Join Me LIVE this Friday

This week, I will be live broadcasting my weekly free Photoshop Friday at 8pm EST. 

Just in time for Father's Day - we will restore an heirloom photo! Check out this smashing before/after photo:

Yep, that's my momma and daddo, way back in 1971! In our hour together, we will work on this photograph and then you'll be able to use the skills you'll learn to color correct, improve contrast, reduce noise, remove spots, and resize your photo for printing as a super-special present for the dad in YOUR life!

Make sure to register here and don't miss out on the awesome course! I can't wait to see you LIVE in class this Friday!

Where I have been. Mental Health Update.
Home away from home in March.

Home away from home in March.

On NPR there’s a weekend show called “It’s Been a Minute,” and that’s how I’m feeling now as I write this first post in several months. Gosh has it ever been a minute. But I feel this need to apologize, like I’ve ghosted a friend (I swear I was doing something but I can’t remember what, but it was surely more important than talking to you, right? But SORRY!)

But it’s HARD to get started blogging again. Hard to get out there, when it’s easy to let the old status quo become the permanent status quo. It’s hard to get started with anything you once enjoyed and have let lapse, I think. And the guilt. I’ve learned a LOT about guilt in the past several months.

In fact, I’ve spent time learning about all kinds of emotions, and the role they play in both inner and outer life. After really struggling on and off through the fall, and feeling like I was making so little progress, and frankly feeling a little desperate, my therapist (PSA: I love therapy and you should go) said, maybe you should do an IOP. I think it would help you really get a jump-start in your life, and I think you need that. So then I said, “What is IOP?” And that’s when this began.

IOP: Intensive Outpatient Program for Mental Health

Turns out that on the spectrum between hospitalization & weekly therapy, there are a couple other options for those struggling with mental illness in a really active way.

  • PHP is Partial Hospitalization. This means that you go to the program every day, all day. Bring a lunch, the works. You spend time essentially like you would in a hospital, but you get to sleep in your bed at night.

  • IOP is Intensive Outpatient. This means that you go to the program every day for half a day. Same story, also get to sleep in your bed at night. :)

They’re offered, at least in my area, through larger psychiatry and behavioral health practices. They can be a month, 6 weeks, 8 weeks, and consist of psychiatric evaluation, individual & group therapy, CBT and DBT classes, meditation, music, art. Some programs do yoga.

My IOP Experience

Obviously I can’t speak for the experience of everyone, but I can say unequivocally that the month I spent in IOP was life-changing.

I had an initial assessment by a therapist, who was one of the group leaders. I filled out a bunch of papers, which included:

  • Things I like to do that help me relax or recharge or feel better

  • A specific safety plan, including people I can call if I’m feeling really desperate

  • Who I wanted at my family therapy session

  • My goals for IOP

The first 2 were really important, it turns out, because facing the darkness and talking about the pain is really, really painful. I had to enact the safety plan once, and admit to feeling suicidal, and referred to my “happy list” often. It was exhausting. I came home every day and fell asleep, many times with the salt of dried tears still on my cheeks.

The goal is to talk, and learn, and evaluate, and celebrate, and examine, and let go. To assess and be assessed (by professionals), and most of all, be supported by both professionals and fellow-travelers in a journey you’re on that’s lifelong, but that thankfully, blessedly, you don’t have to do alone.

I had an assessment by a psychiatrist, who changed my diagnosis and prescribed new meds, and who followed up every week for the 4 that I was there. That, coupled with the power that comes from actually going to a place every day, facing the darkness and the fear and the guilt, and learning skills for replacing those with positivity, for coping through the worst with hope, changed me forever.

The New(ly Diagnosed) Me

I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for a really long time, and the same one for years, being treated for major uni-polar depression (“major drug-resistant depression”). With occasional tweaking, I’ve been on the same combination of meds for years. Part of what I was looking forward to with IOP was the psychiatric assessment (yep, I just said I was looking forward to a psych eval! ha!).

