Day 18

Day 18 of 100 intentional, reflective steps.

They attached electrodes to my earlobes and  to the top of my head. I could watch my brain waves. It was amazing, not just to discover that I actually had some, but to visually see my brain in action.  The goal was to be able to visually see my brain waves freak out when anxiety crept in, and then be able to control them.

There was a variety of games; “pacman” where calmness made the yellow guy go and overanxious waves made him stop, skateboarder where she fell off her board and crashed if you were going too fast or too slow, cruise liner where you helped the boat get to an island by encouraging it with calm thoughts.  I TOTALLY SUCKED AT THESE. Pacman refused to move, the skateboarder ran into everything.

My internal dialogue was something like this:
“Ok. Calm. Breathe. Relax. Wait?! Why won’t you move you freakin’ little . . . Calm. Breathe. Breathe slower. I hate this game. I hate it I hate it I . . . Ok. You got this . . . OH MY WORD, You are an ugly skateboarder. I’ve always hated skateboarders . . . Is my time up yet? Damn. Only 10 seconds used up. . . .  I have an itch. Let me think about it. I wonder if there is peanut butter yet in the cafeteria. I think its my butt that itches.  Oops. I have gas. That frickin’ sugar free stuff gives me gas. Oh, skateboarder . . . .right. You’re still sitting on the ground. Hope that hurt your ass when you fell you stupid little . . . Calm. Your time is almost up. WHAT? I have another 2 30 second intervals to go?”

My charted brain waves seem more useful to predict a seismic anomaly of a huge scale than calming my anxiety.  But believe it or not, eventually I could be a little more focused and a lot less spastic about this torturous therapy. Actually, it was really fascinating and very helpful. My point is, I wish I had a screen in front of me all the time to tell me if my brain was racing, anxious or spastic. Many days I can’t tell until I’m in full out panic. I really need that today. But I’m working on it. It is slow going for sure.

And my ship never did reach its destination. Surprise.

Day 16

Day 16 of 100 intentional, reflective steps.

One of my childhood favorite games was “Operation.” I loved the challenge of trying to pull the bones out of the guy without making that obnoxious buzzer go off. I blame Milton Bradley for at least part of my anxiety disorder. Between Operation and Perfection I was set up for it. Part of learning to live with PTSD is recognizing your own emotions. I’ve spent my life in public service and have tried, and often failed, to weigh and balance my words with wisdom. Therefore I have spent a lot of time biting my tongue and stifling my anger. (I know. I’m the pastor whose parishioners were going to start a blog entitled “Shit My Pastor Says.” I really did try and behave myself.)

This is probably not a bad way to live, keeping control of your tongue, heart and emotions. But tell me this. Where is the balance between expressing yourself and stating your emotions/need exactly as you feel it? Sad? Cry. Excited? Shout it? Happy? Share it. Angry? Say it.
These days I feel like a walking Operation game. If somebody hits the wrong nerve I feel like going through the roof. My anger trigger is quick. I blame the therapists who taught me to “feel my feelings.” I’m just irritable, jumpy and angry. I like knowing what I really feel but now I don’t know what to do with it.
So, light the charge, shoot me out and call me a cannonball. I’m coming in for a landing and I’m libel to tell you exactly how I feel. Well, probably not, but I want to.

Day 10

Day 10 of 100, intentional, reflective steps.

Often when we pass the homeless our internal radar says “addict” or “mentally ill.” We shake our head, mentally make the sign of the cross and fling a “bless them” prayer out the car window. There is a sneaky, haughty, subconscious voice in me that has made a “them” category in my brain.

I comfort myself with the idea that I have always been accepting ofthe mentally ill.  I have advocated for “their” meds and therapy. I have tried  to be non-judgemental.  Until I was the one who was facing a diagnosis. The mirror of self realization is like a 360 dressing room mirrors in the fluorescent light of judgment. Horrifying. The instant it dawned on me that I was struggling with mental illness, self imposed judgment began swirling around me like Hitchock’s birds.

