Jessica Brudjar

@jessica-brudjar | contributor
I'm an Air Force Officer, Believer, Mom, Musician, Writer, TX Aggie, Supernatural Fangirl, Lover of Music and Nature and All Things Beautiful, and a Passionate Advocate for Mental Health.

What It's Like to Be Inside a Depressive Episode

Hello from inside the dark, oppressive bowels of a depressive episode. It’s where the tears come easily, but the energy and motivation do not. It’s where everything, even the air, is heavy – but not in a comforting, weighted blanket kind of way. More like being slowly suffocated… but so slowly that panicking wouldn’t make sense quite yet. It’s where there’s not enough eye cream and makeup to hide how tired you feel, even after a full night’s sleep… because, let’s face it, sleep doesn’t help this kind of tired. It’s where minor things feel major and major things barely register. It’s where the lies you tell yourself are easier to believe, and none of them are nice. It’s where it’s easy to give up on the things you were excited about two days ago, because your brain chemistry did a 180 in that time and everything just looks different now. More gray. Less promising. It’s also where you answer honestly when someone you trust asks if you are OK. It’s where you make appointments in order to keep yourself accountable to do the things that are crucial to your self-care. It’s where you practice self-awareness enough to call yourself out when you’re isolating — and wow, do you love to isolate when you’re in this place. It’s where you dig out the self-care kit you’ve kept by your bed or in the bag you carry to work and you use it. It’s where you talk yourself out of being overwhelmed by the ridiculously long “to-do” list and find the things that will specifically help someone else. Accomplishing something for someone else feels good, and there’s nothing wrong with using that as the motivation. It’s where you find a way to keep doing what you do because other people depend on you, and to let them down if you had even an ounce of strength left just isn’t in your wiring — even on your worst day. It’s where you lower your impossibly high standards for a time so that you can conserve your energy — and your sanity, not to mention the negative self-talk that wants you to believe you’re just the worst because of what hasn’t been accomplished. It’s where you make a list of things and people and places and experiences you’re grateful for. It’s where you make another list of the things you’re looking forward to tomorrow, next week, next month. It’s where you offer grace to yourself. It’s where you offer grace to others. It’s where you breathe. And cry. And pray. And hope. And dig deep. And fight for every painful heartbeat because this depressive episode is just that: an episode. It is a season, and it will eventually end. The sun will come back up, and it will be glorious. There will be a day when everything doesn’t hurt and you don’t feel sad every second. I know it because I’ve lived it, and I know that this won’t last forever. And if you’re in a similar place, know that yours won’t last either. We’ve got a life to live, and better days are on the horizon. Follow this journey on If I Knew Not Midnight If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Unsplash photo via Callie Morgan

What It's Like to Be Inside a Depressive Episode

Hello from inside the dark, oppressive bowels of a depressive episode. It’s where the tears come easily, but the energy and motivation do not. It’s where everything, even the air, is heavy – but not in a comforting, weighted blanket kind of way. More like being slowly suffocated… but so slowly that panicking wouldn’t make sense quite yet. It’s where there’s not enough eye cream and makeup to hide how tired you feel, even after a full night’s sleep… because, let’s face it, sleep doesn’t help this kind of tired. It’s where minor things feel major and major things barely register. It’s where the lies you tell yourself are easier to believe, and none of them are nice. It’s where it’s easy to give up on the things you were excited about two days ago, because your brain chemistry did a 180 in that time and everything just looks different now. More gray. Less promising. It’s also where you answer honestly when someone you trust asks if you are OK. It’s where you make appointments in order to keep yourself accountable to do the things that are crucial to your self-care. It’s where you practice self-awareness enough to call yourself out when you’re isolating — and wow, do you love to isolate when you’re in this place. It’s where you dig out the self-care kit you’ve kept by your bed or in the bag you carry to work and you use it. It’s where you talk yourself out of being overwhelmed by the ridiculously long “to-do” list and find the things that will specifically help someone else. Accomplishing something for someone else feels good, and there’s nothing wrong with using that as the motivation. It’s where you find a way to keep doing what you do because other people depend on you, and to let them down if you had even an ounce of strength left just isn’t in your wiring — even on your worst day. It’s where you lower your impossibly high standards for a time so that you can conserve your energy — and your sanity, not to mention the negative self-talk that wants you to believe you’re just the worst because of what hasn’t been accomplished. It’s where you make a list of things and people and places and experiences you’re grateful for. It’s where you make another list of the things you’re looking forward to tomorrow, next week, next month. It’s where you offer grace to yourself. It’s where you offer grace to others. It’s where you breathe. And cry. And pray. And hope. And dig deep. And fight for every painful heartbeat because this depressive episode is just that: an episode. It is a season, and it will eventually end. The sun will come back up, and it will be glorious. There will be a day when everything doesn’t hurt and you don’t feel sad every second. I know it because I’ve lived it, and I know that this won’t last forever. And if you’re in a similar place, know that yours won’t last either. We’ve got a life to live, and better days are on the horizon. Follow this journey on If I Knew Not Midnight If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Unsplash photo via Callie Morgan

