One of the Many

This is a hard post to read and contains discussion of suicide. Please use your discretion.

His dark curly hair looked greasy and unkempt, and a scar marked his face. He walked with a limp I couldn’t figure out. Maybe a leg that bowed in the wrong place? His face did not reflect pain, but his gait was slow. Awkward.

The first time I saw Pete* was in the waiting. Waiting for someone to tell me they could take care of me. Waiting for a bed to keep me safe. He was waiting too. Pacing.

 

With exhaustion beyond what I could bear, tears spilling over, I sat in a chair next to the nurse’s station and waited again. I was closer to a bed and medication to help me sleep, but there were details to cover. Blood pressure that needed to be taken. More questions that needed to be asked.

There was Pete. He limped to the nurse from the other direction. He had a room and a bed, but he was looking for his medication. ‘What if I have a seizure?’ he asks. He was quiet but persistent. His face looked beaten down, weary. So very tired.

I was led to my room and finally fell into sleep I was desperate for.

 

With a new day, I sat reading a book in a room that had light and windows and quiet. Pete came in to use the phone. I asked if he wanted me to leave, but he said it didn’t matter. He called someone he was tender with, someone who brought out the child in him. He told her how he had tried everything, and the only option left was electroshock therapy. There was one hospital in town who could provide the right anesthesia and treatment.

He had gone. He had done everything he knew how to do. He was giving his all trying to stay alive. And they wouldn’t take him. 

They told him they only took patients who had been Baker Acted. In our state, that means a person who has been deemed a danger to themself or others. So he told the hospital—the only hope he had for treatment—that he was suicidal.

They did Baker Act him. But instead of treating him, they sent him to a different hospital.

 

The next day we sat in a group. Pete sitting right next to me. He shared another glimpse of his story. He was giving up. After trying so hard to get help, he was going to kill himself when he left. Living with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and depression, he had no friends left. 

No one who knew his story. No one who could drive him to a hospital or sit with him while his brain was shocked back to health. No one who cared whether he lived or died. I sat in horror as he shared his neighbor had offered to sell him a gun so he could take his life.

Pete had been in this crisis-treatment hospital several times before. The last time, he was there for 21 days. Crisis after crisis, hope remained elusive.

 

A few hours later, it was time for me to leave. The right medication had worked. My husband picked me up, and I went home to kids who love me and need me. I went home with hope.

Pete stayed, and I don’t know the rest of his story. I don’t know how long he stayed or if anyone picked him up. I don’t know if he found the strength to keep fighting for the help he needed. I don’t know how the story ends.

But I do know Pete will stay with me for years to come. His face, his hopelessness, his story. I wish I had the chance now, when I have the ability to think again, to tell him that I care. I care about his pain. I care that he was created by the God of the universe and is beloved. He has worth and value, and his life matters. I want to hear his whole story. I want to speak over him his right to hope and help.

 

I am a working mom doing this crazy thing called grad school because my heart grieves for Pete. It grieves that he feels so very alone. It grieves that he is trying hard to stay alive, and a broken system does not help him. It grieves that Pete is only one face of many stories.

Every life matters. Every life deserves love and hope. I do not want to turn my head away from Pete’s reality. I want to love him like Jesus would. I want to love him as if he were Jesus.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 

Matthew 25:35-36

Please think of Pete tonight. Pray for him when he comes to your mind. Pray for his life and for hope to come to him.

The Spinning of the Fan

A week ago today, I was in the hospital.

Not entirely because my body wasn’t working. But because my mind wasn’t.

Sleep had eluded me for two weeks, and the weeks before that had been pretty rocky. Night after night, I would take my sleeping meds and then stare for hours at the spinning of the ceiling fan. Spinning and spinning and spinning. Hours into the night, I would get up and read. Sometimes I would write. Sometimes I would fill my tub with water and soak until I wrinkled.

Around 3 or 3:30 or 4, I would crawl back into bed and try again. Just a few hours would pass before my pseudo-sleep was broken by the garbage man. Or a kiddo. Or simply the sun coming through my window.

