Liberation isn’t a One Act Play

Last week, I took some time to schedule posts out into the future (this week). I’m trying to make this a real blog. Ha! You know, where things are posted daily (Monday thru Friday). It has me scared this morning. If I start trying to. post often and schedule things, then this becomes “real”.

In other words, I admit to myself that I want to do this. I want a certain amount of, for lack of a better word, success. I don’t know if other people experience this, but when I admit to wanting something – then I get really afraid.

Disappointment is the thing I fear most. Within disappointment, I usually discover that the error lies within my realm of responsibility. Whether I should have had lessened expectations or worked harder, I  find myself face-to-face with my flaws. In this, I know that I am not alone – facing my flaws does not rank high on my favorite list of activities.

Serial Quitter

I used to be vicious to myself. “Serial Quitter” was one of the nicer things I said to myself about nomadic quality. I’m a passionate and curious person. Ideas and activities seize me as though I am their possession. Literally, the compulsion to experience a new thing can often leave me running around like a chicken without a head.

Within months, I’ve tired of whatever situation or idea with which I’ve been enthralled. Continuing is like death to my spirit. My mom frequently tells me that just continuing on is necessary, despite how much I may dislike it. The end result will be worth it. The people I am “doing” the thing for? They are worth it. There is great wisdom in this.

**Today, I believe in God or that He/She at least made me. Just thought I’d put that out there.**

God didn’t give me the spirit and soul I have – for me to walk in death. There are people in the world who have more or less tolerance for displeasure in work. My husband is one of them. I’m often amazed at how he can tolerate the frustrations of being a case manager – a career field in which employees parish daily. (Seriously, someone needs to research the turnover in case management. It would change things. I am sure of it!)

I am not one of those people. I have tried (and failed) to do many, many things. If I were able to work a desk job or any other job, then I would be doing it. Trust me, the money alone is reason enough.

I’d rather be poor and sitting here writing these: words than anything else in the world. Most of the great writers were scraping by in their day-to-today too. I believe that is the way I made, the way I am built. Do I need to work on self-mastery, diligence and endurance? Absolutely!

Watch me do that with this blog and the other things I write in secret. I am capable of holding to something, sticking with it. It just happens to not make me money – yet. I am scared that I will disappointment myself in this journey and that the pain of it will be more than I can handle. 

It is the thing I fear the most.

Somehow, I always come back to these words of Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The amazing thing about this poem is the idea of being liberated from fear. I used to think that  being liberated from fear meant having no fear at all. In actuality, it means not being mastered by fear.

Liberation isn’t a One Act Play

When I think of liberation, my mind often goes to the abolition of slavery in the United States. A war was waged for years and then finally freedom was decreed. Yet, it was years and years before the country steadied, over a century before civil rights were granted such as voting, the dissolution of segregation, etc. Even today, we see the remnants of slavery in things such as poverty, police violence and more. Liberated from slavery, the people would still contend with its aftermath.

Liberated from fear? I must contend with its aftermath. It does not own me. I do, however, still feel it, remember it. Right now, I’m in the process of creating a new economy, a new way of life, not ruled by fear. Even then, I will always be discovering the ways it has affected me and is affecting me. I guess, I want to say to myself and to anyone else out there –

Liberation, your freedom, is not instantaneous. It is a process. Daily, I will be walking out what that looks like. Today, it’s acknowledging that there is fear in my wanting, in my desires, in my dreams. Tomorrow, I will walk out my liberation by sitting down to write yet again.

See you then!

Candidly,

Ash

 

Caverns

On Fridays, I will start posting poetry. I am NO poet. Ha! I really am starting to enjoy the experimentation though. I’m sure that I am too rhymey and timey, but that’s not the point. The point is I made this. I’m expressing myself. That is the point of my poetry.

