Monday, March 25, 2013

Why I'm a Blogger

I've been trying to get up the nerve to write a blog like this for a while, and then last week my Relief Society had an activity about ways to be happy and I realized I'm probably not the only one who's been through an experience like this, and maybe it will help someone out to open up a dialog about it. So here is a blog I wrote (but didn't publish) a little while ago about what motivated me to become a blogger, and how that has played a role in my personal goals to be happier. I am very open to comments.


My friend, Jessica, has a beautiful blog that I've been reading for a couple years. Because of it, I have found a role model who's just a few years ahead of me at each stage of my life. Right now I'm in love with her two wonderful children (I even had a dream last night that someone was telling me how cute my son was, and I was agreeing with her until I realized it was actually Jessica's son, and I was afraid I'd kidnapped him on accident because he was just too cute, and I felt really guilty.). I turn to Jessica for advice often, and she's kind enough to indulge me.

And that probably seems like a good enough reason to want to be a blogger. I mean, Jessica does it, which means all the cool people are doing it. Am I right? But it's a little more complicated than that. To begin with, Jessica's life is interesting! I felt like, "She actually has a right to blog, because people actually want to hear about her life!" And on top of that, the actual act of sitting down and writing about my life and letting everyone else read it had never particularly appealed to me. I keep a journal, but I don't want just anyone to be able to read that. And if I were to be honest in my blog, it would sound like my whiny journal, wouldn't it? And if I weren't, it would just be some boring captain's log. Right?

So the whole, "I'm going to start a blog," idea was a long process that began with a kind of personal experience. I feel like these types of experiences are typically taboo, but I'm just going to go out on a limb and be honest on my blog (who does that?), because maybe somebody else needs to hear it. It is hard to admit though. I believe most women struggle with admitting their shortcomings, which is really too bad, because it leaves each of us thinking we're the only one with any problems. So... Here we go.

I've always had a little bit of a problem with anxiety--at least, as long as I can remember. Some years have been worse, and for some it's been barely noticeable. And for a long time I wondered if it was really a problem, or if I was just overreacting. Which can kind of tell you that it was at least real--I would seriously worry about whether I worried too much about my worrying. How normal it was, I'm still not sure. I think a lot of people worry, and a lot of people try to keep it to themselves. And it's not as if there's some sort of line that marks, "If you worry 3 times a week, it's ok, but 4 times is just too much. There's something wrong with you." And even then, how do you define how many times you worry? "I was a little concerned about x, and that made me really nervous," could be considered worrying. But so could, "If I don't make sure x, y, and z go exactly according to plan, a will happen which means b will happen, which likely means c will happen, and that would just be terrible, so I better keep thinking about x, y, and z until this is all over or I won't be able to prevent all those bad things from happening." And there's a large range between the two.

I wondered things like this for years, although it was typically on a less rational level. Often I beat myself up for any type of worrying, even the, "I'm a little uncomfortable, maybe I should do something," kind. But it rarely got bad enough that it actually conflicted with my life. I would have bad days, and their frequency would vary. But I had ways of coming out of it--usually some form of art or music or exploration, or talking to a good friend. I think we all have days like that. Nothing much to be concerned about. But it always got a little harder when I was dealing with a large transition in my life. Moving away to college was one of those, but thanks to some fantastic roommates, I made it through that transition pretty smoothly. I leaned on my wonderful Tianna a lot now that I think about it. Especially in the middle of the night while we were both in bed. I'm very grateful to her for those moments.

As Kam and I started dating, I was coming out of one of the rougher patches of my life. The first month or so of our relationship was accented by him reassuring me and trying to gain my trust. The longer we dated, the more comfortable I was with him, but I continued to worry frequently, and occasionally it was so strong that I could tell it was stressing Kam out. It even began to interfere with my schoolwork, and my ability to make rational decisions. It was so easy to blame myself for the whole experience, because Kam was never anything but good to me. But that only made the worrying worse. I remember one afternoon in particular when I was in tears worrying about something, and I called Kam because I knew I needed  some sort of help. I was so embarrassed to admit how upset I was, and I didn't know what I wanted, but Kam could hear me crying on the phone, so he told me to come over. I took my time. I already felt bad for the other times he'd had to comfort me for worrying. When I got there, he gave me a hug and cheerfully suggested we make cookies, and I was so overwhelmed by his kindness that I got angry and left. I walked away from our apartment complex for about an hour and didn't think about where I was going. When I finally didn't feel angry anymore, I called Kam and apologized. He was worried and asked when I'd be home, and I admitted that it would take another hour for me to walk back from where I was. I think it took a little longer, because I wasn't really sure where I was to begin with. When I got back to Kam's he just held me and I cried because I was so ashamed to have ruined both of our days.

