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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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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.

The Dust Bunnies and the Broken Hearts of Mental Illness

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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

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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.

I Poke at My Heart To Know It is Still There. I Hold on To Belief, Clutching.

1-DSC_0101I have so many things going on. The heaviest specifics, I don’t dare to write about.

These are Heavy, hard days of—if not Suffering —Pain.  But I know so many, many people going through Pain.  In that, we are not alone, but being a writer and photographer comes with a price.  I know what’s happening to us isn’t for public consumption.  Lives, hearts and souls are at play.  If I cannot write, what do I do? If I cannot Speak through images I fear I’ll drown in my grief.

I have been thinking hard about what’s useful for others. What I can pass on.

I was recently at a meeting for parents of youth, a “you rah rah” sort of meeting where a couple traipsed up on the stage as Master Parents (My words).  The pastor said: “If my children could turn out like anyone’s I would have them be like so and so’s kids.”

I thought to myself, “Damn. He did not just say that.”

This was before I went back on Effexor, when I could still cry.

I’m not a public crier. I actually try very hard to never cry in front of others, men especially because of the stereotype that women are overly emotional.  (This is one of the sexist ideas that I most loathe.)

So I ran from the room in grief and anger and disappointment (I know this pastor and I was surprised he’d say such a thing.)

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Our recent months, even the last year and a half, were difficult. I have had moments in the last while that I was certain I couldn’t go on; as doctors, and friends, and mentors, and experts, all had no idea how to proceed with some of our challenges.

We’ve wept, we’ve prayed, we’ve read, and we’ve met with experts, We have done more than everyone can imagine, turned over systems, got to the top of the chain of command, advocated beyond what everyone said was possible.  And yet, after all that, life’s not much different.  Circumstances improve incrementally and then fall apart, then settle down. We adjust and we try again to find normalcy.

The same issues continue.   With a new normal, we have a new resolve.

I ran from that room coming face to face with the audacity that we might be able to DO something more to create a certain outcome for our kids.  As I slithered to the floor, I wept uncontrollably for our situation, for our lack of hope, and for all the kids growing up in homes where parents do think there is a formula to arrive at “a great kid, a healthy kid, or a spiritually grounded kid.”

And when I had composed myself, I very nearly walked out of the building to never return to youth group, just yank my kid out, because I’m impulsive like that.

I am rash.  And that kind of haste is wrong when it comes to an unfortunate turn of phrase with someone you trust.  I say things now and again I don’t even mean.  Second chances are important and I’d want one. I returned inside.

But I haven’t felt so alone in a long, long time. I sat in the back, on the steps so I could make a run for it.  Knowing the Church isn’t cognizant of how to help families with mental illness.  One, because we’re not sure we can talk about it, sure.  But also, they just don’t know to help.

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I cannot pray.  It’s ironic and convicting as I spent the summer reading everything I could find about prayer since I was writing an essay on Praying without Ceasing, will be published next year in a book.  And today, these days, lately, I cannot pray.  I’ve always struggled with praying.

My heart feels like stone. Partly, this is the anti-depressant medication.  I know this because I’ve been on it before.  I didn’t cry for more than five years last time.  Yes, that’s a special hell.  Don’t make that decision lightly, to take antidepressants.)

I cannot feel, except a flat, emotionless, disorienting pain.  My heart feels like when they numb you before a shot; if I poke at my heart I know it’s still there but you get the idea.

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So what then?  What’s the outcome of a Most Difficult Year?

We’re being strong.  We’re hurting, but we’re cognizant of a long-suffering kind of trust in God.  Right now doesn’t feel good but over our lifetimes God has been present, faithful, supplier of hope, our healer and God has sustained us.   That doesn’t change.

But most days are like today. Sitting here feeling isolated, feeling afraid, feeling unwilling or unable to be with humans. But I know, even still, God in Jesus is present.  God waits.

I don’t feel it. I know it. I hold on to Belief, clutching.  Today, it’s all we have.

