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.