Doing Life Together
Doing Life Together
By Holly Miller
“Are you ready for the new school year?” is a question I hear every year earlier and earlier into my summer break. It always makes me squirm with anxiety in a regular year. This year, when the questions started coming in July, I answered with “I can’t even get my head around that yet!” I spent the good portion of August ignoring it. Even as I woke to attend my first in-service, I was still in denial that the new school year was starting. To say the start of this year has been challenging is an understatement. Teaching always presents new challenges from year-to-year, but with all of the Covid restrictions, seeing my classes for only 88 minutes once a week and coming up with digital lessons for the rest of the week for them, managing students in-person as well as live on Zoom, ensuring I am covering all of the high school math curriculum at the same pace in this platform, and trying my best to keep my students and myself safe with sanitizing, social distancing, and mask-wearing, I do not recognize what I am doing this year as teaching. And I have 100% NOT been ok mentally. I have sobbed every day after work for at least an hour when I got home up until last week. I wrote this social media post in the height of my anxiety:
I’ve had 5 panic attacks in the last 5 days. I am 100% convinced I cannot do my job. The only way I could convince myself to leave my house today was to mobile order a Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew from Starbucks. Something good waiting for me outside of my house. I picked my drink up and headed to work. Except I didn’t. I went the complete opposite way. Trying to get myself turned around and heading in the right direction, I drive by the place where we found Murdoch after 3 weeks of hopeless hell. I am taking this as a sign that there are things I was convinced were impossible but they came to be and it can happen again. I’m completely lost. But I’m going to do the next right thing.
"I've seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over, the lights are out
Hello, darkness, I'm ready to succumb
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing
Can there be a day beyond this night?
I don't know any more what is true
I can't find my direction, I'm all alone.
How to rise from the floor?
But it's not you I'm rising for
Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won't look too far ahead
It's too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I'll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
And, with it done, what comes then?
When it's clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I'll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing"
- The Next Right Thing, Frozen 2
Murdoch in this story was our beloved dog my husband and I had before we were married. A friend was watching him in 2012 when we went to New York City for the day. He was a very anxious dog and when she went to let him out, he snapped his leash and ran off. Murdoch was lost for 3 entire weeks. 21 days. Over Christmas. We did absolutely everything we could to bring him home. We barely slept, barely ate, and were out in the cold and snow non-stop posting flyers, talking to people to ask if they saw him, checking out reported sightings, trekking through wooded areas, streams, and fields to find him. While we felt so hopeless, we never gave up. I never prayed for something harder in my life. 21 days later, down to the hour he escaped, we got a call that he was sighted near a housing development in a field. We were able to secure him. We got him back 6 miles from our house. It was an unbelievable miracle that came true. I always look to this as my personal miracle and proof that with God, all things are possible.
I bring up this story because often when I read in the Bible of Jesus performing miracles and his disciples doubting him, I always get kind of frustrated with his disciples at first. “Um, He is JESUS! You’ve witnessed this man do miracle after miracle! How can you doubt him?!” And then I realize I do the same in my own life. When I got lost on my way to work (seriously, how do you get lost on your way to a place you have driven to over and over again for years) and drove by the spot where God granted me the biggest miracle of my life, I knew it was no mistake. I was being reminded of who is in control when I feel out of control. Despite how terrible I am feeling mentally, how difficult I am finding it to do my job and even just function as a human being, despite my fears, doubts, and worries, I know I have already won this mental battle.
“No, we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” – Romans 8:37-38
I sometimes get so caught up in drowning that I forget to look up to see that I’ve been rescued all along. While starting the school year has been tough on all of us, teachers, students, and parents, I am trying my best to remember that this battle I am trying so hard to fight has already been fought and won. Not only will we get through this rough patch, we will more than conquer it.
While Holly Miller has eclectic passions, interests, and hobbies, she is easily summed up as a high school mathematics teacher who found a way to thrive despite her anxiety and depression. Her goal is to spread awareness about mental health, inspire those who struggle to see that they are not alone and show them that they can find light in even the darkest of places. She enjoys spending time with her husband Luke, their two dogs, two cats, and Russian tortoise. While she may not have many impressive credentials, Holly believes there is magic in the ordinary every day and that a simple life is a good life. Holly can be reached email@example.com
2020 has been a challenging year, to say the least. I have seen memes about canceling this year because it has been “so bad”. Well, this year has been nothing like any of expected. We have been dealing with a global pandemic for over about half of this year and the racial injustice current is taking its toll. All of this generates emotions in us that we often refer to as negative (I like the term uncomfortable emotions better). We can feel powerless in the midst of all the emotions generated by these events. But, if we learn to bounce back, we become stronger in the long run.
