Monday, September 30, 2013

Where I'm From

I'm from fields of gold and purple, gravel roads and three mile corners.
Bikes on sidewalks, peddle to the metal so you're not late for school.
Home for lunch then back again.
Workbooks and recess bells.
This is where it all began.

I'm from bun dough rising under checkered tea-towels.
Baked fresh in the morning - pull them apart and watch the hot steam rise.
Chokecherry jam and rollkuchen.
Watermelon juice running down your chin.
Spitting seeds, pop open your button.
There's always more where that came from.

I'm from freedom and space - bike where you want to, it's all safe here.
(Or so we thought).
Meeting at the park, making eyes, holding hands, giggling and laughing.
Endless summer nights.
Stories that go on and on.

I'm from number 606 in the Mennonite Hymnal.
Thunderous harmonies, accapella,  rich with history.
Hard pews, heavy eyes, stomach growling.
Is it over yet?  I've heard this one before.
But something draws you back.

I'm from hard work and well made plans.
Dream your dream, but first be sure it's practical.
Drive away, the bright lights call.
This is what you waited for.
Golden fields in rear-view mirror.
You came from here.
No matter where you end up.

(Prompted by Sarah Bessey's In which I'm from second-hand-skates)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day**

Back in August my friend Joyce and I were sitting on a stone ledge at The Forks.  We had set up for the vigil for Lisa Gibson and were waiting for people to arrive.   From looking at the microphone and amp, and from the news vans and reporters hovering nearby, it was clear to people that there was going to be an event taking place.

Within a few minutes a group of three thirtysomethings sauntered over and asked what was going to be happening.  We asked if they had heard about Lisa Gibson's tragic story and told them about the vigil.  We told them that we were holding the vigil to honor Lisa's role as a wife and mother and woman, to remember her beautiful children,  and to raise awareness and reduce stigma about post-partum depression and mental illness in general.

They looked surprised.  "How could she have done that?" one of them asked.

I don't remember exactly what happened or what was said next, but within seconds, Joyce and I were both engaged in conversations about mental illness, depression, and medication.  The mis-information and naivite' was shocking for me to hear.  These were thirty year old Canadians.  They were under the impression that people who were diagnosed with a mental illness were completely and obviously crazy, and that the people around them would be able to see it.  "Medication for mental illness make you a zombie, right?  If you take medication for mental illness you turn into a different person - like a numb person who doesn't feel anything.  You'd be totally out of it."  Those were their words and their perceptions.  All of them said they didn't know anyone who had a mental illness.

After conversing with them for a few more minutes, they were shocked and filled with disbelief when both Joyce and I identified as people with mental health struggles who take daily medication to manage our illnesses.  The conversation was beautiful, actually.  They were completely open to knowing more and being proven wrong.  They wanted to know how it felt to be medicated and how it made a difference for us.  They couldn't believe that anyone being medicated for a mental illness could be a coherent, articulate, seemingly "normal" contributing member of society.  We continued to talk for a few minutes, exchanging stories and experiences.  When they left they thanked us for telling our stories.  "I've never known anyone who talked about this.  I can't believe that you just said it.  I "get it" now."

It's been just over a month since that exchange and I still think about it often.    I think about the stereotypes they had been fed and then believed.  I think of the stigma that continues to exist which serves to  keep people  with mental illness ashamed, hiding, and silently suffering.  I think about the difference one conversation may have made to change their perceptions about the mentally ill and medication.

A friend sent me an email this week asking questions about medication for mental illness.  She hasn't been coping well and her doctor thinks an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety med may alleviate some of her suffering.  She voiced doubt about whether that course of action was right for her.... "I don't think I'm depressed", she said.  But the other words in her email told another story.

Depression often isn't what you think it is.  It isn't always overwhelming sadness, lack of interest and energy, low moods, and lifelessness.  I think that's one of the greatest misconceptions in society.  To be depressed, you have to look like someone lying in the fetal position on a bed, not wanting to get up.  Sometimes that is what it looks like - it's true.  But that's only the thinnest slice of what many people experience.

In responding to me friend, I related the story of how I managed life before I finally sought help.  In a word, I was angry.  Most days I was filled with rage, irritability, edginess, and enormous anger.  Imagine parenting a one, three, and five year old and feeling like nearly everything they did would engulf you in rage.   I'd yell, scream and have no patience.  My actions and emotions didn't match the circumstances around me or the way I genuinely felt about my daughters.   After a day filled with impatient and angry responses and reactions I'd lie in bed nearly every night and sob myself to sleep, overcome with tremendous sorrow, shame, and guilt.  I'd look at their peaceful and innocent beautiful faces lying asleep in their beds and I'd wonder how I could be such a monster.  I'd plead with myself to do better the next day - to not let anger get the best of me.  But the next day never got better.

It took my friend Dianna to broach the subject of depression, anxiety, and mental illness for me to get up the courage to go and see my family doctor and ask for help.  I sat in her tiny office and cried my eyes out as I related how I felt about life, myself, and my ability to cope.  She was quick to reassure and responded with no judgement.  She told me I wouldn't believe how many moms come into her office and tell her a slightly different version of the same story.  After being medicated, they all came in and asked the same question.... why did I wait so long to get help?

I've been on Effexor for seven years now.  I may always be on it, and I'm more than ok with that.  As far as I can tell, I'm not a walking zombie or a heartless and un-feeling person with a void stare.  I am, however, better able to cope with my life and whatever that entails.  I can weather storms that before would have forced me into a rage and then shame-filled regret.  I still have bad seasons and know that there is still lots of work to do.  But I can parent and navigate life without a pack of dark dogs nipping at my heels.  I may have night sweats and headaches when I miss a pill.  I may hate feeling like a slave to that little bottle on my counter.  I may still hate checking off the little box and filling in the word, "Effexor" on every form that asks if I take any medication.  But I can go to sleep at night with a sigh of relief instead of gut-wrenching sobs of sorrow.  If that means I take Effexor until I'm 100, it's a small price to pay.

