Category Archives: Mental Health
by Sean Dietrich
It’s the day before my birthday and it’s cold in Coosa County, Alabama. Lake Martin never looked so good.
You won’t care about this, but fifteen years ago I didn’t know my purpose on this planet. Today, I’m middle-aged, and I still don’t know—only, now I have a bad back.
This morning, I ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel, it should be noted, doesn’t have the greatest biscuits, but in a pinch they’ll keep you alive.
An old woman and her daughter sat at the table beside mine. The woman was in a wheelchair, with messy hair. And talkative.
“That man needs to shave!” she hollered.
Several people in the room giggled.
Cute, I was thinking, looking around for an abominable snowman.
“He needs to SHAVE!” she shouted again, this time in my general direction.
“Mama,” gasped her daughter. “Be nice.”
I smiled at the old woman. And that’s when it hit me. This lady was yelling about me.
I am the Bigfoot.
And I became a middle-schooler again. It was like a bad dream, only without the corduroy pants and the Barry Manilow music.
The woman’s daughter apologized. But I told her it wasn’t necessary.
The old lady went on, “Your face looks like a big, fat bear!”
Precious memories. How they linger.
Eventually, she calmed and I finished breakfast in peace. She, more or less, forgot about me—until I stood to leave. Then, she noticed me again.
Her old passions reignited.
“Go shave your dumb face!” she hollered.
The daughter whispered to me, “I’m SO sorry, my mother has no filter.”
I got into my truck and took a few breaths. I looked into the rearview mirror.
I don’t know what that woman might be going through. Maybe she’s not in control of her mind. Maybe she’s had a traumatic experience involving too much hair.
Either way, all I could see in my mirror was a chubby middle-schooler who looked like Cousin It. I saw a boy I’d almost forgotten. A mediocre athlete, a redhead, a C-student, a face like a Pilsbury ad.
My birthday is on the horizon, I’m thinking, and some woman just called me ugly. In public. Repeatedly.
It started in my belly and went to my throat. I laughed. Hard. I don’t know why. The universe has a sense of humor, I guess.
Funny, what words can do to a man. Simple, little words. They can make you feel good. Or bad. Or they can make you feel like the mascot for U.S. forest fire prevention.
So my purpose in life. I still don’t know what it is. But I can tell you my aspiration: to be nice.
I don’t have any grand plan. No big ideas. I just want to be the fella who smiles more than he doesn’t.
If you ask me—which you didn’t—the world has enough people who have figured life out. They’re smart, prudent, with four-car garages.
That’s not me. I can’t even remember how to play Bingo. But I do know the person I want to be. I want to be the man who hugs strangers, pets stray dogs, and uses nice words. A man you might pass on the street, then say to yourself:
“Look, there goes a nice guy…
“Who just happens to look like Sasquatch.”
(I get Sean Dietrich’s posts on face book. They are all right out of his life and ours, simple, touching, funny, and inspiring. Not sure how to re blog so you can follow him also. I copied this. Hope you can find his site from his name. Believe me, I know my day is going to get better when I see a post of his show up on my face book.)
The Beginning of my annual Advent reruns of Christmas posts.
My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family near-by or young families without parents and grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old potted meat sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on silver trays.
When my father died and she passed the Christmas torch to me, I tried to do the same. And I added being active at church in teaching classes and organizing Christmas pageants. My five children and I even spent weeks happily making presents for all their teachers and for all my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had two children and a small apartment and I had five children and a large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in Christian ministry. Mom had set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.
So, pretty much every year, sometime close to Christmas, I would reach my annual Christmas overload, yelling at my family that I hated Christmas and slamming my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night. One year after once again crankily retreating to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning realizing that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk on The Spirit of Christmas to the Women’s Group of another denomination.
I seriously considered calling and saying I had broken my leg, but I figured that was risky. God might have ways to keep me from being a liar.
As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many truly good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it:
Christmas was about being open to receive our much needed Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for us imperfect human beings.
So, I ended up simply telling the women the whole story of my pattern of Christmas breakdowns, my panic over giving the talk, and what I thought God was saying to me in all this. It actually seemed like everyone there could relate very well to my experience. Then, for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving dirty socks under the Christmas tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the meaning of Christmas.”
Now, really! Dirty socks under the Christmas tree?
Of course, mother arrived, guests arrived, children were freed from school and Christmas Eve arrived with the stress building and with me once again tensely rushing around. As I was putting laundry away in a bedroom close to our great room, I heard my mother ask,
“Eileen, why is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?”
I got goose bumps. I could almost feel Jesus standing there with His hand on my shoulder, gently shaking His head. I dropped the laundry on the bed and hurried to stop my mother from removing the sock.