You are probably saying, “bounce back from a pandemic, from racism? These big things are out of my control!” And in some ways you are right but there is so much we can do to take care of ourselves emotionally so that we can build resilience. While you are in the grasp of uncomfortable emotions, it may seem difficult to build any resilience to life’s less pleasurable experiences. It is possible, and I encourage you to keep that in mind. You can build resilience even during the toughest times!
How come some people give up and cry into a bottle, while others just pick themselves up, dust themselves off and carry on as if nothing happened? They’re called coping skills, and anyone can develop them.
Flexibility and adaptation are undoubtedly two outlooks that help people recover from bad situations. Whereas someone who may feel entrenched in their uncomfortable feelings finds it harder to remove themselves from those feelings and change direction, those who are willing to understand how to let go and change direction quickly, come out on top.
In a way, emotions are like quicksand. By seeing negative events in your life as flexible, short term situations, you can more easily move on. Let’s imagine someone who sees these negative events as a fixed point in space and time. To them, that disappointment they felt with themselves or that failure they felt, is a fixed point in their life. It’s always there. Nothing they can do will change the fact that there are failure and disappointment in their lives. Those who view situations as being temporary will be more likely to see the same situation as a speed bump in life’s rearview mirror.
So what can you do to help you adopt this outlook?
Ever poured paint or bleach into a bucket of water? The same thing happens to people who see their situations as a fixed point in life. If you only focus on what is going wrong, it starts to spread and color everything else. Try seeing new challenges as crayons that can be laid side-by-side with each other. One crayon might be missing the wrapper, the other might have been used so much that you can barely grasp it between your fingers. Some colors are more enjoyable and pleasant, compared to others. But all these crayons are useful.
To build emotional resilience, change the way you see things. But also change the way you see yourself during the crisis. If you think that you won’t make it or this is the end of you, then you will feel doomed. Your perspective is important. And then when you feel that your emotions are being highjacked, do some emotional self-care. Be kind to yourself. Nurture yourself. You can read more about emotional self-care in this article.
How would you handle these challenging events and any other hardship differently if you remembered that nothing lasts forever?
How would you feel emotionally if you focused on what you are learning through these times?
What would you conquer if examined the usefulness of every hurdle in your life?
If you want to build more resilience so you can bounce from hardships faster and always on the winning side, check out this worksheet on Resilience Traits.
A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks and we are all impacted at one level or another. Dealing with the emotional (and other) toll of corona was hard enough and now the issues of social injustice, racism, and safety are front and center. Many have lost their lives in the past week and beyond.
In the past few days, I have had many courageous conversations in diverse circles. I talked with my church small group on what the church can do to be the solution. I have also had friends who asked me what they could do to help. Emotions are high and so is helplessness.
And I understand both but I want to remind each of us that we need to have faith and hold on to hope. We also need to remember thatchange starts with each one of us. In order to change the world around us, we need to first change ourselves.
Furthermore, I want to tell you personally that I see you. I see you wanting to do your best and feeling like it's not enough. I see you having so much to say and not sure if it's the "right" thing to say. I see you wanting to make a difference and not sure where to begin.
I see you being filled with anger, frustration, sadness, confusion and even despair at times. And I see you. I see you because I too, am dealing with similar emotions and I have been working hard at recentering myself.
I see you and I want you to know that you are not alone in what you think and feel.
I see you and I'm only a click away if you need a safe place to be heard.
I see you and I want to hold space for you!
The recent events have been affecting my emotions big time and I needed to center myself in prayer this morning, maybe you need this as well. If you would like to pray with us on a regular basis, join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/PrayWithChou/
By Donna Lund
The human brain fascinates me. The information stored in our memory bank is quite remarkable and the triggers that cause memories to be retrieved with such accuracy is even more amazing. I experienced one of those triggers the other day as I read in school news that kindergarten registration is coming up. I felt this uncomfortable feeling in my stomach and my heart started to race a little. Kindergarten registration was an exciting time for my 2 girls thankfully. My boys on the other hand, not at all. The memories surrounding my boys starting kindergarten bring back to life the most traumatic school transitions we ever faced. Memories that still are as vivid as the actual events. Honestly, I'd give anything for them to just fade away.
