4 Things To Hold Onto When Your Backstory Tries To Take You Down

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It’s been nearly 5 years since my mom took her own life and it’s really hard to put into words how I deal with that on a daily basis.

Most days I am still in disbelief that this is a part of my story, my family’s story. I joke to new friends that I feel too normal to have such a dramatic back story.

The back to school days have me in a bit of a depressive funk. Some days it’s just a small gray cloud but once in a while it’s a bit worse than that. I am upping my meds since I am on a low dose currently and choosing to be thankful for Zoloft rather than feel shame that I can’t hack it “au natural.”

The bad depressive days are the hardest when I start thinking about my Mom, when the enemy creeps into my ear and says “maybe you will repeat her story, or maybe your kids will…. it’s in you, it’s in them.” Continue reading

What Mental Health Isn’t

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In my life “Mental Health” has been an elusive thing.

Until just this past year every doctor I’ve seen has said something to the effect of: “Have you considered… <insert trendy new pill here>”

Just this past year I had a doctor tell me: “With your case history and the way your mom passed I don’t ever see you off an anti-depressant. If we had a pill to cure breast cancer and your mom had died of that, wouldn’t you take it?”

Sure, but it’s not really the same, is it? My mom didn’t just die because she was sick, it was this messy cluster of pain and problems.

Like losing my dad to a heart attack and losing parts of her daughter in a car/train accident while struggling with depression.

And this is the point at which mental health becomes really hard to figure out. Am I struggling because I’m sick or am I struggling because this is hard, because Life. Is. Hard?

I would never dream of deciding that for another person. Ever.

It is never my place to say “Here is where your life issues and baggage stop and your chemical imbalance begins so this is what you should or should not do.”

I can’t even figure that out for myself.

But I have figured out one thing in this past year of counseling and life and delving deep into past to discover some foundation core beliefs that are throwing me off.

I have figured out what Mental Health is not.

I always thought that mentally healthy people, people upon whom doctors would never dream of handing a Rx for antidepressants must ooze sanity, logical thought and even keeled temperaments.

But that’s not mental health… and that’s not humanity.

Here is what mental health isn’t, what it doesn’t mean:

It doesn’t mean you never yell at your spouse.
It doesn’t mean you don’t need to make lists to get things done.
It doesn’t mean you never sob for no particular reason over the state of things.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like hiding when the world feels too big.
It doesn’t mean you never get overwhelmed when life feels unstable.
It doesn’t mean you never need to call a friend, right now just to unload and vent.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like walking around with an L on your forehead because you feel like such a mess you may as well proclaim it.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like finding the bottom of a tub of ice cream

These things are not signs of mental illness, they’re just part of being human. Yet for so long I thought that they were things that were categorizing me as “not quite right” when they were normal, human reactions to the big feels of life.

I’ve come to realize that my old idea of what mental health looks like involved two things

1) Not really needing people.
2) Not feeling big feelings out loud.

This is not mental health, this is not human. 

Mental health involves healthy coping skills and healthy coping involves living well in community and feeling your feelings even when they’re really inconvenient.

And they’re going to be inconvenient.

It would be so nice if grief, jealousy, insecurity, sadness, fear, anger and frustration would only come out at the appropriate times but that’s not life, at least it’s not my experience of life on pills or otherwise.

Life happens at messy and inopportune moments and so does it’s corresponding feelings.

If I could share one thing on this topic, it would be this: It is good to feel your feelings. It is healthy, needed and natural…. normal even.

Life is a roller coaster of big feelings and we are meant to be stretched and grown and stressed and sad and thrilled. It’s terribly inconvenient but it’s really important to feel these and go there and know what’s really going on inside us.

We learn how to identify and express emotions in preschool and then sometimes it feels like we try to undo all that as grown-ups.

When your feelings get to a point where you can’t cope or where they are having a negative impact on those around you, then it may be time to seek help, but don’t feel all wrong just for having them.

