Violence and Mental Illness

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As many of you know, we have mental illness in our family lineage. The details don’t matter in this case, I think. But it is important for people who know nothing about it to know that mental illness can be in any family and violence is not directly correlated with it. Despair and lack of hope, maybe. Many things come together, mental health being just one of them, to create a situation where a person does a violent act.

My brother in law was a mostly gentle person in my experience. Of course I wasn’t married to him and my sister is gone, but from our lived experiences I believe she would agree. Verbal abuse is something that did occur which was painful to be a child in their household. But my sister struggled with verbal anger too, a legacy from my father.

We were verbally abused most of our lives into adulthood up until his death.

When we asked Holly if she was comfortable with Paul having a gun in their home, she said she was because he kept it in a safe. I am sure she was thinking a child wouldn’t stumble on it, don’t we all think that about guns at home? Keep them away from the kids. She was offered a restraining order during the divorce which she declined. She did not believe he was violent in that way.

But he murdered her. He took his gun, did some target practice (we didn’t know this until afterward from the police), tricked his way into Holly’s home, laid in wait upstairs and then killed her.

I have many sleepless nights thinking about that. Of course, we could have said something. We just listened, when more than a year before her murder when she told us about the gun. Paul was not a violent person. It was shocking to us that he thought he needed a gun in a suburban neighborhood of Seattle. But we just listened. At that point I didn’t know my brother in law very well. He was depressed for many years through out their seventeen years of marriage. A few times I tried to help.

“There’s no shame in seeking help. Antidepressants do change you. They don’t feel good. I am struggling with that myself, for much of my adult life. I don’t like how they make me unable to feel much. But they also help me out of the passive suicidality of major depression.”

Our situation is unique. But aren’t they all and I suppose that’s my point. The people that are out there killing, who have mental illness of some sort in their history, are unique humans. Their upbringing, their financial situation, their lack of healthy relationships, their solitude, their access to mental health support, joblessness, access to medicine, therapy, doctors all create a moment of time where anything is possible. And being poor, to get help almost impossible to resolve.

It is more difficult to get mental health support in this country than to buy a gun.

Psychology Today

Mental health support needs to be continuous, it is very dependant on the person’s access to help as well as all the things I listed above.

For many years we fought the system to get our daughter help and when we in our most despondent, when all we could think of was to take her to the ER, we were told she has to be a direct threat to herself (actively suicidal) or to others. Do you know how hard that is to prove? Much less wanting to declare that about your loved one.

Mental health and violence to yourself or others is an impenetrable labyrinth.

My Very Little Faith

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As it turns out I have A Very Little Faith. Perhaps I am a product of my human father who believed personal greatness was achieved through his tenacious hard work. Having a false humility, showing off A Very Big Faith, I saw that it was one that didn’t fundamentally change his character. Not really. This was my experience.

Still doubting his own goodness at the end of his life, my father died longing to hear “Well done.”

2.

All of my life I have feared the thought of not really knowing. What do I believe? Feared this very thing: A Very Little Faith. Consequently my prayer life has been frantic and hapless.  There’s a weariness in faith achieved by your effort. And yet, this is faith. Not knowing, striving.  the balance needs to be in how much is human effort and how much is laying down, in relief, our human need.

When strife hit us it struck like a cold winter’s storm. Those of us who live where the seasons always come know that winter is expected.When adversity came and set up camp in our lives, at first I thought, “Of course.” And “I deserve this, somehow.”

3.

Then, as time went on, I came to understand something entirely different. A realization about myself that only adversity has brought. I’ve done a lot of my spiritual life in my strength. The work of living with clinical depression and occasionally overcoming at least for seasons. The strength of mothering with depression. The control required to get sober. And stay sober for seven years. And live sober daily. All me.

Our child three years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. A great effort required me to find and work with all kinds of doctors, psychiatrists and therapists. To wrangle with the school system. All to advocate for my child’s current and future health. To hold on to hope in the middle of destruction and pain, singular sorrow, a mother’s grief, all took my personal strength and wits. There is the constant not knowing how to receive help and not allowing others in, to protect my child’s privacy, How does one receive encouragement and take help for a while to share the load? Almost impossible. Layered atop it, helping my mother in the last two years of her rapid decline, physically and mentally. All required doggedness and charity and choosing to do the right thing.  Too much of me.  And over time this has weakened me, isolated in unhelpful ways, the searing fear and solitude.

4.

Prayer then is what? I have struggled to understand. My Little Faith drove me to my knees, humbled. Hurt and pressed in by all this pain.  Call it suffering if you like, most people would but I’ve become uncomfortable with the comparison.

As if life isn’t just hard. For good people and bad alike, life brings good and bad things. Calling it suffering presupposes that somehow I don’t deserve hardship.  And that’s not the point. It simply is what it is.

5.

I don’t want to know how will it all turn out?  That question remains unspoken, becomes the greatest test of My Very Little Faith. Erroneously, for as I said, life is hard. For good people and bad.

Will we be okay?  Will she grow out of her mental illness?  Will he or she ever grow up to work and live on their own?  Will the business survive?  Will I stay sober?  Will I ever be free of depression? How will my mother’s last years disappear into the fog of her memories?

I don’t ask God to explain.

I think it, I wonder about it. But these are not prayers.

I’m afraid to pound on God’s chest which assumes an intimacy I wonder if we have ever shared.

Turns out I have A Very Little Faith.

6.

I do have Hope. An unreasonable belief that we will get through this.  Life may yet give us a reprieve. Life may not.

This is the tension of being human. Hope, I suppose, is a freedom to not be dejected by it all. To not be destroyed. Ultimately, to be content in this, too. To grow comfortable with life enough to pray something altogether different.  I accept this.

Hope is believing God is good and longs to share goodness with us all. Do I know what this means, not really. Is it enough to believe that God is faithful to us? To let go of the how, the why and the when, all existential?  Hope is based on the premise that God only gives what is good, which is not the same as gives all the good things that I can imagine to ask for.  Peace is found in the release of open hands, willing for anything to come–the unimaginable. Even something better than my limited imagination and Very Little Faith allows.

The unseen is ahead, the future is unclear, the mist heavy and yet the person of hope finds peace which is beyond intellectual understanding.

The prayers of a Very Little Faith faith weakens my soul. Corrupts the possibility of a good future. All my attention on the present moment and not on the One who is good beyond my comprehension.

Whether we ask and we question, or we rail against God and we ask again. Or we thank or praise. It comes to this. Is it a prayer made in hope or A Very Little Faith?

7.

For months now, even years, my spiritual life is stagnated by fear of more pain than I can handle. My Very Little Faith holding to a pattern of foggy, doubting emptiness.

Henri Nouwen says, in this moment “Spiritually you are dead. There can be life and movement only when you no longer accept things as they are now, and you look ahead toward that which is not yet.”

How much of the spiritual life is wrongly asking but not hoping for what is not yet? What we want will surely never come. For we long for peace, for comfort, for good health, for success and happiness for our children, for all the good things we feel promised somehow.  Not promised by God, surely but by a fractured, ill, witless weak culture. We subconsciously buy in and are subsequently dismayed with our lives. Or are we thinking wrongly again. Yes, with certainty.

And in the end people of A Very Little Faith are compelled to open our hands to God in hope.

Simple hope. This, then, is A Very Big Faith grown in us without our doing anything at all.

Amen

P.S. I’ve been reading With Open Hands (Ava Maria Press, 1972) by Henri J. M. Nouwen which has heavily influenced the laudable parts of what I’ve thought here.  The foolishness is all my own.

I’ve been honored to be a part of a collaborative book titled Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. I wrote on my ideas of prayer based on my understanding of 1 Thessalonians 5 that we are to pray without ceasing.

