Tag Archives: despair

An Open Letter to Kate Spade’s Family

Hello Andy.

I know that you and Bea** don’t know me, but I just want to convey my sincerest sorrow at your loss. Kate was a beautiful woman and she created beautiful things for all of us. She was your best friend, and your partner or your mother, and you will miss her far more than I will ever understand.

I know that members of the psychiatric community are swearing that you should have seen this coming.***  They really don’t understand how good Kate was at smiling and saying all the right things, do they? They don’t understand what it’s like, living with someone who has a serious mood disorder on a daily basis.

My mother used to come and visit my children and the minute she’d walk through the door she’d exclaim how much they’d grown. I was always stunned at how easily she’d perceive this when I, their mother, never noticed their growth until their clothes didn’t fit anymore. My mom told me that it was being with my children every day that made it hard for me to see their growth, because the change was incremental and therefore not very visible to me. My mother, on the other hand, saw my daughters only once every three or four weeks, which gave her the objectivity to see how they had grown.

The psychiatrists don’t realize that you were caught in the same dilemma. Kate’s doctors saw her once every month or two, and her descent into emotional hell was obvious to them. You, on the other hand, saw Kate every day; you spoke to her every day. The change was incremental for you and therefore that much harder to observe.

And then there was the fact that you had been dealing with her mood disorder for years and years. You had learned to look past her mood swings, her habit of isolating and pushing you away. You had learned that focusing too much on her mood changes made her irritable and even more depressed. She hated feeling like the family ‘problem’ and did everything she could to mask her symptoms, and so you learned not to point out her obvious depression and anxiety because it only made things worse for her. She didn’t want to make life difficult for you and Bea and so she tried her best to smile and sound happy, even when she wasn’t.  You didn’t want to make life more difficult for her, and so you learned to quietly accept her just as she was, whatever mood she was in, however hard it was for her to engage with you.

Combine that with your inability to observe the incremental changes, and you have a potentially fatal combination that masked Kate’s actual intent on the last night that you spoke to her.

Please don’t blame yourself, and tell Bea not to blame herself either. You both loved Kate, and she knew that you loved her. She just thought that both of you would be better off without her, even though we all know that she was so very wrong about that.

People who don’t work with the seriously mentally ill just don’t understand how much of a struggle it is to live a joyful, rich, and productive life while dealing with a mood disorder.

People who aren’t depressed compare Major Depressive Disorder to their sadness and grief, when it’s much more like comparing a nasty cold to pneumonia.  Most medications won’t do anything to impact the duration and intensity of a cold, yet without medication and medical intervention, pneumonia is often fatal.

People who don’t have anxiety disorders compare them to worry or mild anxiousness, when it’s much more like comparing a burn on your hand to being on fire. Both are painful but only one has the potential to be fatal.

People who have never been with someone who is bipolar have no idea what the heights of mania can do to a person, or what the deepest depths of depression can remove from their humanity. I had a client who described her depressive swings as “oily, black, and incapable of admitting light”. The rest of the world cannot imagine how helpless bipolar individuals feel as their mood swings deny them the right to experience daily life in some sort of consistent manner; what it is like to wonder what outrageous things your mania will cause you to do, or just how deep and searing the hell of your depressive swing will be.

People who have never sat for hours floridly imagining the myriad of ways to end their own lives have no idea how terrifying and yet comforting those ideas can be.

You did everything you could to love her and protect her, Andy, but in the end you had to give her the right to live (and end) her own life on her own terms. It is tragic and heartbreaking, but respecting the rights of the mentally ill while doing your best to protect them from their illness is a delicate dance that defies even the most wise and observant of therapists and psychiatrists. You were not Kate’s therapist or her psychiatrist. You were simply the man who loved her more than anyone else. You and Bea were also the portal to the greatest joys she had ever known, and for that, I thank you both for shining light into Kate’s darkness.

My heart breaks for you and Bea, and I want you to know that the community of those who love mentally ill friends and family members stand with you and honor Kate’s legacy and all her work.

May God comfort your family and all of Kate’s friends and colleagues during this difficult time.

** Beatrice is Spade’s daughter.

***https://www.cbsnews.com/video/kate-spade-death-psychiatrist-says-suicide-does-not-just-happen-out-of-the-blue/

For Andy’s statement about Kate’s death, look here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/06/style/andy-spade-statement.html

 

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It’s Finally Over

I have been trying to write again for over a month, and have found myself utterly unable to write a word. Everything I try to say comes out wrong, and in general I feel like someone has sucked my brain out of my head and left me bereft of thought and sense.

A friend told me that grieving makes you feel like you are walking through jello; that everything is exhausting and takes more energy than you have in your body. She also said that she cried at the oddest times, mostly at church and while hiking. I can confirm that I have cried both in church and while working out, so she must be right. Some days I feel emotionally numb and can get through the day without much trouble, and other days I have no motivation to work or move; all I want to do is sit and cry.

My father died of Alzheimer’s on May 7th.

We found out that he had Alzheimer’s about a month before he died. Until then we believed that he had vascular dementia that was caused by his 2009 stroke. And honestly, he did have vascular dementia… it’s just that Alzheimer’s snuck up on us and started turning up the volume on his decline until the advance of Alzheimer’s was unmistakable. Vascular dementia has a much slower trajectory, allowing its victims to suffer for many years before they die. My grandmother died of vascular dementia shortly after she turned 90. She had suffered with vascular dementia for 10-15 years before she died; we have no idea how long she had dementia for sure because she was living in another state and so we didn’t clearly perceive the onset of her dementia. The late stages of her dementia took far too long to take her life and she suffered, unable to move much or speak at all for close to a year before she died.

