January 28, 2019

Say it With Me: Mental Illness

January 28, 2019
I can't think of a good first sentence.  I have so many thoughts and emotions when it comes to this.  I want to get it all out but at the same time I should probably blog about the open stomach, intestines everywhere, emergency surgery our horse had.  Too graphic.  Not for the general public.   Dang it, I'm supposed to blog about my unlikely farm girl self and the #farmlife.  But this topic has been tapping my shoulder for months.  The tapping has been so constant that I have a chip on my shoulder.  So, if you're reading this I hope you will hang in there and ponder.  

I was recently hashing this subject out with a dear friend.  A somber conversation we've had before.  Her eyes welled with tears and her voice choked.  My eyes would well up too once upon a time.  Instead, I've grown some thick skin over my tender heart and my anger and even bitterness masks the emotional despair I feel deep down.  This time we were talking about the perception of mental illness and how it must change.  I mean this is America, people.  We are GREAT.  I digress. Okay, so we talked about depression and how impossible it can be for others to understand or even empathize with it.  We swapped stories. 

I shared with her an experience I had with my church and just two words in, the fire inside me ignited once again.  A few years back I was at an all time low.  I was an emotional wreck and I was sure things would never be better but I desperately wanted them to be.  I was on several medications, seeing a therapist, psychiatrist and sinking deeper into my bed by the day.  I wanted help.  I needed someone to help me.  I longed for healing, an answer, a cure, a miracle.  A light.  A light to flood the darkness that swallowed me up.

I finally went to my church pastor.  

With my husband by my side, and every ounce of imperfect courage, I poured it all out.  I wept.  My hands shook.  I was at the end of my Prozac bottle and tissue box.   My pastor listened.  And that was all.  That was it.  The silence from the "church" was deafening. 

But seriously.  Let's be honest.
I don't know what I expected.  I only knew what I wanted.  I also knew that my heart broke a little more that day knowing that my depression was not a more socially, church accepted illness.  Rejection.  Humiliation.  I can not say that this man didn't care or pray for me.  I do not know that for sure.  He very well may have.  What I do know is this: Had I been in a car accident, birthed a baby, needed a kidney, had cancer, lost a loved one, became an alcoholic or drug addict, suffered a heart attack or stroke, went blind, deaf or turned purple, the church would notice AND take action.  Meal Trains are not for the mentally ill.  Prayer circles are not for the mentally ill, encouragement and support is not for the mentally ill.  Social Media is not for the mentally ill.  Not in the eyes of our culture or our church.  

Is the brain not as much of a life giving organ as the heart?  I had a mammogram today. Yippee!  I was treated with respect, kindness, and care.  Aside from my breast being smashed and radiated, the experience and concern regarding the potential evidence of breast cancer was standard of care at it's best.  The waiting room was lovely and the staff was attentive.  Even the pens had flowers attached to them.  Oh, and it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month so pink pumpkins, pink ribbons and wreaths, and celebrity posters tickled the entire building.  I can't say the same for the times I was treated for panic attacks, anxiety attacks, serotonin syndrome etc.  When treated for my symptoms, I felt like a criminal simply because my brain wasn't healthy.  WHY?  

Back to the church.  The one place you want to feel accepted might be the last place you find it.  Now, I do not want to be a hypocrite and judge while feeling judged.  But I have talked to enough people and read enough blogs to know that I am not alone in my aloneness of mental illness and the way the community, including the church, perceives it.  I only want to start a conversation that examines the reason this seems to be the way it is.  Had I followed my dream of being a documentary filmmaker I would place my award winning video on The Way America Sees Mental Illness below this paragraph. Instead, I'm an unlikely farm girl with depression and anxiety.  Nothing award winning there. Just a lot of manure, really.

People are hurting.  REM wrote a song about it.  Pain is universal.  The British Royal Family embraces mental illness and advocates on behalf of those who suffer.  God save the Queen. Perhaps if Princess Kate came to the USA and spoke, we commoners would get our sh*t together and answer the call.  Actually, I honestly don't know what "answering the call" looks like but it can start with an authentic conversation with sensitive attention to those who suffer.  If we were talking, this is where you would say, "Right?".  Followed by, "I mean, we totally need to do something". And I'd say, "Yeah, for sure.  We really do".  

And that's where it stops.  Even for me.  That's where it stops.  Because before you can even get your hopes up the conversation and solutions dehumanize and become political and impossible.  The go-to response points at lack of funding and other shades of grey excuses.  However, conversations don't cost a single penny.  A shift in community perception is free.  A change of heart is priceless.  A compassionate mind in action is healing.  There is power in pain and that I know to be certain on so may levels.  

