Day 13

Day 13 of 100, intentional, reflective steps.

When you really like someone you often give them a nickname. Take my dog for instance. We nicknamed him “kegogi”. (Korean joke.) I wanted to name one of our children “Abigail.” Kyle would walk around the house singing “abbi riley, abbi riley” in a sing songy pinched voice that sounded something like Sheldon Cooper singing a lullaby. His point, I think, was that the name would be abbreviated to something fonder, cuter and shorter. I often call my oldest daughter “emmy lou” but shorten it to “lou” just for fun. I express affection for her fiance’ by nicknaming him “boy.” Ok. Bad example. The point is, we express acceptance and familiarity by pet names.

For ten years I was on one antidepressant. Now I have a gallon size bag of medicationI received a thorough education on “safe” distribution from my addict friends last fall so I’m fairly certain I could earn a fortune selling little goodie bagson the street. I have a daughter getting married, a son in college and another daughter on her way to college . . .  Maybe this could be a new fundraiser?

This year it seems medications have walked in and out of my life with alarming rate. At doctors directions I keep trying them all on for size to see what is the best fit.  I’m a med serial dater. It’s like the worst kind of kissing booth at the fair. Some of them are friendlies and others are saboteurs.  Some prospects are wonderful while others are completely unfortunate looking, sloppy and lack manners. However, as a category, it appears the medications are here to stay. So, I decided we have surpassed the formal stage. Now they are just “meds” and we are forever family. (Maybe like extended family. You get to keep them whether you chose them or not?)

I’m a gyroscope on a rollercoaster. My sense of balance and orientation is all dependent on the correct combination of sleep, food, activity, inactivity, interaction, solitude, spiritual balance and of course meds. If even one of those things is out of balance I feel like I will hurtle off the track and crash.

This year has been about adjusting. Its been about acknowledging my illnesses, which I don’t like, learning my limits, which I suck at, and admitting my need for help, which I hate. However, whenever I get overwhelmed I have to remember and be grateful for the fact that I don’t have a life threatening illness, terminal diagnosis or malformation of my physical body that would keep me from moving forward in life.

So, “meds” and I will be friends and I will quit hating them for their needfulness in my life.  


Day 12

Day 12 of 100, intentional, reflective steps.

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.

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 8

Day 8 of 100 intentional, reflective steps.

“People will want to know that there is hope”, a friend said. “They will want to find something to encourage them.”  I floated this blog to several close friends and trusted colleagues before I published it. This was the loving response from one of my friends. My thought? “Yeah! Don’t we all!”

I am recalling a conversation with another parent whose child had been recently diagnosed with cancer.  He said “I read everything I can find about (childhood) cancer. I keep hoping that at the bottom of every page it will say ‘he is going to live,’ but it never does.” A parent of a childhood cancer survivor myself, I understood and that understanding applies to my current life. I too want to see proof of life at the bottom of every page. I go to bed hoping tomorrow will look brighter, my illness less severe and my coping more effective .

I have spent months waiting for the page turn; waiting for the black and white of the yellow brick road to turn into technicolor but it hasn’t. Yet. But there is potential. The potential of hope gives me traction on days when my emotions are slick tires on ice, pulling me out of the quicksand of depression, and is a lighthouse when I think I’m drowning. That’s enough for me to hang on.

Activity report:
Made it to yoga and managed to keep my nutrition goals successfully. Until 5:00 p.m. Maybe I should make my bedtime at 4:30?

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.