My father’s death took us by storm, happening in only seven days. It began when he struck another resident, giving the poor man a black eye. The facility increased his medication to reduce my father’s agitation, and he began to sleep almost 24 hours a day. I insisted that he was over-medicated. Looking back, I think I was just in denial that his dementia was advancing with lightening speed.  The memory care facility where we placed my dad is renowned for its ability to deal with seniors with behavior problems; the majority of residents are fully functioning despite being medicated to prevent aggression. The sad fact is that my father was simply moving quickly into his final stages.

My father fell four times in four days, splitting open both eyebrows, bruising himself extensively, and finally breaking his upper left arm very badly. He seemed to be unable to stand or get out of bed without collapsing to the floor. The day he broke his arm was the last day that he was able to communicate at all; that night the hospice nurses found him thrashing in his bed and they were unable to calm him no matter what medications for pain or anxiety they administered. They called my mother just short of midnight to let her know that he appeared to have terminal agitation. Terminal agitation is familiar to hospice nurses, as many patients become restless, agitated, unable to be calmed or find a comfortable position as they move into their final days. The hospice nurse did her best to comfort my father, even holding him in her arms to comfort him as he struggled, calling for my mother and crying out in distress.  The hospice workers called to let my mother know that my father would likely die in the next four to five days, and she called me immediately afterwards to let me know that my father was dying.

By the time I got to see my father Sunday morning, he was already unresponsive. By Sunday night he was showing signs of wasting (hollow cheeks, change in skin tone.) By Monday morning his temples were hollow. I sat with him, singing hymns and reading Scripture. My mother and I discussed what we might want at his memorial service. My dad ran a fever that couldn’t be suppressed and we listened to the sounds of the ‘death rattle’ as he struggled to breathe. We finally left at 5:30pm to head home for dinner because his death seemed to be dozens of hours away; there were no signs that he was in his final hours.

The hospice nurse that arrived only 30 minutes after we left said that she had never seen anyone progressing through their final hours so quickly. It was as if my father had waited for us to leave so that he could die without us having to watch his death.

He died shortly after 8pm and the memory care facility called us so that we could come to grieve and pray over him before the funeral home arrived to take his body. I couldn’t stop shaking and could barely speak after I got the call, but somehow I made it to the care facility to be with my mother and our close friends. Later on I found out that shaking, uncontrollable crying, and inability to speak are common signs of the shock of grief. God’s grace alone got me safely through that twenty minute drive—that and two of my friends who listened to the depths of my grief. I cannot thank them enough for what they did for me.

There have been many challenges since my father’s death:

My estranged brother decided to attend the memorial, which meant I saw him for the first time in six years. He did not welcome the reunion…but later emailed me. I am still trying to figure out how to respond. My father’s death reduced the number of abusers in my life by one…and adding my brother back would increase the number by one. I don’t know what to do…and yet I miss my brother very much.

Both of my daughters were home at the same time for the first time since Christmas 2016. It was hard to spend time with them and simultaneously take care of my mother, give the eulogy at my father’s funeral, and grieve my father’s death. In all truth it was hard to function at all.

At the same time, there have been moments of extreme grace:

My church family came through for me in ways that I could not have imagined. Teri’s husband Andy cried while playing Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone. Teri died on February 11th, 2018 and her memorial was on March 10th, 2018. I know that playing the same song he played for his wife’s funeral only two months earlier was extremely painful and yet he did this to comfort me. My senior pastor, the church staff, the Praise Band, and the ladies who volunteer to staff funeral receptions did everything they possibly could to make the entire funeral deeply comforting and almost effort free for my family. I have never felt so loved and supported by my church family, and it was truly beautiful!

My son-in-law and his family bent over backwards to make sure that my mom, my daughters, and I had all the support we needed. They inconvenienced themselves to serve us, and I am deeply thankful for their presence in my life.

My parent’s family of friends were amazing, offering a lifeline for my mom as she faced the loss of her lifelong love. They made sure that she was never alone when she needed a shoulder to cry on or a friend to provide a meal.  They made sure that I never had to worry about my mom. They showed up to pray with us at my father’s deathbed. They proved their love in actions that lifted our hearts when we were grieving.

 

This has been a long and difficult journey for my family. I am well aware that many of my readers are also on this journey with one or more of their parents. Know that I continue to pray for all of you as your parents find their way back home to God.

My mother and I truly believe that my father, who was fixated on going home with my mom from the minute he entered a care facility in February, realized that he could never go back home to his own house, and so he chose to head home to his Father’s house. I know that he is truly happy in his Father’s house and he finally knows that we did all we could to make his life joyful in his final months.

Happy Ultimate Birthday, Daddy!  You are home forever, and I will be there soon enough. I can’t wait to see you again!

I Just Couldn’t Tell You

What do you do when you find out that someone you love has done something horrible?

This isn’t a new question. In fact, many people have had to answer this question when a beloved child has committed a crime, or their spouse has done something unforgiveable, or when a close friend or colleague reveals themselves as discriminatory or as a harasser.

It’s one thing to watch all this unfold on the news and weigh in with your opinion, but what do you do when that question stops being rhetorical; what do you do when the question becomes personal?

So far it turns out that my answer is that I struggle with conflicted feelings and pretty much do…nothing.