It’s not my place to speak to anything you’ve discussed with your doctor. You will only ever find me supportive of your choices in that respect.

The only thing I really have to say is don’t assume that your big feelings and inconvenient emotions mean that you’re sick, feel what you need to feel, go to counseling, get to the bottom of it.

The journey to understand your feelings and negative beliefs about yourself, the world and God is worth every moment and penny you invest in it.

It’s the most worthwhile time and money I’ve invested in years and I suspect I will continue to invest in my mental health so I can be the big feels, slightly unpredictable wife, mother, writer and human person God created me to be.

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Just last month I went to a doctor who has seen me for the better part of my life and she told me this: “If you feel like the anxiety is too much, then call me and we will talk through it and figure out the best plan. But you seem to be really self-aware and stable,you’re doing really well.”

As I drove home, I sobbed, because in the journey of living my life and not following in my mother’s footsteps, those were some of the most beautiful words anyone has ever said to me.

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How to stop worrying about who isn’t listening or reading or watching and start loving the people who are

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons jennifah007

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons jennifah007

I have a confession to make:  Sometimes when I’m talking to my children about something particularly amusing or ridiculous, I project a little louder for other people to hear.

“You learned about how Jesus will heal as long as we cut a holes in the roof? Wow that’s crazy!”  
(big look around to see if anyone else heard that and wants to exchange a grown up eye with me as I ignore the child trying to talk to me about God… <facesmack>)

And sometimes I do this with my husband, especially at parties or social gatherings. If we say something funny together I’ll dump him to go tell other, new-shiny people about it.

And sometimes I do this with my friends

And very often I do this online.

And when I do this, you know what I’m saying? Dear person I’m actually talking to:  You’re not enough, I need a larger, more important audience.  Others matter more than what’s going on between us.  

My need to be noticed trumps what we are sharing in this moment.

It took a season of therapy and a good hard look to realize that the heart of this problem is this:  So often I worry about who isn’t listening and miss out on who is, because I’m valuing the wrong things.

We all do this in life, don’t we? Come on, please normalize this with me so I don’t feel like such a jerk…

We’re chatting with our friends, our people and across the room or the twittersphere when we spot someone we wish we were friends with, chatting with a crowd we wish we ran with and we feel… jealous and small and less than… maybe even crummy and insignificant.

Why? Because we want to be noticed and successful. It’s perfectly normal… but if we’re not careful it can become utterly consuming.  And we should be careful.

We should be careful with the people we’ve been entrusted with, the audience we’ve been given. 

Because odds are that if you look around, you’re already as noticed and significant as you need to be.

Let me give you an example that will potentially make you hate me and burn my blog in anger (I don’t know how that would work, just go with it):

Sometimes when a new person responds to me on twitter I go to check their profile.

Not a big confession, Normal right?
What am I looking for you ask?
Am I trying to see if we have common interests and beliefs?
Nope.  I’m checking to see how many followers they have to figure out how much time and attention I should give them.
I know, I know.  Awful. But I swear It’s getting better…

Why? I’ve stopped worrying about who’s not listening and started loving everyone who is.

I actually remember the exact day that this switch flipped. I got put off by an acquaintance online, someone who didn’t do anything wrong but who, through inaction left me with a wound.

I literally looked at myself in the toothpaste covered bathroom mirror and yelled. “What (name of person) thinks doesn’t even matter! I have people, good people and what (he/she) does or doesn’t think of me doesn’t get anymore airtime in my brain or my time.”

Then I talked about it at therapy. A lot. I talked about how I want to intentionally cultivate depth with the people I’ve been given (gifts each one!) and how badly I needed to stop worrying about who wasn’t paying attention to me.

Then over dishes about a week later I received some news from God.  The kind that just pops into your mind and feels at home, like sweet mind-truth, life giving and free.

“I’ve given you exactly the influence needed, the people you were meant to tend and grow. Love them well and forget the rest.”

