Friday, August 15, 2014

Update: Speaking in Texas and Blog Status

Hi Friends. Update on where we are:
  • I'm speaking at a women's conference called A Courageous calling tomorrow, in Keller, TX. They're accepting folks at the door, so it's not too late to sign up (you can do that here, or just show up!). I'm super excited to be hosting my session as a guided discussion, rather than lecture/speech. We'll learn and share together. I expect it to be a rich time.
  • I'm working on the third part of the series on Self-Care for Caregivers. This post will look at how religion can reinforce unhealthy boundaries and self-neglect. It should be on the blog in the next few days (gotta finish planning for that event tomorrow!).
  • The most viewed post for this week reflects on the truth about suicide. Many thanks to Matthew Paul Turner for helping to get this message out by sharing the post.
I hear a baby waking up. Time to go!

Monday, August 11, 2014

the enemy of suicide is intimacy

Robin Williams has died -- apparently of suicide. In seconds social media exploded with the news. America's gut wrenched because the man had us all figured out. Made us smile. Made us belly laugh. Made our eyes twinkle -- even the crustiest among us.

In seconds social media exploded, and mere moments later the pontificating started. I read a post exclaiming that suicide is the "most selfish act of all." The gnawing feeling of grief infused with the acidic feeling of anger.

Suicide is the most lonely act.

I've been suicidal. I suffered post partum depression. The gory images of ending my own confused, chaotic moments came to me unbidden. Suicide has nothing to do with selfishness or generosity. It is no more generous or selfish to live in agony than to die in agony. 

Agony of depression. Of loneliness. Of grief unfettered and out of control. Sometimes it results from chemical and hormonal imbalances. Sometimes those things result from prolonged emotional and physical suffering. Your own body and mind turn against you, whispering ugly, forceful things. And the disease of depression effectively shutters you from friends and family -- the ones with the antidotes to the lies.

The survivors after a suicide suffer tremendously. The grief from this loss is complicated -- draconian. Even more so because this form of death we know the individual should have - could have - escaped. There is choice involved. But it's not so simple. The suicidal person cannot see the choices in front of them. The persistence of intrusive thoughts, the proximity of the means of destruction, the depression-imposed isolation cutting them off from relationships that could speak wiser words and choices -- all flow into a seemingly pre-selected path.

That's why we say someone is a "victim of suicide." Because they are swept up in something bigger than them.

Imagine shooting rapids on the Colorado River, without raft, paddle, life vest, guide, or companion.

Suicide is intensely lonely. Tragic. Devastating. Life and promise ending for the victim and the survivor. Its power is fueled and protected by depression encased isolation.

I suffered my suicidal thoughts and images for weeks - weeks - before I told my therapist or husband. Catch that? I was already in therapy. And those of you familiar with my story know that I counseled suicidal clients while obtaining my masters in counseling. No one should have been better equipped to deal than me.

Others suffer years. Our society rarely gives voice or forum to the mentally and emotionally agonized.

Whittling something so complicated down to an act somehow about the healthy person ("you're selfish to do this because you didn't think of me") misses all the points.

The enemy of suicide is intimacy, not judgment. Please read what our friend Kate wrote:

Depression is way more serious than one would think. It can twist our brains in such a way that we think death is our only option for peace and escape from the debilitating pain it causes. It eats away at me every day despite how hard I work to fight it.

If you need help and you need someone to remind you that you mean so much to them and they can't fathom their life without you, let me be that person. You are loved and it will get better.


If suicide seems like your answer, it isn't. The words, the visions, the thoughts are lies. In my belief, you are intended for the life you have, purposed to live your days -- a being the world needs, and you bear the image of Divine. Depression sucks all your energy, making the most important thing to do -- reaching out to another human -- the hardest thing. Do it anyway. Bring someone inside your heart, as Kate offered, to speak the truth of love. It will get better.

I told my OB about the thoughts, after my therapist reminded me most people don't have visions of shooting themselves in the head. I started an anti-depressant, and intensified my therapy.

I have recovered from my suicidal thoughts. Although, they leave an oily residue -- like glass after wiping off grease. Sometimes, when things feel intense, I see through that section of the glass, and it frightens me. I tell my husband. I speak it out loud so I can hear the ugliness of it, instead of being wooed by it playing quietly in my head.

It's seeing myself mirrored in his eyes, hearing truth from his lips, that I see falsehood for what it is.

