Christine Suhan

@christine-suhan | contributor
Christine Suhan is a wife, stay at home mother of three young boys and writer at Feelings and Faith. She has a master’s in marriage and family therapy, which is currently on the back burner while she is busy writing her first book and chasing around toddler tornadoes.

Why I No Longer Believe My 'Happiness Is a Choice'

Lately it seems my social media news feeds are filled with photographs and memes conveying the message that happiness is a choice. Some I’ve seen today are: “Happiness is a choice, not a result. Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happy.” “Happiness is a choice, you decide.” “Happiness: it’s up to you.” I used to believe happiness was a choice; I don’t anymore. I know this may sound harsh and pessimistic, but hear me out: I believe happiness is a feeling, not a choice. Happiness is an emotion, a mental state of being, a conscious experience. The way we perceive our own consciousness is dictated by our brains. Although I think we’d like to believe it’s just as easy as choosing to be happy, for some of us, it’s not. Some of us have brains that work a little bit differently. Or, some of us have brains that have been changed by trauma. How do I know there are people existing in the world without access to happy feelings? Because I was one of them. I, at times, still am one of them. This inability to feel happy is what I call depression. My depression started festering when I was in middle school. At the time I didn’t recognize it as depression, I just thought there was something wrong with me because I felt “different.” I watched others laugh as they played and felt like something was holding me back from the joy they were experiencing. Depression feels like there’s a thick wall of glass surrounding me. I can see what’s happening in front of me, but I can’t feel it. I can’t connect with life. The wall keeps me boxed in tightly and as I breathe in the same toxic, life-sucking air, I begin to feel like I’m suffocating. The air feels heavy and my body starts to feel cold. I watch life happen around me. I try to reach out but the wall blocks me. I feel like a caged animal, desperate to break free. The world starts to look grey, then black. I feel empty. I logically know I should feel happy based on my surroundings or my circumstance, but I don’t. My brain and body don’t know how. I try to choose happiness, but I can’t; my choice is stolen by the depression. This may sound devastating and hopeless, but it’s not. While I can’t choose to simply be happy, there are a number of ways I can help, starting with medication. Antidepressants do not make me weak or lazy. They are not a cop-out or something to fall back on. Medication is my life-preserver. It does not  guarantee happiness or make me feel high, but it does give me a shot at experiencing joy. My antidepressants break down the glass wall that keeps me from connecting with the word. When I walk outside on a gorgeous summer day, I can feel the warmth of the sun. When I hear my children laughing, I feel the love I have for them. Medication allows me to use my senses to connect with my surroundings and when I feel connected, I’m often able to access feelings of happiness. Sometimes though, even on medication, while using my senses to connect with the world around me, I still don’t feel happy. Sometimes, human connection feels shallow, the scent of my favorite mood lifting essential oil stinks, the sight of my children playing looks busy and chaotic and I just don’t feel happy. In those moments, when my tools don’t work and I can’t access happy feelings, I settle for contentment. I rest easy in the knowledge my current state won’t last forever. I used to get angry when I heard or saw anything that said happiness was a choice. I was angry because I was still internalizing their messages as shame. I thought because I was unable to access happy feelings at that time, there was something wrong with me. I don’t get angry anymore, I know happiness isn’t always a choice for me. And I know that those who don’t struggle with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder can’t possibly understand why happiness isn’t a choice for some of us. Maybe you can’t access happy feelings today. Maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve felt anything at all. Hear this, my friend: It’s OK. There is nothing wrong with you. We can’t always choose happiness, but we can always choose togetherness. We are in this together, friends. You are never alone. Follow this journey on Feelings and Faith.

