When Depression is a Killer: My Story

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1

Anxiety crushes me in sleep. It wakes me in the middle of the night with my chest already full of dread before I’m even conscious of being awake.

For two years this Depression has been inside me.  This is the longest duration I have ever experienced. At times my depression is a low hum and at other times she devours my strength, my resolve, my appetite for life, my interest in food, love, and intimacy. She renders me hapless. She steals my judgement and intellect, covering my brain in a fog. Many days thinking is like wading through thick murky air.  Rational thinking is obscured. The irrational and the lie seem real.

I choose to see my Depression as something Other than myself. I must. She is a killer that wants to devour me. Lately I wake up in dread of her.

“What gets you out of bed and on to your day, when you wake in that state of terror?” a kind Psychiatrist asked? “Duty,” I reply without thinking. Now I would tell him: “Devotion. And resolve.”

I resolve that I will not crumble. I will survive this. As I write these words down it is out of a Hope that this episode will pass like so many that came before. It’s almost a mantra.  If I repeat it enough it will be true.

I’ve recently found a meditation class. I’ve discovered again how helpful it is to simply be aware of your own breath (or of holding it, as I so often am.)  I love the becoming aware of your body, then coming out of your body and entering a different space.  For fifteen minutes we breathe together in perfect silence. I find myself repeating in the intake breath “I trust you God” and releasing my lack of trust out into the room. Out of me.  Releasing stress, and the ache in my chest, and an anger that I wasn’t even aware of until that moment. I discovered that I am not trusting God at all.

I am angry at God.

2

A friend described his body’s response to chemotherapy as unpredictable from one day from the next. He doesn’t know when exhaustion will strike.  A simple walk up the stairs can feel like running a mile. I thought, this is like my depression. I say nothing, thinking only: My depression is killing me. Thinking irrationally I’m dying. (This is not the same as being suicidal. I have been there before. This is a deep exhaustion and grief that comes from suffering for a very long time.)

Depression is an invisible disease that bullies and devours.

She steals the strength to call oneself Artist or Creator. And worse still, she kills the desire to create.

I hold with two fists my belief in God’s love for a person living with a torment like mine. Surely God has forgotten about me? I don’t know what I believe anymore. I cannot hold on to my faith or belief solidly. It is tenuous and ethereal.

I have stacks of books about suffering and faith. I stare at them on my nightstand. I am unable to read more than a few minutes. My consciousness wants an explanation for this suffering but my subconscious knows bad things happen.  My friend with cancer isn’t asking what did I do to deserve cancer? Cancer happens.

Still as a person of faith there is the ever-present question. Why has God deserted me? While knowing God is here.  I find sitting in the quiet early stillness of the morning alone with God, no words, is a comfort.

This isn’t self-pity. I tell myself that I know that I didn’t do anything to deserve this illness. That insight has been a long time coming. I am as biased as anyone, thinking that surely a depressed person needs to simply get up and live. And people of faith are wondering where your devotion to God stands.

3

There are things I do that make depression slightly better. I know them by heart.  But they are not easy and the key is to Make Yourself.

Make yourself eat good food. Make yourself go for a walk. Make yourself do the simple tasks of daily life; shop for food, cook meals, launder, vacuum, drive places, make and keep appointments.

I must engage with my Mother’s dementia and her daily fears and needs. You may have other demands.

Take your meds. See your doctors. Tell the truth. Work at therapy. Be with others and reach out or follow-up with friends. Participate in church life. Serve communion. Keep up with children’s homework. Write daily.  Read if you can.  Answer the phone.  Stop reading all the bad news on Twitter and obsessively passing it along.

And then on another level that is bottomless and yet crucial to being a mother and partner, show an interest in family members. Smile and laugh.

4

Depression feels like failure. It’s personal when you can barely wade through the thickness of your day and your daily challenges aren’t hard at all; or shouldn’t be. Depression will lie and say you’ll never work again. You’re sick and broken.  You are no longer capable. You aren’t able to serve others.

