You make me SO mad!

Angry child

(Photo credit: GerryT)

“You make me SO mad!” she screamed at me through crocodile tears, then she turned on her heels and stomped off.  My six-year-old’s words hit a nerve with me.  Exasperated by her finger-pointing, I followed her and gently– through gritted teeth– reminded her that it was her actions that had brought down her undesired consequences.  “Nobody can make you mad, darling,” I said with an air of superiority. “You are responsible for your own emotions and reactions to things.”  She rolled her eyes and huffed away again, and as I turned and walked away myself, I couldn’t help but hear a condemning inner voice saying to me, “Hypocrite!”

The truth is I make such statements to my husband and my kids all the time:  “You make me so mad!  You make me feel guilty.  I have to yell because you don’t listen!  You make me miserable when you do that!”  Seems like “Mom” needs to heed her own words.  In my heart, I know that what I said to my daughter is true;  nobody can make me feel or do anything.  Other people can behave poorly around me.  They can do things that any sane person would find frustrating.  They can act selfishly or rudely or abusively.  They can ignore me.  They can undermine me.  They can betray me.   But they cannot control how I react or feel about myself or the situation.  Only I have that power.  The question that I must continually ask myself is, “How much of my power am I going to give away this time?”

A few days ago, one of my online profiles got hacked.  It created a hassle and struck great fear in me while I struggled to find out if any sensitive information had been compromised.  “Some jerk ruined my night with my kids!” I lamented.  “Now I have to deal with this instead of enjoying dinner and games with my family like I planned.  People like that just piss me off!”  Instead of remaining calm and simply solving the problem, I cursed and lashed out at everyone around me who tried to help. I allowed myself to get all worked up, which only clouded my thinking and prolonged the misery.  I allowed the situation to determine my response, instead of allowing my response to resolve the situation.   I gave up my power to the prankster.

When you are dealing with difficult people – particularly with alcoholics or addicts or those suffering from mental illness who may not always be thinking or behaving rationally – it is easy to give up your power over your own happiness, serenity, and peace.  Guard against that!  Awareness is the key.  You can’t choose how people act around you or toward you.  You can’t stop hardships from coming your way.  You can’t control what words people will say to you or what tone they will use with you.  But you CAN control what YOU do, how YOU respond, what YOU say, how YOU feel.   You CAN find peace in the biggest storm and joy amid the most devastating pain.  Nobody “makes” you do or feel anything – except you!

 

If you’d like to leave a comment or ask a question, scroll back to the top of the post and click on the “comment” button just under the title. 

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Focus on the Path, Not the Problem

English: Path to Brandon Mountain.

Focus on the Path (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember seeing the images of Ground Zero in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and thinking, There’s no way that they will ever be able to clean that up.  It’s too overwhelming, too big, too painful.  Where would they even start?   Of course, the answer is quite simple… they had to start in the same place that any journey begins — at the beginning.

Sometimes, the mountains of destruction or hardship in our own life can seem just as daunting.  We look at the overwhelming tasks before us, and we just don’t know how to get started or if we have the strength to keep going.  Our personal “Ground Zero” could be anything – picking up the pieces after a divorce, making funeral arrangements and finding a way to move on, being a long-term caregiver to a seriously ill loved one, recovering from bankruptcy or a foreclosure, getting a scary diagnosis and preparing to fight for your life, facing another day under a cloud of depression or mental illness, finding your way to sobriety.  The list of possible hardships is endless, but how we deal with each challenge successfully is really quite simple – we put one foot in front of the other.

Imagine if you tried to climb a mountain and you continually kept your eyes focused on the faraway  peak of the mountain that seemed completely unreachable.  Not only would such a strategy be extremely discouraging, but it would quickly become fruitless as well – a climber must keep his attention much closer to himself, focusing on where he is at the moment and what his next step will be.  If not, he would get nowhere, and he may even put himself in great peril as he would be stepping blindly.

