Drop the Load

hand2I sit here before a blank page. I’ve been so eager to get back to writing, to find some time, to let the words pour out. How strange to find I have none. Nothing cohesive, anyway. The blinking cursor has been mocking me for quite awhile.

It’s the start of the new year. The last one was all about change. It was exciting and stressful and fulfilling and scary…and so, so busy. So as I sit and pray and reflect, I find myself disconnected from my source. I know about God and I’m somewhat aware of His existence near me, but He’s become this sort of fuzzy, nebulous presence…instead of my Creator, my Savior, my Friend.

And I realize I miss Him.

No wonder I have nothing to write. I have nothing to give. My battery is dead. I’m full of meaningless ideals, insignificant platitudes, and hollow words. I’m an empty shell.

cactusWhile I love it in our new home state of perpetual sunshine, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge some disappointment in realizing that winter can find me even here. I thought I’d escaped the cold, the darkness, the overwhelming desire to hibernate…to hide. But, while there is no snow or ice (for which I’m so thankful), the days are short. I see each breathtaking sunrise in the morning, and beautiful sunset in the early evening.

And then there’s darkness.

I want to don my jammies and escape into my old friends, television and social media, often before dinner has even graced the table.

Because, winter.
And so, while there are flowers still in abundant bloom, my kids wear flip flops most days, and our heat has been on less than a week in total, I continue to stuff a void and attempt to manage a discontent with unhelpful meaninglessness.

I am afraid of the dark.

dark

It draws me back into habits long held. It weakens my resolve to connect with the people in my world, and more importantly, with my God. Darkness becomes a load I carry instead of a shade through which I walk.

But one heartfelt cry of His name is all it takes to restore relationship. He is in focus once again. He is here. It is the beauty of the cross that one whispered prayer can bridge the chasm and revive the heart. He relieves the burden.

While there are fragments that must be swept away from the chaos I caused fumbling with my weight of darkness, my heart is now at peace.

20170103_111425Earlier today, my non-verbal Serb handed me a multitude of hot wheel cars on the back porch and pushed me into the house. Every time I stopped, I felt his little hands on my rump pushing me forward until, finally, he stopped and pointed with both hands to the floor, indicating I was to drop the load.

Later, my husband prayed, “Lord, thank you for this year you’re pushing us into,” and I laughed remembering determined hands pushing me to an unknown destination. This year, may I be so in tune with my God that I never fail to feel His hands, leading, guiding, and sometimes pushing.

And may I always be aware when He’s telling me it’s time to drop the load.

Moving Readiness…or Not

Three weeks from today I will replace the lush greenery and farmland of Indiana, for the mountains and desert landscape of Arizona, for good.

My emotions have been so mixed about this move, I have ceased to have any. When people ask if I’m excited, I feign enthusiasm. When asked if I’m sad to leave, I affirmatively answer that, too. Nervous, same. I don’t know what I feel.

The truth is, I don’t really feel anything. I’m over it already. I try to conjure up emotion for the “last times”, but I find there aren’t any and I worry I’ll regret that in the months to come. “This is the last Greenwood Freedom Festival for us, Mom.” Yep. And I only feel a little guilt that I sent you with the neighbors so I could recover from our garage sale.

Nothing is normal and I thrive on normalcy. I try to honor the kids in their need for routine in this stressful time, even though I just want them to stay out of my way while I get things done.20160427_210154 I’m trying to make sure they get to relish in their “last times” as they enjoy romping in their favorite creek and capturing Hoosier critters with their friends. I’m trying to allow teen daughter to make as many memories as possible with all her besties and her boyfriend to carry her through the coming months.

I’m trying to be empathetic as they process their feelings. Oh man, do they have a lot of feelings. Could we all just stop with the feelings, already? 20160625_125549And Eon, bless him, asking me daily, “Move now, Mom?”

Our garage sale was a huge success with blessedly little leftover to load onto the Salvation Army truck. Only to come upstairs and trip over boxes I forgot to take outside. And then find another in my closet…and, oh look! Here’s another in the girls’ closet. Pretty sure we have enough stuff for an entirely new sale, but instead, we’ll just call the truck back.