I wish that I had a better answer than that, but I haven’t been able to move beyond emotional conflict.

Let me explain.

I grew up alternately adoring and being terrified of my father. I don’t think that’s necessarily unusual or novel, because children are so small and Daddies are so tall…no matter how short they are in real life.

I adored my father for his goofy sense of humor and the myriad of silly voices he used to make me laugh. I adored my father because he loved cartoons and would frequently quote from his favorites (of course, doing his best impression of the character’s voice at the same time.) I adored my father because he would cook me waffles or pancakes on Saturday morning so that my mom could sleep in…and so I got him all to myself every Saturday. It was just me, cartoons, breakfast, and my Daddy.

Heaven!

There were anger issues that clouded my joy and gave me a genuine reason to fear my father. He had an abnormally loud voice that he used to great effect when he was angry with me or my brother. He also was quick to strike; far too quick and far too strong for his own good. Nowadays we call that violent, but back then we called it strict. I knew that I had to obey my father because anything less than obedience would be punished, and I greatly feared being punished. Most of the time I ended up grounded or restricted from some privilege, but there were times when my father responded before thinking and used physical punishment.  There were several times in my teen years when I immediately knew that my father was out of control and that he was beyond the border of ‘punishment’ and well into the land of physical abuse. I even reported it to the school, but no one did anything. My mother reminded me that I could be extremely difficult and suggested that I try to see things from my father’s perspective. The school counselor…I can only guess that he thought I was being overly-dramatic, and that anyone with my grades could not possibly be having problems at home.

When I became a parent, I began to understand just how frustrating parenting could be. By that time the strained relationship between my father and I had relaxed into the comfort of adulthood. My father spoke to me with respect and I sought out his and my mother’s advice on just about everything related to parenting.  I still knew that my father had been out of line with my brother and I many times and yet it no longer mattered as much. The only long-lasting effect of my childhood was that I was determined not to allow any abuse in my own household—not from me or anyone else. I still marvel that my husband married me, especially after I told him that if he ever hit me, that he better not go to sleep ever again. I told him that he better not hurt my babies, either, because there would be no escaping my wrath with.

A wiser man might have backed away from me slowly, never to return. Luckily my husband was just a little crazy in love, and so he stayed. I also imagine that he trusted himself; knowing who he was, he didn’t have to worry because he knew that he’d never raise a hand to me or to our children.

In my late 30’s I went to graduate school to study mental health counseling and learned all about Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI.)** My father sustained a TBI in the Navy when a fellow seaman dropped a submarine hatch on my father’s head.  The accident left him with a number of injuries: it ripped off half his ear (that they thankfully reattached) and caused nerve deafness in that ear, and it left him without a memory of my mother and I, despite the fact that we had both been in his life for months and months by the time of his injury. After the amnesia had subsided, the Navy gave my father the choice of continuing in his deployment or taking a medical discharge; my father took an honorable medical discharge so that he could try to rebuild his life with my mother and I. Mostly, that is exactly what he did, except…

Except that TBIs can change your personality, and my father was sporadically violent with his wife and children.

By the time I had completed graduate school for my counseling degree, I understood that my father’s TBI had impacted him negatively. I believed that it had caused him to become violent; he didn’t get to choose the effect that his injury had on him.

I looked back at my childhood—at all that had happened, good and bad—and realized that my father had no choice in how he reacted to stress.  When his stress levels became too high he became violent, and while it broke our hearts, he didn’t have any choice.

Until this Christmas, when he lost his temper.

Holidays are extremely stressful for my parents, and my father’s vascular dementia (born of his TBI and a stroke subsequent to a double bypass operation in 2009) has left him volatile and violent. As usual, prior to a major holiday, my father lost his temper and his control, and my mother was his victim.

“Get him out of here!” she screamed at me on the phone, demanding that I take my father home with me to protect her and to give her a break from being his caregiver. “I can’t force him to leave” I told my mother “and if you want to get away from him, you are welcome to stay the night at my house.”

Until approximately 18 months ago, I believed my father had only been violent with my brother and I.  I found out that my father was violent with my mother in the summer of 2016.  I went on an extended vacation to Europe with my husband and while I was gone my father became so violent that my mother had him arrested for domestic violence. At that point I thought it was an isolated incident born of his vascular dementia.

Over the remaining months of 2016, I learned that my father had been violent with my mother a number of times since his stroke in 2009. Then, in early 2017, I learned that he had been violent for 54 years, ever since his brain injury.

When he lost his temper just before Christmas 2017, I decided to ask for the truth.

I drove to my parent’s house and picked up my mother, who was obviously injured. As I drove her to my home to spend the night, I encouraged her to go to urgent care. “No…they’ll call the police.”

“I know” I said, “but you need to get a record of this.” She refused. She refused medical help and police intervention, whether at her home or mine, whether in her town or mine.

Knowing that I couldn’t get her to report the crime, I decided to ask her to share the truth with me.

“Has he always been this way, or did it start after the Navy dropped a hatch on his head?”

That’s when my mother told me about him grabbing her by the hair because she said the wrong thing while she was pregnant with me; all this happened long before the Navy injured my father’s brain and destroyed the hearing in his left ear.  All this happened long before a submarine hatch changed his ability to control his temper. She told me stories about his volatile behavior when they were dating and shortly after they married.

It had always been this way.  His accident in the Navy had nothing at all to do with his violent behavior.

Anyone who has been to seminary knows what the term “back formation” means.