After the evaluation and a couple of computerized tests, he changed my diagnosis:

Bipolar type 2 and ADHD

I made those words big and bold, because I need for it to be known that mental illness is not a weakness. It’s ok to be out-loud about your anxiety, unipolar or bipolar depression, or your schizophrenia, or your PTSD, or your addiction. It’s courageous to be a survivor. It’s awesome to be conquering day by day.

The Dr. said the first thing I needed to do was come off of Effexor (venlafaxine). And start (re-start) taking a stimulant for ADHD, getting my blood pressure under control, and stop drinking Diet Mt. Dew like it came from the fountain of youth and I was dying in the desert. (He maybe just said, “you can’t drink caffeine while you’re taking Vyvanse.” But the message was there).

So I switched to Mio Energy drops on my way to caffeine-free. They are awesome (yep, I said are and not were and I don’t feel bad about it). And I was coming to IOP every day during the transition of meds, which made things infinitely easier. People who said, you showed up here yesterday to work on yourself, and you showed up here again today, and that is enough. You are enough, and even with setbacks you’ll always be enough.

The Good Stuff!

The clarity that has come from that combination - the extra resilience I feel, the skills I have, the mental clarity from the new meds (& off the old meds), and the month-or-so it has taken to basically re-integrate and I’m in a better place than I have been for as long as I can remember.

As a celebration, I “got my hair did” at a new stylist, who just by luck had specialized training in cutting curly hair and I posted my new hair on Insta:

End The Stigma Against Mental Illness

I am perfectly willing - eager, even - to put a face to mental illness. To put my face on it, if it helps end the stigma that the mentally ill are less worthy of love (or of hiring, or renting apartments to), or are walking time-bombs, or are somehow struggling in a way that is less than because it is less visible. I’ll be an advocate for the lonely and vulnerable, who maybe remain silent because they don’t know there’s another way.

If you and/or someone you love are out there today fighting the good fight, may God bless and shower you with Heaven’s love. May you know the kind of love and support that I’ve been given these past few months. May you feel how courageous you are, even if courage for day meant showing up to read this little post. It can get better. It WILL get better. You’re so much stronger than you know, even in your darkness.

In one of my IOP sessions we were asked to bring two songs - one that represented us today, and one that represented what we want in the future. This was my “today” song, and it has great significance for me. I hope it resonates, because I believe there ARE angels around us to walk us through this world.

I want to talk about the specifics in later posts. I really wish that everyone could learn specific skills taught in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), such as the function of emotions, emotion regulation, values-based goal setting, meditation, acknowledging both little successes and little failures, and always getting back up to try again. Look for those in the future. :)

XO

-JS

Little Things

Sometimes you're gone for awhile. You get out of the habit of writing, or making, or whatever your habit used to be (working out? doing laundry proactively instead of ohcrapnobodyhasanythingtowear? groceries.) But just when you feel the desire to go do that thing again - feel the universe calling you back, your better angels calling your better self, you can do this! You got this! - just then you are swamped with the weight of passing time. Your shame-self, gaunt and crabbed and cringing, suddenly cries, All that time has passed! And I have no accounting for it! 

But to whom to we owe that accounting? To that shame self? To whoever holds people accountable for lost habits (probably the same deity who hoards all the single socks, and that really cute green top I can't find).

But shame-self is very persuasive. Ugly, and cowardly, and oh so persuasive. Don't! No need! Nobody will care. It doesn't matter. And somehow it feeds on that company you're keeping, in the bottom of the boat, stranded on a strange shore.

And you lose your nerve. Because all the 'splainin you have to do to the invisible crowds who just won't believe whatever story you've cooked up. And so whatever it is that you wanted to say, wanted to make or do (hello, gym - hello old friend I've been meaning to call), the little boat of hope you were JUST about to push off of the shore and out into the river again, is swamped before you even set sail. 