That's what my crazy looks like.  It's mostly contained, treated, and in the light.  But it's there.   I want my story of crazy to change the way society tells hers.  Tell the story, erase the shame.  There is hope for the crazy on the most ordinary of days.
**  The title of this post is borrowed from the novel of the same name, written by Pearl Cleage.
      It just so happens to be an excellent read!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Things I Know At 39

You know that quote that is often recited to moms with young kids?  The one that goes like this: "The days are long, but the years are short."  It's true.

The best conversations with my kids happens at night and while driving.  Brings new perspective to spending half of my life in our van.

I don't know everything.

I will never be like everyone else.

Deciding to simplify your life and having your daughter stop taking violin lessons won't end in death or catastrophe.  For the short term, it will likely end in  more time and greater happiness.  I'll take that for now.

I would much rather be 39 than 29.  I like myself better now.

I don't like sushi.  I don't care if you judge me for it.

It's ok to lick peanut butter off the knife and then stick the knife back into the peanut butter.  No one has ever died when their mom has done this.

I am happier when I am more organized.

Transitions are hard.

Libraries are the greatest public service ever invented.

I like myself a good gin and tonic with an extra wedge of lime.

It doesn't kill your kids or make them hate you if they have jobs to do around the house.

Moving your body actually does make you feel better about life.

When you take a stand or speak your mind about something you believe passionately in, the repercussions are always worth it.

I don't like hype.

The more I read, the smarter I get.

Safety is found in unexpected places and with unexpected people.

I wish someone else would finish the laundry.

Feeling the sun on my face is like therapy.

Freckles are beautiful.

Naps are my guilty pleasure.

It's ok to cry.

It's ok not to cry.

Nothing stays the same.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It's The FIrst Day All Over Again

The first day of school never gets old for me.  

It's a loaded day....  
   There is nervous energy 
   and curiosity 
   and anxiety 
   and excitement 
   and anticipation 
   and trepidation 
   and fear 
   and joy 
   and sadness 
   and reluctance 
   and the jittery hope of new possibilities 
   all rolled into one.

I loved the first day of school as a kid, 
but I really loved the first day of school as a teacher.
There was nothing like the shiny floors of a freshly scrubbed classroom, complete with clean desks inside and out.  The perfectly put-together bulletin boards were offset by the tidy teacher's desk with neat piles of papers and little containers of paper-clips and stickers with not one out of place.  And then there was the smell - that fresh clean smell of a classroom before any actual humans or rotting lunch remnants entered the room to defile it and make it less than perfect.  I savoured the perfection of that place before the first student entered.

And then they came through the door.

And soon the perfect room became the lived-in room complete with dust and sticky spots, crumpled paper and wet lone socks.  
It wasn't perfect anymore but it contained life.  
And that's the part that I loved.

Now that I've been a mom for awhile, I'm an old hand at this "first day of school" thing.
     Pick the clothes out the night before.
        Be sure the backpacks are packed and ready.
          Pre-pack as much of the lunches as you can.
             Wake up with ample time to ensure any snag will not result in panic.
                Leave time for the traditional picture at the front door.
                  Feel the energy mount and build as you make the drive until it feels like you might explode.
                     Send them on their way with words, squeezes, and "I love you's".
                       Breath deeply and fully.  
                          Feel alone and empty
                              Savour the quiet and the space.
                                  Begin to find your voice again.
                                      Wonder and worry a wee bit.
                                           Be hopeful that the report at the end of the day will be good.
                                                Be amazed at how little you got done.
                                                    Wait with great anticipation to hear how it all went down.

(I think I've got the routine pretty much down-pat.)

Each year I think it's important to offer some parting words to my girls to set the tone for the year and send them off "right".  Each year I say a variation of the same refrain.  It goes a little like this:

"Pick friends you want to be like.  
You become like the people you spend the most time with.

Look for people who are new or lonely and make them feel like they belong.  
You remember what it was like to be new to a school, and the difference one friend made.

Stand up for yourself.  
Know your voice and use it.

Don't keep secrets.  
When things are hard or difficult, tell your teacher and tell me.  
Things always feel better when you're not looking at the hard stuff all alone.

Keep your eyes peeled for your sisters.
If they look like they need a hug or some help be quick to offer it.
You need to be each other's cheerleaders.

Be kind.
Be compassionate.

You can do hard things.  
I believe you can, now you need to believe that you can too."

Those are all good things.  I believe them and want my girls to own them.  No matter what, I'll keep giving them the same song and dance each year as they head to school.  

But the older I get, the more I'm beginning to realize that it's not what's said in that "night before the first day" conversation that really makes the difference. 
 It's every day.  

It's the ride home from school in the van.
It's the snippets of conversation while I'm unloading the dishwasher. 
It's the dinner-time conversation (or lack their of) that tells the real story.
It's the clingy, touch-hungry daughter who shadows you around the house.
It's in seeing and listening more to the things that don't demand my attention or even make a sound.

I get that now.  I get it more than ever.
And somehow that makes me feel better.  
It's not about one, great, rallying speech on one "night before...".
And I'm glad.

Today, just before supper, I caught this moment of Sasha and Hannah recovering from their first days back at school.  

It's about this.....

... and it's not all about me.
And for that I am doubly glad.