Day 45

Day 45 of 100 intentional reflective steps.
Day 45

One year ago I packed up my little dorm room of 9 weeks and caught an early morning bus off the small little compound that had become my home.  Upon returning home one of the most common questions people asked me was “do you feel better?” Well, no.  A year ago I had only just begun to trace the outline of the tip of the iceberg that was my mental health. The clinicians had done a good job at educating me and I had knowledge of what challenges I was facing but I lacked applied understanding. I would not be able to define that until I was living in a “real world” environment.  

The real world was a shock to my system. The combination of medication, toxic shame over my mental health diagnosis, overstimulation by noises and people, and sheer emotional exhaustion left my confidence shattered and emotions raw. 
When I entered the hospital I had a job, relationships and goals. When I left I knew I could not go back to work. All my projects and speaking engagements had been guillotined by my bosses. I was directed to focus exclusively on my health.  Friends and family were doing an awkward dance around me trying to figure out what I needed and wanted. For months I was sure I had become agoraphobic. I would break into cold sweats and shakes if I was in a store or group setting. I was on too many medications to be safely driving, which didn’t matter because I didn’t have a desire to see anybody or go anywhere. For months I did not do laundry, cook, clean or do anything more than sitting on the couch. I went to yoga 5 hours a week, a therapist twice a week and squeezed in the frequent visits with a psychiatrist.  This was the totallity of my life. 
One year later and I don’t feel better. Why? I have spent more time with my trauma therapist this year than with almost any other human. She is a sadist who pokes at my heart until something hurts and then pitches a tent and camps in that spot a while. It’s horrible. I am a raw wound with no opportunity to hide beneath a scab while I heal.

After a year of this the only thing I am 100% certain of is that this season is an exercise of surrender and trust. I have doctors, therapists, pastors and spiritual directors who help chart my path forward. I hear the voice of God through them as they synchronistically yet independently speak words of caution, wisdom and patience. What am amazing gift my “village” is to me.
I have never understood the concept of being a work in process more than I do now. I am incomplete and I know it. The beauty of it is that I am closer now to being completely ok with that than I have ever been. 

Day 40

Day 40 of 100 intentional reflective steps.
Day 40
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 12

Day 12 of 100, intentional, reflective steps.

Day 12

I visited a place where I felt so much “less weird” than I had ever felt. It was an odd mixture of acceptance and challenge for growth. It was real world, in the sense that everybody had baggage and “stuff” and willingly seemed to accept that fact. We were all hurting and in need.

It felt honest. For instance, If somebody was having a bad day not only was it permissible to let it show (anger, tears, sullen faces etc.) it was also ok to not have to fix everybody else’s bad day.  No, platitudes or placating, just a simple “Sorry, you’re having a bad day,” “Sorry, life is hard right now,” or even better, a nod and walk away.  In my 43 years old I have never been in an environment so accepting and dizzyingly communal.  

I think everybody should have an experience like this. It reminded me of how emotionally depraved we have become. So often we act as if communities should be homogenous. Enforcing conformity makes us feel normal.  However, even in the most ‘welcoming” communities there are collective rules of dress, actions, vocabulary . .  Sameness.

Many people think they have found that idyllic community, until the bottom drops out of their lives. All the sudden people who were unsure how to love them stampeded out of their lives, trampling the soul. Their lives no longer fit within the Stepford standards.  It reminds me of a missionary story from South East Asia. A new pastor was surveying their new place of ministry. He looked out a window and was pondering the beautiful lush grass. The only such lawn in miles.  All the sudden a dog ran across the lawn.  Curiously, the yard began to roll up and down with the dogs every leap. The lawn was growing on the top of three stories of raw liquid sewage. As a general rule – we don’t want to acknowledge, let alone dig into, the sewage in one another’s lives; especially in the western world. We like the green grass.

My visit, though very very difficult stands as an oasis of generosity in a desert of perceived judgment. On more than one occasion I was struck by the thought that this climate, this attitude of mutual investment and giving of gracious space should be what church community should feel like.  But I’m not talking about the church. It was in a psychiatric institution where I most clearly saw grace in action in the midst of the darkness.

Here’s the thing. My friends from the hospital knew their ailments and addiction and were talking about it; working through it. They knew they are like everybody else, except they were actively working to get healthy. They loved in spite of labels, some of which were worn right on our name tags; addict, victim, abuser, killer.  From my experience people in churches don’t feel the same way. Wearing your depravity and need openly only warrants suspicion and pity, not welcome and inclusion. I fear that as a rule my friends would not find the church a welcome place. I get it but I resist it. We can do better.