The same is true for us when a difficulty arises. If we focus continually on the enormity of the whole problem, the big picture, the “peak” instead of the path right in front of us, we will surely become overwhelmed and discouraged.  We may even give up.  On the other hand, if we focus on putting one foot in front of the other – asking ourselves, “What can I do JUST FOR TODAY to move forward? – then the challenge becomes manageable.   We may not be able to look ahead and ever see a way out of our grief, imagine a day when we won’t live paycheck to paycheck, or believe in a day when we won’t need a drink—but we CAN see that JUST FOR TODAY we can make a phone call to ask for help, go to an AA meeting, pray, bring a loved one to one more doctor appointment, fill out one more job application, face one more chemo treatment.   When we focus on just today, we can find the strength to do what needs to be done.

God never promises to show us up front how all our pain will work itself out for our good, but He does promise to be “a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.”  Notice that — He doesn’t light up the whole mountain because he wants you to focus on just taking the next right step.  You can do that.  JUST FOR TODAY – YOU CAN DO THAT!

If you’d like to leave a comment or ask a question, scroll back to the top of the post and click on the “comment” button just under the title. 

Gratefulnesss….and Prayers

A Fourth of July fireworks display at the Wash...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, on Independence Day, I find so much to be thankful for…

Last night, I went to sleep in peace, feeling great confidence that I would not be snatched from my bed by a secret police force and that I wouldn’t be awakened by mortar fire or explosions in my neighborhood.  Thank you to our military who stands guard for my family.  I pray for their safety.

This morning I woke up in a home that I own myself.  Thank you, God, for the gift of being born in a nation of wealth and opportunity.  I pray for those who have no place to call home or who are struggling to hold on to the one they have.

A short while ago, I chose a breakfast from a pantry full of nutritious and delicious foods.  Thank you, God, for providing more than enough.  I pray for those who feel the pain of hunger today.

A few minutes ago, I spent some private time in worship and prayer with God.  Thank you to our military, past and present, who gained and preserve our freedom of religion.  I pray for those who must risk their life to worship God today.

Right now, I enjoy the freedom to write my thoughts and share them with the world through the internet –with no fear of repercussion from an oppressive government.  Thank you again to our military and also to my fellow citizens, who all work together to preserve this imperfect, yet wonderful government system.  I pray for those who risk their lives to speak the truth.

Later today, I will likely join friends and family at a gathering full of laughter and love.  Thank you to all those in my life who are there for me and love me just as I am.  I pray for those who feel the ache of loneliness and don’t know where to turn.

Today, I will enjoy a wonderful day of relaxation and fun with my beautiful children.  Thank you, God, for the gift of these precious angels.  I pray for those who yearn for a child or who grieve the loss of their own angel.

Today, though I still have troubles and problems in my life, I walk in freedom with peace in my soul.  Thank you, Jesus, for rescuing me from the darkness and showing me the light of your love.  Your strength sustains me and your love heals me.

It’s so easy to miss all of the gifts in our lives.  Today is a good day to remember….   What are you grateful for today?

To leave a comment, scroll back to the top of the post and click on the “comments” link directly under the title.

Who’s in control here, anyway?

English: Papilio machaon caterpillar en face. ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of you have probably heard this story (or a version of it) — I first heard it at a twelve-step recovery meeting, but its lesson is so important, it bears repeating:

Jimmy was a young caterpillar who lived in a beautiful, lush garden.  One day, a caterpillar friend visited from another garden.  “Jimmy!” the friend explained, “Your garden home is so beautiful!  Mine is so dry and barren – I wish it could look like yours.”  “It can,” replied Jimmy enthusiastically.  “I have great power– I can make it rain!”  

“Really? How?” asked Jimmy’s friend, eager to hear Jimmy’s secret.  With great excitement, Jimmy answered, “It’s easy!  Every morning I wake up and say, ‘Rain, come today!’ and within a very short time, a beautiful rain pours down on me and my garden.  Then, in the evening as the sun is setting, I say it again, and sure enough, another cool, refreshing rain showers me.” 

“Watch!” continued Jimmy, “I’ll show you.  ‘Rain, come today,’” he said with confidence.  Then, the two friends waited eagerly.   A few minutes later, as they walked together in the garden, water drops began to fall on their heads.  “See!  I told you!” said Jimmy proudly.  His friend just smiled, but – being the good friend that he is — he chose not to point out to Jimmy the sprinkler head with a timer that they had just passed.  Just let him keep believing that he’s in control, thought Jimmy’s friend with amusement, as they continued to stroll together.