Depression screams her rebukes and you begin to believe. Fear overcomes your knowledge of yourself; your abilities and experience. She crushes logic and creativity.

Depression tells me to be ashamed. But I’ve always told my story readily and without shame. Because I can imagine all the people suffering with depression who don’t have the words or don’t tell anyone. I want you to know you are not alone.  May my words be yours.

5

Your mind churns and roars like invading waves in the ocean before its undercurrent pulls you down. Before you know it you have become her—depressed and incapable.

Then you wake from the nightmare to face another day. And silently scream to her: You are Other.  You are not me.

And you begin again.

P.S.

Much of the story of this blog is my story of struggling with major depression which began in 2001.  You will find this in my poetry and other posts.  Check the headings above or search for Depression.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know I haven’t written in months.  I do write, daily lately but deemed most of it unfit.  I’m sharing this part of my story because with the recent death of Robin Williams and some of the conversations surrounding it, I saw a great intolerance and lack of understanding of mental illness and specifically depression.  I hope my story helps you. If you suffer from depression that you’ll find your story in mine and feel less alone. If you love someone who suffers, I hope that you’ll feel a new level of compassion and empathy and a greater understanding what it takes to live with this disease that 14.8 million  adults in America suffer from, that is 6.7 % of the population over the age of 18. (Source: NAMI)

{I Lost the Month of May: A poem} by Melody Harrison Hanson

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I lost the month of May
somewhere between watching my mother
suffer extreme pain and mental confusion.

I felt her pass by heavily; Time,
slowed to a crawl
as I was watching.
And now, the month of May is gone.

Time lost cannot be retrieved.
I know this as my friend’s cancer roars in wildly.
This third time more persistent.
And I am heavy with awareness that the months and days of her reprieve, I spent

weighed down with my life.

Gone is the month of May
on bursts of sudden energy, then

languishing in the dark.
Being strong and capable,

as my heart leaked lost time.

I watched the hours tick by at my mother’s bedside.

Time lost forever?
or time spent on forever.

Knowing forever is such a long time.

Friend love stretches on forever.
Mother-daughter love lasts forever too.

Each, a lifetime of forevers found,
to be savored. Still,
the month of May is spent,

costly. On loving.
Or is it simply lost and gone?

We are all lost and found.
I am a friend and daughter.
Love is here, there,
and gone.

As I sit here thinking
my heart is leaking
forever time.

{I am a Witness. I have a Voice. I Intend to Use it.} Looking Back on Year Two of Being a Writer

8728474819_71223eda2e_oThere are moments when I hate what’s inside my heart, tarry and thick with things quite undesirable. Learning to be comfortable with yourself, and equally discontent in order to be transformed, is one of life’s most difficult lessons.

I’ve just completed year two of “Being a Writer.”

OTHERS

As I have received affirmation from other writers and publications it amplifies to me the incessant poverty of my soul: the need for attention. Like a sacred signal, others have the power to bestow and to validate. And the bedevilling truth is that my soul craves it. To know how others perceive your work. The challenge has been to confront that gnawing need.

I want to write from a different place—a place of purpose. I have learned to question the longing for endorsement, which is particularly challenging when we all know that it is through others that we will become more influential and be read.

As I search about for evidence of my ability I have seen signs of it. I can admit how good this feels. I feel honored and humbled to be included in projects, and I fly for a while, intoxicated by seeing my words in places other than this little blog.

LISTENING WELL & SHARING PARTS

This year has been less about perfection and more about process.  As I settle in to liking my own ideas, the words collected on the page, I fight a little less with each sentence. Hold less tightly to what Anne Lamott calls “little darlings.” Precious sentences are usually over heavy, causing the reader to stumble and perhaps even give up.

Though writing is difficult work, I am learning that reading should be a delight, smooth and sweet like cream.  I have also learned that editors can make you sound better than you imagined possible, if you will only listen.

