I love stories about mermaids. I also love well-written stories that deal with mental health issues, so I was excited to receive an advance reader copy of Coral by Sara Ella through NetGalley. To quote the Goodreads description, “Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost.”
Coral is a story told from three perspectives. Coral, the mermaid who doesn’t fit in with her family and fears she has been infected with the Disease that causes mermaids to feel human emotions. Brook, a young woman whose struggle with anxiety and depression have brought her to Fathoms, a group therapy home she doubts will help her find any point in living. And Merrick, who wants to escape his controlling father and finally reaches his breaking point when his mother disappears after his younger sister attempts suicide.
A note on mental illness in Coral
On the topic of suicide, I think it’s time to bring up trigger warnings for this book. The author says in a note at the beginning of this book that “Potential triggers include suicide, self-harm, emotional abuse, anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and unwanted/non-consensual advances.” The author approaches mental health issues in a sensitive, caring way. She did extensive research, got feedback from sensitivity readers, and used her own personal experiences when writing this book. Read more →
Have you ever thought that maybe you’re going through something that you can’t handle on your own, but something held you back from asking for help?
That’s a feeling quite a large number of people who struggle with anxiety (and I’m sure other mental health issues as well) can relate to. Maybe you don’t think it’s “bad enough” to bother with therapy, or you’re concerned that therapy won’t do you any good. Or maybe you’re worried about what other people will think of you if you seek help. Perhaps it’s a financial concern, or pressure from someone in your life, or something else entirely that’s telling you not to ask for help.
The stigma against talking about mental health issues is lessening, but it hasn’t gone away completely. Admitting we need help with something that’s going on inside our own heads is rarely easy. But there’s nothing wrong or weak in seeking help. Rather, it’s a choice of strength and self-care to seek out the help you need when you’re struggling with anxiety.
Waiting 10 years for treatment
While some of the things I’m going to say in this post might apply to other mental health issues, I’m going to focus on anxiety (and to a lesser extent depression) because that’s what I have direct experience with.
My first panic attack happened in a Blockbuster about 14 or 15 years ago. I was high-school age and trying to spend a gift card I’d won in a library reading program. I hadn’t been in there before and new places made me nervous, but I’d planned exactly what I was looking for and my mom and sister were with me so it was going to be fine. Then the DVD wasn’t there. And I can’t make up my mind what to do, my mom wants me to hurry up because we’re running late, my sister says just make a decision already, and suddenly I can’t breath so I grab a DVD march up to the counter, and get out. Then my family asks why I was rude to the cashier and seem so angry.
It didn’t feel like anger. My heart was racing, hands shaking, breathing shallow. I felt hot all over and my skin seemed too small. But other than embarrassing, I didn’t know what it was. And then it happened again months later in a Hobby Lobby. I’d worked up the courage to ask about a price that seemed too high, which lead to a confrontation with the manager and the realization that I was the one who’d read the sign wrong. Again the tightness in my chest, the shallow breathing, the shaking, and too-warm feeling. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
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Realizing I Had Anxiety
I’m not sure exactly when I began to suspect I was dealing with an anxiety disorder. In June of 2013 I wrote on this blog, “I’m not very good at letting go of my anxiety.” But I was still thinking of it more in the sense of “I worry too much” rather than “a psychologist would say I have anxiety.” I started feeling guilty for thinking of myself as anxious, especially when people who knew they had anxiety started following my blog and I realized mine didn’t seem as bad as theirs. Maybe I was just a wimp who was overeating to normal, everyday worries. Read more →
We often think of growth as happening one direction. Growing things expand and get older, they don’t shrink or get younger. If something is not moving forward, then it’s not growing.
But maybe that’s not always the case, especially when we’re talking about personal growth journeys. Growth like this doesn’t happen all at once or in a steady direction. Sometimes, a thing that you thought you dealt with will come back and needs to be worked through again. You often have to keep going back over the same ground in order to make progress.
This isn’t failure to grow. But it might look like it depending on our perspective. If we’re the type of person who wants to get everything right the first time, then it can be discouraging when we find ourselves having to deal with something we thought we’d already worked through. We might even decided that since we failed once there’s no point in trying again. But that isn’t really a healthy or helpful perspective.