How often in our lives are we “Jimmy”?  How easy it is to fall into the trap of believing that we are in control, when it is really only an “illusion of control.”  The only One truly in control is God.  And yet, don’t we scramble, fret, obsess, fix, manipulate, worry, and strive as if everything depended on us?  What a heavy, unnecessary burden to put on ourselves!  When my husband was in active addiction, I earnestly believed that I could “control” his drinking – by hiding his alcohol or pain pills, constantly checking up on him, limiting his money, turning on the tears, and making ridiculous demands and ultimatums.  When he didn’t drink for a day, I convinced myself that all my efforts had “worked”—which only reinforced my “illusion of control” and kept me in my crazy cycle of insanity.  And, when my husband inevitably took the next drink, I was convinced that I just needed to try harder yet to “regain control” once again. It was exhausting – and it didn’t work.  Only when I opened my eyes to see that God is in control – not me – did I find peace and the true answers to my problems that I was so desperately seeking.

You don’t need an alcoholic spouse to get sucked into the insanity of the “illusion of control.”  When life hits us hard – a divorce, a serious illness, a car accident, a failed business, the death of a loved one, a lost job, a broken relationship,   –  it is our natural instinct to search desperately for a way to “fix” it, to reverse the misfortune, to make something happen, to “regain control of our lives,”–  and all too often we do even more damage to ourselves (and others) in this futile quest.  Perhaps, instead, we would do better to take a breath and surrender to the One who is really in control.  There is tremendous freedom, peace, and rest in “letting go and letting God.”   It’s not easy – but it makes far more sense than spinning your wheels exerting unnecessary energy and angst every day for nothing more than an “illusion.”  Don’t be a Jimmy recognize where your true Power is.

Through the Eyes of PTSD (A day in the life…)

American flag

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In honor of our military families past and present, and in reflection on our upcoming Independence Day, I wrote this as a reminder to myself and to others that the freedoms we enjoy every day are most certainly NOT free.  Many people have heard of PTSD, but very few understand the painful daily struggles and the devastation that it can bring to an entire family.  When you see life through the lens of PTSD, it is a completely different view — a dangerous world full of triggers and trauma at every turn.

So today, from my own experience and with the input of my husband, who suffers from these invisible wounds of war, I offer you  “life through the eyes of PTSD”.   May it inspire in you both compassion and gratitude for the high cost of freedom.

(WARNING:  This contains some graphic descriptions that may trigger a servicemember with PTSD.  PLEASE USE CAUTION!):

6:00 a.m.  Someone is grabbing me and I come up swinging – then I realize it’s only my wife trying to wake me up.  The adrenaline flows while I try to take a breath and calm down.  My wife looks startled and is staring at my hands – I realize they are clenched tightly into fists.  I feel bad for scaring her and foolish for my reaction.

6:15 a.m.  I finally manage to drag myself out of bed – I probably only slept 3-4 hours if I’m lucky.  My wife thinks I’m a lazy piece of crap because I can’t get moving in the morning – she has no idea that I’m up most of the night – every night.  I don’t even bother to try to explain.  My back is to the bedroom door as I get dressed – she comes into the room suddenly and I startle again.  Damn it, I hate that.

6:30 a.m.  The sudden sound of the toast popping up sends me halfway to the floor yet again. Thankfully no one saw me that time.

6:40 a.m.    My wife comes up behind me to give me a hug – it scares the sh** out of me and I turn around and instinctively push her away.  Now I’m pissed – I’ve told her a million times not to do that.  She looks hurt – but I don’t care.

7:15 a.m.  I watch the morning news and see images of some government slaughter in Syria.  The pictures bring back memories I prefer to forget—I feel restless.  My stomach churns.  F*#ked up world.

7:30 a.m.   My daughter starts whining about some stupid toy she can’t find.  I explode – I can’t handle it when kids whine about crap that doesn’t matter.  I’ve seen kids who were missing eyes and limbs, who were orphaned, who had been tortured, who were living on the street with NOTHING – they have a right to whine.  I wish my kids could learn to be grateful.