What It's Like to Be Inside a Depressive Episode

Hello from inside the dark, oppressive bowels of a depressive episode. It’s where the tears come easily, but the energy and motivation do not. It’s where everything, even the air, is heavy – but not in a comforting, weighted blanket kind of way. More like being slowly suffocated… but so slowly that panicking wouldn’t make sense quite yet. It’s where there’s not enough eye cream and makeup to hide how tired you feel, even after a full night’s sleep… because, let’s face it, sleep doesn’t help this kind of tired. It’s where minor things feel major and major things barely register. It’s where the lies you tell yourself are easier to believe, and none of them are nice. It’s where it’s easy to give up on the things you were excited about two days ago, because your brain chemistry did a 180 in that time and everything just looks different now. More gray. Less promising. It’s also where you answer honestly when someone you trust asks if you are OK. It’s where you make appointments in order to keep yourself accountable to do the things that are crucial to your self-care. It’s where you practice self-awareness enough to call yourself out when you’re isolating — and wow, do you love to isolate when you’re in this place. It’s where you dig out the self-care kit you’ve kept by your bed or in the bag you carry to work and you use it. It’s where you talk yourself out of being overwhelmed by the ridiculously long “to-do” list and find the things that will specifically help someone else. Accomplishing something for someone else feels good, and there’s nothing wrong with using that as the motivation. It’s where you find a way to keep doing what you do because other people depend on you, and to let them down if you had even an ounce of strength left just isn’t in your wiring — even on your worst day. It’s where you lower your impossibly high standards for a time so that you can conserve your energy — and your sanity, not to mention the negative self-talk that wants you to believe you’re just the worst because of what hasn’t been accomplished. It’s where you make a list of things and people and places and experiences you’re grateful for. It’s where you make another list of the things you’re looking forward to tomorrow, next week, next month. It’s where you offer grace to yourself. It’s where you offer grace to others. It’s where you breathe. And cry. And pray. And hope. And dig deep. And fight for every painful heartbeat because this depressive episode is just that: an episode. It is a season, and it will eventually end. The sun will come back up, and it will be glorious. There will be a day when everything doesn’t hurt and you don’t feel sad every second. I know it because I’ve lived it, and I know that this won’t last forever. And if you’re in a similar place, know that yours won’t last either. We’ve got a life to live, and better days are on the horizon. Follow this journey on If I Knew Not Midnight If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Unsplash photo via Callie Morgan

What It's Like to Be Inside a Depressive Episode

Hello from inside the dark, oppressive bowels of a depressive episode. It’s where the tears come easily, but the energy and motivation do not. It’s where everything, even the air, is heavy – but not in a comforting, weighted blanket kind of way. More like being slowly suffocated… but so slowly that panicking wouldn’t make sense quite yet. It’s where there’s not enough eye cream and makeup to hide how tired you feel, even after a full night’s sleep… because, let’s face it, sleep doesn’t help this kind of tired. It’s where minor things feel major and major things barely register. It’s where the lies you tell yourself are easier to believe, and none of them are nice. It’s where it’s easy to give up on the things you were excited about two days ago, because your brain chemistry did a 180 in that time and everything just looks different now. More gray. Less promising. It’s also where you answer honestly when someone you trust asks if you are OK. It’s where you make appointments in order to keep yourself accountable to do the things that are crucial to your self-care. It’s where you practice self-awareness enough to call yourself out when you’re isolating — and wow, do you love to isolate when you’re in this place. It’s where you dig out the self-care kit you’ve kept by your bed or in the bag you carry to work and you use it. It’s where you talk yourself out of being overwhelmed by the ridiculously long “to-do” list and find the things that will specifically help someone else. Accomplishing something for someone else feels good, and there’s nothing wrong with using that as the motivation. It’s where you find a way to keep doing what you do because other people depend on you, and to let them down if you had even an ounce of strength left just isn’t in your wiring — even on your worst day. It’s where you lower your impossibly high standards for a time so that you can conserve your energy — and your sanity, not to mention the negative self-talk that wants you to believe you’re just the worst because of what hasn’t been accomplished. It’s where you make a list of things and people and places and experiences you’re grateful for. It’s where you make another list of the things you’re looking forward to tomorrow, next week, next month. It’s where you offer grace to yourself. It’s where you offer grace to others. It’s where you breathe. And cry. And pray. And hope. And dig deep. And fight for every painful heartbeat because this depressive episode is just that: an episode. It is a season, and it will eventually end. The sun will come back up, and it will be glorious. There will be a day when everything doesn’t hurt and you don’t feel sad every second. I know it because I’ve lived it, and I know that this won’t last forever. And if you’re in a similar place, know that yours won’t last either. We’ve got a life to live, and better days are on the horizon. Follow this journey on If I Knew Not Midnight If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Unsplash photo via Callie Morgan

