The Unending Search for Hope

SkyThis picture was taken this morning near my home. Yesterday, we had severe thunderstorms. Heavy rain, thunder, lightning, and gusty winds for the vast majority of the day and night. The skies were in turmoil and full of intense energy. This morning, however, the sky is back to its equilibrium. Blue, serene, calm, full of light, wispy white clouds dotting the expanse of blue canvas.

I stood for a moment under this calm sky, contemplating what it had looked and felt like yesterday. Complete chaotic explosion of energy. Now all was calm and beautiful. It was hard to reconcile this in my mind.

And yet, this is the usual cycle of nature and life. Of energy flow. Of growth and death and disarray and calm. Ebb and flow. After every burst of commotion, a moment of calm cleanses the surroundings.

Standing under this glorious sky, I contemplated my own sense of ebb and flow. I pride myself for my undying sense of hope. At the same time, I struggle with chaotic energy bursts. I vacillate between the serenity of my hopeful worldview and the negative energy that sometimes creeps into my psyche, often as the result of a particular stressor or trigger. Most often, I am able to push through a challenge and find hope rather quickly. Yet lately my sense of hope is being overshadowed by stronger feelings of distress.

If you follow my blog, you’ve most likely seen the pattern of more intense pieces lately. Suicide is Not a Choice, My Journey of Acceptance, a Poem about Melancholy … rather heavy material, indeed. Yes, each of these pieces is sprinkled with glimmers of hope. It’s difficult for me to write any words without at least a few of them being hopeful in nature. For these recent pieces, however, adding in words of hope has proven more difficult.

Even as I write this piece, I am actively searching for inspiration that will spark my usual strong sense of hope. I have a wealth of resources that I access on a daily basis – writings, quotes, pictures, self-reflection, nature, social media outlets, friends, colleagues, articles … yet none of it seems to be having the positive impact that I expect. Usually something inspires me to reframe my thinking from despair to optimism. Now, it’s not coming as easily. My search continues without much improvement in my overall outlook.

I do believe hope prevails. I do believe that there is enough beauty in the world to take the pain away. I do believe all of this.

I just don’t feel it with my heart and soul at this moment.

So maybe the search is unwarranted, right at this moment. Maybe I need to be present in my feelings of discomfort and confusion. Allow myself to feel the pain and go through it completely. Perhaps my expectation of finding the hope again right now is premature and unrealistic. This particular episode of discomfort maybe needs to be just a little longer than usual. Right now maybe patience is more warranted. Sitting with the discomfort. Allowing the energy to move as it needs to, not as I would like it to.

Gazing out at the vast sky was incredibly helpful this morning. While I was still struggling with my discomfort and internal chaos, the serenity around me felt comforting. The consistency of the ebb and flow of nature was exactly what I needed to see.

I will make an effort to be present in all the glorious examples of life around me. The brilliant blue sky, the magical night sky and Super Moon, flowering trees, steadily running water through a nearby creek. I may continue to feel the internal confusion a little longer, yet if I’m patient and allow myself to go through my own process of energy flow, the hope will come back. I truly believe that.

Suicide is Not a Choice

By now we’ve all heard the devastating news that Robin Williams has died from suicide. Such a tragic end to a comedic genius.

Every year, over 39,000 people die from suicide. Friends, neighbors, family members, veterans, celebrities … Suicide does not discriminate. Those 39,000 people were most certainly a diverse snapshot of everyone in America. Of course, the vast majority of those suicides go unnoticed, unless they affect us personally. Sadly, it takes the suicide of a huge public figure to bring attention to this heartbreaking issue.

Those of us who are familiar with the demons of mental illness and mental health issues are sad and angry and scared. The reality of suicide has claimed yet another victim. This could be any one of us.

This most recent loss to suicide highlights the power mental health issues can have on our minds. The deceptive, insidious power these illnesses can have on our thoughts, and potentially, on our behaviors.

Because of this power, suicide cannot be viewed as a choice. Mental illness tricks our brains. Our illness can tell us things that are not true, things we would not listen to or believe if we were not struggling with self-doubt, lethargy, and intense loneliness, among many other complicated emotions that mental illness causes. The demons that can consume our minds and our hearts, making us believe we are not worth the air that we are breathing.