Why I Stopped Self-Harming

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. I honestly don’t know why I cut myself the first time. I know I didn’t want to die, and I’m not sure why my brain would come up with the twisted idea that hurting myself would somehow make me feel better. I didn’t know anybody who self-harmed, and at the time I didn’t even know that it had a name. I just knew I couldn’t stand how I felt. My insides were balled up in a knot, screaming to be let out. I didn’t know why I cut the first time, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. It sounds stupid, I know. Inflicting pain in order to release pain seems illogical. Self-harm is illogical, but I continued to do it because I needed a release. I needed to get the emotional pain out. I needed for it to have somewhere to go. And at the time, nothing else seemed to provide that. People have asked me to identify the emotion I felt right before I cut. If I had to pick just one emotion, the most painful emotion that pushed me over the edge and caused me to pick up the blade, what would it be? Is it fear? Anxiety? Anger? Sadness? Hopelessness? The answer is all of them, and none of them. Everyone self-harms for different reasons, and I’m not claiming to be an expert on self-harm. But for me, there were two nameless emotional experiences that pushed me over the edge. It has been nearly impossible for me to describe these emotional experiences adequately with words, but here is my attempt: Imagine your feelings are little bugs crawling around inside your body. The bugs are pretty chill, they hibernate most of the time. When you feel an emotion, such as sadness, you feel a couple of the bugs crawling around inside you, usually around your throat, stomach and face. It’s uncomfortable but you can tolerate them for a little while. The bugs aren’t always bad, sometimes they make you feel good. When you are happy, the bugs tickle you in a way that makes you feel alive. You feel peace and serenity when the bugs are asleep. Joy feels like the bugs are doing a funny dance inside of you. You get the idea. But sometimes, the bugs get out of control. The two experiences that caused me to seek immediate release were: 1. All of the bugs that live inside of you, in every crevice of your body, came to the surface and were simultaneously scratching right beneath your skin. The scratching keeps getting harder and louder. 2. The bugs got hungry and ate away all of your organs and then they all died. You are left feeling like an empty shell. Nothing is moving or breathing inside of you. Hollow space is all that exists. Both are terrifying experiences. Both led me to self-harm. That’s why I cut. But here’s why I stopped. There were also bugs living in my head. The bugs in my head clouded my vision and made it hard for me to see things clearly. They convinced me what I was feeling was permanent, that I had to fix how I was feeling because those feelings would never go away. The bugs in my head ate at my brain, the part that houses self-control and rational thought. Without that part of my brain, I couldn’t remember that cutting actually didn’t make me feel better at all. It made me feel worse. The release I talked about earlier never came back. I’m not so sure that release was even real. I think it was an illusion I created to help make sense of what I had done. But what my brain failed to recall after the first time I cut was the guilt, shame and remorse that followed. The embarrassment of lying about my Band-Aids and scars. Knowing that people didn’t buy the lies. The physical pain that haunted me in the following days. None of that was worth the illusion of a quick fix. I stopped self-harming because it didn’t work and because I learned that feelings won’t kill me. Feelings eventually pass. A ll of them. And feelings aren’t facts. Just because I feel like there are bugs scratching below the surface of my skin doesn’t mean there are actually bugs living inside of me. Just because I feel like a shell of a person, doesn’t mean I am hollow on the inside. I learned healthy coping mechanisms that helped me deal with how I was feeling. Things that provided a substantial release without having negative consequences. These included going for a walk, calling a friend, reading, painting, baking, dancing, writing, shopping, etc. Anything that gets me out of my head and engaged in life. I will never know why I cut for the first time, but I will never forget why I stopped. My life is worth cherishing. My body is worth taking care of. So is yours. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

When You’re Afraid Accepting Your Chronic Illness Is ‘Giving Up’

