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In the midst of the fire

(Trigger Warning: This post references suicide and depression. If you need help please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)

robin-williams1

My favorite priest once gave us an analogy. He said to us that someone once told him that people who are depressed with suicidal tendencies feel like they are standing in a burning building with flames all around and the flames are growing bigger and bigger, closer and closer. They can’t run through the fire, the flames will engulf them. They stand on the edge, waiting for the moment the flames die down, but sometimes the flames move so close that they cannot escape them any longer and the only way out is to jump. The jump isn’t designed to hurt anyone else or even themselves. The jump is designed to escape the fire that is all consuming. People jump from burning buildings. We instinctively search for an escape from the pain that we know has the potential to destroy our lives. Sometimes the pain is physical. Sometimes it’s mental. Sometimes it’s both.

I think what’s important here is that we must seek help. We must do something to remove the flames, to put out the fire. Mental health is so important, but so gravely overlooked. It is underfunded, under researched, and services are nowhere near what they should be, but they do exist. Help is out there. And it’s important to remember – you know those moments when we are sick with a virus or an ailment where we are in so much pain we can’t move, we can’t take care of ourselves, we can’t get things in order on our own – that’s what it’s like when a mental health issue takes over. It’s not that people don’t want to fight it, it’s just that it seems impossible to do on our own. We have to create support. We have to care about one another. We have to remove the “why can’t you just get over it, we all have problems” mentality and move towards caring about one another and ourselves again. Treat people well. Be good people. Help one another. That’s what we are here to do.

It saddens me tremendously to lose someone who provided so much joy, love, and depth to so many through his work.But thankfully, those things live on. And hopefully we can strive to give those things to those around us – share in the joys and the sorrows, spread love and hope. We all have something to offer. Let’s offer it all with love.

Day 8 – A helping hand (really two…or two thousand)

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The storm surge 24 hours before Isaac was up to the sea wall already. (I don’t know those people who were walking out into the water…I was too scared to do that.)

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The empty lots near where my nephews’ apartment used to be before Katrina. There used to be apartments and houses all the way up through there.

I consider this my first “real” post when it comes to being thankful. But I am thankful to live in a world where people come together to help one another the way we do when disaster occurs. I think it’s a bit hard to explain what it’s like to have the infrastructure you’ve known all of your life disappear in a matter of hours when a storm surge rolls in, but it’s absolutely mind-boggling. I remember after Katrina, I was staying at school taking care of my nephews, because their apartment had been washed away. I brought them back down three or four weeks later, and that was the first time I saw the extent of the damage to the coastline I used to know.

Sometimes when I had gone back home from school to visit I would note how much things were changing as new stores and shopping centers were popping up, new condos along the beach, new restaurants. And even though it was strange, it was a good change. To return to your home to see absolutely nothing recognizable is an extremely hard thing to comprehend. It’s hard to verbalize. The memories we make when we are young are memories that stay strong. The places we used to go, the houses we used to hang out at, they are the way we remember our youth. And when I returned after Katrina, we had to count the streets trying to figure out where we were at because there were no longer any recognizable landmarks half a mile inland. (I live in a city that was not totally destroyed, and in fact sustained considerably less damage than the areas just two miles away from my home where the water literally covered almost the entire city and entire cities just 15 miles away.) Travel was limited, the bridges were washed out. There were barges sitting on top of the store my dad used to own. It’s still surreal to think about, and the recovery more than 7 years later is still ongoing, with much of the homes still not rebuilt and much of the infrastructure not fully restored.

One of the greatest things that we experienced after Katrina was the outpouring of support from people all across the country, and even internationally. People send supplies, came down to help gut the homes that had sustained too much water to be salvaged beyond the studs, helping set-up housing and rebuild homes, bringing food, bringing water, bringing ice and supplies. (In the weeks after the storm, as people see, it takes a long time to fully restore power, and when you have no power, no grocery stores because there’s no power and most of them were damaged down here, the national guard provides you with MRE’s to eat…I was lucky enough to bring food down from school with me, and only ate a few of those.) So all of those little things make a huge difference.

