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Archive for the ‘Depression’ Category

In the past decade, bullying has become a hot topic. Maybe our interest started with Columbine. Before that tragedy, kids being bullied were good for a humorous scene in a sit-com. Suddenly, meanness had consequences. Even as awareness has grown, it took a rash of suicides and high-profile cases to compel schools, parents and child advocates to take bullying seriously. A couple of days ago I was browsing news online and found this story:

http://tinyurl.com/3sbd89u

Now even after death, they can hire a lawyer and get to you. On the internet. Great.

I was bullied as a child, throughout my school career. It started early, but as I hit puberty early and my weight went up, I became a common target. I remember being called names. Always the last picked for teams. One particularly memorable day in the sixth grade someone took my street clothes from my locker during PE and stuffed them down a dirty toilet. I had to wear my gym shorts the rest of the day, and carry my filthy clothing home on the bus in a garbage bag. The only physical damage I recall suffering was landing on my head while doing a high jump when a classmate pulled the mat out from under me. I knocked myself unconscious and went into convulsions, then stopped breathing. After the PE teacher gave me mouth to mouth, I was told to “walk it off” and sent to check in with the nurse, who sent me back to class.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I spent the summer after 9th grade working out and dieting myself down to a healthier weight. I was still never a waif-like teenager, I could squeeze into a size 10 on a good day, but for the most part I wasn’t a constant target. A couple of scrawled “fat cow” notes on my locker senior year, and I was in college and free.

That’s not to say that I was never culpable. I spent the tenth grade at a small school overseas–there were fewer than 20 of us in my class. That year a new boy came; he was strange, awkward. I’ll call him “Rock”–just gawky and at that strange growth stage where all his joints were twice the size of his skinny limbs. The boys in class were horrible to Rock. They called him names, excluded him, and I did nothing. I never stood up for him, never went out of my way to intervene. I just remember feeling relief that it wasn’t me. I was terrified that if I so much as said boo, they would turn and I’d be back on the bottom of the totem pole. I wasn’t that high anyhow. One day one of the popular guys brought rotten eggs to school, and somehow managed to get them all in Rock’s locker. I still remember seeing him, standing in the hall with tears streaming down his face, red with rage and shame. Only then did the most popular girl in our class turn to her boyfriend who had managed the egging and say “enough”. Rock was never accepted, but the viciousness stopped for the most part. No thanks to me.

Now as an adult, when I see someone being victimized, I step in. As a youth volunteer in church, and later a youth director, I tried to create a bullying free environment. I can’t say that my efforts always worked. Often other adults were oblivious. One little boy in particular was twelve, geeky and brilliant. The snarky comments, dirty looks… it was all so familiar to me. His parents were pastors, so he had to come to group. I brought it up in a planning meeting with the youth director and other volunteers. None of them had noticed a thing. One actually said something to the effect of, “I think they are pretty nice to him, he’s so weird, you know.”

There are people out there who have built so many walls around themselves that all they can do is lash out in an attempt to make themselves feel better, more, superior. Email harassment, snide comments made behind someone’s back, gossip and cruelty… this isn’t just about middle school, high school, college, not just about gay kids or weird kids or fat kids or smart kids… it’s about all of us. I would like to believe that no one I care about was ever a bully, but that’s unlikely. Many of us were bullied. Many of us saw it happen to others and did nothing. And every time I read another story about another beautiful child destroyed, I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

I would like to make a plea for kindness. For choice of gentle words. As the mother of an overweight child with Aspergers, I fear every time I send him out the door that he’ll experience what I did. This weekend, deep in my fit of melancholy, I found myself for the first time looking up on Facebook the names of the kids who had picked on me as a child. They didn’t look any different from any other 40somethings. Not sure what that means. But I know for a fact that it was the verbal and online bullying I experienced at my last job that led to my breakdown. I’m still wounded. So Christians, please act like it. And the rest of you, please keep us true to what we preach.

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How open are you?    With your spouse or significant other?  With your kids?  Your boss?  Your parents?  On a blog?

It’s an interesting question.  How authentic, how personal do you get?  Obviously these questions arise particularly on journal type blogs like mine, which by their very nature are intimate, and yet distant.  Even though I’m trying to be anonymous-y to the search engines (at least you’d have to know me or look for me), I remain committed to the idea that true communication happens only when we are willing to be vulnerable.  I’ve been around long enough to know that there is truly no privacy in cyberspace, and precious little IRL.  It’s all out there, so you better be OK with who you are.  Or at least I used to think so.