9:00 a.m. My wife suggests we go to the park.  I don’t want to, but she insists we need some “family time.”

9:30 a.m. We’re supposed to be leaving for the park, but no one is ready.  My stress level rises – we have a planned destination and we need to get there – if we delay, people could die.  I shake my head to remind myself I’m not in the army anymore.

10:00 a.m.  I’m driving behind some slow jackass… My rage is building and I can’t control it.  My wife sees that I’m tense and tells me to calm down – it just pisses me off more.  I tailgate the car, honk my horn, then slam on the accelerator and swerve wildly around him.  My wife screams at me to slow down.  She doesn’t get it – we’re sitting ducks for a sniper if we don’t keep moving.  It takes me several minutes to remember I’m in Wisconsin, not Bosnia.  But the adrenaline keeps surging nonetheless.

10:30 a.m.  We’re at the park, and I hate it.  There are people everywhere – I can’t keep track of them all.  My son keeps running ahead of me, and it pisses me off.  I grab him by the arm and hold on tight – he resists me and it makes me angrier, but I keep it stuffed inside. He doesn’t understand I’m just trying to protect him.  A kid screams somewhere – adrenaline shoots through me.  My instinct is to save him…my wife stops me – “Some boy just fell off the swings, honey – he’s fine.”  We start to walk on a trail in the park.  I hear something move in the woods, and I am instantly on alert again.  My body is so tense now, I’m getting a headache.  I tell my wife I want to go home.  She looks disappointed, but she understands and says “OK.”  I can tell my kids are mad at me though – I screwed things up again.

11:15 a.m.  On the way home, we pass a bloated dead deer on the side of the road.  That familiar stench of death makes me gag – no one else seems to notice.  My head is flooded with images of mass graves, rotting flesh, wailing family members, corpses hanging from trees, dead bodies in the ditches.  I drive faster as if I can outrun the flashbacks –I just want to get home.  My wife yells at me again for putting her and the kids in danger.

11:45 a.m.  I can’t take anymore.  It’s easier just to go numb and forget.  I head to the bedroom to try to sleep for a while.  I’m exhausted.  I just want to get away for a while.  My wife just glares at me when she sees me in bed again, and she slams the door.  Screw her.

4:00 p.m.  The sound of a helicopter wakes me instantly and I’m on my feet.  It takes me a minute to realize there’s no danger.  I realize I’ve slept most of the day away.  I drag myself out to the living room and face the wrath of my wife.  My kids immediately start hanging on me to come and play with them – I shake them off and push them away.  Their hurt faces register with me, but I don’t feel anything.  I just need some space – why can’t anyone give me that?!  I sink into the chair to watch T.V. – my wife will barely look at me.

5:30 p.m.  My son asks me to go throw a football around.  I really want to.  I head outside with him, and I feel myself starting to relax.  I love watching my son’s face when he catches a high, long throw.  I feel normal for the first time all day.  A few minutes later, a gunshot rings out and I hit the ground.  I scan quickly looking for the sniper, then realize it’s just a neighbor doing some target practice.  I pretend that I just fell down so my son won’t ask any questions.  I feel like a dumbass.  I try to focus on my son and the football, but the shots keep ringing out – I can’t take it anymore.  I drop the football and walk away – actually I drive away.  I see my disappointed son in the rearview mirror.  Why am I such an a*#hole?

8:00 p.m.   I finally return home – I feel better now after having a few drinks at the local bar.  I just needed to take the edge off.  My wife immediately tears into me – I tell her off and try to go to the bedroom to get away.  She follows me.  My children pipe up too – “Daddy, where were you?”  “Daddy, can you read a story to me?”  “Daddy, are you OK?”  My daughter starts crying.  I want to comfort her, but the sound of her wails brings images of explosions and screaming, terrified kids.  I finally lose it…

“JUST SHUT THE F#%K UP!  GET AWAY FROM ME – ALL OF YOU!”  My voice is so loud it seems to shake the house.  I don’t give a crap.  I push a chair over as I rush to the door  — I just need to get away.  I crush my fist into the door frame as I slam my way out of the house.  Screw them all, I think.