“Mom, leave it there. Let’s get a cup of coffee and sit down, right now, to read the Christmas scriptures to remind us of what we’re celebrating.”
Now, each year all through the Christmas Season, I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and watch expectantly for Him to come some way, perhaps even in a dirty sock under the Christmas tree.
Love makes us vulnerable. But it’s a love that enables us to feel another’s pain, not a love that enables anyone’s destructive behavior. Suffering because we love is what Jesus did for us and he showed us there is a resurrection not only from suffering, but from death itself. If we aren’t willing to suffer because of loving, we end up alone without love. That’s the definition of hell.
What a week! My husband’s supposedly simple medical procedure with a one night stay ended up in a panic, two operations, and six days in the hospital so far.
I had an interesting, but guilty, thought today after spending 24 hours around the clock for five days in one room with my husband of almost 59 years.
……It may be easier to die for someone, than to live for them…………..
Nurse Norman, I am not. Quiet, I am not. Inclined to wait for introverts to answer Doctors and nurses’ questions, I am not. Able to wiggle and struggle up from a low couch and a deep sleep quickly and cheerfully, I am not. Used to impatient orders, no longer disguised as polite requests, I am not. Patient and acquiescent when very tired and told to do things I consider silly, I am not. Anyway, you get the picture. Thanking God that our children have come to the rescue of a reasonably happy marriage under serious stress!
I really do understand the why of my husband’s side of this, since I have been on the other side of this equation. But understanding and dealing graciously with someone you love’s responses to stress at the same time as trying to deal with your own, is a new challenge for us. Somehow in the past, it seemed to work out so that we got to take turns. Now simultaneous health issues of old age are becoming more frequent and that’s a whole new ball game. We’ve done so well in the past at keeping our sense of humor, that during one ER visit, the nurse said, “You do realize this is an emergency?” We laughed and said, “Yes, but we do this so often now, we’ve learned to use humor to get us through our crises.”
Five days of coming through a totally new life threatening experience and still not understanding why it happened, plus realizing the doctors didn’t know either, is not only frustrating, it’s scary. And one doctor wanting to send us home having to cope with unfamiliar and unappealing procedures that don’t seem important to him, because they are no longer life threatening, doesn’t really make the stress less.
Happily, Julian is on the mend. Our children living in the area were with us when this experience became traumatic and now the out of state ones have come in town for the weekend. So, I am home unpacking, running wash, thawing a roast, freezing some of the vegetable soup I made the day before we left for the surgery, organizing, and venting on face book, while our children take turns being there at the hospital with their exhausted and frustrated dad. Hopefully he will be coming home tomorrow and I will be able to welcome him with a peaceful spirit, a cheerful heart, and a rested body.
Years ago, there were times when I seriously questioned the wisdom of an impractical klutz like me having five children. But boy, am I celebrating it now.
Americans are becoming emotional terrorists. We publish totally false information on social media without checking on it’s validity. That is slander. It’s immoral. We have degenerated from arguing logically on issues to name calling and ridiculous irrelevant criticism of any one remotely related to people we disagree with. We are shrinking to the level of moral gnats. And it not only accomplishes nothing positive, it alienates us from one another more deeply than ever before, since the civil war. We aren’t just targeting the politicians we disagree with, but one another. For me face book has been a wonderful source of information about friends and family, photos of grandchildren, connection to family living in other countries, and virtual travel to places I’ve never been. In the last two years I have been more home bound by both my own health issues and my husband’s than I have ever been in my life. The internet and face book have been a great blessing. But now, trying to wade through all the political posts, advertisements, and memes someone else chooses for me takes more time than I have to spend for finding the things I want to see or read. Perhaps we should set up our own face book pages as ones limited to one or more of the following: politics, or spirituality, or jokes, or cute animals or travel experiences, or mental health, or venting, or personal ones just relevant for family and friends. I really need to cut down on the vitriol I have to wade through on my face book page. At my stage of life, there are many serious personal challenges that I have to face each day. Some people may find an escape from personal struggles and our sense of the helplessness of individuals in our modern world through a vicious verbal war on politicians and the people who support them. I don’t. It just adds to my sense of helplessness and vulnerability. Discussions with accurate and comprehensive information are helpful. Writing our representatives to express and give logical support for our opinions on policy is a vital part of a democracy. Peaceful protests like those of Martin Luther King Jr. have been an effective part of the democratic process. But it’s beginning to look like we lost the patience, self control, and commitment needed for those some time ago.
Finding what we love and have the talents for takes longer for some of us than others. We may have a lot of small talents and interests, so we tend to move from one project or job to another.
Often those who naturally have good study or work habits will out-perform those that appear to have more talent or higher IQ’s.
