Tag Archives: self-help

fog, mental illness, and getting through

As I left town before the sun rose in the morning, dense fog rolled in around me.  The farther from town I drove, the thicker the fog became.  As I listened to the radio, the DJ shared, “A fog warning has been issued for most of the I94 area.”  Great.  If he was right, I had another 200 miles of fog in front of me.

And that is exactly what happened.

As predicted, the fog crept around me off and on for the next few hours.

At times, I could only see only the white lines in the center of the road because of how dense it was.


At other times, the fog cleared allowing me see see farther and enjoy the break.


I mention often in writings on this blog that I struggle with bipolar tendencies. In the days following the fog drive, I have been thinking about how fog is a great metaphor for mental illness and the low energy times that I experience. I hope this resonates with many readers.

Fog is unpredictable.

As I drove my 200 miles in and out of fog, I was surprised at how suddenly I could be surrounded by fog and at how quickly it disappeared.  It would come and go suddenly at times but then be creeping at other times. While my mental health low times sometimes can be charted in some kind of rhythm, they are often unpredictable.  I struggle to know if I am feeling ill or having a low time as they often can feel similarly.

Fog slows down our minds.

Because of the strain to see through the density of the fog around us, we need to put other things on hold.  At times, we need to turn off the radio and concentrate on driving.  This is true with our mental health as well.  When our minds get stuck in the fog – or when the fog creeps in on us – we struggle to see beyond the fog. We may need to clear out the noise in our minds and around us.  Our family and friends may not understand this, and we need to be careful only to do this as needed rather than as a way to isolate from the world.

We need to follow the white line.

When we are in a mental fog, we need to rely on routine and follow what we can see.  Just like the white line in the center of the road, we need to know what to follow to keep us safe when our minds are foggy. This is why routine when we are in a “good zone” is so important. Establishing routine helps us to do safe things when we are in a foggy patch.  Exercise, taking medications, sleeping well, and eating well keep us safe through the foggy periods.

We need to follow only safe drivers.

Drivers from Florida, Alaska, Nevada, and Montana joined me on the road in the fog.  While they may know their own type of driving obstacles, North Dakota weather has its unique challenges.  These drivers created challenges for me as they drove too fast in several of the portions of fog. In our non-metaphorical lives, others around us struggle to understand that we are in a mental fog.  They try to speed up, drag us with them, and can lead us into a crash by distracting us.

We do not need to see beyond the fog.

The DJ told me that the fog would lift.  I desperately wanted to see beyond the fog, but that was just not what was meant to be. I  had to wait out the fog, move through it, and find moments of gratitude while I was in in it. While fogs in our minds do not have a DJ to tell us when the fog will lift, we know that it will. Experience reminds me of this. Some people keep a calendar to remind them of when the fog lifts or returns. If the mental fog does not lift for more than a couple of weeks, it is time to take ourselves to a fog doctor (medical or therapeutic) and get some help.  When we drive, sometimes the fog gets really bad, and we have to pull over.  If we cannot see past the fog, we need to wait it out or get some help.

We need to stay safe in the fog.

As we go in and out of fog, our eyes and brains adjust.  Hopefully, they do this fast enough for us to be able to remain safe, but there are times that we have some pretty close calls. As we become experienced drivers, we learn about safe driving in snow storms, fog, and heavy rains.  Sometimes the highway department determines whether or not we can drive in the weather. In our mental health world, we need to create a web of people who can help us be safe. While it can be hard to hear someone (or a group of someones) tell us that it is time to get some help, we may need to listen to them as they keep us safe.  Spending too much time in a fog can jeopardize our safety.

How do you deal with the fog in your life?

I have been writing this blog in earnest since August of 2011.  As I have written about various topics, I find myself coming back to the topic of mental illness a lot. I realize that it is hard for many to share about this side of their lives. As a friend and I talked over this past weekend, the word stigma and the concept of safe people were part of the conversation.

I know that mental illness is hard to understand. It is complex, and we often do not know how to be the “white line” for others.  For those who suffer from the fog, know that there is lots of help out there – some of that help might even be closer than you think.  For those who support those who suffer from the fog, know that you are not alone in the supporting.