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Award-winning religion columnist Cathleen Falsani (Chicago Sun-Times, Religion News Service, Orange County Register) and Jennifer Grant edited this labor of love, the new anthology Disquiet Time.

In their words:

At its conception, we wondered,

“What if we asked a subset of our most intelligent, inventive, and faithful (and/or scoundrelly) friends to reflect in a deep way about how the Good Book has affected them?”

We decided that we needed to give them room to be snarky, to dig deeply, and to stray away from a PG rating if needed.

And so, almost two years after our first, funny email exchange about the idea, we present a book comprised of more than forty contributors including Dale Hanson Bourke, Eugene Peterson, Margot Starbuck, Jay Emerson Johnson, Debbie Blue, Brian McLaren, Amy Julia Becker, Karen Swallow Prior, Christian Piatt, Carla Barnhill, and many other talented writers and Island of the Misfit Toys-souls who describe themselves as Christian, post-Christian, Jewish, Zen Buddhist, Anglobaptist, or “none of the above.”

That’s kind of the point of Disquiet Time.

I do hope you will look for it.

It’s not about theological or ideological labels or conformity, but, instead, about hearing stories you might not otherwise have been in the room to hear.

It’s about giving thoughtful people the opportunity to tell their faith stories, as rough or incomplete or irreverant or sincere as these stories might be.

Read, enjoy, and be a little braver when you tell your own story of faith and/or doubt.

The book launched last week and (although our publisher Hachette and Amazon are currently arm-wrestling, and Amazon isn’t making it easy to order Disquiet Time), our friends at independent booksellers, and Barnes and Noble and iTunes (among other generous and author-loving places) will cheerfully honor your order of our book.

New: A Solemn & Ordinary Life. #Self-Care in Living with Depression

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profile_36488479_75sq_1396225512on one level, her day-to-day life had become solemn and ordinary;

awkwardly commonplace, when

{self-care} is at the top of her To Do.

she thinks.

what kind of person needs that to do?

a person that deep down disgusts herself. she starves herself all day long until her hungry body confused enough to relentlessly hoard calories. a person that starts smoking in her forties then quit overnight. in the not too distant past was a falling down drunk. she does not remember much of childhood.

her daily heartache now is that she cannot remember details of her baby’s early days

when she was addicted to work, driven. Still, three babies sucking at her breasts for six years were fed by a body starving itself. staying home to be with Them she became unrecognizable to herself, depressed and before long, a decade was gone.

she was a missionary’s kid, a girl that went numb. living in denial of all the fear and heartache at home, her superpower was discovered early, invisibility. a middle child, the peacemaker, and the “sensitive one.” she pretended. always hiding from The Rager, they were all concealers and secret keepers.  Mother was ill. it was not a conscious choice to slowly evaporate.

she finds herself intensely staring down forty-eight;

the Rager is dead and gone. now she is a care giver to her elderly, addled mother and those precious children grown into teenagers.

she is unable to remember how—sitting at her kitchen table which never holds hot meals,

classical music is jangly and bombastic,

strong, hot coffee,

the summer rain falling outside the bay window is cold.

She writes

To do:

1. self-care. 

 

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{rough thoughts on love and mortality in the middle years}

I have no business writing when I need to be packing, preparing, paying bills, picking up prescriptions, cleaning house, and washing laundry, readying myself and the family for me to leave town.  These are very drafty thoughts on aging parents, ailing friends, launching teenagers, and being human.  

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Love and Mortality in the Middle Years

Our middle years—carry

the work of tending to ailing parents

and sometimes losing,

nursing them respectfully and without impatience.

That is love of a child.

 //

Our middle years—rambling side by side with good friends,

you and I, fighting illness and the frailty of being human.

Growing into who we were going to become.

That is the love of a partner and friend.

 //

The human toll of ageing all the while launching

children to fly! The human ache of

watching lives unfold.

Let them fly, let them flail.  Breathing hope into their

youthful lungs. Speaking truth all the while

shaking your head as they roll their eyes in disgust. Wobbly legs

running out and away.  Knowing this

is what they are meant to do.

That is the love of a parent.

 //

We all need wisdom, grace upon grace and more joy (oh, for more joy!).

In the midst of relentless sorrow and loss,

your doorway remains open.

In this middle space of anticipation, of letting go

in more ways than is reasonable or comfortable,

all of which is profoundly difficult

and is the principle achievement of being human.

 //

Middle years: Caring and holding,

loving and letting go.

All this is the Life and Death of the middle years.

This is love and mortality

in the middle years.

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{When the Truth Hurts: “Being Broken” is Not My Life’s Metanarrative}

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Rilke says to celebrate the questions.

1.

A truth has circled me like a persistent fly, zooming in close and then away again. When I stare straight at it, it becomes momentarily clear. Then suddenly it’s gone disappearing into thin air.

The truth hurts almost as much as my perception of my Being Broken has wounded me, at least at first.  Perhaps that is why we sometimes stay stuck in a static and gray malaise.

Recently the fragments came together – swiftly, an epiphany—through the help of a friend.  What I had struggled for so long to understand now made perfect sense and then it was echoed by several other people reinforcing what I heard.

2.

There is a sacredness in tears…They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.  Washington Irving

The last decade has included repeated seasons of depression, ongoing recovery from addiction, and spiritual upheaval. These were all things I had to pass through to become who I am today. I am grateful.  Through it all I learned that I am resilient.

I have been stuck.

I’m finished with being stuck in regret, wishing that I had made different or better choices, and imagining who I might have become, and thinking of life with different parents or greater personal fortitude or less fear or more gumption. We don’t get to choose our parents or our family of origin with its dysfunctions and ghosts.  It’s all too easy to look back and wish, wonder or hope for something unattainable.

I have lived long enough in the shadows of my father‘s rigid control and in the murky, gloomy regret of my mom’s life. I love them both, but I don’t want to become either of them.  No matter how afraid I am, I will forge my own path.

Finally, I have admitted to myself that I am afraid of the future, of autonomy from children, and of a purpose greater than what I can plan or believe for myself.

3.

The years have left their mark on me with many gray hairs and furrowed facial lines. I turn 48 in September and we’ll be married twenty-one years in June; we have three teenaged children and an adult child, who are all learning to fly.  I love being a mother, but while my children learn to fly I will also grow some wings.  I will search for my voice. And find it.  This is frightening for me.

In 2001 I walked away from a PR & Marketing job I was proud of and was successful at by any standard; I was thirty-five years old with three babies under four.  I turned my back on my leadership and creative talents. I hid them away. Now I see that I have been like the servant in the Gospels who buried and “protected” her talent and waited.

I accepted a lie that “Being Broken” was the metanarrative of my life – the only narrative I have to offer others, as if it safeguarded me from the uneasiness of finally rising up afraid of my authority.  I began to believe the lie that I was broken beyond usefulness, because of the years I spent addicted to booze and healing from the illness of depression.

The hard truth is that my brokenness has consumed and side tracked me. I came to believe in my aching places that at forty-seven years old my life was over.

Every time I imagined otherwise or began to dream fear took over.

4.

Finally it’s time to kneel hard on my father’s grave and say: Daddy, I’m sorry for many things but most of all for how I wanted to hurt you. But this bitterness became a virus in my soul telling me I am the failure you were afraid I’d become.

Only this hasn’t hurt him. It’s become my self-fulfilling prophecy—an obnoxious, stench of a lie that I’ve been living. I’ve been scared to open my mouth. I’ve been too insecure to believe I have anything unique or worthwhile to say or give. I have been waiting for validation from my dead father that will obviously never come and that I don’t need.

