Part of Being Human

Let’s face it – rejection pretty much always hurts. I applied for a job recently that I didn’t even want. Big surprise – I didn’t get it. (Can’t imagine why….)

It still hurt! Even though I didn’t want it. Maybe especially because I didn’t want it.

The reality is I often go for things I don’t want so that I can fill a whole that I don’t know how to fill.

It’s that void thing I talk about all of the time.

Searching for meaning, purpose, etc.

I often think affirmation will fill that void so I do things to please others or try for things I don’t really want, hoping I’ll get that little bit of affirmation.

If affirmation filled the void, then I think mine would be full. I do have people who love me and affirm me. try to affirm myself.

Why haven’t I learned that people pleasing and even self-affirming don’t fill the void? Why do I keep completing the same types of circles in my life? When will I learn?

I’m probably being too hard on myself. Sigh.

There is a part of me that says The Void isn’t meant to be filled by anything other than God. That is the way I was raised. Unfortunately, in years of seeking God, I still have this emptiness.

I suppose maybe it is because I have bi-polar disorder, but I know other people who feel the void too – and they don’t have bipolar disorder.

What is the void, this emptiness?

Maybe its just humanity.

Candidly,

Ash

 

Doing Doesn’t Complete Me

I don’t know what to say. Drudgery and monotony have me laid flat. It’s open space for sadness to play. Perhaps that is really how I am today.

Sometimes life feels really meaningless. I think Thursday is a day that I often feel this way. Most of the week has passed and I usually find myself asking, “What did I do this week that even mattered?”

It’s easy to feel that I don’t matter when my week, my actions don’t seem to amount to much.

I suppose my small actions do matter and that I matter. My brain says that those are probably true things.

I just can’t help feeling empty, dissatisfied. I wonder what I could even do to feel complete.

Perhaps nothing is the answer. Doing doesn’t complete a person.

But what does complete a person? Why do people matter?

Today feels like entropy – a gradual decline into disorder.

I don’t really feel okay with this state. I want to reject it, imagine it’s not there. But the void is there.

Candidly,

AshI must learn its shape.

The Fiction Surrounding Addiction

I remember in fifth grade learning about addiction. Instantly it was villainized. Unfortunately, the majority of D.A.R.E. programs simply inspire anxiety and fear. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer my kid not get addicted to drugs.

I also don’t want them to live in constant fear of being one of the statistics or horror stories their guidance counselor showed them.

Somewhere there is balance, I believe.

Interestingly enough, D.A.R.E. was not my first experience with addiction.

Watching my mom drink Diet Coke was.

Today, I sooooo get my mom. I’m addicted to Mountain Dew. How do I know this? The moment things go wrong, the moment stress supercedes my ability to cope? I stop for a 32 ounce.

Now, there are much worse things to which I could be addicted. There are worse coping mechanisms.

That doesn’t make my addiction any less harmful. Other addictions might be more harmful. It doesn’t change that I am addicted and it hurts me.

Comparison is the Thief of Compassion

There is a quote from someone somewhere that goes like this…

Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I would venture to say its also the thief of compassion. Comparison allows me to lie to myself about the problems I have. Its easier to ignore my problems when I can say they are not as bad as someone else’s. In reverse, I also can destroy myself comparing how awful my problem is.

More than all of this though, it’s really easy for me to think I’m better than someone else simply because my addiction is legal.

The fiction surrounding addiction is this:

It can’t happen to me.

Now that is a myth. It can happen to anyone and chances are many of us would be able to say we are addicted to something or another. When you boil it down, addiction isn’t this giant, scary thing.

Addiction is a coping mechanism gone awry.

This is what I know for sure…

I am very fortunate that the worst thing my mother did was drink a Diet Coke when she felt tired, in pain or stressed. Had it been something else – something like heroin?My life would be very different.

Addiction definitely comes down to choices, but it also comes down to how pain and stress were handled in our homes as children.

The choices made in my home when I was a child have made all the difference.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

The Shape of Emptiness

When was the first time you felt empty? When did you notice a void in your life? I think these attributes – emptiness, meaninglessness, void – they can be feelings too. I remember the first time I felt meaningless. I had gotten in trouble for something and was sent to my room. I felt so badly that I took a belt down in my closet and tried to hit myself with it. I want to say that this memory was about the age of eight, but I fear it may have been even younger.

Emptiness came later. I was in at least eighth grade. I sat desperately reading  my Bible, devotional journals. I was looking to God to fill a hole in my heart. I wish my faith, my devotion had filled that hole, but there was a problem with that pursuit.

The hole wasn’t God-shaped.

