RECLAIMING MY TIME…and a Few Other Things, Too

One of my favorite things that has happened in the news recently was the whole Maxine Waters “reclaiming my time” thing. I’m dropping it below, in case you haven’t seen it. I watched the clip of the exchange between Maxine Waters and Mnuchin and I was so amused. I told several people that “reclaiming my time” would be my new motto because I was tired of it being wasted.


A couple weeks ago, I decided the pile of books on my nightstand was out of control. I used to have a strict rule about only reading one book at a time. But I like to read a lot of self improvement books and reading those all in one shot can be tedious sometimes. I need to break up my self improvement with something a little more captivating. So I have been actively trying to finish the pile of books on the nightstand. Brené Brown is one of my favorite self improvement authors. I love her so much. I listen to her TED Talk all the time and it never fails to make me cry. I had the honor of hearing her speak this past November. She’s just amazing and I tell everyone about her. It’s no surprise that one of the books on the nightstand is hers.

For a few weeks before I decided to finish Brown’s book, I had become aware that something was amiss with me. My anxiety was up and I didn’t really know why. I thought maybe writing for myself again was the cause. Writing is very therapeutic for me, but it also causes a lot of stuff about my childhood to surface. I still didn’t feel like that was the entire answer, but since I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, I had no choice but to soldier on until whatever it was made itself apparent.

I picked up Brown’s book and I started to read. The Gifts of Imperfection focuses on what the author refers to as “wholehearted living.” She talks about authenticity and being who you are, not who you think you’re supposed to be. She also talks about how we hide behind perfectionism and use it as a shield. I’m reading along and nodding, highlighting some stuff. Then, I get to the line in the book that stilled me. I read it again and again and again.

The opposite of joy is not pain or sorrow. The opposite of joy is fear.

In that moment, I finally knew what was wrong and I also knew when it began. For months, I had been slowly becoming more and more fearful. It started when I turned 40. I wrote about why that birthday was difficult for me. Daughters of women who die at a young age often feel like that forecasts something about their own life span. If my mother couldn’t escape her 40s, how would I? I began to obsess over every little thing that was wrong with me. I began catastrophizing on a regular basis. Everything was a portent of doom. Everything was cancer.

Once the fear of the health stuff had settled in, it became a snowball effect of fear replacing my joy. I began to tell myself on a regular basis that I couldn’t do things/handle things/things were too much for me. I’m one of the most capable and strong people around. But fear told me otherwise. Fear told me that everything was too much for me and I should climb into a hidey hole and never come out.

After that, I began placing other people’s needs ahead of my own. I let their opinions, desire/lack of desire for me, what they were going through, matter more than it ever should have. I wasted my time on people who were clearly not invested in me and then I let their lack of investment be a comment on my worth. I tipped my head back, opened my mouth, and I swallowed whole all of the anxiety and fear that these situations had to offer.

That evening, I closed Brown’s book. I sat on my bed for a long while tracing the path of what I had done and what I had allowed. It was then that Maxine Waters’s words played through my brain.

I decided that I, too, would reclaim my time, but not just my time. I wanted back the joy that I let fear steal. I wanted back my sense of gratitude for all of the opportunities and amazing people in my life. I wanted back my normal, sunny disposition, and I wanted to ditch the guarded spirit I had allowed in.

Going forward, I decided I would expand on Maxine Waters’s words and make them a mantra.

Reclaiming my time.
Reclaiming my optimism.
Reclaiming my gratitude.
Reclaiming my faith.
And most importantly…Reclaiming my joy.

P.S. I wrote this just before I saw Maxine Waters shout “I will not yield!” at some old, white racist on the House floor. Maxine Waters is becoming my own personal guru, because I’m taking that, too.

I will not yield to fear.

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Mental Illness is a Thief and a Liar

“I haven’t been seeing you at church lately. Is everything okay?”

“I’ve been depressed, so I was avoiding people. I didn’t want to answer any questions.”