I thought I was no longer trust worthy. I’ve written BROKEN on my body; a lasting tattoo reminding me that because daddy said or thought so, I wouldn’t amount to anything. My father has been the Puppeteer controlling me, even now his power looming though he’s been dead eleven years.

It’s time to find another image to prick and stain on my skin!  To mark myself with promise.  I am a blank canvas full of dreams. I want to believe in me again, to stand up and clear my voice and shout, even if it is shaky and quaking at first. This new thing has been a long time coming.

It is also true that I have used my words and my pictures, quietly seeking to tell a story to help others.  And in my little corner of the universe I have made beauty out of shards of my pain.

So I say out loud, I am worthy to speak and it matters little my pedigree or that more than a decade of my life seem to have disappeared like a vapor.

5.

“I think I need a job” I spoke hesitantly to my friend. She asked why, saying “you’re an incredibly gifted writer and a photographer.” “My life feels wrong.” I replied. “I want to contribute. Perhaps I want a paycheck. And I am lonely at home.” I added this as an afterthought.

This friend brings out the best in me. The ME she sees, I don’t see for myself.  I tell myself and out loud I tell her, “I am all these bad things.” And she gently laughs and tells me honestly who I am.

I ask her, “How do you have the courage to do something new? What do you do with your fear?” Changing the direction of our conversation completely, she asked the question that changed everything.

“Melody, what do you have that’s uniquely you?” Her question forced me to peel away truth from my regrets, self-doubt and fear.

It came quickly and quietly: “I have my words and my way of thinking. That’s what I have to offer. That I know is true.”

We all get stuck or believe in our own mediocrity.  Perhaps your life isn’t quite as ambiguous as mine.  But I believe this is true for everyone.  As we face our daily challenges, we have to keep believing that there’s a greater and enduring purpose to our life.  It may not be a grand opus we’ll compose. It may be much more humble and much less exciting. But whatever it is, it is important for each of us to discover.

It’s never too late.  None of us are too broken.  We only have today.  What will we do with this day and days ahead, together they become our life..

6

Deep into that darkness peering,
long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting,
dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

Edgar Allan Poe

Today has been a long time coming—growing out of distress, blunders, and discomfort. I still have a lot of spiritual work to do, but I accept that embarrassment and shame will be a part of the past and the future is a blank canvas.  The uncertainty of tomorrow forces me to deliberate, knowing that life can be snatched away in a moment.

I’m uncomfortable with generalizations about gender but I wonder if this is a particularly female instinct? To have a proclivity toward self-doubt, a desire for external validation, (for me especially) a Daddy hole the size of the universe, to imagine that your life could serve no purpose and to believe that you don’t have anything unique to contribute.   Male or female, I know all people experience these doubts at one time or another, Perhaps it is middle age that bring a wondering if your life could be over, when it could be just starting again.

Taking a decade long break from a career is a frightening proposition that is traditional to women.  Combine that with my particulars, the idea of believing in my future takes faith.

I believe, help my unbelief.

I’m taking the first shaky steps toward a future still unwritten. My life isn’t over.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that I’m only forty-seven years old. It is time to dream.  I have a unique voice and a way with words.

I intend to use them.

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A Mother’s Lament {You cannot stop this train. Save yourself.}

These words have leaked out of me, like tears trickling down the crevices of my heart. 

It’s been an all-consuming few weeks. I owe friends updates, but it feels as if there’s no space for conversation when I’m taking in heaving breaths of air just to survive and dodging sorrow’s persistent arrows.

At the same time. 

Time is in such a hurry, glaring at me as it rushes by. Other’s opinions are strong; swift and sharp like missiles: and advice flows so easily, that supposedly isn’t personal. Then a trustworthy and brilliant doctor tells me that I don’t have to be perfect. Of course I am not perfect, I think to myself. But it’s nice to hear a professional say that “you can stop trying so hard” and acknowledge that we cannot fix anything anyhow. It’s nice to know that I can stop but I’d like to see him try to get off this train.

1.

I’m a home-grown perfectionist partly from a critical upbringing. (That is no surprise to regular readers.) This has shaped me and made me who I am.

All my life I believed that if I tried harder, sweltered and burned through the workout of life, ran harder and tougher, perspiring and aching with my heavy burdens, then I Would Find God’s love, Feel It Finally.

The assumption was that life is hard.  But I sought perfection in adversity. I’d become the perfect person for my husband and for my kids and for my siblings and for my mother. And for my dead Father, and for God, I’d finally Become Worthy. And then I’d feel Good Enough. Truth is, though there is no If,Then kind of promise from God or Life. A promise not really spoken by anyone anywhere, a false hope that a child of a raging parent needs, to believe—if I do this, he will … what?? —Stop yelling. —Stop raging. —Stop his anxious, relentless criticism. —Be happy with mamma, be happy with my sisters, and be happy— with me. Or simply be happy? He was a good Dad; He was bad I wrote long ago.  If that’s the case then I am too. Both Good and Bad. My aim was always perfection.

Put your oxygen mask on first should be the advice given to every new parent in those first days when you’re learning the art of diapers and tight swaddling. Save yourself.

2.

The trustworthy and brilliant doctor asked “how are you both doing” and at the same time, same song with different notes, I answered Terrible and he replied Good.  Our therapist laughed a little, allowing Tom to go on.  But like a great therapist, he circled back around to my Terrible. I looked away from his piercing eyes, because I haven’t said that out loud in a while.

And I’m afraid if I give it space, a crack in the universe will open and, my grief will come screaming out. I’m in control, but holding in that Terrible makes me numb. I’m doing the job of motherhood and dying of pain inside. I’m not supposed to show my weakness and it’s indulgent to let others know how much I hurt when the others are children. Or school professionals and doctors wanting to help our family cope. Hold it in, if you can.

How are you? I’m asked dozens of times a week and the answer must be fine. I’m holding it all in and then the trustworthy and brilliant doctor looked me in the eye.

Skirting his gaze that is boring into me, I focus on his strange lamp—a clarinet turned into something that no longer makes music—how sad, a clarinet that no longer croons.  Wretched, both, the instrument turned lamp and I.

I’m heavy with despondency. My cheeks burn red with heat, the toll of trying to control my emotions. My tears disobey my order slowly dripping down my cheeks.  I’m staring at the wall and the sad clarinet that no longer sings.

3.

A person with anxiety or depression, they sometimes get that way from trying to control too much. Believing they can control outcomes, control people, control themselves and circumstances enough to make all the things work out, but real life isn’t like that. Controlling all that is a mind numbing mess. And the more you try the harder it is to feel anything.

Then a trustworthy and brilliant doctor, he said, “It’s alright you don’t have to do anything. There’s no magic answer. There’s no perfect choice nor will “enough” perfect choices make you all healthy and thriving.”

4.

Recently I attended Pulse, a conference for artists, at my church.  I felt honored to have been asked to write a poem for the program. It’s here.

I should not have gone to Pulse.  Even in the midst of the ache of our circumstances it was a calendared reminder that we were in this crisis two years ago at the last Pulse.  And this tidal wave of events hasn’t stopped for a moment; it has been relentless and crushing for all those months, hours, minutes.

I went heart aching, sleep deprived, hurting, spirit crushed and of course feeling critical.  Not a great formula.  Not a great day.  There were no momentous one-on-one conversations or amazing-prophetic-just-for-me-words spoken, only more lonesomeness and sadness in a crowd. But one must choose to keep on living even though you’re experiencing the hardest times of your life. You have to keep pretending you are alive, and it’s not cheating. Be open to healing. Keep going, heartbroken.

5.