The responsibility to scratch words down is about more than cleverness, more than holding truths in my two hands and hammering it down on the page, more than dazzling others and more than pride in my work. It is about letting go of sacred totems and knowing when to hold back. It is accepting that your soul truths are precious and must only be shared with intention. One’s life and experiences, the anguish and pain must (at times) be sacrosanct.

Too much spilling over, with emotions a rushing avalanche, crushes the reader.  People look away if the ideas are too stark and as they do you are left alone with the sorrows. Then you must take care with what you share of your own life.

So, I was drawn to a new prayer life this year, to solitude, and came to the understanding that to be a writer is a grave, holy responsibility.

In a language of prayer then I returned, after a time. Open-handed with God first, then to the pen and page. Collecting the words pooling up from a tuition paid in the blood of one’s life, letting go of some things. My suffering is sacred to me but it is only after the dross burns away that it grows suitable for others to read.

I look ahead with eyes blazing, fiercely determined to learn from my life.  And as I peer into the mist of tomorrow’s sure ache, I am conscious of how little I know and yet I find myself strangely satisfied.

To write is to be exposed. While uncomfortable this is also a revelation.

Year one was a stew of fear and childlike developing aspiration. I was a little too comfortable with my naïve perceptions.  Year two has been a rich smelling curry of risk-taking and yearning but had a stench of feeling left out. For even online there’s an in crowd, the A-team, the coterie of the Elite Lists.

YEAR THREE

I hope in year three to let go of “I Can’t” and of “If Only” and face things squarely.  This is who I am.  This is what I have to offer.

As I set down goals, and slowly begin to achieve them, I feel purposeful and ambitious and aspiring.  I will write about things that are heavy on my mind: a deepening faith, mental illness, the injustice of racism and sexism, and my ongoing sobriety.

This year has been mostly survival and “writing down the bones.”  Being a mother, wife, daughter and friend has invaded my personal goals and aspirations. And, living with ash in one’s mouth all the time, you only offer the remains, hoping these odds and ends are meaningful but knowing in your deep places that they were sometimes artless and ghastly, often self-indulgent.

This year as a writer has taught me that life is to be lived well—in order to have words worth reading—which often requires that I step back and reserve the parts that are too hot and holy.  This is the growing up of year two.

This year was hard.—

With lusts of envy and greed creeping in,

with personal heartaches and deepening spiritual awareness,

with “real life” weighing tragic and heavy in ways that I have been unable to express.

—All demanding balance and requiring a maturing of spirit, soul and mind.  Admitting it here is the easy part. It has required honest and brave time alone, necessary no matter how long it takes.

Although I live often in the darkness, I’ll fight to write no matter the grief.

Over and over this year, I have been surrounded by awareness of Women, witnesses in the Holy Scriptures and all around me in life; the women who were and are faithful to Jesus.  They went back to the tomb, were greeted and commissioned by Jesus to bear the good news of the resurrection.

I’ve struggled with my role as a woman in the Church and in my church.  And out of a desire for unity, out of fear of being misunderstood, from a place of insecurity I have shut myself up.  In year three I hope to become a stronger advocate for women.

I am a witness. I have a voice. I intend to use it.

MY CONCLUSIONS

Life is hard.  You cannot write about all of it.

Work on internal integrity.

Learn to trust yourself and your voice.

Take risks. It is usually worth it.

Don’t let life overrun your goals and aspirations as a writer.

Listen to the places where your heart breaks and write about it.

Thanks for sticking with me in the writing, growing, and dreaming.  I’m grateful your hearts, following along this journey.

How to Love a Drunk: Bits of My Story are published and #FFWgr

invincible summer within

How to Love a Drunk

When you’re an alcoholic you get to tell your story  and admit to your illness at the oddest moments. There is usually no time to prepare emotionally or to get the words just right.  What comes is what comes.  I actually enjoy these unrehearsed moments.  The questions I’m asked push me to think about my sobriety in a new way.

