How do you solve a problem like Cecelia?

This week is the third anniversary of my blog. In honor of this occasion, I am reblogging the first substantial post I wrote here, and it is the reason I started the blog. I felt compelled to write publicly about the loss of a friend to suicide, and the writing of those feelings made me realize that I was equal to the task of sustaining a blog. Since this reblogged post refers to suicide, it is my duty to tell you that if you are struggling with thoughts of ending your life, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Intensity Without Mastery

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Her name was not Cecelia, but she could have worn that name like an ermine mantle, with her red curly hair and blue eyes that spoke of the frozen North. Her hair made me think of Viking escapades. At first sight of her, I recalled how St. Brendan spotted Judas chained to a rock in the North Atlantic and that I imagined long ago that the Vikings had also witnessed the captive Judas at sea, his significance lost on them. Both St. Brendan and the Vikings may have visited America, a land unknown to others of their homelands. Like them, Cecelia went to a place unknown but imagined by those of us left behind. Now Cecelia’s red hair has been buried since January, because that was when she took her life.

I feel it is apt to mention something as obscure as St. Brendan’s voyage to America because it ties…

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To the Moon

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In blogging I often encounter posts by other bloggers that affect me deeply. I don’t take enough time to thank the authors for opening a window onto their lives and revealing their struggles, for in doing so the authors do much to validate the humanity of their readers.

This week I had the privilege of reading “From Earth to the Moon” by Rachel Mankowitz. In that post, she opens the window unto a dark time of her early adult life, and I felt great relief in knowing that I was not the only one who lagged behind in my youth. I often think I’m past regretting those days, but essays like Rachel’s remind me that I have work to do in this regard.

I responded to her post this morning at her blog, but I will take the time on my blog to expand on that comment.

I’m intrigued at how she found inspiration in the miniseries that shares the name of her post. I’ve also gravitated toward the “moon shot” during times of adversity. Just last year, I wrote a post called “I Choose to Go to the Moon” when I moved forward from my failed back surgery. I thought it only natural to use that metaphor given that I live just 20 miles from Neil Armstrong’s hometown, but now I see that the process of America’s moon landing has inspired many people to overcome the odds, regardless of place.

Now I will approach the heart of the comment I made on Rachel’s post. I wrote:

This post affected me deeply. Much of my young adulthood was a wasteland due to mental health issues, mostly major depression. I dropped out of college twice and did not get a degree. When my depression would clear temporarily, I’d make impulsive choices with a long-term impact on my future, such as up and moving 2,000 miles away and coming back with an infant daughter. The fog didn’t begin to clear until I was 35. I’ve found a way of thinking of that time that helps ease my regret (because there usually is regret over the loss of what-could-have-been). When I start to beat myself up over what I may have lost during those dark years when I was 19-35 years old, I think: What did I really miss out on? Buying a bunch of stuff that by now no one wants anymore. The secondhand stores and junk car lots are full of the things I couldn’t afford to buy when they were new. What is the time pressure our culture imposes on mental health recovery but an indictment of the patient’s economic productivity?

I admit is rather odd to use a block quote on one’s own writing in this case, but it’s the most efficient way of taking what I wrote there and putting it here.

It is possible that I owe my thoughts on economic productivity and mental health to my history of madness. I choose to embrace the term madness because no better term captures how I made choices in my early adulthood. What I do know is that it does me no good to disavow my past diagnoses. Doing so would be a disservice to myself and those who currently live with major depression. I’m aware that I may undermine the authority of my words spoken and written in admitting my mental health history, but isn’t that risk wrapped in stigma? While stigma reigns, people will not understand the intersection between mental health and the rest of one’s life. For instance, just because I was depressed at the time doesn’t mean that my testimony has no validity.

I am grateful for my fractured past. My struggles both mental and physical were persistent reminders of how much I need God in my life. I know the truth of Solomon’s words, “Whatever happens or can happen has already happened before. God makes the same thing happen again and again” (Eccles. 3:15 GNT).