{My Silence, Depression’s Lies, and Faith}

me eye

I LIVE

depression is a liar wailing. it hates you as much as

you

hate

it.  and
you know, you fear
eventually
the battle will be won.
you may not be

the victor.
still you will fight 

the raging storm inside your brain.
to stop would be suicide.

life goes on, you cannot stop
for Love remains. those that depend.

it’s on you
to hold on.

now it’s not always

that bad, and why people get confused. i thought
you were depressed? you look so good. 
i thought you were depressed? you’re joking around.
i thought you were depressed? then

you pull back the curtain,
to give them a glance at the snarling beast and they’re quiet, momentarily.

to hold on means to be misunderstood.

flat doesn’t mean you’ve stopped loving.

though you’re so weak most days you cannot pull your leaden limbs out of bed this doesn’t mean you’re lazy.

afraid of people, sometimes terrified yes but this doesn’t mean you want them to go away.

depression is a snarling threatening beast.
weakening,
lying,
pestering,
oppressing.
today and every day

still i want you to know i welcome life even with depression.
I want to Live.

It has been a while since I wrote. Over the summer I was working on an essay for inclusion in a book. I’m really excited about it and do hope for its acceptance. I was studying like crazy, learning about PRAYER, which is something that I have been decidedly agnostic about. Full admission I’m not sure I really believed in the idea of changing God’s mind. This thought has eaten at me over the decades that I have believed and the years that I have attempted to live this life of following Jesus. That is a bit of what my submission is about and what I learned.  Prayer for me is this leaning, keening toward a loving waiting God. If it isn’t published I’ll show it here.

I realized recently that I’ve slipped. Depression, something that I’ve wrestled with for the twelve years I’ve been not working outside the home. There were moments and even years when I was free of it. And after a full year depression free I went off my medication, feeling strongly that this might be what had caused my inability to cry.  Thinking I was ready.

Imagine, nearly two decades of no tears.

I was a crybaby once, super sensitive to the nuances of other’s emotions (still am that to be honest) But I hated about myself the falling to pieces at a stern look especially from my father. I’ve always perceived crying as weak. This became something that I learned to control. And I got so good at it that when I went on Effexor many years ago tears completely stopped. I became incapable of them. It was a different kind of flat, and eventually I longed to cry.

I’ve written about that dam opening up, sometimes embarrassing me in public but I relished it.

My heart changed shape, from a stone to something more resembling human.

Recently, I realized that I must start again on medication because I’ve slipped down into a pit, a quagmire of dark that I’m unable to pull out of on my own. Not exercise, not diet, not prayer of others, not encouragement and support of my husband, not a new amazing therapist nor a kind loving community of friends could convince my psyche to shake this off.

It felt like failure, it felt like defeat, it felt like a huge lack of faith in my life, but I knew it was bad, and I feared what might happen if I didn’t do something and quickly. God only knows where things would evolve to and considering that this has been the most challenging two years in our twenty years of life together, Tom and I, as parents and for Tom as a business owner, I just knew.

So here I am. The black dog is nipping again at my feet, I’ve got helium in my brain and sand in my veins, which is a trip. I’m hoping that I’m gonna be okay.

Stigma with mental illness is one of the main reasons I believe that most depressed people don’t get help. I’ve experienced it even as many people affirm my courage to speak out about my experience. What will it mean for future employment? If I’m honest how does this stigma change people’s willingness to have me serve at church?  What are people really thinking?  These are just some of my fears. But that voice is a part of the lie and I cannot worry about what people think of me.

I know that God made me a truth teller, made me a writer, and made me the way I am for a reason though I cannot perceive it at this time. And I live every day believing, hoping and praying that I will one day be healthy – er.

But, my true admission is that if this never changes, if I struggle with this Achilles heel to my death, God loves me. This acceptance of myself is important and I’m longing to receive it fully.

Thanks for being a reader, for following this path with me if vicariously through the written word. And in my “real life”, those that have told me they read, I thank you for loving me, anyway.

Melody

I’ve written tons about this topic.  See the tab at the top of this page for more of my story.

{Just Like Me: Being Introverted in the Church}

dylan 2If I could have demanded anything

for my shy and wary child,
would I have begged God

make him less cautious?

Would I have wasted
a wish, a prayer, even a thought
on that part of my personality that I hate

and have come to
tolerate.

Make him less afraid.

Make him less

like me: petrified, wooden, shaken, sick to my stomach
terrified.

Though I hate it about myself,

could I possibly hate this

in

my son?

How is this conceivable?
My baby, my flesh, my skin and bones
always crawling away from people

just like me.