 

Caverns

By Candidly Ash

 

Tell cannot I, which things

Secrets hold inside

Devoid is the well inside me

 

Not for lack of wanting

Longing resounds

A writhing echo that smells

 

A fight in a windowless cavern

Depth and stillness in drought

Night holds no answers

For those without

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

Accept & Adapt

I’m not much of a sports person. I’ve confessed my lack of understanding when it comes to the running fad. It’s not that I wasn’t introduced to sports when I was young or that I was completely awful at them (I wasn’t completely good at them either). I just find them lacking meaning. Or I struggle to find the meaning. One of the two.

I’m an introvert (will I ever stop writing that sentence?). I’d rather do things on my own to be quite honest. Doing things with other people is exhausting. Maybe this is why I like writing? Sure, someone can critique or edit things, but the actual act of writing? Solo mission.

Sports tend to be a team effort. Sure, there are exceptions – golf, bowling, etc. Some people argue those aren’t even sports at all. Regardless, one of the things I don’t like about sports are the variables. When I played basketball, we would practice plays every single day. Then, we would play in a game and everything would be chucked out the window, because the defense would do something that made our play ineffective. The coach (usually my dad) would call us into a huddle and come up with something completely new. And so our team would adapt.

Here is where it gets tricky for me. I’m not a good adapter. Sure, in my youth, I would go along with things and try my best to adjust. I’d run the play as it was drawn on the little white board and then, suddenly, I’d have the ball and be clueless. Truly, if I could have yelled “Ahhh!”, dropped the ball and run out the room, then I would have.

In the game of life, I have similar issues. Routine is really beneficial to me most of the time. Actually, I like to call it rhythm, because that is a more creative word for something pretty mundane. Yet, things happen. Sick people, depression, behavior problems, job impositions, etc. Maintaining a rhythm is akin to playing a flute in the midst of a heavy metal rock band. Sure, I might be playing to the beat, but nobody is hearing me and my work feels futile. Maintaining rhythm is an inglorious feat.

Just Adapt

I love the people who think rhythm is easy. It is for them. They flow with the fluctuations of life, letting go of what is not serving them. Such beautiful, fortunate people. I’m not one of them. Typically, when I talk to these people about my inability to adapt, then they will say something like “You just have to make yourself do it.” I stare at them like they have a third eye. In fact, I’m fairly certain they do have a third eye. How else can their resilience be explained? Surely, they are super humans.

I am not a super human.

Usually, when something throws me off my game, then I internally have a meltdown. My inner persona is screaming “What is happening here?!?!” while clutching her head and turning in circles. On the exterior? Smile. Smile. Smile. No one knows you are freaking out. Smile. Smile. Smile.

But First, Acceptance.

I am slowly discovering that problem probably isn’t so much about adaptation. The problem is my inability to accept change. Calling it a problem feels icky. Let’s find a new word.  Juxtaposition? Challenge? Opportunity.

My opportunity is trying to accept change. Remember inner persona girl screaming and clutching her head. She needs a moment. She also needs a steady hand, a comforter. Because I’m smiling on the outside, my inner persona gets ignored almost all the time. I’m the only one who can see her. I’m her only hero.

I’ve got options. I can tell someone what she’s doing, letting them know that the smile is just a mask. I’m getting better at this. The number of creepy conversations my husband has had with smiley, crazy girl should earn him a medal. Other options include listening to her, metaphorically stroking her back with deep breathing, encouraging her, reminding her of her strengths. Also, holding up a giant sign in front of her that says…

Everything’s not lost.

Once she has accepted what is happening, she’s actually quite resourceful. More resourceful than I anticipated she could be. Her adaptability is stellar. She just needs to accept things first. I wonder why that is so hard for her? Oh, that’s right!

I’ve been ignoring her for decades.

Well, I’m guessing it will take some time to help her learn the path of acceptance.

Here’s to the journey!

Candidly,

Ash

Deep Rest

aI heart me some Jim Carey. Honestly, I was not allowed to see a lot of his movies while I was growing up in our religious household. As an adult, I haven’t exactly made up for lost time. I have never seen Ace Ventura or The Mask. Honestly, until I saw The Truman Show, I was not a fan of Jim Carey. Then, there was Bruce Almighty, which I also liked. Somewhere in there was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My opinion had improved.