The hardest part is when people ask me for details. Little things like: When is the rest of the family joining you? How are they all getting out there? Do you have a house, yet? Have you sold yours? You know, details.

Frankly, we don’t really have answers for the details. We’ve never done a cross country move before. We’re kind of figuring it out as we go.

We’ve not sold the house, yet, nor do we even have it on the market. Turns out, making repairs and improvements with a destructo-Serb underfoot and a lot of other kids who need more supervision than they’re currently getting is a lot easier said than done. (Which is probably why it needs so many repairs and improvements to begin with.)

We can’t secure housing until I get out there to see the rental properties we’re interested in. I will stay with my parents temporarily, but my job is in the northwest valley of Phoenix, and they live in the east valley. The commute will be brutal. Hopefully, I will secure housing the first week I’m there before I start my job and I won’t have to do it long. The family will join me after that.

The teenager and youngest will fly out and everyone else will drive. We think. Lately, the Serb has been freaking out in the car and having what appear to be panic attacks. No idea what’s up with that, but if it continues, we can’t subject him to a 2,000 mile car trip. So, I don’t know.

In other words, I don’t know what exactly is happening with my life except it’s all changing, it’s completely stressful, and my response to all of it is to not care. I hope there’s grace for that. IMG_20160527_082511

Open Letter to Trump Supporters

Dear Donald Trump Supporters,

Your candidate has publicly mocked a reporter with a disability (Nov 25, 2015.) He has denigrated women loudly and openly (pigs, dogs, disgusting, grotesque, fat, ugly, bimbo.) He said we should build institutions for people with mental illnesses (Face the Nation, Jan 3, 2016.)

One man’s opinions and actions matter little to me except that he has followers like you, a lot of you, apparently. In interviews and polls, your reasons for backing him usually boil down to, “He tells it like it is,” so I have to believe you agree with him on these points and deem his behavior desirable.

And that terrifies me. 

As a woman with a mental illness (generalized anxiety/panic disorder) and the mother of two boys with disabilities, I always knew there were haters out there. I follow social media and read the comments on internet articles and have seen hate and ignorance spewed about on a daily basis.

I am acutely aware there are those convinced that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and a threat, when the opposite is actually true and we are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

I know misogyny abounds even today and women are considered a punchline, a sexual object, or even a punching bag.

Most distressful to me, however, is the mockery of people like my boys, or worse, the opinion that their lives are not worth living and they shouldn’t even exist at all. These boys love life, they have intrinsic value and worth, and they have my heart.

This is not about politics for me. This is real life. No matter what happens in the Primaries or come November, I’m afraid now and feel unsafe in my own community.

See, I used to think all those people with all those opinions about my life were just internet trolls who maybe lived in their mother’s basements.

Until your candidate became wildly popular and you began following him, I had no idea I worked with those people, went to church with them, and even invited them to my home.  And, frankly I don’t know what to do with that.

Because while you appear to treat me normally, you support Trump because “he says what everyone is thinking” so I have to believe you think it’s okay for men to treat me with disdain or for me to be institutionalized. While you smile and pat my boys on the head, in your mind, it matters not that people bully, ostracize, and mock them.

Your support of Mr. Trump frightens me, not necessarily because of what it means for the future of this country, but because of what it means for the present. The reality is my world is not as safe and good as I once thought it to be. My neighbors, co-workers, and friends are not the people I presumed them to be.

I now understand, that while you may not intend to hurt me or my family, you would do nothing to stop it were we to be harmed in the name of straight talk, or change to the political system, or “making America great again.”

I know this because you’re allowing it to happen now.

You’re part of a cultural shift in which people who are not like you are maligned, threatened, and sometimes physically tossed about for being different or expressing different opinions. You may not actually be doing the threatening or the tossing, but you’re endorsing it.

Your true character, the core of who you are, is now exposed and to be honest, I’m a little afraid of you.

I’ve allowed my vulnerabilities to seep through in our past interactions. I’ve shown you my hand. My gender was obvious, but you also know of my struggles with anxiety and panic. You know the joys and challenges I’ve faced raising children with special needs and the uphill road ahead of them as adults with cognitive disabilities.