After Jesus died, the disciples went back into the Old Testament and found many verses that seemed to predict the birth and death of Jesus Christ. Their recognition that these verses predicted the birth and death of Jesus, even though they were previously thought to mean something else entirely, was labeled back formation.  “Back formation” was the disciples looking at the Old Testament scriptures, realizing that these verses had greater meaning after the death of Jesus had made that meaning evident.

I am in the grip of back formation with my own childhood.

Suddenly everything that I remember has a different meaning, a different implication, a different way for me to understand it. Where I had painted all my father’s behaviors in the light of his brain injury, suddenly I have to admit that he has willfully chosen his violence, both before and after the injury, because he willfully chose violence before the injury ever happened. I can no longer excuse my father’s behavior.

The hardest part of this has been to admit to myself that I am that child. I am the child of domestic violence. I lived in the household that was under the sway of the cycle of domestic violence. I am the product of a violent home, and it was not a mistake that no one could control. My mother chose to stay with a violent man, and my father chose to be violent of his own free will.

I am that child, and it breaks my heart because I had freed myself from that burden when I believed that it was all just an injury that no one chose, that no one wanted.

If I am that child, then I have to admit that my mother choose to stay, and my father choose to beat all of us because that’s what he wanted to do.

What do you do when you realize that someone you love has done something truly horrible?

I have struggled with this every since December 20th, and I have discovered that I have no way to resolve the pain I feel with the love that I feel for my father.

My mother couldn’t let herself stay away from my father for long; she headed home only 18 hours after leaving and swearing that she was going to divorce him. I let her go because I could not allow myself to codependently try to control her behavior. As much as I wanted to keep her safe, I had to let her make her own choices.

Shortly after she left, I started myself baking my father’s favorite cookies.  I found that I couldn’t stop myself from baking his favorite cookies and doing things to make him happy, even after I realized that he willfully chose to beat us for over 50 years.

The Christian in me wants to rejoice that love is stronger than sin and violence; that love is greater than disappointment and sorrow. The Christian in me reminds me that this is exactly why God never gets sick and tired of forgiving humanity of all our failures; because love doesn’t count the wrongs, it simply loves.

The child in me just wants to know when I’ll finally be safe and not have to be afraid of what will happen to my Mommy if I’m not watching over her.

I have no way to resolve this, but I am beginning to understand why Camille Cosby hasn’t divorced Bill Cosby, or why Gayle King struggles to understand how Charlie Rose could have done something so despicable when she admires him so much.

I cannot stop loving my father no matter how hard I try, and I don’t think that’s going to change, no matter how appalled I am at the reality that he continues to beat my mother, who I love very much.

I wish love was not so powerful, but I have no way to escape its gravitational pull.

This is why I haven’t been able to write for so many weeks. I could not admit this to myself or to any of you.  Thank you to everyone who supported me in writing these words, knowing how they would reveal my family’s private struggle and pain. Thank you for giving me permission to tell the truth when the truth is so difficult to bear.

Just as love won’t let me abandon my father, love won’t let me abandon the truth, and the love of friends will bear me through the pain of speaking this truth to all of you.

Without love we would all be doomed. With love we will all be in pain and be comforted, all at the same time. It’s a strange, strange conundrum that I am deeply grateful for.

Thank you for letting me speak the truth. I can only pray that it gives someone else the freedom to speak their truth. To that end, pray for all those who live under the shadow of domestic violence, please.  We need your love, your patience, and your help.

Thank you.

 

#metoo

This last week has been difficult for me, as I have witnessed the flood of #metoo posts all over my Facebook feed.  I don’t have words for the intense feelings I felt as I scrolled through page after page of women giving quiet testimony to the ways that we have been objectified, threatened, intimidated, and abused by men.

It would be easy to rail against men right now, to get righteous and start condemning the sinners.  God knows the despair in me—despair that I feel for my daughters and my sisters and myself—causes my soul to stomp and scream and demand justice.

But the truth is that there is not enough justice in the world to stop my soul from wailing, mostly because I cannot even get my own husband to understand what it feels like to be a women in a country waging war against women’s reproductive rights, against our right to be sexual whenever and with whomever we want. Despite many times of trying, I cannot seem to help my white, middle class, well-education husband to see the myriad of ways in which women’s rights are slowly being dismantled and destroyed.

Understand me…I married a compassionate, kind, respectful man who has never violated a woman in his life…nor would he purposefully discriminate against anyone. And that is a part of the problem.

I believe it is his innocence that makes him utterly blind.

Let me explain.

The biggest problem that this society has isn’t racism, or sexism, or ageism or size-ism. It isn’t body shaming or bullying or microaggressions.  It might feel that way, but our biggest problem is that we are utterly blind to the ways we have be socialized to oppress each other.

I’m not talking about white supremacists marching down the street with tiki torches. It’s easy to identify acts of racism when they are gross and blatant.  I’m not talking about men like Harvey Weinstein who use their power to harass and abuse women. It’s easy to identify sexual predators when their behaviors are so outrageous and unacceptable.  I’m not talking about hateful posts, body-shaming, and cyber-bullying on the internet. It’s easy to identify hate language and bullying when the message in the post is so egregious that it leaps off the page. We don’t have any trouble identifying in-your-face hatred when we see it, because it is so shocking and so ludicrous that we react with disgust.  We’re not blind to any of those things because they are so obvious.

The problem is the million subtle cruelties that slip by, unnoticed, even though they happen right in front of us. The ones that are so quiet that when they are pointed out, we immediately think “No…that’s not what that person meant to say/do/imply.  Of course not!”