I have learned, when the extroverted-overjoyed-inner-glowing-pastor says almost gleefully to
turn to our neighbor, I don’t immediately
run. I have learned.

Still, the bathroom is a cool, echoing, quiet and comforting place just then;
and I can hear
my heart exploding inside me.  Blood pumping, rushing to all extremities.
The fear rushes about me, like pixies dancing, mocking,
Silencing me.

When extroverted-overjoyed-inner- glowing-pastor says:

this is love

I think
I may puke, not because I want to puke
mind you. (What kind of fool would want to throw up in church?)

But.
seriously

when will church life be easier for introverts?  And how to tell my kid,
that forcing him to attend Church events is virtuous?

It’s for your own good.

How? I’m thinking.
How? He’s asking.

This isn’t faith, I know. This isn’t my religion.

What’s an introverted mom to do?

Teach him to run?

The answer lies somewhere in between.  Even
with programs bent on making you
fit

your circle shaped heart into their

square pegged hole of a program.

Still, love wins
when you risk.  And for us introverts, some days that’s

just showing up.

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{This is for the Dads. I See You}

This blurry pic, a copy of a copy, is my father holding my son.  You cannot see it from this cropped copy but they are sitting on the floor.

This is for the dads, I see you.

Recently at wedding of two friends it hit me.  I’m past the feeling of broken-heart-ache when I see tiny babies.  For nearly a decade each time I saw a newborn I’d practically lactate with longing for just one more child.  My body kept telling me it needed another baby—even after two miscarriages, three unbelievable and healthy children, an exquisite step daughter, (who is now twenty-five, but only five when we met.)

and yet my body kept crying for more. 

At this wedding I noticed for the first time I was no longer at risk for snatching someone’s infant from them, out of a need to smell that baby’s goodness.

I tried holding a baby that night and my mother magic was gone.  I couldn’t console that child and I think that he read my fear.

This is for the dads who are afraid.

Petrified and yet cannot admit it, dads who take off work to “babysit” their own kids. But guiltily, if they’re honest, would rather go to a movie, or for a motorcycle ride or make music or read a book.  Don’t feel bad, you are taking time off work for your kids.  My dad never did that.

This is for the dads that shuffle meekly behind harried young mothers while they nurse.  Somehow showing solidarity?  I don’t quite understand it.  For the dads that never quite do it right—the bottles, the diapers, the comforting. You should understand that moms don’t mean to make you feel incompetent.

I sensed your fear, even pain, holding a baby that I could not console.  That I didn’t quite have it anymore.

Suddenly I felt weak, un-mothering, broken.  Something inside me hurt—but more than for my lost ability to have babies, I was aware of all the Dads in the room.  All the dads who perhaps feel like they don’t quite ever measure up.

This is for the dads who trudge off to work to earn an income for a family when they’d rather be making music, or writing poems, or doing whatever men do in “man caves.”  While their wives have ten year nervous breakdowns, while sitting at the pool and don’t even manage to have a meal cooked at 5 pm or throw a load of laundry in.

This is for the dads who never criticize.

This for the dads who are fair and good, “egalitarian”—mindful of their partner’s thoughts, and tears, and breakdowns, when what they really want is dinner and maybe if they’re lucky sex.

My dad, he worked. 

Came home and kicked us all around.  He didn’t listen to my mother— no matter how he pretended.  She couldn’t debate him, not about big or little things.  She was never quite good enough. When she asked for help, he told her to be stronger.

As for me, I shuffled in the background trying not to be seen.  I lost myself.  I lost perspective of my own center, that I was a human being who deserved (just as much as him) to have opinions, emotions, and take up space in the room.

I stopped breathing.

I’m a forty-six year Old Woman who was never a child.  I’m not saying it’s my father’s fault entirely, but this is to all the dads who need to know. You matter to your kids and your partner—You have power.

You can break your children. Or help them grow up into people of compassion and empathy.

You may “only” bring home the paycheck; causing your kids to think somehow you don’t care as much as mommy.

This is what I say to you Dads—Don’t buy into the bullshit of being less compassionate.  There is a type of empathy that all people have and God and nature intended.  It is not exclusive to women.  It’s not exclusive to mothers.  You may do it differently, but we need you.

This is for all the dad’s that need to know, it’s okay to let go of macho and give more hugs. To work less and BE more.  To change the diaper differently than your wife.  To cook dinner and throw in a load of laundry, listening all the while to your hapless sad wife.