Friday there I was outlining the basics of my recovery to a program director for a youth counselling program we’re looking at for one of the kids.It is completely unemotional task, to tell a doctor the details chronologically. Very unlike the real toll it took to write recently for Today’s Christian Woman. How to Love A Drunk, you probably know, is a story of addiction that includes healing and grace and Tom’s selfless love. This story took weeks to write. I interviewed Tom for the painful and awkward bits that I don’t remember and it was hard.  Really hard! But I’m happy with the outcome.  And I’ve already received feedback that the story is helping others.  That makes the sacrifice as well as the awkward tender feelings worth it.

“An alcoholic is one for the rest of their lives, whether they quit drinking or kill themselves abusing, so love has to prepare for the worst but never give up hope.”

If it requires a subscription to Christianity Today to read it, I apologize.  Their online subscription is $9. (This may not be worth it.)

Festival of Faith & Writing

Next week I head to the Calvin’s Festival of Faith & Writing.  I’m excited and looking forward to the alone time that will inevitably come.  If you’re headed there too feel free to FB message me or text.  There will be time to meet IRL some of the fun people I’ve connected with online.

I’m excited to hear literary heroes speak.  Anne Lamott wrote Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies among other favorites. I hope she’s as funny IRL.  James McBride’s The Color of Water:A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother is one of my favorite books.  Other speakers I’ll seek out include Scott Cairns, poet, Okey Ndibe and Richard Foster possibly Rachel Held Evans, the popular blogger and Jeff Chu who wrote Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.  There is always an inspiring line up.

I’m also anticipating that it will be a good experience to be a part of this Festival Circle:

Suffering and Salve: Writing and Believing in Seasons of Illness and Pain. Illness and suffering can provoke powerful questions in the creative spirit, but they can also drain a writer’s physical, emotional, and spiritual resources. This circle will discuss how a writer’s creative process and spiritual state are affected by suffering and how other writers have engaged with, or disengaged from, their craft in times of personal suffering.

I am looking forward to meeting many friends from my writing world.  So much has changed in our lives since Tom and I went together two years ago. And I’m grateful to go all, considering our circumstances. But will you pray that I wouldn’t allow my introvertedness and my current state of mind to be a liability? 

And I’ll be back to writing in a few weeks unless something powerful hits.  Thanks for being such faithful readers and friends.

Melody

{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.

{be Light} a poem

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be Light.

God spoke and said: be Light.

and whether we wanted it,

when we are trying the least

to be

we are Light.

from inside us comes

creative acts, audaciously arranging the Light, into

words that move stone mountains,

dances that soar, minds transformed,

images breaking hearts open crushing the death within,

chords shifting hardened souls with their tender tones.

all beings,

women and men in ensemble.

from verses and rhythms heard, ordinary humans all

flinging down pigment, colorful stains;

bent with sacrifice and unrealized possibility.

God spoke and said: Own your Light

blazing and luminous.

Be the light

on canvas, stage, page, seen and heard.

And God sang beside and in human beings

celebrating

the Light in one another.

Toiling in separateness and isolation, breaking

under the weight of creating.

See and hear one another.

Turn, ask, and take heartache’s sting.

Revel in one another’s triumphs.

be

the

Light

in the dark places.

All beings,

Women and men in ensemble

held one another up.

And God was pleased.

written for Blackhawk Church Pulse conference, March, 2014.

Pulse: connecting arts to the heart of God

Pulse is a one day arts and worship conference designed to help connect a passion for the arts with a heart for God. Be encouraged, equipped and challenged. Whether you’re a worship leader, musician, actor, technician, video producer, dancer or visual artist, Pulse will help you explore how your art form can point others to God.

 

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.

If Winter is Dying, then Writing is Life

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This isn’t my usual type of post. I have some thoughts ruminating into a slow boil. Aching about justice & the Stand Your Ground law and being white and privileged. A response. But I need more time to mull.

I finished the article on loving a drunk for Today’s Christian WomanAhem, I know. I’m not a likely writer for them. I don’t read resources written just for women (much). Nor do I like ministries just for women which I’ve written about.  The issue is about addiction and when they asked, I started to think about how little this topic is discussed in the Church. I think this topic needs attention.  