For instance, my husband and I tried to discuss what I call the GOPs “War on Women”; their latest outrage is the government’s recent decision to allow employers to refuse to pay for birth control for women…while Viagra is still covered.   I said that it was just another attack on women’s reproductive rights and our sexual freedom and he disagreed. He said that I was totally off-base because “Birth control isn’t necessary and Viagra fixes a medical problem!”

My first thought was what problem would that be, exactly?  We all know what Viagra does: it allows men with erectile dysfunction to be able to have sex. There it is: sexual freedom and reproductive rights for men (because that is how you make babies).  And of course in my husband’s mind, female methods of birth control aren’t necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies because…condoms! How do you explain to someone who has never had to fight for their rights that he just willingly put his daughter’s reproductive rights into the hands of men who may or may not be nice men like the father they grew up with?  But I can’t explain how the lack of birth control restricts a woman’s sexual freedom when my husband thinks that men already have the solution to that problem. So I tried another tact and explained why his infertile wife still takes birth control.

I am 53 years old and still on birth control for the exact same reason that I went on birth control 35 years ago: to control the pain caused by Interstitial Cystitis.  Right now, the only other option I have to control the pain this effectively is a total hysterectomy; in the choice between surgery and taking a tiny little pill every day, I take the pill. Then I had to explain about endometriosis and how it slowly coats your internal organs and abdominal cavity with endometrial lining that bleeds…and had to remind him that internal bleeding is excruciatingly painful. And then I had to explain that those are only two of many non-pregnancy related illnesses that are controlled through the hormone therapy that is otherwise known as birth control pills.

After those few examples he agreed that women need access to birth control “because it fixes a problem like Viagra does.” Seriously?  I wish that I could more easily make him understand that women will never have equal rights if they don’t have full control over their bodies, including their sexuality and reproductive rights, but I’ll settle for him understanding that birth control is a valid treatment for multiple diseases.***

If you are thinking that my husband is dense and needs a brain transplant, I want to remind you that my husband is an engineer with two master’s degrees. He has always respected my intelligence and supported my career; he has been a wonderful, supportive father to our two daughters…AND…he is also a trained crisis counselor who volunteers on the crisis line every week.  He is an incredibly intelligent, compassionate, respectful man…but he just cannot seem to understand how women are being oppressed by the actions of the GOP.

Male privilege has rendered him blind to the reality that women aren’t free if they have to rely on the action of a man to secure that freedom. Sorry condoms, nothing against you, but you don’t grant women freedom at all.

I swear to you that it’s his compassion and kindness that increases his blindness.  The fact that he has never tried to force his will on any woman makes it hard for him to conceive why any man would ever do such a sick thing.  Because he always had condoms in his home and car when he was single, he cannot conceive of a man who would refuse to wear a condom while continuing to demand sex from his partner. Because making sexual comments to attractive women at work it feels inappropriate and wrong to him, it doesn’t occur to him that other men at his job do it daily and create a threatening atmosphere for the women he works with…and he is even blinder to the likelihood that he is friends with at least one man like that. In his mind, he doesn’t make friends with that kind of guy. So if a female coworker were to tell my husband that one of his friends made an unwelcome sexual advance, my husband would probably say “Are you sure that you understood him correctly? I’ve known him a long time and I can’t imagine him doing that.”  And suddenly my husband is the ‘nice guy’ who refuses to believe a woman, not because she is a woman, but because he can’t imagine a man he considers a friend behaving in such a reprehensible way.

Utterly blind.

The biggest problem that I have is not that my husband is blind.  IT’S THAT I’M JUST AS BLIND, BUT ON DIFFERENT ISSUES.

I have no idea what it is like to live life as a man, or as a person of color, or as a disabled person, or as an immigrant…and I am betting that my compassion and kindness, my habit of attributing good intent to others, gets in the way of my ability to perceive micro-aggressions and other forms of discrimination that my own privilege protects me from.  Even worse, I fear that I am blind to the subtle ways that I discriminate, or commit micro-aggressions that I am unaware of, or simply say and do hurtful things out of ignorance.

I am just as blind as my husband is, and I have no excuse.  All my life I’ve tried to be one of the ‘good guys’ and to marry one of the ‘good guys’…and now I find out that my desire to be good has caused me to close my eyes when God is actually asking me to be open-eyed and fully woke.

I am so blinded by privilege that I can’t perceive just how much I can’t see; all I know is that I am not alone in this problem.

If there is a way out, it is going to be created when the blind are led by the woke; when the blissfully privileged are educated by the very people we unwittingly oppress.  It will require us to start trusting the oppressed and believe that we, as a society, are truly as crooked and depraved as our victims say that we are. We will need to trust that those who agree to educate us will not sin against us despite the righteousness of their anger. Moreover, we must be willing to freely trade places so that the educators can also be educated, because all of us have experienced oppression and victimization somewhere, and none of us should choose to remain willfully ignorant.###  It might be uncomfortable and maybe even painful at times, but what have we got to lose besides ignorance, fear, and misunderstanding?

Just think: we might never again have to see pages and pages of posts that say #metoo.

It would be a miracle.

***In case you were wondering, men like Weinstein disgust my husband. He has no space for sexual discrimination, harassment, abuse, rape, or violence against women and children.  He respects LGBTQIA persons and gender fluid individuals and goes out of his way to understand their personal struggles and become a more effective ally. I told you he was wonderful and compassionate!