How long before you prey upon those weaknesses or allow others to do the same? 

To you, this may be just about politics, but to me, your support of Mr. Trump paints a picture of who you actually are.

And that makes me kind of sad, and scares me more than a little. 

Erecting my own wall around myself and family,

A fellow American

 

The Anxious Canary

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a special needs advocate, an occupational therapist, a writer, a champion for orphans, and most importantly, a follower of Christ.

And I am mentally ill. 

There is shame accompanying those words and that should not be. As a community we say we need to destigmatize mental illness in this country. The world needs to understand millions of us live with these diseases and we are not mass shooters or serial killers. We are not weak or pathetic, although we feel like it very often. We are simply broken individuals just like you, trying to find what works, how best to live with the hand we’re dealt.

canary_bird_ii_by_taleb83Being a canary is lonely and terrifying. It’s isolating, too. The first time I heard the comparison of those with mental illness to canaries from Glennon Doyle Melton in this post, I felt almost weak in the knees.

Because yes, I’ve got these conditions—anxiety, depression, addiction—and they almost killed me. But they are also my superpowers. I’m the canary in the mine and you need my sensitivity because I can smell toxins in the air that you can’t smell, see trouble you don’t see and sense danger you don’t feel. My sensitivity could save us all. And so instead of letting me fall silent and die — why don’t we work together to clear some of this poison from the air?Why the World Needs the Mentally Different

I also felt empowered. Finally, someone who expresses purpose for my crazy. And on good days, I can be thankful for my sensitivity and recognize that the creativity that pours from these fingers and the passion that oozes out my core is interconnected to the anxiety that often sends my heart racing.

But there are days like today. Many days like today.

All I feel are the nerve endings tingling in my fingers. My thoughts bounce from one thing to another, like my brain can’t find a safe place to land. I woke up with my head literally buzzing (and, yes, I do know what the word literally means and am using it appropriately) like a cell phone was vibrating inside my ear. I am snappy with the children and their incessant questions and general neediness is almost more than I can take.

And the tears. I feel like fifty percent of my communication is accompanied by tears and I am on the verge of them the rest of the time.

It is so much more than simple unhappiness or stress. It is a constant fight with my amygdala to overrule the fight or flight hormones that it insists on flooding into my bloodstream for no apparent reason. It is spending way too much of my concentration and emotional energy to slow my heart rate and regulate my breathing.

It is fighting to keep myself physically present downstairs with the rest of the family until I just can’t any longer and I escape to my room, to my bed, where the waves of failure wash over me as the depression that so often accompanies anxiety takes a deeper hold.

The children wander in throughout the day, wanting me to settle disputes, read a story, offer a snuggle, or tie a shoe and I willingly comply, grateful they don’t shut me out as I do them. But it’s painfully little I am able to give on a day like this and my inadequacies flash in neon above my head. The fact that they don’t question where to find me or why I’m there is most telling of all.

I manage to pull it together on work days, although I’ve ducked into a bathroom on more frequent occasions and my red-rimmed eyes are a telltale sign to my coworkers that all is not well. (As if the increase in swear words weren’t enough to tip them off.) I pray and practice my breathing on the very short commute home, but still retreat to my room most days after brief greetings with the family. Work and retreat. Work and retreat. Repeat.

This is the reduction of life generalized anxiety disorder causes, the toll of mental illness.

The fear and darkness affect all of us. It should not be normal for children to find their mother in her bed in the middle of the day. It’s that realization alone which propelled me to make the call to my doctor for medication. I’d been looking at my condition myopically. I could struggle through. I could deal with the sleepless nights. I could figure out better ways to cope.

But my family shouldn’t have to cope.

It will be weeks before we know if it will lift the fog and slow the fear, but just filling the prescription gave this anxious canary a glimmer of hope.

And that is grace.

I am mentally ill. 

Destigmatization can only happen one voice at a time. I’m shaking off the shame and raising my voice. Will you add yours? (#shameless)

I am pretty sure there is grace for that.