There is a saying I’ve heard at some point in my life (not sure when or where). It goes, “Everyone has a God-shaped hole inside of them.” Perhaps that is why I devoted so much time and energy to pursuing him early on.

I thought God would fix me.

Now, in my head, I hear an angelic chorus singing, “God didn’t fix you, because you didn’t need fixing.” Okay, not an actual chorus, but it is what I imagine a good Christian would say or think while reading this story. I really wish that they would be right – that I don’t need fixing. I really do.

Some Things Remain Broken

If there is anything that I have learned from adulthood, then it is that some things can’t be repaired. I have seen it with our son’s autism, my mental health and our finances. I imagine a lot of people would simply say that I’ve lost hope. I don’t think that is true, because, believe me, I really dream of waking up to my son’s words and songs. I dream of a year in which depression does not affect me 330 days out of 365. I dream of a world in which we have a home to live in with a mortgage we are able to pay.

Oh yes, I hope.

Yet, I would be stupid not to prepare for a future in which my son needs full-time care. Facts are facts. If he hasn’t spoken by the age of nine, then things aren’t looking good for independent living. My depression? They say that the first time you have a season of depression that you should remain on medication for at least a year. The second bout of depression should be met with 3-5 years of medication. The third time? You should remain on medication for life. They also classify your depression as MAJOR and a legit DISORDER. I qualify for lifetime medication. I.E. This is thing is MAJOR and DISORDERED.

Some things remain broken. My friend has a dead plant in the landscaping at her new house. Initially, she thought to pull the ugly sucker out and replace it with something pretty. Then, she texted me a picture of it and said, “I’m keeping it”. You see, for her (and me) the dead plant reminds us that ugly and beautiful coexist, pain and joy coexist. Perhaps broken and whole can coexist too.

Sitting with Emptiness

In my life, I’m learning to sit with emptiness. You see, I’ve realized that I’ve been trying to fill it for years and years. I’ve tried relationships, careers and jobs, schooling, children, religion, success, popularity, leadership, etc. The truth is that I’ve been trying to fill the empty space with a square puzzle piece.

I’m guessing my emptiness is upwards of a dodecahedron. That’s the largest 3D shape I can recall.

**Excuse me, I just looked up the spelling for dodecahedron and discovered it is actually a polyhedron. Are polyhedrons different than 3D shapes? What is a polyhedron? More than one face, my search tells me. Well, I’ve concluded that most, if not all, 3D shapes are polyhedrons. Geometry has never been my strong suit. Is this geometry? God, I hope so. End digression.**

You can’t fill your emptiness until you understand it, know its dimensions. In order to know those things, you can’t be trying to solve for ‘X’ or running back and forth with objects to randomly fill the space. You have to stop. Be present.

Experience emptiness.

And all I have to say about experiencing emptiness is this….

Damn it! Pain is coming, confusion is coming. This is going to hurt like hell!

Panic aside…

Pain is a teacher. Confusion isn’t a crucifix. And Hell was made for rebels.

Candidly,

Ash

P.S. I wrote this post while listening to “Hold On” by Sarah McLachlan.

 

I Have Made Peace with the Darkness

**The following is a piece I wrote almost a year-and-a-half ago. For today’s throwback Thursday, I’m remembering a time when it seemed depression was lifting. At the time, I felt a great deal of anxiety. These days, I would say that I am still making piece with darkness and the light is still blindingly garish. I suppose I’ve made peace with knowing that peace is an ongoing process. Hope you enjoy!**

I Have Made Peace with the Darkness.

It is the light I fear.

Lately, I have begun to see the light in the distance. Maybe its temporary. Mood swings have always been swift tides. At three o’clock in the morning, I might feel excitement, almost euphoria, at a new revelation brought on by lack of sleep and significant pondering. By seven o’clock in the morning, I want to die and can’t be alone or care for my children. That has been my life for a long time.

I did not want to meet the day.

I still have those moments. Recently, in fact. Yet, something is smoothing the turbid waters. A slowing of my spirit and soul. Consistency in the tides.

I dare not call it hope. It feels much different, as though I am exchanging one shadow for another. Depression and I have become friends. We’ve made peace. He’s here to stay and I am no longer surprised by his appearance. I am accustomed to this shadow, the darkness behind me.

It is the light on my face that is surprising, blinding. I am like Peter Pan looking for his shadow, confused at where it has gone, only to see it again momentarily on the wall in front of me…or is it behind me. Why is the light so bright? Where is my shadow friend? There he is! No wait, that’s something different.

I’ve come to know the name of my new friend. Now that I can feel his presence, I’ve asked his name.

{I am anxiety} He said.