Then, recently, I watched “I Need Color” on YouTube and I sort of fell in love with Jim Carey. I think if we met, then I would probably say something stupid like, “I need color too!” Then, I stumbled across this video where he is talking about depression and I loved what he said. Summing it up…

Depression is Deep Rest.

Depressed people have stopped the charade, dismantled the façade. They are weary from being the person they thought they were. He also said some great things about identity. Knowing ourselves is impossible. In trying to know ourselves, we create the façade instead of letting it go.

These things he said remind me of Thomas Moore’s approach to depression. Moore equates depression to the astrological Saturn, which is the slowest moving planet, taking thirty years to transit through all the signs of the zodiac. It’s rings represent the limitations of human kind, offering restrictions and delay. For a long time Saturn was viewed as a sign of loss with fear and loathing. Slowly, over time it became a centering symbol, bringing balance. Other astrological interpretations of Saturn point to great sensitivity and narcissism (great self-interest).

I love these descriptions, because I have come to know each of those facets of depression. It doesn’t just improve one day and I’m instantly  feeling better. With a major depressive disorder diagnosis, depression is a fluctuating entity throughout my life. It moves slowly, coming in and out of play.

Depression has also taught me that I have limits and boundaries. I have learned that there are many, many things of which I am not capable. It has also brought delay and hesitancy to my life. It is the cautioning alarm for my soul. “Do not go there!” It warns me not to compromise my entity and desires, bringing balance to the self-sacrificing mantra I was preached from my youth.

I, too, thought of depression with fear, angst and even hatred. I fought its intentions as though they were an assault on my person. Yet, I have learned this “nemesis” is actually more of a friend – teaching, guiding, equalizing. I am sensitive to its fluctuations and perhaps too often absorbed by my inner state.

This last sentiment ‘absorbed by my inner state’ reminds me of the teachings I heard growing up and even into young adulthood. The consensus tended to be “Get out of your mind and into your life”. I’m pretty sure that is a book title somewhere. I can understand the need to let go of anxiety as it is a vacuum sucking away at life. But what if that is not a possibility? What if anxiety is hardwired into your system by trauma and experiences?

I’ve found in life, through depression and anxiety, that going deeper has been a far more fulfilling answer. I spent years ignoring my mind and my body until the cacophony of my spirit became too clamorous to ignore.    Here, I come full circle to Jim Carey’s idea of Deep Rest. In stillness I have found the path which my soul knows. It is not a path to enlightenment or my identity, but rather a resounding sound which I follow.

What if, instead of whispers such as “Did you hear she is depressed?”, people simply said, “She is in Deep Rest”? How would that change the conversation? Would the stigma dissolve? Or would the words become tainted?

Candidly,

Ash

My Brain Off Drugs

I have an alarm set on my phone in two different apps to remind me to take my medication. I have routines to try and keep on track. Yet, my system failed me yesterday. Today, at 2:00 PM I discovered yesterdays pills in  my skirt pocket.

We were running all over the place for Evan. He had a neurology appointment and a pre-op appointment for his dental surgery. My regular schedule was scratched. Systems fail. Safeguards go off duty. It happens.

I use a journal to track trends in my mood, behavior and thoughts. It helps me to refer back to other times when I’ve missed medication. I’m able to prepare for what is coming or at least able to tell myself it will pass in approximately 72 Hours.

The Last Time I Missed My Meds…

One of my particular medications is quite dose-dependent. I’m not sure that is an official  way of describing it or anything. I just mean that when I miss even one dose, then everything goes to shit.

Late Afternoon on Day Missed – I start having enormous, incapacitating anxiety. I literally have to distract myself from reality in order to cope. Usually, I immerse myself in a book, while also playing games on my phone. I do the two things at once. The multi-tasking helps to keep my brain from catastrophizing everything in existence.

Day After Missed Medication – I’m hypomanic. Everything is wonderful. I accomplish all of the things. I consider starting a new career, business or non-profit (I’ve learned NOT to do this the hard way). I call people just because I want to talk to them. I decide to clean the house top to bottom at 11:30 that night. I go full steam until 4:00 AM, when suddenly I feel like I’m completely alone in the world, everything is awful. Suicidal thoughts come to mind so frequently that now I HAVE to sleep in order to not harm myself.

