Monday, December 12, 2016

Journal it Out

"Isn't it mysterious to begin a new journal .......I can run my fingers through the fresh clean pages, but I cannot guess what the writing on them will be."
      ~Maud Hart Lovelace

If you follow my blog regularly (whatever that means in this day and age as blogging steps aside for Snaps and Instagram love) you know I am an avid journaler. I believe in recording life. I believe in the power of our stories and the power of our process as we take the time to record them.

I have been a journal keeper since I was a young girl.  But today I am going to introduce you to some other ideas for recording your life and spreading your creative wings.

An easy place to start is with the "Wreck This Journal" series by Keri Smith.
Each layout gives you a can follow it... or not. It is all up to interpretation.
Trust me when I say this is an addicting but easy way to start expressing your self a little more creatively. One search for Wreck This Journal on Pinterest will leave you in awe.... but don't let that stop you from starting your own. It is a place to explore and a place to get started. I highly recommend any of these books for someone making the switch from diary keeper to art journal filler. You can get this basic one on Amazon. 

An everyday art journal is also a fun, low pressure place, to explore your feelings creatively.

Right now the trend for creating collage bits takes the pressure off the need to sketch perfectly or paint something fabulous. An expressive face or gorgeous dress might be the perfect starting point for you to add a thought and play with some doodles or paint.

Layered papers, washi tape, or even smudges of a paint you like might be all the effort you have to add to an interesting photograph that helps you express something.  This is the beauty of art journaling...make a page, or part of a page, or two pages, and if you like it, great.... if you don't, move on. You don't have to show anyone and you can even go back later and change it, but in the end you have done something that honors the playful artistic part of your brain that longs to peek out and see the world.

(Side note! Because I was looking for more expressive bits to use in my own art journal, I started making pieces for myself to print, and finally put them on ETSY. Please visit my CocoGirlsArt shop for printables and more.)

Finally, my traditional journals have been a huge source of comfort and meditation for me, but I love the pretty edge and wavy page of an art I wanted to incorporate that into my everyday diary style journals as well. This is an example of how that might turn out:
Before filling the pages I will take a few minutes to add a bit of ephemera, washi tape, stamping or doodles to give my layout a little variety. Then I fill the pages with my writing as usual, but the end result is a much more colorful and beautiful book bursting with everything from pretty tags to a movie ticket.  I have loved the shift in the feel of my journals that decorating the pages has given to them.  Even though I keep a scrapbook for photos, sometimes a photo will find it's way to my pages. I enjoy the introspective nature of journaling, and it tends to be more about how I feel than it is what I did (as compared to a scrapbook recounting events).

The journaling world is a beautiful supportive place to connect with other writers and others who honor their life experiences through recording them. Search on Pinterest and Instagram for accounts that inspire you, and go from there.

Life a beautiful life.
Record it well.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Brilliant Strangeness of "Into The Woods"

This summer has found me spending countless hours involved in our local community's musical theater production.  The chosen show for the year was "Into The Woods", and I will admit, I knew very little about it.  As I began studying the show for auditions, and included this research once I was cast as Cinderella's Stepmother, it became very obvious from people's reactions that this show is mostly misunderstood.  Occasionally someone would say.."Oh, I really love that show", and we could have a good discussion about it. For the most part, people think the show is strange and dark, and do little beyond that to ponder what they may have just experienced.

There are many themes that weave seamlessly throughout the entire show and with all of the characters.  Parenting dilemmas,  the issue of finding contentment, the desire to live a life besides your own, and the need to properly interact and rely on each other are major life conflicts for those in the story.  It also goes where most fairy tales don't go, asking you to think about what happens when you get what you wish for.

As both Jack and Little Red are sent off into the woods (just replace 'woods' with 'world' as you listen to the story and you will start to feel the depth of the message) they are doing things their parents, by all right, should be doing. Jack is trying to salvage what he can of a living so he and his mother may survive. Little Red is visiting her grandmother who is sick.  It could be argued that both these tasks would be better suited if done by the parent.  It is also apparent by their actions and reactions to what happens to them that they were neither prepared or were they mature enough for what came to them in the woods.  While there is a lot of talk about The Big Bad Wolf and what he represents (pedophile is the most common assumption) this character can portray any kind of darkness or threat to a young adult who ventures out unprepared.  In life there are many predators that may appear "exciting and new", but in the end can truly be the demise of the person who engages it in. From addictions of all kinds, to abusive relationships, to predator type of relationships, we would be wise to teach our children about the realities of the world, instead of just sending them out and telling them to 'stay on the path". Jack also is unprepared for the temptations he faces, and his greed sets in motion a series of events which ends up causing tragic repercussions.

