Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A WORTHY CAUSE

I was cutting before it had a name. At 15 years of age, I had a special razor in my dresser drawer I would pull out at the end of the hard days. I always cut my inner thighs, because I knew nobody would see or question me about it. It's frightening to think about now, knowing what I know about the femoral artery! I really had no idea what I was experiencing had a name: depression.

Years passed and I had long stopped cutting. I was the mother of a toddler and an infant son. I had prayed every day of that second pregnancy for a boy, yet I couldn't enjoy him. When I looked at my baby, I remember thinking that I must be the world's worst mother because I truly didn't think my baby was cute. His face was fat and looked lopsided from the haircut in the NICU; his bum looked square when he tried to crawl, and he refused to be held unless he was nursing.

I had only been married 2 years, and was already living with domestic violence. A well-meaning mentor came to our home to speak into our marriage, and pointed out that I was moody and could be challenging to live with. I remember thinking, "He clearly doesn't understand." The rest of the marriage counseling was lost on me; I cried for days over that single sentence. I had no idea that what I was experiencing had a name: post-partum depression and severe anxiety.

My metaphorical house of cards fell after the divorce, after I learned my daughter had been abused, after I took on two step-children ... and lost one. Then and only then did I find myself in weekly counseling sessions, diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and anger issues. I remember asking my counselor why my hands shook so badly that I spilled coffee all over her chair every week for several months. She said it was my fight-or-flight response, and it indicated how much work we had to do.

Today, I am grateful to be alive. I found that razor in my dresser drawer about 5 years ago, and finally threw it away. My well-meaning friend was one of my biggest advocates when the domestic violence was revealed. I have ceased taking anxiety medications, and most days I find life manageable or treatable with uplifting music.

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day. Most people don't know my story; I was never healed enough to tell it. But I'm ready now. Because mental health issues have a cause. Left untreated, mental illnesses create victims. But mental illness is as treatable as the common cold. It may be more permanent, but you are never alone and you are never unloved. Please talk to someone you trust, a professional, or both. I wonder how different my life would look if I had picked up a phone instead of a razor all those years ago.

To my friends who support Bell Let's Talk Day ... thank you! I cried happy tears today when a friend sent every text message one word at a time, racking up the nickels for mental health support. Together, we can end the stigma. And we will. 💝

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Disconnected

Disconnected: It summarizes how I feel these days. I've never been so actively involved in a community and so isolated at the same time.

I live in a village of approximately 200 people. Part of the charm was that it was so tiny, we would have no trouble knowing all our neighbors in a very short time. It turns out that the neighbor who assisted us in buying a home here was acting on a business decision, and not the friendship I'd had my heart set on. The remainder of the neighbors are friendly, but content to wave as they walk by; nobody stops for coffee on the freshly-constructed patio.

I work full-time. As former receptionist in our office, I know most of the staff by name, with the exception of a few newer faces. Still, given the climate I work under at the moment, I feel guilty leaving my seat unless it's work-related; this limits my social interaction to 30 minutes in the lunchroom each day. I look forward to that time more than you know! I schedule my time in the lunchroom when I know there will be a table full of guys who love to forget cell phones exist. They actually have a conversation and spend a lot of time laughing; those few brief moments together make the work day so much more bearable!

I serve on the board of a local Youth Center, after moving on from the local daycare board. Speaking of daycare, this is the part of my social life that's so much fun! It was warmer outdoors this week, so windows were opened for fresh air. The moment my husband and I reached the gate of the daycare property, we could hear kids squealing; we instantly knew what was happening inside. We opened the door to find the director of the daycare with hands on hips and a crooked grin. "[Your son] is not here," she said, adding "They all disappeared. You must have heard them from outside." Oh we heard them! And we know that they run and hide because they love being chased down and kissed and tickled and boogied to exhaustion. Or maybe that's just the second highlight of my day ... who knows?!

I attend church regularly, which translates to once a week in this corner of the world. I miss my Sunday evening service, my weekly involvement with the Youth Group, choir practice and ladies' meetings. I had asked God to "set the lonely in a family" (Ps. 68:6), but it's hard to build a relationship that feels anything like family on mere minutes per week. I remember how relieved I was when I realized my first crew of kids was old enough that I was not required to spend half of every service in the church nursery; alas, I am back at Square One. Although not in the nursery, I am required to keep tabs on a very busy little person, which hampers quality conversation. Thus I find myself greeting people for seconds at a time, ineffectively trying to communicate my love for them in rushed "Hello, how was your week? I'm good thanks - see you later! Praying for you," mouthfuls of good intentions.