I have walked this road long enough to know my non-negotiables. They are what I have learned give me the very best shot of a good day or a good week: I need to get dressed and leave my house every day; I need to connect with someone on a daily basis and see my counselor every week; I need to live in relationship and not isolate; and I need sleep. Lots of good sleep.

What happens when sleep is stolen? When meds and oils and sound machines and cold air and heavy blankets aren’t enough? What happens when I try everything and still watch the endless spinning of the fan?

I broke.

The words of my hope-speaking counselor rang in my head, “Keep yourself safe.” Of all the answers I was hoping to hear, this is the only one I felt I had any control over. Try as I might, I could not make my body sleep. I could not keep thoughts of harm out of my head. I could not make my brain keep track of details to maintain conversation.

But I knew I could keep myself safe.

For weeks I stared at the question. How would I know when I was so sick I needed treatment? I had seen my doctor. I had tried new meds. I was doing my list of good. But it was only getting worse.

Last Saturday, I knew. I knew I was unable to take one more night of eyes wide open on the spinning fan. As physical as depression has been this summer, the mental onslaught finally came. It was pure desperation.

I do not know what makes a brain twist relief into harm. To say my brain does not struggle with ideations of harm would not be true. It would merely be an escape from the absurdity of explaining madness to one who has not walked the same road.

Please do not think less of me. Or of any other person who lives with a brain that speaks lies. Applaud the bravery, instead, of damning those lies with help. Of knowing there are limits and not trying to pretend we can respect them by ourselves.

I texted a friend who has also stood on the edge. He spoke what I already knew but needed desperately to hear. Go.

I am filled with endless words of the two days I spent inside those walls. They will come.

Today, I speak of grace. Of truth. Sometimes asking for help is the very strongest, most courageous thing you can do. I had nothing left from which to fight and yet I slayed. I fought by surrender.

I kept myself safe. That was all I could give, and it was everything.

Every story has peril and victory, pain and joy. Mine is no different, and neither is yours. Help is God’s tangible grace to us. Ask for it. Receive it. Give thanks for its expression.

I am home now, and I am sleeping again. New meds were God’s provision, and there is no shame. I can think clearly again, and the battle in my brain has lifted. My tribe has loved me well and with action. I am so grateful.

Keep yourself safe friends. Listen to your limits and be kind to them. Tomorrow needs you.

The Return of the Black Dog

It’s been awhile. Maybe it’s because when I feel well, I think clearly enough to put thoughts into words that can be heard. When I’m not, I need the space and time of a blank page to piece together coherency.

These words are for me. But maybe for you too.

It has been almost two years since I last felt the suffocating weight of darkness. Two years since hope seemed an illusion. Two years since I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be normal. Bad days showed up, but they also quickly passed.

The bad days have begun to linger again this summer. They have strung together instead of being sprinkled across a calendar.

After eight years of living with this brute, I thought I had the words to talk about it. It’s amazing how sterile those words sound now. Their cleanness robs them of impact. They are neat. And easy. And anesthetized. Try as I might, those who hear don’t seem to understand the cruelty of this beast.

So this is my attempt to describe what depression feels like:

It is physical. So very physical. It builds in my body and holds me with all the force of Round Up, the ride from Joyland, where the walls spun and spun until the floor dropped out beneath. It took every ounce of strength I had to lift my head during that ride. The Black Dog feels an awful lot like being trapped on Round Up. Every movement feels like I’m carrying 1,000 pounds.

Fog thicker than the clouds fills my head. Visibility is short, and it takes all my energy. I can not take in a room. I have to work hard to focus my eyes on the person in front of me. Even harder to not only see the person but process what he or she is telling me. I have very limited minutes to do both.

The fog also robs me of my ability to think. I hear words, but it takes an eternity for the sound to take meaning. When meaning does come, pieces have a hard time sticking together to make a whole. Connections and completed thoughts stumble.

My eyes literally begin to ache, and the middle of my brain physically hurts. Not every time depression visits does my head hurt. But when it does, it is my brain is telling me it’s sick. This summer it has hurt.