New “Thought Paths” Take Time
Last year, I wrote a post about changing thought patterns related to anxiety. In that post, I talked about my counselor’s analogy of our minds as a big open field. As we live and grow, our thoughts travel over this field and we start to wear-down paths as we think along the same lines over and over. When we identify “thought paths” that aren’t doing us any good we need to create new pathways in our mind by learning to think in a different way. To do that, you have to keep going over the new paths again and again. Read more →
Have you ever felt like your spirit is crushed and your heart broken? Like you’ve been pounded into dust or smashed to smithereens?
Those are the definitions for the Hebrew words shabar (H7665, broken) and dakka (H1793, crushed). I bring them up because I want to talk about this verse from Psalms:
Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. (Psalm 34:18, WEB)
When you’re ground down like dust and broken into pieces, God is there beside you. We often want Him to prevent or remove bad things but it seems that in most cases His preference is to walk with us through hardship rather than stop it from ever happening. We are promised deliverance, but in His timing, not ours.
The righteous cry, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but Yahweh delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:17-19, WEB)
It’s clear from this psalm that righteousness doesn’t exempt us from bad situations. In fact, “many are the afflictions of the righteous” and they have to cry to Yahweh for deliverance. That holds true for believers throughout the ages.
I endured those persecutions. The Lord delivered me out of them all. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim. 3:11-12, WEB)
How much time do you spend taking care of yourself? I’m starting to realize self-care really is important. In fact, one might argue it’s vital if you want to keep functioning. Of course you don’t want to develop a self-centered attitude, but meeting your own needs isn’t selfish. In fact, it’s kind of a prerequisite for being unselfish because you can’t be there for other people if you’re worn so thin there’s nothing left to give.
I backed a Kickstarter last week called “Own Your Stigma – A Pin Series.” The creator lives with anxiety, depression, and ADHD and wanted to make a series of enamel pins for other people with an invisible illness. The Kickstarter is closed now, but they’ll be opening up for other pre-orders within a few days if you’re interested. I’m not quite sure which ones I’m going to order yet, but I’m strongly leaning toward this one after the week I’ve had:
I talk about my anxiety pretty openly now. But I have a much harder time talking about my depression. For some reason, admitting I struggle with that washes me in a sense of shame that I don’t really feel anymore in connection with anxiety. So it’s not all that easy for me to write that for the past six days I’ve been barely functioning because even though nothing happened that would explain me feeling depressed I just emotionally “crashed.”
I probably won’t be ordering this particular pin style, but this past week climbing out of bed or talking with people did feel like something I might deserve a ribbon for.
It’s amazing how “little things” that seem so easy when you’re not walking around in an apathetic fog or feeling like you could fall asleep any moment suddenly become well-nigh impossible Writing, cooking, eating, driving, interacting with people — they’ve all felt incredibly difficult. But there are some things I’ve just had to keep doing, like meeting certain work deadlines, eating food, and going to church. I know that if I miss those things I’ll feel worse and/or it will have long-term negative effects on things that are important to me when I do care. So I made myself get them done.
Still, even though there are some things you just have to keep doing when you’re down, I don’t think it’s good to push yourself to do all things you’d be doing if you felt fine. It’s okay to crawl back in bed for a while when you feel like you can’t sit upright a moment longer. It’s okay to feel sad, guilty, confused, anxious, etc. even if it’s for no reason that you can identify. Which brings us to one pin I definitely want to get from this series:
The text on this pin reads “feel everything.” I’m becoming a firm believer in this. I certainly don’t mean you should let your emotions control you or that your feelings are always going to tell you something that’s good for you. But I do think it’s vital that we let ourselves feel what we’re feeling and learn to process those emotions in a healthy way. Bottling things up and refusing to address them doesn’t usually make them go away. It just lets them build up until you’re forced to deal with a whole messy jumble of emotions farther down the road.
So let’s all make the time to take care of ourselves and give ourselves permission to feel everything. And maybe we can all learn together how to process the tough things and help each other when we’re struggling.