Then I went to “group” for three months.  “Group” is the euphemism we used at the psychiatric hospital for the severe mood disorders program.  “I’m going to group,” I’d say and head out the door in the morning.  Sounded a lot better than “I’m going to brain treatment” or “Behavioral Health Care”.  Group was really very interesting.  There was a wide range of ages, races, men and women, from body-pierced punk 19 year olds to an elderly Indian gentleman doctor, with plenty of housewives, students, a barista or two, a sheriff, and me, the pastor.  We were black and white, hispanic and asian.  It wasn’t a group of people who would ever meet socially in real life, and yet there was a closeness there that is hard to describe.  We all had been through it.  Depression, or bi-polar, anxiety disorders, all severe enough that normal life had become untenable, at least for a while.

I learned a lot about behavioural-cognitive theory, and talked some, and listened more.  We talked about our need to find places to express how we were feeling, and I was surprised at the number of people who said that they didn’t even have one person they could honestly talk to.  Not a single person in their life that they trusted that completely.  We had a long discussion about setting boundaries of who was safe, and who was not, to tell our stories.  I just recently started seeing a new therapist, and she’s one of the good ones.   I just got that vibe… she’s real.  She get’s it.  But isn’t always easy to tell, and being let down happens.  How do you know when someone is safe to share with?  Can be trusted?  Will be loving even if they disagree or disapprove or are disappointed by you?

I’ve been so blessed in having Flash with me through this all.  It has meant a lot to have my best friend and husband willing to walk this precarious path with me.  And on days like today, when I’m struggling to cope with normal routines through waves of panic attacks, it means a lot to have him by my side. 

I’ve always been somewhat of an over-sharer.  If you’ve ever heard me preach, you know that applying the scripture to my everyday life is the lens through which I see God.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.    I let it all out and trust that others will be honest and upfront with me in return.  Now that I’m middle-aged, I no longer expect that everyone will respond.   Some people simply find it frightening, to hear truth spoken by anyone.  To put aside unnecessary pleasantries for depth.  But I can say that for the most part the people I truly care about are willing to try authenticity. 

But now, like never before, I’m wounded.  And so, carefully, carefully, I’m trusting.  I had a wonderful lunch this morning with a dear colleague and gave her the whole story of the past two years of stress that brought me to the brink, far more than I will post publically.  I really want to focus here on the future, how I’m changing, what I’m becoming.   I’m carefully selecting how I post links to my blog on Facebook (not everyone sees them) and who I go into more detail with.  If you are one of those who is safe, who gets it, please come back.  Listen.  Respond.  If you aren’t, then… hey, look, squirrel!  Over there!  Now delete that link…

The technology is enticing.  There is possibility here.  Be authentic.  Speak your truth, but never have to see the face look back in disappointment or anger.  I finally get the whole blog thing.  I need it.  On days like today.

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It has not escaped my attention that my recent transition from seeming emotional stability to my new status as a wreck is happening at the age of 40.  It seems almost too classic to be coincidental, right?  Midlife crisis, meet RevMommy.  She’s ripe for the picking.

So I find myself faced with both the opportunity to do something new, go into uncharted water–a good thing.  And a bout of severe depression that often prevents me from doing anything at all beyond rolling over and going back to sleep–this is not so good.  Part of me wants to face the second half of life with enthusiasm and excitement.  I like to think this is the real me.  Another part of me is feeling at sea because for the first time in my life, I’m not defined by my job.  This is my scared part.  Really, really scared.

We live in a culture in which we are defined by what we do for a living.  When you meet someone for the first time, most people ask “What do you do?”  They don’t mean knitting, or collecting comics, they want to know where you work.  Flash has faced this disability for many years as a Stay-At-Home-Dad.  Only in the last few years has SAHD even become a thing, one that you can admit to. (An aside about Flash:   He’s an awesome dad, as shown by the way he spent his afternoon coaxing our terrified and resistant son into having his blood drawn.   Flash not only spent 45 minutes trying to calm a hysterical child with Asperger’s, but even had them draw his own blood just to show it was safe.  He so rocks.)   I love to shake up personal introductions by asking questions like “What is your favorite book?” or “Where did you grow up?”, if not “What is your first memory of being in a kitchen?”  That’s a great one.

In my case, I’ve been in a pastoral role my entire adult life.  I went to seminary right out of college at the age of 21, worked as a youth director, was a missionary, and was ordained and in a church at 25.  I remember one elderly lady in the first church I served asking my age, then replying, “Honey, I’ve got shoes older than you.”  So while I may not have grown up in the church, I have certainly become the woman I am in the church.   Being a pastor never stops.  People I don’t know often want to tell me how horrible religion is, or contrariwise they suddenly stop saying fuck and act as if I’m going to slap them with a ruler.  Or they just close down and move out of the conversation.  On the other hand, there are the folks that jump right in to theology, or the story of their personal crisis, or ask me to pray.  Once the words, “I’m a pastor” are out of my mouth, I become a stand-in for their entire personal relationship with God, however bad or good that has been.  And after a while, I started to see myself that way as well.  Who I was was what I did. 

