Mental Health month

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It has been almost a year, and I feel like I am in a place that I can write about it. I mostly want to write about it for me, I strangely feel that if I put it on paper maybe I can prevent it from happening again. I also hope it might help someone traveling a similar road.

When I think back on memories of the past, I see colors as well as the memory. August is usually golden, May – green, November – shades of brown, January is usually sky blue. I don’t know why, I don’t really know how to adequately explain it, but it is, and it has been for as long as I can remember.

When I think back on last July, it is black. Pitch black, no flicker of light. I had never been in this place before, I was unsure how to navigate through. I couldn’t find a map, who am I kidding, I could not even look for a map.

Since Jason passed, July and August are typically tough months for me. In the beginning I thought that was it, just another little bit of a sad time. Before I really knew what was happening my mind had spiraled out of control. Scarier than the sadness was the anxiety, I did not know where it came from, or recognize it until it was big and scary. I could not grocery shop without my heart racing, several times I couldn’t finish. I raced to the check out, I raced home and shut the door like I was being chased. I did not want to go anywhere; I didn’t want to do anything. I struggled to articulate it to my husband. He struggled to know how to help.

I cried often, I was angry, I was scared, I was all the dark emotions. The only thing that got me to work most days was the fact that Tim and I work in the same place. I spent most of the month with my office door closed because I could not do people. I wanted my home, my room, my bed, my quilt, my pillow, my sleep, my silence. It was a black month, I couldn’t even pray.

I saw my oncologist late in the month, toward the end of the appointment I casually mentioned I was feeling anxious. She spun her chair towards me, pulled up close and asked me to tell her about it. I did, I told her all of it. I told her about the black hole I was in and that I did not know how to get out. I told her how tired I was of feeling sad, and how I hated feeling anxious. I told her I was scared. I told her the depth of it that I had been afraid to utter, as if speaking it might make it more true or more real. She listened. Then she talked about some options, about how trauma can build up. She told me how common PTSD is in cancer patients. She did not tell me to snap out of it or get over it. She told me to give myself a break, not to be hard on myself, she told me I was going to be okay.

So, something happened, instead of making it more real, it was already as real as it was going to get, speaking it lifted a dark veil. Speaking it made it less scary, speaking it began the healing.

I am almost a year away from the blackest of it. I take medicine and supplements to support my health, all of my health. I talk as openly about my anxiety as I do my cancer. I want to help move mental health out of the shadows until we just say health, and don’t feel like we must qualify it as mental or physical.

Do I still have moments? Yep. Are they black? Nope. I have tools now to recognize it before it overtakes me. I am not foolish enough to think that it can’t happen again, but I am on my guard. I’m not ashamed to ask for help, I have a support group who now knows this struggle is part of me.

If any part of this is you, talk to someone, please.  It get’s less scary every time you say it out loud. For me every time I say it out loud I feel like I am feeding the “light” and starving the “dark”. What I feed grows.

May is mental health month, let’s take this stuff out of the shadows and the dark. Let’s make a mental check up as common as a physical or a teeth cleaning. Let’s take the stigma out of asking for help. Let’s give the gift of this freedom to the next generation. What if we could say, “I’m feeling anxious, I need to stop and take a few deep breaths” as easily as we say “I’m getting a headache, I need to rest my eyes for a few minutes”? What if . . .

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Bullies

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I see posts often about the need for kids to stop bullying each other, to be nice. I wholeheartedly agree with this, no and’s, if’s or but’s. That is not the focus of this writing, I just wanted to get that said up front.

I am looking for the outcry about adults bullying. I don’t see much. I don’t see the same “lecturing” of adults to be nicer. I don’t understand how can we be calling for kids to stop without being just as appalled by adults that bully.

I get that we all will never completely agree with each other, there is gun control, the #metoo movement, working moms, stay at home moms, the list could go on and on. There are so many different views on so many topics.

