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.

When Little Outgrows Big

EonKJI worry about the day she outgrows him. They are best friends now, two peas in a pod, attached at the hip. She pines for him during his long school days and waits eagerly for the bus at the end of the day. He is always delighted to see her. She understands his limited speech and doesn’t mind that he calls her only “J” and not fully “KJ” as is her given nickname.KJ&Eoncornhole

He is big brother by only 21 1/2 months, but they help each other, she by zipping his jackets and other fine motor tasks and he by flipping light switches or door locks out of her reach. I’ve noticed other ways she’s starting to help, though. Turning on his show because he can’t yet master the complicated remote is one. Taking the lead in what games they will play is the more concerning other.KJ&Eoncow

As she has passed him in speech, fine motor skills, and tech savvy, she will pass him in maturity, as well.

And I worry. Will she still adore her big brother? Will her face still light when she sees him? When her friends replace him as a confidante, will he be heartbroken?

KJ&EonblocksWhat happens when she is given more freedom than he as her maturity exceeds his? How will I soothe that injustice for my boy and still allow room for my girl to find her wings?

I try not to let myself go there. The anxiety wraps it’s tendrils around my heart like a vile weed. I need to cut it off, to pull up the roots, and enjoy the now. For now, it is a love fest, a tight bond, an amazing friendship.

It is enough. There will be grace for later when later comes. 

KJ&Eonpicnictable

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