Two Days After Missed Medication – I am now completely catatonic. I awake to thoughts of self-harm. I don’t want to eat. I go back to sleep. I sleep 14 hours that day, because I cannot cope with the vicious thoughts bursting through my mind.

Three Days After Missed Medication – I only missed one day so things start to even out here. The last two days I took my medication on time so I’m stabilizing. I still can’t do much of anything. And this is why….

Thinking of Hurting Yourself…..Hurts

Maybe it is just me. Maybe I respond to thoughts of hurting myself more dramatically than others. Actually, I’m willing to strike maybe from those sentences. I’m super sensitive to my internal state. I’ve read that this is part of my personality (INFP). I’m willing to venture a therapist would have some recommendations on how to cope better. Right now, I’m still sans therapist (though I have an appointment in two weeks).

For me, thinking of harming myself, contemplating suicide – these are just thoughts. I don’t have to believe them. I don’t. I know they are lying to me or at the very least false notions. When these thoughts come a couple of times a day, I’m able to use this strategy/idea to calm my emotional reaction to the thoughts.

When I’m off my meds? There is no time. Literally, thoughts, images of cutting myself and other awfulness are so frequent that I can’t focus on anything else. Sleep is my only reprieve. I’ve learned HOW to go to sleep by deep breathing and repeating one phrase over and over.

{Breathe in.} All I have to do is sleep. {Breathe out.} All I have to do is sleep.

So I sleep.

When I wake if the thoughts are still galloping like a warhorse, then I put myself back to sleep. Eventually, I wake up and the thoughts are slow and I’m able to say to myself, “These are just thoughts. I don’t have to believe them.” Then, I go and reward myself for staying alive by drinking mountain dew or eating a donut. Honestly, its the only thing that can motivate me to get out of bed.

This is my brain off drugs.

I wonder if other people experience this too.

Candidly,

Ash

 

Mental Illness is not Contagious

It was my second day in the mental hospital. I had anticipated being exhausted, isolated, scared. Instead, I woke up refreshed at 6:00 AM, even without an alarm. It was mostly because they had given me a sleeping pill the night before. I had agreed largely because I was slightly panicked about having a roommate in the mental hospital. I mean, what if they were really off their rocker and strangled me in my sleep? Additionally, the doors didn’t lock. 

(The irony of fearing death via murder was not lost on me. How was it that I was cool offing myself, but if someone else tried? Well, hell no!)

I took a shower that morning. Breakfast wasn’t for another two hours. Again, no lock on the bathroom door was sort of a turn off. Showering at 6:00 AM before anyone else was awake seemed like the ideal situation. I didn’t want any weirdos walking in on me naked!

 I walked down the hallway afterwards and smiled at the nurses sitting around a single computer. They looked up at me and stared. I tried to think of something to say. I turned to my mom status for a rescue comment.

“I’m used to waking up early and getting the kids ready for school.” I said, shrugging. 

In retrospect, it must have seemed super odd to them that I woke up so early, showered, got dressed. Aren’t depressed people sluggish and struggling to handle the day-to-day of life? Sometimes. Trust me, I have been sluggish and I have not showered for at least 10 days, multiple times in a row. 

Later that day, I sat with a psychiatrist. He quizzed me about symptoms and thoughts. I replied with one word answers. Then, he said I had atypical depression. I think I sniggered. Of course, my mental illness would be “atypical”. Figures. I added this to the growing list of things that made me odd or a black sheep. 

After that I went to a group session in which they compared mental illness to diabetes. If you had diabetes, then would you just stop taking your medicine when you felt good? No, you would check your blood sugar and keep track of yourself. This was how we should treat mental illness – as a health condition. 

At the time, this really helped me to accept what was happening to me, as well as take my treatment seriously. 

I made friends while I was there. For the most part, I stopped worrying about being murdered in my sleep or raped in the bathroom. They were good people, experiencing things like me. I could see the ways in which they were unhealthy, just as they could see the way that I was unhealthy. We even talked about first impressions of each other. People said they thought I worked there for the first 24 hours, because I had regular clothes on. I said I had a really good husband who brought me clothes and books. 

On my third day, the mood on the floor shifted drastically. It was visitor’s day, which only happened once a week. Many of my new friends had been there for almost a week or more than a week. Basically, every one was super high strung and anxious – myself included. I would be so happy to see my husband, but I would also be seeing my parents. You know, because they love me and wouldn’t miss an opportunity to see me – hospital or no hospital. 

Except seeing my parents…in the mental hospital….it made things real. I had a problem. I had a condition. I would be handled with care. 

The truth is, sometimes, the people who love us the most can’t help us. If they could, then they would have done it long ago. Both parties hurt, because both parties know. 

“This isn’t something I can fix. I don’t know what to do.” We all say to ourselves. 

Leaving the hospital, I was determined to treat my mental illness as a health problem. I quit caffeine, forced myself to exercise, shower and do the things that “helped” depression. For the next week, I was a task master driving myself through slavery. Then, my therapist drew my attention to something. 

 I frequently said, “It does no good to dwell on things. You just have to keep going.” I stared at him, clueless. Then, he said, “Generally, when people wake up with thoughts of harming themselves, then their day doesn’t proceed as normal.”

Huh? Umm….things still have to get done. I wasn’t sure what he meant

It took a really. really long time for me to realize that I could cut myself some slack. First, I had to actually open up to people and tell them what was behind my smile. Then, I had to sit with what I told them, because I had acknowledged it existed. Suddenly, I wasn’t the girl waking up at 6:00 AM, getting a shower and going on with the day. I was the girl lying in bed, crying and feeling so many, many things. 

About nine months later, I quit everything I had been doing for the last two years – every obligation, every responsibility. I left it all behind (except for being a wife and a mom). We even moved to a different city. Everything started over.

 This is when I finally started to feel free. I was still depressed. I was even more anxious. Yet, I felt free.

 You see, I had a lot of loved ones and friends. People, good people, cared about my family and I. Loving, kind, generous people. We all sat in a room awkwardly with each other, just like the night my parents visited me in the mental hospital. Except, this time it wasn’t just a room – it was our lives. My mental illness wasn’t something they could fix. They didn’t know what to do.

And I didn’t know what to do either.

Sadly, people largely don’t know how to respond to mental illness. I wish they wouldn’t call it mental illness. I wish I wasn’t referred to as the mentally ill.

I’m just Ash.

If people could just respond to me as Ash, then this wouldn’t be so hard.

 There is so much stigma around mental illness, that I’ve come to hate the word stigma itself. People have said to me, “Thanks for being vulnerable. Thanks for ending the stigma!” and even “I don’t know how you are so honest.” I can tell you how I have done it. I’ve come to know my truth.

I cannot live any other way.

I must be honest. I must be vulnerable or I will break again. Their is elasticity in vulnerability. It allows me to come back from the falls.

The Vulnerable, Mentally Ill Person Wants to Say This…

Ending the stigma of mental illness shouldn’t be the burden of the mentally ill. Social justice and responsibility mean speaking up for the speechless. Unfortunately, this has never once been the way the of the world. I learned it first with autism and the church. Evan was almost four before anyone addressed his autism at church. The church that addressed it was one of the best ones, but we had sought them. We had come to their church because he had autism.

I learned then that I would always be the one advocating for our family as a special needs family. No one else would do it for me. Now, I know this to be true for mental illness. No one else will advocate for me and my dear friends. They will pretend not to see me so I must make myself visible, even at times a spectacle.

I am willing.

It isn’t fair. It will never be fair. Do I fear that one day I may take my life and make all of these words null? Yes, yes, I do. Do I fear how my words will reflect and affect my children? Yes, yes, I do.

But I fear far more what saying nothing will do to the world and what it will do to me.

For this reason, I cannot keep silent.

I am an abolitionist of stigma. And I wish to find a new name for the mentally ill.

Candidly,

Ash