For the longest time, I was hesitant to use the phrase “chronic illness” to describe the steady decline in my body’s ability to function “normally.” I was hesitant because I thought if I told people I was chronically ill, they would think I had given up. Or more importantly, I would think I had given up. I thought accepting my illness as chronic meant I had become hopeless. Hope, to me, had always meant wishing for desired outcomes. Having hope in regards to my illnesses meant clinging to the idea that someday I would be fixed or cured. Hope rested in the expectation that the pain would, one day, be gone. It’s been over five years of functioning daily with some sort of pain. This past year,my daily pain level has been a five or above. If a friend asks how I’m feeling and I respond with, “I’m feeling good today,” it means my pain level is at a five. Most people go to the emergency room with pain levels of six or seven, just to give you some context. I feel exhausted (first-trimester-pregnancy type of exhausted) and flu-like every single day. My joints and muscles are stiff and sore and I experience numbness and tingling in my arms, legs, chest and back multiple times per day. And it’s not going away. It’s been over a year of all of these symptoms daily. All of them daily. I don’t write this with the intention of evoking sympathy or branding myself a martyr. I write this solely to draw awareness to how devastating my reality had to get before I would use the word “chronic.” I have just in the past few months started to make peace with the idea that I have a chronic illness. I have several, actually, and they are not going to magically disappear like I had hoped. I’m not going to wake up one day and suddenly feel better. The reality is that there will be good days (remember what “good” now means) and there will be bad days. There will be days when it takes 20 minutes to get out of bed and days when it takes two hours. Days when I can show up for people and keep my commitments and days when I can’t. But owning my illness as “chronic” does not mean I have become void of hope. It doesn’t mean I have given up. It means I have reached a new level of acceptance and understanding of the path I am walking. Hope no longer depends on the absence of symptoms; it is found in the midst of the symptoms, despite the symptoms. Hope now comes in the unwavering confidence that no matter how I’m feeling, I am loved and accepted, as I am, in each and every moment. Hope comes in the knowledge that I am never alone. Hope comes in the permission I allow myself to care for a body that needs a extra love. The hardest, most crucial piece of self-care for me has been slowing down. I’m used to operating in one of two speeds: fast and faster. I’ve always been this way. I don’t walk, I run; I don’t jump, I leap. I’m a doer, a busybody; I thrive in chaos and commotion. Or rather, I used to thrive in chaos and commotion. But the doing and the running and the crazy busy life is not fit for me anymore. My body can’t handle it; my illness can’t afford it. I am slowly learning how to slow down. How to rest when my body is screaming “Stop!” How to recognize my limits and most importantly, how to say no. It’s becoming obvious that the key to my slowing down rests in my ability to say no. I’m still working on this; I’m a people-pleaser and a giver — helping others brings me joy. But giving myself to others is starting to cost me my health, a price I am no longer willing to pay. I am beginning to find joy in caring for myself the way I used to care for others. I’m learning to let go of people’s response to me telling them no — their emotional reaction is not my responsibility. My friends and family won’t love me any less if I don’t attend their child’s birthday party. And I am learning that slowing down isn’t just vital for my body, but my mind as well. Thoughts swirl, fears crop up, guilt, remorse and self-pity start to creep in. That’s part of why I loved staying busy — to avoid my thoughts and feelings. But I’m finally learning how to be still. How to stop my thoughts from taking me too far out of reality. I focus on my breath. I use grounding techniques. I look at me feet and feel my legs resting on top of my bed. As I listen to the rhythm of the clock as it ticks, my thoughts slowly and steadily fade away. Accepting my illness as chronic doesn’t mean I’ve given up on life. It doesn’t mean I’m void of hope. Chronic illness is not an aversion to joy or an absence of peace. It’s just a path that was chosen for me. And I’m discovering that the longer I walk this path with an open heart and mind, the more I find myself. The author, Christine Follow this journey on Feelings and Faith. The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Share with us the moment, if you’ve had it, where you knew everything was going to be OK. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Why I'm Scared to Not Talk About Suicide