No matter where you stand on any given topic, no matter how passionate you are about your view, it is never, NEVER okay to use something personal about another human to put their point down. Some of the comments I have seen recently: Are you @#%$& stupid? You are so ugly, no one would side with you. You can’t even spell, you can’t have an intelligent opinion. You are from ____, no wonder you are such an idiot. Your heritage makes your opinion invalid. These are not word for word, but the sentiment of the comments is. These are the essence of bullying.

I see so much name calling, so many insults thrown around. It makes me cringe, it makes me ashamed. I don’t know how we call for less bullying in schools while we have leaders (both sides of the aisle) bullying opponents.

I see it from the highest leader in our country. Here are a few names the President of the United States has called his staff, foreign leaders and people that don’t agree with him:

McMuffin    Little Rocket Man    Sloppy Steve     Sloppy Michael     Crazy Megyn
Sleepy Eyes     Mad Alex     Goofy Elizabeth     Mr. Magoo     Low Energy Jeb      Pocahontas

I see it from people in powerful positions. These are things that people have called President Trump:

Freshly sandpapered reality star     Two-bit wall salesman     Agent Orange
Melting hunk of uninformed apricot Jell-O      Erratic rage quasar
Bigoted See ’n Say    Fat Elvis     Large-mouthed ass     America’s first appendix

None of it is okay. None of it is right. To use the excuse “he/she does it” or “he/she did it first” is astounding to me. If a person does something wrong this does not give another person the okay to also do wrong.

Here is an example of one, word for word, comment I stumbled across; “There is nothing about this skinhead lesbian that impresses me and there is nothing that she has to say unless you’re a frothing at the mouth moonbat.”. This not only insults the speaker but anyone who listens to her, just listens. We should be listening to each other, having civil discussions, we don’t have to agree. We should, however, be respectful of each other. One of the most appalling thing about this comment is that it was spoken by an adult leader toward a teen.

I don’t want this to be about whether I support one party or another, one cause or another. This is about adults modeling good communication behavior to our youth. Are we confronting the bully to let them know that we won’t tolerate that behavior? After confronting, are we blocking the bully from our social media, if they don’t change? I hope we adults are having the hard conversations with our kids about bullying, however, that is not the end of our responsibility. We need to stand up against bullying in kids and adults.

My hope is that the reader does not take away that school bullying doesn’t matter, it does. It matters a lot. There are many conversations right now about kids being kinder to classmates, that is a good thing. However, don’t stop there, be brave, stand up to the adult bullies where ever you encounter them.

My take a way is to do better, stand up when I should, be more aware that words can wound deeper than fists.

I will do better, stand with me?

My year of cancer . . . uncommon peace

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One year ago on Friday, Jan 13th, I heard the words, “I am 99.9% sure the lump is breast cancer” I sat stone faced, I nodded and after what seemed hours I uttered, “okay, now what?”. I had just had a mammogram and then an ultrasound of a mass in my right breast. Minutes later, I was having a biopsy. They do not mess around in this small-town teaching hospital. Side note, who goes in for a mammogram on Friday 13th?

I drove home unblinking, walked in the door stunned and in shock. I looked at Tim and told him that I had cancer. He never blinked, he never wavered, “we will do this together”.

I remember we were supposed to head into work, we found ourselves at the ocean. It is the place I can make sense of the senseless, it is the place that soothes my soul, it is a place of healing for me.

Tim was true to his word, all the chemo, the week in the hospital, all the surgeries, all seven and a half weeks of radiation, all of it. He sat with me, sitting in the hard chair of the watcher. I have never loved him more. You know who else was there through all of it? My heavenly father, holding me tight, always.

This last year has been a blur of doctors, operating rooms, needles, chemo and radiation. I feel like I have aged 5 years since last January. It has also been a blur of helping hands, urgent prayers, physical and virtual hugs, and the abundant peace that Jesus provided.

I was exhausted, so exhausted. I was, at times, void of emotion and in an instant full of emotion. I was never afraid, I always felt peace covering me.