Tonight I met with an old friend (old, in the sense that now she’s an adult woman in her late 20s and I remember her at age 13 in church youth group) to talk about my exploring the possibility of my becoming a doula.  A doula, if you are not a parent or became a parent before they became popular, is a childbirth attendant.  A woman who professionally supports the woman in labor, as opposed to a midwife whose focus is on the baby.  

We met in a totally cool coffeehouse, so cool that it is definitely not near where I live.  Funky couches, art, nothing matching or blah–we sat on a bright green Victorian style couch.  The customers were all young, hip, and busily working on their laptops.   I want to live there.

Anyhow, my friend is not only a doula, she’s currently expecting her first baby.  I’m a total childbirth geek, I loved being pregnant and being in labor, and using a doula was a big part of that.  I have oodles of experience in hospitals, and it would be nice to be there to celebrate the beginning of life rather than my usual role.  Don’t get all excited, I’m honestly just trying it on for size.   I don’t really know which way God is calling me right now, but it feels odd to even think about taking off my virtual “I’m A Pastor–Tell Me Your Problems” button.  In a way it could be so refreshing.

So the “Rev” part of “RevMommy” has suddenly become nebulous.  However, as Mothers’ Day reminded me, the “Mommy” part is still right on target.  If I define myself by anything, it is being a Mom.  One thing I know I want is to continue to have the family oriented and centered lifestyle that we do.  I want to spend as much time as possible, do as much as possible, with my children before they move up and out.  I’m not satisfied with a couple of hours a day of interaction with my biological offspring.  I want to be part of raising them.  Not a helicopter mom, hovering overhead; not a Tiger mom, demanding perfection: I want to be a cheetah mom, protecting them when they are helpless, teaching them to hunt by my side as they grow, then letting them go knowing I gave them myself 100%.   Hence homeschooling.  Scheduling my work life so that I can do as much as I can during their sleeping hours.  Spending my free time playing board games and going on family field trips and watching family movies.  Living a child-centered life in a culture that really rejects that sort of thinking.  Being a mom is my rock right now.  

Belated happy Mothers’ Day to all you moms out there.   It really is the best part of my life.  And while I’m still trying to decide what I want to do when I grow up, for now I’m happy just being a mom.

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This evening once again Flash and Entropy are off playing Magic, and having momentary control of the remote, I made a terrible mistake.  Left alone with Kinesis, I managed to get him off to sleep and started browsing our Netflix recommendations all on my own.  How fun, to see a movie without superheroes that doesn’t need to appeal to any of the boys, young or old, in my life.  Period pieces are one of my favorites, so of course, up came Howards End as a recommendation.  Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, and a very young Helena Bonham Carter.  How could I go wrong?

I must admit it’s been some years since I read Forster.  I remember enjoying A Room With a View, but my memory might be fuzzy because clearly tonight I waded in over my head.  I understand Foster’s points about universality of experience, humanity, and our need for relationship and understanding, etc, etc, but did the story have to be so damned sad?  

Let’s just say that I have little fondness for what might be called the darker side of fiction. I enjoy light beginnings, perfect endings, and as little unhappy middle as possible.  When I watch a tragic movie I end up brooding and melancholy, as if the characters in the story were people close to me.  In high school I couldn’t finish reading Lord of the Flies, Tess left me weepy and I managed to write a paper on Heart of Darkness even though I skipped any of the darker parts.  I love Shakespeare, but avoid  the tragedies.   Especially that eye bit in Lear.*

Flash, on the other hand, enjoys reading and watching movies about what might be termed the darker side of life.  He claims his life has little drama, so he enjoys some vicariously.   Some people might even think that my lack of true appreciation for tragedy and drama is due to some lack of artistic appreciation, or that as I’ll develop a thicker skin.  Yet I find that the older I get, the less tolerance I have for sad tales in my entertainment fare.  It’s too much like real life. 

I think my colleagues would agree that being a pastor often gives one a close up of the less pleasant side of the human condition.  So many people who are so placid on the outside are from families that are secretly seething with tragedy.   I’m not talking about the many times I’ve witnessed the natural process of death.  I mean the families in which broad smiles mask physical abuse, addiction, sexual violence… even murder.  There are so many situations that are so painful, closer than you’d ever imagine, I can’t seem to find the joy in even a fictional tragedy.  Real ones haunt me.  So help me, I’ll never pump my fist in the air and cheer a bloody death.   It’s the casual cruelty that gets to me every time.

