Enter Sandman

Today is brighter than yesterday.  Tomorrow promises even more light.  Sleep is an incredibly underrated but extremely vital component of maintaining mental health.  Sure, you may think you can get by on less sleep, or by switching up your sleeping schedule, but lack of regular sleep can have an immediate and negative impact on you, especially if you are dealing with a mental illness or depression.

Lack of sleep caused by the Gardening Beauty’s recent shoulder injury and the difficulty she sometimes has in shutting down her mind at night has helped deepen this latest low. She had a couple appointments today and now has some medication and some strategies to get her sleeping on a regular sleep pattern, like getting out of bed at 8am regardless of when she went to sleep, in order to recondition her body’s inner clock.  Right now she is sleeping, and that is a small triumph, since she has been unable to get to sleep before 2 or 3 am for the last two weeks, and often has not been able to get to sleep until 5 am, if at all.

My only worry is that she will dream.  Dreams for her tend to be vivid and extremely emotional.  She also has some recurring dreams.  The mind is so very complex and the dreams that are stitched together by our subconscious are most often riddles and quilts and montages.  Not having an explanation for these enigmatic movies in our minds, we struggle to find meaning in them.  Are they signposts or visions? Are they of the future or the past? I currently believe there is little meaning in dreams other than how they give us insight into the almost infinite complexity of human thought and the amazing capacity of the brain. But, I know that is not a widely held belief.  My simple desire is that she experiences some deep REM sleep and that the dreams do not occur as frequently as they have.

Sometimes I struggle to keep positive.  ON those days when it seems like she always puts a negative spin on everything, it can get tiring.  She blames herself.  It is one of the things that keeps many people who experience depression from socializing; they want desperately to be around friends, but they don’t want to bring everyone else down.  Add in anxiety, and you have a toxic soup of doubt and guilt.  It requires patience on those who care most about her.  But, it’s ok to have days when you just can’t deal – we all get to be human.  Just keep understanding that if she could escape from these negative feelings, she would.

I am hopeful.  She is still struggling, but I see this as a major step forward.  Next up is to get some exercise.  We need to walk, and the weather is turning cool.  My favorite time of year!  One day, one step, one more beam of hope.

Loving Someone With Depression

We all have been depressed.

Heck, it’s one of the five stages of grief, right after bargaining with the devil for your soul, or something like that.  It’s a place none of us enjoy, but it is necessary to move through it on our journey.  Can you imagine being trapped there?  Yes, you have days, sometimes weeks, where you escape it for a shining moment, but it is always there, dragging you back down.  It is a destructive force like a black hole.  Drugs and therapy help keep you above water sometimes, but not always, and there is no cure.  Just a constant distorted rollercoaster.

Metaphors notwithstanding, depression is an illness.  It differs from epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, cancer, and every other illness and disease only in that far too many people do not recognize it as a an illness.  But, it wreaks the same havoc on the person and on their friends and family.

I am in love with an amazing woman who has depression.

Before I met the Gardening Beauty, she had attempted suicide.  Twice.  For some men, that would be a signal to turn and run away.  Even today, when her depression is really challenging her, she reminds me I don’t have to stay.  But I do, because I am in love with her.

Why didn’t it scare me?  Well, it did, a bit.  But, I have a caretaker personality, and she is an amazing cook, so my personality and stomach made the decision.  No.  That’s not completely true.  Seriously, I can’t answer why it didn’t scare me off.  It just didn’t.

Since meeting her, I have learned and experienced so much about depression.  Have you ever heard some of the various tips people give for getting over depression (as if that were even a possibility)?  They include: “Just watch a funny movie”, “Think happy thoughts”, “Snap out of it”, “Think of all the good things you have”, “Stop thinking about everything and just enjoy”. [In fairness, one or two of those may or may not have been uttered by me.]  Some of these are well-meaning, but they are meaningless. COMPLETELY. MEANINGLESS. You might as well tell someone having a seizure, “Just hold yourself still!” Or declare that all one needs to do to be cured of cancer is “Think the tumor away!”  Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Yet, these suggestions are heard over and over and over by those who deal with clinically diagnosed depression.

