Tag Archives: health

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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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.

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

 

Cowboy

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 – Part One

I am beginning a series of short stories, I have been curious for some time about what brings someone to living on the streets. I have been curious about their stories. Here is my first “interview”

_MG_8311 His name is Eddie.

When I ask him where he sleeps, he says the manager at Wilco lets him sleep in the alcove as long as he is gone when they open and leaves the area clean. But he only goes there if he really needs shelter, he does not want to wear out his welcome. He has several places he goes. He use to sleep in the bushes next to a small lake nearby, but they cleared out all the brush. He says “We lost a lot when that happened, but it is beautiful there now.” He loves walking that area and seeing the improvements and how nice it is now.

I ask if I can take his picture, he looks down and shakes his head no. I tell him  it’s okay, I tell him I am working on a project but I can tell his story without a picture of him. He tells me that he does not want people to make fun of him. He said people think bad about him and don’t even know him.

He tells me about people who drive by and scream at him to get a job, he tells me he wants to work. He would do anything, pull a few weeds, wash windows, then he shows me his hand. Half healed wounds, still weeping, cover his first two fingers, I could tell stitches that were needed never happened, the wounds looked like they had been very deep, I imagine from a knife. He told me they had been infected, he found some place to soak them in salt water, he cried like a baby. He told me it is still painful but he just works at odd jobs anyway. “You just have to grit your teeth and do it.” He tells me he is just a man looking to do small jobs for a little money.

As we are talking he is waving and smiling at the cars going by. One stops with a bag of cans, I tell him goodbye..

As he walks away he looks back over his shoulder “God bless you”.

What struck me was his lack of bitterness, his peaceful demeanor. He seems anxious to talk about himself but not too sure about sharing. At one point during our conversation he looked at me and said, “You know I could still fall in love, probably not today, but maybe tomorrow”. The one thing Eddie has not lost is his hope.

(P.S.  I returned later with some Neosporin, disinfecting wipes, and bandages. He was surprised, his eyes misted a little.)

I had a day

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I had a day last week that I have been pondering, still unsure of where it came from and what to think of it. Maybe if I write it down I can process it a little better.

This day I wanted to take a break, it was more than that, but I am even having a hard time explaining how I felt. I wanted to not be a mom whose son was dead, I wanted to not be a manager, I did not want to knit, I did not want to not knit. I did not want to take a run, I did not want to not take a run. I did not want to sit out in Jason’s garden, I did not want the reason for it. I did not want to cry, I did not want to feel, I did not want to be sad, I did not want to be happy. I did not want to do anything, I did not want to be idle.

Does any of that make sense? I have heard the expression “stop the world and get off” but have never felt it like I felt it that day. I was at a loss with what to do with myself, I was restless and lifeless all at the same time.

So, I put on my favorite Christian praise station, put on my headphones and made myself take a run. I really did not want to, and I really did not want to not want to.(Hope that makes any kind of sense.)

This is what I sorted out on my run, the fireworks tents started going up this week, these mark the beginning of Jason’s end. I also realized that my favorite season will forever hold some sadness, I am a summer gal, but it holds some darkness now. (I don’t really like that.)

By the end of the run, I felt like I had run to the arms of my heavenly father and he held me close. I cried, we had a long talk. Then I sat in the arms of my husband and he held me close.The world was okay again.

I am a blessed woman, my amazing daughter is just that, amazing. My two step children remind me every day of the love between siblings, and they make me smile. I cannot say enough about my wonderful husband, he makes sure I live the most carefree life possible. He makes sure I feel loved and cherished. And last but certainly not least, my heavenly father who is never more than a breath away.

Yes, the world is okay again, I have regained my balance. I am truly blessed beyond measure.

Is. 43:1-2, 4
Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to Me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.
MSG

I did it! (but not on my own)

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I did it, I set a goal 9 weeks ago to go from no exercise at all to running a 5k. Yesterday was the day – I did not have any goals except to finish. I finished, shocked to find I was 10th in my division, females 45 to 55. (I am hoping there were more than 10 of us 🙂 )

I did not do this alone, family and friends rooted me on from the start. My first time out running I could barely run for 30 seconds. I was not sure I could do it, but I pushed ahead with the encouragement from others. Strangers offered encouragement God was gracious to send me “winks” as my friends Joe and Traci Castaneda call them. (You can read about those here) .

I am so grateful to my husband who has not minded the neglected house, and a few more “on your own” dinners as I prepared for this run. I am grateful to friends who offers tips and hints when I was really struggling. I am grateful to friends, family and co-workers for cheering me on. All of these things were essential in my journey.

It makes me think about the great cloud of witnesses that surround us in our spiritual race here on earth. How very much like preparing for an earthly race is like our spiritual race.

I am so much more mindful of what I put into my mouth since beginning to run, there is a definite cost/return mindfulness.

I am dedicated to practice, getting out and running on a regular basis. I am mindful of what inactivity will cost me in working towards the goal.

I am mindful of being public/transparent in my process, I knew if I told people I was doing this that I would be more accountable.

Isn’t this so much like our spiritual race? Shouldn’t we be mindful of what we take in?, Shouldn’t we be dedicated to practicing/studying on a regular basis? Shouldn’t we be transparent and let others help keep us on track?