We cannot control the fog in our head any more than we can control the weather. However, we can learn to cope with it so that we can get through it safely.

And no matter how temporarily, the fog will lift, and we will see the sun.


Filed under faith, Relationships, Thoughts

I’m Not Planning to Get Over It

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last night, a thunderstorm brewed all around us as the huz and the kids played a new lawn game that they created using an old bowling ball and their bodies.

Storms are common in Minnesota summers.

They roll in, become violent – sometimes dangerous, and then move on with beams of sunlight replacing the darkness that they brought with them.  Thunderstorms, by definition, are unstable and violent. They occur when two very different kinds of air masses (cool air and warm air) come together and have an argument about who gets the space. Their argument is our thunderstorm.

Last week, my children graduated from high school. I wrote a post about my conflicting thoughts and experienced quite a response. Thank you to all who commented on last week’s post. To catch you up on that event: I did not cry at the ceremony, nor did I cry at the graduation party.  Ok – let’s be honest, my eyes leaked a little at both events!

What undid me was the Sunday morning church service when we sang one of my mom’s favorite hymns – Holy, Holy, Holy at the very beginning of the service. I sobbed (though briefly) as a thunderstorm raged within me.

There is no better description. It was an unstable and violent kind of emotional experience that rolled in quickly, caught me off-guard, and crashed open the floodgates and released the precipitation of tears. Grief had found me, and it collided with joy…their argument was my thunderstorm…right there in the front pew.

As the tears rolled down my face, I grieved that my mom had not been at my kids’ graduation to be the proud grandma that she would have been.

Tomorrow marks the eleventh anniversary of my mom’s passing. That this day comes only a week after my children’s graduation is a bit of ironic truth about grief that I have thought about many times over the past decade: life goes on even when we grieve. Babies are born, friends get married, and mothers die – all on the same day.

That I was able to make it through graduation events and and focus on the joy of my children’s accomplishments only to be slapped across the face with a reminder – through a hymn of all things –  of whom was missing from the event is just typical of grief.

And this week’s experience has reminded me of a truth that I’ve known for a while: we may never get over the death of a loved one.

My pastor huz tells families who are experiencing the death of a loved one that “death is not something you get over; it is something you get through.” There is wisdom in this. If we try hard to get over the losses that we experience, we may try to suppress how we feel about that loss.

Grief is common in any season.

“Getting over it” often means to us that we do not acknowledge that our people are still gone even years later. That my mom was not at my children’s graduation ceremony was something I needed to acknowledge, and our worship pastor made sure that was the case even though he had no idea that is what would happen when he planned for us to sing Holy, Holy, Holy.

And there simply is no getting over that; I simply had to get through it.

As I have reflected on joy and grief this week, how they are partners in crime – often playing good cop/bad cop with my emotions, I have come to realize a few things about what “not getting over it” means and wanted to share them with readers.

  1. Getting through it should not rob us of our joy. While grief comes at unplanned times and often at inconvenient ones, we must be diligent to acknowledge it briefly and then go back to our present joys – whatever they may be. On Sunday morning, I had my little sob-session in the front pew through the first song and then moved on to the joy of day.
  2. God brings people to fill in the gaps. Our family has experienced an overwhelming love from our church family over the years and in this specific graduation season. While they do not replace my mom, their presence certainly buoys us with their support, love, and generosity. I will forever be grateful for this truth in our lives.
  3. Our grief allows us to minister. Death is not a unique experience. Though the circumstances are often different, the truth of loss is not. And once we have lost someone close to us, we enter into a new understanding of what death is and of what death does to those left behind. Before that experience, we could be supportive to a certain degree. Once we have that experience, we have a new understanding and realize that being there for someone is different than we thought it was before.Our presence, often without words, truly is enough.
  4. Grief is not linear. Talk about irony – the kids’ first set of college books arrived in the same Amazon shipment as Invitations to Tears: A Guide to Grieving Well by Jonalyn Fincher and Aubrie Hills. Though I have not had a chance to read the whole thing, I skimmed the pages on Monday night and this theme rang through the book. And I know this to be true. If grief were linear, there would be an end point…if there is an end to grieving the loss of my mom, I clearly have not found it yet.