8:30 p.m.  I sit in my truck, watching the blood stream down my arm from my knuckle.  Dark thoughts fill my head:  They would be better off without me.  All I do is f*#k up their lives.  Damn it!  What the hell is wrong with me?!  I consider turning on the truck and stuffing something in the tailpipe or driving down the road and just ramming myself into a tree.  I think about taking the rest of my bottle of Xanax.  I think about finding my gun.  I just want this hell to be over.

10:00 p.m.  I come back inside.  My kids are in bed.  I love them so much.  I look at them sleeping there, and I feel a longing and pain that I don’t want to feel.  So I shove it back down and go numb.  I slip into bed next to my wife and watch her sleep.  God, I love her.  She doesn’t deserve this.  I wish I could make things right.  I drift into a restless sleep, but I’m up again an hour later.  Insomnia — the hell that tortures me all night long.

5:00 a.m.  I finally drift off to sleep on the couch.

5:30 a.m.  The nightmare is back – one of the many images I can’t erase – I see her body torn in half.  Her legs are twitching and mangled.  On the other side of the truck, her upper body is a bloody pile of guts and skin.  I want to throw up.  I tried to save her, but the truck came too fast.  I hear a sound behind me and turn to see a tank headed toward me… I wake up in horror.  I’m drenched in sweat;  my heart is beating fast and hard.  I can hardly breathe.   My wife is here now – she heard my screams and came to help.  I push her away, and she starts to cry.   I can’t stand crying, so I just walk away.

F*@k it ….another day in hell…..

This is the scene in hundreds of thousands of homes across America – the price of freedom is far too high for many.  This Fourth of July, as you enjoy your picnics, camping trips, and time with your loved ones in the peace that this country offers, please remember these struggling military families in your prayers.  Gratitude and compassion can be very healing. 

**If you’d like to leave a comment or question, scroll back to the top of the post and click on the small “comment” link under the title.

If you or someone you love is suffering in this way, please visit some of the following sites for information:

PTSD symptoms and treatment

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-TALK

When You Weren’t “Parent of the Year”

Old section of Natchez, Mississippi. Woman sit...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An old man walked through the park near his house each evening.  While the park was beautiful, his truly favorite part of walking there was the chance to meet other people along the way.  One particular evening, as the sun began to set, he saw a sad young woman in her early 30’s sitting on a park bench, writing something in what appeared to be a journal.  There were tears streaming down her face.  The old man was moved and stopped to talk with her.  “Young lady,” he said in a kind voice, “What are you writing about that is making you so sad?”  The woman looked up with eyes full of heartache and said, “I’m writing a letter to my beautiful children to tell them how sorry I am that I wasn’t there for them the way I should have been.  I was always so distracted with work and chores and my own interests that I never seemed to have time for them.  So every day, I go to one of the places that my children used to beg me to take them but I was too busy to go  – the park, the ball field, the zoo, the movie theatre.  I spend the day there and write them a letter telling them how sorry I am for hurting them so much.  Then the next day, I go to another of their favorite places, and I do the same thing all over again.  It’s my penance for the mistakes that I made.”  The old man felt great compassion for the obviously grieving young mother, who appeared to be regretting precious lost moments with her children while they were still alive.  With great tenderness, the old man asked her, “How long ago did your children pass away?” The mother looked up at him with great shock and exclaimed, “My children haven’t died!  They’re at home right now waiting for me to play —  if there’s any time left when I finish here.”

It may seem like an extreme story, but many parents can probably relate to the guilt this mother carries for not always being a perfect parent, as well as her misguided attempts at making amends by wallowing in her own guilt.  The truth, of course, is that the greatest amends would simply be to give her children her love, time, and attention NOW.  You can’t change what was done (or not done) in the past – you can only create a new tomorrow.