The things I buy now will become things no one else wants. My car I so value now will someday be deconstructed, recycled, its parts reused. Meanwhile there are young people just emerging into adult life, and some will progress slowly because of mental health issues. If you have such a young person in your life, be patient with him or her. Life itself is a gift worth far more that what a person can buy or do.

Happy Thanksgiving

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I hope that all of my readers are having a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Lately I’ve been contending with another bout of depression, a state of mind that does not lend itself easily to gratitude. Still, I figure that a recognition that my life does contain matter worthy of gratitude could be therapeutic.

I am thankful that I recently discovered the truth of why I am vulnerable to depression and chronic pain. I’d guess that this a rare privilege. Most often the mystery of why depression and pain return time and again is fodder for more rumination, a journey of blame in darkness. I am this way because I am a victim of so-and-so or because I am weak. And then there a million details to be found in that darkness that seems to support such self- or other-blaming theories of suffering, and this very exercise feeds the depression and pain.

In my case, there is no ground at all for blaming myself or anyone else. Through a brain MRI and its review with my neurologist, I have learned that I have old lesions from a childhood head injury and that such lesions are strongly associated with a clinical picture of migraine and major depression. Though the scan itself cannot date said injury, there is a head injury in my past that is the likely culprit. I can remember that spring afternoon in 1982, when I hit a rock with my bicycle and flew over the handle bars and landed head first on the street. I can recall the sound of screen doors slamming as adults ran out of their houses to carry me home. Then I remember nothing else of that afternoon but darkness and sentence fragments.

So the matter is quite simple really. My pain and depression are artifacts of an accident. I can’t change the past, but I can alter how I react to my down times. When my depression flares up, it arises from a damaged part of my brain that can’t possibly speak the truth. Its voice is like static between radio stations. This damage also lends itself to pain that is out of proportion to its cause or reality. The less I reflect on the pain, the faster it goes away.

I am grateful to know this truth.

I am grateful for my family, my home, and my job. Lately I’ve considered too often how little security is certain in our times. On Thanksgiving, I reflect that what matters most is today. I can depend on myself and the company of those I love today. Tomorrow is not promised, and that is a basic reality of the human condition.

Surrender

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I’ve been remiss in creating updates about my garden because parts of our yard are literally under construction due to changes in drainage and expansions to our sidewalks. The tension I’ve felt over this project has been out of proportion to the event itself. Trying to pinpoint when an outdoor construction will take place is about as productive as guessing exactly when the cable repair person will arrive. The timing and shape of the event defies prediction.

I’ve suggested to my husband that we could have sped up the start of the sidewalk project by telling the contractor not to arrive on a certain morning because we’d be sleeping in due to some fictional day trip that had occurred the day before. I think he was just a bit offended over this suggestion, like I’d betrayed one of his clan. He himself has a job involving a bit of outdoor construction with a schedule is subject to the whims of weather and emergent repairs. The thought that fiction could tame the chaos of such work may have sounded outrageous to him.

In the time I’ve been away from this blog, I’ve had some “teachable” moments that have made me consider that I need a full-scale re-calibration of how I think of others and my place in this world. I suppose there’s no point in relating a story whose principle characters can’t be defined with precision, but I will tell you that I’ve recently been reminded that alcohol, negativity, and anger have nothing of value to offer.

I have no problem avoiding alcohol. There have been some years in this century in which I haven’t had a single drink with alcohol. In other years, I’ve had drinks a handful of times. I learned through personal experience and witnessing the alcoholism of family members that alcohol at best offers empty, fleeting joy and at worst leads to destruction. That’s not a popular point of view in this era, but it is one that is important to me.

For me, what is harder to avoid is the seductive force of anger and negativity. I think that anger is the easiest emotion to convey. It is easy to think that there’s strength to be drawn from anger and sarcasm, that one can emerge victorious by “telling it like it is.”

I’ve seen someone else self-destruct in negativity, and I’m taking a step back and noticing that I’m not so far behind that individual in the darkness of my feelings and thoughts. Lately when I’ve thought of many people I know in real life, I’ve done so to find the faults in those people. The habit reminds me of that moment when King Lear goes mad and proclaims, “Then let them anatomize Regan; see what breeds about her heart. Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?” (King Lear, 3:6:76-78).