There are snapshots that flash though my mind:
Shaving my head
Laughing with the nurse before my port placement
Laughing with the same nurse months later before my emergency port removal
Loving arms of my husband
Faithful friend’s offers of help
Caring nurses
Caring doctors
Days that I felt well enough to be in the sun
Farm-fresh eggs from my boss
Family gatherings
Friends visiting
Months of not having to shave my legs
Sweet times with my heavenly father
I chose to shuffle through only the funny or encouraging snapshots. The others are there, but I choose to dwell in the grace and faithfulness I experienced through this year.

I still have a journey ahead, but the tough stuff is over. I have my one year mammogram this coming Friday, I am expecting an “all clear”. I continue to feel the peace that has covered me this last year.

As I look back over this year it is with a grateful heart.

My heart hurts.

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I have gone back and forth about this post for days, maybe longer. I am still not sure if I should post it. But my heart is hurting, and this will help me sort out my feelings . . . maybe.

There is a phenomenon sweeping our nation right now of women finding the nerve to speak out about actions that happened to them in their past. I feel like one of the reasons there is a flood of women coming forward is because a few came forward and they were listened to, it gave others the courage to come forward. One of the biggest lies victims buy into is that “no one will believe you, it is my word against yours” and seeing other women tell their story and be believed gives them courage to speak up.

Are there attention seekers that lie? Most probably, yes, however, this should not stop us from believing that this is and has been a problem even among believers. This is the thing that hurts my heart the most, the way I am seeing how some believers view sexual assault. How some believers are deal with sexual assault in the church.

I read an article about pastor of a super church, who 10 years ago, while a youth pastor, gave a 14-year-old girl a ride home. On the way he took a detour and sexually abused her, afterwards he took her home with the instruction to be silent. Recently this now 24-year-old woman wrote about her experience. This man stood in front of his church and told them that he had a sexual indiscretion 10 years ago. He said he thought it had been dealt with “back then”. Then looking into the TV camera, he invited this victim to contact him, so he could help her with forgiveness and healing. He had the nerve to put this on her. Let me, your attacker, help you to healing, really? How arrogant. What troubles me most is that he was given a standing ovation by the congregation. This was not an indiscretion, this was a crime.  Child molestation. A crime. My heart hurts.

This story brought back a memory long forgotten. I remember my parents sitting me down and telling me to never be alone with one of the men in the church we attended. I remember hearing whispers about a sexual assault he perpetrated or tried to, on a young girl close to my age. I was not supposed to ever know about this. This young lady was also told not to be alone with him ever again. I think back on the horror this girl must have felt to have to see this man seemingly never miss a step with his place in this church. The memory is foggy and vague, there may have been some sort of church discipline, I don’t remember any. I do remember thinking that, because of the way this was “handled”, this girl must have done something wrong and it was her partly her fault.  It was not in any way her fault, she was a victim many times over. Every time she had to face this man. Over and over, every church function, every Sunday. My heart hurts.

How many times did/does this happen in our churches? I am embarrassed by this. I am embarrassed that any victim is made to feel at fault, or not believed, or thrown to the side to save a reputation that should not have been saved. My heart hurts.

There is a troubling sentiment I have seen on social media from some Christian women. They are usually referring to unchurched, women who live a life style they do not approve of, women they think are below them. I have seen this phrase, or one very close to it, over and over “if they are going to dress like a whore they deserve what they what they get”. Nope, nope, nope. How can any Christian think this, let alone put it in writing? Us, who have been forgiven of so much, thinking because of anything, anything, that any person deserves to be assaulted. My heart hurts.

I don’t get it. I don’t. I don’t want to get it. I don’t want to understand it. I want this to continue to break my heart. I want to continue to hurt for the victims. I don’t want to get it. My heart hurts.

An overflowing cup . . . a full heart.

Jason

Four years ago today, we were planning a celebration.  It was a home going celebration, a celebration of a life well lived. Four days earlier we were planning a different kind of party, a birthday party. A celebration of 30 years on this earth.

What a difference one moment in time can make. In the blink of an eye, in one breath not taken, the world as we know it shifts.

