Day 40

Day 40 of 100 intentional reflective steps.
The hospital/clinic was established on some lovely grounds. Well manicured thick grass, outdoor pool, and a wide variety of trees and plants lulled first time visitors into thinking this was a place of peace and comfort.
Now, there are two ways to look at this.  The grounds could certainly be seen symbolically as a sort of oasis in the middle of the F’in desert. I hate the desert. Give me deciduous trees and four seasons any day. I’m basically a cactus when I’m in that kind of horrid heat; prickly and everything about me says GO AWAY! 
The other way to see these lush surroundings is as a breeding ground for pestilence.  Seriously. Every mosquito in a tri-state area had discovered this lush little getaway. I could not step out side of the buildings for 30 seconds without getting bit. One evening I was so desperate for fresh air that I spray painted myself in bug spray. Really, I’m pretty sure there was a Jill sized dry spot in the middle of a bug spray lake right in the nursing station entry way! Fully saturated I confidently slopped my way to the great outdoors. I was out no less than five minutes before I got bit. These aggressive little vermin climbed up my pants and bit me five times on my only spray free zone, my ass. (Public nudity, even for the sake of bug repellant was not allowed.) No matter what the beautiful promotional materials say this was not an oasis. This was a mosquito hostel. Holy hell.
I gave up and spent most of my leisure time indoors. My wounds and pride healed from my battle with the mosquitos. But the emotional pestilence that surfaced at the hospital still exists. When one is given a diagnosis of any sort, whether minor, catastrophic, or terminal, it changes your view of life. I see life differently now. Somedays, I see myself as sick, damaged, and disposable. Other days I am recovering, progressing and thriving.  I generally distrust my emotions and interactions. I am unconfident that if I make a commitment for another day that I will actually be able to fulfill it, based on my emotional needs. The irony? I don’t remember feeling that plagued by a lack of confidence or self doubt prior to treatment.
However, every day I rely on the strength of my faith that declares that I am not defined by an illness, a success, a failure, a relationship. My worth is related to any of those things. Some days I believe that, but other days that knowledge is as useless to me as my bug spray was. It rolls off my emotions and washes away like rain down a gutter. 

Thankfully, today is not one of those days.


Day 31

Day 31 of 100 intentional, reflective steps.
Not the actual course. Not me.

One of the only bright spots of hanging out in a psych center was the weekly outing to the ropes course. Getting to go was a privilege, reserved for those deemed medically and mentally sound, which meant most patients didn’t get permission for at least four weeks. They wanted to make sure we wouldn’t try to hang ourselves on the ropes or jump out of the van and run into Mcdonalds, like caffeine and sugar deprived crazies. This was our one chance for freedom from the 1/4 square mile to which we were confined so we jumped at the chance to go. We piled into vans with all the excitement of kids going to summer camp.

My first week on the course I tried rock wall climbing. Some of the younger and more athletic us crawled up the wall like frickin’ Spiderman. I was more amoeba-blob like as I sauntered up the wall at a snail’s pace. I was thrilled to have two full grown men belay, counter balance, for me. As evidenced by their sweat rings I’m sure they worked harder to get my ass up to the first level of the wall than I did. The two worn out men on the other end of my rope didn’t have enough energy or breath support to encourage me to go further.  A beleaguered thumbs up and they let me float myself down the hard fought 10 feet or so I had climbed.
My third trip to the ropes course was on Halloween. I sported my Batman glasses and cape and was determined to conquer the obstacle laid before me. I climbed up a 30 foot pole, jumped off the platform the size and stability of a saltine cracker and caught a rope loop with one foot 10 feet away. Then I swung fifty feet, at 10 foot intervals, catching my  feet in the rope loops as I went. I sweated, swung and swore all the way to the last loop.  

At the end I gave one last mighty swing and caught the last platform with my foot.  However instead of sticking the landing I ended up strung out (no, not that way), like roast dinner on a spit, horizontally suspended 30 feet in the air, belly and cape flapping in the wind; one foot clinging to the platform, my hands clinging to the guide rope.  Awkward and ungraceful. To make matters worse I had shoes with no shoe laces and gravity was threatening to separate me from my shoe. As I mentally negotiated my next move I lost my shoe and, this just in, was beginning to lose my pants. My only hope for modesty was the harness which though chaffing was keeping the proper parts covered. My triumph? After re-situating my pants I jumped off that platform, cape flying and landed brilliantly on one foot, just like Batman.
I’m kind of a fun sucker. I feel the need to be the best, the prettiest, the smartest, the most accomplished and the most well liked. But up there, with my cape, undies and a bare foot flapping in the breeze I had a blast and nothing else mattered.

I have given birth four times, overcome unimaginable abuse, sat successfully for comprehensive exams, been a pastor for over two decades, survived celebrating New Year’s Eve with the Mexicans and overcome OCD control of my sock drawer. However just enjoying being myself in that moment felt bigger than all of that.


Day 15

Day 15 of 100 intentional, reflective steps.

The teens play this game called “bigger and better.” The teams are each given a a small object.  They begin going door to door, calling on the poor neighbors to exchange the team’s object for something bigger and better. Each neighbor searches through their rummage pile or garage for a contribution.  At the end of the allotted time the teams reconvene and judges decide the winner.  Years ago when the teens were playing this game one group came home dragging a treadmill! Tonight it was a 10×10 carpet, a barbecuer, giant teddy bear and two extra kids!

Sometimes western culture is just a giant game of bigger and better. From the start of our “I want” stage in life we keep trading up; better toys, smaller electronics, better relationships, bigger careers, better houses, bigger toys, etc. No matter how much we get or how perfect it is that satisfaction is, temporary, so we trade up.

For a year I have kept even the large, scaffolding type details of my disappearance last fall a secret.  I didn’t want anybody to know that I was in a hospital. Previous to leaving I had been seeing a counselor for a year and we had been to a marriage therapist for a year. I wasn’t particularly fond of anybody knowing those details! However, in hindsight I can see that keeping these things secret was as damaging to my soul as the illness is to my mind.

When we trade our vehicles for something bigger and better we try to hide the scratches, the dents, the paint chips. I bought into the lore, the lie that my value is related to my perfection, as if I should be judged, assessed and monetized  like an object.

I am not confident now. Something about that experience and needing to be taken care of for so many months, not being able to care for my children, of living in solitude, losing career, relationships and independence has dampened my confidence. I still act confident, but I don’t really believe it.

I can feel the stilling of the jello that has been my confidence. I can feel it quickening like slow cure cement into something strong, like a bone graft that becomes stronger than the original bone. To succumb to the weight of a tragic childhood, diseases that have affected friends and family, the loss of loved ones, the suicides and unexpected tragedies I have witnessed, would be a tragedy. To deny their impact on my life would be an even larger one because that would be to refuse the grace that has been gifted to me to survive.

Much is put on being a “survivor.” We like the idea of the warrior who fights against the odds to conquer the foe. However,  it isn’t being a survivor that makes me strong or confident. It is the ability to point to the wounds that stand witness to my pain and say “it still hurts” or “I need help” that takes me from the game of “bigger and better” and puts me square in the lap of love and grace.