One thing she says to me is, “I know that’s what you meant, but this is how I feel.”  I never really understood that until the light went on today.  While intention is important, sometimes, perception overrules it.  It’s not that her perception is wrong or invalid, it’s just very important in how she reacts to something.  She admits that the intention of someone can make a difference, but often, it relies more on how she perceives it.  And when her mind starts working against her, it can end up in a very ugly place.  That doesn’t mean people who know her need to walk on eggshells around her.  It means that she needs them to understand what she feels, to accept that her perception is a valid as their intent, that her feelings are as valid as their feelings. That must be one of the most infuriating, most hopeless challenges of depression – lack of understanding.

You can’t see the damage.  You have to listen close to hear the calls for help.  You have to make an effort to understand something so debilitating that it will literally keep someone in bed all day. There is no telethon for it, no one holds bake sales to help someone pay for their therapy or drugs, hell, you are lucky if someone just takes the time to ask you what they can do to help.

Every single person who is diagnosed with depression experiences it differently.  You may have a relative or friend with depression, and something may have worked for them, may have helped them manage their illness, but there is no guarantee it will work for someone else.  Every person has their own triggers.  One of the most insidious triggers for the Gardening Beauty is the implied “but”.  You can tell her the most amazing thing about herself, give her the most incredible and well-deserved compliment, but she may hear an implied “but”.  She says it stems from her childhood and the overwhelming feeling that she had to be perfect.  She remembers going two weeks without a spanking at one point, but what stays with her is the sense of failure when she could not avoid it longer.  Rather than blaming her father for his ignorant and damaging use of corporal punishment, she blames herself for not being perfect enough.  That feeling and fear of being less than perfect permeates her response to everything.  When she takes over a project, sooner or later her drive for perfection and her fear of failure take hold.  Then, she feels unworthy, unmotivated, insignificant.  People interpret that as her giving up, and it is, but not in the manner they suspect.  She gives up on herself.

It is a challenge for her to accept criticism without taking it personally, especially when she has invested herself in something, because experience has taught her that way.  For example, she obviously adores gardening, and she is incredibly knowledgeable.  She is willing to admit when she doesn’t know something or when she is wrong, but that does not happen too often.  It is her passion, and she comes alive when discussing it and doing it.  This summer, she had a rotator cuff injury.  It limited what she was able to do, and the garden took a little step back.  For someone who does not experience depression, you do what you can and pick up and move forward.  For her, she lost her motivation.  Then, as the vegetables began to over-ripen on the vine, it overwhelmed her to even look at them, because she felt she had failed.  The flowers she had lovingly planted no longer gave her joy.  “What’s the use? I screwed up.”  Her mind did its damndest to work against her.  The only thing I can do is try to offer coping strategies.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  The one I have stumbled upon that seems to give some relief is asking her to make a list that we both can tackle.  Small things, small steps to offer some light, to lift the haze.

It is challenging for me, and I love her.  It must be doubly challenging for people who are not closely invested in her well-being.  But it does not hurt any less when they lose patience with her, or when they dismiss her out of frustration or ignorance.  What I dread is when someone makes assumptions about her, believes that because she has never been formally trained that her opinion holds little weight, or that even though she has dared to take the lead in a project, slowly and surreptitiously remove her responsibility because some days are challenging for her.  Being with her, loving her, working with her, takes patience, boat loads of patience sometimes.  Some days, my patience admittedly runs damn near empty.  We struggle together on those days.  Together.  We sometimes yell at each other, cry, get frustrated, but we work together.  It pains me to watch others abandon her, turn on her, or refuse to take the time to understand her.  Sadly, that happens to everyone who faces a debilitating illness.  Some people are not equipped to deal with it.

“Why are you with her?”