### I am not suggesting that the oppressed need to be educated on how rough us white folk have it…I am suggested that men of color do not understand what it is to be a woman, and that a disabled white man will still need to help the rest of us understand how we discriminate against the disabled, and that despite their oppression, even groups of immigrants have underclasses within their populations, etc, etc.

The Full Catastrophe

It’s family disaster week.

Actually, there is nothing “family disaster” in what I’m about to say; in fact, what I’m about to say probably reflects the same family life most people have in their fifties. Some days are good, some days are bad, some days are both good and bad, and some days feel like Murphy moved into your house, took over your bank account, and decided that he personally has a vendetta against you.

I hate that Murphy guy.

This will serve as your one and only trigger warning: if you are already overloaded with family drama, I’ll see you next week. Otherwise feel free to read on.

So…the mom brag moment!

My oldest daughter called me and told me that wonderful things are happening at her job. Since she hasn’t told the world yet I won’t give you details, but let’s just say that the money is getting significantly better, she’s about to become very happy with her job and her commute, and she hasn’t felt this valuable to a company in a really long time.

It was so surprising that she was a little stunned and overwhelmed, but I’m here to tell you that she totally and absolutely deserves all of it.  Yes I’m her mom but dang that girl is bright and capable!

To put the icing on that cupcake, she told me that her partner (who is a professional photographer who does mostly BMX races) has been marketing himself a great deal in San Francisco because she travels there twice a month for work…so why not fly there together, you know? Well, after showing his work around town he got hired for a 3 day commercial shoot for a major fashion designer!!  Seriously, when I heard this I squealed out loud and he’s not even my kid.  Again…they haven’t told everyone yet and so I am keeping some details under my hat, but OMG a major (MAJOR) fashion designer!

After our phone call was over I was so excited that I danced all around my house as I got ready for my Zumba class, where I danced rather exuberantly and with great joy.  I had to let the energy out somewhere!

It has been a good couple of weeks for my girls. My youngest passed her certification exam and now is a certified Pharmacy Tech (hello, big raise!) and my son-in-law got a great job at an airport with benefits and everything.  Considering that he is thinking of going into aircraft maintenance, this is a good job to have.

Some days are good. Some weeks are good.

And then…

I have written previous posts about the challenges of aging and how important it is admit and accept that you are going to require someone else to take care of you. I have written about the importance of working through the emotions of becoming more and more disabled before you come to that point, and understanding that aging doesn’t have to be about loss.

Yeah, my parents don’t read this blog.

My dad is 76 years old and has dementia; my mom is 70 years old and chronically ill.  Both of them are slowly losing their ability to be independent, although neither of them wants to admit it.

My dad is unwilling to admit that his dementia has reduced him to the point where he cannot live independently and needs a caregiver. My mom has been filling the caregiver role for eight years, with increasingly less and less physical ability to do so, and more and more emotional and mental stress related to my dad’s decline.

I feel like we are at the breaking point.

I talk to my dad and he unloads about his frustration and overwhelming confusion in combination with his anger with my mom.  You see, he still believes that he is capable of independence, and he keeps trying to live his life the way that he used to. He thinks that it’s my mom’s anxiety that causes her to stop him from doing maintenance around the house or driving. Sadly, my dad’s dementia has made it impossible for him to evaluate his own functioning, or lack of it. And he does keep trying to function, despite the fact that the results are consistently bad.  Over and over he’ll try to “be of use” and do the things he used to do around the house, but since he no longer remembers details or how things function he ends up breaking or destroying clothes, appliances, fixtures, you name it. He has lost or destroyed so many things that my mom is at her wits end, so she tries to stop him or she ends up criticizing him because he is doing it wrong and refusing to receive instructions on how to do it right. This causes him to become belligerent and angry and then he becomes aggressive and things just keep escalating until there is a huge confrontation.

That’s when I get frantic, emotional phone calls from my mom telling me just how bad it is, how agitated and aggressive my father is becoming, how exhausted and overwhelmed she is…and I gather resources and try to offer help to her…which she refuses most of the time.  Recently she revealed to me just how aggressive my father becomes when he gets agitated, and the last time I was at their home she had me take pictures of the bruises. It broke my heart to think that my father has become that guy and that my mother feels trapped in the situation.

Disaster.

Believe me, I have tried all sorts of things, and I have gathered all sorts of resources including an elder law attorney. Nothing is getting either of them to realize how explosive this situation is becoming.

I was up until almost 2am last night running it over and over in my mind, furious with both of them for the choices they have made and are making. I have a huge list of fears, with each one more terrifying than the other until the final one involves such a horrible occurrence that I would lose both my parents at once: one to death, and the other to the criminal justice system.

All morning I have been trying to interject more logic and less fear and anger into the discourse in my head, and I have realized that no matter how much I want to, I cannot make their choices for them. As much as I love and want to protect them, every attempt to help them make a decision that would admit that they need help because of their increasing debility seems to create a backlash of resistance and petulance out of my dad, which only serves to increase my mother’s anger with him.  I don’t want my desire to “fix things” to become the reason they end up in the next screaming, violent confrontation.

I fear that the best course of action is to sit back and let their choices drive what comes next and hope that none of my fears comes true. But I’m telling you, I’m going to get a hold of that elder law attorney and get papers that would allow me to file for conservatorship and get them filled out in advance. I’m also going to ask her for a referral to an attorney that deals with criminal charges against compromised adults. I can’t save them from themselves, but I can arm myself with information, prepared paperwork, and referrals.