These last four years have been indescribably difficult yet they have been filled with such and out pouring of love from family and friends. I have heard people say over and over that just a few months after a death people disappear and grow weary of the grief. That they are told to buck up and get over it. (As if there is a chance of “getting over it”)

Today on Jason’s birthday I want to thank my family and friends for not being the norm. Not one time have I felt like you just wanted me to get back to “normal”, “to get over it”, to “move on”. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

I love that you have let me experience my grief how I needed to experience it. I love that you have never left my side. How you have accepted this new me, because the old me will never be again.

Thank you for speaking of Jason, for reminding me of fun times you had with him. Thank you for telling me how much he meant to you, for telling me stories about him that I had never heard. Thank you for telling me you miss him too. This means more to me than you will ever know.

Thank you for being Jesus’s arms that have hugged me, his shoulder to lean on. Thank you for showering God’s love on me.

There are so many I could name here, but I won’t try and name names, there are too many. Two exceptions my daughter, Chelsey, and husband., Tim They have been my rocks, my heart.

My heart is full, my cup is overflowing.

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13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. I Thess 4

Time. Grief. God’s Goodness.

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Today I am sitting in Jason’s garden.  I have not done that much this year, it has made me too sad. This has been a difficult season for me, I am still trying to put my finger on why. Maybe I need to stop trying to figure out why and just let it be. The sadness is deeper this year, harder to shake off. Maybe there is no why maybe it just is.

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Psalms 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds

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Psalms 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Tomorrow is the 4 year anniversary of the day my world changed forever.

Time is a funny thing, it can seem like forever while feeling like it just happened yesterday.

Grief is a strange companion, mostly polite and staying in a distance so as not to bother life’s everyday. But some days it is demanding and will not be pushed away. (Read more about my thoughts on grief here)

But this truth I hang on to, God is good all the time.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.   Psa 27:11

Jason

 

I remain grateful and feeling blessed for the privilege of mothering this boy turned man. I thank God for the time we were given the last month of his life.  I praise God knowing I will see him again.

And then I smile at the mental picture of Jason, praising God for eternity.

What I have learned about grief

flowerGrief is sneaky. Out of the blue grief sneaks up on me. I do my best to prepare for the anniversaries, the times I know it will be hard. But it pops up, unwanted and unexpected.

Grief is strong. When grief hits it can take me down to the ground. Swiftly, I am out of breath and drowning.

Grief does not play fair. I make deals with grief, it can come when I am prepared, when I am ready to take it on, we have an agreement. Grief does not always abide by that agreement.

Grief is a thief. It sneaks in, uninvited, like a bull in a china shop, breaking our agreement and tries to steal my joy.

This is what I have learned about my grief. I say “my grief”, because everyone has a different grief visiting them, not all griefs are the same.

I have learned to give grief a time limit, especially when it shows up unannounced and bullies me into a puddle of tears. I give my grief  time and attention but with limits. I give myself permission to cry, a lot if I need to. I give myself permission to be sad, very, very sad, if I need to.

And then I invite grief to leave.

These are some ways I encourage my grief to leave; I go outside and soak up some nature. I listen to praise music, I read the psalms. I take a walk/run to get some good brain chemicals active. I count my blessings. I do something creative. I feed my soul. I pray.

I don’t always feel like I want to do these things, but I do them. I am persistent, I keep at it until grief finally gives in. Until it packs up it’s baggage and leaves.

So today, I am being persistent, grief swooped in yesterday and knocked me to my knees, but today I am standing. I am inviting grief to leave without taking my joy with it. Having cried myself to sleep last night in the wonderful arms of my understanding husband, I am sitting in my garden this morning. Worship is music playing, I watch the birds drink from the sprinkler, and the momma and poppa swallows try to keep up with the feeding of the littles. I am preparing for a prayerful walk/run with psalms of praise running through my mind.

I will not let grief overtake me. I have so much to be grateful for, I love my life, I will not let grief rob me of my joy.

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The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Ps 23

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