For Survivors
I know your heart is busted. You may feel intense guilt. And probably a hell of a lot of anger. The anger is normal. Don't rush past that feeling. The trick is to experience it without getting lost in it. But do relieve yourself of that guilt. Examine yourself. Learn from the moments you had, or didn't have, with your lost one. But remember the rapids we talked about up there? They were caught in something big and terrifying. The result wasn't your fault.

For the Healthy-Minded
For those of us who have the strength, the health, the hope, the presence of mind and truth -- may we pour those gifts into the lives of the friends and family hurting among us. May we combat the lies of the disease with love. You did not cause the sickness. You cannot cure it. But you can participate in its cure.



 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Thick Line in the Sand (Part 2)

This post is the third in a series on self-care for care-givers. Physicians, nurses, mommas, pastors, teachers and unsung care-givers of every stripe I hope you find something restorative here. Post 1, Caregiver, Love Thyself, Post 2, Thick Line in the Sand, Part 1.

Life has been busy -- I left my job, had my first public speaking engagement, preached a bit, and followed a baby around the house a thousand times. But, I recognize a reluctance to finish this post. Usually, that means I am still learning and relearning to practice the material I write.  That's a good, human, but humbling thing.

When we left off, you were supposed to breathe, express gratitude for your big heart, and love yourself by indulging in a pleasure. I hope you took the time to do those things. It's the hardest advice I give to caregivers.

It's also a part of learning to set boundaries. For us "Other Specialists," finding a sense of self, and self's desires, pleasures, expressions, helps us differentiate who we are from others.

If you're serious about this boundary setting, let me start with recommending a book, cleverly titled Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend that helped me immensely. It's pretty cheap, and certainly worth the investment into yourself and your future.  

But here, I'll share my journey learning boundaries.

I started seeing a counselor in seminary. I had panic attacks in the kitchen (I still haven't figured out -- why the kitchen?). Mondays I worked as a nurse, Tuesday through Thursday I went to school in the morning, and counseled clients with issues ranging from suicide to boyfriend trouble in the evening. Friday, I went to another 12 hour shift as a nurse.

The school I attended held boundaries in little regard. Administrators meshed into students, and tried to mesh the students into students as well. To top it off, the environment was particularly uncomfortable for me as a woman.

I went in with few boundaries, and by the time I started seeing the counselor, I felt completely exposed all the time. Exposed to my patients. Exposed to my clients. Exposed to the school I was so often at odds with. I felt no control over my own choices and life. That's when the panic attacks started.

My counselor started reviewing my family history, and I saw how, even as a child, I believed my family's success depended on my ability to make each individual happy, and my capacity to worry through our family problems. As I mentioned in Part 1, I felt like the glue. I carried that sense of over-responsibility into my personal and professional relationships.

We started by identifying boundaries -- these emotional limits that help establish my identity. In my mind, my being roams over and expresses itself as a large pasture. I have a wooded area, a pond, and some rolling hills, but I'm not infinite, and I don't have every type of ecosystem. When my boundaries are clearly drawn, I'm not trying to provide the four-wheeling types a Sahara experience by dragging sand into my space. I don't tend to others' pastures the way I tend to mine. Prior to counseling, I lived without any fence -- leaving all my being exposed to the needs of others, and wandering too far into the worlds of others.

Boundaries are multi-layered, encapsulating your identity, capacity, responsibility, and desires.

My problem flipped on its ear though, when I started trying to mend the fences around my pasture. I started building a fortress. I wanted to become impermeable to other people as a reaction to my over-engagement. I wanted to close and barricade the gates to lose that feeling of exposure. Particularly with my dad, I didn't know how to build healthy fences with clearly marked gates, so I got into an uncomfortable pattern of building a fortress, tearing it down, rebuilding, tearing... poor Dad -- it was a confusing time for both of us.

Ideally, the boundaries you create still allow others access to your heart. With caveats. No one gets unlimited access. No one else is responsible for your heart. You're not responsible for theirs. Because we can't grow without human relationship, we need a boundary that can be permeated in healthy ways, and allow our hearts to reach out into others. So, fortress is out.  So is barbed wire -- the boundary that lets others in, at risk of injury.

Where I am now, I try to keep the gates into my life clear and operational. I don't want someone to be damaged just trying to share life with me. But, I also don't jump to every need without searching myself to ascertain my capacity, responsibility, and desire.

I have to reinforce, reinforce, reinforce my boundaries. Since my default is to live enmeshed and over-engaged I fall back into that pattern easily -- even after years of learning to better tend to myself.