A friend reached out this morning for advice. A dear friend of hers died by suicide. “What do you say when someone takes their own life?” she asked. It could have been me. My friend and I talked briefly about her friend. I had never met him; I didn’t know him. But at the same time when I heard about his suicide, I felt like I knew him all too well. The minute he took his own life I was connected to him in a profound way. We’re connected because I know his demons. I believe mine are the same. I can imagine what he might have felt: like you’re body is occupied by someone else. Like you’re drowning. Like you’re swallowing water when everyone around you is breathing in air. I’ve seen the world through the same black fog and walked through the same sticky quicksand. I know. I’ve been there. I used to think pain isolated me. That experiencing deep emotional pain made me different from you, less than you. I hid my pain because I was afraid you would think I was weak. I was afraid my darkness made me ugly. I was afraid if people knew the kind of thoughts I had, the thoughts that told me I was worthless and didn’t deserve to live, they would treat me like I didn’t deserve to live. I didn’t talk about my pain until it was almost too late. I didn’t tell anyone I wanted to die until I almost did. But after I woke up after trying to take my own life, hope was born. Hope opened the door for me to talk about my pain. And when I started to talk about my pain, I began to see there was similar pain in others. My eyes were no longer blinded by fear. They were instead opened to people who’ve felt like me, connecting us in the most profound way. It was never the pain that isolated me, it was my fear. Once hope entered in and gave me back my will to live, fear loosened its grip. And when I started to let go of my fear, I began to see the beauty that lives beneath the pain. My darkness no longer isolates me. My feelings of worthlessness and shame, the thoughts that tell me I don’t deserve to live, that the world would be a better place without me, no longer make me feel alone. They don’t isolate me because I share them. I talk about them. I use them to build a bridge between myself and others who have felt the same. Our darkness allows us to connect, and that connection sparks a light within us that rids the darkness. And whenever someone dies in such a tragic way, it’s a great reminder of why I need to continue talking about suicide and sharing my pain. Some ask if I’m scared to open up about my past and sometimes present struggles with suicide ideation. “Aren’t you scared of what people think? Aren’t you scared they will judge?” No. I’m not scared to talk about suicide — I’m scared to stay silent. Silence is what fuels my depression. Silence turns thoughts into obsessions and obsessions can lead to actions. Silence is the deadliest weapon of all. Silence kills. I know my silence would kill me, and I don’t want to die. I talk about it so others who are scared to talk about it know they are not alone. We are never alone, despite how lonely we feel. My pain doesn’t make me different from you. It doesn’t make me less than you. My darkness isn’t ugly. It’s a beautiful bridge that connects me to you. And connecting through pain is the most powerful, transformative connection I’ve ever experienced. Follow this journey on Feelings and Faith. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

To Everyone Who's Helped Me Through My Mental Illnesses

I am alone. I am scared. I am worthless. I am unlovable. My depression starts out as a soft whisper. So soft, I can’t hear it right away. But it waits. My depression is patient. The longer it waits, the louder it becomes. So loud that I can’t do anything but listen. My depression wants me to hide. My head is spinning. An endless sea of thoughts swirling through my head. Thoughts of yesterday, thoughts of today, thoughts of tomorrow. Random thoughts. Thoughts of you. Thoughts of me. Thoughts of us. Thoughts of them. More random thoughts. Thoughts trying to make meaning of other thoughts. Just stop thinking. I can’t stop thinking. My brain won’t stop. The thoughts are getting louder and spinning faster. Why can’t I stop thinking? I have to find something to stop these thoughts. My anxiety needs me to hide. Ouch, that hurt! Oh, it was just the wind blowing, I’m OK. I’m safe. Wait a minute, why does the wind hurt? Why does everything hurt so bad? I’m not safe. Someone stole my skin. All of my nerve endings are exposed. I’m feeling things I’m not supposed to feel. I’m in pain. I have to stop feeling. My post-traumatic stress disorder is forcing me to hide. So I hide. I hide behind the bottle. I hide behind the blood. I hide behind the scars. I hide behind the pills. I hide behind the food. I hide behind the empty stomach. I hide the way I’m hiding. I hide the monster I think I’m becoming. I hide. But you see me. You see the empty bottles and unkempt hair. You see the fresh scars peeking through the tightly wound bandage. You see the mess that I’ve created, the mess I’ve become. You see me. And you’re still here. You see past the disheveled look and confused gaze. You see past the thick walls I build up around me. You see past the depression and anxiety. You see past the pain. You see past the ugly ways I cope with the pain. You see it all, you see past it all and you see me. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for looking in when you wanted to look away. Thank you for reaching out, even if you knew I wouldn’t reach back . Thank you for staying when leaving made more sense. Thank you for giving me life when I was so close to death. It was you. You were the one who saved me. You saw me when I couldn’t see myself. You walked in when I shut the world out. You believed in me when I had no faith in myself. You loved me when I felt unlovable. You breathed for me when I had no breath. You lit the way when I saw only black. You cried for me. You cried with me. You fought for me. You let me go. You held my hand when it was shaking. You were my feet when I couldn’t stand. You lifted me up when the world crumbled beneath me. You gave me hope when I was hopeless. You are my mother. You are my father. You are my sister. You are my brother. You are my husband. You are my friend. You are my son. You are my therapist. You are my teacher. You are my doctor. You are my coach. You are the woman who sat next to me in the waiting room. You are the stranger who smiled as we passed on the street. You are the boy at the checkout who asked about my day. You are the mom whose nod said, “Me too.” Thank you to all of the beautiful souls in my past, present and future who give me moments of connection that make life worth living. I am me because of you. I am alive because you looked a little bit deeper, leaned in a little bit closer, loved a little bit harder and held on just a little bit longer. You are the pieces that keep my heart beating. Thank you. It wasn’t just one person who helped me through my mental illnesses — it was several. Some I know well. Others crossed my path once. Still others continue to help me on a daily basis. My mental illnesses try to rob me of the one thing I believe humans are wired for: connection. Someone looking me in the eye when I feel invisible gives me strength to get through just one more day. Connecting with a friend in a deep, intimate way gives me worth when I feel worthless. Hearing someone say, “Me too,” when I feel like no one understands heals me in the most profound way. Human connection. One moment is all it takes. Be kind. You never know when your smile could save a life.