It’s a question no one has asked me outright, but I am sure has crossed the minds of those who know us.  I love her.  She adds more to my life than I do to hers.  Her kindness, generosity, love for nature, open and giving heart, and her wickedly twisted sense of humor all give me reason to get up and do what I do every day.  She is a talented cook, has a fantastic eye for design, she’s opinionated, honest, infuriating, flawed, clever, and full of more confidence than you might expect.  Some days I like her, some days I don’t, but I love her everyday.  She just happens to be diagnosed with depression.  It is not who she is, it does not define her, but it is a part of her that needs to be understood.  I hope that I understand more days than I don’t.

Losing Baggage

This morning I received a message of encouragement and kindness that has helped me change my frame of mind.  It came from the least expected, but most obvious person possible. After exchanging a couple supportive messages, I looked at the daily quote that is sent to my email daily:

“Forgiveness creates an obligation for which there are no exceptions allowed.” – Giovanni Papini

In this blog, I have written often about love and forgiveness.  What you may not always see about forgiveness is the very real struggle to swim against the tide of human emotion, pain, frustration, and desire in order to offer true forgiveness,  a forgiveness that is given freely with no expectation of reward or reciprocation.  Yesterday, I posted a very personal confession of my anger.  It is not something of which I am proud, but I needed desperately to share it because it had been eating at me.  Anger does that.  It is the devourer.  But, it is also a necessary emotion, because it allows you to release pain and frustration.  How you release it is up to you.  One thing that you cannot do, I have learned from painful experience, is carry it with you.  Oh, it will remain with you for a time, but it will keep devouring you until you let it go.  The act of forgiveness is the most powerful way to heal yourself and others.

We talk about forgiveness in the abstract.  It seems so logical, so straight-forward, so obviously beneficial and easy.  When forgiving someone we do not know well, or even know at all, I believe that is easy.  We have no stake in the act of forgiveness.  However, when forgiveness becomes personal, it reveals a complexity of struggle.  The strength it takes to overcome deep hurt and the strength to let go of anger and pain is difficult to quantify because emotions are so much a part of who we are that it is a sacrifice to let even the most destructive ones go.  So, where do we find that strength?

I see an obvious example in Jesus.  However, his example is so perfect that it is daunting to try to even strive for it.  But there are modern examples of true forgiveness, born in anger and pain, somehow filled with mercy and grace.  They find an otherworldly strength to not only forgive, but to offer redemption and hope.  Like this woman. And this woman. And this man.  It is apparent that the perfect example, while daunting, is completely attainable.  We DO have the strength to release anger, to offer forgiveness.

For me, I am still angry, but I know time will temper my anger.  Now, I seek the strength to overcome the anger, get past it, and forgive.  I need to find the grace within me, the inspiration to give without expectation. The struggle is now.

Troubling Visions

Last night I had a dream about someone. I do not wish to dream about this person, but the cruelty of the subconscious is that it has no filter. The dream has brought some unresolved emotions to the surface, so I ask your patience as I navigate them here.

At one time, I respected and cared deeply for this person. Slowly, I came to realize that this person was selfish in ways to which I had a blind spot. The lowest point came when I neglected to defend the love of my life against a very misguided attempt to “fix” her. Thankfully, the Gardening Beauty is both resilient and forgiving. She does not need fixing. Any changes she makes come from her desire to change, not from someone else’s need to intervene. I happen to love her for who she is, not who I or anyone else wants her to be. It is frustrating to me when someone doesn’t see why I love her with all her supposed faults, and it angers me when someone tries to make me doubt my love or hers.

There is a phrase that concerns speaking with grace and salt. However, that is not carte blanche to use words to hurt someone under the guise of grace. That seems to me to be a particularly abominable distortion of what should be a responsibility to speak in love to one another.

This person also believes, inaccurately, that we have been unsupportive and/or seeking to undermine this person’s professional expertise. Any of you who know me personally would, I hope, see the absurdity in that. Even in the midst of my hurt, I would not do that. That would serve no constructive purpose.

I feel manipulated. That is a major admission for me, as I don’t envision myself as one who can be so easily swayed. It turns out (surprise, surprise) that my passions rule me. Say the right words, flatter me with the right compliments, show me the attention I sometimes desperately crave, and I become putty in your hands, even to the detriment of the important people in my life.