At the height of my struggle with Post Partum Depression, I had intense thoughts of suicide (suicidal ideation). I felt so alone, so helpless and hopeless, so desperate for relief, that the thought of ending my life seemed like a decent option. My mind amplified these thoughts. Because of my PPD, and other mental health issues I’ve struggled with, my brain is injured. It isn’t working to its full capacity and instead has a shadow of fear and doubt cast over it. Back then, the shadow was consuming. My mind and thoughts and beliefs were dark. Light could barely break through, and when it did, it was swallowed.

These lyrics from one of my favorite songs “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls captures this struggle poetically:

Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear

Because of the hunger of my darkness, my thoughts of suicide also escalated to plans and a few fleeting attempts. The majority of the time I remember thinking that it would be so easy. So easy to just go to sleep and not wake up. So easy to veer into oncoming traffic. My mind almost seemed to comfort me with these options. I was feeling so lost and was in so much emotional turmoil, that ANY form of relief was welcomed. Death, my illness was telling me, was the ultimate form of relief. That was not a choice I was thinking of making; it was seemingly my only option.

I’m shaking as I type this as I have not openly shared these details of my story yet. When I remember this time, I’m filled with despair. Thankfully, I am healthier now and I can also have a sense of fear and anger at these thoughts. I am also incredibly compassionate of them. Of who I was then. Of the struggling new mom who was in so much pain. Who was led to believe that death could help by an insidious illness that countless other moms struggle with every day. I am grateful I was able to escape the clutching darkness. My heart hurts for those who were not able to escape.

I must always take care of myself, of my injured brain. My illness has not been “cured”, nor will it ever be. Even today, I have thoughts of driving into traffic. These are known as “intrusive thoughts”, and they are a symptom of my illness that I will live with for the rest of my life. These thoughts are much less frequent and they are much less intense when they come, but they do still come. And they scare me every time they appear. Most often they come when I least expect it. When I’m happy and feeling confident and healthy. Then BAM, a dark, unwelcomed thought telling me that my life isn’t worth living anymore. I have strong self-care skills that I activate immediately to banish the thought. But it’s still an unnerving experience.

PPD, along with other forms of depression and mood disorders, are such powerful and deceptive diseases. They infect our brains and create thoughts and beliefs that would otherwise not exist. Thoughts of suicide. Beliefs that death is the best form of relief. These are not choices. They are overpowering and persuasive shadows that can consume so many of us.

With this tragic loss, we can rally our collective hope. Use our sadness and anger to fight harder against the deceptive voices of depression. Raise awareness and share knowledge. Support each other more. As much as my heart breaks with the reality of suicide, it has been warmed with the amazing support among those who know this struggle all too well.

24-hour National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)

 

My Journey of Acceptance

“Until lions start writing down their own stories, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” ~ African Proverb

Accepting all aspects of my life is difficult. Mental Illness and Trauma. They are real, present parts of my life. They are hard to acknowledge and accept.

These are real illnesses and I experience them on a daily basis, both emotionally and physically. My brain is altered, so I see the world in a unique way. My memory and concentration are far from sharp. I am always in a state of high alert, regardless of any real threat. My sleep can be affected by nightmares, often coming without warning. My stomach is tight the majority of the time. My breathing is quick and shallow in its “normal” state, so I constantly have to make a conscious effort to breathe deeply at all times. My muscles ache, I get headaches easily.

These are some of the main symptoms I experience. Thankfully I have strong self-care skills (and even stronger medications) that provide relief. Yet, like with any chronic illness, I need to be on point with my symptom management to keep it under control and prevent more intense episodes.

How do I explain my illness? I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, so expectations are high for me – the ones I set for myself and the ones set forth with my job and other “adult” ventures. When I can’t perform at the level people expect, I’m questioned.  But it’s not me – it’s my illness. I just wish there was a way for this to make sense to others. Because right now, my experience is not something easily explained. If I ask for help, I’m seen as weak. If I say I’m stressed, I can’t handle it. Like I’m making this a choice. Believe me – it is not a choice at all.

Maybe it is my fault. I did accomplish way more than is typical for people like me, with similar histories. I have a masters degree from an Ivy League university. I have a demanding, high level career. My relationships with my husband and daughter are stable and loving. Many of my fellow survivors continue to live in chaos, with continuous abuse, trauma, and substance use. I have severe and persistent mental illness. Like many survivors. But I guess since I’m not homeless or violent, it’s not viewed the same. And I fully acknowledge these vital differences. I am truly blessed to not struggle with poverty or an addiction or violence.  For reasons that are truly beyond me, I was able to create a high functioning life among the chaos I have endured. Odds say I should be much more similar to the the clients I treat. Odds say I most likely could have successfully committed suicide by now. How I managed to not just survive, but thrive, is a mystery and a miracle.