Day after day, my depressed brain says lay down. So I get up, again.  Night after night, I pop the right combination of prescribed medication to sleep, waking daily at 5:40 am to foggy and desolate despair before I get up again. Get up.  Keep moving.  But don’t pretend that the casual “Hi, how are you?” is an opening to tell your problems.

Perhaps it is only here, where people are a captive audience, I can let the words and heartache flow. Most people cannot enter into the darkness of our lives now and I’m not totally not sure why.  In the improvised dogmas of other’s lives, our anguish is too much.  In a way, I get it. I’ve been there knowing people’s heartache and not having the courage to follow-up.  I get it. I keep moving too.

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6.

I’m not living in the Light but I’m watching for glimpses of it every day. The gift of quiet solitude is time to see the shadows moving across the wall and capturing a moment, beautiful but never to be seen again. My philosophy is see the beauty in a light filled moment, quickly. Before another call from another so-called expert comes.  And I lie down again and see in the window, a twinkling that is different from the one moments before.  Holding on to these seconds of tranquility, then I get up again, pick up the phone and make another call. Always searching for answers. Then the trustworthy and brilliant doctor says finally, in that quiet hour with just us two, that we can both stop striving so hard for answers. There’s no fix. There’s no answer, perfect or otherwise. A final fixing when we’ll suddenly be done. That’s the heavy grief and the answer for now. And, help yourself and in doing so you’ll become the parent your kids need.

7.

I can feel my heart heavy and tight in my chest. Then it comes to me, the thought that Jesus on the Cross experienced everything real to us humans, including mental illnesses like anxiety and depression and bipolar and all. On the cross, that’s what Jesus did. Jesus took it for us all.

8.

No, I cannot join you in the happiness of Light, enjoying casual encounters or live music, feeling the anticipation of love or joy of birthday milestones, no laughing hard at jokes, or knowing the thrill of spiritual mountaintops – I cannot join you there.  I listen, I am physically present, and I might even laugh but I don’t feel it. Even laughter tastes bitter on my tongue. I am living in the shadow lands of unremitting lonesomeness and I sit here.  I am waiting for it all to end. But that’s just it.  I have to learn that finding my oxygen mask is to save myself and in doing so it will save them.

When the trustworthy and brilliant doctor said it, something resisted. Our lives are on a careening train but I’m supposed to jump off, save myself and watch the crash? No.

“You cannot stop this train. Save yourself,” he said.  And,“The only way you can help your child is to save yourself.” And later, “Know that no one around you is going through what you are: no one, none of your neighbors or friends, can possibly understand nor will they ever have any idea of the depth of this sorrow you carry.”

9.

And so I go on. Watching for patterns in the sunshine and shadows, for lessons, for language, for hope, for rhythms that show me God’s order in the midst of this unrelenting sting. Light beckons the heart toward hope.

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Lent Diary: The Mundane, A Holy Awareness, Our body, and Jesus

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My first Lenten post is here.

These are the indiscriminate observations from days one and two. 

Often, I allow dailiness of life to flood in, the tyranny of the urgent family agenda turning me half brain-dead.  Just do the next thing, if grumpily.

In The Sign of Jonas, Merton says:

 “I ought to know, by now, that God uses everything that happens as means to lead me into solitude. Every creature that enters my life, every instant of my days, will be designed to wound me with the realization of the world’s insufficiency, until I become so detached that I will be able to find God alone in everything. Only then will all things bring me joy.”

1. I SAW MY SHRINK.

The last time I saw her, a month ago, I was so down that she expressed concern. Meanwhile, until late last week I couldn’t even pick up the phone to set up an appointment. Yesterday I was floating; my brain was uncluttered and clear.  I was articulate and full of a strong sense of myself. I had a little extra energy and my spirits weren’t clouded by anxiety and depression. Is this a result of the medication change? I have no idea.

I often get an emotional bump from HOPE.  I have seen this time and again over the years.  There were so many incredible observations with my shrink.  I left knowing that I wanted to write them down the got stuck in the snow filled parking lot at Pier 1.  By the time I was out of that mess, I didn’t want to see if they had a round table-cloth and in a fit of anger huffily drove home.

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2. THE MUNDANE.

My days at home are full of the mundane.  Every keeper of a home knows that most things are never finished.  The laundry is never done.  Bathrooms always need cleaning.  The kitchen needs sweeping or wet mopping.  You wash the dishes so that you can have room to cook dinner and do it all over again. That’s why I love snow blowing or mowing depending on the season.  Jobs that make me feel good—it is finished.

When I got home, I plowed out two driveways (we borrow from a neighbor and it was my turn).  My car got stuck again, this time in an icy snow patch in the street in front of my house. I lost almost an hour trying to get myself out and then the generous city employer helped.

Sadly, I blew out my shoulders doing that, more stupid than sad. I’ve had weak shoulders for twenty years.  If they get inflamed, they burn and ache all day long, with one special place that I have come to fondly call The Rod. I had to lie immobile or sit for the rest of the afternoon.

3. TIME COUNTS.

Rather than take advantage of the downtime, to read or study or write, I nosed about on Twitter and Instagram, alternating. I do read linked articles but reading on my phone gives me squinting, tired eyes. And my (self-diagnosed) ADD makes it so that I have eighty things open at once. I follow too many writers.  I don’t finish things. I’m twittering away my life – pun intended.

4. AWARENESS

Regular readers know that I appreciate the writer, international teacher and Benedictine nun Joan Chittister. She has written more than 30 books including The Liturgical Year.  In chapter 17 titled Lent: A Symphony in Three Parts she says:

“Having conquered our impulses for the immediate, having tamed our desires for the physical, perhaps we will be able to bring ourselves to rise above the GREED that consumes us. Maybe we will be able to control the ANGER that is a veil between us and the face of God. Perhaps we will have a reason now to forswear the PRIDE that is a barrier to growth. Possibly we will learn to forswear the LUST that denies us the freeing grace of simplicity. Maybe we will even find the energy to fight the SLOTH that deters us from making spiritual progress, the GLUTTONY that ties us to our bellies, and the ENVY that makes it impossible for us to be joyful givers of the life we have been given.

Lent is the period in which, learning to abstain from adoring at the shrine of the self, we come to see beyond the divinity we have made of ourselves to the divine will for all the world.” (pp. 113)

5. RISE ABOVE.

“There is no way under the sun to make a man worthy of love except by loving him. As soon as he realizes himself loved–if he is not so weak that he can no longer bear to be loved–he will feel himself instantly becoming worthy of love. He will respond by drawing a mysterious spiritual value out of his own depths, a new identity called into being by the love that is addressed to him.” — from “The Power and Meaning of Love” Merton

I’m conscious today of how easily I resent people, especially social circles where I may be forgotten; as much as I am embarrassed1-DSC_0036 by those “high school” type feelings, don’t we all simply want connection? Social media feeds that anger and pride and envy in me.

I’m not sure what kind of distinction I dream about for my writing, nothing specific.  As I said my goals are unclear.  There’s a chance that I’ll need to go to work outside the home. This came up late last week. And this shook me.  I became frustratingly aware of what I had to lose.  These twelve years of privilege, I do not have to work for money.  I saw my writing life suddenly threatened and had to ask myself how badly I want this.  Do I want it enough to get up early or stay up late for it; to sacrifice evenings or weekends to write if I had to work a 9-5 job? Right now my writing is very one offish. I respond to requests, take very little risks, never query, don’t have a writing group, don’t ask others to edit (except Tom.)  Haven’t taken further classes to improve. How serious am I?  I think I am but I haven’t been behaving that way. If I want to write for certain publications then I have to query and write and send.  As if I’m going to be “discovered” sitting here in my den, in Wisconsin.