5 Ways I Maintain My Self-Care Routine During the Holidays

Self-care during the holidays can be tricky. The routine changes, the junk food is plentiful and society often creates a lot of pressure for perfection around this time – all of which can spell disaster for self-care if you aren’t really deliberate about taking steps to keep your self-care routine intact. Here are a few tips for maintaining your self-care routing during the holidays: 1. Stay active. I have a workout regimen that I am dedicated to. But the second that my schedule changes, my workouts are some of the first things to slip. This ends up making me feel yucky about my body, which tends to snowball into feeling yucky about myself in general, and it can be a slippery slope from there. So I make sure to have a plan. If I don’t think I’ll be able to get a full workout in, I carve out time to at least go for a brisk walk; the combination of activity plus fresh air and being outside in nature tend to do wonders for me overall. If the weather is crummy and I can’t get outside, I have to work a little harder to get activity in. There are a ton of videos on YouTube that I check out to get a workout in if I can’t get outside, and I have no issue finding one that will keep my attention (make it fun!) and my heart rate up. No matter what you do, have someone keep you accountable – maybe they can even take a walk or do the workout with you. If you don’t feel like being that vulnerable with anyone you’re with, tell a trusted friend what your plan is and have them keep you accountable via chat, text, email, or a phone call. 2. Hydrate. I am a big tea drinker – specifically red rooibos tea. It is good for me and I tend to down a ton of water in the process. But I realized over Thanksgiving that it was far easier to reach for the wine or soda that was readily available than to make my hot tea or drink water. I ended up using a tracker on my phone to note how much water I had consumed; it gave me a goal to pursue even if my normal hydration was off-kilter. (I’m not saying avoid alcohol and soda, but hydrating with the “good” stuff is an important part of balance. If you find that you’re experiencing depression during the holidays, however, alcohol may not be the best thing for you to consume, so keep that in mind.) 3. Pace Yourself. Whether we’re talking food or activity, pace yourself. I look forward to the food and drink of the holidays all year long. For that reason, I refuse to deprive myself, but I also am careful to eat and drink in moderation. I get to enjoy the goodness that only comes during this time of year, but I don’t hate myself for eating or drinking to excess. Same for activities – there are tons of places to go, people to see and things to do, but if you try to do too much, you can wear yourself out and end up feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation. Don’t over-schedule yourself and don’t be afraid to step back when you need to. It isn’t selfish; it is part of taking care of yourself. 4. Take a Nap. Along the same lines as pacing yourself, the routine change of the holidays might mean that you actually have time for that nap you never seem to get. Take it. Enjoy it. But try not to overdo it – if you’re struggling with depression, a nap can turn into spending the entire day in bed and that might not be helpful. But if you have the chance to get some rest, by all means, take advantage of it! 5. Manage Expectations. Most families have some level of dysfunction to them, but the holidays can set many people up for a whole world of disappointment if they go into family time expecting things to look like a Hallmark movie. Go in with your eyes wide open; this includes watching for the tendency for others to fall into years-old dynamics. You and your family members could all be mature adults, but you may instantly fall into the same relationship dynamic you had when you were kids as soon as you get together. If you find that this is happening, step back and consciously work to change the dynamic. It can be exhausting, so watch your energy level; but it can also have a big, positive impact on how your family interacts. Additionally, if you go in with a clear, realistic picture of what you expect from your holidays, you won’t have to cope with the emotional toll of overwhelming disappointment if you haven’t set an impossibly high standard. I love this time of year; it is by far my absolute favorite. I genuinely wish that I could take time off from my battle with depression in the same way that I can take time off of work, but it just isn’t that simple. Since that’s the reality, let’s make the best of the holidays, taking care of ourselves and kicking off the new year right! Follow this journey here. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image via gpointstudio