At this point, I am angry. Another wrinkle in this situation is a feeling of betrayal. My attempt to reach out, to communicate, was met with a single unfocused message of reply followed by complete silence on the matter. Continue reading

July 4, 2015: Thoughts Concerning Our Golden Calf

This weekend we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  They weekend is traditionally celebrated by gathering with friends and/or family, cooking out, setting off and watching fireworks, and flying the flag.  But, I do not revere the flag like many do.  That may appear to be unpatriotic, or even blasphemous to some. Allow me to explain.

I have a problem with imbuing any inanimate object with so much symbolism that it becomes more powerful than that which it represents.  All over Facebook and other social media, I see posts exhorting that people will never step on the flag, never burn it, that the flag is what our troops fight to defend, etc.  I support respecting the flag, but I also believe treading upon it and burning it is valid and necessary free speech.  Since when is a symbol more important than the actual freedoms it represents?  You may not like it, but our freedoms come with compromises, one of them being that not everyone feels or acts the same way you do.

There have also been a flood of posts and memes inaccurately bemoaning the myth that the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer recited in schools.  I always thought it odd that we pledged allegiance to a piece of colored cloth, anyway.  Shouldn’t we be pledging our allegiance to the government and the freedoms it represents first and foremost? “I pledge allegiance to the flag… and to the Republic for which it stands.”  Why is the Republic relegated to secondary status behind the flag?  Why do we need the flag as an intermediary? That may seem like quibbling, but I firmly believe it has given us a generation of citizens that places allegiance to the flag over allegiance to the freedoms it represents.

The reality is that the flag is a piece of cloth.  We have chosen to imbue it with significance and symbolism.  I fully understand and accept that it represents the freedoms which we enjoy and that veterans look to it as a symbol of what they fought to protect.  But, since it merely functions as a symbol, I do not revere it.  I respect it, I feel emotion when I see it and sing the National Anthem, but I refuse to revere It, to make it more powerful than a symbol. I DO revere the freedoms we enjoy, I revere the positive values we endorse in both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, but I also revere the opportunity we are given to change and adapt, the opportunity to constantly and openly criticize, improve, and renew our nation.

If the flag represents our country, then it represents everything we are about.  That means it represents 239-plus years of the systematic destruction of indigenous tribes in the name of greed and expansion.  It also represents a sad history of exploiting natural resources to the point of extinction and depletion.  It represents the fact that when this country was founded, slavery was legal and those slaves were counted as only 3/5 of a person.  It represents a country that for it’s first 144 years, refused the basic right of voting to women.  It represents a country that spends more on war and the military than the next 26 countries combined and, for some reason, considers that a good thing.

I know that sounds negative, and it is.  But it is fact.  The flag may represent freedoms and rights that every day are expanded to cover more people, but there is such a long way to go.  And it has taken immense pain and suffering to expand those rights.

So, maybe I need to re-frame my own perspective toward the flag.  Instead of mooring it in the mistakes of the past, maybe I need to see the symbolism of constant change and progress.  Instead of violence and greed, maybe I need to see the sacrifices made during the difficult journey to build a more free society.  Instead of sitting idly by while politicians and hate groups co-opt the symbol of our country, I need to exercise the freedoms given to all of us, and oppose hatred and intolerance.

I will do that.  And I will do it while maintaining respect for the flag, but without turning it into an immutable, infallible idol.

I Don’t Want to be Lukewarm

Churches are burning.

Did you realize that?  Have you heard about it?  Seven historically African-American churches have been burned in recent days.  This is in addition to the nine people brutally murdered by a hateful, ignorant man.  Thankfully, there have been no additional deaths or major injuries, but that’s not the point.  These churches are gathering places, safe places, places where communities come together.  And they are being burned down.

The Church Arson Prevention Act, passed in 1990, makes burning a place of worship a Federal crime.  Yet, have we seen or heard about these outside of social networks?  The media is woefully silent, and certainly cannot be counted upon to give any kind of in-depth coverage to this sudden surge of violence (and it IS violence).

