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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

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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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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