Another thematic element found is one of over bearing parenting. In major contrast to the Red and Jack's parents, the witch and the Stepmother both go to obsessive lengths to control their children.  From locking Rapunzel in a tower to cutting off parts of the Stepsister's feet, these mothers are determined to control the outcome of their children's lives. By the way..... this technique also fails miserably.  (Children can only grow, from something you love to something you lose....)  In the end even the cold Stepmother realizes she is of no help to the kingdom in fighting for peace and ends up hiding from the woods. The witch's desperate need to control Rapunzel and salvage her own image also comes at an extremely high price, leaving her with no powers and no family in the end.

Another family issue is trying to undo the damage done by those we follow. Our own parents, and even our ancestors, have done things that indeed define us- and our need to break free from that can also come at a price.

In Cinderella and the childless Baker and his wife we see the underlying desire to wish for more than what we have.  We wish for things from a far and are convinced that these things will finally bring us happiness.  Often times, the things we wish for have consequences and come layered with both good and bad realities. (Careful the things you wish, wishes come true..... not free.... ) The woods (world) is enticing for a lot of reasons. We cross paths and help others get their wishes. We are sometimes put in situations that contribute to or own arrogance, we sometimes do things thinking it only effects our self, when in the end it can cause ripple effects that disturb many.

Sadly the movie version pulled some of the musical numbers from the score.  While it is a beautiful portrayal of the story, in doing so a major point is missed. The Baker and his father sing one of the most touching songs of the show, in what becomes somewhat of a turning point. At some point "fighting" must be overcome and we must surrender to our lives. (Can't we just pursue our lives, with our children and our wives?) We must unite with those we travel with and use our unique gifts to bring success into our lives.  We must recognize the value of the people in our lives (again, several characters do not realize what they have until they lose it) and work together, find contentment, and find joy in what we currently have.

Finally, in the closing ballad, what I believe to be the most critical message is delivered with beauty and courage.  The remaining characters, who have all experienced betrayal and loss in many forms, encourage each other with the incredible message that No one is alone. They are preparing to face their battle and handle their obstacle head on.  They are realizing things are not always as cut and dry as we may think, and they are realizing that in spite of tragedy they have beautiful lives to live.

The show is also peppered with amazing moments of humor, exaggerated characterization, and plenty of occasions to just have a good time ("Agony" sung by the frustrated princes is the perfect example of this). But in the midst of the laughter, the strangeness, and the quirky musical dialogue, if you are looking you will see that this is show that packs a punch with multiple messages.  It is far more than just a 'twisted fairy tale".  It is an amazing look at the human nature of us all and the messes we can get ourselves in...but ultimately it is a tribute to  the fact that sooner or later we find ways to triumph.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How Your Assumptions About Medication Hurt Us All

I am not sure how it has happened, but somewhere along the line of today's views of medication, the world of mental illness has taken a hit.  I have wondered if I missed the boat on this, if sometime back meds were different and had a reason to feared, or worse, hated.  For some reason I always believed myself that medication was 'bad'.  I don't know how that was ingrained into my psyche or if it was taught, or just assumed, but it seems like medication for a mental need is treated much differently than the rest of the body.

Have you ever rolled your eyes at someone who needed medication for their cancer?  Have you ever wondered if someone was 'faking it' for attention if they needed medication for their heart? Or did you tell someone with diabetes to 'think positive' and skip the insulin? Of course not! But these are reactions that happen all the time in the field of mental health, and these reactions are hurting all of us.

Let me clear a few things up, because I have battled depression for close to 30 years, and some years were harder than others, some episodes simply didn't clear until I relied on my doctor and medication.  In fact, I am sure it has saved my life a number of times.

Anti-depressants are not 'uppers'.
I am not a doctor so I am not going to go into the explanations  (you can Google it when you are done here), but there is something physically different in the brain of someone with mental illness. It can be serotonin uptake or a problem with neurotransmitters or maybe something else, but it is REAL and it usually doesn't just go away.  In fact, one person I talked to who works for a pharmaceutical testing company told me anti-depressants won't help you if you are not struggling with some of these issues in the brain. So if you are sad after a death taking an anti-depressant most likely will not help you. However, if you do take an anti-depressant and you notice things looking better for you, chances are your brain physically had something going on. It's not like speed and it doesn't make you weird. Let's get that notion cleared up.

Anti-depressants do not make you void of emotions.
Someone close to me once said they were afraid if they went on medication they wouldn't have spiritual experiences any more.  I have heard people say they were afraid they wouldn't be able to feel anything if they went on a med.  Some people start meds and are shocked to learn they still have bad days and feel a little depressed occasionally. All of these ideas are misconceptions society has picked up along the way.