It was experiences like that that got me thinking about professional help. Kam and I had started talking about getting married, and I knew that if I was going to do that (and I wanted to!), I didn't want to keep putting Kam through hard times if I could avoid it. He and I talked about what to do, and he agreed to support me in whatever decision I made. I began checking out books about dealing with anxiety disorders. I went to the BYU's women's resource center a couple of times on my especially bad days, when going to class seemed too daunting. They suggested I contact a therapist and gave recommendations. At first I was offended by the suggestion, and it took months, and multiple decisions to actually begin contacting therapists.

Kam and I talked a lot about my concern with becoming dependent on a therapist, or developing more trust in my therapist than I had in him. Ultimately, I decided to give therapy a shot, and Kam supported me. At least then I would know I had tried it, and if it didn't work or I didn't like it I would quit, and I wouldn't have to wonder anymore. But I tried hard to keep Kam in the loop and remained reluctant to trust any particular therapist too much. I was still incredibly nervous about the idea of therapy, and if one little thing went wrong (like a scheduling conflict), I was more than eager to let that therapist go. Eventually, I managed to book free weekly sessions with a grad student studying to become a social worker. It wasn't my first choice, but I knew that having to pay for therapy could guarantee I would back out.

I'll admit, I could tell she wasn't a professional, and we didn't exactly hit it off well. She was quiet, and when I was upset or passionate I liked to be loud. I held back a little because I didn't want to scare her. I remember wishing I had the type of therapist who would tell me what to do and be a little more stern with me, but in retrospect this quiet girl was a lot better for me.

She reviewed a list of destructive thoughts with me, and we discussed the ability to change our feelings by changing our thoughts. She would have me give examples of something that upset me (like spilling a drink on myself) and how it made me feel (embarrassed) and the thoughts that followed ("I can't do anything right"), and then try to come up with a different way of thinking of the same situation. This is so hard! I still struggle with this! I can't even think of another way to think of the drink one now, and that's such a simple mistake! It's not something to get upset about (although, this is about how extreme my worries were getting at the time. Spilling a drink was a serious hit to the self-esteem). I guess if I had to give an example, it would probably be something like, "Everyone has those moments. It's nothing to be ashamed of." But my therapist (her name was Alice) was so much better at this than me. She would put a spin on something like this that made it sound like a good thing! Like, "I'm glad I had this delicious drink in the first place," or "I'm glad I have the kind of friends who don't think it's a big deal that I spill on myself," or something like that. I worked on this with her for a couple months. And when I heard myself talking to her about some of my largest worries and saying, "But you know, maybe it's a good thing," I could tell I was making progress.

The basic principles I had to keep reminding myself of were the atonement, and gratitude. I didn't have to be perfect. I could make mistakes, and because of the atonement, I could be forgiven of them. There was no need to dwell on them. I am a worthy daughter of God, and I am loved, and he doesn't want me to put myself down. And he has blessed me with so much! I have opportunities to do great things, and every step I take is a blessing.

I believe I came to these realizations largely on my own. I know Alice helped, and the techniques she taught me to deal with anxiety were an incredible tool that I still turn to. But those two principles, the atonement, and gratitude, were really what brought me through that hard time, and they're still what help me deal with anxiety. Although I've come a long long way, it's still hard. It's still something I actively have to combat.

But there was one aspect about Alice that really helped me get somewhere, and it's kind of a surprising one. I didn't feel completely comfortable with her. How was that helpful, you ask? She was a therapist; wasn't I supposed to be comfortable with her? For me, uncomfortable was what I needed. I knew I was supposed to talk to her. So I did. I knew I was supposed to rank my anxiety every day for a week, even though I wouldn't get caught dead doing it on the paper she gave me. So I did. I knew I was supposed to fill out my thought diagrams, even though I thought they were stupid. So I did. And every time I talked to her, I wanted to sound civil, and not completely crazy. I didn't want to sound like I was supposed to be going to a therapist! (Even though, there I was, and I've since learned that a lot of great, normal people go to therapy, and you would never guess it if they didn't tell you. A couple of my good friends in my old ward helped me by telling their experiences with therapy, and I thank them for breaking the taboo.) So I worked really hard at doing what she said, and coming up with happy thoughts, and saying happy things. And not completely whining, which I would have done with any of my best friends if they had given me the chance. And something crazy happened. I started to believe it. The more I acted happy, the more I actually could be.

It reminded me of a time when I was really little, and I was with my aunt and cousin going to the pool. And my cousin was whining, and my aunt told her that if she was going to the pool, she had to smile. And my cousin knew she was serious, so she stuck her fingers under the corners of her lips and literally forced a smile. Her mom knew she was being sassy, and at first she rolled her eyes at her. But after a few minutes of my cousin making that ridiculous face, both my aunt and my cousin were nearly doubled over laughing.