We are not friends yet. He moves too fast. Coming and going, triggering and trapping. Where is he leading? Do I go there too?

I’ve read and re-read my notes from my therapy program. It seems depression has to do with the past, our darkest times. Anxiety is connected to our future, our light. He is the shadow when the light dawns.

My question then is whether High Noon will ever come. The moment when all the shadows are gone.

But perhaps that is only anxiety talking. Whether, what if’s.

Deep down, I know the truth in my soul.

High noon will come. {And pass.}

The sun always goes down. The shadows always reappear. The darkness always finds us. It is the ebb and flow of nature pointing to something archaic in my soul. Something that belongs to all mankind.

Growth happens in the darkness and the light. Some beings require more of one than the other. Shade plants, plants in Full Sun, etc. We know the only places plants do not grow – in full light, in full darkness, the nether regions – arctic and Antarctic.

Deeper still, growth is a cycle. The plant, the animal – they have no destination. Once gone, the ground of their resting place is made fertile.

New life begins again.

Day and night. Day and night. Day and night.

We return to the ground.

New life begins.

This is the rhythm my soul knows. My mind is learning it still. My new shadow has come.

Yes, I have made peace with the darkness. Now, I must make peace with the light.

Candidly,

Ash

Refugee of the Masquerade

The way I talk about my depression has always been a difficulty of mine, especially when it comes to that time I planned to take my life. Those words, “a plan to take my life”, are not my own. They were given to me by my therapist shortly after my stint in the hospital. You see, I needed to talk about this thing in group therapy, but I didn’t have words.

So he helped me find them.

I am eternally grateful. I used his words for years. Sometimes, I find myself still saying them. It’s my default setting.

Another word, that I use to describe those precarious days was given to me by Brene Brown. The word is ‘breakdown’. This usually comes out of my mouth when I’m not trying to be serious. It’s like a pleasant, shorthand for “I was going to kill myself”.

Recently, I wrote here about stigma and mental illness. I loved how Jim Carey had come up with his own twist on the word ‘depressed’. Not even a few days later, I sat in front of a book that encouraged the reader to find their own language for the darkness in their life – whether it is an event, ongoing illness or season of life. He encouraged the reader to go so far as developing a description for the many dark parts of their lives.

When I Came to a Dead End

I’ve been reflecting on this for several days. I think the best way to describe my ‘breakdown’ would be to call it a “Dead End”. I had come to a dead end, a great canyon emerging in front of me. Within that giant canyon was my death. There was no way over it. No way under it or around it. Turning back seemed impossible. I made a plan to bungee jump into that giant canyon, because it was the only way I could see forward.

I think some people don’t mind having a persona that they wear around the office or on stage or with their mom-friends, etc. Maybe they know it’s a mask and they are able to wear it and remove it as needed. I don’t know whether that is healthy or not, but I’m willing to consider that some people aren’t affected by the masks they wear. They know who they are and who they may have to be AND they know the difference between the two.

I, however, was wearing my mask as my identity. I didn’t know what I wanted so I created the mask that seemed the most acceptable to others. At first, the mask made the road I was walking on easier. It helped me move forward, gained me approval. I felt confident in her.

Then, over time, the road got bumpy and twisty. The Mask maintained the charade, requiring things of the real me that felt like prostitution. She was hiring the real me to do the hard parts, delivering a crisp check in the morning. Except, the real me couldn’t cash that check or take it to the bank. It wasn’t my form of currency. The real me spiraled into poverty of the soul.

The Mask and I walked the path for years, each day creating a larger and larger chasm in the distance. When we reached that chasm, a dead end forming in the road, it was either her or me. Either the mask had to jump or I would. And the mask – she’d been calling the shots for a long time. The real me felt worthless compared to this façade the world saw. If I couldn’t be the façade, then my life needed to end.

Now, I’ve told this story before and it has been pointed out that I could have just let the façade go. Why didn’t I just let the façade go? Because the person underneath the façade – the real me? She was worthless. That’s the reason I had adopted the façade in the first place. The real me deserved to die. I truly felt that, believed that. No amount of preaching God’s love to me over thirty years had changed it.

I didn’t deserve to be alive. I didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t want to exist.

The Line I Crossed

The person I was, the mask, it died the day I went to the hospital. I remember them taking my blood pressure and heart rate – the numbers were off the charts. Alarmingly off the charts, dangerous. My emotional state was tearing me apart. I think of the way it felt, to walk into the emergency room, knowing that I was the emergency. The Mask was literally seizing inside of me, stroking out, dying.

I’m not sure who jumped first into the giant chasm at the dead end, but I know that we both fell together – the Mask and I. The façade didn’t survive. Though I had expected to die from the fall, I lay bleeding out in the dark instead. How could I navigate the dark chasm as the husk that I was?