I know that part of the problem is living in such a rural area. Everything is a drive; people are busy rushing to the city each weekend for groceries and diapers and clothing. Connection to humans outside of your home requires intentional planning and some degree of juggling to get everything done. Text messages are quick and easy, and social media fools many into thinking they are connected to hundreds of people simultaneously. The kind of friendship I'm looking for goes deeper.

I want a friend who will make me a better person. Challenge me to higher ideals. Encourage me in my marriage. Cry with me on hard parenting days. Ask me if I've talked to Jesus about it yet. Cheer for my career goals. Tell me I made a crappy cup of tea/coffee. Look me in the eye and tell me that menopause is no big deal, and that empty nesting isn't as hard as I'm making it out to be. Then call me to apologize when you figure out I was actually right about both of those last two topics. :-)

No man is an island, they say. I'd be content to be an island if a stray survivor would swim up to short now and then. And yes, I'm going to have another little talk with Jesus about this. Something tells me that getting my connection with Him right will be key. Perhaps this disconnected feeling is really just because we were never meant to call this world home. <3

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Conflict & Me

I have never handled conflict well. I have been known to handle conflict with tears, self-defense, lashing out, or shutdown mode. My favourite technique, though, has been avoidance. I would rather not talk to you than fight with you.

I cannot identify for certain when this preference was established or what caused it. Perhaps it stems from having a number of people in my life who were physically violent when they were angry; who wants to confront these people about anything, ever?! I can only say that I noticed the pattern several years ago, during yet another family blowout. Social media accounts were disconnected, communication severed, and some strange version of peace prevailed. The problem is that nothing was actually resolved.

On a professional level, it has always been fairly easy to avoid conflict. My line of work is great for staying at a desk all day, popping in earphones if required for sanity, and sticking to the task at hand. Still, I requested training in conflict resolution, as I knew this to be an advantageous skill on all levels of life.

I have yet to receive any training in this area. What I have received are numerous opportunities to practice. Most often, I have stuck to what I know: avoidance and disassociation; however, my heartfelt goal to establish and preserve relationships demands more of me.

I have been working my way through an independent study of  Danny Silk's book, "Keep Your Love On". I started this weeks chapter last night, and was thrilled to discover it's about conflict! Finally: some sound, Scriptural teaching on this subject!

The timing could not be more profound. We are discussing a possible visit to the East coast for the first time in 5 years, and I am riddled with anxiety over this. An estranged community member with whom I was once close has seemingly extended an olive leaf. Professionally, I have reached a point where either the atmosphere will change, or the environment will change. With the physical effects on my health recently, I know it is time for me to make changes.

In speaking with a friend this morning, I was surprised to hear the following revelation come out of my own mouth: You can't pass the test if you never write the test. I won't just wake up one day feeling confident that I can handle conflict now: I first have to walk through a successful conflict resolution. So it is, that as much as I dread the thought of it, I am determined to finally tackle a situation head on. Maybe even two or three ... but let's not get hasty in committing to more than one just yet. 😁

And now it makes sense that the word impressed upon me so heavily for this year was "DEFINED". It is so easy to let circumstances, history, or other people's opinions define us! I refuse to believe that every relationship in my life is temporary, and will fall apart at the first sign of disagreement. I refuse to believe that I will never be more than my biggest mistakes: I already am more than these. I refuse to accept one person's negative opinion of me as fact ... especially if their opinion of everyone else is negative, too.

Effective immediately, I'm making the change. I will be defined by the lessons learned, rather than the mistakes made. I will be defined by God's vision of me, rather than people -- after all, He made me and knows me more intimately than they. I will not be defined by any single moment - my best or my worst - but by each step I take toward being the best version of me.

Effective immediately, I will practice what I have preached to my children for several years: Know who - and Whose -  you are, and walk in it. You'll hear me coming; I'll be singing along with the Gaither Vocal Band:

On the authority of the Holy Book, I rise up and take my stand;
I'm a blood-bought child of the risen King Who is the great I-AM.
I'm an heir to all that Heaven holds, and no principality
Can ever take away my royal crown, given on His authority.

I will walk the hard roads. I will pursue deeper relationships. I will achieve a healthier state of mind. I will live this life!