This became especially true when Valentine was born. My sense of self is biologically and emotionally linked to her now, as she is to me, but that sense of responsibility for her being, emotions, entertainment, grew entirely out of proportion. If Valentine felt it, I felt it. I suffered post-partum depression and anxiety, and this inability to define me and define Valentine complicated that (and vice versa). Understandably the boundaries between parent and child are different, but no less important than any other relationship. I understand now why my parents go to such lengths to help a brother living brokenly, but I also see them constantly assessing the boundary to prevent enabling his self-destruction.

The latest boundary I've been working on is my desire. Having specialized in others' wants for so long, it took me yet another round of therapy to start learning my own desires, and the things that bring me healthy pleasure. Now, my boundaries don't only keep me safe, they help me enjoy myself and my life.

Analogies always fall apart at some point. And this one comes from a fairly westernized viewpoint -- a viewpoint with strong emphasis on individualism. When we start talking about shared lives and communities this conversation is much more nuanced. However, I firmly believe I must know myself before I can safely and effectively live well with and help others. I came to understand that I can't be all things to all people at all times. (And don't try to quote the Apostle Paul to me on that one -- we just might address that in the next post on religion and self-care.)

My fellow people specialists: return to that breathing, gratitude, and indulgence. Watch for the signs you've taken on too much in your relationships -- if at any point you feel responsible for another's well-being or emotional state, step back. Identify who you are, who they are, and firmly line out where your responsibility stops, and theirs starts. The bounty that comes of a well-defined, cared for, enjoyed identity sets you up to better care for others. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Judgment, Justice, Mercy


My sermon from the lectionary reading: Genesis 29:15-28. Can I just say, I have NO idea what to title this. Anyone with a pithy take on that, please help a girl out. 

Parental Advisory: Explicit Content!! I say that only partially tongue in cheek. We will be discussing some very hurtful, distasteful behaviors today.

To sum up where we’ve come from: Jacob has tricked his family, met God in the desert, and finally arrived at the home of his mother – Laban’s land. The scripture prior to our reading indicates Jacob saw Rachel and her sheep – it actually mentions her sheep a couple different times – and was attracted. One presumes to Rachel. But it seems the sheep didn’t hurt, either.

Let’s be honest about what’s happening in this story. Last week by gazing intently into the story of Jacob’s vision of God we learned something deep and rich about God’s continuity and grace from age to age. This week, staring intently into the story of Laban’s trickery, we learn something deeply unsettling about human sin. Last week we saw God’s mercy joining the sinner. This week we cry for God’s justice for the oppressed.

Prayer candles: Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Give Us the Vision

Hello Friends. The blog series has been on hold as I'm drawing some new boundaries in my own life -- practicing before I preach, I hope. I will return to the series as things settle. In the meantime, this is the sermon I preached from the Lectionary this Sunday, on Genesis 28:10-19a -- better known as Jacob's Ladder.

So... Jacob. Human, flawed Jacob. 

To recap: Jacob is on the run because he stole his brother’s inheritance and blessing. His family is fractured because of his actions.

I’m really tempted to distance myself from this guy. He’s a thief. A con artist. A backstabber. His life, boiled down to a few pages of text, leaves an ugly trail (although, if our lives were reduced to the same literary fate, I suspect it wouldn’t be too flattering, either). While culturally, Jacob’s life is light years away from my own, from our society, I can’t honestly separate us too much from him.

Let’s update the culture a bit. Imagine if the story of Jacob’s ladder were instead the story of Jacob’s corporate ladder, we’d have the makings of a great corporate success. In this context, he’s scrappy. He’s innovative. He’s intelligent and seizes opportunities. He takes action.

There are other ways Jacob’s experiences track with my own. The consequences of my actions, and others’ actions have pushed me into the wilderness. I’ve lived godlessly, looking out primarily for “number one.”

If I indulge the urge to clinically view Jacob’s life as history, or myth, but regardless, utterly separate from my reality, I miss out on something truly beautiful and hopeful that happens when God presents Jacob with the vision at Beth-el. 


From the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
It turns out, I’m desperately in need of this vision. My world is in need of this vision. It’s my prayer that we’ll receive the vision God unfolds. Because here, for a moment, in a complicated, and sometimes dark narrative, God’s being grabs center stage with clarity.

We lose God in the Old Testament – at least the God Jesus manifested at the Incarnation. My own faith and faithlessness hits a brick wall with some of its passages. I think moments like this vision suggest God has always been God. That Jesus isn’t some fluke expression of the Trinity that just evolved a couple thousand years ago. Jesus himself says “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father."

