Category Archives: Mental Health
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 .
Since our society seems to have rejected rules of behavior, I’d like to pass on some guidelines:
1. If you don’t want the one or ones you love doing it, DON”T DO IT! 2. If you don’t want your grandparents knowing about it, DON’T DO IT! 3. If you don’t want your present or future children knowing about it, DON’T DO IT! 4. If you don’t want it on the front page of the local paper, DON”T DO IT!
5. If everyone doing this will make the world a worse place for your children and grandchildren, DON’T DO IT!
6. If you don’t want to spend your nights in old age overwhelmed with regret about it, DON’T DO IT!
7. If you don’t want others doing it to you or those you love, DON’T DO IT!
Let me put this another way:
A. What so ever you do now, will come back to bite you on your ass! B. What may be great fun after drinking four beers or smoking pot will make you feel like the fool you were – sooner than you think. C. The world has become very very tiny. What so ever you do in secret will eventually become public knowledge. D. Even senility will not protect you from the embarrassment and regret of flash backs in old age. E. God forgives us, but he doesn’t take away all the natural consequences of bad choices. F. The people who love you may want to forgive and forget, but may not succeed in time for it to matter.
I am almost eighty. While these things may not be self-evident, I KNOW them to be true.
The mind is a mystery. My mother had Alzheimer’s before we knew what it was. Three things seem to out last memory and logic: humor, music, and faith.
When mom was living with us, one day when I was stressed out doing bookkeeping at the kitchen counter, she insisted on starting dinner. So, finally I put a large pot of water on for corn on the cob and a small pot of water for one package of frozen broccoli and told her to just put them in when the water came to a boil. She called me over later saying, “Something’s wrong, this doesn’t look right.” She had put the corn in the small pot where it was now dry and burning and the broccoli was in free float in the huge pot of water. My response was not kind or spiritual. I shook my head in despair and exclaimed, “Oh, my God!” Quick as a flash, she responded, “Call on someone you know!”
Some years after her death, I was leading devotionals at a nursing home. I kept wondering as I spoke, whether I should call a nurse to check pulses, since most of my “listeners” seemed comatose. But when we started singing the old hymns, they all came to life and knew every word of every hymn.
It may be music or it could be faith. Because one of my favorite nursing home stories is about an elderly woman whose memory was failing. A caregiver was helping her get into her nightgown, when the woman asked her, “What is my name? I seem to have forgotten who I am.” Before the caregiver could reply, the woman smiled and pointed to a picture of Jesus on the wall, and said, “Never mind, he knows who I am and that’s all that matters.”
I stay on the edge of just being totally overwhelmed with sadness about every level of life. Struggling to do the simple task I set myself of gathering information, mostly by computer, on local homelessness and what is being done to help has shown me just how inadequate I am at simple tasks. If there is any way to complicate simple tasks, I seem to find it. And my love/hate relationship with my computer brings me to my knees daily. Not being able to remember the name of the street where I live when I was asked yesterday, didn’t exactly help my sense of competence. Seeing how overwhelming the problems are for so many, who live on the precipice of homelessness even here in a small town, is heartbreaking and scary. Across America the waiting list for any sort of housing with government help ranges from one to ten years. The money is there, the housing is not. Watching America become controlled by fearful haters with no real perception of either the immediate consequences of their actions on innocent people or the long range global political and economic destabilization is devastating. Recognizing how un-Christ-like Christianity has become, or perhaps how blind I have been to the fact that most Christian groups have never been like Christ, makes me question who will bring Christ to the young now. Dealing with the ever increasing problems of aging, both mental and physical, and realizing they aren’t going to get better doesn’t help me wake up rejoicing. Insurance policies are our largest expense each month, but still having to pay over $400 dollars for just one heart medicine for a month, makes me wonder which will run out first, my husband’s heart or our money for the medicine. Realizing that our next line of defense, our children, some how got old while we have been busy worrying about ourselves, makes me both nervous and sad. They are already having many of the same problems we are.
But recently my teen-age granddaughter, Sophie, told me about a girl at her school who was having a screaming match with another girl and finally shouted, “If I didn’t know Jesus, I’d knock you on your ass!”
Well, friends, if I didn’t know Jesus, today I’d just lie down and become a speed bump.
But, God bless God, Jesus hangs in there even with wusses like me. Thanks be! PS Sorry, I realize this was garbage dumping. But I do feel better. I promise I’ll write something more hope filled soon. Sometimes, I just have to defuse the inner boiling bubbles by letting them out and looking them straight in the eyes.
During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.
Heartbreaks that have brought grace:
The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.
Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.
Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.
Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.
Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.
Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.
Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:
The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.
These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life.
Differences in personality types can have a lot of effect on marriages. I respond to the outer world emotionally first. My husband responds with logic. I am an extrovert, so I tend to react openly immediately. My husband is an introvert and he only responds after much thought. When I would get either excited or upset about something and babble over about it, he would sit back, cross his arms and put on his “here come the judge” face. After several moments of waiting, I ‘d get frustrated, either disappointed that he didn’t share my enthusiasm or angry because he was looking judgmental. And unfortunately his first logical problem solving response is to focus on the practical problems or negative aspects. After some years of marriage, without realizing it, I began to try to push his buttons just to get him to express a feeling of any kind. The problem with this is the introverted thinker may go years without responding openly to provocation, only to one day reach overload and either explode violently or simply leave and not look back. Fortunately, since we had five young children, I recognized my pattern before my husband reached overload. I have since realized that when asking him for a yes or no decision, I need to give him plenty of unpressured time or he will play it safe and just say “No.” The same with arguments. I now state my case and go wash dishes or do something else while he works out his response, and then gets back to me. Unnatural as this is for me, doing this brings much better results and lessens conflict. I’m pretty sure that it is a total shock to one of the spouses, when marriages disintegrate from unrecognized inborn differences such as these.
When we cannot handle our suffering, we spew forth our frustration and pain on those around us. We are victims of our own suffering, but because we do not know how to handle it, we hurt others while we are in pain. ( quote from Thich Nhat Hanh)
Because of Jesus I know that God has forgiven me. Now, I am praying for wisdom to know how to heal the wounds I have caused and that those I have hurt will also be able to forgive me.
We all have wounds. It is a feeling of loneliness that lurks behind our successes, a feeling of uselessness that hides under the praise we receive ……that makes us grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give. If we want people to give us what only God can give, we become a heavy burden. Quote from Henri Nouwen’s “A Spirituality of Living.”
This has hit me where I live today. I have two daughter-in-laws and a daughter that have always seemed to be Super Women to me. When one daughter-in-law, who has spent most of the last 18 years being an awesome advocate and mother for her children with disabilities and a House Beautiful wife, recently reached the end of her endurance with her marriage, I found myself filled with raging anger at her. An anger that felt like hate. I didn’t understand where it was coming from. I have admired her and had complete faith that if anyone could find a way to make her children’s lives happy and productive, she could. Since divorce means she must work full time, it seemed like betrayal of her children and even of those that love them like we do. And when I found myself unable to help in any significant way because of health issues of aging, I hated myself also.
I know from study and many life experiences that unrealistic expectations of other people embitter those having them and destroy relationships.
None of us is God. We are not miracle workers. And we are not able to love unconditionally as long as we expect ourselves or others to walk on water. It’s an imperfect world filled with imperfect people.
To expect otherwise is to become both embittered and a burden to people already carrying as much as they can.
My most destructive trait is a blind idealism unfettered by reality that leads to disillusionment and hate. God knows our limits. Some are built in and others beaten into us. I must learn to live within human limits, my own and others’. And trust that God can and will accomplish His plans, not mine.