Still, it was one of the hardest things to write in my life.  That’s no exaggeration. I thought this piece for SheLoves was vulnerable because it was to such a “big” audience.  Well just leapt larger than life here with being published on a Christianity Today website.  My stomach curls in on itself just thinking about it. So I try not to think.

But more than that, it’s just hard to go back there, where I cannot remember. I had to interview Tom about those Falling Down Drunk years. Yes, I had to interview my husband as weird as that sounds. Tell me about that time when I barfed all over the car.

As you can imagine those monster enemies of Shame and Regret hovered around, clouding everything I did for days. Remembering what I put him through feels like hell but I’m hopeful that this will help people.  Or I would write it. The mind blowing thing was the good that came out of the sweating blood of this writing. I got to see how he loved me in such a long-suffering and courageous way. How awesome to feel, stone cold sober the love of my husband after twenty years. I’m smitten all over again. just thinking about his sacrifice and love for me.

I blasted out a poem for my church’s Pulse Conference on Worship & the Arts. I didn’t have time to over think. It came fast and I loved it. I am learning to have more confidence in my Voice. And like I mentioned before when things are printed-and-official I usually get the heebie jeebies and completely freak out; telling myself how unworthy I am to be writing a poem for “Artists.” I didn’t go there this time. (Phew, deep exhalation.) I am evolving.

I found a Psychiatrist, meaning—after having the number for five months I finally picked up the phone—I scheduled an appointment. Sometimes it’s the little things that feel unbearable with depression. I have a list of those things collecting Shame.  I look at the phone a lot, I mean a lot. Then my chest hurts with anxiety and starts burning. More deep breathing helps. 

I feel like I should wear a warning sign these days: KEEP CLEAR of me.

The good news is I like this doctor and today I feel a burst of hope that together we can figure out a better cocktail (of medications). What I take now makes me feel flat like a faded old piece of paper. Everyone else seems to be living in 3D and I’m one dimensional. The current medications got me out of the troth of not wanting to be alive (Which is different than suicidal—an important clarification.) But I’d like to shoot for something a tad higher than flat and undead.  Perhaps happy. I’d also be satisfied with sociable.

“My world is so small right now.” I found myself confessing to the doctor.  This made me even sadder and I wanted to cry. Crying not something I can do currently, another side effect, but as I said I’m hopeful with a change of medication that crying will come back.

Someone asks: Do you want to get together? (Blank marshmallow filled space in my brain and then panic.)  Feel like coffee? a text  (I feel nothing if I were to be honest.)  Want to go to that concert with me? (No.) You could listen to them online. You’ll like them. They’re really great. (No, definitely no. Milwaukee. It’s too much effort.) Can you host Christmas? (… birds chirping …     hell no!)  Don’t forget life group is tonight. ( … I don’t think I can go. Two hours of not talking in a group of talking people makes me feel dead and I don’t think I can speak. If I have to give another update saying things are still … bad.  I’m so tired of my life updates being so [insert pejorative].)

I’ve been so tired of feeling like this daily for months and months.

But I’ve been making myself do a few things out of the conviction that I cannot sit in my chair alone all winter. Besides motherhood, which doesn’t stop ever.

I’m attending the Festival of Faith and Writing in April. When I made the reservation I thought I’d never be able to go, not in a million years. My brain won’t even compute navigating the drive, let alone attending a conference alone. But somehow, things have been improving.  Writing this and asking for help went a long way. I know I’m not alone.  And now a break from life sounds damn good. It has been the most awful winter that I can recall EVER and I’m not talking just about the weather.

2796253209_98caa0e57e_o “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable, they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” – Ernest Hemingway

Remember the hot days of summer, when I was working on an essay on PRAYER and feeling really skeptical about whether I even believe in prayer? That essay is now published in the book Disquiet Time. You can pre-order it here published by Jericho Books in October, 2014. So that’s very cool.  