And so it was that I learned to love my people, my place in this world.  Not in a passive way, but in an active, daily choosing that leaves me feeling full of life and peace.

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Praying Songs and Fighting On

my hand's wet on the wheel

I walked out of the grocery store discouraged, pushing my half empty cart to our dusty mini van with one hand as I grasped my daughter, Noelle’s hand with the other.

When I finally got it loaded up I plunked my head onto the steering wheel inadvertently causing the horn to blare and startle a passing shopper while my four year old burst into laughter in the back seat.

As I put the van into reverse and pulled out of the parking lot I started to chastise myself for overspending as I reviewed the receipt in my head.  “Where did I go wrong? Am I ever going to go out grocery shopping without leaving the store feeling so guilty?”

Thought trains like this can quickly escalate to a session of beating the crap out of myself so I began to look for footholds that would help me stop the downward spiral.

“One grocery trip doesn’t define your life, neither does one morning of writing work.  You are more than this snapshot.”

Suddenly Noelle called out: “Hey mom!  How ’bout some music?”

Yes music!  Something grounding, foundational.  I made my request to Siri and miraculously she understood and cued up the appropriate track, Come to Me by Bethel Loft.

“I am the Lord your God.  I go before you now.  I stand beside you, I’m all around you.  Though you feel I’m far away, I am closer than your breath.  I am with you, more than you know.”

I started to sing these words, belt them out like a prayer my life depended on.  Suddenly, instantly, I was transported back in time to my mother’s car, myself a little girl in the back seat.

I was years away watching her sing along to powerful music, dancing with her hands and drumming on the steering wheel with a passion that spoke to the depth of her need to cling, to hold on tight.

I didn’t know it at the time, but she was praying through music, unintentionally teaching me to lean into the power of lyrics when my own prayers weren’t flowing.  When I was losing my way again.

She was teaching me that when you feel too weak to speak truth into your own life, find a song that will do it for you and sing. Sing loud and squeaky and off key.  Sing like your life depends on it, because right now, it does.  

For all the times I saw my mother give up, there were twice as many times that I saw her fight on.

Through her depression, her fear, her crippling anxiety.

Whatever people may think about those who take their own lives, there is depth beneath that one choice that goes unknown to those on the outside.  There is more to a life than that final choice.  Yes, it speaks to sickness, weariness and defeat but it doesn’t tell the story of all the other times when they prayed a song and fought on.  

It started with a shopping trip, it almost turned into session of despair, but instead it became a prayer through song.

A moment to remember the good practices that my mother left behind.

Ultimately it ended in passing this practice onto my own daughter, who stepped out of the van singing…  “Come to me, I’m all you need.”

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To those of us on our asses.

I’m going through a season where i’m systematically trying identify the lies I believe, and it seems at this point, that there are a lot of them.  I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one struggling thusly, and so I’m throwing one out there and writing truth over it.  Perhaps I’ll do more, maybe not so much.  Either way, here we, let’s go with, a Lie that I believe.  Mild language alert because some lies are so sticky that the require some choice words to be shaken loose.  

Hey there, I have no clue as to where you really are right now.

Your facebook feed may indicate that you have a picture perfect family, regular girls nights out where you wear something sparkly and a marriage that belongs on the silver screen.

That might be really true, or it might be only part of the story, either way, no matter where you are today I want to tell you a lie:

You’re the only one who goes through season where you fall on your ass (repeatedly)
You’re the only one who has madly emotional moments where you’re not sure which end is up and you’re pretty sure you’ll never figure it out again.
You’re the only one who second guesses every most social interactions on the ride home.
You’re the only one who looses it and heads back to bed some afternoons.
You’re the only one feeling overwhelmed with the day to day.
Everyone else has it mostly together and is enjoying a lovely, fulfilled life and they’re never not the least bit self conscious.
No one else but you falls on their ass.