I can so relate – for years, I ran myself in circles trying to “fix” and “save” my alcoholic husband.  I ignored my children, snapped at them, neglected their physical and emotional needs, exposed them to hardships that could have been avoided, and neglected my own self-care to such an extent that I rarely had the energy to play with them.   And now I deal with the guilt.  For a long time, it haunted me every day – so much so that I became just like the mother described above.  I let the guilt and shame over the past prevent me from creating a new present and future.  Ironically, though I had the freedom to love my children fully, I was too focused on my regrets to see the opportunities right in front of me to make amends and move on.

If you, too, are struggling with guilt over missed opportunities, wasted moments, heartbroken faces that resulted from your occasional (or frequent) selfish choices….Perhaps you will benefit from the words that changed my life a year ago.  In one of my darkest moments of pain and guilt, I heard God say to me in the most gentle voice, “Maybe you weren’t perfect, Sharlene, but I am.  I was there for your babies when you couldn’t be.  I held your children for you when you weren’t able to.  I can love them enough for the both of us.  Let go of the guilt…and just love them today.  That’s all they need.”

Your children don’t care that you were never “Parent of the Year”…. They just need you to be there for them today – free of guilt and empowered by a God who fills in the gaps when you are lacking.

Put on the Right Pair of Glasses (Attitude Matters)

A pair of DKNY glasses. Black outside, blue in...

A pair of DKNY glasses. Black outside, blue inside frame. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I had Lasik surgery on my eyes five or six years ago, I was blind as a bat.  I couldn’t even recognize the facial features of a person standing 10 feet from me.  So… for 30-plus years, I had to wake up every morning and put on a pair of glasses in order to function properly in the world.  But I couldn’t just put on any pair of glasses — with six people in the family all needing prescription eyewear, I couldn’t just pick up any pair that was lying around the house and put them on.  I had to choose to put on the glasses with the right prescription that helped me see the world clearly.  (Ever try looking through someone else’s glasses?  You will see a very distorted world!)

Our attitude toward life and its challenges is like a pair of glasses — We get to choose each morning which pair of glasses we will put on — we  can choose whether we see the world through the lens of pain or the lens of hope.  We’ve all heard inspirational stories of people like Corrie Ten Boom and Victor Frankl, who managed to thrive and inspire people even in the worst of circumstances — a Nazi concentration camp.  How could they face such incredible hardship and not crumble, while others are defeated in far less difficult situations?  If you read their stories, you will see that attitude played a crucial difference in what they were able to accomplish.  They were in arguably one of the worst situations a person could be in — yet they looked for the good, they searched for ways to improve the situation for themselves and those around them, and they lived in the solution and not the problem.

I’ve had my share of pity parties over the years (if I’m honest — I still have them occasionally).  When my husband was in and out of hospitals, treatment centers and jails because his PTSD, depression, and addiction were untreated and out of control, I had plenty of reason to feel sorry for myself.  For many years, I woke up every day and put on the “Poor Me” glasses.  But that’s not the “prescription” that God intended for me — so those glasses distorted the world and made EVERYTHING look miserable.  I couldn’t find anything right with my life — even though I had so much to be thankful for, above all —  my two beautiful children.

Oh how much pain I would have saved myself if I had learned earlier to put on the “Thank you, God, for what I have” glasses instead.  Please don’t misunderstand — I don’t mean to trivialize anyone’s heartaches with Polly-Anna “Just be Positive” nonsense.  I know for many of you, your pain is very real.  So was mine.  But looking back I see that not one problem was solved or made better by my choosing the “poor me” glasses  everyday.  My husband still had PTSD.  He was still an alcoholic.  We were still financially devastated.  I was still overwhelmed and heartbroken.  And because of the lens I chose to view the world through — I was also without hope and without solutions.

Choosing a good attitude in bad times isn’t about denial and it isn’t about quick fixes and miracle solutions.  It’s simply about choosing not to add to our own misery by choosing “glasses” (attitudes) that distort what we see and make it even harder to find a way  out of our troubles.  It’s a choice we all have to make every day — which pair of glasses will I put on today?