This if for all the dads, no matter what the culture says, that step in the door of your home at the end of the day and get down on the floor—your kids need to know you. Stop rushing.  Say no once in a while to external things.

Be available.

This is for all the dads.  I see you.

At the end of his life, in the last months when my father was pretty sure he was dying (though he was holding out for a miracle) my Dad admitted to me this stunning truth.  That his “incompetence” as a father caused his anger and raging, his disapproval, his meanness, his perfectionist expectations; they all came from feeling like he didn’t know how to be a good dad. (Here’s a poem I wrote not long after his death titled: Good Dad, Bad Dad.)

When we were very young he stopped trying.

What a tragedy.  It’s too late for me and my dad, but it’s not too late for you.

This is dedicated to Tom.

An Ode To Joy: When Chasing Significance, Ministry, Motherhood, & Alcohol Isn’t Enough

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My daughter thinks she Knows My Dreams, she pushed hard recently trying to get me to admit them. Telling me “Go to seminary and be a pastor that writes, mom. That’s what you want. Just do it.” It’s so easy for her to say, I think to myself, with my incessant dissatisfaction and oh so many fears.

I think to myself: I’m stuck. I’m not worthy. I’ll never Be.

First came sin.

I mean we’re all sinners for sure, but the home I grew up in, I never met Jesus. I never knew Grace.

I didn’t know Jesus who is the Lord of the Universe and Hope for the world, that my Dad was always talking about.  I couldn’t believe, not for decades, that I was loved and that if I were the only Blessed Sinner on Planet Earth, Jesus would have died that grizzly death, for me. No Way.

Work Harder.

I have lived day by day, believing that if I could just be A Better Person.  If I accomplished that much more than other people, worked harder, worked longer, worked better, then, I’d be okay. And so for years that’s what I did. I worked and worked and worked, and I lived a lie.

I was never okay. I was always terrified.

I was a mess inside, deep down where you cannot admit working at a Christian organization that you’re not sure that you ever believed.

Motherhood.

So I quit all that, thinking Being a Mother is noble (enough) and even a very good thing to do.  I mean, who doesn’t find meaning in motherhood?

Never mind that I just wasn’t ready to be at home.

Too Broken Up Inside, Not Even Knowing Jesus and With a Hole in my Heart, I quit work in ministry for all the wrong reasons.

Then came Despair on a Colossal Level.

Was I ever unprepared for the depth of my anguish. For the loss of meaning without Work. The hole in my soul was frantic with fear, day after day, still.

I thought to myself I must miss My Important Work!  All those years of Chasing Significance and Feeling Important, all that had made life meaningful in the past was gone.

Stripped Naked, the rug pulled out from under me, I fell hard; I fell flat.

Major Depression.

Depression hit just as I was starting to meet the Jesus Everyone Knew and Believed in. We were now attending a lovely church that ministered to my Broken-down Heart.   Just as I began to learn and study scripture for myself.  Just as I was learning that no matter what things I did or didn’t do with my life, I was loved and okay.  Just as a little of that truth sank in,

I slid down into the darkest pit of misery and hopelessness and despair. A place So dark, so bleak, so heavy that I was surprised by this new level of unhappiness.  I never knew that people could feel that lost. (I wrote about that in Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression.)

Broken by a life that was bereft of meaning, tired beyond comprehension with three babies in diapers, bored by being at home, dissatisfied with my contribution to the world, rejecting Grace still though I had begun to understand it intellectually, then came drink.  It was a respite in the beginning, an oasis.

Alcoholism.

As the years went by what had been a brief escape, a place to go when all else seemed

Worthless, Hopeless and Endless,

I drank.  And drank. And five years passed, and I was

Work-less, Meaningless, and soon a Fallen Down Drunk. I was addicted.  And working through the Depression and All Of The Above, I finally heard the

Sweet

Whisper

of the Spirit.  By this time I knew a bit more, I believed in the Grace of Jesus and God broke in and confronted my

Cycling Toilet of Shame, the hole in my heart leaking pain all over the floor, and

my F E A R.

An Ode to Joy.

A decade has passed and I’ve been sober almost five years.  I’m still

a colossal addict even sober, who wakes up every day on the verge of an existential crisis.  Deep, DEEP within, I crave significance. I crave making a meaningful contribution to the world. I long for Joy, real Joy.