In the morning, I wake with eyelids that do not want to open. The fuzzy mind and fog bare down thick and paralyzing. My bed is the cocoon that protects me from the harsh stimuli of reality. With the comforting weight of my blanket and a pillow over my head, it doesn’t matter that I can’t think or respond or want. Reality can come and go. It takes so. much. work. to leave that haven.

Facing the day is overwhelming. So many minutes. All I can think about is when I get to re-enter the safety of my bed.

It is hard to find the words, the analogy, that carries the weight of loss in losing one’s ability to process stimulus. Every word requires monumental effort to understand. Every sound rings like a boom that never stops. Touch that is not constant and firm chafes my nervous system like nails on chalkboard.

Depression has been very physical these past months.

This summer has brought battle to my mind too, but I have been spared the worst of the dark I once knew. I want to hope it is because I recognize the lies depression tells–they come without warning and assault my mind like shrapnel. They dig deep into wounds still visible and remind me of pain long passed. They make me believe the bleeding will never stop. That is danger for me. In God’s grace (because truly it is), the battles for my mind have been brief. Respite has come quickly. Hope in the form of truth has been spoken, by me and by others.

As I crawl into the safety of my bed, I read the same words every night. In this season, they cover me.

The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. . . I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:3-10

Please hear these words: depression is a beast. It is relentless. Most of the time, it is not about anything, but it requires everything. Don’t take for granted that for some it takes a lot of work to stay alive. To keep fighting. To not seek rest in any form it’s offered.

Tonight, I spread out my hands, and I wait for the rain to fall. I hide myself in the One who made me, and I wait like the watchman for the morning light to bring word of his unfailing love. I beg for his good spirit to lead me to level ground.

A Post-Christmas Meditation

It is the day after Christmas, and all is {finally} calm in our house.

The busyness and anticipation is over, and we are settling back into normal. There is no rushing around today. The kids continue construction of Legos and practice with skateboards. New books will be cracked, movies will be watched, and we will re-learn how to slow down.

The whole world moves on today, but I am stuck on Christmas Eve.

We live fairly close to The Morse Museum, which houses the largest collection of Tiffany stained glass anywhere in the world. On Christmas Eve, I drug our family to the Morse for 30 minutes of culture and a four-piece string ensemble.

During our quickly-paced tour, we passed by one window I found beautiful but somewhat common. The youngest asked who it was, and I guessed maybe Abraham and Isaac? We moved on to see other pieces but came back around as we were looking for the exit. That is when I saw the title.

“Christmas Eve.”

christmas-eve

Christmas Eve window, c. 1902
Mable Nast Crawford house, New Rochelle, New York, c. 1911–present
Leaded glass
Tiffany Studios, New York City, 1902–32
Designer: Thomas Nast Jr., 1866–1943

The power of the depiction fell on me heavy with awe and ache. It is the night before Christmas, and God the Father is holding the son in which he has great delight. He is savoring a last few precious moments before sending him into the world. The Father knows what awaits. He know the suffering the Son will endure.

My heart breaks.

Never have I thought about the ache of the Father on Christmas Eve. We experience Christmas with such incredible joy and anticipation. And surely those were true for the Father, as well. But not one time have I thought about the pain of sending his son.

And so, as Christmas moves past and normal returns, I linger. I linger in this moment where a father holds his son and looks at him with a full recognition of the separation to come. I feel the delight of him holding his only child in his arms while also anticipating the pain of the moment when he will have to send him away.

The love of the Father overwhelms me. In this picture it is not sterile. It is not distant or stuffy. It is tender. And it hurts.

On this first day post-Christmas, I am praying we continue to be struck by the very real and powerful love of a Father who would send his son to be flesh. I am praying I remember the tenderness of a moment captured in stained glass far longer than our tree stays up or the tinsel hangs around town.

A belated Merry Christmas to you, friends. May the awe of what happened on that first Christmas continue to move your heart. And mine.

Standing After the Storm

The sky is blue now and only a breeze makes the leaves flit about on our young live oak. You would never know a hurricane passed through two days ago. You couldn’t imagine how the wind whistled through our windows and how that little live oak bent farther and farther as Matthew pushed it to its very edge.