When Donny was set to start kindergarten we did not know he was on the spectrum. We knew something was different certainly, but not exactly what. Nikki was thriving in a Catholic School but we knew Donny needed the resources of our public school district so we decided to uproot her and start both kids in our neighborhood elementary school. Family is everything to us and our kids needed to be in the same school. So during the spring of 2002, a few weeks after Cathy died, I enrolled our children in a new school for the upcoming school year. I remember so well entering the office of Baker Elementary School. I asked to talk to the principal who was retiring that year and I told him something was different about my son and he directed me to the guidance counselor. There I sat in her office. Exhausted, grief stricken and terrified. The tears began to flow as I told her about Donny, Nikki and the cancer ordeal that we had just lived through. I was so fragile during this time I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. As I left the building I saw moms talking and laughing and I thought to myself that this school truly is the beginning of a brand new life for me. I was now sister-less and in a few months I would learn I am an autism mom. I felt like I was being tormented and was yearning for inner peace. Everything I knew was gone.
Donny's orientation to kindergarten was even more fun! Not. As the new students were filling into the school with their moms Donny would not get out of the car. There were a few moms who I was friends with that saw me struggling and they tried to coax him out of he car, even the principal came out to our car but Donny was too stressed and overwhelmed to pull it together. These were the kinds of things Donny would do that made people misunderstand him. I'm not sure how it happened but finally we made it into the building. That's where the details get blurry.
What I do know and will never forget is how remarkable and special those years were for Donny and I. His teacher was so gifted and confident and seemed to make everything ok. She was responsible for Donny's encouraging development and for giving me a game plan for how to deal autism. Donny and I were both learning and adjusting and the fog that felt suffocating was beginning to lift. In many ways I was her student too. I never knew how much a teacher could mean to our family and how that special little school would become a cornerstone in my life. At the most fragile time in my life the staff at that school was exactly what I needed as I began a new life.
Brian's kindergarten registration was completely different than Donny's in that he was already diagnosed and he had attended a special needs preschool. His needs were much different but I was eager, actually excited for him to have the same excellent teacher Donny had. I wasn't adjusting to being a special needs mom anymore and I already knew the players. It was round 2 and I was much more prepared. Of course I was heartbroken, that goes without saying, but I was used to it by now. An autism mom was who I was and probably what defines me in our community. Amazing how times change. In 2002 I could hardly say the word autism without breaking down. 15 years later I'm writing about it and own an autism mom t-shirt! I guess we are all capable of adapting even when we think we can't reinforcing why our brains are so fascinating and powerful.
Sadly, Brian going to Baker for kindergarten was not in the cards. We were informed that he would not be attending the elementary school his siblings attended. We were crestfallen that Brian would not attend the school that felt like family to us and have the wonderful teacher Donny was blessed with. I definitely was not wanting to start over and put down roots in another school. Just as I was gaining some confidence the rug was pulled out from under me and I was back to square one. It was a devastating time but we were determined to adjust and put our best foot forward. Again, as it was when Donny started kindergarten, everything I knew was gone. I have absolutely no recollection of Brian's orientation day. I'm not even sure we went.
Moments are fleeting but memories are permanent. They are a very powerful thing. Some are joyous while others are very painful. I think we share our favorite memories so they do not fade away. That notion is probably why I mention my sister a lot. They keep us connected to the past whether we want to be connected or not. The memories that are stored in our brain; the good, the bad and the ugly create our story and are a reflection of our short time on this earth. They are reminders of what we have lived through and who touched our lives both positively and negatively. I'm grateful for all of them because it means I've had an array of experiences. No one ever said life was supposed to be easy or is promised anything and I'm happy and thankful for each day.
Happy 2020 my friends...….it's time to create some new memories and I wish you all the very best!!
Donna is a wife, mother of four, and loving advocate from Pittsburgh, PA. Both of her sons have ASD. Her contribution to the autism community in her early years focused on fundraising both at the national and local level. In 2011, the Lund family was featured in a documentary, The Family Next Door. The film’s mission was to illustrate the emotional impact of autism on families, and its influence has led to speaking engagements that focus on Donna’s message of compassion. She has been invited to speak at local universities with special education teachers as well as at high schools (including annually at Mt. Lebanon School District as part of their curriculum) to promote professional development. Donna was a speaker at the Robert Morris University Educational Conference and a guest panelist for Representative Dan Miller’s Disability Summit. In 2018, she launched her blog, Labeled to Lunderful. Most recently she was a coauthor for the book collaboration You Are Not Alone. Find out more at http://www.labeledtolunderful.com/
You don't have to say, "yes" to everyone and everything. Work through the fears that lead to people-pleasing and build a strong self-construct. Here's a great resource to get you started: https://payhip.com/b/fWxt
A couple days ago, my daughter and I did a Facebook Live and talked about many of the things that our family does for fun. We also discussed why it's important to be intentional about building and cultivating relationships within the family.
What does your family do for fun?
How do you cultivate relationships within your family?"