This text clearly reminds us there is more happening in the Old Testament. In this space God pierces the darkness of the human tale.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thick Line in the Sand (Part 1)

This post is the second in a series on self-care for care-givers. Physicians, nurses, mommas, pastors, teachers and unsung care-givers of every stripe, I hope you find something restorative here. Post 1, Caregiver, Love Thyself


The guy was dying in agony. An ill-informed physician and his lengthy drug history added up to inadequate pain medication. He'd scream and curse and spread filth everywhere. Some days his wife was sober. Some days she wove down the hall like someone slowly dodging bullets.

I became one with this family. I was the only nurse who would care for them repeatedly. Shift in, shift out. I read his wife's mood changes fairly well (although she yelled at me plenty). I spent all the patience I had at his bedside, tending the wounds he made worse.

I called to check on them after my shift, asking the current nurse about labs, or subtle changes. And nightmares -- I heard his screams in my sleep. I dreaded caring for them, and feeling guilty for that, tried harder and harder to be more and more, until his wife yelled at me for addressing her intoxication and kicked me out of the room. I realized I was in too deep and with tears streaming down my face, and great gasps for air, informed my manager I could not care for them any more.

He died several days later. I never worked far enough away to not hear his screams.

I wish I could talk to that young, passionate, and utterly broken nurse and tell her leaving this family in other hands was just that -- letting other people do their job. It wasn't a moral failing. And it was utterly brave to do something so counter to her culture.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Blog Hop: Not the Same as Sock Hop

I'm excited to be included in a blog hop by the intriguing Karissa. She writes at karissaknoxsorrell.com about gender, and god, and love, and Eastern Orthodoxy (particularly interesting to me!), and many other things.

I'll be honest, I spent time on the interwebz figuring out a blog hop (thus the title), but now I'm glad to take part in a bunch of bloggers recognizing each other, and sharing their story and process.

The approved questions, followed by my answers:

What am I writing or working on?
I'm in one of those in between places. The spaces between identifiable roles, or expectations, or jobs, or... (I peter out because I'm in between). I was faithless, now I feel faith stirring. I was in a job, now I'm leaving it. I was firmly planning on not having children, until I decidedly wanted one, and now I'm a mom trying to figure out how all that happened so fast. I write about the things I learn as I gain distance from certainty.

But, writing blog stuff isn't the only thing I'm working on. My dream is to be a public speaker. So a lot of this in between mulling is fodder for the message I want to share with whoever will listen -- You Only Have Today. (That's the message, not some dire warning, or psychic insight, dear reader.) It's a message about living your life, aware of is limited nature, not paralyzed by it -- rather, motivated to truly learn what makes life worth living to you.

How does my work differ from others in its genre (commingled with Why do I write what I do)?
Well, I suppose I'd have to have a genre to answer that in a meaningful way. But, I'm a person infatuated with words. Why should I let a little thing like meaning stop me from communicating?

I write to discover my strengths and weaknesses as a communicator. I blog because at the very core of me I thirst for connectedness. I write because I can't not share (my passion, my experiences, my lessons learned). I blog because so many people don't talk about their existence, and this quirky journey has needed the little band of quirksters I meet in the other blogs. I suspect this doesn't make me different. It may actually be the common blood of the writing community.

How does my writing process work?
Coffee. And Mr. Mori. (No deer were harmed for my writing process. Husband found this guy as-is while out doing archaeology.)


Also, outside = better. Need a computer AND a Pilot Precise Extra Fine Rolling Ball pen (not a plug, just a habit going back to high school) and preferably a personally designed notebook. Coffee...

Logistics, with a 10 month old, are of course crucial. I can't write on days I work. I haven't the calories left. On home days, I make a mad dash to write during naps, or leave the husband and the baby to create a cute apocalypse while I dream on the front porch.

Ever seen a toddler excited to get to a toy across the room? That's kinda the phase of development I'm in. I write excitedly, and in fits and starts, and may occasionally throw tantrums if I don't get where I thought I wanted to go. It's actually quite a lot of fun. I'm learning more discipline and thoughtfulness -- even putting intention and research and planning into my first series, going on right now (first post on self-care here)!


What other writers would I like to introduce you to?

I'm still building relationships in the blogging world, but some writers whose minds and work I enjoy are:

M. Kircher (YA author extraordinaire) at mkircher.com
Rob Carmack at robcarmackwords.com
Alissa at alissabc.com

How would you guys answer these questions?