Waiting for today...: 2013

Sunday, December 29

Mums the Word

I remember when I was a teen, my best friend told me that I was secretive.  I must admit, there was a part of me that was offended at the time.  Although I thought myself to be more private than secretive, I shared so much of myself with my best friend.  As I began sifting through  my current feelings, I realized that I did not have a concrete understanding of the differences between the two words: secrecy and privacy.  Privacy is a withholding of something from public view or simply keeping something to oneself.  Usually, when something private is revealed accidentally or purposefully it gives positive insight to the revealers’ personality, preferences, etc.  On the other hand, secrecy is the deliberate hiding of something from the public.  When a secret is revealed, by accident or on purpose, it often brings shame to the secret keeper.  Secrets are kept secret because it is thought that they will hurt the revealer or the one to whom the secret is revealed.
So I guess she was right.  I have secrets.  Some that may go to the grave with me and some that I may be able to discuss in therapy but with much fear and hesitation.  But I am also private and the thing that I am most careful about revealing at this point is the diagnosis and treatment of my mood disorder.   While slow to disclose even the minor details, I have told my mother, a close friend who is also undergoing treatment and two sisters from my congregation.  When I told my mother about my decision to add medication to my therapy, she responded “Well do you have to be on it for the rest of your life?”.  It was a good question but her tone was discouraging.  It should not be foreign to anyone not living under a rock for their entire life that a certain stigma comes with the diagnosis of mental illness and especially if its treatment includes medication.  Most would rather allow their life to go into ruins before they would ever admit that they suffer from mental illness.  I should know.  I was one of them.
There are several reasons why I decided not to share my recent difficulties with others who I’ve deemed near and dear to me.  Being African American and a Christian, does not afford me much support from those in the community that look like me or those that share my faith; which is pretty much everyone that I know!  Only recently has there been a move to openly discuss mental illness in the African American community.  Mental illness has always been a taboo subject among people of color.  To admit that you suffer from a mental illness is shameful and a sign of weakness.  As an African American woman its worst:  you get labeled crazy.   As for many in the church, there is no such thing as mental illness.  It is usually viewed as a snare that the enemy lays in an effort to deceive the faithful.  Many others believe that those suffering from mental illness are possessed by demons and must be exorcised.  I have my own beliefs about mental illness and Christianity. It includes the fact that: Christians suffer with mental illness!
Yet the primary reason why I chose to keep my ordeal “private” lies in the characters I have chosen to surround myself with.  These characters are often unnecessarily critical, over opinionated and are quick to re-package what they perceive as bitter into something that is more palatable for them instead of trying to truly understand me, regardless of how uncomfortable they are.  I've tested these observations with trivial matters and the results were predictable. However, in most cases I need not say anything at all before I am inundated with their egocentric ideas about how I should live my life!  Am I resentful? Yes.  Do I think that maybe certain individuals will be more considerate of my fragility and needs?  I would like to think so.  But for my own wellness, I’d rather not risk it… yet.

Tuesday, December 24

Where's My Faith When I Need It?

I obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ in 2011.  Before that time I was a believer but on that day I knew something was different. It was as if scales fell from my eyes like young Saul, after having been blind for three whole days (Acts 9:1-18). From that time on, I had a hunger to learn more about God’s nature and His will for my life. My new found sight enabled me to prioritize my life in a way that I couldn't before and without fear. I struggled, yes.  And rightly so since Jesus says offences will come (Luke 17:1). But He also encourages all that will believe to cast our cares upon Him and enter into His rest (1 Peter 5:7, Matthew 11:28). And I believe. That is, when I’m not in a bout of depression or experiencing a burst of anxiety.

My faith swings which ever way my mood swings. When my mood is up, I read my bible, pray several times per day and I’m eager to continue to strive toward loving perfectly. When my mood is down, I replace reading everything with watching anything on television, I utter a “thank you Father” every now and again before having a meal and I don’t even want to be around people much less show them love. When my mood is down and I lash out or shrink away, I become blinded by shame. Then the scales of guilt close my eyes again.  In the last three weeks I've probably read my bible about four times.

I had been so eager to start my survey of the letter to the Philippians because of the encouragement it offers every Christian confronted with distress. It was penned while an older Paul sat in prison awaiting his outcome and it contains one of the most quoted scriptures in the bible: I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). I believe him. But faith is more than a mental exercise or a warm fuzzy feeling. It is a belief that is strong enough to persuade one to action. To read the bible. To pray. To love.

Before I obeyed the gospel of Christ, I scarcely read the bible.  The great book with it’s 2000+ pages was just too overwhelming.  And as important as everyone seemed to make it, no one ever took the time to walk me through it–until that day in 2011.  In the times before that year though, I came across what I thought was the next best thing: Our Daily Bread.  This is a daily devotional booklet offered freely by RBC Ministries.  Each day’s devotion is inspired by and includes a bible passage.  In addition, it often includes either an inspirational quote, a short prayer or both.  This 10 minute daily reading, while scant in comparison to what I am accustomed to when my mood is up, ought to muster up enough faith to bring me to my knees long enough to pray for the strength of Christ during my lowest moments.

