Category Archives: Depression and Anxiety

The Threshold

from Osho Zen Tarot deck

 I remembered the card differently. I had seen it so often long ago when desperate for direction I would search the deck to find my way. Recently I bought the Zen Tarot deck again, not so much for the wishing as for the beautiful symbolism in the cards.

In my mind I saw a child standing at an open door ready to take a step out of the confines of his life. Imagine my surprise in finding the gate padlocked in this card I had seen so many times! It wasn’t a card to signify moving forward but a card signifying the feeling of being trapped, locked out of a life he couldn’t reach. It was the nightmare of those years as I grieved my “failure” to be able to find the way to succeed in the marriage that had ended. The years of trying had all but erased the person I once was, still colouring outside the lines but recognized as having worth in circles of friendship, in my studies, and in my workplace. The torn pieces of hope were roughly bound together in a crooked effigy of living.

Such a contrast between that time of breaking a decade and a half ago and the breaking I have been passing through in the past months! This also began with grief as the words of another with power to do so walled me out of my passionate dream celebrated in the past years, lived in the present and anticipated for the future until retirement.

But each breaking had done its work of cleaning more of the uneven growth that had effected my ability to walk with steadiness through the stormy moments of life. Over a decade has passed since the day a short film allowed me to give myself permission to not be able to communicate with someone who chose not to communicate with me. I began to accept what I would later read in a book by Parker Palmer. My life was speaking who I was meant to be. What I counted as my successes and my failures illuminated the reality of who I was within. Decades of trying began to be unwound as I spoke the “No” in my spirit that was the beginning of a renewed, more vibrant “Yes” to life.

Though each break was a labyrinth in itself, my life has been a labyrinth of searching for that way out of the confines created by my anxious desire to please and the inability to feel good enough for the ones who held power in my life. The card showed me something I had not realized. That short film had been the centre, the revelation which would begin my return journey.

This moment I had interpreted as the beginning of the labyrinth return journey was something more. I had been on a spiralling movement for years, getting caught in the circling yet ever moving outward to a more expansive life. This moment is not a beginning of the return but a wider circle in the spiral drawing me to a place where I could see the threshold, the exit into a fuller living. 

Only, this time, the chains that held the gate shut are missing and the gate has swung open inviting me to take those final steps.

photograph by L.J.A.

Facing the Challenge

“I chose being — being present, being open, being malleable. Life is saying, “okay, I will give you the challenges that will help you become grounded in that kind of living.”
(Facebook comment in response to a post about choosing a word for the year)

The first month of the year hasn’t ended and I am already glad I chose a goal instead of an expectation as my focus for the year.

I am floundering. I am struggling with seeing the Promise of being in the moment. I set this acrostic as my goal:

Being – to live out the PROMISE of each moment by being:

Present
Responsibly
Open,
Malleable
In
Situations,
Evolving

My play simplified it into this definition: To make each moment a living POEM:

Present
Open
Engaged
Malleable

The present situation is a magnifying glass showing me all the places my elasticity has been compromised by putting such tight strictures around my life.

But wait. Maybe what is happening is not the problem. Maybe the lack of elasticity comes in a belief that if I am not handling this in such and such a way right now, I am failing, I am falling apart, I am the problem.

That is where friends have come in. They look through a lens that sees a bigger picture. They become mirrors holding up our strengths. They become the balance when we struggle.

So I will be PRESENT even here in this place that feels like a mindfield I don’t know how to cross. I will stay aware, not giving in to the urge to push it away with sleep and white noise distractions.

I will responsibly OPEN myself to way and resources that can help me find a way back to more emotional stability and devise the strategy necessary to face what is. I will open myself to new possibilities.

I will stay ENGAGED. I will write, draw, paint, collage, interact where I need to, seek out the resources to help me take the next steps. walk, play a game of cribbage with my elderly friend once the illness ban is lifted from his home.

I will allow this moisture of tears make the clay of my life MALLEABLE in this situation so that I can find the shape it is to take in the future, even if I need to leave the present, much loved, mold behind.