Why It's Hard to Tell My Husband About My Depression

My head can be a scary place to live some days. Yesterday was one of them. The depression fog had settled in and clouded my every thought. In the midst of a gorgeous summer day the world looked dark. The sweet sound of my kids’ laughter just sounded like noise. Loud, obnoxious noise. The connections with the people I love felt shallow. I felt empty. Most days, when the depression fog starts to creep in, I can act my way out of it. I use the tools I’ve learned along this journey to help pull me out of my head and into the stream of life. Taking a walk to the playground or the pool with my kids, talking with a friend, shopping, cleaning the house — anything that gets me engaged in life. But sometimes, submerging myself in activity isn’t enough. Sometimes the depression fog is just too thick — the sunlight beaming through the window is just too bright — and I want to hide. My husband doesn’t have depression. He doesn’t know what it’s like to feel all alone in a room full of people. He’s never felt the sting of fresh air as you force yourself to leave the house for the first time in days. He doesn’t know what it feels like to have your child smile at you and feel nothing. It’s easy for people who don’t have depression to look objectively at a person’s life and point out all of the logical reasons why one should not feel sad. But depression isn’t logical. Depression doesn’t care to reason. Years ago, I remember talking to a friend who was in the midst of deep depression. She had a fabulous life. She was financially secure, in a loving relationship, had a host of friends, loved her job and was drop dead gorgeous. There was no logical reason why she should feel even an ounce of dissatisfaction with her life. She had it made. Whenever we talked, I reminded her of everything she had going for her. I just didn’t understand why she felt so sad. I was so busy trying to pull her out of her depression that I failed to take time to listen to it. To understand it. To get to know it. What I’ve learned about depression is that sometimes it wraps us up so tightly we get trapped inside. The world isn’t seeing us, but rather the depression. People aren’t talking to us, they’re talking to our depression. Depression locks us up and holds us captive, making it immensely frustrating for those around us. My husband fought with my depression yesterday. The angrier he got, the tighter the depression gripped me. He kept wanting to talk and asking me what was wrong. I couldn’t tell him. Every question that was left unanswered fueled his anger. We spent most of the evening in a silent scorn. He went to bed without saying goodnight. I felt defeated. I sent him a text an hour later that simply said, “Deep depression, I’m sorry.” He replied with more questions: “Why didn’t you just say that? Next time just tell me you’re depressed so I won’t think it was me.” I can’t. That’s the thing about depression. It won’t let me speak. I so badly wanted to talk to him. I needed that human connection. I needed support. I wanted desperately to let him in, but I couldn’t. The depression wouldn’t let me. My depression fog never lasts long. It’s usually only a day or two. I’ve worked really hard at fighting it. Therapy helped, spirituality helped. Discovering passions, finding hobbies, making deep friendships all helped. But I’ve found the key to fighting my depression was getting to know it. Letting it in and listening to it. Figuring out what feeds it and what triggers it. Finding the holes in its tightly wound grip. And knowing when it seems like I can do nothing else — when actions just feel like motion and the fog gets too thick — the best thing I can do is be still. My depression wants me to act. It wants me to make a mess of myself and my relationships. It ultimately wants me to die. It tries to convince me a permanent solution to a temporary problem makes sense. It tells me the world would be a better place without me. But because I know my depression well, I know it lies. I know it feeds off of me considering its lies. I believe if I can just be still, listen to it, talk to it and not act on any of its irrational thoughts, my depression has nothing to feed on and will eventually loosen its grip. Depression is tricky. It’s different for each person it affects. My depression doesn’t look like yours. And your depression doesn’t talk like mine. But the one thing I’ve learned, is that w hen all else fails, I can just be still. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Follow this journey on Feelings and Faith. The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to mentalhealth@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