Yesterday it felt like the sun might not ever shine again. But it did. It is.

In the middle of it all, I realized a hurricane makes for a very striking picture of the journey through anxiety.

The day before Matthew arrived was gorgeous. The city was a buzz in preparation, and it felt surreal. There was hardly a cloud in the sky.

I met a friend for brunch, and we sat outside. Those not from Florida can’t appreciate what a rare opportunity that is before mid-November. It was the first hint of a slight reprieve from the sticky days of summer.

The weather was so captivatingly pleasant, I spent the evening soaking in more of it watching the youngest’s football practice. I didn’t need to be there. I just wanted an excuse to be outside.

img_3452-2

The night before Hurricane Matthew

Parents around me shared hurricane stories and tried to assure themselves they had prepared adequately. Those from south Florida spoke with shock at the lack of shutters and boarding. The ones from the north grew in anxiety over how to fit their families in closets while the storm passed.

We were all, everyone of us, anticipating disaster. Catastrophe. Tragedy.

Everything around us looked peaceful and normal, and yet we carried with us the impending sense of doom.

We did not know if we would be ok.

 

Those 24 hours, as Hurricane Matthew strengthened and edged closer and closer to our homes, is exactly what it is like to live with an anxiety disorder. Except most of the time there is no hurricane coming. There isn’t even a storm in the forecast.

It is just a forever anticipation of disaster.

It is always being on the look out for how to be prepared for a catastrophe. It is constantly looking around for how to protect yourself from what could happen.

It is believing that something so cataclysmic is going to happen that I will not be ok.

 

The storm came. We went to bed anticipating only a few hours of sleep before winds began thrashing outside. We were prepared to tarp broken windows and huddle together in closet away from flying glass.

Wind did blow. Hard. It made our windows sing. But we woke with 8 hours of sleep and no broken glass. We even had electricity. The hurricane had moved just 10 short miles east as it came its closest.

Into the afternoon, wind would gust and rain would pour. The live oak in our backyard would lean farther over with every gust. But it continued to stand. The gusts still blew, but with every hour they weakened.

And then it all stopped.

Leaves and limbs littered the street. A few trees didn’t fare as well as our little live oak and toppled into the street. Fences would need to be repaired across our neighborhood. But that was as bad as it got. We were banged up a little, but we were ok.

 

Matthew released the last of his fury in the Orlando area around 3pm on Friday. By the next morning, the sun was shining, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The storm passed, and the sun did shine again.

img_3453

The morning after Hurricane Matthew. 

Isn’t that just like life? We get banged up, but we continue to stand. We really are ok, even with our bruises. Just like a person’s struggle with anxiety.

Hard things come. They do. But rarely is it as bad as our anticipation. Anxiety likes to puff-up catastrophe. It lies about resilience. But we are stronger than we think. We are far more resilient than we fear.

Storms come, but they always pass. And afterward, there is a beauty you can’t appreciate without having sat through the pounding wind and rain. I have more depth, more compassion, more kindness because of storms I have stood through. The world is richer and more inviting than it has ever been.

We are resilient. I am resilient. I might lean a little like our live oak, but I am standing. I have more and more experience that as many storms as come, I will be ok.

Global Suicide Prevention Day

In 2014, 42,773 Americans died by suicide. One of those was my friend Robert. He is not just a statistic, nor are the other 42,772 represented by that number.

The suicide rate in the U.S. has recently hit a 30-year high according to an article in the New York Times. The overall suicide rate in America rose by 24% between 1999 and 2014. And more than 800,000 people die by suicide around the world every single year.

Is that not shocking to you? It’s shocking to me, and yet, I can understand the desperation of each of those numbers.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Let’s be a part of the conversation.

semi-colon

Last Fall I got a semi-colon tattooed on my wrist. To many, it’s an odd little thing (especially my parents). But for me, it’s a victory sign. It’s a reminder that as dark as depression can feel at times, it is only a pause. Not a period. It is not the end of the story.

My story is not over.

