Monday, March 6, 2017

A Very Good Place to Start

Has anyone seen my motivation? I can't for the life of me figure out where I put it...

The urge - no, urge is too strong a word - the invitation to sit and stare out the window for hours is an enticing one today. No, not out the window - the blowing snow and minus a bajillion degree weather is too much dreariness when combined with my present emotional state. 

Days like today are joyless. Bleak. Blank. Dark. Dismal. (Thank you, thesaurus.com) They've come upon me often this winter. The weather, this mental disorder, and the fact that I haven't had a moment to myself in days have ganged up on me today, pushing me down into some dank abyss that I don't know how to find the desire to crawl up out of. 

I guess blank describes it best. I'm not sad, per se, but void of much emotion of any kind. Like Alexander Hamilton, I thought I'd try and write my way out of it. 

But it doesn't seem to be doing me much good today. Minutes tick by as I stare at the blinking cursor on the page.
~~~~~~~~~~ 

I guess I might as well get this revelation out of the way: I lost my "job" recently. (I put job in quotation marks because it was hardly a job - just one hour a day, every school day.) I ended up missing too many days - partly due to physical illness, partly due to mental illness. While they were very compassionate and understanding, we all agreed that they needed someone who could be more consistent. 

I'm disappointed in myself. Embarrassed. Discouraged. Wondering where to go from here; not wanting to go anywhere. A little bit relieved, too. It is what it is. (insert eyeroll emoji)

My life these days is a constant tug-of-war between accepting myself as I am and pushing myself to my limits; between the highs and the lows and trying to keep myself anchored to what I know to be true, even when I can't see it. 

"Faith is hope with a track record, " writes Anne Lamott. I'm thankful for having journalled and blogged and kept gratitude lists over the years - physical evidence that God is indeed at work in my circumstances, that I can return to again and again when I've forgotten or temporarily lost the ability to believe. 

So that's where I'll start. I will NOT let this entire day slip away; I will start with truth, with God - a very good place to start. 




Friday, February 10, 2017

Good-fer-nothin'

Illness and infirmity often give birth to contemplation, generally tending towards the negative or at best the more realistic. Would you agree with that statement? I'm on day three of a migraine that has gone from raging to borderline, and day eleven of a cold/flu that just won't give up. In the process of dealing with it all, some questions and doubts have surfaced that I may have buried at some earlier occasion.

Thanks in part to a stint of unemployment for our family's "breadwinner", I find myself questioning my own usefulness, specifically my employ-ability. Between coughing up lungs and downing many Tylenol, I've been taking a good hard look at reality in terms of what I can reasonably expect from myself. I've been working at my kids' school as lunchroom supervisor for a few months now. On my best days lately, I've contemplated returning to teaching or doing something in the field of education. However, I've come to the (sad?) realization that a regular job is not a possibility for me at this time - maybe never.

It's largely the symptoms of the bipolar disorder that have led me to this conclusion. The medication I've been prescribed has been helpful, but has not made my symptoms disappear, nor is it expected to do so.  My doctor suspects that I've been dealing with this illness for many years, even since adolescence. Perhaps not coincidentally, I have a long history of quitting pretty much everything I've ever started. To put it briefly, I would take on jobs, projects, hobbies, goals, etc... in the "highs" and then let them all go during the "lows".

I don't expect this to change much. This inevitably leads to queries about my ultimate purpose and value. But what's needed here is some adjustment of my own expectations. There are things I've been made and called and equipped to do, and I will pursue those things as I am able to do so. Writing this blog is one of those things. Singing/song writing is another. I will keep my one-hour-a-day school lunchroom job, challenging as it is some days to get myself out of the house for that hour. And I will keep an open heart and mind to whatever God may have for me in the future - with Him, all things are possible.

You may read this and think I've given up, or lost hope. Not in the least, dear Friend! In fact, I have a firmer grip on hope than ever. To "know thyself" holds great power and possibility. And to know my God - even more so! He walks with me through all of this, beside and behind and before. I have this hope as an anchor through the highs and lows - firm and secure.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Honestly?

I've been doing it again. As much as I rail against it, as much as I vow not to do it, I've been doing it again. I've put my happy face mask back on, and have been hiding behind it. AND, I've been avoiding anyone who might care enough to notice and try to get a peek behind the mask.

I attribute it to a number of causes. It's been a ridiculously difficult month - I'm likely in denial a bit. I don't want to sound like I'm whining and complaining - evoking sympathy is not my goal here. And I do want to focus on the positive, because there are always positives.

But I don't want to be fake, inauthentic. There's enough of that in the world, even in my little world - I don't want to contribute to it or even just encourage it by example.

So what's the proper balance? I really don't want to "let it all hang out", but isn't anything less than that less than real and honest?

I dunno.

I've been sick for the past week, with a flu the likes of which I've not experienced in years - thank heavens! I think I've finally turned a corner toward wellness, but it's been the bitter icing on the cake of a month which has been filled with challenge and hardship and angst and fear and doubt and pain and grief and plain ol' worry. And as awful as January was, it's not looking as if February will be much better in terms of the issues to be dealt with. To be honest, I'm weary of it all.

That's not to say these past few weeks have been devoid of joy - to the contrary! Take a look at my Facebook news feed, for example - joy abounds! And I'm thankful to have it recorded in a place where I can go back and remind myself that no, January did not totally and completely suck.

Any real joy had to be fought for, hunted down, distilled from all the difficulty and distress.

Maybe that's the lesson here.

Because the negatives will always be there, to varying degrees. And the joy will always be there, too - fighting for its fair share of air time.