There. I told you a lie.  It may seem like a bunch of them but really?  It’s all the same one and that is this: You’re the only mess on the planet.

onyourass Continue reading

The Hands and Feet of Jesus are kind of Hairy (to me)

I rush around the kitchen. As I reach for bowls and plates, my chest tightens.  With every scream, nitpick or fight my children’s breakfast interactions grate on me as my adrenaline increases, like a slow burn.

Finally, one more: “Mom, I don’t wike dis food and I don’t wike dis pwate!”

And I’m done. I run off to the bedroom to scribble some notes on the cognitive distortions worksheet my therapist gave the previous day.

Because there isn’t a cell in my body that isn’t determined to unlearn the rhythms I use to survive, but there isn’t a chance I can stay another moment in the fray, fragile as I am.

When I return, all apologies I see him counting out twenties from our grocery / gas money stash, his lips moving as he does mental math. He walks around the table, into the kitchen where he holds me and presses two twenty dollar bills in my hand.

“One for Gas, One for you blow on whatever. When’s the last time you just had some time off? Not to work or produce. Just go be you.  I saw the your to do list and I’ve got it, I’ll get Noelle to school and I’ll clean the sinks and toilets. When you come home, dinner will be done. Just go baby, I got this.”

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He is the number two reason I will beat this thing, this anxiety, these inner lies.

He is my partner, supporter and very best friend. I didn’t know how deep love could go until I married Kel and every year?  It gets better.

He’s the one whispering God’s truth by proxy.

To me? The hands and feet of Jesus so often look like Kel’s hands and feet: strong, broad and kinda hairy.   Continue reading

Day 13: Here lives hope

Three years ago today, my mom took her life after years of struggling with something that I sometimes struggle with myself, depression.

There is nothing easy in this truth. Nothing.

This day, October 13 falls heavy on the calendar and then sits, like a lump in my throat

As much as I try to avoid it, my mind moves through her last day to her final decision with an inward groaning.

But, we don’t grieve like those who have no hope, and this?  This is goodness.  This is something to grasp onto with white knuckled hands when every other thing seems shaky and unstable.

This is the reason I pump like a child on a swing, that I gather the freedom and life and love that I still have and fully intend on having for another 50+ years.

I am here. I am alive. I will not, will not surrender the fight.

I don’t not grieve, proceed or live like one who has no hope.

I tell this story because I know I am not alone in this weary remembering, we all have our days of the year that seem heavier than we can conceivably bear on our own.

I have hope, so when I take my children to the park, I grab a swing and I fly, I remember who I am, whose I am.

I hang on, press on, free, hopeful and loved.

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Day 9: Here is where I ask for Help

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Yesterday I sat there in her airy office, on the overstuffed yellow char, bringing her up to speed on my story and how I feel about it.

“And then she was hit by a train, and then she found him gone and then she took her life on the tracks… and here I am.”

I hate this part of getting acquainted, watching people’s faces when I lay it all out for them. I want to hug them and tell them how totally okay I am with it, but lately?  I’m not sure of that anymore.

That’s why yesterday I trudged through the gorgeous streets of downtown, past perfect shop windows, a street juggler and pigtailed children with frozen yogurt, past a gorgeous display of the good life and up the stairs to the office of a new therapist.

Why?  Because I need help with my junk.

I need perspective and guidance and I can’t do it alone.  As we approach the third anniversary of my mother’s death I’m starting to realize that I have survived a lot and I’m weary.  

I have spent the last ten years in a battle of survival and perseverance, in an attempt to overcome odds and live a healthy life.

And for some reason, all the baggage I thought I had neatly tucked away on shelves is falling down around me.  I thought I was okay, that I’d moved past it all, but moving home, driving over those train tracks again and again has brought things back to the surface.

I don’t want to survive this life anymore, I want to lose a thousand pounds of baggage and feel free to quiet the voices of anger, jealous sadness.

I want to love and thrive and feel lighter than I now, with all the bags cluttering the forefront of my mind.

So I’m going to therapy because the old mantra for living and writing and story telling doesn’t fit anymore.

