smart people and it always felt like everyone from my brother to my friends were smarter than me. I compared myself to them and if I wasn’t as good as they were I would think I was less than them. I valued intelligence and I didn’t feel like I had much because I was comparing myself to some pretty brilliant people and underestimating my own abilities.

In recent years I have learned to let go of my grade obsession to some extent. Intellectually, I know that my worth is not defined by my grades and I can’t compare myself to other people. Although, intellectually knowing and actually internalizing it are two different things and I don’t always do a good job of doing the latter. The change in my mental health has also prevented me from always dedicated as much time as I would like to school which has forced me to let go of the desire to get perfect grades.

I have also had to learn that, in the end, the grades you get don’t matter that much. As long as you are passing your classes and doing well enough to do what you want in life, your GPA doesn’t really matter. The couple of Cs I received, despite my best efforts, did not prevent me from getting in to graduate school and the B+ I received in graduate school will not prevent me from graduating or getting a job. In the end, my desire for good grades was about my pride (even now I don’t like sharing that my grades aren’t perfect), but that is a pride I have to let go of if I want to develop a healthy mental state.

No, I don’t need to keep worry about getting a 4.0 and I have to keep remembering that killing myself to get it will not make my life any better. Some days I do better than others, but I think I am making progress.

Take a Break

If you are a certain crowd, you now have Hamilton running through your head. You’re welcome. 

Since I am currently battling a week long cold that has forced me to spend most of my time in bed playing the Sims, I figured it was as good a time as any to write this. I have been learning a lot about self-care from my psychologist. She emphasizes the importance of taking time for yourself each day to ensure that you don’t push your body and your mind too far, but this isn’t always easy.

I learned several years ago that our nation has a problem with something called Presenteeism. Basically, because of pressures either at work or from our personal finances, we will go to work even if we are extremely unwell. I have never been one of the people who could do that. Give me a slightly bad cold and I am completely knocked out. It is even hard for me to focus on work on my laptop while laying down in my bed. For the longest time, I felt like a failure as I compared myself to people who somehow could actively work, even with a 102 degree fever. I would feel lazy or like my willpower was weak. I would feel guilty every time I called in and tell myself I was a failure if I couldn’t get anything done while I was sick.

However, calling in sick to work might actually be the best thing you can do. Forcing yourself to go to work can not only hurt you by making your recovery longer, but it is the worst possible thing for the company you work for and everyone around you. First, if you are contagious, you could get other people sick. There is nothing worse than being the typhoid Mary who gets the entire office sick. Even if you aren’t contagious, when you are unwell at work, your productivity is significantly lower:

“Two articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year reported that depression set U.S. employers back some $35 billion a year in reduced performance at work and that pain conditions such as arthritis, headaches, and back problems cost nearly $47 billion.”

By going to work, and potentially prolonging your recovery, you extend the amount of time in which your productivity suffers, hurting your company in the long run.

After learning all of this, I began to listen to my body more and be more conscientious about the decisions I made when I was sick. I still feel guilty calling in, but less so than I did before. It is also important to take preventative measures to reduce the chances of illness. Practicing self-care allows your body to rest and reduces  the chance that you will feel unwell in the first place. For example, by taking time each day to do something I enjoy, it helps to prevent my depression from becoming too much of a burden. By getting a full night’s sleep every night, your body is able to rest and you are less likely to get sick. I have learned that taking time for yourself is not selfish. It helps you and it helps everyone around you. Sometimes you need to forgive your body for its fragility and listen to it when it cries out for rest.

In the musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton doesn’t take a break with his family, despite their urging, and ends up in a situation where he cheats on his wife which leads to a scandal that destroys his political career and severely damages his marriage. Don’t be like Hamilton, he gets shot at the end of the play (spoilers?).Take a break and enjoy the people around you while you can.

 

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Picture taken from lapeachmc.tumblr.com

 

The Fear of a Blank Page

A blank page can be the most terrifying thing to an artist. It’s white emptiness a bottomless abyss full of potential. Sometimes there is too much potential, the endless possibilities sitting right below the surface, waiting to be unlocked with the stroke of a pencil or the typing of a key. Other times, there is no potential. The serene white expanse nothing more than a desert of ideas.

My life has been a struggle with the blank page. For as long as I can remember, creating has been everything for me. One of the first careers I wanted as a child was an artist and I would always look jealously on at the others who I thought were more talented than I, able to do things with a pencil that I never could, no matter how hard I tried.

My bipolar makes this struggle that much harder. I go back and forth between a manic state, where a million ideas swirl inside my head and the only thing standing in my way is the amount of hours in a day and my need for sleep and other times when I am so depressed that the thought of even doodling holds no interest and my creativity is firmly locked away.

