why orange juice made me run away from god

I was three years old the first time I tried to run away from God.

My mom and I had spent the night at my grandparents’ house and I woke up to the sounds and smells of breakfast being cooked. I padded out to the kitchen, probably getting underfoot as Grandma was pouring juice for everyone and setting places at the table. There had been plenty of visits and meals at Grandma’s before, so I knew the routine: the grownups brought all the food to the table, we sat down, I was supposed to be quiet while Grandpa or Grandma thanked God for the food, and then we ate. Like most parents, my mom tried to keep me from drinking my juice or milk or whatever until after I had eaten (a habit that has stayed with me through adulthood), so in my three-year-old mind, beverages were off limits, too.

Well, this particular morning, I had climbed up into my chair, and without even thinking about it, reached across for my cup and took one sip – one sip – of orange juice. And panicked. The grownups were all still in the kitchen; nobody had thanked God for the food yet. So I did the only thing I could think of.

I ran and hid under the bed.

When breakfast was ready and my mom came looking for me, she found me curled up in the fetal position, sobbing hysterically and completely terrified. Not exactly a scene any mother wants to come upon first thing in the morning. She kept asking me over and over if I had hurt myself, and all I could do was cry. I was scared. Scared that Grandma would be mad at me, and worse yet, that God would be mad at me and take me away because I drank juice before grace was said. It was a fear so strong that decades later, I can revisit that morning in my mind and feel the same physiological response. The only thing I managed to say to my mom was, “I drank the juice.”

My poor mother, having to discern that her three year old daughter was having a theological meltdown without even understand who God was.

This is where the memory falls apart in my mind. I don’t remember what my mom said to me to comfort me, although I imagine it was along the lines of “nobody’s going to be mad at you”. The natural things that one would say to a preschooler who thought her life was over because she prematurely sipped orange juice.

It makes for an endearing bit of storytelling now, and thankfully, I’ve learned a bit about God since then. And perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned is that God is the embodiment of love. I so deeply wish others of my faith would learn this. God’s grace is bigger than any of our fears. I’ve long since stopped fearing God; it’s people that I still fear. And I know that in the midst of my fears, no matter how deep inside myself I try to hide, God is still going to find me. And cover me in love. And wait until I feel love, and not fear.

I recently revisited Grandma’s house for the first time in many years (she lives several hundred miles from me), and I took a peek into the rooms where I used to stay. Those beds don’t seem so big anymore; I’d have a hard time fitting underneath them now. But just to be on the safe side… I passed on the orange juice.

just one last post for the year…

About two weeks ago, pretty much the one story you could count on seeing on television, in the newspaper, and on every platform of social media was the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty controversy. Don’t worry; this blog post is not about that story. You see, a couple days after that story broke, during the peak of pro- and anti-Duck Dynasty, a much sadder headline caught my attention:

It wouldn’t surprise me if you’re wondering if you should know who Ned Vizzini is. The link in the tweet gives a brief bio – his most popular novel is It’s Kind of a Funny Storya novel about a teenager who seeks and finds help at a mental hospital after wanting to commit suicide. A novel based on Vizzini’s own experience in a psychiatric ward where he was treated for depression. A novel that ends (gigantic spoiler, sorry):

I feel my brain on top of my spine and I feel it shift a little bit to the left.

That’s it. It happens in my brain once the rest of my body has moved. I don’t know where my brain went. It got knocked off-kilter somewhere. It got caught up in some crap it couldn’t deal with. But now it’s back – connected to my spine and ready to take charge.

Jeez, why was I trying to kill myself?

It’s a huge thing, this Shift, just as big as I imagined. My brain doesn’t want to think anymore; all of a sudden it wants to do.

Run. Eat. Drink. Eat more… Ride your bike. Ride in a car. Ride in a subway. Talk. Talk to people… Travel. Fly. Swim. Meet. Love. Dance. Win. Smile. Laugh. Hold. Walk. Skip…

Enjoy. Take these verbs and enjoy them. They’re yours, Craig. You deserve them because you chose them. You could have left them all behind but you chose to stay here.