This morning – the day after the storm – the sun is shining brightly, and the storm has left a refreshing coolness behind it. I may even open my windows to let in some refreshing air. It is much like the sigh of relief that I exhale after a good cry.

True confession: I hate to cry. 

But after a good cry, once I get over the puffy eyes, the snotty nose, and the headache, I tend to feel as though I am restarted in my perspective on life. A good cry acknowledges that I am still getting through it and that I will get through it – with the help of God and the gap-fillers.

PS: There is a storm brewing to the northwest of Minneapolis, but I doubt that it will come to us. The next chance of storms seems to be on Saturday. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a grief forecast?

PPS: Click here to read other June 13/mom’s passing posts for the back story and how I have progressed over the years on this grief journey.


Filed under faith, Relationships, Thoughts

Life in “Standby” Mode?

It is the second half of the school year, and I am traveling quite a bit around the state of Minnesota.  As the dean of students for an online school, my primary role is to deal with attendance issues.  Yes – we take attendance in the online setting; it just looks a bit different than in a seat-based school.  If you ever want to attend a training on it, let me know – I have connections (or I will just run a webinar for you and you alone).

This role takes me to far-off place like International Falls where I can see Canada just across the river from a gas station on my way to court.  I drive almost everywhere, and my trusty Honda Civic’s stereo is my best friend as it pumps out the tunes or a book on CD.

On a recent trip, I realized that I was in complete silence as I drove. I could not remember when or why I had I had chosen silence over noise, but I had.


I played with the volume knob a bit before I glanced over to the stereo and saw that it was indeed in “standby” mode.


As I drove through the frozen tundra of Northern Minnesota, I realized that I was missing all of the beauty that was there for me to see.  I drove, day-dreamed, and “spaced out” – completely lost in thoughts that no longer have much bearing.  I doubt that the thinking was productive.  I doubt that the day-dreaming truly involved dreaming – by that I mean that I was not making future plans for great things in my family’s life.

I just stood by.

Well, in this case, I was sitting…and driving.

Regardless of what the position is – standing by, sitting by, laying by – life is going past us as we stand by.  Sometimes we have to wait. We wait on the Lord. We wait on other people to make decision. We wait.  But most of the time, at least in my life, I am not waiting on anyone else…I am just not being an active participant in life. 

I am letting it pass by me, allowing it to go on without much thought, and lacking much interest in how it impacts me until I am so unhappy about something that I stomp my feet and say, “Stop! This isn’t how I wanted it to be.”

But I had not taken any time to consider how I did want it to be.  I had not actively done anything to make it go differently.  So when I get to point B without realizing I had left point A, I want to blame everyone else rather than looking in the mirror.

When I live in standby mode, I am to blame for life going in certain directions.

I give life implicit permission when I do not explicitly take a daily inventory of how I want it to be.  And – if I do not take time to consult God about how He might want my life to go, I certainly cannot blame Him when it just goes poorly.

Is this happening to anyone else?  Are there some times that we let this happen more than others? Or perhaps in certain areas of our lives more than others?

I would love to hear your thoughts today in the comment section!

PS: I have a renewed sense of wanting to write in this blog; however, I think that a daily submission might be overly ambitious at the present way that life is.  I am hoping to have  a Monday-Wednesday-Friday submission routine down.  It’s March 1, and some things need to change and be re-prioritized.  I hope that this sense of ambition remains!

How are you all?


Filed under faith, health, Thoughts, Travel

Blogging Myself Out of Bed

For those who have not followed this blog for a while, I thought I would re-cap why it exists before I share a bit about today …

My name is Stacy, and I live in a bipolar energy life.  Although bipolar disorder falls under mood disorders, I experience bipolar as an energy force more than as a mood force.  Although those around me who experience me in the midst of this might say it is propelled by mood, in my body I sense it as energy.