It truly amazes me when I think about how many people came down here, to a place most people didn’t know existed beforehand to give, to provide support and love. And this continued for years. People continued to come down, on spring break, on Christmas break, on summer break. We have an amazing resolve and an amazing willingness to serve those in need here, even though sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. So I am thankful that I live here. And I send thoughts and prayers every day to those affected by Sandy. For us Katrina hit in August. It was hot. It stayed hot. We didn’t have to deal with the cold. We didn’t have to worry about not having a heat source for the snow and freezing days and nights. I can’t imagine having to deal with that. I’m bringing Jack to donate some blankets tomorrow at one of the many donation areas we have set up down here. He said that was what he wanted to give to the little kids who might be cold. And I’m excited he has the chance to give and the heart to care for those who are in need. Recovery takes time, and we are recovering from a lot in this world. There was a powerful earthquake today in Guatemala. We had Sandy last week and a Nor’easter this week. We are still recovering in Japan, in Haiti (you can check out Justin’s work here, he’s about to go to Haiti to help in an orphanage there), in Mississippi and Louisiana, in Indonesia. There is so much happening in the world, and so much need just related to natural disasters where our basic needs hang in the balance. And I’m thankful that we live in a world where we can help and where we do help.

Sameness: Because we are all unique and unknown even to ourselves

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As I have progressed in age… yes, I like to sound like I’m old sometimes, even though I’ve discovered 30 is not so old. I hate it when my parents were right. Not the point. As I have progressed in age, I’ve discovered a wonderful thing about my thoughts. They’ve matured, well somewhat. And I think the nicest thing that has come of this is that answer to the question many of us struggle with when we are young.

So many of us (if not all of us) have a tendency to feel different. We feel like we aren’t quite the same. We feel like we aren’t ever going to be the same. And as a teenager, this can be a daunting thing to deal with. But what’s nice to know now is that we were right. We aren’t the same. BUT, neither is anyone else. And that makes us ALL the same.

We are all unique. We all have something different. We all have something individual to offer. Even if other people have the same qualities, simply by the virtue that no two of us live the exact same life (even conjoinied twins) we all have something a little bit different to give. We are all great in our individuality.

It’s ironic that something that states our separation also states how we are united. We are all just people. We have forgotten things about our lives. There are things we don’t even know about ourselves anymore. Sometimes I find it really hard to remember how I used to think, and I wonder why I felt the way I used to feel. We all grow, we all change. Some more than others, but nonetheless. We have to be willing to accept that we are both different and the same. And that there ARE people who understand us. That we can all offer something worth while. Everything in life changes and fades. Time moves forward. Life goes on. “This too shall pass” is an important thing to recognize. We can all get through our issues and our problems. Especially when we do take the time to realize that despite the fact that we are unique, everyone else is too. And though no two experiences are the exact same, there are similarities. There are good things to be offered forth by others.

We have the ability to thrive in as individuals. But only because we are the same as everyone else. Only because we have something worth giving. So work towards the things you have to give. Find others who have worked to give the same things too. There is a wealth of knowledge in all of us unique human beings. And it’s enough to turn the tides of our lives and point us to where we want to go.

Day 10 – When Fear Takes Hold

This morning my son said, “okay mom, I’m going to go by myself and be brave, because like you told me I could be brave.” This made me happy, because even though what he was doing was going in the dark room and turning the light on himself, he’s 3, and he really was scared. It made me happy that he is listening when I tell him he will be okay and he can be brave even though he’s scared. This is partly because I don’t ever remember actually being brave, just wanting to be. Because of that the post today explains how I spent the majority of my youth, and is an indicator of why I truly hope to be able to encourage strength and courage into Jack, especially in ordinary situations. The post is long, and I apologize, because it’s the majority of the chapter from the book.

I remember being a fearful child. I never, and I mean NEVER got into trouble at school, or anywhere else for that matter. I was always shy. I was scared to talk to people, even to make new friends. I was terribly scared of adults, because I thought they knew so much more about life than me. I assumed they’d be far too busy with important things to do than to actually care what I had to say or want to play with me. All of this is ironic, because the things I remember most happily in my childhood had to do with family vacations, games, and movie nights.

Nonetheless, I always felt less-than for some reason. The only times I remember ever not being afraid were those when I was singing, dancing, or writing. I did love to perform and make at least my parents watch. But singing and dancing were some of the only occasions I was willing to let others watch me, as well. And as you can imagine, I’m sure that all of the adults I performed for absolutely loved my renditions of “The Greatest Love of All” and “(Stop!) In the Name of Love.” At least I had good taste in music.

