Category Archives: beat down

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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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

Broken

 

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I entered this new year with great dreams of running a few 5ks this summer. My foot repaired and healing well, my husband willing to give running a good try. Big dreams. Big goals.

I sit here this morning a little broken, physically for sure, and fighting the mental brokenness that often comes with physical. Looking for the lessons that are sure to be lurking in the corners of broken.

I am drawn to broken seashells, there is beauty inside the shells that can not bee seen until they are broken enough to reveal what is inside.

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Colors and patterns hidden inside. Beauty missed if left intact. I want to be like that in this season. I want light to shine into my corners and reveal gratitude instead of bitterness. Broken with grace is hard work, it is easy for me to fall into the habit complaining.

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If I am honest, I am a little jealous when I see people jogging. I am missing walking on the sand by the sea. I am not fond of crutches, (I tamed that down a lot 🙂 ). I am an active person that finds it extremely hard to sit still for too long. This season of stillness has been difficult but there are lessons to be learned. I want to learn them, I want to use my broken to find beauty hidden in my corners.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17

 

Stories from behind the Cardboard Signs

untitled-17Good Morning Eddie

Hello (He always looks surprised that I remember his name)

How was your New Year?

It was great!

Are you staying warm at night?

Yes ‘mam, I spent the night last night checking on my people.

Here is some chicken and napkins

Thanks ‘mam and God bless.

Sally (actually Sammie)

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I am going to imagine that her name is Sally, she looked like what I would imagine a Sally to look like.

I noticed her as I left the parking lot. She was sitting behind a cardboard sign, five or six white garbage bags all around her. She had on several layers of clothing, her face was dirty, and wore the wrinkles of a hard life. I started to drive by but decided to pull over. I got out of the car and dug out one of my beach blankets from the back. She had gotten to the car by that time. I grabbed a couple bags of hotel toiletries, I told her that I did not have money to give her but I had this blanket and these toiletries. Her eyes lit up, her whole face broke out in a toothless grin and she exclaimed “Soap!” She thanked me like I had handed her keys to a warm house and walked back to her spot on the sidewalk.

I know I posted this before but I have a follow up, I had not seen her for several weeks, and I had been wondering about her so when I saw her I stopped. I asked her if she needed anything in the way of toiletries, she wanted shampoo, I dug around in the bag and pulled out shampoo and a few other things. I asked her name and was surprised to find I was pretty close in my guess, her name is Sammie.

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Stories from behind the cardboard sign part 3

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I stopped at a rest stop, he was sitting there with his cardboard sign and can. His face was lined with a million stories. He wore rough work clothes, worn work boots and a cowboy hat that had seen decades of use.

I summoned my courage to stop and talk to him. His face was compelling, it had a million stories in the wrinkles and crinkles, I wanted to hear at least one of them. I told him I did not have cash but I had some energy bars in the car, would he like a few? He looked up with hazy blue eyes that still had a twinkle to them, he said yes he would love them.

I sat next to him, handed him the bars and a bottle of water. He thanked me and told me that he was so ashamed to be sitting here asking for money, he had a small trailer to go home to, but he needed a medical procedure and he did not have the money for it. We chatted for a few minutes, he told me he rode in rodeos, worked as a cowboy on ranches, he said there is no retirement fund for those jobs. He reminisced for just a minute about how he loved that work.

I mentioned to him I was a photographer and that I would love to take his picture, he very politely declined. I told him was I understood, but in truth I was so disappointed, he had the most interesting face.  He told me he had done things in his past he did not want his face on that “web thing”. I told him I respected his privacy.

He questioned why I would want a picture of him, he was just an old wrinkled man. I explained about how his face drew me to him and how I thought he had many stories. He smiled shyly, and shook his head a little embarrassed.

He was well-spoken, shy, and a little ashamed, but he would not trade the “cowboy days” and would still be riding if he was able. I left him with a hand shake, and wishing I could hear more. I still check out that rest stop when I pass in hopes of seeing him again.

 

Author’s note:  I spoke with this man “Cowboy” last spring. Out of this conversation came the courage to actually do this project that has been in my head for years.

 

Stories from Behind the Cardboard Signs

A Man and his dog

_MG_2290He slowly walked past, briefly met my eyes with a nod. His shoes held together with duct tape, holes in the knees of his pants, and a ratty backpack. He whistled a familiar tune.

“Great is Thy faithfulness!”
“Great is Thy faithfulness!”

Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.