I could say that to my friend because she’s familiar with this struggle. I knew there would only be empathy in her, so I could tell the truth instead of living the “everything is fine” lie for a few minutes. I mean, most of the time I am fine. I feel good. I’m generally happy. I have a good life. But there are times when my body and my brain betray me and I sink into The Bad Place, from which I have to claw my way back out.

This time wasn’t a full visit to The Bad Place. It was standing on the edge of it and looking in while firmly grasping the guard rail. Nevertheless, whether I’m fully immersed or teetering on the precipice, it sucks. Mental illness is a thief. It steals from me on a regular basis. It steals my joy and my happiness. It steals my desire to do pretty much anything. It replaces those precious feelings with emptiness, isolation, and misery. Mental illness is also a liar. It tells me I have no value; that I’ll always be alone; that I am unloveable; that I am not enough.

There’s a good chance that if you know me in real life and you’re reading this, you didn’t know that I am one of the 20% of Americans with mental health issues. I’m really good at hiding it. I can give an Oscar caliber performance in the Everything Is Fine role. There are people in my life that know about my struggle, but I generally don’t broadcast it for public consumption. People can be cruel, either on purpose or out of ignorance, so I am selective in whom I tell.

I’ve been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (or clinical depression),  Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder (I was also diagnosed with an eating disorder, but that is also a story for another day). My brain is sometimes a twisted landscape of wonky chemistry, poor genes, and the leftover effects of a really effed up childhood. There has been some talk about me possibly having PTSD from said effed up childhood. The jury is still out on that diagnosis. It’s been widely discussed, though, that I am remarkable sane and well-adjusted considering the extent of the effed up childhood. I’ve been called “resilient” more than once.

Aside from the actual physical and mental affects of depression and anxiety, the hardest part for me is other people. Not everyone wants to deal with another person’s baggage, so they’re dismissive. Other people genuinely mean well and want to help after I’ve told them about my mental health issues. The thing that is the most difficult for me and the other person is that there is really nothing anyone can do to help. I totally appreciate the desire to help me, especially when I am in The Bad Place. But asking me “what’s wrong?” over and over again isn’t helpful.

The terrible, cruel, answer is that nothing is wrong. This is just how my brain and body function (or malfunctions). There are no immediate circumstances that need fixing. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t still feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest, suffocating me. Just because nothing is wrong doesn’t mean that I don’t, sometimes, feel numb and empty inside.

When someone asks me “what’s wrong?” over and over again, I have no good answers. It also puts me in the position of feeling like I need to pretend I’m okay. I am in charge of managing the other person’s feelings about my mental state, and that can be very overwhelming. It would better for me if people said, “how’re you feeling?” verses “what’s wrong?” When I say “I am depressed,” a good response would be “is there anything I can do for you?” I will probably say “no.”

Be okay with that answer. Because you can’t fix me. You can also keep talking to me about normal stuff. Just because I’ve acknowledged my depression doesn’t mean I don’t want you to tell me good things that are happening to you or that I don’t want to hear about how you’re struggling. In fact, it helps me to focus on something else. So tell me about the baby shower/wedding/crappy boss/new hobby/great movie/the book you just read…tell me whatever you were going to say before I said that I was depressed. There’s no rule book for how to speak to someone with mental illness, and I certainly can’t speak for all of us. But this is how I would like to be spoken to. It’s what would help me.

I’m feeling a bit better now. I’m not quite at 100% but I feel better. This post isn’t a cry for help. I’m no longer gripping the guard rail, looking into The Bad Place. I’ve returned to higher ground and will stay there for awhile. But everyone who struggles with mental illness knows that eventually they will return to The Bad Place. It could be better or worse than the last visit, and we really have no control over any of it. But for today, I am victorious and that is enough.


If you suffer from depression and anxiety, you are not alone. I’ve dropped some links below. You are loved. You have value. You are enough.

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