And lack of confidence can cause us to be over sensitive to suggestions for improvement, making us unteachable and leading to discouragement and giving up.
But, when we combine our natural abilities and focus those on what we value most, it makes a huge difference in how well we do.
Then motivation becomes the key to perseverance. And even those of us who hate detail and repetition can manage to do the necessary nitty-gritty to accomplish what we consider important.
PRIORITIZE: What interests and energizes you most that you are reasonably competent to do?
FOCUS: Identify resources of time, money, space, training, materials, and support people needed to accomplish this.
PERSEVERE: Don’t give up if you fail. Learn from your mistakes. Get help when you need it. Constructive criticism is instruction. Be realistic in your goal.
Today I am realizing that when our children or couples we love divorce, there’s a mourning period involved. Particularly with friends that we only knew when they were married. We have to mourn and let go of those we have loved in relationship. It has nothing to do with thinking they should or shouldn’t divorce. It just involves coming to grips with the differences.
With a child we knew and loved long before they married or divorced, we at least have something to look back to, but not with the spouse that we only knew as a unit with our child. They simply aren’t the same person now that we have only known. There really is a necessary time of mourning, particularly if we truly came to love them as part of that unit. And mourning involves the stages of grief…..denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
I think recognizing this can help us not bog down hopelessly at any point in the process. I am also beginning to reflect on the possibility that we have to go through a similar process when either people we love or we ourselves change because of aging or illness.
I realize now that I need to cut myself some slack and take time to reflect on the effects of this recent period in my life that includes my own losses of abilities and joys through age and illness, my husband experiencing losses from these also, one of our adult children and a spouse that I loved deeply as a couple for many years now being divorced, and friends that I have loved and only known as a couple divorcing.
The last year and a half have simply been overwhelming and I have been bogged down in emotional denial of some of these things and in anger over others.
Hopefully, recognizing this and my need for grace will help me move through to the peace of acceptance.
This is a face book post by the author, Anne Lamott
We all secretly think we are defective–this is why our parents were unhappy, or unfaithful, or abusive, or whatever. Believing this gave us our only shot at control in households that were chaotic or cold: If we were the problem, then it meant our caregivers were good parents, capable of nurture and the healthy raising of children. And it meant we could correct our defects, and then our parents would be happy, finally, be nice to each other, and stop drinking.
I have spent 30 sober years healing from this survival tactic, of thinking I am annoying or a screw-up. I have just toured the country promoting a book on mercy, called HALLELUJAH ANYWAY, whose main premise is that if we practice radical self-care and forgiveness, this will heal us and radiate out to our families and communities, bringing peace.
However, I have done something so out there, so On Beyond Zebra, that it drew into question every aspect of that guiding principle (i.e., that I am NOT defective). I thought I was 80% over this. As a child, I agreed to believe it because it helped my family function and helped the other members feel better about themselves, because at least they weren’t screwed-up, annoying me.
But I have outdone myself. I have done something so amazingly incompetent and so profoundly inconvenient to so many people I love that it will allow you to forgive yourself for almost anything. I will be your new gold standard; you will no longer be secretly convinced that you have Alzheimer’s. You will think you are just fine and have been overreacting. You will understand why my son, Sam, so frequently mentions the website A Place for Mom to me.
So: six months ago, I was invited to give a talk at the 2017 TED conference in Vancouver. This was very heady stuff, as sometimes millions of people see these talks online and might want to buy your new book, saving you from financial ruin and having to go live at the Rescue Mission and live on government cheese, which is very binding.
So I wrote and sort of memorized my 15-minute talk, and my various caseworkers worked for months to get me to Vancouver this morning from Seattle, where I did a reading last night.
I got to the airport an hour ago, got out my passport, and tried to get a boarding pass for a flight I’ve been booked on and obsessing about for 3 months.
That’s when I’d realized I had grabbed the wrong passport at home. The expired one.
Therefore, I would not be able to catch a flight to our tense new enemy, Canada, to give the biggest and most important talk of my life.
It is hard to capture my feelings at that moment: terror, shame, self-loathing and catastrophic thoughts about my doomed future.
I texted my agent, ran to TSA, pleaded my case and how I must be HUGELY important (albeit brain damaged) to be giving a TED talk.
No go. And no way to get on board any flight to Canada. I was doomed.
But those 30 years had not been in vain. Because within a few minutes, I had remembered 3 things:
God always makes a way out of no way.
Radical self-care and forgiveness are always possible – always — and always the way home.
And HALLELUJAH ANYWAY is half about how there is nothing outside of yourself that can heal or fill you or make you whole unless you are waiting for an organ. A TED talk was never going to have been able to fill me with respect. That’s an inside job.