It is with a mixture of groans and hope that I move out. The past cannot be undone. Well intentioned actions not understood can’t be made what they aren’t. I cannot go back and change schooling options of the past to make me acceptable where I  not accepted. I can only move forward from here. That is what I call EVOLVING. Beginning with where I am, with what I have and know in this moment, I can grow.

BEING

There was no better word I could have chosen as a goal for this year that looks like it will be bringing a lot of change. Now to just live today with that feeling of PROMISE.

Dear Once Upon a Time

finding homeDear Once Upon A Time,

You believed the fairytales of a woman’s ability to be like a god changing the attitudes of another, bringing to life your fairytale perfect home. You believed that you could change enough, be enough to satisfy the desires of those who were the forces of power in the world you had been taught to believe. For you, the Stepford Wife existence would have been a mercy. You would not have had to deal with me.

When among the hoped for fairytales, the nightmare took root you fought with virtual tooth and claw to keep me trapped within the prescriptions of your schedules and I tried to comply, tried to find the line between your ridged expectations and the fluidity of my visions of a world of creative possibility waiting to be explored. It was never enough. He had called me frivolous, an escape. And you did not have the talent set that would have made it all better, that would have finally brought the acceptance you so longed for. The anger and despair in you built, an anger you could not accept. You broke when finally you came to realize things would not change.

Someone saw me in you then. She called me an eagle locked in a cage. Her vision gave you hope that perhaps I was not a chain that held you down but wings waiting inside and tentatively you began to seek me again.

For many more years you would struggle to find a way for both of us to be accepted without breaking the code they  had set you in throughout your life. It was an uneasy alliance for your world had become one that had little room for me. As before, when despair robbed you of the energy to hold me down you let me emerge to write words of hope that you could read or to record a memory you would someday need. In those years, you let me create at times as well, practical crafts, nothing too frivolous.

You even tried to kill me when you realized my presence would never allow your world to have the stability of acceptance in a fairytale romance you had fought for so long. It was easier to blame and discard me then to face your humanness which kept you from being a god with power to effect the choices of another.

Ironically, when you finally accepted the reality of your life and began to heal in the aloneness of distance, you still could not accept my presence in your life. You still blamed me for being. They called it anxiety and depression. I knew that it was your raging grief at not being god enough to meet the expectations of the world of thought you had been raised in. The day you finally came face to face with your freedom not to be responsible for the choices of another, you began to heal.

I had learned to wait, that even within myself I could not impose a vision on the part of me still in the pain of disillusioned dreams. It would be years before I would meet the images of the hurt woman in a way that you could begin to see the painfulness of a life without me. Our uneasy alliance would find more compatibility in our house of disappointing or distant relationships.

You still held a separate face within the mirror. My face aged yet yours remained trapped in the age your dreams stood still. Mine was a face you did not recognize as the lines slowly changed from the rigid prison of your lost dreams. There was an uncomfortableness when you looked in the mirror. You could not accept seeing me so clearly etched into the surface of your life.

A few days ago I looked in the mirror and only saw this face. The specter of your trapped image was gone. It has not returned. I can not feel you anymore. I can feel the legacy you left of finding order to build my life within, but your anxiety and discomfort are gone. There is a quietness within of just being.

Like other trapped pieces met through the years of healing you have faded into memory. I only hope you found that  inner island of healing that was hidden from us years ago when time came to put so much of the past to rest. I hope you are finally happy there feeling the acceptance you IMG_3118longed for.

But I go on, inwardly whole and healthy, living fully in this life that was always mine to live. I can only hope I am wiser now and aware enough to see the changes in direction that are needed when anxiety sends signals of danger ahead.

I have learned from you. Thank you for all you added in my life in the years you did not recognize your worth.

Peace to you,

Myself

 

 

Lord, Help me Remember

sacred place for pain3

“No one was there for me. She should just get her act together.”