Did I even tell you that I have two poems in the book Not Afraid: Stories of Confronting Fear which is available here.

Lastly, WordPress is telling me I have been blogging six years sending their congratulations. Looking back, I see that my first post was 2008/10/07. That means I’ve been sober six and a half years.  Six years of blogging! Wow.

In that time, I’ve gathered TO MY UTTER AMAZEMENT 1,751 subscribed email readers. Not sure how that happened but I can only thank you, for when you pass along my writing. It helps me build traction and readers which helps me imagine one day I’ll be published. So, I’m grateful that Spring is coming.

I leave you with thoughts of summer, which I am longing for — running in flip flops, or curled up with a book in grass, or squinting at the sun by the lake.

As always, thanks for reading,

Melody

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When I Was A Falling Down Drunk: A Love Story

tomhanson_bwIt’s only been a few days but I feel it.  In the hidden, hard place where I keep my little girl heart that learned to be scared too early.  That place in my heart has shifted.

It might be that I am writing out the story of how I once was a falling down drunk.  I’ve been looking for ways that I was loved through it, and I’ve been realizing

over and over how I was so loved. My husband

lived out this incredible, sacrificial, life-giving, endless, kind, patient, generous, soul upon soul holding of my precious life when I wasn’t into or able to be caring for myself

at all.  Didn’t believe I was precious or lovable at all. I guess you can say I couldn’t possibly, since I was more and more consumed

by booze.

And here’s shit’s honest truth: I will never, ever–not ever–be able to repay him.  Every ounce of love that I can give, a life time of kindnesses, every selfless act of thoughtfulness—all of it,

none of it will ever make up for his saving my life by helping me through the drunken years.  Trust me I have walked back over every ugly moment that I can remember. And when I couldn’t remember I interviewed him. Phew that was hard on us both.

And that is what he did.  His love saved me and it was totally undeserved.

Kind of like what God does in sending Jesus and that’s so amazing I’ve just had to sit

here in my writing chair.

Hours on end, sitting.

Feeling my thankful feelings for sobriety. And for Tom. For my children surviving (though we can all see a toll in their minds and hearts, but that’s another story.)  I’m just

unabashedly

thankful.

So whether it actually was the practice of stopping and writing down what I’m thankful for, I’ll never know.  Sometimes God works by making two things collide bringing a providence of actions and

then it is on us how we respond.

How to love a drunk is a love story.  Yes, a valentine.

xoxo,

Melody

An excerpt from the article I have been writing:

It is breathtaking for me to think how much Tom loves me and showed it both with his long-suffering gentle care.  And, in the act of telling me he couldn’t take it any longer he faced his greatest fears.  He was potentially losing me either way. That letter confronting my addiction was selfless love.

After drinking an entire bottle of white wine the night before, I was scared to death. And God’s spirit had been graciously preparing my heart, perhaps for years. Tom’s letter and my readiness collided and became the catalyst.

I was ready. That was our miracle. That’s what it looks like to love a drunk.

Honestly there are no sweet guarantees.  But Tom never gave up on me.  When we married twenty years ago, pledging in sickness and in health neither of us knew what a high price IN SICKNESS contained.

Gratitude: A Quiet Discipline, An Offering, A Setting Down, An Unfreezing of the Heart, A Spiritual Continuum

I wake up every day tired, mostly of me. This is how depression repeatedly exposes itself to me, in exhaustion. With each breath and step in the day, with every mundane activity only reinforcing my life’s obvious lack of direction. It is sad. I seem unable to enjoy life.

Sometimes I think this is easily solvable.  Do I have a lack of gratitude for all the good in my life? It might look like that if you saw my beautiful life.

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If pushed I can name all the things for which I am thankful. In my bleaker moments, I imagine that I don’t know how to live out this gratitude.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart  (c. 1260 – c. 1327)

I don’t completely agree, but I know that it is up there in importance in the spiritual formation of a believing heart. Anne Lamott says help, thanks, wow in her tiny book by that title.