Why I Couldn't Write a Love Letter to Myself Without Feeling Shame

A couple of weeks ago, To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) challenged people to write a love letter to themselves, and my first thought was clear and concise: Nope. Buckets of nope. I love writing, and I love encouraging people to love themselves, so the intensity of my reaction caught me off-guard. This seemed like the perfect little assignment, so what exactly was my problem? I sat there, dumbfounded and more than a little uneasy. I could dig deeper — which could get ugly — and figure out what was going on, or I could totally pretend that I hadn’t seen TWLOHA’s challenge and just go on about my day. I went to scroll down to the next item in my feed when I realized that I couldn’t “un-feel” that visceral reaction; this wasn’t going to go away. I grimaced and grabbed my journal and some coffee, sought out a quiet corner and began to process. Why did writing myself a love letter bother me so deeply? Did I love myself? Sure. I mean, I thought so. I didn’t hate myself, and that was a world away from where I used to be. I at least liked myself enough to think that I’d want to be friends with me, if I wasn’t already me. So if love wasn’t the problem, what was? This picture popped into my head of me writing a letter, the cursive flowing across the page as I filled up lines with adjectives talking about how great I was. That was the moment it hit me; writing a love letter felt exactly like writing my annual performance report at work. Those performance reports are always wordsmith-ed to make it sound as though a person not only walks on water, but they led 500 other people in walking on water too, and they saved the organization enough money to pay off the national debt in the process. Writing my performance report makes me feel like I’m selling myself, and I tend to want a shower afterward, because gross. I didn’t want anything I wrote to myself to be remotely like that. Love letters are beautiful, almost magical things. To string words into sentences that somehow communicate why a person loves another is a spell in and of itself. Maybe I didn’t feel worthy of that magic, or perhaps that kind of enchanted communication seemed meant for two hearts and not just one writing to itself. I realized that I would believe every word of a love letter written to me by someone else, but I would feel arrogant and conceited if I did the same for myself. Could I trust my own words? What if I wrote the wrong things? What if I loved myself for the wrong reasons? Were there right reasons to love myself, and did I know them? If I knew them, did I actually love myself for them? The line of questioning became absurd and vaguely familiar, and as I asked them, my face suddenly became very hot and my chest tightened a bit. The word iridescent flashed across my brain as I realized this wasn’t all that different from trying to figure out the “right” favorite color to have as a kid. I recognized the sensation immediately, and I was stunned when I made the connection: to write a love letter to myself felt risky, and the potential to somehow be wrong in what I wrote drove a feeling of shame before I had even jotted down a syllable. It was fine to encourage others to love themselves; it was fine to be loved by someone else. It was even totally acceptable to say that I loved myself. But get into the details about why I might be worthy of that love, and I might be wrong. Wrong. Bad. Judged. Shameful. That was it. The source of my adamant refusal to write myself a love letter had been discovered. I didn’t feel better; instead, I was livid. I wasn’t sure who to be mad at, but the fact that shame existed in this context seemed like a valid reason to be angry. But being pissed off wasn’t going to solve anything, and it wasn’t going to make the weird “shame monster” go away. So I did the only thing I could think of. I flipped to a blank page and started to write… Dear Jessie, First, I love that you prefer “Jessie,” even though you’ve been using “Jessica” for years. “Jessie” is who you were long before you were Brudjar or Short SKATE or any military rank, and I adore the relaxed familiarity that comes with your nickname and those who use it. I love that on the spectrum of smoking hot messes, you are downright radioactive. That’s