So maybe it is my fault.

Since I don’t “look” mentally ill, people don’t expect me to be struggling at all. I get it – there are days I forget my struggles until they pop up in my memory, triggered by some random event. I’m functioning. I’m thriving. I’m integrating my life and living healthy and happy. That is the goal for anyone in recovery. I’m doing it.

I’m also always going to be reminded of my illness, of my syndrome. I must always practice self-care, as a means of dealing directly with my ever-present symptoms, and also as a means of preventing them from getting too overwhelming. Like exercise, the moment you stop, get too complacent, that’s when the results stop.

The moment I laugh and seem more myself, I’m thought to be “cured.” I wish it were that easy. It’s a struggle of understanding, for everyone in my life, including myself. I am becoming my authentic self. This includes being humorous, serious, emotional, relaxed, silly, dynamic. I can be all of these things at once. I may be struggling with a present trigger, yet I may turn to humor to help me relieve the anxiety. This can be confusing to myself, and certainly to others. Yet it’s all part of me being authentic, and integrating all the complex sides of myself and my recovery into a daily life that makes me happy.

I need to be consistent. Diligent. On point all the time. It’s exhausting and hard to accept. For me and for others. My journey of self-discovery and acceptance is life long. I am blessed to be on this amazing journey.

More thoughts on this difficult journey of recovery and acceptance:

Acceptance?

When

The Cheat Sheet

 

Melancholy – A Poem

Rain drops

Slide along the window

Where sunshine once shone through

Warmth and light abundant

Now gray and damp and somber

 

Flowers closing

To the wind and gray of today

Not dying, not yet

Waiting, eager

For the sun to nourish again

 

Clouds gather

Block the sun

The light is still there

But darker, less promising

 

Darkness throughout

Consuming, engulfing darkness

No shadows cast in any direction

No streams of light trying to break through

Just black

Thick, insistent, heavy emptiness

 

Is this temporary or just reality now?

Hope says the sun will shine

The rain and clouds will move along

The flowers will burst open again

The shadows will dance among the light

Tomorrow, soon

Just like they did yesterday

One and Done: Further Away

Mia and Sophie walkingAfter a long, extra snowy winter, Spring has arrived.

Our windows gladly open, all heavy jackets retired, the warm, bright sunshine feels familiar and foreign on our skin. The trees are blooming. The colorful flowers are pushing through the cold, wet soil to share their beauty once again.

Our world is waking up from a (way too long) slumber.

This is also time for the neighborhood kids to welcome the return of their scooters and bicycles. Mia eagerly joins the activity. She springs back to life outside. Able to ride and play without worrying about ice or frostbite.

We live on a quiet street with many little kids. The whole area becomes filled with kids and activity.

This Spring I realized something new. I realized I felt more comfortable letting her ride further and further away from me. From our front porch, we can see down the length of our quiet street. When we first moved here 2 years ago, I would walk along-side of her as she went to the end of the cul-de-sac. Last year, I would walk half way down the street and she would ride ahead. The distance was increasing each year, without me fully realizing it.

Now, this year, Mia is getting older and her confidence on her scooter and bike has increased. I feel even more comfortable watching her play at the safe distance from our front porch. I rarely walk along-side her anymore. Occasionally, I’ll join her if she gets stuck, or she wants Sophie the Pug to ride along with her. Mostly she is racing her friends down the street or making up silly games. It is so sweet to watch her riding and playing and laughing.

When I first realized this, it felt strange and confusing. I felt a mix of pride, trust, nervousness, and realization of her growing up. She’s been riding like this now for a few weeks and it’s still a new feeling for me. This is so symbolic of our baby growing up. Letting her go, while ensuring she is still in sight. She may be feeling the same sensations. Or she’s just having way too much fun with her friends to be thinking deep thoughts like me.

Spring is a wondrous time of year. Life begins, life awakens. Our Mia blooms more each Spring. We watch her flourish and her confidence builds. She will continue to move further away from us each Spring. For now, I will relish every moment of watching her play and grow and thrive.

Parenting is a Competition?