I am my own worst enemy. Recently, a writer who blogs on Patheos.com asked me if I’d like her to check into their interest in my writing for them.  I’m the one that put the question out there but when she took the bait I got scared.  I haven’t written her to say one way or another.  I’m afraid.

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of which we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” ― Parker J. Palmer

6. MY BODY.

Another Lenten awareness is that I’m eating an Orthodox fast for Lent, this is my first time.  That means no meat (except fish), no dairy or things made of fat from animals.  (Additionally no white sugar because why not?  It’s a brain drain I learned yesterday.) I don’t eat gluten but I’ve cheated on that.  I’m eager to return to the discipline of no wheat, to be honest gluten makes me depressed, foggy headed, and lethargic. At first, I was sure I’d feel deprived.  So far I’m not that hungry.  I’m aware of a cleansing of body and spirit.  I look forward to other observations.

From Isaiah: “If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”

hands breaking bread

7. MY SPIRIT.

I’m reading the four Gospels through over the forty days of lent. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus and that is what I want to know more about.  I think my (lack of) prayer life would be changed by truly knowing Jesus.  Prayer is communication in a relationship after all.

“Everyone was trying to touch him because the power came out of him that cured their ills.” Luke 6:19-26

I’ve got some ills that need curing.

8. SO FAR.

On this path of slowing down for Lent, so far I’ve seen I’m terrible at it. I’m self-consciously aware that I read my Twitter feed all day long. I dive quickly into FB and out again, because FB makes me feel bad. I post images on Instagram and wonder why I am not liked.  I want to sort out why does social media like Facebook make me feel bad about myself? I need to sit with my discomfort. Face it.  Own it.  Get over it. Do I think I’m a worthwhile person? Do I think I’m a worthwhile writer or photographer? Why seek other’s validation?

The word AWARENESS is sticking with me, nudging and prodding in all the right places.

I read these words somewhere today and jotted them in the front of my prayer-book.

Desire God, make space for God, and remember God does all the work.

Amen.

What about you? What practice are you taking on for Lent.  What are you observing as you slow down your days? (One day thus far.)  You don’t have to tell me here, just something to be thinking about.

Featured

{The Dilemma of Being unHuman—And Becoming Whole} a poem


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1.

I want to radiate Light in a worn-out world. I want to face others with joy and eagerness. Glad to share life with one another. Life feels less weighty and onerous, when we are vulnerable with One Another. We all need community.  I long for it,

then I open my mouth.

I always seem to be

lacking. For I did not learn to trust

humans.

Friendship by its nature is reciprocal. But all I can focus on, in my weakest and worst moments, is what I don’t have to give, what I am not receiving, how alone I often feel, so alone. Irrelevant to anyone that I imagine to be my friend. The world of relationships is moving around and beyond me. Somehow I am not invited in, shielding myself by saying I’m not a joiner but really likely ignored or forgotten.

On the other hand I am caught

inside myself. It‘s the dilemma of feeling unHuman.

2.

Parenting too is not for the meek, but for people with wisdom and strength collected by watching a mother and father long ago. My parents had many good qualities. But they could also be insular and ingrown. It was from them that I learned to be suspicious and untrusting.  The Generous Spirit my Father had for Others often failed to come home. I learned to go inward from his regular correctives and criticism. The love my Mother shared, she didn’t receive unconditionally in childhood or in their marriage. This made it hard for her to pass love on. (She’s different since he died.)

I fear for myself. Together is not something I do well. Community is for Others so unlike me. And so I withdraw even further.

Away from the Light I might

find, the Light I might hold within, the Light I might share with others.

3.

These days I am unlearning Who I Am. Almost every day I work to be more Human; to forget the broken promises and to forgive.  Letting go of the anger and resentments that are carving grooves in my soul. Forego the automatic ungracious way I learned to speak to those I love.

I have worked hard to stop being me, the Me I Hate.

Just stop.

If only—

We are named Beloved but I can barely accept it.  I need to know Grace, but I’m worn down, the trenches within are real, torrents rushing through pulling away at

the Me I Could Become.

I try so hard to Become, to Be someone you want to be with, worth breaking bread together.

But I am still here. Shaky with sadness, knowing I may never find my way.  I’m only forty-seven but I feel a hundred year’s weary.  Intellectually I believe in transformation.  But in the daily, all I can muster is longing for One Another and I am left with my hollow heart and howling grief.

How do we learn to be Light when our hearts are shadowy, rigid and so very heavy?  When we believe we have nothing to offer.  All the years of trying and not measuring up, now turning us

up into what kind of person? How do we convey our acceptance and satisfaction to our children when our hearts echo a hollow sounding love?—when “unconditional” was always tethered to conditions?

I want to believe, oh help my unbelief.

4.

I try very hard—to be a Good Mother, a Good Daughter, Sister, Partner and Friend.  Every day I am failing, for even when I am told I am loved I don’t believe.The one doing the speaking is never enough to fill the hole inside.

I need healing.  I need to set down pride and fear and discontent, take off Never Good Enough and take on my true name—Beloved Daughter.

Then will I feel whole?

5.

I meet so many people who I can see are hurting; opening up just enough for me to see Myself inside their soul.  The Me I don’t want to be.

I see you.  I know you.  I recognize what’s inside. I ache for you.

Let us become Light for One Another. Even though I don’t know how and some days I don’t believe. I have to believe that this Heavy Awareness of myself holds a greater purpose, in the intuitions that lay bare the souls of those around me and make me want to take their pain on myself.

And Perhaps that is an answer. As I take my eyes off my own wrecked heart and look deeply into yours, I will feel your pain more than my own.

May I be a person who can take others pain.  May I be A Beloved Daughter who cries with you, your tears collected in a basin that I will hold,

a chamber that is perhaps duck taped together. I’ll hold it close to my heart.

May I forget myself in that Holy Moment and become finally

not whole, but holy.

Featured

The Stones I Carry and a Band of Saintly Women

“With or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the only question is how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.”  

Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year

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A saint (noun) is a virtuous person, particularly good or holy, or one who is exceptionally kind and patient in dealing with difficult people or situations.

1.

I’ve been angry. And it is passing.

I’m embarrassed about my anger being a person of faith. I’ve been wide-awake, tossing in the Dark of the Night.

It’s a level below wakeful consciousness.

Hardly daring to speak of it because mature followers of Jesus should know ahead of time that people suffer and life is hard; all the clichés rattling round in my skull late at night and in the early morning, sitting at a red light, during the stretches of waiting in my day.  I do a lot of waiting.

There are so many moments when I have tried to pray and my consciousness hits my anger hard. That is where I got stuck.

My heart’s gone stony.

Examining my heart dispassionately, I hear a gusting and desolate wind howling, see whirling tumble weed. My emotions are hard and gritty. (Antidepressant medication ironically stops almost all sensation.)

This is the state of my heart, mind, and body, until recently.

“Suffering experienced leaves us crushed in despair – content to survive and endure, to switch off from the life of the world beyond our pain, to allow darkness to fill our horizons and hide our hope – rather than continue to love our (equally hurting) friends and world in whatever ways are left to us.”

Joan Chittister, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope

2.

My doubts tell me my spiritual path is probably not worth writing—elusive, brittle, and often overly bleak. My pain is at times far too precious. And yet I’ve been sanctified by reading Saints attentively. So perhaps the inverse could be true.

But I’ve struggled against my anger and disappointments with life to the point of spiritual torpor or inertia.

I am no saint.

To be sure, as a teen I had flashes of spiritual sincerity mostly through vigorous questions and an appetite for scripture. The “mountain top” was climbed infrequently but often enough to be certain that God was doing the stirring in my squashed shattered heart. (I’ve written about that heart ache on this blog enough times to leave it for now.)

Life is full of spiritual spaces described by Richard Rohr as “the spaces in-between forged by a stinging ache of pain.”

There is a dying inside with spiritual movement in the heart, which includes darkness every time. “Darkness and not knowing—then surely an even larger letting go is necessary to move from one spiritual stage to another…  Without great love (of someone beyond yourself) and great suffering, where there is a major defeat, major humiliation, major shock to the ego, very few people move [spiritually].”   From Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis.

3.

The shock of suffering and grief can catch one in its slow surprise.  It is a relentless beating. As frequent and steady as the rain drumming outside is mesmerizing on the senses.  That’s what it is like to watch someone you love stagger under the weight of unfair and ruthless mental illness.

That is what it is like to feel wounded by life’s sting. Your humanity departed, stones weigh you down.

For months all I could think to pray was: “This is too much.”

Not even able to whisper the usual question of how a good God would allow an innocent child to feel so much pain? That came later but didn’t last long. Accepting that  sh*t certainly happens. And those that know me, know, that I’m no optimist, generally.  I expected life to be tough; it’s been hard for me, but not for my babies.  Damn you, not my babies my heart screams.

I don’t believe that pain is FROM God.  Or that God punishes us with suffering.

I believe that with everything I am. Though I am angry, there is no one to blame. I have come to see with startling clarity that life will be hard and pain will eventually come for most everyone.  What’s most important is how we respond.

4.

When I became pregnant I hadn’t given much thought to whether my children would eventually suffer.Yes, I was that naïve. They were born healthy and I was pleased, as if I had anything to do with it. I thought if we do a good job parenting, our babies would grow up to be happy and carefree.

I hadn’t prepared my heart for the powerlessness of watching a child suffering.  And didn’t realize how much I had bought into what the world considers to be kid’s perfections or imperfections, much of it utterly out of anyone’s control.

When everything began to crumble for us nearly two years ago the first thing I did was question what’s wrong with us as parents.  Then, what’s wrong with my child?  Eventually I had the thought: how can we “fix” this?  I hadn’t seen it before but I guess I believed children could (perhaps should) be perfect.

My daughter’s health was someone’s failing.  This illness could be, must be fixed.  I was caught in this thinking. A different doctor, a different medicine, a different ANYTHING would be the answer and I would find it. I would do anything for my child!

One day seeking yet again “The Answer” we met with another specialist, a good, gracious and brilliant doctor.  He was probably the fifth or sixth doctor that had tried to help us through more than two years of hard work of therapy, hospitals, dozens of variations of medications. Not to mention all the feelings of grief, failure, desolation, loneliness, rage all processed mostly in solitude or between Tom and me.

Finally, after lots of conversation this new doctor asked the most incredible question.

“What if you could see that she’s perfect the way she is?”

I’ll be honest I laughed out loud, more like snorted, choking back my scorn. Still so caught up in grief I sputtered:  “Perfect like this? She’s broken…”  Yes, I said it out loud.  My child is broken. She had recently been discharged from the adolescent psychiatric hospital.  We were once again in crisis management after the short reprieve of hospitalization.

That’s what people convey with ideas of Tiger Mothers and Helicopter Parenting, with the ugliness of genetic testing, and the standards of a perfect GPA and natural athleticism, and in the church expecting us to raise Velcro children that are attracted to our Sticky Faith. What?  With the stigmatization of mental illness everywhere it is lound and clear: the mentally ill are broken. And in the Church, If our children no longer believe, we should feel shame and be blamed.

“Your child is perfect” he said, again.

5.

My anger wakes me in the murky, shadows of the night causing frantic, fearful anxiety.  I’ve faced my anger with the maturity of a petulant teen. I’ve tried to understand suffering standing on the edge of a cliff considering a jump.

Standing at the top of that very high cliff looking down, I hear God gently saying, “Steady on, I’ve got you.” Abysmally, I know that I will eventually believe. Still angry. A bit sulky and disappointed by it all. But I will come to a change.

6.

Today is a cold blustery and snowy winter morning. I find I can suddenly pray more than “This. Is. Too. Much!”

Somehow in some way something is different.  Then I remember. This week I reached out to a band of women from several continents and dozens of walks of life, each knowing me in different contexts and decades of my spiritual progression.  Some know me well, we’ve got flesh history.  Others I’ve met online. The relationships bound by our writing.  Some I know peripherally. It doesn’t matter to me how I know them or how long, because they are praying for me.

And into the faith of many good women, I lean.

I let it all drop. Like heavy stones I’ve been carrying stuffed into my pockets, clenched in my tired hands. I hear each one fall to the ground. Soon they are behind me.  I keep walking forward.

I looked back this morning to see the stones are smaller in the distance.  Still there, still on my spiritual path with me, but each step takes me farther from their weight.

That’s the case for my heart, mind, and body now. I am lighter.

I begin a new prayer:Lighten my load, oh my God, it is still just a few words. I find I am carried along by the faith of more than twenty saintly women of great faith and prayer.  Right now, they are far stronger than my solitary heart.

Now,

I’m still burdened if I turn around and lift those heavy stones back up: Worry. Fear. Anger. Doubt. Lack of trust. Disappointment. Grief.

I whisper the words of faith, growing within.  Finally, I have a few more words.

Give me faith, love, patience and kindness. Give me the strength to continue on.

Give me a love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

Give me new prayers. Give me renewed hope.

Kyrie eleison.

Today I believe it. Today I’m certain.  All shall be well.

Not perfect, but well.

Featured

New Year, Old Pain, Sudden Hope: When Depression and Heartbreak do not Win

[Warning: this is longer than my usual posts. 2,779 words]

In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.” 

 Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers

10820152714_fd52cd5689_o (1)I.

“Have you prayed?”  It was an obvious question.  I had an MRI on my brain scheduled for later in the day. The doctor is fishing for answers to why had I fainted and had a temporary inability to use my legs and arms and other weird symptoms that may or may not add up to calamity.  (As of this edit, I still haven’t heard back.)

I sighed; one of my deep, bottomless infinite sighs that people hear from a distance and wonder out loud what’s wrong? I have asked others to pray for it.  But I haven’t talked to God for a good long while.

He was probing into something that should be certain, surely, to a person of faith—offering up prayer for yourself, especially when you’re frightened. But he knows nothing spiritual or self-loving is sure with me.

“Pray for what exactly?” I replied, feigning lack of understanding.  It was clear and came in his swift retort.

“That seems selfish,” I countered; not at all sure I believed what I was saying. “To ask God to heal you isn’t selfish.” He held the sentence out like a talisman, “Unless you’re perfectionist.”  This under his breath, but I heard him.  “It’s sad,” he went on, pressing his point. “You don’t have enough self-love to pray to God to heal you.”  He wasn’t being unkind. He was both empathetic and mystified at my state of mind.

“I can pray that God would give me strength to endure, no matter the result.” I said finally.

But then I didn’t pray. I haven’t been talking to God.

10818503543_88d67b3eaf_oII.

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” ― Mother Teresa

I’ve got a complicated association with prayer. This has been true for as long as I can remember believing in God.

This summer I found myself studiously researching “prayer” for an essay I eventually submitted to a devotional book.  After reading parts of more than fifteen books, I wrote on 1 Thess 5:16-18 focusing on “pray without ceasing.”

These snippets of notes may help explain why I have remained in the desert plains of faith and disbelief for nearly forty years.

Re: prayer. I have wondered more than attempted.  Perhaps I even believed that I had cajoled God into doing things, by my choice of words or holy behavior.  But the fact that we cannot prove prayer works, whether we do it unceasingly, or infrequently, continues to swell inside me, a barrier, a conundrum.

I never believed in God’s love for me.