part of your charm. You are real and honest about your mess and you’d walk away from this sweet career you’ve built if it ever demanded that you be anything less than your messy, authentic self. I love that you bare your scars — some deep, some weathered, some so fresh they might still be wounds. You show them unreservedly, so that others might avoid scars of their own or at least be unashamed of the ones they have. You’re a forced extrovert by day but a confirmed introvert at heart. In spite of your need for time to yourself, you cannot bear the thought of anyone feeling alone, lost, left out, or hopeless on this journey called life. If you could spend every waking minute telling people they aren’t alone and that hope absolutely exists, I think you would do it. I love that you experience life and feel emotion in ways always amplified with the same adverb: too much, too deeply, too greatly. You put those feelings on a shelf to do your job, but you inevitably circle back to take them down, unwrapping the dubious gift left by and for your heart and soul. Profound feeling is your birthright; to be any less would be a betrayal of the very essence of who you are. The intensity with which you feel and love and live makes you an open target, and while you still feel wounds far more deeply than you will admit, you haven’t closed yourself off. You have consciously chosen to risk those wounds rather than become bitter. It doesn’t always make sense — from a self-preservation perspective, it makes none — but I’m not sure you could actually survive if you boarded up that beating heart of yours. Again, you certainly wouldn’t be you, and I love that you are so recklessly committed to being you. Part of your unfettered feeling comes from a desire to be an example to Abby. I love that you want so desperately to be a good mom and you worry constantly about how your choices will impact her. Here’s the reality: you’re a good mom. Some days, you’re a great mom. Abby is secure in the fact that she’s loved, that you believe in her and that you’re proud of her. She’s happy, healthy and resilient. You’ve spent the last few years walking through fire to make sure she’d come out unscathed and you’ve done a pretty good job. Don’t sweat the small stuff, Jessie; you’ve got this. I love that you seek out beautiful things and that sunrises, sunsets, rainbows and starry nights still make you cry. You’ve been storing up and holding onto these encounters with beauty for years, unsure of how to express the raw joy and awe that comes from such things. But you’ve been finding ways to channel all of that into creating. You have shed that people pleasing skin you’ve been walking around in your whole life, and your creativity has blossomed. You don’t always belong in the analytical corner you’ve painted yourself into, convinced that creativity was the domain of the free spirits in your life. You can be both — you are both — and that happiness radiating from you when you are making music or writing is telling. I love that you’ve found it; don’t bury it, but by all means, share it! I love that you are fiercely loyal, often to a fault. I love that your faith still runs deep after all these years, even if you no longer fit the church girl mold that you once did. That’s OK. Jesus loves you anyway, and so do I. And maybe that makes it OK for other people who don’t quite fit the picture perfect Christian model either. If Jesus loves you, He most certainly loves them! You’re insecure about so much of your body; you always have been, and there are some molds you just won’t ever fit into. But your eyes — those are my favorite feature. They are shades of brown that resemble different hues of honey, depending on your mood, and they betray your every deeply felt emotion. (You are a terrible liar because of this, and that’s a wonderful thing.) Jessie, you’ve come a long way down a hard road, and I couldn’t be prouder. You don’t have it all figured out; you never will. But your heart is still open — to others, to yourself, to faith, to love, to hope. I love that. I love you. I love you. I love you. Don’t forget that. Always, Jessie Friends, do you have it in you to write your own love letter to yourselves? Follow this journey here. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Lead image via contributor