I had called to ask for a loaf of bread for a woman with an infant son in trauma. The mother of the mother had called me because her daughter had feared the reprisal if she asked for help. As we talked I remembered. Two years ago, that had been me. It had been my child who was crying incessantly because of her own inner trauma. It was me struggling to go on that one more day when sleep was a thing of mystery and I couldn’t even lay my baby on the floor because something was wrong that caused me to fear leaving her alone.

I talked to the grandmother for a while brainstorming ways we could help and then began calling the women in the church. I started with the woman who baked and often shared her bread. Her response shocked me. I hadn’t known her when her children were small and her response of defensive blaming showed me the struggle she must have dealt with then. So I let her have her decision and simply told her mine.

I think because my mother is so good at forgetting, I made a choice somewhere in my life to remember. I also made a choice about what I wanted to do with that remembering.

“When my child was sick no one was there for me even when we were running back and forth for doctor’s appointments and staying in the hospital. No one helped me through the days when she cried and screamed. But I made a choice then. I chose to remember so that maybe someday that memory would help me be there for someone else who felt alone and overwhelmed. No one can go back and change what happened for me then. But I can choose to let it be something I hold in resentment or something to give me the empathy I need to help others. I am choosing empathy. I don’t want anyone else to have to feel as alone as I felt then.”

She made the woman a loaf of bread. Others in the church contributed meals to take one more stress off the young mother and babysat the eldest as she went to the appointments where she found out her infant had a constriction in the bowels that required medical intervention.

We need to remember. When a celebrity dies, there is a reason it gets attention. Our western society is not very welcoming to signs of grief. Unless we are lucky enough to be born in a culture that understands the healthiness of emotions, we are taught to limit our expressions and time frames for grief through subtle and sometimes not so subtle judgments. We are given lists of what is acceptable and not acceptable to express grief about in an open forum. We are “shamed” for grief by comparisons to other areas seen by many as more worthy of our attention.

So we turn to films and books to allow a release of what we hold so deeply inside. Robin gave us many of those memorable roles that helped us feel the balance of pathos and mirth. Now he is gone. The laughter he was able to bring to so many was not enough for him at the end. He knew the power of laughter. He brought it to Christopher Reeves in his hospital bed when life support systems and paralysis replaced his image as Superman. The humour and hope he brought us didn’t disappear because he died. It is a legacy he left behind.

But for those who like me have known depression to the point of entertaining and even acting on thoughts of suicide, and for those who are one the other side of suicide like I am with several key individuals in my life, there is another level of grief that is expressed at this time. We stand with his family as they struggle to hold the balance of his light as they grieve his loss. We grieve the constriction of hope that characterizes the darkest regions of the illness. But there is also another level to the public outpouring of thoughts.

For these moments, we are able to defy the social mores against talking about suicide. We are reawakened to our own aloneness at the times when darkness surrounded us. We are reminded of others we may have pushed away when they needed us. We remember those in our lives who we didn’t know how to help. We remember and our remembrance calls us to respond.

I am a person who began an attempt at suicide but survived. I have now lived almost as many years on this side of the attempt as the years that led to that place of dark hopelessness. I survived. More, I have grown so that I can now make the active choice for life that I could not make then.

In those moments of despair I was not actively thinking of ending my pain. For me, depression skewed the brain into the rationalization that I would be benefitting others by ending my own life. I even went so far as thinking that I would force God’s hand into rejecting me since I had come to believe my existence hurt his kingdom plans.

I can’t even credit myself with making an active choice to not take that action. Even when I heard the words of the song that ultimately reminded me that I wasn’t alone and that God’s love held me, I defiantly took that one more pill even though I was already at a level far beyond what was prescribed. I cleaned up any clues so no one would know to help me if things had turned out differently. And I went to bed saying to God, “Okay, God, it’s up to you. Either I wake up or I don’t”.

I woke up.