Even now, listening to the mystical, providential, sweeping Spirit of God who Speaks and Holds me every day and quiets my frantic heart, that says:

{Just Be. And wait and Trust me.}

The surrender daily is bittersweet. Because I still don’t know What I’m Doing with my LIFE.  This poverty of spirit within me breaks my heart; I feel I betray Jesus in every moment that I’m

fearful, restless, dissatisfied, and confused.

Because unlike what my daughter believes, I don’t know what I am to DO, more than

Just Be. And so, I wait.  And in the waiting, I am transformed.

Fear’s Come, Knocking

36-DSC_0013I rise early
As pain wakes me, it is impatient to begin.
It’s burning in my leg. I’m despondent, knowing

Fear’s come, knocking
Licking up my tears, FEAR holds me tight,
Comforts,

As I sit with her.  I know FEAR
Like an old friend.
I’ve never known much else, than this devilish companion.

My heart
Aches, as I attempt just for a moment to fight FEAR
With Gratitude.

Drum, drum, drum, like the pain in my leg she’s persistent.
I have excuses.
Family chaos, family pain. My chaos, my pain.

Only I know, again and again and again how ruthless she is,
Relentless, she’s brilliant, she’s all knowing
FEAR’s come knocking and I have welcomed her in.

I listen and I believe
I relent, because
I trust her.

She whispers chaos into my soul, “I am nothing. What if the only thing
I was ever supposed to do was be a mother.
[To comfort, to believe in, to love, to help

Those small souls (my children)
To help them find Life without Fear.
What if, 

There’s nothing else to ask for,
Nothing for me?”
Mothering should be enough FEAR proclaims.

Stop dabbling, FEAR taunts. You’re nothing special.
Let go.
Just be,

A mother.
Seeing Images, collecting Words, Thinking – all meaningless.
You are nobody

Special.
FEAR soars now, for this
Believing gives her strength and power.

She swirls and floats around me
Delighted,
Knowing

For today,
FEAR’s won.
For today, I quit struggling.

FEAR always comes knocking
And today
I made her welcome.

FEAR holds on to me – Knowing I’ll never be
Without her, this is her domain
My heart.

FEAR
Owns
me.

I traded my dreams
For a moment of relief from the panic.
She knows the grooves

Worn in my soul – she made them.
Swiftly
Filling me like wet concrete poured, I begin

To harden.
FEAR swells, it hurts as she grows and strengthens
Within.

My FEAR
I hope she plans to let me die eventually.
As I let go of hope,

Abandoned dreams collect around me
I am heavy, thick with her.
I watch myself drop deeper and deeper

Into the waters dark with despair.
What if I was never meant
to do anything “important”?

What if the words and images got trapped inside
me, cemented forever?
Surely then FEAR

Would relent, releasing me
She’d fly away from me forever and I’d finally know
Joy. Instead,

We play this slow game together,
An unhurried cruelty,
This daily swim,

Will I finally
Capitulate?
Then I realize FEAR, doesn’t want

me
To relent.
Where’s the fun

In my total surrender?  It is the game
She’s here for
This

Battle,
I call my LIFE,
Cemented in FEAR.

Life is not Pass or Fail: A Mother’s Day Remembrance

020-20120504_0185I have always seen “weakness” as a defect and here on this blog I say a lot about what I consider to be my own weaknesses – the narrative playing in my head and here on these pages for years has been a fear that I am too broken and weak to be useful at all.

This story starts with what has been and where I came from.

My mother has suffered most of her life.  I know this intellectually and because as her children we hurt alongside her in my father’s home.

For most of my life I thought she was weak to stay with him.  I resented her sticking in there with him.  Looking back, I hated the way she propped him up, when his fragile ego quaked and he wanted to quit this or that ministry, or when he felt betrayed by someone, or was sure that so and so was out to get him or them. She was the strong woman behind the ministry “leader.”  Only back then, she didn’t look strong to me.

After being angry at her for most of my life (and receiving a lot of therapy) I now see that she was strong all those years, and is, today.  I can see how much she loved my father and was loyal and faithful and good to him.  I see that she thought that she was helping us all by propping up the ego maniacal and abusive man that was my father sometimes.