Depression and Shame

This is a topic that has been stirring in the back of my mind for awhile, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it. Frankly, it’s uncomfortable, but that is perhaps exactly why it needs to be discussed. Shame. I owe much to Dr. Brené Brown and her research on the subject. She has helped to clarify and give voice to the feelings for which we often have no vocabulary.  Her insistence that “shame cannot survive being spoken” is a large part of why this blog entry is happening. The stigma surrounding mental illness exists because of shame, but if we call it what it is, that stigma cannot endure. As someone who was born a people-pleaser and perfectionist, I can tell you that shame and I have been companions for a long time. Add my struggle with depression to the mix, and shame basically moved in and made itself at home. For today, I want to talk through some of the experiences I’ve had with shame and mental illness – even shame and mental health – because talking about it takes away the power that shame likes to hold over us. I was a young adult before I figured out what I was feeling and thinking were not “normal,” that every other person didn’t have these bouts of almost debilitating depression and thought processes that could get downright scary. Being the perfectionist I am, I learned pretty quickly that I needed to “hide my crazy,” because no successful person I knew was dealing with it, so it must be bad. I must be bad, and I needed to keep the show going or everyone else would figure out just how messed up I was. It should be noted that this ties in closely with “Imposter Syndrome.” I didn’t know it had a name until a couple of years ago, but I always had this sense that one day everyone was going to figure that I was a fraud and didn’t belong. Outwardly, that made no sense — most would say that I am successful academically and professionally. Inwardly, I was doing my best to hide away my flaws, convince the world that I was Super Woman, and make being Super Woman look easy. Frankly, that’s impossible, but it seemed to add a whole new layer of depression onto what already existed. When I got married, my then-husband told me depression wasn’t really a medical thing – it was spiritual, and I just needed to pray more. As a Christian, this was devastating.  Not only was I “bad” because of my depression, but I was clearly a terrible Christian too. I found myself scheduling my day around additional prayer time, hoping that if I prayed enough, God would take this thing away. I wondered what the magic number was — how many prayers were necessary? Or was it a time thing? I completely lost sight of the reality of a relationship with God as I desperately sought what I regarded as a miracle from Him. And with every depressive episode, I felt worse. I felt I had failed, and I drowned in the shame of being less-than. When I first sought professional help, I distinctly remember parking as close to the building as possible, and I ran to the door, covering my face the whole way. I recall wishing that there was something else – anything else – in that building that I could use as my cover story if someone saw me going in there.  At that moment, it didn’t matter that I was in the darkest corner of my depression and was desperately reaching for a way out that didn’t involve ending my life. What mattered was that someone might see me going into the mental health building and know that I was broken, that I was a mess, that I couldn’t keep it all together – and if they saw that, my career as a military officer might be over before it really started. Spoiler alert: I walked through those doors and was met by a friend I had told I needed help. He in turn called the doctor, and I began to get the help I needed. I learned about self-care, healthy coping and what to do when I start to spiral. And my career successfully moved forward. I’d love to tell you that it was all rainbows, kittens and unicorns from there. Sadly, that’s not the case. As I was preparing for some of the Air Force’s most advanced training, my doctor had to sign a pretty routine form that basically said there wasn’t anything medical keeping me from holding a security clearance. I say “pretty routine” because I’d held a clearance for years, and I had been honest about seeking mental health help on every re-investigation. So imagine my surprise when my doctor looked at the form, looked at my medical records, and then said to me, “You have a mental health history. I need your commander to see your history before I sign anything.” She then printed out all the notes from my mental health appointments, put them in an envelope for my commander, and insisted that he had to sign the envelope – verifying that he had read my mental health record – before she would sign the paperwork. “I don’t know what this school is that you’re trying to go to, but they might not want people like you in there. Your commander needs to see what they’ll have to deal with if you go.” People like you. She said it. I was different. I was “other.” I was something bad. I cried all the way to my commander’s office, the shame was so tangible. I walked in, handed him the envelope, and explained what my doctor had said.  Thankfully, he gave me the “Are you effing kidding me??” look, signed the envelope without opening it, and said, “I already know what I need to know, and I’m not going to read this. If anything in this envelope was an issue, I would have already been called.” I was grateful and relieved. (Looking back, I probably should have taken it up with Patient Advocacy for HIPAA violations, but I didn’t want the already tenuous process to take longer than necessary). Second spoiler alert: I went to through the training and successfully completed the course. Even “people like me” can do challenging things. Do you hear that and know that? This thing we’re dealing with doesn’t have to hold us back. Most recently, after publishing a couple of my blog posts, a well-meaning friend wrote me the following: What you’re writing is good stuff, and I’m glad that people seem to be helped by it. But you’re about to pin on Major, and if you keep this blog going, you are going to kill your career. Lieutenant Colonels don’t talk about these things. If they get help, they keep quiet about it, because no one wants a leader with problems. My first reaction was shame, followed by a huge temptation to delete my entire blog. Then I was indignant. “Lieutenant Colonels don’t talk about these things.”  Maybe that’s the problem! We ask our leaders to be authentic, but they cannot be vulnerable. We demand that they climb up onto a pedestal and lead from there, but if they need to get help, they’d better sneak away and not tell a soul. What a disservice we have done to our leaders, and in turn to those they lead.  No one is without issues, but we’ve created a culture where the appearance is more important than the truth. So here I am. I am owning the depression I’ve been battling my entire life, and every time I talk about this or write about it, I am telling the shame that it has no place in this conversation. The stigma has no place in this conversation. I am telling every person who reads this that they are not alone and that there is help. You can make the courageous decision to get help and not have it destroy your career or your academics or your dreams.  You can lead well and still have issues – as long as you are finding healthy ways to deal with them. Shame is part of this story, friends, but it doesn’t have to be. Continue to speak up, to speak out, to get help and to tell your story. Keep telling yours, and I’ll keep telling mine, and we will make it impossible for shame to survive. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Unsplash photo via Freestocks.org