IMG_1034Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Heb 12:1

I kept going

runYesterday, I ran the longest I have run to date. I owe this to a bluejay, a swallow and two women I have never met.

As I hit mile one, fatigued, hot and sweaty, I was thinking I would just go a little further and turn around and walk back. I could try again tomorrow right? No harm, no foul. I am not really competing with any one but myself and who would blame me? I had already done a couple hours of yard work. Just then a car pulled out of a driveway, a woman in the passenger seat waved and gave me the biggest smile. It felt like she was cheering me on. I kept going.

A little later I noticed a bluejay hoping from fence post to fence post just ahead of me. He would stop and watch me until I got a little close then fly to the next post. It detracted me enough to get a little past the 1 and 3/4 mile mark without really noticing it. I kept going.

I let myself talk me into stopping at 2 miles, same reasons as above. Just before I got to my stopping point another car pulled out of a driveway, this time the woman in the passenger seat waved, smiled and gave me a thumbs up. That simple gesture lifted my spirits, put a smile on my face and gave me just a little more energy. I kept going.

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About a half mile later a swallow decided to fly with me, weaving in and out of the grass in the field next to my route. He would get ahead, then come back and do that little ballet flight that swallows do. This went on for about 1/4 of a mile. I kept going.

By this time, turning around and going back was further than just going on. I kept going.

I thought, in our lives, in our spiritual journey, how many times does God send jut the right person at just the right time to encourage us? More than we know.

I want to be that, an encourager, someone who smiles at the stranger on the corner, the haggard mom in the store, the gentleman shuffling along with a walker. Just a smile is all it takes sometimes to keep someone going, to make their day just a little more manageable.

I want to be that person that not only keeps going, but I want to be the person that encourages others to keep going.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1

 

My Race

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Yesterday I wrote about running, and that I was committing to this activity, and making myself accountable by telling others my intentions. I wrote about some lessons I had learned in the first week. My desire is to also learn God lessons from this experience.

God lesson #1 – Just like I have to run my own mile, and not compare my mile to someone else’s, I have to walk my walk with God. Not someone else’s, mine. I should not compare my God walk/run with others. It is so tempting to look at someone else’s race and envy the “easy” race they have to run. The truth is I don’t know what waits around the bend for them, or what horrible dark valley they have come out of. The path I was given to run is my own. There have been bumps, times of pure despair, times of great rejoicing, and carefree running. But whatever turn in the road God has for me is mine to run without comparison to other’s path.

God lesson #2 – I should not try to look too far ahead on my God run. Just a few steps, just enough to not trip. If I knew all that was going to happen, how could I love and enjoy the moment of now? I would fret and worry, and miss the joy of the moment. If I had known that when my daughter was 6 months old I would find myself single, would I have missed out on this incredible woman? If I had known that I would live through the pain of losing my son at early in his life, would I have missed those amazing 30 years? God graciously does not allow me to see all that is ahead on my run. He allows me to see just enough.

My race is my race.

 

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Recently I decided to start running again. When I say again, don’t think I have run recently, it has been many years, 40 to be exact since I “use to run”. I have not run since high school. There were several things that got me started, I want to lose some weight, I want to be healthier, a friends blog, and the realization that at my next birthday I am going to be closer to 60 than 50, (Whew, that really snuck up!) I want to be one of those “seniors” that stays active, and does things, so I am committing to run.

I started last week when my new running shoes came. My commitment is to run 3 times per week. My short term goal is to run a 5k in June. Sounds easy enough, right? Sure, but life has already threatened to get in the way. Next week is a full week. Several appointments after work are going to make it hard to stick to my commitment. My first thought was, “Well, maybe I will really start the next week”. But I know me, if I don’t keep with my commitment now, I won’t. Life will always get in the way, always and I will always be putting it off until the next week and then the next and pretty soon I won’t even be thinking about it anymore.

So I have to make a plan, and then another if that plan is not going to work, and then another. I need to make back up plans for the “just in case”.

I have done a few things that I hope will help me keep my commitment, one is huge for me, I am telling people, that makes me accountable. I am not comfortable with this, I want to be able to hide if I fail. But here it is for all the world to see, I am now accountable, you all now know.

I bought really good, and also important, cute running shoes. The really good part is so I don’t injure myself and have to quit running, the cute part is well just because.

I bought good wireless headphones, music in my ears helps me stay focused, and the wireless part because wires bug me. 🙂

I looked for an app that fit my style and would help me achieve my goal. This app “talks” to me and tells me when to warm up, when to run, when to walk, and when to cool down, it will methodically, over the next 9 weeks, guide me to run 3 miles.

A couple lessons already learned, I can’t look too far ahead. It discourages me. Just a few feet, just far enough so I don’t trip.

Another important lesson, I have to run my mile, not anyone else’s mile. My second run I thought I needed to improve my time by a certain amount. I pushed myself too hard, I almost quit part way through the run. I nearly sent myself into a full blown asthma attack. I felt like I was sucking on my inhaler like a pacifier. It is not important at this point how fast I am going, just that I am going. Today’s run I slowed down, ran just hard enough to challenge me but not hard enough to kill me. 🙂 I finished, and felt really good.

My goal this week was 3 runs, I met it. It feels good, now to make plans to meet my 3 run goal next week.