Someone you know has an ill organ.  That organ might be their brain.  Now what?

"A tendency to melancholy...let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault."
-Abraham Lincoln 

I hear ya, Lincoln.  Same for other organ diseases, natural disasters and loss... just saying'.

Washed Up

Last night I cried myself to sleep like a baby. A forty-two year old baby. I was tired and DONE.  Done with what?  My kid.  I was suffering from an unwanted case of Compassion Fatigue.  It's a thing.  It's real and it's all consuming.  Caring for kids in general is no party.  Even the healthiest of them all will try and fry your nerves. But caring for kids with special needs on top of it all is darn right vexatious (I’ve never used that word before).  It will leave you feeling washed up.
Found this beauty washed up on a beach in Costa Rica.  Pura Vida.
As if winter isn't hard enough (I HATE winter) and all of my surroundings on the farm are brown and dead as a doornail, there are kids to raise.  And it ain't easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Often times, it cuts like a knife (cue Brain Adams) and punches you in the gut. Very few caregivers will really, really painfully admit that bringing up special needs kids can leave you feeling washed up and near lifeless at the end of the day. 
January on my farm.  BAHAHAHAHA!
But really.  Not all is dead as a doornail but Diamond Horse agrees with me.  He hates winter too.
I'm 14 years in.  Sounds like a prison sentence.  And you know what? It can sure feel like one.  And I say that to be authentically truthful with you.  You can judge all you want but I am not alone.  There are other brave mommas out there that warrior the same circumstances as I do.  Some are courageous and admit it and some are still pretending.  But like David Goggins said, "Glossy surfaces often reflect more than they reveal".   Even though we are tough, brave, and resilient to a fault, we still fall to our knees and shed tears that sting our quickly aging faces.  My surface is worn, weathered and kinda ugly if I’m being honest. Oh, and my hands are covered in "crepe skin".  EW.  I didn't see that coming.  I tried for years to play the fool and reflect sheer gloss. I'd slap on that lippy, lengthening mascara and my cutest flip flops and #handle it.  But *it* didn’t go so well.  I had an actual, real deal breakdown.  Diagnosis: full blown exhaustion with a side of unbearable anxiety and a pinch of psychosis.  

Who is that person?  Who dat?
Fast forward ten years…

Not a day goes by that I don't feel s*#t on.  Have you ever been s*#t on?  If not, I can offer you that opportunity in literal fashion here on the farm.  It's like, "really bird, did you really need to drop a load (AKA:poop) as soon as your flight pattern crossed my shoulder?". Okay, enough potty talk. What I really mean is like not being able to get a win to save your life.  Beat down and s*#t on. 

Here, bird s*#t covers our patio.
Raising special needs kids morphs you into both a boxer and the punching bag.  You fight while being beaten.  And what’s so dang difficult about this is: I can’t fix it. I can’t cure it.  I can’t change it.  And despite the countless books, therapists, medications, and unsolicited advice, I can’t even make it better.  
The hustle is real.
I was sharing all of this with a friend. I basically EP’d (emotionally puked) all over her.  She listened with tender intention and mercy.  Then, when I was finished spewing my severely troubled heart, she said,

“How do you parent that?”

How do you parent that?  Right?  You’re so busy keeping your family, marriage, sanity, home and self worth together that it leaves anything but room for parenting.  This might sound crazy, but her question, her simple question, got me like white on rice.  It was almost profound.  No one ever talked to me about actually parenting special needs.  Real, innate parenting.  Parenting.  Not damage control, not coping, not surviving, not crisis management, just parenting.  So you know what I said?  With all the dark emptiness I had inside, I said, 

"I don’t know"
And then I cried (I cry a lot).  My role as a parent and my God given instinct as a mother were buried under the suffocating mounds of survival turmoil.  Once again, there I was on the salty and cold sand, washed up.
Another washed up beauty.
"Sucking the marrow out of life doesn't mean choking on the bone."
Robin Williams
This is where I am supposed to flip like a switch and go all positive on you. Positive Polly.  That was my intention when I thought about flinging this out there into cyberspace.  But Polly can’t come to the computer right now.  She’s tired, anxious and too busy caring for the sweet little boy that bursts her heart, stretches her mind, pushes her body and captures her soul.  He has a fever today so there, there it is!  Polly is parenting for her special one the way only a mother can. Fevers and colds don’t discriminate.  They infect special needs too and somewhere beyond the sticky drops of Motrin and snotty tissues I smile and picture God winking at me.  Parenting does happen. It happens in moments.

Only a parent can love a child like no other.  Love wins.