Where once learning disorders, depression/anxiety and addictions were completely unacceptable to talk about, it has now become open forum. However, when you tag  anybody with “mental illness”  fear, judgment and feelings of superiority/insuperiority enter the picture.  The truth is depression and anxiety are mental illnesses. Some can be treated with exercise, food choices, less caffeine, etc. However, some is chemical and needs medication, just like all other medical illnesses.

My challenge has been this. Shame. I feel shameful admitting that I need a team of professionals to keep me on the level. Even though I know accepting the help of others does not diminish me as a person at all I feel shame. In fact admitting the complexities of my illness does not diminish me either. I am like so many others that I love and deeply respect, on a journey of health and wholeness. My goal? To walk this journey on a road paved with gratitude for all those who walk with me and those who help me stay on the path. Less judgment. More gratitude.

Side lesson: I am attempting to acknowledge myself and others by their personhood before their ailment. “A baby with Down’s Syndrome” rather than “that downs syndrome baby.” “Jill has mental illness/depression” rather than “Jill is mentally ill.”  Words matter.

Day 1

Day 1 of 100 intentional, reflective steps

One year ago today I was in a psychiatric hospital after a major breakdown. Don’t be too quick to judge; it felt like one minute my world was in order and the next doctors were asking if I felt i had any special powers or heard voices.  

They took my shoelaces, string from my running shorts, leg razor, privacy and dignity.  For months doctors evaluated my mental health. Multiple “methodologies” were used to help me get in touch with my inner child; Equine therapy with ancient horses, a ropes courses, art therapy, yoga, tai chi, meditation, brain wave analysis, light therapy, spiritual reflection and countless hours of talk therapy. While the institution is paid good money to help its clients find a more beautiful life, they do that by shedding light on the ugly parts of ourselves. It was tortuous. What more could I expect from a $10,000 a week “hotel” that refused us caffeine past 8 a.m. and no sugar? Ever. (Sugar and caffeine are drugs kids. Might as well be shooting up or smoking crack.) 

We were cut off from the outside world except through an occasional call made through circa 1970’s phones and the United States Postal Service. There was no music, save the shitty Zen pan flute whining from a sad little sound box hiding behind ancient magazines and crusty modeling clay in the art room. It was surreal and I felt like I was drowning. Every day. Diagnosis were made, medication prescribed and after two long months I was set free to bless the world with my newly enlightened self.

Now I can barely remember my former life. After a long year back at home of therapy and treatment I can finally go into public again but only under the following conditions. The crowds must be small, nobody should touch me uninvited and there should be no startling noises like fireworks, sneezing or birds chirping.  Also, I must have earplugs and quick access to total batman cave stillness and silence. I am still sad, my relationships feel hollow, I spend most of my time by myself and my personhood has been stripped of all the trappings that used to make it seem festive; accomplishments, jobs, accolades, crowds, influence, etc. Therapy has taught me to pay attention to my own needs and feelings. So now I live with anxiety and depression that rolls in and out like the ocean in high tide.

My emotions are held together by pharmaceuticals, 2-4 appointments a week with doctors and therapists, spilled coffee, stubbornness and prayer. To make this a more weighty matter, pun intended, the drugs have contributed to a fifty pound gain, mostly in my ass. I am basically a yellow, round, sad faced emoji In yoga pants. I’m lost.

So, I’ve decided to voluntarily prioritize myself. To come to a place where you are forced to focus on yourself is a tragedy. To chose to is a gift. 

In the next 100 days there are many momentous occasions; A trip to Chicago for work and some play, my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, my oldest child’s wedding, the second anniversary of my sister’s death, and New Years Day. Each event, each day gives me opportunity to ignore my inner dialogue, my prayerful conversations and my basic needs or to wallow in my pain and loss. More importantly, it gives me opportunity to see how God will reveal himself  and sustain me as I fight not to regain what I have lost but rather explore the future.

One day/one step at a time for one hundred days.