Maybe I’m missing some sort of Schadenfreude gene.  Yet as I write this I look down at the sleeping face of my son and part of me desperately wants to believe that deep down, most of us are basically good, yearning for the true, the just, and the beautiful.  There is too much meanness, too much hate, too much sadness in the world already.  Give me an unbelievable and obvious happy ending any day.  And may we find those endings in real life.

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*This may be some strange biologically inherited aversion to royal occular mutilation, as according to my Mom we are descended  on our Norwegian side from King Magnus the Blind, who was plain old King Magnus until he had his eyes plucked out by his uncle.  Seriously.

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Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.  — Carl Jung

Yes, it is indeed that geekiest of holidays: Star Wars Day.  In our family that means an all-day full length marathon of Star Wars movies.  Of course, Flash and I disdain the new three, so the kids watch Jar-Jar and the adults wait for the real thing.  The fact that after over (ahem) thirty years of watching the film we know most of the lines by heart doesn’t seem to reduce the fun.

Except–if you’ve been paying attention, you know this whole “change my life, move across the country, engage life anew” blog inspirational thingy was originally spawned by my own diagnosis with severe depression.  And the problem with severe depression is sometimes it crawls back and bites you on the ass.  Today was not a good day.  I had horrible nightmares all night, and by the time morning came I was ready for a full-fledged withdrawal from the world and an overly melodramatic cry. 

So I coped.  Maybe not as well as possible, but I made it out of bed and not a tear escaped.  I even joined my kids for part of the first trilogy–although if anything is able to induce depression, George Lucas’s take on the prequel to one of the great mythological pieces of the 20th century will certainly do so.   If there is any point to my ramblings this evening, it is that the loss of joy that happens when your brain goes awry is truly incomprehensible.  Me?  Not enjoy Star Wars?  How is that possible?  For almost 20 years I’ve been dealing in a professional capacity with people suffering from depression, but I just never really got it.  Well, I get it now.  It sometimes feels like life will never be the same again, as if someone has mysteriously changed the world from full HD color to a grainy black and white. 

Perhaps that is what inspired my incredibly ambitious plan of jettisoning our worldly possessions and spending the summer travelling across the country.  I’m looking for something to remind me of the color, the joy, the simple pleasures that have become difficult for me to grasp at times.  Some days it is there, and then others like today I wake up and it slips through my fingers like smoke. 

And, of course, may the force be with you.

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This is it. That moment before an impending move when it seems like the chaos will overwhelm us. We are drowning in a sea of boxes. Flash brings them home every week from the comic store.

The problem is, we have too much stuff. Mostly books. Games. Graphic novels. Video games and toys. And books. There is not a room in our home which is not abloom with literature.

However, we can only store so much. So most of the books, most of the shelves, are going. Everyone will get Kindles (mine is already two years old) and we will join the digital age. Now, don’t get me wrong, we’ll still have books. Hundreds of books. Enough books to educate a slew of children and ourselves. But fewer. Far fewer.

For now, the boxes loom in the hallway reminding us that time is counting down each day. We now have less than two months to go, and our new life must be ready for her first voyage. It sounds like a lot, but feels overwhelmingly immediate. I start to question my madness…

This morning this was the view from our house. The sun was coming over the mountains in the East, and I knew I would miss some parts of this place, this life. We’ve been in So Cal for 20 years. My entire adult life. Feeling melancholy tonight.

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I wanted to change the world.
But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself. 
–Aldous Huxley
 
I’ve always been the stable one.  The level-headed, reliable, succesful doer.  I kept on going despite the odds, despite grief, despite tragedy, despite a full-time job and two needy kids and a career that demands perfection while paying lip service to forgiveness.  And this past February it all came crashing down on me.  All it took were a few emotional kicks from some angry people, and I dropped to my knees and broke.  Suddenly I couldn’t face the responsibilities of life that I’d been plugging through for the past 20 years.  My shell cracked and inside I found an overwhelming sadness that almost led me to take my life.
 
But I didn’t.  I reached out to my wonderful husband (we’ll call him Flash), and I was quickly in a treatment program, sitting in a room with people who had life stories that were far beyond my experience.  But I listened, and I learned, and it soon became clear that most of my problem was centered in the barrel of “should”s I carried around each day.  I should own a house by now.  I should spend more time with my family; no, more time on my career; no, family! 
 
Three months later, I’m on a new road.  Or soon will be.  I’ve taken a leave of absence from my job, and Flash and I and our two young sons–we’ll call them Entropy and Kinesis–are selling out or packing up everything in our four bedroom house to drive cross-country and focus on relationship with each other and reconnecting with grandparents and others.  And so I chose my blog title:  Ad Meliora.  To better things.  That’s where I hope I’m headed.
 
I’m RevMommy.  After almost 2o years as a pastor I’m changing direction.  It may bring me right back where I started.  But I suspect the journey is going to be interesting.
 

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