Since that time a part of my healing has been finding the forgiveness and compassion to accept the part of me that could make such a choice. That the me of that time thought in terms of finding a way to die that “would not hurt others”, that she believed it was the only way her kids could have the chance of getting a “good mom” didn’t lessen my judgment of myself.  In retrospect, a lessening of the irrationality of the thoughts in that time caused me to want to push that part of me away just as many judgments spouted at present seek to distance from compassion at this time of mourning.

As with the response to the young mother at the beginning of this post, remembering gives me a choice. I do remember the loneliness and judgments. I do remember the experiences in life that brought me to that point.

But in remembering, I have learned compassion. I have learned that not telling my story just perpetuates the loneliness that increases the risk of despair winning the day. I have learned that we all respond to grief in our own way but often don’t even realize how we bend to the cultural mores instead of listening to our own hearts. I have learned that we can’t decide for another how they will respond to our own choices. We can only act with the greatest empathy if we are willing to acknowledge our own pain.

In her post for Sojourners, Carmille Akande says,

 “Relationships are hard. Discipleship is messy. Love takes sacrifice. But I believe it is what Jesus has called for us to do! Jesus had compassion for others. He cared for those who were hurting. He spent time with people. One of my favorite healing stories in the Bible is in Mark 1:40-45. A leper, an outcast of society, came to Jesus for healing. I know because of his condition, no one had time for him. No one offered him a place of belonging. A place where he could feel loved and accepted. No one offered him a sacred place. But, when Jesus saw him, the Bible tells us that he was moved with compassion. Jesus reached out and touched him! He was willing to heal him.

The people we see every day may not have leprosy, but they may have some type of pain. They may be going through a difficult time and need someone to have compassion on them. A place to receive love. A place where someone will listen. A place where they don’t receive scriptural formulas, but a heart poured out for them. Can you be that person? Can you provide a place? Will you be that place?

We are all broken in some way. We all need encouragement from others. Let us all strive to be a sacred, healing presence for others. We will never have all the answers about suicide, but we can certainly start by making time for others — not to lecture them, but to provide a sacred place for pain.”

When events like this cause stirrings of memory or asks me to step out of the comforts of my carefully scripted beliefs, may I have the heart to respond.

Lord, help me remember, not only the pain, but the grace that got me through so that I can live grace into the lives of others.

Lord, help me remember.

 

Some of the blog posts and videos that played a part in informing my thinking:

“Suicide and Pain: What are We Missing?” by Carmille Arkande; blog: Sojourners: Faith in Action for Social Justice, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis and friends; http://sojo.net/blogs/2014/08/13/suicide-and-pain-what-are-we-missing

“Genie You’re Free” by Carol Vinton; blog: Upside Down Grace; http://www.upsidedowngrace.com/2014/08/genie-youre-free.html

“Our Weird Uncle Robin” by John C. O’Keefe; blog: john c. o’keefe; http://johncokeefe.com/2014/08/13/our-weird-uncle-robin/

“Thoughts on Depression, Suicide and Being a Christian” by Nish Weiseth, blog: Nish Weiseth; http://nishweiseth.com/blog/2014/8/thoughts-on-depression-suicide-and-being-a-christian
In which depression is NOT your fault” by Sarah Bessey; blog: Sarah Bessey; http://sarahbessey.com/depression-fault/ (Please note: Sarah is adding to this as she finds other blogs that speak with compassionate voices)

The-Lesson-Barbara-Walters-Learned-from-Christopher-Reeve-Video; http://www.oprah.com/own-master-class/The-Lesson-Barbara-Walters-Learned-from-Christopher-Reeve-Video?playlist_id=52420

What Robin Williams Did for Christopher Reeve That You’ll Never Forget; video from Oprah Winfrey show; http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Robin-Williams-Amazing-Gift-to-Christopher-Reeve-Video?playlist_id=52420

Ironically, I can’t locate the article that spurred this post by mentioning how emotions are shamed. Someone I knew shared it on Facebook. I just want to make sure credit for bringing that thought to my attention comes from elsewhere.