The problem with “anatomizing” the people you know is that it becomes a mutual process. By focusing on the faults of others, you open yourself to much of the same criticism. The more cutting the judgement, the harder it is to resist sharing those thoughts. It is so tempting to get a laugh out of revealing how deluded and wrongheaded someone else is, always when the person commented upon is never close enough to hear your words. It is inevitable that people will eventually start talking about you when you leave the room, too. Eventually you’ll find out what those words are.

In real life, I’ve learned that I’ve failed to convince many (but not all) people that my chronic pain is real. It doesn’t matter that I have medical proof of the cause of my pain. The MRI’s and procedure records may as well not exist. Opinions about my parenting and my daughter are more divided. Some (again, but not all) people think my daughter doesn’t really have autism, that I’ve given her autism through bad parenting, or that I’ve failed to correct her autism through lack of discipline.

Long story short, silence is almost always the best choice when you notice the faults of other people. To give these things a voice invites a harsh verdict of yourself. Is there a greater emptiness than the no-holds-barred opinion others may have of you?

There is great truth and wisdom this the age-old advice:”If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

It is hard to be kind and easy to be mean. I’ve struggled so much with pain and uncertainty in the past two years that I’ve made the easy choice all too often. The harvest of these moments when I thought I’d been so clever to say what everyone else must be thinking has only been alienation and depression.

So I take my first steps into the light. I will try to think of no one unless those thoughts are kind. Likewise, I will try not to dwell on my failures of the past and present and the unknowns of the future. I will hope for a better harvest.

Saturday

I’m having trouble inventing titles for posts. I have phases of depression wherein I have the delusion that I am not equal to the tasks of reading or writing. This problem proved to be the heart of my undoing as an English major. Imagine that you suddenly believe that you will neither retain or understand the content of a book. Layer upon that sort of unknowing the conviction that your sentences would not pass a middle-school grammar “white glove test.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve entertained the possibility of taking an online class or two in writing or literature. I have no inkling which citation style reigns these days. I’m still attached to the Oxford comma. Math is not the only subject wherein the if-you-don’t-use-you-lose-it principle applies.

Looking at online course listings has provoked all sorts of insecurities. The illiteracy delusion taunts me again. It’s like a body dysmorphic disorder of the mind.

Does anyone else who’s had depression suffer from the I-can’t-read-or-write issue?

This morning I had to take my car for maintenance. I dread doing so because I’m afraid I’ll look stupid when I don’t drive my car to the right garage door, or I’ll get there too early and they’ll expect me to park my car in a manner which would be proof-positive that I’d pass the serpentine test for a CDL. I was lucky my timing was just right this morning. I coasted into the right garage door with the greatest of ease.

I’d rather not have spent the heart of my morning getting my oil (and coolant and brake fluid) changed, but I’ve learned this is something one ought not to delay. Get your car’s oil changed and your teeth cleaned on schedule and you’ll spare yourself all sorts of aggravation. For years I didn’t think I had the time or money to deal with the dentist. This was total hogwash. I put off getting my teeth cleaned for 10 years when it would have cost me nothing out of pocket to get it done. What was the result? One extraction, one root canal, one crown, and 13 fillings. During that decade when I didn’t get my teeth cleaned, I seldom failed to brush my teeth twice a day, and I still had this harvest of decay.

By the way, I am getting my teeth cleaned on Thursday.

After I shelled out an uncomfortable sum to the car dealership for their service, I did a quick photo walk around the Lima Public Library and the adjacent Children’s Garden. I felt like expanding the radius of my walk toward downtown, but I stumbled on an uneven sidewalk. It was a slow-motion tumble. Gravity doubled down on me, and I lost. When I stumble or run into something, I hope that these small accidents make minor adjustments that lessen my nerve pain. I think my sidewalk incident this morning might have been a lucky one, but I wasn’t going to tempt fate by walking further onward.

I will share more of the pictures from that walk in another post. For now, I will reveal the best of the bunch—an image that reminds of why I do what I do.

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