What I Didn't Know About PTSD At 15, and What I Know Now

I’m 15, out shopping with a friend on a gorgeous summer day in northern Michigan. We are both wearing crop shirts, short shorts and platform heels. Our blonde hair sways rhythmically with each step, and we pass a couple who look about age. The couple was happy, in love, and not shy about publicly displaying it. I saw a pretty graphic display of affection that, at 15, made me extremely uncomfortable. I responded the only way I knew how: with humor. I leaned into my friend, laughing hysterically, and said, “Oh my God, I have PTSD from what I just saw.” 15-year-old me didn’t know anything about post-traumatic stress disorder. In my mind, it was a phrase casually thrown around, used jokingly to describe an unpleasant event that evoked uncomfortable emotions. 15-year-old me was insanely ignorant. PTSD is a silent killer. PTSD is not a joke. PTSD is an extremely debilitating, life-altering physical, mental and emotional condition that affects about 8 million adults during a given year. It’s sneaky and complicated, hiding behind other diagnoses like depression, anxiety and addiction. It doesn’t like to be seen and doesn’t like to be held responsible for the havoc it wreaks. I haven’t wanted to write about PTSD because its complexities are hard for me to comprehend. I’ve been living with PTSD to varying degrees for more than 20 years and still don’t understand it all. But maybe that’s the point. I know a lot about PTSD. My background in psychology has given me a very good understanding of what happens physiologically and psychologically when PTSD is activated. When I’m triggered, my brain disconnects from my body. My body feels a sensation similar to what it felt at the time of the trauma and thinks I’m reliving it. My concept of time is lost. When my husband touches the back of my leg, my brain thinks I’m 19 and being raped. My brain can’t process the fact 12 years has passed and I’m in a safe place with a safe person. My body remembers but my brain forgets. I’m disconnected and pulled out of what I’m experiencing. It throws my body into a fight/flight/or freeze state. I have to give my brain time to catch up with my body and realize I’m not 19. I’m not in danger. I know a lot about PTSD. I know how the brain and body work when they’re triggered. But knowing about PTSD is not the same as knowing PTSD. I don’t know my PTSD. I don’t know why it works the way it does. I don’t know why, after 12 years, I’m having flashbacks of scenes I have no previous recollection of. I don’t know why my husband can’t touch the back of my legs. My brain can’t make sense of it because my brain doesn’t remember. But my body does. My body remembers something happening to my legs. My body remembers what my brain can’t. My body remembers everything. I used to think that was the problem. If I could only get my body to forget, I’d be OK. But what if my body remembering isn’t the problem? What if that’s the solution? I have a heightened sense of awareness because of the PTSD. I used to think was a curse. I hated that my body felt so intensely. But maybe the solution doesn’t lie in my ability to think but rather in my ability to feel. Awareness, not understanding, might just be the key to freedom. I hesitate to share this because I’m still in the midst of this journey. The thoughts I have today might be irrelevant tomorrow. But one thing I know for certain is that my PTSD, and yours, wants to stay silent. It wants us to keep it hidden. It wants to stay masked behind other issues. It lives and breathes off of our denial. Continuing to talk about it, especially when I feel like I don’t understand it, and giving it a voice, even when I don’t have the words, is helping raise my awareness. And awareness, in this moment, feels like a pretty safe place to be. Follow this journey on Feelings and Faith.