For many years I suspected my faith was neither sincere nor robust. Surely God would change my (human) Father?  Undoing the idea that God/Father was an asshole has been time-consuming and a tremendously difficult spiritual exercise.  My faith was gnarled and weedy, rooted in fear.

By the Grace of God, eventually I accepted that I am the one Jesus loves—thanks to Brennan Manning and my husband, and sweet, sweet mercy.  I found a restored understanding of God, by reading the full narrative of YAHWEH in scriptures, end to end.

Distrusting God disturbs prayer. 

Suffering depression, then recovering from addiction to alcohol, was the beginning of accepting my helplessness and ultimately I found that God doesn’t shout. He’s more of a gentle whisper as Dallas Willard put it.

Vulnerability before this God has been a glacially slow melting of my icy heart to trust this gentle Father God.

Perfectionists fear what they cannot achieve, but spiritual people move toward what they fear and do not understand.  At least this is what I long to do.

1-DSC_0036III.

Before that  conversation with Tom, I’d been feeling helpless against the pull of my physical and emotional issues.  I’ve been in a deep trench.  The only solace has been found in writing.  I haven’t even been able to read.

IV.

Recently I wrote:

I need a pen that carves smooth and sure, to write all the hard words down.

Stacked one next to the other, a shrine to pain that is breaking me apart into one demolished life. Can beautiful things ever come from the dark places inside me?

As an addict, I’m learning it’s wrong to try to do it all on my own—willpower is unsustainable. I see that I’ve been trying that for far too long. Just do it (alone), stubbornly thinking my way through sobriety, but the truth is impossible. I’m so depressed.

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.” – The book of Ecclesiastes

I am depressed and I live from a depressed place. These days, all so heavy and unbearable, with each word lying naked at the altar of my ego and my dreams, I know that I’m failing myself.

I’m a keen believer in BEING UPLIFTING and yet I am so the opposite these days.  How can I help anyone?

I’m drawn like a moth to sunny and joyful people — out of my joylessness.  I fear my hyperbole. What erupts from me; the heat of it burning within.  And after the foul smoke blows away, I am clearly still left with me, the Depressed Person spitting up gore, without pausing to consider the response.

It is only sometime later that I consider the consequence.  I ache with knowledge of it, for I long to help others, to serve, and I know I cannot with this constant dwelling on myself as “the Depressed Person,” the one that I have become.

Depression has come, roosting deep in me, laying eggs of sorrow, grief, and injury—all a reminder of my destroyed places.  Then, and now, and into the future I plead for the future and past me—for time and chance, for the person I never became that grieves inside me.

I close the book on one year and open another, gravely aware of the future pressing, in hours, minutes and seconds.  I cannot will it to be anything more than this, these words scribbled down.

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Perchance I catch the ear of God, I lay here as tidal waves of fear choke, and shout “hear me” to God.  “I am in PAIN! I don’t even want to be with me, so I understand why I suffer alone.”

I don’t choose this, to be ill with depression; though I know others don’t know that. I have worked! I have read the books. I have taken the pills. I have talked in therapy the odd thirty years. I’ve exercised hard.  I’ve eaten well. I take vitamins. I have a S.A.D. lamp.

And some days I have sat staring at these white walls laid flat, drained believing that EMPTY is my forever. No longer considering that this word or that will be of more or less importance, more or less help for mine are no longer words that fill a soul.

I have a hole at the bottom of my heart.  Everything is leaking through.

2013 had to end because I have no more air. I exhale, light-headed gasping.  I send the year back to where she came from, a vast scorching hell, a melancholic, dry desert, and an infinite amount of gritty, gravel atop my scavenged bones.  I am Depression. I am disappearing under the burden.

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I will hold on to hope; only because I want to see my kids find joy. I want to believe, it’s still possible
for them.

I will hold on to hope, only because there is one man who loves me even when I have gone numb.
I want to believe I can thaw.

I will hold on to hope, only because I have lived my life making “faith” the cemented corners of my forty odd years. May it keep me. I want to believe ((Help my unbelief))

I will hold on to hope, only because I am a Mother and I am responsible — even when I wake, staring at the wall in disbelief of another day to be endured.

I hold on, only

in order to

hold on.

The faith I cling to only suffers with me; it sometimes sustains but doesn’t take away the anguish of Depression.

If this is it, if I am to live with this gray
All. My. Days.
Simply sober and alert;
if I cannot will the fog of depression to clear;

If I cannot find relief. If the question is the same, this year, last year, and the next.

Can I BE, Can I PRETEND, Can I offer others more than I TAKE regardless of what’s burning within?  It seems to be the only way to go on, each day giving more, loving more, helping more, learning to stop speaking of the Depression, Me.
Learning when asked: How are you? To say: thankful. How are you? Thankful. How are you?

The endless question echoing in the voluminous quiet of my heart.

2014 will be…UNKNOWN.

3204758186_5f88f12666_oVII.

I woke at 5:00 am with a headache so severe as to be unbearable.  After the fainting last week one cannot help but frightened wonder.  Is there something disastrous going on in my brain?  MRI scheduled, I told Tom I was unafraid, just curious.  And that’s how I want to be though obviously I’m struggling to fulfill that preposterous idea.

I record this, I suppose, to remember if in coming months I do have a brain tumor like my father.  I watched my father disappear into his illness and there are moments when I fear the worst, but tell myself and others “It’s probably nothing.”

I’m thinking of the future and if I have less time than I’d want I will write more. Quit wasting time. I hope my book, if it gets written,is intelligent and thought-provoking as well as poetic, soulful and beautiful.

And I hope, even more importantly if I have less time that I’d want, that I would Mother well… 

My job, for all their lives has been protection. Now as they reach their teens I must do the opposite. Let go. This comes to me as I watch my baby, now twelve, scared from a bad dream come downstairs to be nearby.  As he lay on the couch and falls asleep again trusting in the proximity to Mom, no longer chased; it hits me, my job description has changed.

Teach him that he has wings; and as he fluffs his feathers and strains to contain himself, I am here
to celebrate, listen, advice, even nudge. And if from time to time he falls I will pick him up and kiss his face.  And off he goes again.

Bad dreams will come.  And life cannot stop because I am afraid for him, his brother and sister as well. For myself. The worst thing I could do is let them know how afraid I am. Fly babies, fly away from me.

What I’ve been hiding from all these years is my own bruised and broken wings, clipped too early, too young.  I must go there now, sit.  Every day of the New Year my plan is to write, and run, and eat well but lately I’ve been only—still.

This cannot go on.  I must begin to live if not for myself for my children. I must soar again.

DSC_7805 copyVIII.

I’m weighed down, heavy. I hurt.
Depression’s been

kicking
me
down
the long slippery trail
my brain, my heart, my body knows too well. I’m tired

of life. Tired of breathing.
I know, what an awful admission that is.
I fear
sounding pitiful and worry what others think of me:

If I’m tired of me,
I can only imagine what they think.

Why are we hardest on ourselves?

I’m having
an existential prolapse, everything inside my body; head
is tumbling
shaken upended. I’ve forgotten
where I once found hope, like a person wandering lost in a golden sunny field. Yet still eager to find the other side.
Somehow

I forgot how.  Where
to walk on.

She wasn’t always ill
though hindsight wonders
how would we have known how long this hyperbolic collision of wit and prudence
churning until it ruptured
all over what we knew to be true.

Days upon days I’ve taken to
forgetting last month, the one before, summers colliding one after the other,
the past evaporates behind me.  Today’s pain is enough.

These days, and many others, remind me. I’ve forgotten the way
I’ve fallen.
Was I once so inconsolable
or had I never felt true pain?