“Journeying with those hurting, healing and choosing joy” was good for a while but can I be honest?  I’ve been a crappy joy-chooser of late… and I just don’t know anymore.

I think the new thing might be something like: Wavering Hope Ambassador.

Because I believe in hope, I want to inspire heavy hearts that it’s possible no matter what, but also…. sometimes I suck at it… and you need to know that.

So here is where I ask for help
Here is where I waver in hopes of something better
And here is still lovely, asking for help is brave and I hope that if you need help you will seek it out fiercely.

Our lives are worth fighting for and wavering is okay.

Here

I’m linking up with The Nester and writing on this topic for all #31days of October
I’ll keep this page updated every day as I move through what it means to be “here”

Ugly Cabbage Bowl

I’d packed soup for lunch but forgotten a spoon. Again. Packing lunch AND the silverware to eat it with eludes me utterly.

So I walked next door to the thrift store with a pocket full of dimes in search of a used fork and spoon.

The one-block walk to the thrift store turned out to be a good choice, sometimes you can get so cooped up in your office that you forget there’s a whole other world going on outside, one with sun and weather.

I hurried inside to the housewares and kitchen section and was soon rummaging through caddied of donated, hodgepodge silverware.

As I looked over my shoulder I could hear two silver haired women with perms speaking to each other loudly, through heavy dutch accents and hearing aids, about the finer points of used tupperware.

There was something about those two old women in the kitchen section of the thrift store that made me smile.  

I think we all start out on our high horses and end up completely happy with an old friend in a thrift store. That’s grace, and it smells a little musty.

Did they set out good with thrifted housewares or did they pick up the habit along the way, after life mandated that pricey, new bakeware was out of the question?

When we were newly married I was fanatical about tableware, everything had to match and I found plastic cups tacky.

I was snobby about thread counts and towels.

I had a clear vision of how things were supposed to be in a marriage and a family.

My current reality looks nothing that.

The factory that produced our Crate and Barrel dishes burned down, before we could complete our set.  And our fancy square drinking glasses went the way of the garbage as well, because they didn’t hold up in a sink full of dirty dishes.

So much of what I thought mattered went the way of the trash can, piece by piece and year by year.

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Now when I go for water, I ignore the sparkling clean glasses and head for the plastic mugs with the handles, because they hold more and don’t condensate.

I haunt thrift stores, looking for old furniture, funky home decor and used clothing.

And I have a ridiculously ugly cabbage bowl on display in our dining area, mostly for irony but also for personal reasons.

I thought that those things mattered and that they were the reasons my family would feel safe and loved in your home.

Turns out it’s night and day.  Babies don’t care about nursery decor and husbands don’t care if their fork matches their spoon.

Turns out that your people are far more interested in your ability to love well, to be tender to their pain and to encourage them even when you don’t feel like it.

They’re far more interested in the state of your heart than the state of your kitchen.

But it’s so much easier to throw ourself into the easy surface work than to keep delving into the hard work of soul health.

It’s easier to cultivate muffins and clean sinks than it is to learn about real, lasting Joy.

But I want to laugh in an ugly sweater when I’m 80 over tupperware and used cookie sheets.

So my only choice is to keep showing up before a God who loves me in spite of my many chips and cracks rely on him as I’m remade and patched up, ugly beautiful all over again.

In many ways I’m an ugly cabbage bowl, loved, cherished and enjoyed whether I deserve it or not.

Fall, death, meltdowns and wine.

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It’s fall now, I can feel it settling on us like gold dust, tipping the leaves in orange with a slow and steady rhythm.

Pumpkin spice everything is popping up everywhere and the apple orchards are staring to open their gates as the bushels come in empty and leave overflowing with green and red sweetness.

It’s my favorite season, even though at it’s core it was created to be the season where everything dies.  Where everything shrivels up and withers away to make room for something else to be born.