 

Laughter: A flickering of light in the dark

Once more the death of a celebrity brings to the surface the needed dialogue on how to help people who struggle from the fear of living fully that characterizes many mood disorders. We have been taught to fear the dark, to push it way and try to insulate our lives from pain. We are afraid our joy will be discounted if people also see the sorrow. When a writing friend brought the article Why the Suicide of Robin Williams Matters by Seth Adam Smith to my attention, I responded like this:

“In our world of positive messages, often the person with mood disorders hears the message that what is good and positive about them will be diminished in the eyes of others if they are honest in admitting and seeking help for the part that aches. In our world, we need to look at the positivity messages we send out and make sure it is clear that they are ideals we may seek but that we understand the multi dimensional reality of life. As my own psychologist tells me when I get discouraged with my own inability to defeat the anxiety no matter how much I work to live out positivity, the goal of not being anxious may be an unrealistic one for me. I should celebrate the things I am able to do and the growth in my life without condemning that part of me that still is tied in knots and sinks below the horizon. I need to celebrate and live my life as a whole. I say this not to talk only of me, but to share what I have heard from many others as well who live in this world of balancing the darker feelings with the light we would like to reflect into the world. My heart aches for Robin and for those who hold him close.”

Though we want to see the three dimensional nature of characters in the dramas we watch, too often we seek a more two-dimensional character from those we allow in the edges of our lives and sometimes even in our inner circles. As you read above, we, or at least I, even expect this limited dimensionality from ourselves. When the person is able to laugh and show joy we discount their experiences of darkness. When a person is honest about their darkness, we stop hearing the joy. Life’s reality is that both reside in us all to varying degrees.

When my children were young my struggle with depression inhibited my ability to be all that I would have wanted to be. As I mourned this darkness within a facility to protect me from myself until I could choose to live again, I created a collage from old magazines to help me find the focus of what mattered to me in life. It was not something assigned to me. It was a need that came from within. The quote from it that I remember most in one that prayed that despite whatever else came in life, I wanted my children to remember my laughter. Your family asked that for you, Robin.

So, Robin.  I remember laughter as I think of you. I see your fumbling coming to terms with having been the boy Peter Pan. I watch you transform into Mrs. Doubtfire in the journey to overcome a distancing built in that characters life. I remember how you bumbled into our life as the alien, Mork, learning to live in this world that had different mores than the one you knew. I remember your laughter, but I let that memory also help me remember my own.

In that place I had entered to help me keep living so that I could be there for my children, it was a moment of spontaneous levity, an under-the-breath “smart answer to stupid questions” kind of comment, that showed others and myself that I was beginning to open to life again. It was in moments of levity that we found connections that went beyond the commonalities of our pain.

But moments of laughter go on. I still grin at the laughter of my family when I straightened the discard pile in a game with friends of theirs. They had told their friends about my angst at having the pile messy and so the laughter was spontaneous. I chuckle as I hear one of my young adult children express in shock, “Your my mom and mom’s don’t talk like that!” when some somewhat raunchy quip or observation flies from my mouth. As much as I want the cards to be neat, I love that there is within me that which will not conform to expectations but loves to just be.

The presence of a light does not mean there isn’t darkness. Teaching others and ourselves that we have to deny the darkness just causes it to press deeper around us. But looking at the light, no matter how small, changes the texture of the dark. Our eyes adjust to the smallest radiances and we begin to see the lines and forms that surround us. Laughter is a spark of that light. That can be enough to hold us until the sun rises again.

 

 

 

 

Why the Suicide of Robin Williams Matters by Seth Adam Smith – http://sethadamsmith.com/2014/08/11/robin-williams-suicide/

Sometimes you do

P1070652I woke today in anxiety. There was no big reason for it. It was almost a surprise in its physical manifestation of sensations in me but it was there. I had to begin my day of mindfulness by accepting that reality and choosing to do what I needed to do to fulfill my commitments that could not be changed.

