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Battleground - Mental Health Awareness

A question that seems to be coming up a lot recently is, 'how do you cope?' You might be wondering why I am asked this particular question so here is a little background.

We are a family of five. Out of the five of us, four are autoimmune compromised. Our list of autoimmune conditions is long. My husband has Multiple Sclerosis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease , my son has an underactive thyroid and Crohn's Disease , his twin sibling has Hashimotos Thyroid Disease, Juvenile Arthritis, Status Epilepticus and Fibromyalgia , I have Hashimotos Thyroid disease, Vitiligo and Lichen Sclerosus. Our eldest daughter, whilst having an underactive thyroid, does not have any autoimmune diseases. Coupled with these autoimmune diseases comes Autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, OCD and a myriad of other health challenges that we face together as a family.

When people hear what it is that we deal with on a daily basis, it can be quite overwhelming. Our battleground is vast. Many people are inclined to think that they would not be able to cope with such a load. The truth is that everyone is struggling with situations and crises that they don't speak about. Everyone has a load, whether it be light or heavy, it is a load none-the-less. If we get stuck in the mindset of comparison, we are bound to think that we cannot voice what it is we are going through.

Let's expand on that a little. When we find out that a friend is going through something that appears quite heavy, we will often say, "Well, I shouldn't complain because look at Joe Soap! I should just be grateful that's not me!" The truth is, all our loads are relative to who we are and yes, some loads do appear heavier than others but if we continually compare our situations to someone else's situation, we will end up losing our voice. I often listen to other moms, to friends, to people from all walks of life, minimize their suffering because it's 'not as bad' as someone else's suffering. In the end, they feel unseen, unheard and very much alone. But, we can share in one another's suffering. We can help carry the load by being a listening ear. Sometimes that is all someone needs. A place to offload. We don't need to fix it. We don't need to solve it. We just need to listen and be attentive, to tune into what they are saying. We need to show compassion and empathy. Sometimes, just being there, being present even if it's in silence, that's enough.

Now I know there are givers and there are takers. If someone you know and are friends with, continually talks about their problems without asking where you're at, or seems disinterested in your load, or leaving space for you to voice anything, that's a red flag. Obviously in friendship, there is give and take. Make sure you know where your boundary is. Leaving room for someone is one of the ways I have learned to cope. Not because their load may seem heavier or lighter but more because it reminds me that I am not alone. I am not walking alone. There is a knowing and a solidarity that comes with walking through something with someone. There is a humility that comes with making yourself vulnerable which leaves little room for ego and pride. If you notice that a friend has 'gone dark' (more about this in my blog, Going Dark.) , make a point of reaching out just to let them know that you are thinking of them. I can tell you from first hand experience that just knowing that someone has taken the time to reach out, is the most uplifting feeling.

So, the question still remains, how do I cope? Here are a some ways.

1. Therapy. My psychologist is the best money I have ever spent!

2. I spend time alone clearing my head, processing and praying.

3. I spend time alone, thinking about nothing, on purpose.

4. I voice my feelings with those I love without blaming anyone, just good old fashioned communication - e.g. "Hey guys, I noticed that I am feeling quite combative today. I think I am feeling anxious about some things. I apologize if I have been snappy or abrasive." - This is a WhatsApp message from me to my family, sent a little while ago. This little example, though flawed, is one of the ways we communicate as a family. It allows us to understand what's happening and remain accountable without assumptions being made or causing offence.

5. I call in the cavalry! I have coffee/Facetime or voice message a friend who will leave space for me to unload.

6. I seek comfort and council from my prayer partners.

7. I send a long voice note to my sister, who is an incredible support and confidant and who will listen without condemnation or judgement.

8. I sleep. Rest is an incredible healer.

And then there are days when coping looks far more messy. There are days when I fall apart and sob uncontrollable tears that fall pretty heavily into my coffee, into my bath, on my son's shoulder, into my husband's chest or into my lap. There are days where I cannot find any words to explain what is going on inside my head or my heart. There are days when I just throw in the towel and watch a movie with one of my daughters or true crime on my own. These are also coping strategies. They are real and raw. They are necessary.

Being on the battleground of life continually can be exhausting. Sometimes just lifting your weapon is enough to topple you. But, if you take a moment to lift your head and look to the edge of the fight, there is light and joy ready for the taking. Whatever your faith, hold onto it. Use it. Faith on the battlefields of life is a most precious gift. There are warriors with you, fighting with you, rooting for you.

Kenneth Copeland once said, "The battlefield of the mind is where life's most precious victories are won or lost." In the world we live in, our minds are continuously bombarded with images, news, and sounds. We are overloaded even before we walk out the door! The moment we choose to slow everything down, the moment we choose to listen to that small voice inside, is the moment we gain the upper hand. The truth of it is, we don't want to just cope with life, we want to thrive. So ask yourself the question, What do I need to do to protect my mind? What do I need, to be able to really thrive in life and not just survive? Pause for a moment and really think about that.

You deserve good things. You are trying, you learning and you are growing. And that my friend is incredible! Keep going!

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