One of my favorite songs has these words to describe how I felt:

“When I chose to live, there was no joy. It’s just a line I crossed. It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost. So I was not lost or found.” From “After All” by Dar Williams

Every moment since I crossed that line has been lived in the dark chasm. I thought it was death before me, but discovered that it was simply the unknown – a land without the Mask. I’d like to say that I haven’t doubted my worth since then. I’d like to say that the relevancy of my existence has been proved each and every day.

I cannot say those things. However, I can say that the darkness is a beautiful mystery. This chasm is lonely in good ways, solitary. No mask accompanies me. I am simply a refugee of the masquerade, looking for a home, living day-to-day.

Sometimes, that has to be enough.

Candidly,

Ash

 

Paul, from the Mental Ward

It’s Thursday so I’m throwing back. This is a piece I wrote last summer when a friend asked for prayer. She had a former student who was thinking about suicide and was not sure how to respond or who to tell. Mostly, more than the logistics, she also felt uncomfortable.

Suicidal thoughts are uncomfortable – whether they are yours or not. They are also some of the most common thoughts. So common that many people don’t even know when they are having them or that they even hear people say them without being alarmed. Perhaps the scariest thing about a suicidal thought is the connotation of the word suicidal.

I had a very religious upbringing and so I am constantly reminded of things I’ve read in the Bible. When my friend shared her concerns and fears, these are the things which came to my mind. I hope they help people understand that even in the great light of Christian faith, death or suicide were contemplations of many who lived and were revered in the Bible.

Paul, from the Mental Ward

I grew up in highly religious environment. I spent parts of 9th grade discussing speaking in tongues and whether people went to heaven after dying by suicide. Except we didn’t use phrases like death by suicide. We used the phrase committed suicide, as in committed sin and damned to hell regardless of whatever that Jesus guy said.

I said {religious} not spiritual.

(Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in highly spiritual environment too, which is why I still **believe-ish** today.)

After having a plan to end my life and not enacting it and going to the mental hospital and entering intensive therapy for weeks and now years and tons of medication changes and what feels like ten years of emotional growth crammed into two…I can honestly say one thing.

I still struggle.

Weekly, the times I think about taking my life are more than I can count on both hands. Nothing is fixed. Nothing is healed.

And if committing suicide is a sin, then what is thinking about it?

I have sat in a dozen church pews and been told that even looking or thinking about another woman is adultery for married men. They don’t say much about women looking at other men. {religion}.

So what of my daily contemplations? What of the day my life almost ended?

The day I found myself in the mental hospital, I had been a Christian for 20 years, 8 months and 17 days. I spent the majority of that time trying to get rid of suicidal thoughts. Honestly, that desire, to have pure thoughts, to be without sin? It was one of the largest driving factors in my suicidal ideation. You see, the more I tried to get rid of the thought, the more often it came.

My therapist spent weeks of daily therapy repeating, “It’s just a thought. You don’t have to believe it.” I’ve spent years trying to believe him.

I do believe him. Daily, I believe him and believe that thoughts are just that. Just thoughts. Not sins. Not murder. Not suicide.

Just thoughts.

It’s been over a year and then some. And I’d like to tell you about a man who, like me {and many, many, many of us}, was torn between two desires – to live or to die. And he didn’t know which was best. He truly thought dying was better, but living meant more, was worth more.

Living was harder. It was a sacrifice.

Dying was easy. Beneficial.

His name was the Apostle Paul.

And he didn’t hide his thoughts or his desires. He wrote about them openly.

They don’t have power, unless you give them it.

For me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more…So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.” Philippians 1:21-23

Death is an end to pain and it is easy. As humans, we face pains that seem too great for us. Death sometimes feels the only answer. Pain never goes away. It abates and come again, whether it is physical or emotional, it never passes forever. It is part of life.

But Paul was convinced of something. He was convinced that he would go on living.

And that he was not alone.

We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am in the midst of it.”  Philippians 1:30

And as I finish writing about this Paul, from the mental ward, who lived in prison and chains {literal and metaphorical}, I have two desires that are different.

I desire that the church hear suicidal thoughts and that we struggle together.

Suicidal ideation is common and exacerbated by being hidden away.

When we say that we want to die, please know that we mostly mean we want {pain, fear, insert emotion here} to end.

Please help us remember that there is more to life.

Please help us remember {together} we can struggle.

I have been and am convinced to live… by the giant {together} that was my group therapy experience.

What if I had been convinced to live by the giant {together} of a church?

How beautiful.

Candidly,

Ash