So now live for real, Craig. Live. Live. Live. Live.

Live.

And in the end, Ned did not live. He sought help and in the end, was still overcome by his demons, still committed suicide.

***

One of my fears is that no matter how well I learn to cohabitate with my mental demons, they will win in the end. I know that I’m not completely helpless and I have an arsenal of skills and knowledge, not to mention friends and family and doctors and faith. I know all that. But what is hope without doubt?

I didn’t realize how much hope Ned Vizzini and his book had given me until he committed suicide, and it felt like a little bit of that hope got taken away. To be honest, I still don’t quite know what to do with that. It makes me look (again) at what I write on this blog and wonder… well, it just makes me wonder. It also makes me want to apologize for ever blowing out your flame of hope during my relapses. I truly am sorry if I’ve ever brought you down with me. On a related note, it’s a bit terrifying, the thought of being somebody else’s hope.

This recovery business is a tricky one. I really did think that I would be strong enough to face December this year without any worries, and then life happened. I held my breath for the better part of the month. I crossed my fingers and prayed that last year’s non-hospital stay wasn’t a fluke. I had my moments of overwhelmedness that made me want to break down and go to that dark place that pulls me completely in. I felt that pull, and I fought back.

And I made it.

I’ll be seeing you in 2014.

when blogging holds you hostage

I’ve never been a fan of therapy homework; it’s not a fun thing to do, touch on thoughts and emotions that you want to keep buried beneath the surface. But this last time, I talked myself into an art therapy assignment: capture my emotions in some kind of artistic form. I had this grand scheme of… well, I’m not entirely sure what, because perfectionist me got in the way, so I reverted back to my old standby of coloring mandalas.

It was a Wednesday night, and I was sitting at a friend’s tattoo shop, waiting while my husband got his arm worked on. I knew it would be a couple of hours, so I had brought along my colored pencils and a mandala book to keep myself occupied.

On an emotional level, I was slightly manic, a little bit irritated. I flipped through the book a few times and ultimately landed on a design that had flames around the outer edge, thinking that I’d start with the flames and work my way inward. This was the night I learned that my old artwork had been thrown in the trash. Normally, I don’t start shading until I’m done with all the basic coloring, but that night, I wanted those flames to burn. Unfortunately, time was running out and I had to pack up before I made very much progress.

flame mandalaThe next day, I woke up with the need to get out into nature. I left the mandala at home, and by the time I came back to it, I couldn’t get back into the same emotional headspace. I felt guilty whenever I looked at the book, like I should be working on that mandala because it was an assignment. But I just couldn’t feel that same emotional impact. I may as well have been coloring a picture of a My Little Pony prancing around with the Care Bears.

And you know what? My therapist was absolutely delighted.

Because emotionally, I was done. I was able to walk away from the intensity of where I was at and not let it consume me for days. I was able to hit the pause button, and be okay with it. Yes, it is, to the naked eye, strikingly unfinished. There are white gaps everywhere. The shading isn’t done. But on an emotional level, it’s finished. For now.

That feeling of ‘should’ is precisely where I have been with this blog for quite some time now. I even pondered shutting down the blog several months ago because I wasn’t posting the way I thought I ‘should’. It felt unfinished.

After a conversation with a writer friend of mine, Shawn, I came to realize that I’ve been trying too hard  to force myself into pointing this blog in a direction it doesn’t want to go. I’ve been advocating for mental health awareness for so long that I’ve painted myself into a corner as a mental health blogger. Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with niche blogging as such. But it isn’t for me. It isn’t the writing that happens in my head that doesn’t get written.

My blog was essentially holding me hostage.

I tried to deny it, but I thought about it some more after our conversation, and Shawn was right. I stopped writing because the snippets of posts that I was mentally composing didn’t fit in mental health. “But wait,” I thought, “when did mental health become all that I am? When did I become just a mental health blogger?”

It isn’t. I’m not.

I have bipolar disorder; I am not bipolar disorder. It is a part of me; it does not define me. 

