I’m Back

Santorini, April 2018; honeymoon

I’m back. In the five months I’ve been off work, I had aspirations to write a book, blog more, figure out my true calling in life, go on some wonderful adventures, get involved and volunteer more in the community, and most importantly find my voice. I had some great starts, but a small inner voice of self-doubt kept nibbling away at my resolve, and a bigger voice called “life” kept me grounded in the real issues of the day.

No matter how much I try to reinvent myself, those cleverly disguised doors that appear to be opening to new vistas bring me right back to where I started. As much as I want to deny it or fight it, or run from it, I am forever a mental health advocate.

Since December, I have been trying to lend support to loved ones as they struggle with serious mental health crises. It is heartbreaking and yanks at my soul in a way that is hard to describe. It brings me back to the days of feeling helpless as I witnessed my mom’s descent into paranoid schizophrenia. In the years since then, I have learned that mental illness comes in many forms, major depression, suicide, mood disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, eating disorders, panic attacks and anxiety, none of them less terrifying or heart breaking than the other. The people I know who have struggled with one of these are too many to count, and I know that each person is doing the best he/she can with limited resources.

When it comes to helping someone who is going through a mental health crisis, I feel rather inept, as I walk the finely dotted line between thinking I have the answers to knowing I don’t have any answers, unsure about whether to encourage or dispense advice, to show false optimism or tough love. Shoving my own personal feelings deep down so that my disappointment doesn’t show through when it seems like someone I love is slowly being ripped away from me by some mysterious illness.

I have been in a dark place before. I have worked my entire life to never go there again, knowing the fragility and resilience that exist within me. I have invested countless hours in counseling, reading self-help books, attending support groups and conferences, developing my spirituality, and conceding to taking a tiny pill to treat my anxiety disorder. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t work as hard when faced with their own mental illness, but then I grew up with the consequences of ignoring such illness first-hand, watching my mom go in and out of one crisis after another. Her choices were limited and there was no simple answer. Her only real choice was to be treated like a criminal, and who would want that?

I am hoping soon to become part of an organization that is working on a small piece of the puzzle to help correctly diagnose and treat mental illnesses. I wonder if I have the will to keep on immersing myself in mental healthcare, having spent a lifetime trying to figure it all out with some moments of real sadness. Yet, I don’t seem to be able to get away from it; therefore, I must find the strength to forge on, searching for better treatments and educating people to fight the stigma that works against finding answers.

So here I am, back again. A mental healthcare advocate, blogger, and warrior of sorts.

Advertisements

The Mountain’s Healing Powers

“Some of us are drawn to mountains the way the moon draws the tide. Both the great forests and the mountains live in my bones. They have taught me, humbled me, purified me and changed me.”
― Joan Halifax

I find that when the soul needs healing, the mountains and forests are there to embrace me.

Winter of the Soul

“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.”  — Robert H. Schuller

Holiday Survival for Blended Families

“I sustain myself with the love of family” – Maya Angelou

The last of our holiday guests departed this morning (well, not the last, but the next wave will be my 2 daughters and grand-daughter, whom I can’t get enough of).  The departure of the others came just in the nick of time, as today may have been the day I decided to run away from home.  As much as I enjoy our families, and as much as I love my fiance’, apparently there is a limit to that love when too much time is spent trying to blend our two families while drinking egg nog and Manhattans. I think the problem isn’t so much being with everyone, but the non-stop being with everyone in close quarters.

One would hardly recognize the underlying tensions when scrolling through the Facebook photos of our family gatherings. Like everyone else, we are proud of our clans and want everyone to know it, so there is nothing but smiles the moment the photo is snapped.  But the photos don’t tell the story of the time spent bickering over whether the casserole dish should be hand-washed or just shoved in the dishwasher, or the mortifying accusations of being the one who farted. Nor do they capture that embarrassing moment when I spilled an entire glass of wine on my fiance’s white shirt.  They don’t capture the hurt feelings when his son can’t look at me or speak to me, or the slight sadness of being left out of memories shared from their previous lives together, or of seeing photos of the large gathering of my ex-in-laws whom I don’t get to see any more. But the joys of blending families are as plentiful as the difficulties, and I am grateful that for the most part it went smoothly.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit  that part of me struggles with pangs of jealously towards my fiance’. His family has not faced many of the issues mine has, with mental illness, setbacks, and tragedies. They are a tall, good-looking, intelligent, successful bunch, and there is a lighthearted air about them as they go about life, expecting the blessings to continue unfettered by thoughts of having it all taken away at any moment. At least that is what it seems like from the outside looking in.

For me the holiday season also brings with it ghosts from the past, and I find myself missing my brother who passed away in 2008, and my mom, who passed away over 20 years ago. I find myself wishing her bouts of paranoia hadn’t robbed her (or us) of so many chances to enjoy our family gatherings. I try hard to counter this sadness by telling myself they would be pleased that my sisters, father, our children, and I have been able to share so many wonderful experiences together; wouldn’t they have wanted it that way? At times I have twinges of survivor’s guilt which can only be relieved by deep gratitude and love.

Remembering

IMG_2746Today I didn’t make it to work. After two months of taking care of my dad after his surgery, trying to keep up with work, classes, the holidays, and surviving a four-day audit that overlapped with the holidays, (went well – yay!),  I needed one day to wind down.

In the midst of all of these minor aggravations, the unthinkable happened. My friend lost her teenage son in a car crash the day after Christmas. She is one of the sweet, incredible women I have been meeting with for almost a decade now (we call ourselves the Sisters of the Sofa – SOS), having come together through our journey to deal with our anxiety and depression. Our stories are similar yet all slightly different and we are all on paths of spirituality and seeking. These are the ladies whom I might not see for an entire year and yet still know they are always rooting for me and will be there if I need anything. These are the women whom I know will be praying for me, even though I may not be the most spiritual of the group and don’t always turn to prayer myself.

Many times we have sat in our tight knit circle sharing our stories, often about our children. When my daughter was in the hospital after her suicide attempt, these women were there for me, and one even watched her cat for a few weeks until she was able to care for him again. When our children have gone through hard times, we have provided each other with the comfort and support needed to go on. Our tears have been interspersed with laughter, and whenever any of us have had an episode of panic or depression, we know there will be someone there who understands.

My whole being aches for my friend right now.  As my SOS are in the process of preparing for the visitation and services that are coming up, we will do our best to support our wounded sister.  We will be there with our plates of food, tear-stained faces, hugs, and heavy hearts, and leave the rest up to God.

Caring in this Moment

“Maybe this one moment, with this one person, is the very reason we are here on earth at this time.”  From The Caring Moment by Jean Watson

As we continue on our journey of helping my father to heal from his recent open-heart surgery, I am reminded of one of my favorite nurse theorists, Jean Watson. I first became familiar with her when I was taking a nursing theory class. I had become somewhat frustrated with some of the other theories which seemed too complicated to figure out how to put them into practice.

When I discovered Jean Watson’s Theory of Caring Science, I loved her message of authentic mindful caring. The essence of all caring is that brief moment in time when we can truly connect with another human being, and in that moment, create the essential bond that leads to healing at the deepest level.

I am thankful for each member of my dad’s healthcare team who have taken the time to get to know him, listen to him, and care for him.

It is hard to see this man who cared for me all those years in such a dependent state. Sometimes I become impatient with the baby steps he is making.  It is in those moments that I try to remember what is stated best in my favorite meditation by Jean Watson, beautifully illustrated in this Youtube video.

I’m hoping my dear father will be discharged from the hospital today, moving on to the next step into a cardiac rehab center. But it is in his time, not mine, that he will heal.

IMG_2622