 Your soul is still in tact, your heart still beats, you still get excited and disappointed. Sure, it may not be a disappointment to the extreme (like a depressed person might be used to) but bad days can still happen.  In my life I still feel like ME- just a better, less-reactionary me.  I can observe my worthless feeling and let it go, reminding myself of the good around me.  I can have a thought of death enter my mind and SEE IT, and have the mental power to deal with it in a healthy way.  I cry if I'm sad.  I laugh when I am happy.  I feel things every day.

Staying on medication is not a sign of weakness. 
This one I wish I could shout from the rooftops: "If you need medication, stay on it!"  Too many people take their medication and 'feel okay', and tell themselves "I can go off this now".  I have felt the shame in admitting I take a medication, and I have had times when I didn't speak up when someone else was bad mouthing prescriptions around me. (Keep in mind, I am in the field of alternative healing, so I hear this all time.) I feel like I am aware of this general feeling that medication for depression, anxiety, ADHD and the likes has become a dirty secret, and because of that parents want to pull their kids off the first chance  they get, and adults want to stop taking their prescription at first sign of normalcy so they can quietly slip back into the world of the healthy, non-medicated society. This assumption is probably the most dangerous of them all.

 First of all, there is a reason you started medication and a reason it worked. There is a physical need here, and because of our shortsightedness we forget that.  If you are in this situation please reflect on what urged you to actively treat your illness, and honor that.

Secondly, pulling yourself off meds is risky and dangerous.  More risky and dangerous than people are willing to talk about (and they should be talking about it more).  It should be treated as seriously as the heart, diabetic, or blood pressure medication. Please, please, please, don't just go off  'cold turkey' and wreak that havoc on your brain. It can cause chemical changes, relapses in extreme thoughts, and even withdrawal symptoms that affect the brain.  Again, I am not going into the science of it, but it is real. I am in awe of how embarrassed people are in regards to medication for mental illness. The need to hurry and be done with it is palpable. I don't understand how society has created a scenario where every illness is acceptable except for the one that deals with our most precious and vital  working part. If we lose our brains we lose everything. I get it, because I feel it. It is a real stigma and chances are at one time or another in your life you have said or reacted in a way that added to this stigma.  That is the tragedy of it.

While it's true that medication can be a temporary thing and does not have to be a life sentence, any change in dosage or phasing out of it should be done under the care of your doctor and with lots of help and support from those around you. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

I have tried to be braver in my conversations about my mental illness. I have started telling people how I treat it, talking about it more, and sharing my experiences with a little more courage.  I'll admit, I have contributed to this stigma most my life through my fear to speak up and speak out.  As long as those who deal with mental illness are ashamed of it, and those who don't deal with mental illness give them reasons to be ashamed, our society will continue to see the rise in suicide and other erratic behaviors.  I just happen to believe we are all to caring and all to connected to let that happen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Young Women Lesson- Your Happily Ever After

This lesson is a great one, one that I feel our Young Women (and grown women, for that matter) really can't get enough of.  I started with the talk "Your Happily Ever After" by Elder Uchtdorf. I decided to print one up for each of the girls, if time permitted we would read various paragraphs from it, letting the girls then discuss each section.  Please go HERE on for the talk in it's entire form. If you want to print it you can also do that right from the page there.  I decided to cut and copy the talk, adding clip art to the title.

Discussion topics from the talk: (list their answers on the board, letting the girls see each others responses and giving them time to expound on one another's input)
What are some of the trials you are currently having to face? 

What things require patience to endure at this time in your life? 

What are things you can use to stay true to your divine destiny and remember who you are?

What gospel truths have helped you in your journey?

Our group was particularly interested in this lesson- and I was able to get a copy of the book that was made of this wonderful talk, so I had highlighted a few passages that I wanted to read.  

I found the girls to really enjoy the story of Elder Uchtdorf winning over his wife's affection during their early courtship, and the book has some photos that helped make the story more personal and real.  You can order the book from Deseret Book.   

 By the time I read the passages chosen to fit my class needs and we answered the questions above, we were out of time.  I added of course my journey of finding and working for my "Happily Ever After" (emphasizing of course, this is a life long journey. As long as we are alive we will be tested and swing back and forth between joys and sorrows). 

 I wanted to make 'wedding mints' (the melted chocolates in the temple molds) but wasn't able to get the supplies in time. Instead, I went with "Temple" and heart sugar cookies, which were a hit. The girls walked away with the following:

You can get this cookie cutter HERE from  Also, click HERE for my foolproof and favorite sugar cookie recipe. Trust me...... yum.  