Why My Mental Illnesses Aren't 'Dirty Laundry'

Once while sitting in Starbucks, I overheard part of a conversation that left me speechless. I had some time to kill before picking the kids up from preschool and decided to treat myself. It was mid-morning and I, along with the two women sitting at the table next to me, were the only ones in the coffee shop. So naturally, I pretended to scroll through my Facebook news feed while listening in on their conversation. “Oh honey, you didn’t tell them she has depression did you? You don’t want your dirty laundry getting out.” “I did tell them. It’s OK. She’s in therapy and is doing well on her meds.” “Well I guess as long as you’re taking care of it.” I was floored by this interaction. How dare she call depression dirty laundry? And she’s taking care of it? Like she takes care of the trash? It amazes me with as much progress as our society has made, there’s still such a stigma against mental illness — like it’s something we need to be ashamed of. I used to believe that about myself. I have had several diagnoses that would classify me as mentally ill. I have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anorexia, bulimia, drug addiction and alcoholism. For a long time, I believed these illnesses were bad and something to be ashamed of. Because my brain didn’t work like other people’s brains, I thought there was something wrong with me. Like someone forgot one of the screws or read the directions backwards. But I am not a mistake. My brain was designed specifically and perfectly just for me. I don’t suffer from an illness. I have been gifted a fuller, richer, more meaningful life because of the experiences I have had. Each one of these special journeys has provided me with a critical piece to this puzzle called life. Depression has taught me the depth of the human soul. It has shown me I’m extremely sensitive and delicate. I’m keenly aware of the longing I have for connection. I ache to be seen, to be heard and to be understood. I feel pain more intensely and sorrow more deeply. Depression is my fire. My drive. It’s what reminds me I need to move, I need to take action and I need to engage with people and with life. That I need to show up. Anxiety has taught me the power of faith. It has forced me to believe in something bigger than myself. It has revealed to me the complexity of the human brain. It has shown me the crippling effects of self-sufficiency. It continues to remind me there’s always a greater plan at work. That all I need to do is trust the process and keep walking. Anxiety is my reset button. When I’m caught up in fear and my head is spinning out, anxiety reminds me it’s OK to not know. It’s OK to not have all the answers. I don’t have to be in control. That peace and serenity are waiting for me as soon as I decide to let go. PTSD has taught me the value of a moment. When my body is triggered and freezes up, I’m able to appreciate the faithfulness of time. I’m forced to slow down. To be still. To wait. If I give myself enough time for my brain to catch up with my body, for my brain to remember I’m here, in this moment, instead of back in the trauma, I’m OK. PTSD is my lifeline. When all else fails, I’m reminded to just be still. To just hold on. That all I have is this moment and in this moment I’m OK. My eating disorders have taught me the beauty of self-care. They revealed to me the magnificence of the human body. They remind me my body is a temple that needs to be cared for and properly nourished. I’ve learned that food is energy. Food is not comfort, it’s not a reward, it’s not a punishment. Food is sustenance. My eating disorder recovery is my hope. It’s my restoration. It’s a testament to the resiliency of the human body. It’s my reminder it’s never too late to make a change. To start over. It’s my perseverance. Addiction is my mirror. It has shown me who I am and what I’m capable of. It has revealed to me the evil that exist in the world. The ugliness that lives in me. It reminds me I have the power to destroy myself and those around me. Addiction recovery is my world. It’s my passion. It’s my purpose. It’s proof that grace exists. That mercy triumphs. That love wins. Recovery is beauty from ashes. It’s life after death. It’s courage under fire. Recovery is my daily reminder that I’m a walking, talking, breathing miracle.