I’m tough; survived my Frozen Child years.  Building a wall of stone

around me.  Then eventually
learning that God wasn’t the Bastard Daddy I thought I knew,

but a comforting Bosom, a Nursing Provider. Only then slowly, oh so slowly I began to Believe Again. I needn’t fear wrath

Rather receive with holy awe, Grace.

But, on the way
this year and last somehow I stopped
seeking GOD.  Like a child I put hands on my ears in defiant anger.
I shut up my mouth stubbornly refusing

To speak.

I don’t exactly when it happened.
I shut down.
I began to only survive,

Only

do the day,

though starving and spiritually thirsty.

I wonder when Hope stopped.  Yes, I feel the lapse, the need, the yearning, the ache of all that is amiss inside.

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

—Isaiah 43:2

dsc_2823.jpgIX.

I have startled awake today.  Challenged by knowing that I know nothing, I control nothing, life happens. Every day that I want to crawl into a ball and disappear, I will get up again.  Sometimes I hold my breath for as long as I can stand it willing my heart stop when I feel I cannot withstand this much sorrow and pain.

I will lay my burdens down like the old hymn says.

I have never felt, in my short life, less control over a n y t h i n g.  Life is an avalanche of relentless grief, unthinkable in its grotesque lack of care. Seeing children suffer is the most hellish place for a parent to be.  No I don’t doubt God and his incredible love.  I don’t believe anything is a punishment for past mistakes — though I’ve been there.  I am sure bad things happen to good people and vice verse.  It’s random.  And that is the sad truth. It’s an incoherent thing that has next to nothing to do with God.

tuesam 10X.

Finally, as I sit here in the almost dark of the incoming night, twilight bringing a blue hue over the room. I know this is true.

I turned away.
God didn’t do anything of the kind.

I turned away and slowly my heart hardened, to the point where I could no longer feel God’s presence. That was my choice and I know too that when I’m ready God is right here beside and around me, waiting. He’s grieving for me.

Just turn back, daughter.  I’ll offer the Comfort you’ve been craving, sitting all alone in the dark.
Come back and I’ll sing a sweet song of relief in your ear, I’ll whisper

Truth.

I’m watching out for your children.

I’m watching over
you.  Come on home.

That was last night. I still haven’t gotten the call from the doctor about my MRI.  I have no inclination as to what the future holds.  But in the dark hours between hopelessness and today, I cracked open.

And God’s embrace covered me as I laid down my burdens by a lake in the cold winter.

Today, I came home.

P.S. Can you tell, my one word for 2014: SPEAK.  More on that later. 

The Dust Bunnies and the Broken Hearts of Mental Illness

water 3

I say the things aloud. It is an effort.
I want to make them come true.
“I will clean today.
I will cook dinner.
I will go to the bank.”
Even as I speak the words I know how unlikely it is that I will be able to do
more than sit here.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

Looking around the house
I see the relics of our months of chaos and disorder.
How long has this constant been going on?
I count 35 months of circling and spinning at dizzying speeds or
churning, sticky  slow moments that seem to l—–a—–s—–t.
Strung together for days.
Sitting here now I recall
our cyclone of shock as we have watched our child suffer, would rather die. As the life killing anxiety and depression threatens to smother
the life
out
of
the little child we
know, we knew. Oh, how we remember.
We are fighting for her.

We are fighting each other.
We hold on tight, we weep, we pray small whispered cries
sometimes full of doubt and
sometimes swept up with outrageous
Hope. Most often throttled by our anguish, at times held by unimaginable peace.

We confess and repent as we scour the past for clues, pulling apart our parenting until it is a skeleton hanging bereft of blood and sinew,

something dead.  We resist giving up,
we acquiesce to today, we contemplate our future. Answers don’t come
as doctors, the so called experts keep changing their “plans.”
Outcomes are suggested, how do we know if they are good or bad?
The long and short of it all is that we must let go
of “normal.” We must come to understand that this,

our life now, might be[come] our forever.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

When someone is mentally ill there are no promises or guarantees, only
Heartache,
Acceptance,
Disbelief,
Resistance,
Fury,
Fear and
[Days and months of] Solitude.
The secrets of the mentally ill
create wide, scorched throbbing universes of heartache, misunderstanding and pain.
We’re so broken apart, crushed down
we don’t even hold on to one another anymore, consumed
we binge on Netflix and ice-creams.
Outcomes seem inevitable.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

Dust bunnies, in all corners and on the stairs collecting overnight, as if no one lives in this house of relentless pain.

The ghosts of activity –an unread book, the youngest’s week old work left unread after
the bribe—“If you bathe, you can stop reading for now.”

Reading vs. Bathing.
Who knew it could come to this? Only when you’re exhausted by breathing.

The question of why he dislikes reading presses into me like a fork shapes a raw peanut butter cookie.  An indent of
memory symbolizing something far greater, as if

it’s an indication that all of life is
Awry.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

Please tell me there’s no one at the door, when the little fury of a dog growls
to a supposed intruder.  My heart rate speeds up, just like it does recurrently
nowadays.  Almost everything makes that muscle race.

And even as I lament the loneliness
I am glad it was just a passerby and that they kept walking.
Others are going somewhere
as I look out the window

desk bound and writing.
Breathing under water, alone.

Full disclosure: I borrowed the phrase of “Breathing Under Water” from the title of Richard Rohr’s book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps which is sitting on my side table. I have not read the book but the phrase leaps out at me today.  The book was recommended by an old friend. 

The Silent Scream: Depression & Autopilot Mom

self

For months I have been unable to smile honestly.  When I think about it, that I need to smile so that people don’t wonder, I can’t make my face do it.  My husband asks if I’m okay.  Yes.  I will always say yes, unless it’s really grave.  But it has not been life and death for years thank God.

I’m okay.

But I cannot make myself smile.  I do laugh. And this strikes me as funny. I can laugh but I cannot smile. My kids engender my heart opening like a flower and I smile genuinely at them.  But I cannot make my insides smile.  There’s no joy.

Depression is a dark and silent bastard, sometimes. Screaming at other times, an internal hell.

I have likened it to a black dog chasing me, as I try to walk tripping. Though I don’t fall, I feel shaky, uncertain.

It’s a smog cloud that surrounds, clinging with a stench.

It’s cement in your legs, arms, and heart.  It’s sand in your brain.

It’s panic, which is hard to describe, in your heart.  Panic is a bit like someone’s inflating your heart without your permission.  Heavy and full.

Depression is sadness at the beginning of the day, when you wake, realizing you’re still alive.  Not that you want death, but you cannot think of having responsibility for another day even being possible.

Eating, dressing, shopping, deciding things, all—too—much. Just too hard, this is surely quite unimaginable to someone who is happy, I know.  It’s simple — the brain no longer works properly so you cannot convince it

to endure,

to do,

to face it all.

Depression is the opposite of happy, it’s happiness turned upside down.  The ugly step sister who is unpleasant, unattractive, persistently complaining in your ear, she’s a pain.

Raising children is almost a heartbreak—considering the lost conversations, lost moments, lost years, lost memory.

But you remember regret.

The unsmiling, aching, sad person that I am causes me silent anguish.

I know what I’ve lost, what I’ve been incapable of giving. 

I wonder. When will it occur to my children that they have had half a mom?

Depression sucks.  I rise and I go to auto pilot.  Autopilot mom knows what to do.  Tasks, appointments, phone calls, and rides.  This is my life these days.  I do it, wanting to lie down.

Reading is hard.

Concentrating is hard.

Grocery shopping is hard.

Cooking is hard.

House cleaning is hard.

Talking, thinking, participating is hard.

Writing is an ache, a longing to be transparent, a silent scream.

I hate depression.