So what?  I’m white, male, and privileged.  Why should I care?  I should care precisely because I happen to be white, male, and privileged – for every moment I refuse to speak up against these crimes is one more moment that I condone them with my silence.  This is unacceptable.  Meanwhile, the bilious talking heads on TV wax eloquent about how systemic racism no longer exists.  It exists as long as we sit idly by and ignore when hate affects our brothers and sisters.  And why it affects them.

This is not an issue that should be ignored, it should not be swept under the media’s rug, and it should not be minimized.  I have absolutely no idea what it must feel like to wake up every day knowing, KNOWING, that you will face hate and discrimination today, tomorrow, and every day,  not because you deserve it, not because of anything you have done, just because.  Hatred is the “anti-grace”, given freely, but only to cause pain, anguish, and despair.

I have seen ignorance splashed across the news, in-depth coverage of protests to keep a symbol of hatred and treason out in the open, where it can continue to do the greatest damage.  Ignorance and hate do not deserve “equal” time.  They deserve no time at all.  Instead, we should focus on the many people gathering to rebuild together. But, like every positive thing that truly makes a difference, it makes much less compelling soundbites than ignorance and hate.  It requires depth, and emotion, and a willingness to connect instead of disconnect.  When we see the ignorant racist on TV, it is easy to distane ourselves and say, “That’s not me.”  But it is.  We allow it to keep happening over and over.  We feel sad, and say, “That’s terrible”, and go on.  Meanwhile, someone in Greeleyville, or Charleston, or Minneapolis, or Chicago, or everywhere, worries what they will have to face today.  What disrespect must they swallow? What violence will they encounter?  They live the struggle everyday.

I am not here to save anyone, I am not a white (literallly) knight come to deliver anyone from anything.  I support those who struggle, even though I will can never truly understand their struggle.  Now, I promise to live my support.   I pledge to speak out when I hear or see anyone disparaged or discriminated against simply based on who they are or how they look.  I pledge to speak out when the media neglects stories because they aren’t about white people.  As a Christian living in an overwhelmingly white community, I pledge to reach out to my neighbors of color, my neighbors who are immigrants, my neighbors who are potential friends, and invite them and include them as a vital part of our city.

It’s a small pledge. I pray I am up to the task.  I pray you join me.

My post was inspired by this post,  especially the following quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

An Open Letter to My Conservative Friends

Dear friends,

This has been a difficult week for many of you.  I understand the challenges you have faced with these changes.  It is difficult when things occur that run counter to your deeply held values.  None of you who I count as friends carries the hate and vitriol I have seen exhibited by others with whom you share political values, and I know your opposition to many of these issues is not anchored in intolerance.   I don’t agree with you, but I respect you.

I understand your frustration.  Here in my own state, I have seen many values which I hold dear opposed by the current administration.  But setting aside my frustration and disappointment, the truth is that we continue on caring about each other.  Some of the politicians who you may support are calling for keeping up the fight against same-sex marriage, against the Affordable Healthcare Act, against reasonable gun regulations.  I ask you for a different favor.  Take your energy, your passion, your commitment, and redirect it as positively as you can.  I don’t mean give up the issues about which you are passionate, but ask yourself which issues you really support benefit all of us and make us better.  I understand that is a very big favor I ask, so let’s start small.  Don’t encourage or support those who wish to hurt the vulnerable in our country merely for their own personal gain.  They want to harness negativity and frustration and fear for political gain.  Resist them.  Encourage them to find ways to rebuild the economy, promote freedom, and find common ground.

Some of you may view the joy and celebration of those with whom you disagree as disrespectful, and in some isolated cases, I agree.  But the truth is that the celebration is not about anyone losing.  No one has lost anything this week.  People who have been struggling for equal protection under the law, who have been struggling to find affordable healthcare, now are able to celebrate.  They have finally received their basic human rights under the law.  This is not about us vs. them, this is about all of us moving forward together.

I love and respect you, my friends, and will fight to the end for your rights to express your opinions and advocate what you believe is right.