I am huge supporter of an organization called To Write Love on Her Arms. To Write Love on Her Arms is “a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

The TWLOHA community was an incredible speaker of hope during days I felt were hopeless. I now join with them in speaking against the stigma of depression and other mental health issues. I want to normalize the conversation.

Each year TWLOHA picks a phrase to champion during Suicide Prevention Week. This year the phrase is “so I kept living.”

It is from a gem of a book called Reasons to Stay Alive, in which the author writes about his own journey through depression and anxiety. It is a must read for everyone who knows someone battling depression (which, statistically, is all of us).

In the book, author Matt Haig writes of standing on a cliff in Ibiza contemplating taking the last step to end his life. “I think life always provides reasons to not die, if we listen hard enough. . . And so I kept living.”

What a great exercise for me to share that I kept living because there are three amazing kids who need their mom.

Because my husband told me, “we’ll get through this together.”

Because I told people when I wasn’t OK, and they listened to me. 

Because a tenacious counselor told me week after week not to underestimate my resilience. He spoke hope over me again and again.

Because I remembered what it was like to love what I do.

Because I had words to share.

I kept living because I knew my life was precious to the God of the universe.

I kept living.

And here I am. I am alive, and I am speaking hope.

If you are struggling today, will you please tell someone? Depression lies. It tells you you are alone, but you are not. You are not alone.

If you want to help someone struggling, would you consider giving to the efforts of To Write Love on Her Arms? This week they have been working to raise $85,000 toward the cost of treatment and recovery for those who need it. One of the counselors investing in that effort is mine. The work is real, and it saves lives.

Join the conversation. Tell someone your story. Keep living.

The Day I Wanted the World to Stop

It was a week ago today I got the text.

“It doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.”

A few hours later came an even harder one. “We’re getting ready to say goodbye.”

My breath was gone. I couldn’t seem to process what I had just read. No. This was a horrible mistake.

Then the sobs came. Deep, heaving sobs. My kids all rushed to me, and I could barely get the words out.

“He’s gone.”

It might be the first time my kids have seen such devastating grief. They knew our friend too, but time had lessened their pictures. It had not lessened mine. They were so sweet to sit with me as I wept and pray with me for our friend to be ushered into the Kingdom with fanfare and rejoicing and love. We prayed for the very first time he would see the face of Jesus.

Deer

Plans were made, and 36 hours later we were on a plane headed to be with a grieving wife and kids. We wanted it all to be a bad dream, but if it wasn’t, we would walk through the unbelievable alongside the family who had shared three years of our lives. We had created so many beautiful memories together. We would walk thru the hard too.

We landed in a bustle of planes, in the middle of a city swirling with life. I watched families gather their bags with anticipation. I saw a workforce moving like any other day.

And I wanted to scream, “Don’t you know our friend just died?!?”

I wanted the world to stop.

I wanted everything to stop and recognize the loss of a deeply good man. A husband. A father. A friend.

How could the world still be spinning as usual? It had all come to a screeching halt for us. I was mad life was carrying on like normal for so many.

We spent two and a half days in the sacred reality of death. We held a family tightly. We spoke words that often aren’t said until moments like this. We looked at pictures and remembered so much good. We laughed.

We played cards and waged Nerf battles with precious kids who are far too young to be without a daddy. We listened, and we loved.

We wept. We wept for our own hearts, and we wept for those were left with a devastating new normal.

And then we honored a life very well lived. It was an incredible privilege.

The world did not stop. It kept whirling around us, and it will keep on going.

My world is different now though. It is sweeter, and it is deeper. My heart hurts so badly, and yet I would not trade it. I am so thankful for the chance to have loved, even if it means we say goodbye.

There was a day not long ago where I would have worked hard to not feel the pain I now know. I would have thought it more than I could handle.

I do not choose that anymore. I choose to feel. I choose to feel deeply in joy and in grief. I choose to feel alive.

We won’t ever forget the days and years we had with a really good guy. We won’t forget the adventuring or the respite he provided. We certainly won’t forget the food and wine we savored together. Love allowed us to share our lives with each other, and it was good. Even now, it is very, very good.

Goodbye friend. We rejoice for the glory you now see. We know there will be a day when we will share wine with you once more. We long for it.