So nooooowwww I can get to the point of this beautifully long blog post! Towards the end of my time with Alice, I mentioned to her my concern that after I didn't have her to talk to anymore, I wouldn't slow down my thoughts enough to catch the negative ones and come up with positive ones like we'd been practicing. I knew I didn't want to vent to Kam every time I was starting to feel upset. It usually just made me feel worse, not better. And I didn't really want to vent to anyone anymore. I wanted to have a coping strategy that made me feel like I was taking care of myself. I had tried writing in my journal, and although I highly recommend doing this after you've had a great testimony-building or simply happy experience, it just didn't work for me and my worrying (maybe that's just me. I know it works for a lot of people). I would just worry in words instead of in my head, but I wasn't accountable to anyone to try to have happier thoughts. I tired this a few times before meeting with Alice, and whenever I went back and read those entries they were just whiney and irrational.

Instead, I came up with a few good ideas that I mentioned to her. For one, I decided to check my progress in the past week every Sunday as I took the Sacrament. I knew this would help me feel accountable for my thoughts on a weekly basis, the same way I'd felt accountable to Alice each week. But this wouldn't necessarily help me in that critical, just-spilled-on-myself moment. So my next idea was a preventative measure: to choose a role model that I could ask for advice about my new role as a wife. I mentioned my friend, Jessica, and her blog, and how I had always looked up to her, and I was just amazed at how positive she always seemed to be, and how she was raising a happy family, and I knew she had had some challenges in her own life once, but she seemed to be far past those now, and I just didn't know how she could do it all! And Alice said, "Did you ever think maybe she uses her blog as a way to cope with her stress?" That's probably the most valuable thing Alice ever said to me. I was just dumb-founded: "Uh, no. She's just perfect, so she felt like writing about it." But then I started paying attention, and I noticed how some of her blogs did seem to focus on turning what could have been a negative experience into a positive one. So I asked Jessica, basically, "How come your life is all sunshine and rainbows, and how do I do it?" And she laughed and let me in on a few of the secrets of her reality, and how she's not perfect, and she's not always that happy, and she didn't even realize she was coming across that way on her blog. And I thought, "Dang! Alice was actually right!"

Which brings us full circle. I decided to try starting a blog, because it would keep me accountable to my negative thoughts. I knew people would be reading what I had to say, so I didn't want to sound like a total whiner. But I also knew that, hey, if you're reading this and you're bored out of your mind or you think I'm totally annoying, that's your own dang fault because I didn't sneak into your bedroom and corner you and tell you my entire life story like I did to Tianna. You clicked on a link, and now you're here, and you can leave anytime you want.

And to make the whole thing even better, I was GETTING MARRIED, which is a pretty exciting reason to start a blog if ever there was one. So I didn't have to worry so much about being boring and "wasting cyberspace." And then some of my friends told me that they read my blog, and that I was funny, and if that was you, I greatly appreciate your flattery whether it was true or otherwise, because you made me feel pretty good about myself. So now I do this blogging thing, and it seriously has helped me take a new perspective. The whole car breakdown post makes my point. And if you'd like to see further evidence that this whole blog was once an experiment to see whether I could change negative thoughts, check out this post about a time I actually spilled a drink on myself.

Disclaimer: This does not mean that every time I post something I'm secretly upset. Ha ha. Definitely don't want people reading into these blogs too much. I have a lot of things to be happy about, too. :)
(And I seriously am grateful to all of the people that helped us with our car. Very very.)

So why am I making a point of telling my (seriously long) history-of-blogging story? Because Jessica's blog made a huge impact on me, and there's a part of me that's always hoping I touch someone in that way, too. But I didn't know she was normal just like me. And that struggling with something doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. And I'm not perfect. I'm definitely not always happy. Sometimes I still have to get out of bed at 1 am and sit on the couch and cry for a minute, for no particular reason. Just because anxiety is my mountain to climb.

I like to think this means it's my mountain to conquer. I sometimes imagine myself at war with the negative thoughts in my head and Satan who puts them there, and I say to myself, "I must be strong for God to have put me in this battle." Because I know the Lord will never test me with any temptation that's too great for me to handle. And how cool is it to think of yourself as a war hero? I like thinking I was put here for something great, even if it's small.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's had an experience like this, and I won't be surprised if someone reading this is going through something similar. Life is a hard thing. Everyone struggles with something. It's hard to admit you're no superwoman, but it's even harder to feel ashamed because you're not. So this is me trying to get up the courage to admit my struggles with hopes that someone benefits from the story. Isn't that the point of our inconveniences? When we say, "Well, at least I got a good story out of it?" What are those stories for? What good are our struggles and successes if we don't use them to help others when they find themselves in a place we've been? Mary Church Terrell coined the phrase "lifting as you climb" to describe her efforts to increase racial and gender equality, but I believe it can apply equally well to the obstacles we face in everyday life, so I'll leave you with her quote.

"And so, lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving, and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long. With courage, born of success achieved in the past, with a keen sense of the responsibility which we shall continue to assume, we look forward to a future large with promise and hope." - Mary Church Terrell

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for being brave and sharing this, Chloe! I'm living proof that "cool, normal" people sometimes go to therapy. I think we all know that everyone's lives are messy and imperfect, but it's nice to be reminded every now and then that we're all climbing mountains throughout this weird and wonderful experience called life. So thank you.