The title of the blog – slowingtheracingmind (written that way to emphasize how the racing mind works) – comes from my need in the high energy times to use this blog as a coping mechanism to slow down my energy enough to capture it and channel it into a blog.  What the title does not do, however, is tell you that the blog can also be a coping mechanism when the mind has slowed to the point that getting out of bed in the morning is the most difficult thing I can imagine doing.

That is today, and I am blogging my way out of the fog.  500 words a day keeps the crazies away. 

I stayed in bed until far after I was meant to be up, out the door, and at work.  I knew that I was only putting off the inevitable – the need to get up, face the world, and answer the phone calls and emails that need answering.

IMG-20120312-00299But everything seemed overwhelming, unnecessary, and complicated.  I wanted to just stay in my bed where I was not in pain (thank you, recent back injury), where no one interrupted my quiet, and where the covers seemed to wrap around me in a way that made everything seem ok.

Even going to Target to pick up Tylenol for the girl was overwhelming! Do you know how many different forms of Tylenol there are?  500 mg, 250mg, extra strength, extended release…the list goes on, and the list overwhelmed me.

After I dropped off the medicine at the girl’s school, I headed into work where demands sit waiting for me…still.  On days like today, I use a phrase on myself that I use on others when they seem to have an overwhelming feeling in their lives for some reason or another – be gentle with yourself.  In other words, do what you can, it will all still be there tomorrow, and tomorrow will likely be better than today.

As I walked from the parking garage into my office, I had a nagging thought that comes to me during these times.  You must not waste a single moment, not a single day. How dare you take for granted that you have breath?

And it is true – I should not waste any amount of time.  I am here.  I know that I am here with a purpose.  And I know that even today, with its low energy and lack of zest for life, is a day to be lived. What gets done will get done, and what does not will wait. But I cannot hole up in a bedroom waiting for my head to clear of the fogginess.  I need to role out of the comfort of my bed and do what I can.

Tomorrow is another day.  As I wrote that, I thought of a line from Great is Thy Faithfulness, and I would like to end today’s post with the whole song (line that came to mind in bold)…a reminder that I am not alone in this fog and that I have hope beyond today.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Great is thy faithfulness, O God, My Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness, Great is thy faithfulness;
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

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Be Nice Already!

All week I have struggled with being nice.

It is not that I cannot be nice or that I do not have niceness in me.  I think is mostly because of the time of year it is.  February has hit, and from now until the end of the school year, I anticipate being in court or diversion meetings for truancy more than I am in the office.  While I love this part of my job, I would truly be happy to report some day that I need to develop a new niche for myself because we have eradicated truancy issues at our school.

When I talk to parents on the phone, I try really hard to be nice.  In fact, I believe that I am. I listen to the stories that they share – some of them very tragic – and I try to convey empathy.  I know that life is difficult, the economy is hard, and that circumstances can get in the way of life.  However, there are times that people need a wake up call, and that call often comes from my office.  Education is required in this country.  Our laws show that we value it (even when our state budgets do not, but I do not want to be political right now).  We want educated citizens.  As an educator working in the area of truancy, I have developed a little graphic that shows why attendance is important (see below).

attendance pyramid

Kids do not graduate if they do not attend.  It is really that simple.  I do not need to elaborate on this idea.  One cannot earn a high school diploma if one does not attend school.  Enough said. It is even more true in online education.  How will students pass classes if they do not even log in to the system?  I mean, really…!!!!

So – sometimes, I struggle with being nice.  In fact, the more truant that a student is and the more outlandish the “reason” (read here – excuse) that I am given for the absences, the less nice I am.  It is really that simple.  And this week, I have had more than a fair share of times when being nice was really hard.  In fact, I probably was not nice more times than I was. I was honest, gave suggestions about how to improve student achievement, and even suggested to a few parents that a traditional school with more structure might be a better choice for their children.

It was in those moments that I was accused of not being nice.  How dare I suggest that the online setting may not be the most appropriate setting for their children?!?!?  The weird thing was that I was nice when I said it.  In fact, it was the most compassionate thing I could have said at the time!  My school’s setting is not appropriate for all students, and those particular students were a good example of that truth.