One of the biggest things that scared me as a child was the thought of eternity. I didn’t understand it. At 8, I remember something coming on TV that had this shot of the universe where the show or commercial talked about eternity, and I simply burst into tears in the middle of the den where we were all watching TV. I didn’t understand how anything could last forever or how if something did last forever there was really no beginning. It was something that truly made my brain hurt, and I had no clue how to handle it.

I remember my parents telling me it would be okay. They told me God loved me and because He did everything would be fine. I didn’t have to worry. But I don’t remember ever reconciling any of those feelings. That fear stayed with me. My desire to hang onto my family and my friends in this form was far too strong to allow any willingness to let go. I liked being alive. I knew how to understand a world with limits. It was a world without limits that baffled my mind, and created an uneasiness I couldn’t let go of.

About 3 years later, the most devastating event in my life to that point occurred. One of my family members was murdered. I remember during the period around this time, maybe the week or two before finding out, I could just feel a change in the air. I remember asking my mother if anyone in our family had ever been kidnapped or killed prior to my knowing anything was going on.

She told me no and asked what my brother had been telling me. He was 18 at the time, and I suppose had been informed that my uncle had been reported missing. I guess they decided it was time to tell me, and so they did. I remember seeing the news one evening. On it they showed that a set of remains, mostly bones, had been discovered in the woods a few towns away. At the end of the segment they showed a picture of my uncle and noted that he was still missing. I remember looking at my mother in her chair; we were the only two in the room. She started to cry.

To that point, I couldn’t ever recall seeing her do that. I knew something bad was going on. It didn’t take long for them to confirm the body was his. I remember fear immediately enveloping all of the areas it hadn’t previously.

As with any time there is a death, the fragility of life made its presence well known in my head. However, when the event that takes place is something as careless, as thoughtless, as disgusting, as completely unnecessary as these senseless acts are, the knowledge that the end of our journey may be up to someone else is the most unsettling part.

It does not matter what I do, if someone stands in front of me with a gun, he has a very easy means to stop my heart from beating. If someone is set on stopping me today, in the end, he has the capability to do so. And each person has the means to do so simply by virtue of being here. Every single one of us here has the capacity to do something amazing and something unspeakable. We all live in this paradox of extremes.

I didn’t know how to deal with that, so instead of talking to someone about it or finding some way to get help which can be difficult at 11, I chose to close off. I never went anywhere, or very rarely did. I had very few friends, although part of that can be blamed on the treacherousness that is middle school. I lost a way of understanding how a God that I was told loved me, therefore he’d protect me, wouldn’t protect my family. It seemed cruel. I was scared of life, mostly because I was scared of death. And I was scared of the power that other people had in my life.

When we stand on the edge of that platform looking through that barely veiled line that distinguishes between life and death, the presence of the ultimate extremes – love and fear – reveal themselves. They call out loudly and pull at us by what seems like a tangible force. And the tool that becomes the deciding factor on which side we’re really going to lean toward is self-worth. As I said before, even as a child, I always leaned toward the side of fear.

I don’t know what happened that I stopped believing I could be anything. I don’t know why I stopped believing I was worthy. Maybe it really did have something to do with my inability to comprehend the universe or the God I was praying to. But as I stood there to choose, I chose fear. And from that point forward, fear would lead my life.

Ironically, a good portion of what happens to us is likely due to our self-fulfilling prophecy trait. I wanted to feel bad, and in turn I did. Some of my friends were depressed, and I wanted to be too, so I chose it. I spent a lot of time feeling bad about feeling bad, which just made me feel worse. It’s a spiraling effect. Because, if I know that feeling bad is unnecessary, if I were really a good person, if I were really worthy of anything, then I’d go ahead and do something to change it, right? I was afraid, and I used it perfectly. It manifested itself through everything. I never had boyfriends. I wasn’t a good friend. I stopped trying in school, although I was competitive enough to make sure I did better than my siblings.

Most of the time, I just felt sad because my life wasn’t different. I never considered doing anything to change it. I sat happily in my misery, and never pursued anything that was a stretch. Who wants that disappointment? And I stayed just as I was the day before every single day. I didn’t get into trouble, but I didn’t do much of anything worth doing either. I simply was. And that was all.

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