It’s time to hit pause on that part of the writing. I’ll still write about it. I can’t make it go away, but it isn’t forefront in my daily life anymore. I’m not struggling to live every day anymore.

I am growing. I am remembering.

And I invite you to grow and remember with me.

this is my brave

this is her brave

It should come as no surprise that blogging is my main platform. Heck, it’s pretty much my only platform. If you’re new around here, my big thing is mental health awareness. If you’ve been around for more than several months… my big thing is mental health awareness. I have fought, and am still fighting, the red tape battles as both the patient and the patient advocate. The stigma that still exists surrounding mental health is sickening. The number of people who go without help because they feel too ashamed is saddening.

So when I found out that a Twitter / Instagram / blogging acquaintaince of mine was hoping to take on an even bigger platform and produce a stage show putting a positive spin on the difficulties we face dealing with mental illnesses, I wanted to help. But you know what? When you’re debuting a show just outside of Washington, D.C., there are a lot of costs involved. A lot. And thus, a kickstarter campaign was born to help fund This is My Brave.

A year ago, I found my brave and told my church community that I wanted to jump off a ship and drown myself on my way to the Caribbean. I told real people who knew me, who knew my face and who could recognize me in a crowd. It only a brief moment – two or three minutes – but it cast a light on something that I knew was so very familiar and relatable to far too many people in that congregation. That’s what This is My Brave aims to do: shove mental health awareness out of the darkness and into the spotlight.

The producers of This is My Brave need backers in order to make this show happen, a show I strongly believe in. I wish that we were in a financial position to donate and attend the show (although who knows… things could change in six months), but as it sits, we can’t right now. I’ve had an unbelievably crappy month and you could make it a lot better by donating to this great cause on my behalf. If you do that, you’ll make me smile, and I’ll look like this: Smile!

But even if you can’t donate, that’s okay. I’ll still smile. Just for you.

Like!

10 reasons i suck at facebook

Okay, before you read any further, know that this list stems from a place known as Tongue-In-Cheek Humor. If you can’t handle that, go away. If you’re disappointed in me straying from my mental health focus, I apologize. Or, consider this a form of therapy.

1. I don’t change my profile picture every 3 days. And when I do, it’s always to something boring and recognizable, like… my face.

2. I don’t take 25 selfies and then post all of them, even though they all look exactly the same. Heck, I don’t even like calling them “selfies”.

3. I LOVE CANCER! …obviously, because I don’t hit like or share all those pictures that tell me to do so if I hate cancer/child abuse/the mistreatment of Jell-O.

4. Similarly, I HATE JESUS! Oh, and I’m embarrassed to be a Christian because I don’t share those pictures, either. How come you never see “I’m going to share this because I’m proud to be a Buddhist!” pictures?

5. Kids! I can’t stop posting all the funny things my kids say and do! Oh wait. I don’t have any kids.

6. Look at these 947 pictures that I took in the parking lot that show how adorable my kids are! Oh… right. No kids. Here, have a look at my dog:

IMG_2907

7. I don’t care about privacy settings and posting how to change my settings so your settings are affected. Or some other Inception-style privacy clickeroo. In fact, I’m only going to change MY privacy settings!

8. GAMES! ‘Nuff said.

9. I don’t share EVERY SINGLE THING that runs through my mind, every thirty seconds.

10. It’s your birthday? And we haven’t “spoken” in exactly 365 (or 366, depending on Leap Year status) days since the LAST time it was your birthday?? OMG HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! Exclamation point!

i remember

I remember September 11, 2001. I was a month shy of being 23, still a kid, really, in the grand scheme of things. I had recently moved into my first apartment, gotten my first cat, bought my first car, and thought I was well on my way to being a grownup.

I remember working for an auto financing company, my first nine-to-five job with my own desk in my own cubicle. I was being groomed to become the Operations Assistant Manager. That morning, I was training a new hire and introducing her to the scintillating world of automotive contracts, credit applications, car titles, and bookout sheets.

I remember our receptionist coming around the corner and telling us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We thought she meant a small plane, perhaps a Cessna. It made no sense. She turned the television on in the conference room and yelled for everybody to come see. It was no Cessna. And then the second plane hit. By this time, the entire staff was gathered around this small 24″ television, some of us sitting on top of the conference room table so we could see.

I remember hearing screams. The tears. The rush of beeping of cell phones as my co-workers tried to get in touch with their family and friends in New York. One girl’s brother. A close friend of our receptionist. The branch assistant manager’s family. All living within blocks of the towers. The rest of us remained glued to the news.

I remember the third plane hitting the Pentagon. Speculation of a fourth plane began. My heart stopped. One of my college friends worked in the Pentagon. My high school best friend, with whom I had just reconnected with after four years of separation, worked in DC. I dialed. I couldn’t get through. I dialed again. And again. And again and again and again.

I remember going back to the news coverage, watching the media try desperately to keep up with what was unfolding as we sat trying to make any sense of what we were witnessing.

I remember seeing footage of people jumping from the towers before they collapsed, knowing that I was watching them die.

I remember the office shutting down early, a directive sent by our regional manager. Family and friends first, he said. I drove home in a state of shock, still dialing. I turned the news on and didn’t turn it off for hours. My downstairs neighbor came up and with tears in her eyes asked me, “What… is going on?” I didn’t have an answer for her.

I remember hearing the stories of the hundreds of emergency personnel, their bravery and their losses. The helpers who ran towards the devastation, not away from it.

I remember being numb for days, unable to process what was going on. Unable to connect with any emotions other than confusion.

I remember Friday, September 14, 2001. Driving home from my parents’ house late in the evening, I drove past my old middle school. Across the street, for the last few miles of my drive, was a non-stop line of luminaries lining the road casting a soft glow on hundreds of American flags.

I remember finally feeling my heart break and crying for hours.

I remember.

world suicide prevention day 2013

WSPD2013ShirtDesignThis week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I’ve been going round and round in my head as to how to approach the topic this year with little success. I don’t like to post statistics, as they can be found everywhere you look, and I’ve posted previously about the first time I wanted to commit suicide and about my experience in the hospital.

I decided to take a cue from To Write Love On Her Arms and participate in their “You Cannot Be Replaced” project: to write about my worth and share why I feel I cannot be replaced.

Then I hit a roadblock. Nothing was coming to mind. Not one thing.

And you know what? That’s what depression and fear and anxiety have stolen from me. The ability to realize my own worth and value in this world and in the lives of others. So I reached out to some friends and family and asked them to tell me why they think I cannot be replaced:

  • There is no one else like her.
  • She is a valued friend and sister.
  • A part of my heart would be broken.
  • She is loved by God and many others.
  • There would be a beautiful voice missing from the worship team.
  • She is the only one I can go to the movies with and screech with and she doesn’t get mad.
  • She makes my life happy.
  • She does not yet know her worth.
  • Awesome artistic talent would be lost.
  • She provides equal amounts of sincerity and snarkiness that lets me know I’m not alone in the world.

I read all these answers and cried. A lot.

I struggle hard and often with the thought of being replaced. It goes hand and hand with thinking that I’m not “fill in the blank” enough. Not good enough at this, that, or the other thing. Not emotionally strong enough. Not passionate about causes enough. Not politically motivated enough. Not loving enough. Not lovable enough. Not available enough. Not healthy enough. I could easily continue for a while, but I think I’ve illustrated my point. But it isn’t that I’m afraid of me being replaced; it’s my role that I fear can so easily be cast as someone else. There can always be another friend. Another sister-in-heart. Another love. Another singer. Another congregation member. The only role I can think of that can never be re-cast is that of my parents’ firstborn child.

So when faced with the question of what makes me irreplaceable, I stumble a bit. Okay, I fall flat on my face in a most ungraceful fashion. But I’ve been able to come up with one answer, and maybe, for now, one is enough.

I cannot be replaced because I am the only one who can accurately tell my story.

This mess… these disjointed ramblings of words strung together and thrown out into the world… this is my story, and the story isn’t over yet.

the musings of some stranger

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