January 31, 2018

Lost Boys

January 31, 2018
Image Map
It was a typical day.  I had typical errands to run.  The weather was typical for Oklahoma on that day.  Chilly and windy.  I was doing my usual "up and down the isles" at War-Mart when I noticed them.  Two teenage boys.  They were out of place, nothing typical about them.  They didn't belong there.  No shoes, no socks.  No jacket.  Their faces were dirty and their clothes were tattered.  With their chips and soda in hand, they paid with loose change and headed for the exit.  Something wasn't right.  

I followed them out into the parking lot.  They took off down the sidewalk.  I got in my car and followed.  I noticed another lady doing the same thing.  She too knew something wasn't right.  We both drove ahead of the boys, parked our cars and cautiously walked towards to the boys.  Where were they going?  Where were their shoes?  Who did they belong to?

We asked them what they were up to.  Did they need help?  With big smiles on their faces they told us a they were on a mission.  A survival mission.  They had been challenged by their "leader" to survive for 72 hours.  If they completed the mission, they would be "accepted".  One of the boys had a box of filthy tennis balls.  They were selling the tennis balls to strangers, offering them as dog toys.  With the money they made they would buy food.  They slept in a field and bathed in a pond.  They were shivering, giggling.  They were proud of their mission.  They had made it three nights in the cold, selling tennis balls and surviving.  Their mission was near complete.  

image: http://culture.pl/en/video/tomorrow-will-be-better-in-japan
Something wasn't right.  Concerned, I continued to ask them questions.  Desperate to keep their attention we offered them food from Sonic.  Oh, how they immediately accepted and gave a tall order.  The lady I was with (I'll call her Julie) distracted them while I called 911.  I called my husband.  I called a juvenile officer.  The police were on their way.  The boys figured it out and called me a snitch.  I assured them they weren't in trouble.  I assured them we would keep our promise and get them Sonic.  I assured them we wanted to help and get them to safety.   They tried to walk away but reminding them that hot food was coming kept them hanging around.  

Two police cars pulled up and the boys tried to run.  The police peacefully kept them from getting too far and began to talk to the boys.  Julie went to get them the food we promised.  The officers questioned them separately.  I stood there, shivering.  Where were their parents?  Why weren't they in school?  Why were they barefoot?  And what the heck was this survival mission?  What leader?  

The police officers informed me that the boys were runaways from a local group "home" for the delinquent and dependent.  They were reported missing a few days ago.  The police told me that it was common for boys placed in group homes to run.  The facility didn't have security and any boy could leave at anytime.  They were barefoot because they didn't own shoes.  They weren't given shoes to discourage running away.  BUT who was looking for them?  Anyone?  No.  No one was looking for them.  They were reported missing but that was it.  Past that they were two less boys the system had to worry about.  

image: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/domestic_abuse
Scared, the boys continued to confess where they came from and pleaded with the officers not to take them back.  They made up the survival story to give them a sense of purpose and adventure.  Julie returned with the food.  Both boys were extremely grateful and ate quickly.  I asked to officers to please let us know when the boys were returned safely and asked what we could do to help them.  Nothing came of it.  I called the facility but because of privacy laws they couldn't tell me anything.  I talked to a local politician.  He made a few phone calls but shook his head and apologized.  I had no right to know anything.  No right to help.  No right to investigate.  In the name of privacy, the boys couldn't be checked on or even told they weren't forgotten.  

I thought about those two boys for months and think of them often now.  Did they run away again?  Are they safe?  Are they being mistreated?  Do they still try to escape and fantasize  about a survival mission?  Why is the community left in the dark?  Why, in my town, was this happening? The bubble I had been living in popped.  There are youth out there that are in danger, abandoned and forgotten. 

Those boys are lost. But they have names. No one is looking for them. But they need to be found.  No one cares for them.  But they have dreams.  They are people too.  Like many, they hurt.  But their pain is too much for our society to handle, for our government to appropriately fund. They are victims of a system that poorly houses the unwanted.  A system that implements laws to keep the community from knowing or helping.  A system that is failing children that have been failed by their parents.  The system is broken and it's breaking our future, our hope.  Those boys matter just as much as anyone else.  They didn't choose to be forgotten or mistreated.  But they are.  

I've had several people ask me what can be done.  That answer is one involving moving mountains.   The people I checked with didn't have answers.  Like I shouldn't be concerned with it, it isn't my business.  I wanted to promise the boys so much more than hot food but I couldn't.  I wanted to organize a mentorship program but was politely told that wasn't possible.  There is a problem and there doesn't seem to be a solution.  Not one that anyone is willing to involve themselves with. That has to change.  The hurting, the abandoned and forgotten are right here, in the shadows of our very own country, state, city and neighborhood.  The truth has a voice.  We must listen and act.