And then I am going to sit back, close my eyes and meditate on raises, promotions, new jobs, photo shoots, and the incredible joy I feel when I think of what amazing women my daughters have become and what amazing men they have chosen as their partners.

In the movie Zorba the Greek, one of the characters gets asked if he is married and he says “I have a wife, children, house, everything…the full catastrophe.”

Life is a catastrophe, indeed. A wonderful, excruciatingly painful and beautiful catastrophe. I would complain, but then I think of Jesus’ life and all that He went through and I realize that even my Savior lived the full catastrophe, even if he never had a house and may not have had a wife and children.  It turns out that this is the nature of incarnate life, and I don’t know that I would honestly want it to be any other way.

 

In the beginning was the Word…

The last few weeks I have been working with a woman who is struggling with chronic and complex PTSD.

To put that in laymen’s terms, my client experienced a boatload of trauma, starting when she was just a child and ending only recently when she kicked out her latest abusive partner.  The litany of abuse is unbelievably long, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse when she was a child, abandonment by her parents, and domestic violence with her romantic partners as an adult.

You might imagine that it is difficult listening to someone graphically describe the violence they have lived through, and you would be right. Sometimes I get a little sick to my stomach because the violence is so extreme; it stuns me to realize just how much violence can be done to a human being without killing them.  It’s even worse when the violence happened to my client when they were a child because of how helpless they were to escape their abuser and how reliant they were on their abuser for their daily needs.

And of course, my clients cry when they talk about the abuse. They weep, hug themselves, and rock back and forth, trying to comfort the invisible child within that just cannot stop screaming in anguish.

For all the pain that the violence causes, the violence is far easier to fix than the verbal abuse. Punches, kicks, and belts will never have anything on the spoken word when it comes to inflicting damage.

I know that you’ve heard that stupid childhood meme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”

What a load of crap!!

As a therapist I have tools to tear away the memories of physical and sexual violence; I have special techniques that help the brain reprocess and ‘de-fang’ disturbing and painful memories of violence and terror.  Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like I have a magic wand that I wave at my client that makes the bad memories fade away.  On the other hand, the methods currently used for treating trauma are effective and there are enough different methods to be able to find at least one that works well for the client’s specific needs.  If we work hard and the client is brave, we can usually eliminate most, if not all, of the symptoms of PTSD and free them the abuse of their past.

What is much harder is freeing them from the voices inside their head that repeat demeaning, hateful words that were spoken by their abuser in anger and disdain.  I cannot silence the demanding father that could never be pleased, no matter how high the grade or how many goals you made once he takes up residence in my client’s mind. I cannot pry off the negative label when my client’s mother labeled her a whore when she finally told her mom about the years of sexual abuse by her stepfather.  I cannot stop the horrifying, negative, self-abusive messages that play in my client’s head as their mind repeats endlessly the abusive words spoken to them every time they made a mistake or angered their parents. I cannot re-establish my client’s confidence after years of being told by their partner that they are the entire reason the marriage is miserable, and that they perceive everything incorrectly and do everything wrong.

Why am I telling you this?

Because we carry deadly weapons in our mouths: weapons that we can quickly deploy that produce deadly results without leaving any bodies behind as evidence.

Words are weapons, and our weapons are far more fatal than we like to realize.

It is so easy to succumb to irritation and strike out at our children or our spouse or our coworkers. It is so easy to blame our constant, low-lying agitation on the demands of our jobs and daily life. And it is so easy to forgive ourselves for the many ‘minor’ moments when we let our tone and our message get sharp and jagged, when we say a host of the wrong words. It is so much easier to ask forgiveness for our ‘momentary’ lapse of kindness than to actually try to control our tongue.

Have you ever tried to control your tongue?

It didn’t work for me either.

It won’t ever work.

It doesn’t work because it isn’t our tongue that we need to control.  It’s our mind. Our tongue has no will of its own. It can only repeat the words that play silently in our minds, waiting for our anger to give them greater purchase so they can be spoken out loud.

And why? Why would we house weapons in our minds, letting them silently fill our heads with words that can only do damage?

It’s because my clients aren’t the only ones who have been tortured with venomous words.

It’s you, too. It’s me.  I’m afraid that no one escapes unscathed.

Every single one of us, in some way, have been stabbed and beaten and shot with words that tore us apart.  Maybe our parents spoke them, or maybe it was a schoolyard bully. For some of us it was our partner that spoke the words that ripped us apart. The problem is that the damage never stops with us. As long as we let these wounds remain unhealed, they bleed sick, self-punishing thoughts that wound us even more until finally the words demand release and they turn their venom outward, begging to pour out of our mouth so they can go on damaging other people.

So now what? What do we do?

First, if you find your mind full of self-critical thoughts that tear up your self-esteem, it is important that you seek counseling. I know it sounds like your own voice in your own head saying those things, but those words didn’t come from you, and they don’t belong in your head. More importantly, if words are weapons, essentially you are beating and abusing and terrorizing yourself…and if you did that to anyone else you’d be arrested!  Believe it or not, you can spit those words out of your mind and never have to hear them again. If the counselor you find doesn’t help you, get a hold of me and I’ll share a few techniques that will help you evict the cruel inner critic in your mind.  Remember, those hateful words in your head have a habit of leaking out of your mouth and attacking others. If you want to tame your tongue, tame your inner critic.  Trust me, it works much better than you think. Also, it’s much nicer living inside your head when there isn’t any voice in there destroying your self-esteem and your confidence. Az-plc.com

Second, remember that your words have great power: power to wound, power to bind, power to heal, and power to set free. Lest you think this is a bunch of new age hokum, let me remind you that John 1 begins with the sentence In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  If everything that exists began with the Word and if the Word is God, then our words, spoken by someone who is made in the image of God, are no small thing!  God spoke the entire universe into existence; likewise when we speak we create. Do our words create love? Do they create wounds? Do they seek to carry God’s grace, or do they convey judgement and condemnation?