People talk about art as a way of therapy. But how can it make me feel better when I don’t even have the energy within me to lift a pencil? Maybe that’s why so many artists have a mental illness. They need the art as a way of coping. Or maybe some form of internal pain is necessary to push a person to create?

One thing that helps me create is having external motivation. If there is a reason for me to make something, sometimes I am able to force myself even when I don’t have the energy. I used to make stuff as gifts a lot because that was one way to motivate myself. But if it wasn’t someone’s birthday or Christmas, then I had no reason to make anything and my creative skills fell by the wayside.

Recently, I started making stuff for Etsy. This has helped encourage my creativity by leaps and bounds, especially when I figured out how to create posters in Photoshop. If you want, you can check out my store here.

Since I’ve been on my medication, I feel like my creativity has woken up from hibernation.  I have done more creative projects in the last few weeks than in years previous and I love this new found energy. My creativity is something that is very important to me and the thought of ever losing it is scary. I fear I will run out of ideas and I won’t have anything new to create.

This blog post started as a terrifyingly blank page. Unsure of what to create with my writing, I decided to write about creating. Maybe I am running out of ideas or maybe I am coming over a hill and the next time I will have too many ideas to count.

How to Spot a Homeschooler

I decided that I would write a post this week on a slightly lighter topic. So on that note, here are tips for spotting a homeschooler:

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1.Are wearing the latest fashion, if we still lived in 1990s

2.Are interested in history, politics, obscure fantasy (not Harry Potter because witchcraft), sewing, baking, and/or living in the 1940s

3.Have the entirety of the Princess Bride memorized

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4. Have  dressed up as a Bible character for Halloween

5.Carry around a copy of the constitution and/or the Bible

6.Are  more comfortable talking with a 40 year old than a 14 year old

7.Only now have Facebook

8.Will accost you with a discussion on politics and/or predestination

9.They actually know what predestination is

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10.Are  more likely to know the Weird Al version of a song than the original

11.Are more likely to watch blockbusters from the 1950s than the ones from last month

12.Have fast forwarded through the kissing scene in most movies

13.Either have all of the Disney movies memorized or think all of Disney is evil

14.Would  constantly role play Lord of The Rings if they didn’t think role playing was evil

15.Either think this list is hilarious or are already writing 95 Theses arguing against it

If they fall into anyone one of these categories, you might have found yourself a homeschooler! Congratulations! It can be hard to find a homeschooler in the wild.

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 A wild homeschooler appears! You use pop culture reference. It was super effective!

 

Note: Obviously this post is meant to be taken in good fun. 90% of this list has applied or does apply to me and the other homeschoolers that I know, but I recognize that everyone has different experiences. /necessary disclaimer. 

*Header image used with permission from bengtham on Flickr

To My Friends The Day After

Eight years ago I sat watching the election results as a high schooler (back when I was super conservative) afraid of an Obama presidency. I felt my heart sink in my stomach as I watched the results roll in and the states slowly change from white to blue. Last night I had a similar feeling, but this time it was much worse. I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but the fear I feel for a Trump presidency was enough to inspire so much anxiety I couldn’t watch the results live. I basically played video games trying to ignore what was happening until the results were announced, but even then I couldn’t help refreshing my phone, my heart sinking every time those red numbers went up.

I am genuinely afraid of the damage that can be done with all the power he has, but I can’t stay afraid. I cant bury my head in the sand or run off to Canada. I have to fight. We have to fight. During the election the voice of racism and violence was louder. As loud as the voice of the man who shouted “kill Obama” during Trump’s acceptance speech. But now we have to louder. We have to be active. We have to do more because what we did this election wasn’t enough. We have to fight and we have to have hope.

I have to hope that the remaining sane parts of the Republican party can keep him in line.

I have to hope that everything he said was just empty words and he doesn’t actually plan to act on the hatred he spouted.

I  have to hope that his supporters won’t be so drunk on their victory that they will enact the violence he encouraged without having to lift a finger.

I have to hope that, once confronted with the reality and gravity of his office, that he will act like a president and take care of our country.

I have to hope that all the people in marginalized groups he targeted remain safe.

I have to hope that next time our nation can do better. That both parties can do better at actually taking care of the people they are supposed to be serving. I have to hope and pray that change can happen.

The night before the election we watched the movie Iron Jawed Angels in class. It is about
the women who fought for our right to vote and be heard in politics.

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Everything they suffered and how hard they fought is amazing. There is one scene, after the women have lost their campaign to prevent Wilson’s reelection. The two protagonists are talking about what’s left for them to do now, how can they continue after such a defeat? They even joke about moving somewhere where women already have the right to vote. But those women stayed and fought and that is what we have to do. We have to move forward together.

So please, be respectful, be loving, be everything they aren’t and fight for what you believe in. “When they go low, we go high.”

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Also, here is a cat reacting to a TARDIS to brighten your day a little.

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