To implore, to give thanks and to offer praise create the liminal places preparing us for a deeper spiritual life. This allows for a vulnerable, more exposed and prepared spiritual self.

It is lost to us when we get caught up in over thinking and not allow ourselves moments in the day when we let go of that rigid way of spirituality in the form of dry and useless ingratitude.

The wonderful Catholic visionary and author of more than 40 books Joan Chittister says:

“Gratitude is not only the posture of praise. It is also the basic element of real belief in God.”

This convicts my aching, thankless, over thinking mind and heart.

One of my favorite spiritual fathers, a gently resplendent author, the late Henri Nouwen, is the most convincing to me today. As a recovering alcoholic I seem to have many resentments that crowd in before I know it. I can go through a whole day, my brain buzzing with one resentment or critical thought after another, and then before I realize it my physical body and spiritual heart and heartless brain are full.  I am brimming with bitterness and judgement.

In Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit he said:

“”The opposite of resentment is gratitude (from the Latin gratia = favor). Gratitude is more than an occasional ‘thanks be to God.’ Gratitude is the attitude that enables us to let go of anger, receive the hidden gifts of those we want to serve, and make these gifts visible to the community as a source of celebration …” When I think about what it means to live and act in the name of Jesus, I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness, through which the love of God can manifest itself. Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.”  (My emphasis)

My bleak spiritual state is so obvious to me when I am depressed. But to dwell there deciding my life is useless would be the real tragedy. Even with and perhaps because of depression, even with some of the things that plague so many of us including spiritual doubt, incessant fear or anxiety, the self-hatred so many struggle with, our life’s deep regrets and our brokenness.

Before God these are my questions. Am I am able to let go of them and lay them in prayer at the Cross? Can I set them down to pick up the communion bread and cup? Can I find, as a daily discipline, a few things for which I can say thanks? If this is hard, especially for a melancholic person like myself, I think it’s paramount to express thanks as a part of our life of spiritual discipline.

Gratitude it’s an offering. Gratitude is a discipline. It is a setting down of bitter burdens to try to trust God with our brokenness.

Gratitude I think is the ultimate trust.  This isn’t a formula; rather it is a part of life’s spiritual continuum.

celestial snow

Wisconsin has had more than 30 days below zero already this winter.  It’s a hard place for me to live. It’s a cold, wrecked bitter place. But it also has great beauty such as snowflakes falling this morning; dancing as they fall, whirling playfully and slowly, and dropping to the already covered ground.  I have to admit, sitting here in my warm house it is beautiful to see the snow form into an angel.

Gratitude is a spiritual or life discipline that can bring health and heart healing.

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For the next 30 days or so, through the bleakest whitest part of winter, I’m going to keep track in writing. Want to try it with me?  Perhaps the last activity before sleep or first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee.  Take a moment to write five things (or even one) for which you are grateful.

Will this cause an inner shift in my frozen, depressed heart caught up in its own gloom? It may not.  It may simply get me through this frozen winter.  Whatever the outcome, I’m a little more hopeful today.

Let me know if you’re going to try 30 days or nights of private gratitude. Let’s step toward this hope together.

As The Winter Is Long [a NEW Poem]

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In the dreary midwinter
time is never-ending and merciless.

I chase the shadow’s
bright reflections, brittle patterns
on the silvery snow.

This distracts me from the echoing lament
I woke with today.
Melancholy sits dismally on my chest, like a lethargic cat
As I consider what’s gone wrong with me.
There’s always something and I’m as tired as the winter is long.

I chase the shadows.
Somehow, they hold hope
when I’ve got none.

“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of god is glue. — Eugene O’Neill

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p>Ever conscious of the grace of God. As I think and pray about, and write the details of my addiction story, it is heavy.  The weight of mistakes, the shame of walking backwards trudging through the broken ways my addiction hurt my family; It’s heavy to carry it.  Thanks for your prayers as I finish up an essay on How to Love an Addict. 

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.