I hate and resent this, but it is the truest truth — union with God or Goodness, including our safest, most trusted friends, and deep friendliness and forgiveness to one’s sometimes very disappointing self.
So five minutes later, my agent and the TED people had worked out a plan whereby as I write this my son is flying to Seattle with my passport. He’ll be here in 5 hours. There’s a late flight to Vancouver, and the TED people have created a space for me tomorrow morning out of thin air. Talk about making a way out of no way.
Additionally, I charged $30 worth of medicine, magazines and a sack of peanut butter M&Ms.
I’m not sure what the message of this is. I quoted Samuel Goldwyn in Bird by Bird, who told screenwriters that if they had a message to send a telegram. All I have to offer is this story: that we get to make huge mistakes, and that the one I made this week is almost certainly bigger than any of yours. But neither of us is defective. We are perfect children of the universe, although maybe still a little funny around the edges, with tiny character issues and failing memories. We possess every day the capacity to extend gentleness and forgiveness to ourselves and those suffering nearby.
I am smiling gently at all the miserable frantic people at the airport and telling them I like their hats. I gave a sobbing child my IHOP crayons. (This is the path to world peace.) And I will never, ever hear the end of this from the people who love me. Ever. Believe me. Written by Anne Lamott on her face book page on 4/28/2017.
I promise you I have been off any pain meds except Tylenol for over two weeks. Pain medicine makes my coffee taste terrible for a couple of months after I quit taking it and I am definitely addicted to my coffee. But, as usual for someone who loves thinking about theories or possibilities instead of paying attention to the actual world around her, peculiarities still happen. I got to a doctors appointment recently and as they were taking my blood pressure, I realized I had my blouse on inside out. Of course, me being me, I didn’t keep quiet and just take the first chance alone to right it. The two nurses swore they hadn’t noticed. Which worried me a bit, because I like my medical people to stay aware of the real world in front of them, particularly when I am it.
Then a few nights ago when I was still wearing my back brace at night, I awoke to make one of my usual trips to check out the plumbing, but couldn’t get up because I was unable to move my arms. Luckily before I panicked, my attempts to free my arms made that noise peculiar to Velcro being tugged loose. It happens that the two wrist braces I wear at night for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have Velcro similar to that on the back brace. Somehow, I had Velcroed my arms to my body. I woke my husband up with my laughter, but managed to get loose without help.
Strange things also come to memory when I have way too much time on my hands while recuperating from back surgery.
Today is my brother’s birthday. He’s my only sibling and ten years younger than I am. I was trying to remember anything about the day he was born, but couldn’t. I don’t know if I just wasn’t sufficiently impressed with that event or perhaps I was significantly depressed and blotted it out. Because I do remember riding the train with my very pregnant mom back to St. Louis when my Dad got a job there after being in the army. She was very uncomfortable in the old Pullman berth and needed my pillow. I think that was my first clue that this wasn’t going to be like getting a kitten.
I remember living on the seventh floor without air conditioning and only having screens on the windows. And when my brother was about eighteen months old I found him sitting on the window sill in the bedroom with his face pressed against the flimsy screen. I didn’t scream or grab for him, but I did get mom. Then we had to live with those child gates on all the windows. Kind of like a kiddie prison decor.
He had natural talent in art and music, but as the “late” child never got lessons. Where as, my nun piano teacher after three or four years suggested they try me on the drum instead. Life is not fair, is it? But when he was twelve and I had married and moved to Tennessee, I sent money for him to go to the Fine Arts Museum for Art Lessons. Unfortunately, I think my mother quit driving him to them, when she found out they were doing life painting of nudes. Oh, well, at least I tried.
I have wonderful memories of the many years he came to visit us in our hundred acre, Winnie the Pooh wood. We two city kids, that had lived seven floors up, thought we’d died and gone to heaven. He enjoyed the country even more than I did, being willing one summer to haul water in buckets up to our garden during a drought. I would have just waved good bye to those tomatoes from the house. I fell in love with all the weeds and rocks and spent years making crafts with them. And he would bring an empty suitcase to take back full of rocks and fossils from our creek. He taught a class in geology in Houston which only had sand and shells.
He and I would talk until sun-up about everything from politics and religion to physics and geology. He had so much passion about everything, I loved every moment. When he was teaching in a huge high school in a very impoverished neighborhood, he was constantly at war with the administration, who seemed only interested in their own survival, not the kids welfare. I know he was a good teacher, because when he retired, the adversarial principal told him grudgingly that no matter what they asked his students, (one of whom had held a knife to my brother’s throat once), they would never “rat” him out!
So, happy birthday to my “BRO” who all my friends think is much funnier than I am. He needs to be the writer in the family, but since retirement, he has opted to fight nature and turn a flood plain into a botanical garden. Not too different from teaching .