Today I remembered a quote, because God often speaks to me through the quotes I have stored in my head - that here is how I can step right over my shame-self and push off the shore in at least THIS ONE LITTLE THING:  

A good many are kept out of the service of Christ, deprived of the luxury of working for God, because they are trying to do some great thing. Let us be willing to do little things. And let us remember that nothing is small in which God is.
— D.L. Moody

As Mormons we're taught that "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass," and yet it's just so darned hard to believe, when you're sitting in front of a mountain of work that (in perfect honesty) was of your own making. 

But if the universe calls, if the better angels call, if your future self waves over from the middle of the river, just go. Forget about what might or who might, and just go. 

That's what I'm doing today, right here. 

 

Dear Teacher, (thank you)
pexels-photo-256520.jpeg

I mentioned in my blog post the other day that I planned on writing a letter to my childrens' teachers, basically to thank them for what they do, and maybe as a way to put some positivity and faith back in the lives of good people who are under extra strain right now. And that is saying something - I know of very few groups of people who do more for kids, for less recognition, than teachers do.

I chose to write my letter to the principal, since my kids have 8 teachers each, as well as many non-teaching staff that are a big part of their lives. Here it is:

Dear Dr. Jordan, Teachers, and Staff at ----

I am the proud parent of two students at ----, and have had the privilege of being associated with the school for the past 3 years as my children have attended. My son Elliott is in 7th grade, and is 12. My daughter Rowen is in 8th grade, and turned 14 in February. This letter is to express my sincere gratitude to the administrators, staff, and teachers at ----. 

Like everyone in our country, I was shocked and saddened by the events in Florida on Valentine's day. No parent, no teacher, no child should ever have to go through a shooting at a school. EVER. As I heard the names of the victims read, I realized with a tremendous shock that seven of the victims were 14 years old. The same age as my kid. That made me scared. And angry. That was when I vowed to do two things - which in my small position are just about the only things I can do. First, I'm going to go to the March for Our Lives, either here in Raleigh or in DC on March 24, to show my solidarity with the student survivors in changing our country to increase the safety of kids.

Secondly, and the purpose of this letter, I decided that the courageous people who love and teach and protect my own children every day, need to hear how grateful I am. You need to hear how grateful I am. These two precious people I send into your halls every day mean everything to me, and I know that I've entrusted them into very capable hands. Almost daily, my kids come home and talk about a project or exercise or assembly that day that caught their attention. (That by itself is no small thing, I must say). They talk about teachers making jokes and having fun, making bath bombs, adopting a lizard, talking to the space station, the legendary guinea pigs. They play in the orchestra or take yoga or learn about lighthouses and cells. Their world is better and more fascinating because of the fire you and your staff have lit within them, and they'll carry those lessons - and that fire - through their whole lives. 

Nobody becomes a teacher for the fame and riches, that's for sure. They become teachers so they can influence the lives of kids, and I know that they work with and think about and pray for, and hope for, and LOVE the students they teach. I want you to know that it shows, in the lives of my own children. As a parent, that's a debt I know I can never repay, except to offer my undying gratitude and admiration for their work. For your work.

I imagine that the staff and teachers there have thought and internalized the unimaginable slaughter last week, and they still showed up at school anyway, their love for kids outweighing their fear. That kind of courage doesn't come easy, and they aren't thanked enough. They'll never be thanked enough. That they continue to provide my children with support, guidance, inspiration, and love no matter what else is happening in the country and the world earns the highest praise I can offer. That this support might extend so far as the defense of my children both frightens me and fills me with awe at their courage. Being a teacher - working at a school - is a hero's job, a sacred calling. 

Thank you for all you do, for my kids and all the others who you've reached and touched in your work. It hasn't gone unnoticed. 

With much admiration and gratitude,

Jessica Sprague, Proud ---- Parent 

NOTE: If you would like to copy any or all of this and shoot it off to a teacher or school staffer who could use your gratitude today, please feel free. I bet it would brighten a day or two.