Why I Couldn't Write a Love Letter to Myself Without Feeling Shame

A couple of weeks ago, To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) challenged people to write a love letter to themselves, and my first thought was clear and concise: Nope. Buckets of nope. I love writing, and I love encouraging people to love themselves, so the intensity of my reaction caught me off-guard. This seemed like the perfect little assignment, so what exactly was my problem? I sat there, dumbfounded and more than a little uneasy. I could dig deeper — which could get ugly — and figure out what was going on, or I could totally pretend that I hadn’t seen TWLOHA’s challenge and just go on about my day. I went to scroll down to the next item in my feed when I realized that I couldn’t “un-feel” that visceral reaction; this wasn’t going to go away. I grimaced and grabbed my journal and some coffee, sought out a quiet corner and began to process. Why did writing myself a love letter bother me so deeply? Did I love myself? Sure. I mean, I thought so. I didn’t hate myself, and that was a world away from where I used to be. I at least liked myself enough to think that I’d want to be friends with me, if I wasn’t already me. So if love wasn’t the problem, what was? This picture popped into my head of me writing a letter, the cursive flowing across the page as I filled up lines with adjectives talking about how great I was. That was the moment it hit me; writing a love letter felt exactly like writing my annual performance report at work. Those performance reports are always wordsmith-ed to make it sound as though a person not only walks on water, but they led 500 other people in walking on water too, and they saved the organization enough money to pay off the national debt in the process. Writing my performance report makes me feel like I’m selling myself, and I tend to want a shower afterward, because gross. I didn’t want anything I wrote to myself to be remotely like that. Love letters are beautiful, almost magical things. To string words into sentences that somehow communicate why a person loves another is a spell in and of itself. Maybe I didn’t feel worthy of that magic, or perhaps that kind of enchanted communication seemed meant for two hearts and not just one writing to itself. I realized that I would believe every word of a love letter written to me by someone else, but I would feel arrogant and conceited if I did the same for myself. Could I trust my own words? What if I wrote the wrong things? What if I loved myself for the wrong reasons? Were there right reasons to love myself, and did I know them? If I knew them, did I actually love myself for them? The line of questioning became absurd and vaguely familiar, and as I asked them, my face suddenly became very hot and my chest tightened a bit. The word iridescent flashed across my brain as I realized this wasn’t all that different from trying to figure out the “right” favorite color to have as a kid. I recognized the sensation immediately, and I was stunned when I made the connection: to write a love letter to myself felt risky, and the potential to somehow be wrong in what I wrote drove a feeling of shame before I had even jotted down a syllable. It was fine to encourage others to love themselves; it was fine to be loved by someone else. It was even totally acceptable to say that I loved myself. But get into the details about why I might be worthy of that love, and I might be wrong. Wrong. Bad. Judged. Shameful. That was it. The source of my adamant refusal to write myself a love letter had been discovered. I didn’t feel better; instead, I was livid. I wasn’t sure who to be mad at, but the fact that shame existed in this context seemed like a valid reason to be angry. But being pissed off wasn’t going to solve anything, and it wasn’t going to make the weird “shame monster” go away. So I did the only thing I could think of. I flipped to a blank page and started to write… Dear Jessie, First, I love that you prefer “Jessie,” even though you’ve been using “Jessica” for years. “Jessie” is who you were long before you were Brudjar or Short SKATE or any military rank, and I adore the relaxed familiarity that comes with your nickname and those who use it. I love that on the spectrum of smoking hot messes, you are downright radioactive. That’s part of your charm. You are real and honest about your mess and you’d walk away from this sweet career you’ve built if it ever demanded that you be anything less than your messy, authentic self. I love that you bare your scars — some deep, some weathered, some so fresh they might still be wounds. You show them unreservedly, so that others might avoid scars of their own or at least be unashamed of the ones they have. You’re a forced extrovert by day but a confirmed introvert at heart. In spite of your need for time to yourself, you cannot bear the thought of anyone feeling alone, lost, left out, or hopeless on this journey called life. If you could spend every waking minute telling people they aren’t alone and that hope absolutely exists, I think you would do it. I love that you experience life and feel emotion in ways always amplified with the same adverb: too much, too deeply, too greatly. You put those feelings on a shelf to do your job, but you inevitably circle back to take them down, unwrapping the dubious gift left by and for your heart and soul. Profound feeling is your birthright; to be any less would be a betrayal of the very essence of who you are. The intensity with which you feel and love and live makes you an open target, and while you still feel wounds far more deeply than you will admit, you haven’t closed yourself off. You have consciously chosen to risk those wounds rather than become bitter. It doesn’t always make sense — from a self-preservation perspective, it makes none — but I’m not sure you could actually survive if you boarded up that beating heart of yours. Again, you certainly wouldn’t be you, and I love that you are so recklessly committed to being you. Part of your unfettered feeling comes from a desire to be an example to Abby. I love that you want so desperately to be a good mom and you worry constantly about how your choices will impact her. Here’s the reality: you’re a good mom. Some days, you’re a great mom. Abby is secure in the fact that she’s loved, that you believe in her and that you’re proud of her. She’s happy, healthy and resilient. You’ve spent the last few years walking through fire to make sure she’d come out unscathed and you’ve done a pretty good job. Don’t sweat the small stuff, Jessie; you’ve got this. I love that you seek out beautiful things and that sunrises, sunsets, rainbows and starry nights still make you cry. You’ve been storing up and holding onto these encounters with beauty for years, unsure of how to express the raw joy and awe that comes from such things. But you’ve been finding ways to channel all of that into creating. You have shed that people pleasing skin you’ve been walking around in your whole life, and your creativity has blossomed. You don’t always belong in the analytical corner you’ve painted yourself into, convinced that creativity was the domain of the free spirits in your life. You can be both — you are both — and that happiness radiating from you when you are making music or writing is telling. I love that you’ve found it; don’t bury it, but by all means, share it! I love that you are fiercely loyal, often to a fault. I love that your faith still runs deep after all these years, even if you no longer fit the church girl mold that you once did. That’s OK. Jesus loves you anyway, and so do I. And maybe that makes it OK for other people who don’t quite fit the picture perfect Christian model either. If Jesus loves you, He most certainly loves them! You’re insecure about so much of your body; you always have been, and there are some molds you just won’t ever fit into. But your eyes — those are my favorite feature. They are shades of brown that resemble different hues of honey, depending on your mood, and they betray your every deeply felt emotion. (You are a terrible liar because of this, and that’s a wonderful thing.) Jessie, you’ve come a long way down a hard road, and I couldn’t be prouder. You don’t have it all figured out; you never will. But your heart is still open — to others, to yourself, to faith, to love, to hope. I love that. I love you. I love you. I love you. Don’t forget that. Always, Jessie Friends, do you have it in you to write your own love letter to yourselves? Follow this journey here. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Lead image via contributor