More about Corrie Ten Boom

 More about Victor Frankl

 

 

The Pain of Depression

“I’m so depressed today….”  How often have we heard that statement, or made it ourselves, when we were really simply trying to say, “I’m having a bad day”?  Depression is a very real — and sometimes terminal — illness, not a choice or an attitude problem.  Sometimes such casual usage of the word “depression” can innocently and unintentionally prevent someone from recognizing the seriousness of the illness and getting help.  After all, aren’t people who are depressed just supposed to “get over it”?  Or “snap out of it”?  Or “stop being so selfish”?  Just as you can’t “get over” cancer, or “snap out of” a heart attack, most people cannot overcome depression without medical and/or psychological help.  Many well-intentioned people  cannot imagine what it is like to walk in the darkness of depression and thus lead others astray by minimizing the reality of this illness.  An excerpt from “Blind Devotion”:

It’s difficult to describe the heartache of watching your husband slowly die inside—a little piece at a time. It seemed like that’s what Sean’s depression was doing.

I grew to hate being alone in a room with my husband. I felt smothered by the heaviness of his pain. His smiles disappeared with the light in his eyes, and there was an unbearable emptiness in our home—the death of laughter. No matter what I did, I couldn’t break through to him……

….Every once in a while, an overwhelming rage would consume Sean. He would look right past me, burning with anger, and his voice would rise to a deafening level as the pain he was carrying erupted in the only way that he knew to release it. He would walk away, and I would hear the crash of something breaking. There are still fist-shaped scars on most of my walls—long-since patched, but never repainted. They stand as an ever-present reminder of the intensity of my husband’s emotional wounds.

After a while, though, Sean’s anger and inner turmoil slowly gave way, and his spirit just seemed to die. Sadness and gloom enveloped him, and our beautiful son Michael was the only thing that could spark a glimmer of emotion in Sean. There was a connection between those two that was breathtaking. I think, sometimes, that Michael was the only reason that Sean held on….

Depression is very real and very painful.  But there is help and hope — in most cases, under the proper medical care, depression can be treated and managed effectively to allow a person to enjoy a rich and fulfilling life.  Don’t suffer in silence or let someone you love suffer needlessly!  Ask for help!   The links at the bottom of the post provide more information on symptoms and treatment.

And, please, be careful the next time you casually throw around the phrase, “I’m so depressed…”  (I’m guilty of it too!)  You wouldn’t say casually, “I feel like I have cancer today,” — it would likely offend your sensibilities and dismiss the very real suffering of true cancer patients.  The same is true of depression.  The more we treat it like the real and debilitating illness that it is — and not some passing mood that’s here today and gone tomorrow —  the more likely people are to seek help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255):

Symptoms and Treatment of Depression

Suicide Prevention

Keep your raft upright!

Raft about to punch a large wave-hole on the O...

Raft about to punch a large wave-hole on the Ottawa River in Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never been whitewater rafting — not quite that adventurous.  But I have been on a simple floating raft, and I know one important thing– if you want to keep your raft upright, you need to maintain the proper balance.  The weight of the various people on the raft must be distributed evenly.  Even a slight movement of one person to a new position on the raft requires the others to adjust accordingly.  If not…the raft becomes unstable.  And…if everyone were to suddenly move to one side of the raft to surround one person  — well, everyone would go down with the “ship.”

Building and maintaining a healthy family requires the same balance.  When a crisis hits a family — whether it be the sudden death of a family member, a terrifying diagnosis, addiction, struggles with PTSD or mental illness, or any number of other troubles that people can experience — the natural response is to rush all the love, support, energy, and resources to the person in the family who is in need.  And, of course, this makes sense.

But I have learned the hard way over the years that there must be a counterbalance.  When my husband was in the midst of his active addiction and when his PTSD symptoms and depression sent him reeling in a frightening downward spiral, all of the attention and resources of the family were focused on him.  No one else’s needs mattered — not mine, not even our childrens’.   Everyone centered around my husband’s very real needs, but to the absolute detriment of the rest of the family.  My children and I suffered greatly, and some of that damage will take years to undo.  I became extremely sick myself because I didn’t keep a balance and didn’t take care of myself.  You see…when everyone in a family “moves to one side of the raft” to help a sick or hurting loved one and they linger there for any length of time, everyone — even the healthy ones– will inevitably go under.  No family or relationship can sustain itself in such an unbalanced fashion.