#NeverAgain.

For the kids, teachers, and families at Parkland. For the kids, teachers, and parents everywhere. #neveragain.

And for them.

And for them.

Several years ago - 5 years ago, in fact, my daughter Rowen came home from 3rd grade to tell us that she'd had a lockdown drill in school that day. It shocked me, mostly because she hadn't ever talked about this before, and also because she was so matter-of-fact about it. That post is here:

Living in a Sacred Space 

I actually asked Rowen to read this post in the car on the way to school last Friday, when our talk of the massacre in Florida was getting grim. At 12 and 14, my kids are old enough to begin to appreciate reality of our world. The risk we all run as they get out of the car or off the bus. 

It has always been strange to me, how many of my emotions occur in a sort of delayed reaction to dramatic situations. As my shock over YET ANOTHER massacre of innocent kids at a school has given way to the despairing hollowness of why, sweet mercy, why, I was whipped back into focus this morning as I watched a clip reading out the names of the victims. I realized that seven of them were 14 years old. 

My kid is 14

She's halfway through 8th grade, and will be entering high school this fall. And my planned blog post in honor of the kids in Parkland, and in special honor of the staff and teachers there, suddenly shifted into clarity. This isn't just "the kids" and their heroic teachers, and their shattered parents. This is me, but for the grace of God. Me. 

I'm suddenly overwhelmed with two emotions.

One is anger. I recognize that one. But not the helpless kind of frustration I feel when I am moved by injustice and know that there is nothing I can do that will alleviate the situation.

For me, I regret that Sandy Hook wasn't the last time - the very last time ever - that kids got killed at a school. I am sad that their voices weren't big enough or angry enough or as good at organizing in social media as the teenaged voices are now. That perhaps we hadn't come to the tipping point just yet.

But I'm glad - so glad - that these kids who spend their lives connected are angry. That a hashtag can become a rallying cry can be come a movement that changes the world.

So my other emotion is hope. The kind of hope that grits its teeth and puts on its butt-kicking shoes and goes to war. That says hell or high water. Thy kingdom come.

Picking My Outrage Battle. Again.

Remember the post earlier this year about picking my outrage battle? Gun violence targeting children has just become one of mine.

I don't care enough about gun ownership to have a really open heart-to-heart with its advocates, especially about military-style weaponry. Not while there are children who still die as some kind of regrettable collateral damage, in our eagerness to protect what never should have been considered an inalienable right. Not while there is any chance that even one family or community can be spared. So I'm not a moderate voice. I'm a mama, scared and angry, who only escaped this horror because it was inflicted upon someone else. 

There are some rights worth the fight. Worth dying for. Some freedoms for which millions of soldiers have given their lives. That balance of freedom and responsibility - of what amounts to herd immunity at the cost of the rights of the individual - is the dazzling beauty of the American way. It's what makes America unique, and that push and pull is what keeps democracy alive.

But there have been times, landmark times, when we've made decisions as a nation that have changed the course of life for millions of citizens at a single stroke, because it's simply the right thing to do. What, in fact, MUST be done, even at the cost of the personal freedoms of some. This is one of those times. Enough kids - enough victims - have died from the same style of gun, that outlawing it should not even take a moment of consideration. 

For today, after my grand language, here's what I'm going to do. 

1. I'm going to find out where the marches are, and we're going to attend. I've never been a marcher, so this is a big thing. It takes a lot to get me out from behind my computer. ;) Here's one: https://www.marchforourlives.com/

2. Today I'm writing a letter to each of my childs' teachers, and their principal, thanking them for the work they do every day in the service of - and if necessary, in the defense of - my own children. They deserve it.

If you're a parent or a grandparent, I invite you to write a letter to a teacher. I'd love to see the posts if you do. I'll post mine.

With much love, and much hope. 

-JS