To the Woman Whose Depression Was Gossiped About

“So, you know she struggles with depression, right?” I am deployed, and no one here has a bathroom to themselves; community bathrooms are the standard. I was in the community bathroom and I overheard this conversation. Two women were talking about a third woman, and one of the women was talking about how great this third woman was. She had nothing but really positive things to say about her; she was a great coworker, their interactions were positive and she apparently had this ability to make everyone she talked to feel like they were the most important person in the world. It was at this point that the second woman said, “So, you know she struggles with depression, right?” Cue the sound of the DJ record scratch off in the distance somewhere. Suddenly, inexplicably, all of this woman’s awesomeness was somehow overshadowed and cancelled out by this single reality in her life. You could feel the dynamic change. The first woman just responded with a disappointed, “Oh,” and both women left. I wish I had said something, but I didn’t get the chance. And honestly, I was heartbroken that the conversation had gone the direction it had; we’re still treating depression like it has this big scarlet letter attached to it. This woman struggles with depression. That means she fights it. The fact that she’s still around means that she is engaged in a battle against this thing – and she’s winning. She hasn’t given up; she hasn’t given in. She’s clearly still out to make the world around her brighter and better, and yet she’s being treated as the subject of bathroom gossip. In the past couple of years, I’ve been very open about my struggles with depression. It is counterintuitive for an Air Force officer to do that, and I’ve been told that I have to be careful being open about this because it may impact my career in the long run. But I firmly believe we can’t try to destigmatize depression in the military and at the same time tell people to keep quiet when they own the struggle and get help. I’d rather be led by those who are honest about not having it all together 100 percent of the time than by those who fake it to the point of being unapproachable. I don’t think I’m alone in that. My depression is a daily struggle, although some days are much worse than others. I can normally tell about three to five days before a depressive episode is about to begin. I just feel different, although if I can get some sleep, I can normally “short circuit” a spiral… right up until I can’t. When a depressive episode hits, I wake up in the morning and I just know. It’s as though a switch flipped in my brain overnight and I wake up with this indescribably heavy feeling of profound sadness. I have zero energy, despite a full night’s sleep, and regardless of what needs to be accomplished, my motivation is nonexistent. In this moment, I have learned to say to myself, “Fight’s on.” Sounds all warrior-like, huh? All gritty and determined and badass. The reality is that fighting the depression looks a lot more like getting out of bed. Getting some semblance of a workout in. Taking a shower. Putting on clothes that aren’t my comfy pajamas. Eating something quasi-nutritious. Listening to music that I’ve already set aside for this situation. Praying and meditating. Letting a trusted friend know that the fight is on. Fighting depression looks an awful lot like “normal” life, and yet it feels like this epic struggle that is going on with the same constant, subtle undercurrent as breathing. Why am I telling you this? Because we need to talk about it. We need to stop treating people like lepers because they are engaged in this unseen struggle. We need to be honest as leaders and followers and colleagues and friends and family and people. We post the number to the suicide hotline on our Facebook walls and we tell people to call if they are ever in a dark place, but we shy away from vulnerable, uncomfortable conversation… unless it is to talk about someone’s struggle as something that is to be whispered about and ashamed of. I want this to change. For the sake of every person out there battling it out, I want this to change. And I want to be part of this change. So let’s have these conversations. And let’s keep having these conversations. Over and over and over again, until depression isn’t something that people whisper about in hushed tones – we acknowledge it, we deal with it, we walk alongside people on their rough days and we don’t let it become the defining feature of someone’s life. To that woman being gossiped about – you’re a badass, and you aren’t alone. Always keep fighting. Follow this journey here. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via denis_pc