To My Son With Anxiety

My Dear Son,

Anxiety is a thief. It sneaks in and robs us of peace, and the overall sense of well-being. It steals sweet sleep replacing it with hours of clock-watching worry. Sometimes it captures actual breath, replacing oxygen with a flood of adrenaline and a racing heart. 

Anxiety is a bully. It lies in wait, patiently watching for a revelation of weakness before pouncing and exploiting the vulnerability. It twists the truth and leaves us confused and wretched in its wake. 

Anxiety is an enemy, forcing us to draw up battle plans and research medicinal weaponry. It attacks from behind, slamming us to the ground leaving us gasping, clutching, writhing, and terrified. 

Anxiety is a liar. It magnifies the mundane, convincing us monsters really do exist, the end is near, the crack is ever growing. It turns shadows into beasts, joint pain into cancer, whispers into pink slips.

In our home, there are two of us who struggle with anxiety disorder. 

But it affects us all. 

I struggle with panic attacks that often visit in the middle of the night if I’ve been awakened for any reason. After I reign in my breathing and convince myself that my pounding heart and aching chest are not the beginning of the end, I lie awake for hours and listen to the ticking of the clock. I mitigate the night wakings with a white noise machine, a silenced phone, black-out shutters on the windows, and strict instructions to you children to wake Daddy if you have a bad dream instead of me. Inconveniences that add guilt to the worry cocktail I find myself sipping in the throes of it. 

You, on the other hand, struggle with outbursts and anger when you feel out of control or ill-prepared for some new event or change in routine. We’re often lulled by our own complacency and are caught unaware when a meltdown occurs, usually when we are pressed for time and ill-equipped to deal with the fall-out. The whole house is up-ended and you are left exhausted, sullen, and scared. We try to mitigate the meltdowns with calendars, daily schedules, and verbal notification of what’s to come. But, sometimes we forget. 

We get busy and forget to put the checks in place. We set you up to blow. And blow, you do. As soon as your anxiety builds and the bomb is triggered, I realize what we’ve done and how we’ve failed you. I am so sorry, son. I have no excuse. The guilt washes in like a wave, triggering my own anxiety, and the cycle continues.

I want to warn you, honey. As you get older, there are those who will tell you anxiety is due to sin, some personal moral failure on your part. Others will be convinced your faith is weak. If you spent more time praying, seeking, reading the Bible, rebuking the enemy, repenting of sin, singing praises, and memorizing Scripture, surely you could lick this.

You’ll want to believe them. Sometimes you’ll think maybe they’re right. Maybe you’re not doing enough. Or, maybe you’re just not enough. It’s discouraging and demoralizing to think about. You’ll feel the weight of it becoming heavier, the shame of it almost as paralyzing as the condition itself. 

The temptation is to minimize and pretend, to act as if you have conquered this. A past struggle is acceptable fodder for conversation, a testimony, a celebration. No one wants to be reminded of a continued thorn they’ve already prayed with you about a hundred times. The clear message will be that your inability to overcome must be your fault. 

But it’s not. 

It’s not your fault, son. In the words of Carlos Whittaker, those who would tell you otherwise should “Read the Bible. It’s filled with crazy people like me killing it for God.” Striving to do enough or be enough to vanquish your anxiety only keeps you focused on yourself and renders you ineffective. I don’t know why we do that to one another. Frankly, you don’t have time for that. Wallowing in the why and being ashamed is counterproductive to your purpose and a distraction you can’t afford. 

Don’t let them steal your time. 

There is a whole community around you with gaping wounds to be healed, people who are desperate to know the God who gets you through. Because God will get you through this. His grace is sufficient for you. His strength is perfected in your weakness. He has not forgotten you. He loves you. He knows you and He is on your side. 

I hope this nemesis fades away as you leave childhood behind. I hope this letter is never needed. But if you do find yourself with anxiety as your foe, I hope we will have provided you with the tools you need to cope, to find peace, to love well, to leave this world a better place, and to shine. More than anything, I hope you know this: 

There is grace for that.

Love,

Mom