I’ve never enjoyed participating in competitive sports. Too much aggression and intensity. Too many extremes. Win or lose. No in between. I thrive in the balanced calm of the “in between”, so I didn’t quite fit in with competitive sports.

Cut to a clip of Breakfast Club, when Andy, the Jock, is impersonating his father, shouting at him to “WIN! WIN! WIN! We don’t tolerate losers in this family!” This is my vision of competitive sports. Of course, all of my views can be captured with a John Hughes film clip. Isn’t this true of every Gen Xer?!

I digress. Another quirk of a Gen Xer.

Parenting seems to be a new form of competitive sport. We’ve all seen the term “Mommy War”, yet this phenomenon is sometimes too broad. Too impersonal. As a competition, some parents get into personal debates about who is being a better parent. It becomes more specific than “working mom” versus “stay at home mom (SAHM)”, to members of these categories comparing specific behaviors and mantras. For example, I’ve seen various SAHMs debating about the use of electronic devices with their kids, not in a supportive “here’s how I do it, how about you?” manner, but more of a “this is what I do and it’s best and no one can tell me different and if you don’t do what I do you are wrong!” manner.

Sure, maybe I’m embellishing the drama a bit. But that’s what makes me view it more as a personal competition than a broad war.

We’ve also seen some of this competition play out in the media. Case in point, Gwyneth Paltrow. She made the controversial statement that 9-5 working moms have it easier than working actors. Seriously. Mackenzie Dawson, a working mom, used satire to deal with this statement in an open letter to Gwyneth. Several weeks ago, another mom posted a picture of her children engrossed in electronics, calling it her “Rock-Bottom Mom Moment.” Browsing through the comments, it becomes clear that many moms have moments like this and many would not consider any of these moments to be “rock bottom.”

It’s disheartening to me that many moms (and dads) feel the need to engage in a competition. That they feel the need to explain their behavior to others who they fear may quickly judge them for their sub-par parenting. Or, in the case of Gwyneth, a mom feels she needs to compare herself to other moms to gain some sort of sympathy or inclusion in the mom-club. It’s very strange that some parents engage in the comparing and competing and one-upping.

My first thought with all of this is “does ANY parent really have that much time and energy to spend engaged in this type of behavior?” And for those who do, what is the motivation for this? What is the goal? Are these parents fixated on the notion of the “perfect” mom, dad, caregiver?

Newsflash – the ideal of the “perfect mom” is just that, an ideal. It does not exist. There is no such thing as a perfect anything, including (and especially) parenting. Yet, clearly some parents are striving for the medal of perfection. They seem focused on sharing moments that seem oddly unattainable or even desirable. Even if giving your kids iPads to distract them truly is a low point in your parenting world, why broadcast it that way? It drips of competition, as if to say, “if this is your usual, than I feel sorry for you because this never happens to me, it’s a last resort.” It’s these types of images and moments that perpetuate the competition.  These parents may or may not be striving for perfection at all times, but they certainly seem to be engaging in a competition. It’s quite amusing and sad all at once.

Luckily there are more and more parents who are not engaging in this competition. Those parents with strong senses of humor and no hidden agenda, who share tips and provide support. They are the ones who don’t judge another parent’s style, but rather watch to see if they can learn something new. To me, these parents embrace the imperfections of parenting and tend to be lighter and more inclusive about the whole thing. It’s refreshing. Those are the parents I gravitate toward.

When did parenting become a competitive sport? I, for one, have decided to watch from afar, with no intention of getting on the field to “WIN!” Thankfully, I’m in good company out here.

Words – A Poem

Words

Beautiful, artistic, intrinsic words
Written, spoken, sung, read
Any and every way

I crave these words
Each word enters my being
Sparks memories
Sparks emotions
Sparks points on my body
I am understood

Words envelop me
Surround me
Comfort me

I rely on words
Simple letters coming together
Creating complicated significance
Touching and digging
Caressing and soothing
Changing my mood instantly

Words are my identity
Words are my voice
My value, my outlet

Words set to music
Lyrics, with melody
More senses involved
Words flood over me
Like a calm, intense wave
Power, emotion
The words mean so much more

Words are magic
Crafting life
Altering existence
Shifting meaning
Igniting an array of senses
With every new captor

I enclose my life in words
Crave the meaning of them all
Play with new combinations
Wait for the response from my senses
Delight in the power and peace they bring

Words
How expressive they make me
And connect me to life

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers