Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Body Memories

In an effort to connect with my body in positive ways, I've been thinking about body memories. That sounds like I'm about to tell you I remember my own birth. I don't. I'm talking about those memories that are felt in my body when I remember them. These are positive memories of feeling grounded and whole within my skin and bones.

Like that time I first saw the Milky Way in the sky. I was lying down on a bale of hay at a farm. Our church at the time had these yearly "Farm Days" when a family from the boondocks (as we called it) would invite the church members to come to their farm for good ol fashioned farm frivolity. There were food, games, hay rides, and then the most magical part of all: the night. This was my absolute favorite part of the day. Once the sun went down a large bonfire would rise up, but there was enough space to get away even from the light of the fire. And there, on a bale of hay, around the age of 12, I saw the Milky Way suspended in the sky before me. Nothing else mattered. I didn't speak to anyone. I didn't think about anything. In that moment I was a human being, small and cognitive, with hay itching and soothing my back all at once- and the sky was my blanket. I was hypnotized by the stars. They were twinkling, steady, glowing, glaring- daring me to think I was alone. I felt in my body a tether holding all of it- all of me- to all of that. I felt peace, awe, small and precious. I rested under the blanket for as long as I could. Nothing mattered but feeling that way. I can still feel that blanket of stars if I sit with that memory long enough.

I have a collective memory of sun-kissed skin. It's not one memory but a gathering of all the summer days and beach trips and boat rides. That moment before you go inside, when the sun is dipping down and you feel the coolness highlight your taut skin. I remember feeling the warmth of the day still on my arms and face. The air still in my hair. The salt in my teeth and under my nails. The sand surprisingly soft between my toes. Sun had baked me for the day and I felt bathed and ready for bed. I didn't feel dirty or gross. I felt sacred. I felt like I held the day's joys within my skin.

Another collective memory I have is of being under water. I used to submerge myself under the water and remain there as long as I could. Water was my second home. First a terrestrial, second a water nymph. I opened my eyes under the water, watching my hair flow free all around me. In my ears I felt the humming silence of muffled everything. The world was slower, quiet, fluid. I moved my arms against the water to stay under until at last I had to break the seal of solitude and bliss to join back with the air.

I remember what it felt like to be hugged by my maternal Grandmother, Memaush. She was a bigger woman, with cushiony limbs and chest- it was like being enveloped by a warm pillow with a beating heart. Often her hugs would send my hearing aids squealing, which would make me insecure in any other setting, but with Memaush there was no shame or worry. Squealing hearing aids were a byproduct of her squishing love. I felt safe.

I had a boyfriend who was a terrible kisser but an exquisite hugger. His hugs were strong and warm, holding my entire torso to my melting point. He didn't know this, but he could probably have solved every disagreement with one of those hugs.

I remember the feeling of my body relaxing during a yoga relaxation session. I was an adult, with new anxieties and sore shoulders and back due to the weight of a child distributed either within me or outside of me. As I felt my body loosen, fall, let go- I felt so much peace. I had forgotten what it felt like to be fully relaxed. My body slept while my mind enjoyed the feeling.

When I was a child, I often slept on my stomach. I loved the feeling of slight pressure against my stomach. Like I was snuggling with Mother Earth. I would lie on the ground, my arms embracing the earth and my body fully submitting to the forces of gravity. It made me feel connected. It literally grounded me. It was the terrestrial equivalent to my submerged experience in water. I realized recently that I no longer sleep on my stomach because my neck surgeries have made it uncomfortable for my head to stay turned while lying flat. That made me really sad. I still lie stomach down when I need to feel secure. Like I'm reconnecting and recharging. Even if for a few moments.

When I was little, I used to dance. I danced nearly every day. It's something that I miss about myself. I was not a dancer in the educated sense. I had a boom box and about 6 feet by 4 feet of open floor. It was enough. I would move with the music, alone and happy without an audience. It was an immersion experience. I could dance for hours. I remember feeling free and unpredictable.  I remember feeling light. I remember lots of twirling.

I feel wonderful after a long walk. I wonder if walking is my adult version of dancing. I'd like to try dancing again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Dafka

  • Dafka/davfka/dafke (yiddish):
  • -even; despite expectations to the contrary -- often with a slightly amused or ironic feeling of "wouldn't you know it?" or "of all things" ("of all people" ... etc.)
  • -"definitely or exactly stated; specifically" (Weiser)
  • -just to annoy, just to be contrary
A lovely woman in my family died earlier this month. Her name: Renate. She was my Grandfather's cousin, and died after struggling with cancer for many years. She was the epitome of "Dafka" - defying anyone who dared to suggest that she wasn't allowed somewhere or to do something. She had a twinkle in her eye, full of mischievousness and dirty jokes. Her life had not been easy, but plenty of it was fun. 

She was born in Berlin, in 1939 when the whole world was getting wiser about Hitler's true intentions. She grew up under the protection of her mother, a non-Jew who successfully hid the truth about Renate's Jewish father. Renate lost everything in the war: the steady presence of a father (who was taken to a camp), her home (bombed in raids on Berlin), and any sense of stability. She and her mother traveled to Italy to meet her father, who survived the war, and later they returned to Germany, despite her father's fears and trembling. Her father was my great-uncle. He had that same twinkle in his eye. Renate made a life in Berlin. When I met her for the first time, she told me to look for the woman who was "a little fat." She told me story after story of my family that I had never heard before. She was the keeper of the family stories, and I was so grateful to receive them. I will miss her.

On my second trip to see Renate in Berlin, she used this yiddish word in telling me a story. She was with a group of folks who were speaking English, not exactly wise to her level of understanding. They talked amongst themselves conspiratorially, wondering out loud how a Jewish woman could possibly live in Germany after everything she had been through, and after what Germany had done to her family. 

She glared at them, revealing she understood what they were saying, and said "DAFKA!" I'm here, because they didn't want me to be, because they tried to smash us under their thumb and I survived. Because they didn't want me here, I will stay in defiance. Dafka.

I absolutely love the shrewd hope involved here. It's not a Pollyanna hope but one that faces the challenge head on, and tells it to suck it. There are things in our lives that we need to say Dafka to. To speak it with a gleam in our eye, ready to take up space where we weren't supposed to be. To challenge adversity with a stubborn heaping of hope.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Shell in my pocket

I have a jacket that I wear regularly in the winter. One day I put a tiny shell in there, the kind that looks like a miniature conch. I just looked it up and it is called a nutmeg. I think that is precious. I have a small nutmeg in my red jacket pocket.

I put it there one day without thinking, I can't remember where I was or why only one shell remained (or made it) in my pocket. But I do remember every time I put on my jacket that it is there. I reach in and grasp it between my fingers, feeling the gentle pierce of the shell on my skin. I love doing this. Sometimes I am with someone, having a conversation, while also my hand is feeling the shell, a small secret in my pocket. I don't know why it gives me joy but it does.

So I put a small, flat stone in another jacket pocket. Now on colder days when I need to pull out my large blue jacket, I reach in for that same tactile secret. This time it is a smooth, barely rectangular stone with hardly any sharpness or roughness at all. It's soothing to run my fingers along the smoothness and turn it over and over in my hand. I can be walking to get the mail, and my flat stone is with me, offering a simple delight of the presence of the earth inside my pocket. I don't know why it gives me joy but it does.

I wonder if maybe there are other small things that might be joy-giving, ways to surprise myself like a note from a lover. Perhaps more shells and stones in more pockets. Perhaps the "I Voted" sticker I pressed on to my brand new washing machine. I defied the feeling that my vote didn't count by putting it there to see every time I do laundry. I defied the teaching of my mother that you should never put a bumper sticker on a car, write on your body, or likely she wouldn't think it a good idea to put stickers on appliances. A tiny rebellion, in good fun. I don't know why, but it gives me joy.

I wonder what tiny little things I might be able to do for others to give a little joy, it doesn't need to be a great sacrifice or a huge effort. My son likes to have his head scratched, much like a puppy. One night I scratched his head in desperate attempt to get him to fall asleep and remembered the love I felt when my mother or father rubbed my back on nights when I struggled to sleep. So I made a mental note to scratch his head every night that I could, just for a little bit, and maybe he will feel the love I felt. Maybe he and I will both have a little joy.

My oldest son gets the giggles if I try to scratch his head. He wants me to lie down next to him and talk to him. What he really wants is to unload his thoughts from his brain stream-of-consciousness to someone who will listen. I remember the feeling I have when someone actually fully listens to me, the gift and joy that is. So I lie down next to him, sometimes I'll rub his arm if he isn't too ticklish, and I'll listen to facts about wildlife pour out, mixed in with stories about school, a documentary, and friends. I can only stay for a little bit, but I hope when I kiss him goodnight, he feels that feeling of love and joy from being heard.

My husband wants me to read his sermons. I like it when I can read and tell him it was great, nothing to change. Sometimes though, I write comments throughout and there's a long night ahead. Tonight I'm sitting here awake, just so he knows that I'm here. That he's not alone. And that I care. I don't have to stay up, but maybe it gives him a little bit of joy, a feeling of being loved.

I will miss my shells in the summer when my jackets stay in the closet. But I'll find other things, small things, for a little joy.

That's my new life experiment: trying on joy so that it becomes comfortable and natural. Giving myself permission to feel it and freeing myself to have the space to offer it. It started with a shell in my pocket.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Notice

The rain has come, inches falling over the last few days. Some of it freezing, most of it just soaking right into the already swampy ground.

The last couple of nights I've been tired, hungry, lazy. I ran out of steam and all I wanted to do is sit and eat things. I've thought more about having a glass of wine and poured myself a glass each night.

The last handful of mornings I have been slow to rise, slow to move, and slower to get out of the house. Even when I had plans, I have been running late.

This is the "notice" phase of depression. Before I ignored it and then internalized it as some sort of failure on my part. I'm trying something different today. I'm noticing it, and attempting to address it. I don't mean fix it. I mean temper it, lean into it. I'll try not to shame myself for the morning laziness. I will do what it takes to get going, if that means stepping up the tools then I'll do it.

In noticing, I need to look around me and see what else is happening. Sometimes I think depression just means that your mind gets jammed more easily than others. We don't have enough oil to keep the parts going consistently. So it's not always a *thing* that makes the brain slow down, but maybe for whatever reason, this particular piece of paper was loaded weird and now we have a paper jam.

I think it's hard to pin-point the *thing* that caused the jam, because it's not necessarily special or different, sometimes it's just a missed opportunity to process, a rainbow swirl in our subconscious. Sometimes it's too many little things. Sometimes it is a big thing.

Today as I notice, I think it's a combination of little things and a missed opportunity to process.

The weather does affect me. I wish it didn't, but I guess I spent too much time living in the sunny state of Florida and other southern states. When I don't see the sun for days, I start to dip. Even with my fake sun and my vitamin D.

I have a few things on my "to-do" list that I don't really want to do. One in particular comes around every year and makes me anxious every year and makes me angry every year: taxes. I should be less grumpy about it, but if I knew my taxes were paying for higher teacher salaries and world peace and proper health care: I'd be less grumpy. Doing taxes confronts me with the intoxicating power of money and its hold over local and global politics, and I feel sick every time. Maybe I shouldn't get so existential about my taxes, but I can't help myself.

Then there is the casual battle every household faces: the long-term vs the short-term/daily tasks. When I take a dip in my emotional state, there is usually a feeling that I am not keeping up in this battle. The sheets and towels need to be washed, and I want to organize the garage, and clean out the storage room, and wash the cars, and make sure the kitchen is clean and the tables wiped down. I feel guilty even for my little vacuum robot sitting idle because I haven't been able to decide which floor it should vacuum and when.

When I'm feeling this little dip, the litany of little things is paralyzing. I start looking for short cuts, for ways to make it easier on myself and others. Every short cut comes with an unhealthy dose of guilt for not being able to do it myself. It is very hard to feel overwhelmed and also not shamed. Think about it- when was the last time you said "I have so much to do, I need help" without following it with some sort of "I brought this on myself... I should have been able... If only I..."?

Even now my heart rate is picking up a bit. I feel anxious about the tasks to do. I've turned on my sun lamp for another cycle of sun, feeling guilty like I'm procrastinating (which I haven't convinced myself that I'm not).

Then there is the processing that I haven't done. It is hard for me to intentionally process something. It feels a lot like being asked to come up with a creative solution - here- now, in the next 5 minutes. I want this sort of thing to happen organically. I want to be able to have my thoughts evolving up in my brain cloud until one day while I'm driving- it comes to me out of the blue- without even thinking about it consciously. I think that method actually happens a lot to me. But this one is jamming the system. This one I have to actually put in front of my here/now brain and I don't know how to do it. It isn't organic and I don't trust anything I think or feel about it.

I'm processing some discernment about career/vocation/calling/passion/dreams. It's only literally the only thing I have ever struggled with in terms of decision making for my entire life. No big deal. I'm learning that there are some deeper elements to it rather than "pick a job" and I don't even begin to know how to tackle those foundational elements.

I'm noticing, that when I dip down, the cause is also the effect. I am feeling overwhelmed by decisions, tasks, and lack of clear sunny space. Because of those things, I'm struggling to make decisions, do tasks, and - well- I can't control the rain. It's a cycle. The less I can get a feeling of getting above the minutia that is overwhelming me, the more I find myself drowning in it.

There isn't a fix to this. The taxes will get done and I'll hate every minute of it. The to-do tasks will eventually be accomplished maybe, but no one will care that much about it but me. The sun will come back out, and so will the rain. But with each dip, if I take the time to notice, maybe I'll learn some techniques for hunkering down better next time. Maybe I'll figure out how to load the paper a little better next time. If nothing else, it'll be an opportunity for me to practice grace for myself and others. And grace is always a worthy balm.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Gift of Depression

Ugh, that title makes me want to slap myself.

But in my effort to "Struggle Good," I've learned that there's some truth to "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

My name is Sarah and I have the disease: depression. It's truly a dis-ease. I do not feel at ease when depression is in full force. It's a disease that has phases of remission and returns. Currently I'm doing pretty awesome, all my struggling is working- medicine, lights, and some moving around. But I don't have much control over the day I wake up and my body goes "ooof- nope- today just will not do." Sometimes it just will not do. And that's OK.

You might ask: "What do you do for a living to keep yourself happy?"

I work as a hospice chaplain.

"Oh, OK. What do you do as a hobby to ease the depression in your down-time?"

I'm working on a book about my family story in the Holocaust. I also write sometimes about depression and current events/politics/religion/philosophy. I enjoy dabbling with existential thoughts.

"Super. Seems normal." You might say. Buuuuut, I'm guessing you're not thinking that. You're probably thinking- "lady- you got problems. Why the hell would you do those things, knowing full well you have the capacity to nose dive into a black hole of depression? People who study the Holocaust and hang with dying people need to be like, waaayyy up in the happiness stratosphere so they can handle the bummer of a time." You clearly have a lot of opinions about this. Or at least I am imagining you do.

Here's the conundrum: my disease equips me for the sad stuff. I am perhaps more qualified to hang out with the dying, and tuck into the details of horror in the Holocaust.

There's one reason for my qualification: via Henri Nouwen, the concept of the "the wounded healer." This simple, yet profound idea is that those who are wounded and feel the pain of the world are more able to understand the wounded among them, and therefore able to assist in healing through that understanding or empathy. It's why support groups are so effective. We don't need someone with zero experience of soul-wrenching grief telling us "it gets better." We need a co-traveler, or someone who has pioneered before us on a path even more treacherous than ours. We'll follow a guide that has been here before, not one who just flew in for the cookies at the welcome station.

There's another reason I haven't explored as much... my very illness is my method for healing. Like allergy shots. I have been dealt bouts of sadness and struggle that have no logical bearing. I get depressed or my energy depleted for literally no reason at all. I have to deal with that. My tools for functioning despite nothing helping me function- are well sharpened. I'm like a video game character that has ALL the weapons necessary for the battle (I might still lose but I'm doing better than the newcomer with barely a shield).

I have a skill set for functioning while facing the existential wall. A happy person may not have those tools. When confronted with darkness, their eyes have to adjust from the blinding sunlight they spend their lives in. My life has episodes of light and dark, and my eyes don't have to adjust as much when facing death or genocide. I also know, because of my experience, that the darkness never lasts forever. And that in that darkness, there are often glittering specks of light like stars in the night sky. I'm adept at looking for that. I'm not as afraid of the dark, and I'm skilled at finding my way and feeling around for clues and sparkles of hope. I've been here before, it's not so scary.

I also know that I'm not alone, and that I can't do it alone. People who are inexperienced with certain challenges feel ashamed about those challenges and attempt to get through it on their own. They don't want to lean on someone else when they expect they should be able to handle it. I have tread that path and found it totally terrifying and ineffective. I lean hard. I am in a circle of dominoes. When I lean hard, it might knock someone over a bit, but with all of us leaning- somehow we all help each other stay upright, even if a little sideways for a bit.

The biggest tool in fighting depression is discarding shame. It's one of my most powerful weapons ever. Without shame I can use all my tools to fight like a warrior, and I might lose a few but I'll win a bunch. And when your battle comes, I'll lend a hand, I'll let you lean on me, I'll know that you and I both have the power to win, eventually. Shame makes it where we feel stupid for even showing up, for needing to fight. Discard that shame and we are living life, battles and beach trips mashed together- all worth our time and all worthy of our showing up.

When I look at the Holocaust I can weep and rejoice at the same time. I know that humanity is despicable because I've hung out in the dungeon for waaaay too long, which makes me look at despicable things as a sort of a morbid source of "well see there's that terrible thing- now I feel even more justified feeling this way." But I also know that humanity is gorgeous, because once I let go of the shame of feeling sorrow- I am able to also fully embrace the emotion of joy. I can sit and look at a person doing something kind and selfless (no not those cheesy FB videos where people record themselves helping a homeless person)- more like the millions of tiny good things like when someone moves a turtle out of a busy road. We do big and little good things all the time. Like when someone risks their life every day to hike with people over a mountain to freedom from tyranny or famine. There are thousands of these type of people whose names were never recorded. Like the man who snuck my Grandfather across the German/Netherland border without uttering a WORD. I'll never know who he was.

And then there's the sunset. Beauty always reminds me that there is a source of Good that is constant. Beauty is the most useless and useful reminder of goodness. Useless because beauty does not feed my body, useful because that's the whole point! Beauty has no other purpose but to delight, and what else but Goodness would dream of such inefficiency?!

So, my depression is my staff. It's that cane that shows my weakness and strength at the same time. Kind of like when you see a war veteran with a missing limb. That person knows things we don't know. That person is strong as hell. And when you are as strong as hell - you can beat it.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Honest Resume

Everyone in the work world is told to keep their resume up to date. Because you never know when the next great opportunity will pop up, and then you'll be ready for it.

I suspect my resume reads like many women my age, and perhaps many people in general. There are part time and full time gigs, gaps of time in between, or abrupt transitions with the end date and start date within a week. Just like the cliche goes about the dash in between the birth and death dates: everything interesting really happens in those gaps and transitions.

I wish we could write honest resumes. Like Honest Trailers, only instead of mocking our lives it reads like a tell all, the kind that makes you realize how impressive it is that a person could hold a part time job while also navigating an extremely challenging home situation or paralyzing illness.

What my resume tells you is where I went to school, what job I did when, and what were my responsibilities. Some of the online applications now have an extra detail where they ask you why you left a particular job, but even that leaves little space for honesty and the full story. "Moved," "Babies," "Grandma needed me," "Boss was impossible," "Company ran out of money," "I was miserable"- how can you really tell the story? The idea is that if you have a series of short-term jobs, you're a terrible worker. But maybe you're actually a really lovely human.

I struggle with this. I look at my jobs and I used to think maybe when I was younger I wasn't a good employee. But, I always did what was asked of me. I always had integrity. I just didn't always love my job, so I felt like that made me a bad employee. I didn't always want to put in the extra mile, which made me feel guilty. But at 24 years old, I think it's fair that I hadn't figured out exactly what I was gifted to do yet. I had some learning to do. I did the job, but I could only do it so long before I lost my sanity.

Here are the gaps I want to explain to my potential employers:

I quit a part-time job under a negative boss to be a caregiver for my newborn son and Grandmother. The part time job would not have paid for the childcare I would have needed. My Grandmother would have been alone in her declining health due to dementia if I took a full time job. My newborn would have been fine, but I don't know if I would have been OK to spend my entire salary for someone else to watch him. Without that gap in my resume, my Grandmother would not have known my son. I would not have the memories from those two years that I treasure now that she's gone. I would have never discovered the old letters she kept that included letters from my great-grandmother to my Grandfather who was a refugee from Germany during WWII. It's one of the best decisions I ever made, and it made me a better human. But I can't put that on my resume because I don't have a 401K to show for it. So what you see on my resume is a two year gap between paying jobs.

I quit one job to take another job that I was better suited for. I knew that if I remained in my old job (which I had been successful at even though I was miserable), I might have negatively affected and stunted an entire program because my heart wasn't fully in it. I was actually doing the program a favor by leaving it. I also wouldn't have learned that I really was gifted with the skills and desire to do one-on-one work in the ministry setting, which led me to chaplaincy where I have excelled. It was a smart choice, but on my resume I quit one job after a year.

I had a challenging internship. It was one of the most humbling learning experiences I ever had, but if my supervisor were called up, I'm not sure she would speak highly of me. Our personalities clashed. Her issues and mine did not mix well. I worked through a pregnancy, un-treated depression, and made calls and visits and attended meetings with a newborn nursing. I thought I was weak and useless, but my God I was superwoman! I learned incredible lessons on humility, and about who I am and how much I need to worry about who others think I am. It was trial by fire and I made it. My liaison who supervised me in the ministry setting would tell you good things about my work- that's why he's on the resume as a reference. The supervisor who watched me struggle in a group who was forced to be vulnerable in an "instant intimacy" expectation: she might not have the best things to say. But she's the one who signed the paper on my internship, so she's the one you'll think matters more. But on my resume, it's a referral I might not get.

I moved after that internship and spent time getting my children settled in their new environment. I took master gardening classes and was involved in my children's classrooms and volunteered in an underprivileged school. None of those details are pertinent to my resume, that dash was just wasted time where I didn't work. But I worked really hard. I invested in my family and in my community. It was one of the first times I felt connected to my community, and as a child of the military, that was ground-breaking. I set down roots when I didn't even think I had any to set down. I learned how to put my compassion into action in ways that didn't pay. On my resume it's another two years between jobs.

In that time I also researched those letters that I found. I made trips to Germany and Kansas, tracing my family's history. My parents and my spouse were all on the journey with me and we will all be forever changed by that research. The book I am writing and the blog I keep are just small (and barely seen, especially not on my resume) evidences of that transformative journey that I am still on. I learned more about family dynamics, history and trauma. These things shape how I see people today and the world we live in now. I am no longer blind to my global community. If I did not have the time and attention to do this, then my Grandfather would not be a part of the new exhibit in the Holocaust Museum in DC. I am very proud of this project. Where do I put this on my resume?

I worked as a hospice chaplain almost two years before my husband's job moved us. I was working full time, well-liked and respected by my peers and supervisors. I had been given new responsibilities that reflected their value of my opinion (being in interviews). I also had been given flexibility to work 4 day weeks and convinced my supervisors to hire an on-call chaplain so I didn't need to be on call 6 months out of the year.  They valued me as an employee. (And I set the stage for the next chaplain not to be burned out.) Then I had to quit because we moved. That supervisor will say wonderful things about me, but if you quickly glance at my resume, it's another short stint of two years and gone.

When we moved, I took time to help my children adjust to their new environment. I almost took a full time job as a hospice chaplain but turned it down to focus on my book research and my kids. It was the right thing to do for my family and for myself. I finally got the right treatment for my depression (medication is a beautiful thing). I volunteered for hospice, I made friends so that this new community can be a place to call home. I got a part time job as a chaplain. But on my resume it looks like I dawdled and then became underemployed.

Everything in my resume, gaps included, are life choices I made that made me wiser, healthier, and my family stronger.

Looking back at all of these gaps and dashes and learning experiences, I am sort of amazed. I had no idea how much all of this was good, to the core. If I were to have any regrets, and believe me, I have plenty about the little things, but my main regret is that I didn't give myself enough grace in the learning process. I expected myself to be confident, competent, and omnipotent almost- at every step of the journey. What a ridiculous thing! I am a human who has learned beautiful things. I wish I could have given myself a break from the shame in the learning. Pain was inevitable, but I didn't have to think I was weak or unemployable.

In fact, now I think I might be the best employee you'd ever have. But my resume can't tell you that. I do wish that somehow when we talk to our children, and even our peers about resumes- that we could  give space for the learning process. That we could lend value to the gaps and short stints that taught us how to be more fully ourselves. That even though our resume doesn't show our career as a steady diagonal line up to the right, it has nothing to do with how employable we are, and certainly not how valuable we are as humans. Very few people have that steady soaring success on their resumes, and honestly- I'd rather work with the person who started out as a bat biologist and then became a pastor (true story- a friend of mine!).

My honest resume might not make me more exciting to a potential employer, but it has made me more grateful for my life's experiences. Maybe we should keep our resumes up to date, but maybe we need to have an honest one for ourselves that we keep up to date. It might remind us why we make the choices we make, or refocus us if our gaps and dashes aren't telling our true story.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I Struggle Good

A couple of weekends ago we went to Chincoteague Island, a favorite not-crowded (at least off-season) retreat for my family. We walked everywhere and up and down the lighthouse, we ate ice cream, we explored. And one of my favorite activities: we watched the ocean breathe water in and out onto the shore.

We even did something so weird: we went to church. I know, it's weird to say that as someone who is married to a pastor. But when we get our rare Sundays off, I am often found sleeping in bed on Sunday morning. But this Sunday was different. It was daylight savings (which is the WORST), but that meant that I woke up at 7am thinking it was 8am. And the pastor of the Methodist Church on this little Island was none other than Joe, a DS (sort of boss) from Jason's previous church assignment, and someone I really connected with while we lived in Hampton. So we thought we'd go to church as a family, actually sit together and not be in charge of a damn thing. It was nice. It was interesting to see how yet another church in the same denomination can worship in such a different way with their own faithful traditions and intentional participants. I enjoyed it. Joe got up and preached, also a nice experience to hear a different voice (and to not know ahead of time what the sermon was about because I had edited it the night before). I honestly don't remember the gist of the whole sermon, because I kinda fixated on this one part: in the midst of talking about inevitable change, he said something about not necessarily being able to be perfect but at least struggling on the path towards it. And not perfect by our standards. Methodists have this weird thing they talk about "moving on to perfection." It's like being a really amazing love-filled person- basically being like Jesus. A good Methodist really wants to be like Jesus. So Joe says we aren't perfect, and change is aways happening, and we're constantly adjusting, and it is a struggle, but we can Struggle Good, and that is moving on to perfection (really: love).

Struggle Good. Somehow that struck a chord with me. The struggle is there, no denying it or taking it away (as much as I hoped I could). But we can struggle good. (I know- it's not good grammar, that's intentional, just deal with it.) Here's the thing about depression and struggling good: it is still a shit-show, but maybe it can be one with a dousing of grace. I'm super terrible about the grace part. I don't even know what it feels like to struggle good, because it all feels like struggling bad. (Just- seriously, don't worry about my grammar.)

In fact, I get really annoyed with how terribly I struggle. Annoyed? No- 100% shamed. The lovely writer Liz Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love; Big Magic, seriously- go read her stuff), just recently lost the love of her life to cancer. Do you want to know something insanely irritating? She has somehow figured out how to be vulnerable, sad, miserable, and do it well!! She says to people to create while they are grieving- to let their grief and whatever emotion move within their creations. I kinda want to punch her in the face for that. CREATE?! I can't do shit when I'm sad. I can't put a pen to paper, I can't paint anything. How does she get to express her grief in creation when I sit here just working on the basics? But somehow she is doing that too. I feel like SHE is struggling Good, and I am struggling bad. But this is not helpful, to me, to you, or to anyone (says my therapist and logic and pretty much all the voices but the gremlin in my head that wants me to wallow in shame). So I have to think about what it looks like for me to struggle good, and then inject grace into it and be proud of myself. Somehow. My internal gremlin is rolling her eyes at me but she can shove it.

Here's what Struggling Good with depression looks like these days for me... I started medication last March? April? Medicine was like a light bulb flipped on. I was like OH THIS IS WHAT YOU PEOPLE FEEL LIKE?! It was fantastic. Every part of my body was *awake* in a way I thought never possible. Not only did I accomplish normal daily tasks, I did it like it wasn't even a thing! Then it rained every day of May. I was still fine, but I started feeling the grey creeping in. The sun shone out enough to keep the grey monster at bay for a little while, I got through an uncommonly rainy summer, and insanely, INSANELY short Fall. Things were still GOOD though. And now, it's November 14th, the time has changed so that now the sun sets at 5pm, and the Grey Winter is here. Technically, we are still in "Fall" but Mother Nature did NOT get the memo. And inside my sweet, diseased brain, the winter has come. Expletives. Hello, darkness, my old freaking enemy. (Simon and Garfunkel should have told darkness what was what.)

I feel like a grizzly bear. I'm ready to hibernate, and if you mess with me too much I'll rare up and growl at you because I just want to go lie down and you're in my way. I'm not even a powerful grizzly, I'm like one of those sad, malnourished polar bears. The ice (sun in my case) is melting away underneath me and I just can't seem to get what I need to make it through the day. I find myself this last week going to bed earlier (and not in a healthy way, in a 10-12 hour sleeping sprint way). I'm staring out at space a little more. Negative thoughts are nesting in my head. Energy is eroded. The Winter Witch is getting nice and cozy inside my brain.

Shit. I'm back to struggle. It's so frustrating! I thought I was good! I thought everything would be easier! And... I confess- it is. I'm still functioning. I'm just struggling after being fairly effortlessly functional for a while. Now I'm facing my old struggle routine. The checklist of medicines I need: Sun (fake or real), Food (real food, Sarah, REAL food), water, vitamins, MORE Vitamin D, Fish oil, good coffee, movement, engagement, medication, therapy, writing (I'm trying to create LIZ).

I now find myself again making those stupid checklists for each day, to remind myself of what I need to do to stay human: Monday- eat food/take meds, shower, go outside, SUN, snuggle a dog, drink water, get off social media, read a book, SUN, talk to a human, don't talk too much (or listen too much) to a human.  FIND THE SUN SOMEWHERE. Make appointments only and always between 1030am-230pm. By February, Jason is going to have to walk me to the shower again. But it's all on the evolving struggle medication checklist.

So I'm struggling, but this winter I'm going to try to Struggle Good. This does not mean I'm going to be particularly awesome at being good at things, or doing more things- it just means that I am going to try my hardest to take care of myself, and bathe in grace as often as I possibly can. I'm going to try REALLY hard to tell myself that I am struggling GOOD, not Bad. That I am not a loser, but a struggler, and somehow that is different. It IS different. I Struggle Good.