P1070678Unexpectedly, a note from a writing friend,  “Good morning. Just wanted to wish you a very good day.” In light of what concerns I had for the day ahead, it was like cool water on a fevered brow in it’s comfort.  I looked with more anticipation toward the day ahead and it went fine.

Nonetheless, the anxiety kept growing and part way through the day I had to acknowledge its effects on my concentration and take a second anti-anxiety pill. They did their job along with my quieting thoughts through acceptance of them.

P1070682bIt is a balance. I am sure the anxiety could teach me something I need to be aware of but mindfulness also allows us to look at the priorities when we notice thoughts of what we need to do. Attending my meeting today mattered in the grand scheme of things and I have no regrets in choosing to go even if it took anxiety pills to get there and get through it.

There was and is something I need to listen to though in whatever it is inside which raised this anxiety. At my counseling session tonight, though I didn’t feel overly sad, I could not stop crying. Trying to figure it out or stop it just increased the tears and anxiousness even though my outer self could not understand the reason for them. Oh, I could feel the answer tugging on the edges of my mind but my mind was not ready for even mindfully listening.

P1070679Maybe, encouraged my counselour, you can allow it to come out in its own time. Just accept that this is what you are feeling and be at peace with not knowing the whys right now. Sometimes you become anxious. Sometimes you cry. Sometimes you understand the whys and sometimes you don’t.

There is only one more day in my Mindful May writing. I think my mindful gift today is living with the questions, letting them sit lightly in the heart. As my favourite quote from Rainer Maria Rilke says,

P1070695“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually then , without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

 

*All pictures were taken on a walk right before the appointment. I find it interesting that I was focused on the greenery with the spaces for human living hidden behind them. It seems a good analogy for the idea of questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Connection

mirth n laughterThis post will come out on my birthday. Born in 1957, I am 57 this year. I call it my golden birthday but I have no plans for the day. It has been that way for years. My birthday is a quiet day to reflect on the year that is past. It is always a celebration because it is a day I think of those who have touched my life in the year past. It is a day I look back and intentionally notice the growth in the year.

This past year, in January, I had another bout of anxiety that took me down a bit. And yet, it was nothing like what I have dealt with in the past. 2 years ago when I had a stronger break after the death of my dad and a major surgery of my closest friend, learning about mindfulness was a part of the healing process. This time around, mindfulness was something like the exercise I learn in physio if I get an injury. Though my mindfulness muscles weren’t getting as much training as they needed, the knowledge of it was there to support me before the anxiety took me down further.

The anxiety was not as bad a thing as it sounds. It was a wake up call. I had allowed myself to isolate in become unbalanced in my self care in order to put my energy into my full time teaching job. I had allowed myself to put my blinders firmly in place so that I was ignoring the warning signs along the way. I was putting on my deity hat again, trying to take care of all the things in my life. It wasn’t a conscious choice to do this. It was more a choice made by not making choices to move beyond my safe walls.

Mindfulness had taught me to listen and accept my feelings. Joining a writing challenge helped me to articulate them rather than bury them deeper. This blog began for that challenge in January. It was my last ditch effort to break out of the growing isolation that was becoming my life. It has become a joy as it calls me to write and share the mindful gifts in my life.

becomes your teacherSo today, my mindful gift is people —

– Those who wrote with me in the 31 day challenges that has now continued for nearly six months

– The people who welcomed me back into the community of faith I have been in and out of in the past three years because of past history

–  The other teachers in my school who have been encouraging even when anxiety was so much on the surface

– My students who give me joy each day I am with them, sharing with me their enthusiasm and efforts as well as hugs, high fives, and special art.

– My children who keep touch with mom and make sure I am remembered on Mother’s Day earlier in the month

– My grandchildren who fill me up with hugs and stories and let me play with their toys

– And my closest friend who teaches me what it is to be accepting by his acceptance

Tomorrow is a day of celebrating life. I have everything I need to make this day special — connections to people I care about.

“Shade for a man
And shelter for animals,
Planted in your name,
May you be the same
for those around you,
Every year the same.”
― Nancy J. Cavanaugh