Saturday, December 14

Holiday Blues

It happens to me every year.  I finally noticed the pattern a few years ago.  Last year I was invited to the home of a colleague for Thanksgiving.  I was enthusiastic at the time the invite was given but when the day arrived I decided to stay home… in bed.  This year was more of the same.  Except this year I had an excuse: I had out of town company coming a few days after Thanksgiving and it was the only day I had to prepare.  It was all true!  However, because my mood had already swung low the weekend before, I didn’t plan properly in order to have my evening free.  I just… laid in bed all day.
This year, I gave some thought as to why I get the holiday blues.  Thinking back to my earliest years in the Caribbean, I can’t remember ever celebrating Thanksgiving and I only remember one Christmas… maybe two.  When I came back to the states for good, my mom and I celebrated the holidays.  Along with her boyfriend, her friends, her co-workers… yeah, no one my own age.  It was almost never a cozy affair and it was never just her and I.  One can imagine the lack of kid-friendly conversation.  I have no memory of the holidays being fun during those years.
Enter my best friends family, a huge family.  I had attached myself to them during a time in which my mother and I was having the hardest time co-existing.  For some reason I thought the more there were the merrier I would be.  Not the case.  I felt lost most of the time.  Like I didn’t fit in.  I felt more pressure than peace, more isolation even in a dining room full of people.  There was a small difference however.  The adults had their conversation and the “kids” had theirs.  For this reason, it was fun at times… on the surface at least. But as I longed to be accepted as an individual and continued to be picked apart by my peers, that superficial comfort would eventually fade.
I talked through these possibilities and some others with my therapist who made an interesting observation.  One, which didn’t even cross my mind, was seasonal affective disorder.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, seasonal affective disorder is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight.  As I considered this, I began to feel better.  That is until I remembered how overwhelmed I can get in social situations which one cannot avoid during the holiday season.  My therapist then made another observation; one that I will cover on another occasion. In the meantime, Christmas is up to bat!  And I’ve got to plan now if I’m going to stave off further depression. The last time I felt joy and happiness during the holidays was a couple of years ago in Florida with my mother.  We had a non-traditional meal, at home, just her and I.  If my work schedule wasn’t so crappy I’d make my way to the Florida Panhandle in hopes to cure these holiday blues.  The brief but right on time visit with out of town company did help to elevate my mood some.  And the mid-December weekend trip that I already have planned should help as well.  Looks like I may be off to a promising start.

Monday, December 9

Prelude to Waiting: My Life Undone

Letter To My 40 Year Old Self,

As I write this I’m having mixed feelings. So much has been left undone. I’m not completely pessimistic though. I do think about how far we’ve come… all of the tiresome and worrisome obstacles we’ve endured, yet we still found the drive to pull through. Even if it was only barely. Was I ecstatic to turn 35? I would like to say “yes” and not have to force a smile. I was excited to read my letter…was excited to see mom… was excited to experience my first cruise. But I was most excited to escape my life. A month or so ago I found myself in the midst of the worse low I’ve had since college. You remember that day? When I called my professor on the last day of clinical and told her that I wasn’t coming? Just like that moment, I didn’t have an out. Denial was no longer an option. I had to find and face whatever it was that kept me in this cycle of ups and downs. I had to face me, everything that I tried to hide from others and from myself, for years. By the time the opportunity came to escape my life, that is to take a vacation, I was already three sessions into much-needed-since-forever-ago therapy.

Honestly, everything else is a moot point. But I’ll humor you anyway.

I finally found love but not in the sense that you may have been hoping for. I found the “highest love”–none other than the love of God. I finally found the truth! Unfortunately, I was once again plagued by the uncertainties imbedded in the flesh. There was a short lived romance, found in lust, in 2011… what a tragic mistake that was. Yes! After choosing the highest love, I turned away and settled for lust (both unbelievable and completely believable at the same time). But I thank God for grace and mercy. It was His faithfulness that gave me the strength to once and for all seek out that narrow path after I had already entered by the Door.

I did decide to stick with nursing. Although on many occasions it has almost drove me to madness. Hence the desperation to jump ship and start all over again… in cosmetology school? (*sigh* for the love of all things sweet, salty and fried). I think I’ve found a neutral place in care coordination though. It’s an area that is expanding due to the demands of health care and it is providing a firm knowledge base to support an eventual shift into working with the elderly in the community. My new goals are less grand: first certification, next a certificate in gerontology. Haven’t thought it out much more than that.

The family? Who’s family? Our family or someone else’s? Cold, I know but I have honestly bared the emotional burden of too many for too long and without drawing a clear line in the sand. With the help of a good friend I realize that I no longer need to depend on those who I have affectionately labeled my “extended family” so many years ago. I still love them dearly and I’m thankful for the influence that they’ve had on my life (good and bad girl). But now that I’m older and I’m finally learning about who I am outside of all the many groups I’ve found myself in over the years, its painfully obvious to me that I’ve got to redefine some boundaries. I’ve got to learn to love some people from a distance. Now my family is great! My mom and I have come to terms with our past and we’re paving the way, together, to our future as a family. I have learned to forgive her and to love her harder than I ever have. And, through her courage to finally open up I have come to appreciate her more than I ever have. She’s doing so well: chasing after God and making straight A’s in college. Yes, college! I’m so proud of her and so thankful for how far our relationship has come in such a short period of time.

Finally dear heart, love: that’s the hardest thing that we have to learn how to do now. I know I have the capacity to love stronger. But these walls that I’ve built up to keep every bad thing out are also holding me hostage: they’re keeping me from my full potential. I finally want to come out and if I do nothing else with my life except learn how to love, I’ll have done plenty.

Me, at 35 years old--November, 2013