We need to create a safe place for men to share their feelings and seek help for mental health when needed. Our physical health affects our mental health. We need to seek help for all of us, not just part of us. We need to do a better job at supporting caregivers. If you are a caregiver, we are here for you. Reach out to us today!
Here are the websites I mentioned:
A year ago today I was being air-lifted to a local hospital. Doctors, family, nor I knew what the future held. I had a few spams in my brain and I couldn’t speak or move the left side of my body. I spent a few days in the Intensive Care Unit and almost a month in a rehabilitation hospital. Then came more therapy, first at home then later at a clinic. Today, a year later, I’m grateful to be alive.
Ever been stranded? Not just on the side of the road but on the sidelines of life? Ever felt like you have given it your all and still things did not turn out as you expected? I been there many of times. At those times, what I wanted or needed was not always what I received from others.
Life has a way of hitting us out of nowhere and even the ones who prepare well are not exempt from the pains that come from living. The death of a loved one. Chronic or sudden illnesses in ourselves or in a family member. Broken relationships. Life is hard. Life can be painful. We do not have to live long before we experience pain and loss of some kind. And, if we are honest, we can all admit that we had a time or two (or more) when we did not feel like we had the strength to keep going.
We are so good at telling others to "hang in there" and "keep on keeping on" and I'm guilty of it as well. But, do we realize that statements like these force others to be (or at least pretend to be) invincible human beings who should not feel hurt, lost, or even defeated at times? That is misleading. That is not human.
It also makes us, the people saying those things, hypocrites. Not always intentionally but still hypocrites to the true sense of the word. Hypocrites, because we know that we ourselves had moments where we felt exactly the same way and the last thing we wanted to hear was "hang in there" or keep on keeping on". We felt like giving up and most likely all we needed was someone to listen, someone to show that they care, someone to remind us that tomorrow is another day.
Sometimes, we use those statements when we do not know what to say. Other times, it is simply because we ourselves feel uncomfortable with the situation. In a few instances, those statements are the easy way out when we feel inconvenienced. Yes, being there for others is an inconvenience and few of us are willing to stop and support others in ways that are meaningful to them because it is easier to simply say a quick "fix-it" statement.
People are not looking to be fixed, they want to be supported. Even on my toughest days, I do not want someone to tell me "it's going to be okay" or "this too shall pass". I want someone to just sit with me awhile and walk with me in my hardships.
Next time you see someone hurting. Please do more than give advice. Sit with them. Talk with them. Share a time when you overcame a hardship. Most importantly, ask them "how can I support you in this?" This reminds them that they are humans, just like the rest of us. This shows that someone cares. This gives them hope. This also helps you help them in a way that they want to be helped.
Chou Hallegra - Counselor & Consultant
I know that I don’t have to write a blog post each week, but this is a goal I set for myself. It keeps my brain and fine motors working. Writing has been so therapeutic to me, I get to work on so many therapy/recovery goals in one exercise. Hence, I will do my best to write a few sentences each week.
I’ve been home for five days now. I already had one trip to the Emergency Room, that was scary. Thank God, I’m back home. Home Health services are going well. I was looking forward to being home but being home has also been very overwhelming.
However, it’s a joy to see how much my children have grown during this time. On Monday, I watched my middle child get yogurt and cereal from the kitchen, serve himself, sit at the table to eat, then clean up the table. He also returned the yogurt and cereal to where he got them from and washed his bowl. He did all that before getting his shoes and coat on for school. He will be 6 years old in a month and completing all those tasks took lot of effort and planning. He had to overcome many organizational, fine motor and sensory challenges, but he did it! I was so proud of him.
This past weekend, my 11-year-old daughter, the oldest, asked to mop the kitchen floor. I kept telling her not to worry about it, but she found many reasons to do it and assured me she would be safe. She sure did! She moped the kitchen and the upstairs bathroom and has been cleaning many other things around the house.
Last night, the youngest of our family (he will be four years old in a few days), applied lotion on my very dry legs. He loves that texture, so he had fun doing it but when he was done, he said to me, “does that make you feel better?” I had tears. I thought I was giving him something fun to do but he was more concerned about taking care of me.
In their unique ways, my children have been taking good care of me. I’m a blessed Mama, I have great kids. I also have awesome friends who shower me with love and take care of my children and me during this time. Thank you all for your prayers, visits, cards, calls, texts, emails, messages, gifts, meals, and encouragement. You make me brave and I thank God for each one of you!
If you need hep finding resources in your community, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-216-0230.
Chou is a best-selling Author, a Transformational Speaker, Certified Life Coach, Counselor and Consultant on a mission to inspire people to rise above their circumstances. She is passionate about helping others achieve emotional wellness, reach their full potential, and live fulfilling lives. You can contact Chou at email@example.com