We could have spent more time on this, making it an option for a New Beginnings or Girls Camp class if you are looking for ideas for that as well. I hope these resources help you put together a presentation you are happy with as we reach out to these girls, one lesson at a time. 

temple silhouette if desired  for talk header, matching cookie shape

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why You Didn't Know Your Friend Was Depressed

Most of us have had it happen....the conversation that reveals someone we know, possibly love even, battles depression and we didn't know it.  We think to ourselves...."but they seem so happy!" or ...."they are so fun to be around!"  and the news doesn't compute with what we know of that person.  I have chosen these statements because they are statements that have been said to me, when I was finally brave enough to tell someone that I have struggled with clinical depression for most of my life. I have even been surprised by the number of people I know who fight a similar battle, and I never would have guessed.  Here are a few reasons why the revelation of clinical depression takes us by surprise, as I have experienced in my life.

1-) Episodes of depression come and go.
I have gone as long as 2 years without serious bouts of depression hitting me.  I was naive enough (hopeful, maybe?) to believe I had been cured.  But it returned when I least expected it.  Most of my life has been a roller coaster of 'emotional times' and 'stable times', and when I was younger I just told myself I was a 'sensitive' person.  It wasn't until a doctor pushed for more information and I researched on my own that I realized I had all the major signs and symptoms of depression and had battled with them most of my life. So yes, it does come and go, and if you catch me on an "up" there would be no reason to suspect I could have ever had a brush with mental illness.  As I have matured I have also realized there are definite triggers, and the response to them is very real and very dramatic, but outside of that there is little reason to discuss my illness.

2-) Depression mimics (although it is in an unhealthy amount) normal emotions. 
Let me speak plainly.....if you do not suffer from clinical depression, you will have a hard time relating the reality being experienced by someone who does.  A crying fit to you may be the sign of a bad day, to someone with depression it may be the explosion that is expressing complete worthlessness and despair.  Retreating to your room in frustration to you may be a way to cool down, to someone with depression it may the start of withdrawal that begins an emotional downward spiral. Declining a social invitation for you may mean you need some quiet the person with depression, it is a way to avoid contact and remain in the darkness being experienced.  You are seeing the tip of the iceberg in the depressed person, and you have no idea there is mass hiding below the waters because for you there never has been the bitterness of cold, frigid ice. Trust them when they try to tell you they feel depressed.

3-) They are living functioning and contributing lives.
Again with the iceberg analogy...... you see the tip of the life they present.  Sure, you may see the warning signs you have read so diligently about, like weight changes or withdrawal, but for the most part the times in my life when I have been most depressed I have also still functioned well.  I have showered, curled my hair, ran my kids from place to place, even lunched and laughed with my friends.  I can't say why I don't usually completely shut down, I just never did.  I don't know if I function out of habit or out of hope, but I do.  I rarely wallowed in my filth and let my life fall apart.  As a matter of fact, when my real battles with depression and death idealizing began I was in school, an honor student, singing the theme song for prom and cheering at the school basketball game.  But the clouds still rolled in and I didn't want anyone to know. So I lived and suffered mostly in private.

4-) The person you know with depression doesn't want you to know they have it.
Depression is extremely easy to downplay.  A quick little "that was a rough time for me..." or "I am struggling with that" is usually all I have to tell someone who is checking up on me after an emotional battle.  People are understanding when it comes to struggles.  What they don't understand, however, is real depression.  Telling someone you are struggling with serious doubts about the worth of your own life, or if you have the strength to face one more day, is a huge risk.  Not all are created equal when it comes to this news.  I have lost a friend or two who I knew just couldn't face the storms with me. And I don't blame them, it's not fun, and it's not easy.  It's even harder if you weren't aware of the problem (see opening paragraph), thus, we learn to hide it.  It's safer that way (not in reality, but we see safety in hiding) so we pick and choose very carefully who we tell, if we tell anyone at all.  In my experience, even upon the telling of our illness we will downplay it.  We desperately want to avoid the stigma, we want to be normal and we desperately want to be helped.  We just don't dare say those things out loud.

Because of the perceived risk in revealing this news, too many people suffer in silence.  Too many pull themselves together to face the world, but alone at home they crumble in shame, guilt, and agonizing pain.  The pain is the worst part of it, and while feeling it you are sure this is the only way you have felt and the only way you will ever feel again.  That is why ending the charade is so important.  As I have become more open about my illness, with my husband, my doctors, my church friends and even my siblings, it is easier to win the battles.  The storms still roll in, but I have many willing hands ready to hold an umbrella for me until it passes.  That is why if you find out someone you know and love has depression your reaction will make a difference, and it is why if you are struggling with mental illness you must take down your mask.

 When we work together, we can win these fights.

Please note, I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice.
I just want to share experiences that may help you relate and support someone you know.
  Please reach out (even anonymously) if you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm, or keep this number for someone you know.

Suicide Prevention line 1-800-273-8255
or text the word "go" to 741-741