If “being nice” means saying something other than the truth, then I stomp my foot and say loudly – NO, I will not be nice!

And this kind of got me thinking a little bit about how exasperated I get when someone speaks truth into my life about something.  If I struggle with something like anger and someone points it out to me when I have inappropriately expressed anger, it is not that they are not being nice to me. They are simply being honest with me.  Instead of focusing on the fact that I have an anger issue, I focus on the fact that someone was mean to me.  That mean person picked on me again.  She is always picking on me.

Huh…sound familiar?

So – at the end of the week, I employed some new tactics and inserted some verbiage into my conversations with families.  I said things like, “I just want to be clear that the goal here is your student’s success in school.  What can we do to change the current trend that does not support success?”  I have always said things like, “I am concerned about your student’s lack of attendance and its impact on school success.”  But…I think I need to say more things like that.

I often use “the court system” as a threat right away – scare that family straight; however, in reflecting about how I see others’ interventions into my own life, I think I need to start off a bit more softly.  I also have thought that I could more by scaring them once and not having to follow up later, but realistically – again, considering my own behavior – it would make more sense to make small, incremental steps toward success with frequent follow up and interventions.

In the end, this is all just behavioral analysis and conditioning.  Attendance is just a symptom of some greater illness in the same way that my temper is just a symptom of some greater illness.  I get a little self-righteous at times, and I need to remember that we all make mistakes, we all have issues, and we all need someone to come alongside of us, challenge our behavior, and walk us back to the right spot on the path of success.

Happy Saturday!

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Filed under Education, Parenting, Thoughts

What Sign Should You Wear?

Earlier this week, after having a few days of stupid people run-ins, I needed a little comic relief and watched a few videos on Youtube – you know, the guy with “the sign” routine. It was wonderful. I literally sat in my office and laughed out loud…yes, my co-workers were gone already.  I realize that this man has some raunchy routines, but everything I heard was clean, hilarious, and right on the money. It made me feel as if I had it pretty good when it comes to the stupid people with whom I had interacted all week.

Why is it so easy to be stupid?

Ok…maybe this question is not really worth examining.  However, it is so easy for us to see the faults in other people while missing the faults that we have ourselves. On one particular day this past week, I found that pretty much everyone I ran into could have used a sign for their faulty behavior.  It seemed endless.  Oh that the day would end!

What kind of signs?

Inconsiderate – here’s your sign.

Rude – here’s your sign.

Unfortunate mishap of creation – here’s your sign.

Lacking common sense – here’s your sign.

Apathetic – here’s your sign.

Pathetic – here’s your sign.

The more I saw the signs, the more I started looking for them.  Not only that, but I am pretty sure that I saw some signs in people who really would not have had signs if the person before them had not had a sign.  Eventually, all I could see that day was the people’s signs…the people sort of faded into the background as I just saw sign after sign.  I literally started writing out post-it notes and wanted to hand them through the telephone line or computer screen to people.  I must have been a real treat that day.  I’m impressed that not a single person has complained to my superior; maybe I put on a good front?

And in the midst of all this sign-assigning, I am pretty sure that I had quite a few signs that people could have given me.  Let’s see, there would be inconsiderate, rude, unfortunate mishap of creation, lacking common sense, apathetic, and downright pathetic.  The inability to see my own faults heightened as I focused on those of others.  In addition, even though I claim to be a rather compassionate person, I lost all compassion – I was just seeing signs.  Without seeing the people, I made some cold decisions.  I might have even said something to the effect of “you caught me on the wrong day.”  Amazing, really.  I might as well have said, “You see, I lack the ability to see you as a unique individual because I have clumped you in with someone else.”  That is called transference…

What sign should I wear today?

I would like very much to clothe myself in righteousness rather than self-righteousness.

I would like very much to clothe myself in kindness rather than rudeness.

I would like very much to clothe myself in empathy rather than apathy.

I would like very much to recognize that my signs are often negative, that I need to see my own signs, and that I should right my own wrongs before getting all haughty about the wrongs of others.