What I don't want, though, is for anyone to think that joy is all there is. While that would be lovely (or would it?), everyone knows the truth. Everyone suffers - mostly quietly, alone. I think that's such a shame. We all have so much common ground, similar experience, universal understanding... We could help each other so much just by being up front about our struggles. It's such a comfort to know we're not alone, isn't it?

I had to call in sick five days in a row for my school lunch room job and felt so awful leaving them short-handed. On the fifth day, my supervisor responded that she had had the same flu over Christmas. All she said was, "I feel for you", but it went deep in erasing my sense of guilt.

It doesn't take much! A second of real connection, of genuine compassion, of shared emotion goes a long way.

So I'm intentionally peeling off that mask yet again. That's when you get the real joy :)


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Let's Talk




If you're in Canada, you've probably heard of this campaign. Since 2010, Bell has been raising awareness, funds, and discussion to benefit the mental health of all Canadians and to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness.

It's always seemed like a good idea to me, but I'd never taken a participatory role in the day's tweets and texts and posts. I just discovered that this particular effort has raised almost eighty million dollars for mental health initiatives! Real ones, too - there's a list on the Bell site that details where the money has actually gone. Places like big hospitals and major universities and the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance, as well as much-smaller-but-just-as-significant programs like Partners for Youth in Fredericton, NB and the PEI Family Violence Prevention Services. This is very good.

And so today's the big day and yes, we should talk - #BellLetsTalk. But since I've become so much more aware of my own mental health - having been diagnosed in November of 2016 with bipolar disorder - and with my new self-appointed position as an ambassador for mental illness, I think it's a much better idea to talk every day. All the time. Out loud.

Because there's so much to talk about! My hope is that one day mental health will be included in all things health-and-wellness-related as a matter of course. That admitting to being on an anti-depressant medication will come as easily and guiltless-ly as talking about being on insulin for diabetes, or having a cast on a broken leg. That workplaces and schools will take the same measures to ensure mental wellness as they do physical safety. That suicides will be prevented because allowing anyone to suffer in silence will have become obsolete, unthinkable.

I started taking a mood stabilizer medication a few months ago. I had been doing everything I knew of to combat my highs and lows - healthy diet, exercise, meditation, counselling, nature therapy... but I continued to experience extreme mood swings. For the first few weeks, I thought it was truly the answer to my prayers - everything seemed so stable and secure.

But then, as life continued to happen, I began to notice occasional ups and downs sneaking back into my days and weeks. It's been different though - better, more manageable, lower highs and higher lows. I'm grateful for the addition of the medication to my mental health arsenal. It's really making a positive difference. A Carrie Fisher quote often comes to mind these days:



It feels foreign and a little wrong to write it out, but I am proud of how I'm functioning with this disorder. I am learning not to be ashamed of how I'm wired. Of the fact that I need help. That I have awesome days and awful days, days of great accomplishment and productivity and days when I can barely get out of bed and being with people is out of the question. It's all me, and it's all okay.

So that's a little bit of my story. But mental health touches ALL of us, all the time. So let's talk. Without shame. Without fear, Without blame. Without prejudice. With the mindset that everyone's story matters. That everyone has something significant to contribute to the conversation. Let's keep that conversation going.



Monday, January 9, 2017

42

We are the authors of this new story, 
so let our words be fierce,
so let our words be true.
Tyler Knott Gregson

One of the benefits of having a birthday so close to the dawn of a new year is that I'm still pretty focused on new beginnings. I'm a big fan of fresh starts - there's a lovely grace inherent in the thought of second (and forty-second) chances. Maybe that's why I've always considered the anniversary of my birth to be a good time to look back on the year before and forward to what's to come. 

I had a friend over a few weeks ago and in the course of our conversation mentioned that I'd be turning 42 in January. She looked at me incredulously and said, "I thought you were in your thirties!" (she's in her thirties) We then talked a bit about how old 42 seems. 

I guess it does seem old. Not old - mature. Experienced. Seasoned. After all, 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything (see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for reference - maybe one thing I'll do this year is actually finally read it). 

The funny thing is, I've never had less answers (and more questions!) than I do right now. This, too, is a phenomenon I'm noting as the years pass - I know less and less as time goes by. But - I am more and more sure of the few things I do know, and I'm not afraid to ask the hard questions, so that's a fair exchange.

Getting a handle on my mental health issues has been huge for me this past year - it gives me so much hope for the future! I've been thinking about all the things I've given up and failed at over the years. When interpreted through the lens of too-low lows (depression) and too-high highs (mania), everything makes so much sense. A lovely side effect of this is the lifting of a lot of guilt and shame. I feel so free, so light, so steady and ready to sally forth, quietly confident, into the great unknown that is 42. There will be challenges, I have no doubt - but I feel much more able to face them.

I sense a stirring of the soil of my life, that the furrows have been turned and are ready to receive seed that will grow into a beautiful harvest of health and freedom and growth and productivity and wisdom. I've never faced the future with such joyous anticipation!

So I'm asking for the impossible. As I mentioned in my New Year's post, I'm giving God my impossibles and asking Him to give me His. I foresee much stretching in the coming year as a result. But it doesn't scare me (much!). I know who holds me, who loves me, who fills me. With God as my rock, my shield, my stronghold, my refuge, and my deliverer, I have nothing to fear - so bring on 42!