The ripeness of summer never lasts forever, everything in life, including life itself, has rotated in a seasonal march since the beginning of time.

So, is it ironic that the season of dying is my favorite one? The one in which my heart comes alive?  It doesn’t extend beyond the seasons, I assure you… I don’t like death in other areas of life.  (Except for earwigs, those can die, I’m good with that.)

Lately I’ve felt a hard truth start to settle onto my brain, filling in the cracks between the gray matter with an unpleasant reality, one I’ve tried to ignore for a while now.

I have some dying of my own to do.  

I’ve known it for a while, but it hit my like a frying pan in the face last Saturday night.

It was one of those moments that every parent dreads: a total kid meltdown in the middle of a quiet roomful of grownups.

I watched in horror as my four year old got up from her seat, yet again and ran between the tables of quiet adults, all of whom were trying to ignore her as they listened to their pastor talk about his recent sabbatical.

When I got up to retrieve her, she darted away from me with a grin on her face.  She thought it was a game and given the parameters of quiet in the room I couldn’t call after her.

I couldn’t use “that tone” to communicate to her that this was no game, that I was serious about her need to return. to. her. seat. for. the. love. of. God.

Finally a stranger grabbed her by the shoulders and restrained her as I walked over to collect her, red faced and on the verge of tears.  I knew it was time to go. Stat.

As I marched my children out of the room, they wailed over the forced exodus begged me to let them stay for a brownie.

I was crimson angry and mortified beyond words. There was no smacking or shouting, just the sounds of car seats clicking and preschoolers howling.

We took the long way home as I fumed, hot tears streaming down my cheeks.

All I could think was: “I need a drink.”

So, I got home and poured some wine, taking long sips between deep breaths. As I drank, Noelle finished her time out and Caedmon sent cars zooming down the hand rail of our staircase. (a banned activity that I didn’t have the energy to correct)

We dressed for bed and I got them tucked in their beds, Caedmon got out of his more than a dozen times before finally falling asleep two hours later.

Somewhere in there I poured a second glass of wine, because… you know… sanity.

When he finally fell asleep I made a sundae with cookies and chocolate sauce and watched TV until almost midnight.  I needed sleep, but with Caedmon’s bedtime shenanigans the “me time” came at the expense of my sleep.

After the ice cream and the wine a terrible feeling washed over me, not because I was sick to my stomach from the sugar, because I was sick in my soul over… all of it.

I had nasty feeling that I’d crosse some unhealthy line a while back. I knew on a deep, dark level that the ice cream and the wine had become too needed.  Too important.

I was using them to cobble together a sense of sanity that seemed to be elusive without the mind numbing practice of sugar, alcohol and television.

Wine and TV aren’t evil or sinful, it’s just that in my life they were frightfully misplaced.

I was using them to patch the holes and they weren’t holding.

I don’t need to throw them out and label them as evil.  This is where religion can screw you up and turn you into a burdened pharisee.  It’s not the thing itself it’s how we use it.  Where we place it in our hearts that becomes the issue.

That night I looked into the mirror and saw a women with bags under her eyes being held together by something that was never going to hold.

The wine wasn’t life giving and celebratory, it was a crutch, a mask.  I hoped it would wash away the heart of my issues with it’s warmth and detachment but everything was still there in the morning, all pent up inside me as I marched the empty bottle to the recycling bin.

So wine isn’t gone from my life, it’s just back on it’s correct shelf for a while.  It’s not the thing I want to use to get me through my life.

My faith and my soul are wise enough to know that there are better practices to engage in and I’m on the watch for them.

I’ve noticed that my fists have become tight with grasping, self-survival and that my soul has closed off a bit.

I have some dying to do, some demon to stab with point pitchforks.

Wine is one of them, but so is selfishness and self-reliance, and other nasty phrases that begin with self. me.

This season of dying is normal, the one that’s happening all around us and the one that’s falling upon my heart.

I’m giving in to it because I believe in what can be birthed when winter gives way to spring.