But you see it wasn’t that simple.  He was a beloved man who did many incredibly good and important things.  He served well and long, and loyally. He loved his family. He sincerely wanted to please God.  He loved his few close friends deeply. I can see this looking back, even though he came home and took out his internal demons on a fragile and devoted woman, his wife and my mom and on his daughters. 

Apparently, he was only physically abusive to Mother once.  So the restraint he showed to never hit my mother again was … commendable?   And yet she lived with that intimidation and threat for forty-five years, knowing what he was capable of doing she was faithful to him.

Today a woman would have packed her bag the night that, in a fit of rage, he put her head through a wall.  Here’s the thing. Once you do something like that your household is always terrified, no matter how you promise, regret, or apologize.

And he did often, after a fit of raging, make promises and express sorrowful regret.  We experienced his rages.  Things “the public” never knew.  Things you wouldn’t quite believe possible from a man who could also be tender and gentle, who so often eloquently expressed his faith and devotion to God.  Perhaps she should have left him.  I used to think so.  And I would have, I frequently thought to myself in my twenties and thirties as I was learning about feminism and independence.   Though I never did choose to leave him and I even went to work for him for nearly a decade.

She stayed and so did we.

It was complex and codependent.  How he longed to be perfected by God but in his lifetime this never happened.  This skewed my view of men, of fathers, and especially of a Father God, for a long time.

But this is about my mother, who was loyal and strong; yes strong even though all my life I looked at her and thought of her as weak.

What kind of strength is required to endure the unyielding shouting and frequent berating over years,

and years,

and years?

Her depression was not obvious to me then but now, of course, palpable and understandable.  Frequently in poor health, she stayed in bed and that became her place of refuge from the strain and stress of our home.  She internalized his anger and used her illnesses to escape.   She had very few if any personal friends.  Abused women are often very isolated. And, she withdrew from her children emotionally. We got very little physical comfort growing up, though I’m sure there was much she wanted to say and do. She just didn’t.

Or couldn’t.

She’s apologetic now, at seventy-five and expresses openly her love, physically and emotionally, and her regrets which are many. Now that he’s dead, she has chosen to make her life incredibly simple.  She likes her condo, and her health remedies, and baseball or basketball on the television. She plays memory games on her hand-held game.

She’s chosen this unassuming, even guileless life.  This makes sense to me considering that my father dragged her all over the world for most of their married life; as it turns out most of the moves we made (two or three dozen) she didn’t even want to make.  Today her life consists of getting a message or her nails done.  She does energy work.  Much of it I don’t understand completely, but I respect the obvious need for self-care and lack of relational complexity in her life, still.

I’m grateful that she is quick check in on me, if she thinks I’m disappointed or angry with her.   I’m glad that she’s finally content with her life, set up just the way she likes it.  And I respect her for these choices, even if I wouldn’t choose them.   She’s seventy-five and is finishing life in a way she seems to like – justifiably simple and safe.

This Mother’s Day I honor my mother for surviving. I honor her for her quiet internal strength.

I honor her for her loyalty and commitment, even when I didn’t understand it.

As children we watch our parents and want them to be our idea of perfect.  Each time they supposedly fail we have a choice, to be disappointed or to accept knowingly that life is made up of hundreds of these choices.

Life isn’t pass or fail. 

Life is to be examined carefully and closely, to be lived openly and yet with great care for the people in it.

You never know why someone chooses a certain path. 

And in the end, you can only live your own life, embracing your apparent weaknesses as well as strengths, knowing that each one makes you who you are today.

Life is fragile. Love is unimaginably complicated. Parenting is by example but no one is perfected in their lifetime. 

I think life’s purpose is found in how we take the journey, in the small and seemingly innocuous choices that become important along the way.

I honor my mother this Mother’s Day for being both strong and weak – for being human.

MHH

Other Posts about my parents:

Remembering Daddy, Ten Thousand Tears, A Message From my Dead Father, Forgiving is a Miracle, My Father is Dead, When Did you First Believe God is Male, A Good Day Is, Watching My Father Die, Lessons From a Monastery, On Parenting Deeply & Well, On Putting the Dark & the Light Together, Strongest in the Broken Places, Who Needs a Heart When a Heart Can Be Broken?, Parenting by Free Fall, What Kind of  A Mother, A New Way to Be Human, Forgiveness: Expect Miracles, A World Of Possibilities, My Mother.