So what’s the answer?  Depending on the circumstances of your crisis, there are several options.  One is to remain steady where you are and give the sick person the space they need to deal with their issues — let the weightless spirit of God rush to the person’s aid while you hold your position and pray.  If the person is far too unhealthy to figure things out on his own, then another option is to find a support system — a “counter-balance” on your raft.  You need to ask for help, invite people to come alongside you, people who can “hold down the raft” with you (or for you) while you attend to the needs of your loved one.  With these counterweights in place, your ship will not sink, and you will be able to do what you need to do without fear of sinking into the rocky waters.   And sometimes, when even the first two options aren’t enough,  it might just be necessary to remove the sick person from the raft for a while — perhaps so he can go to treatment, enter a hospital, sober up, etc.  Removing the sick person will require some adjustments on the “raft,” but this will be far less traumatic than “flipping the boat” and watching everyone in the family flounder.

The moral of the story?  Take care of yourself, so you can take care of your loved one.  Keep your raft upright…Don’t let everyone go down with the ship!

What are some things you do to keep balance in your life and take care of yourself amid the storms of life?

English: A group of people participating in a ...

English: A group of people participating in a grade 3 Whitewater Rafting Trip along the Kampar River, Gopeng, Perak. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t Settle for the Puddle!

When I am in the middle of difficult circumstances, I want to take the easy path.  I want the quick fix, the easy answer, the one-minute cure.  I don’t want to work hard — not when I’m hurting so much.  And yet, aren’t the greatest rewards in life often behind the highest mountain?

When my husband was in the midst of his active addiction, when his depression was completely debilitating, when his PTSD symptoms turned him into someone I didn’t even recognize… I just wanted the easy out.  I wanted God to snap his fingers and make everything all better.  Unfortunately, God doesn’t usually “snap” his answers to our prayers — instead He hands us a shovel (and grabs one himself) and says, “Get to work.”  Bummer.  I’d rather that He just dug me out.

The work of recovery from addiction or mental illness such as PTSD, depression, bi-polar disorder, etc. is often a daunting task.  All too often, we make a little progress — just enough to get out of the extreme chaos that once defined our existence — and then we “settle” for that spot on the recovery journey.  But I challenge you to believe that there might be more out there.  A fulfilling life is not merely “the absence of crisis” — That is still just “existing,” not living.  Don’t settle for that — let God show you what he really has planned for you.

Mountain - Alaska's Denali

Mountain – Alaska’s Denali (Photo credit: blmiers2)

It reminds me of a story I must have heard somewhere (because I don’t think I’m creative enough to come up with it on my own) : Once there was a duck who was searching for a

beautiful lake to call home — a place that he had heard about where he could rest and play and raise a family.  Near the end of his journey, weary and impatient, he was discouraged to find before him a huge mountain that he knew instinctively would take all that he had in him to fly over.  At the base of the mountain was a puddle.  The duck surveyed his options, and –tired and discouraged — decided to settle down in the puddle rather than continue his journey.  The puddle was small and life was hard for him there, but he believed it was all he could hope for.  He had water to drink and a place to play, though he often felt lonely because there wasn’t much room in his little puddle for friends and family to join him.  On many occasions, he wondered what was on the other side of that mountain — he almost could hear God calling him to “do the hard work” and climb over–but he never dared to venture there.  “I’m just fine here in my puddle,” he convinced himself.  It seemed to be too much work, too hard, too risky, it would take too long, he was too afraid., he would never make it…Oh, he had a million excuses.  So he stayed in his puddle and settled for a meager existence.  And what a tragedy…because just on the other side of that mountain was the most amazing, spectacular lake — huge, crystal clear, refreshing, and brimming with life and companionship.  How sad that the duck missed out — he settled for the puddle because he was too afraid to face the mountain.

The bucket, the puddle, and the tree in the puddle

The bucket, the puddle, and the tree in the puddle (Photo credit: johnsam)

The journey of recovery is just like that duck’s journey.  What will you do when you hit your next mountain?  Don’t settle for the puddle!  Keep going, keep working, don’t give up.  The reward will be worth it!

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