This past week, the signs that I attributed to others allowed me to ignore my own signs and inflict pain on others.  Instead of seeing rudeness in the person, I should have heard their frustration with the broken social service system of their county.  Instead of seeing their lack of consideration for my time, I should have heard that they work two jobs in order to house and feed their family. Instead of seeing their apathy, I should have heard that they are overwhelmed as single moms raising kids on their own in a schooling system that is different than what they knew as children.

“Everyone needs compassion, the kindness of a Savior…” (Mighty to Save by Hillsong)


Filed under Education, Freshly Pressed

I Resolve…

It is now 11 days into the new year.

IMG-20120110-00096Many resolutions have been made – most about better health – and just as many have already gone by the wayside. Facebook and Twitter were full of stuff about resolutions being made, about the impacts of “new resolutioners” at the gyms, and about resolutions being broken.  Friends have blog posts about resolutions, and I have read them. I even had a post about resolutions titled “Fresh Start – Again.”  It is a great think to think about – the new year, resolutions, and changes.

As the first few weeks of the new year have brought our resolutions down to reality, we start to wonder what we did.  Why did we make this decision? What was this all about? And how will we ever follow through on them?  Rather than share some lofty ideas with readers, I would prefer to share the my various findings of the term “resolve” and then a couple of blogs that I have found encouraging as I shape the resolutions I have made into the more realistic thinks I would like to call life.

When I looked up the meaning of “resolve” in the dictionary, I found a whole bunch of meanings.  The parts of speech are interesting alone!!

Fourteen of the meanings are transitive verbs. This means that the subject of the sentence acts when the term resolve occurs.  I resolve could also mean I make a firm decision about this, I cause this, I decide this, I change this, or I remove something.  In each of these cases, the subject of the sentence ( I ) acts.  I resolve.  I act in this way.  I do something.

Three of the meanings are intransitive verbs. This means that the subject of the sentence is acted up on by some other force – the resolution.  In music, for example, the piece undergoes a resolution.  In cooking, the ingredients are resolved (separated).  In this case the resolving happens to the subject rather than the subject acting (resolving).

Three meanings of the word resolve are nouns – person, place, thing, or idea.  I have made a resolution.  It is a noun in the sentence.  The definitions include a firmness of purpose, a decision, and a formal decision to act by a legislative or deliberative body (such as Congress).

My cuz-in-love, Elise, is a fashion queen, small business owner, artist, and sweet spirit.  She is witty, encouraging, and has a great sense of humor.  She is married to a man who shares many of those qualities and is a dear friend as well as cousin.  Her blog post yesterday – “Little Resolutions” –  was divine intervention for me, and I think readers would love her ideas.

My friend, Cindy, is a deep reader of the Bible.  She challenges all around her to see things the way God would want us to see them.  Her blog posts, though infrequent, are inspiring.  Her most recent post –  “One Word” – has kept me thinking since reading it and has truly allowed me to sense where my resolutions fit into this philosophy.

My friend, Marilyn, is the one whose blog posts in 2011 spurred me into blogging myself.  Yes – you can blame her. Smile  Her posts on Jan 1 – “I’ll Miss It or Good Riddance” – and Jan 2  – “2012 – It’s All About the Interpreter” – were visionary posts for me.  Marilyn’s method of drawing me in as a reader and then lighting off a zinger that goes straight to the heart is one that I would like to replicate but doubt that I can master.

So far, I have failed at many of my resolutions. Behavior change is hard!  I think, though, that it comes from a couple of things.

  1. The first is that I have made these before without much success, so I just make them again because I should. They are not about the simple things like loving my family or giving thanks.  They are about me.
  2. The second reason is because I have not seen the resolution-making process one of deliberative choice to act.  I have expected that they will passively come about without any real choice on my part.
  3. And the final reason is because I have not asked God to join me in being the Interpreter of my choices, my words, and my actions.  For that matter, I have not even asked Him to give me the strength to do these things even though I am quite sure that He would like me to succeed in each of the choices – for His glory, not mine.

How are readers doing with their resolutions? What is the most helpful to you?

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