What you live inside your head becomes the reality you create around you. Please…let your life (and that of those you love) become a garden of life and love, not a pit of despair.

Have a blessed week! I’m on hiatus for the next week, and when I come back I hope to have all sorts of tales of new adventures.

Blessings!

 

I Promise

For all the parents out there…hang in there. It gets better. I promise.

Parenting is a thankless job that requires you to act wisely and lovingly even when you don’t feel very wise and you’re starting to wonder why you chose to breed at all.

Parenting requires you to do the right thing no matter how inconvenient, exhausting, or expensive doing the right thing is going to be.

Parenting requires you to hold firm to boundaries and rules even as your children scream that you are ruining their life.

And of course, you are ruining their life…at least the life they think they should have.

The problem with parenting is that there is nothing to give you that smug sense of assurance that you have made the right choices, held firm at the right times, and bent the rules in the right ways. There is no way to be sure that the parenting choices you have made will lead to a happy, healthy child.

In so many ways, parenting is a crapshoot.

Maybe you throw a 7, and maybe you crap out. ***

And the big fear that hangs over every parent is that your child will grow up, look back at their childhood, and declare you a bad parent.  The fear is that they’ll remember the discipline and not the lessons, the punishments and not the good times, the fights and not the nights spent at their bedside when they were sick.

Hang in there, parents.  It gets better. I promise.

Today my oldest daughter called me to thank me, saying that she had recently read that children gain confidence in themselves from their interactions with their parents.  She wanted to let me know how much she appreciated her father and I and how much time and attention we gave her.

I want to make this clear: I was not a stay-at-home mom, and her father wasn’t a stay-at-home dad.

We both worked full time.

Then Phil started graduate school just before I got my call into ministry. I quit my job and went to seminary full-time while Phil worked full time and attended one class per semester at ASU in pursuit of a Master’s in Computer Science Engineering.

Five years later, we graduated within 7 days of each other, having done a ton of creative things to get through the grueling 5 years it took for both of us to graduate.

My seminary was in California, so I had fly to school every week. I was gone for two days each week while Phil had to do everything and I do mean everything: he had to deal with both kids, his job, and all of his homework. It damn near killed him and there were many semesters when he was so busy that he felt exhausted and on the edge of tears almost every day.

And the kids?  They don’t remember how tired and emotional their father was. They remember that when I was gone at school, their father would pick them up from aftercare program and take them straight to the library where they would return last week’s books, pick out new books, and then listen as their father read to them for a good hour. Then they would go the park next to the library and play on the playground, where Phil would morph into the Tickle Monster. He would chase the girls and they would run (and scream…you can be certain that they screamed enough to drive a grown man crazy) until they were tired and hungry. Then he’d take them to Taco Bell for tacos or burritos and then home for a bath, more reading, and bedtime.

Trendy parents might scoff at the quality of the food he fed them for dinner, or the repetitiousness of the playtime. Other parents might complain that dad seemed more like a babysitter doing the “good time” stuff while mom got the laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping.

What my daughter told me was that while I was away, she and her sister soaked in their father’s undivided attention and adoration.  They became dyed in the wool “Daddy’s girls”…and both of them still idolize their father to the point that I actually apologized to my son-in-law when he married my daughter.  That might explain why he almost immediately moved her to Oregon. Hmmm…

ANYWAY…

You might wonder if my relationship with my daughters is tense and distant considering that I’m the one that kept leaving the state to go to school.

Nope.

In fact, I am very close with both my girls.

My oldest daughter said that she remembers spending summer breaks with me. I took her and her sister to swim team and dive team every day and then we’d rush home to watch I Love Lucy while we ate our lunches.  They’d spend their afternoons playing inside while I did laundry and cleaned house in between spates of doing homework.  When I had free time, we would make homemade jam or bake brownies together. Basically, I made food while they made a mess and then I got to clean it up.  My daughter said she could not imagine how I didn’t go crazy sitting there for hours in the heat and humidity (hello indoor pool) waiting for them, while they got to swim and dive and have fun.  Then she spent twenty minutes going on and on about how much fun it was when we would buy bagels from Einstein’s, and then go home and make homemade veggie cream cheese.

Listen parents: what I’m trying to tell you is that you are harder on yourself than your children will be when they look back. They won’t remember how crazy busy you were, not if you took a minute or two to braid a friendship bracelet with them, or to be the Swim Mom, or to be the library Dad. They will remember the times you danced in the Walmart aisles because a good song was playing, or the times you played nail salon, or the times you watched their favorite movie again and again.

You don’t have to be a perfect parent.

You don’t have to give them everything they want.

You don’t have to let them break the rules and get away with murder.

All you have to do is…

Be yourself.

My husband and I didn’t do these things because we are such spectacular parents. We did what we did because it made it easier for us in the midst of a very difficult time of our lives. It’s what helped us smile even as we were crushed under the load of work, kids, housework and homework.

Hang in there, parents! I have good news!

You are enough after all, and the likelihood is that your kids will one day tell you so, right to your face.

Hang in there. The good stuff is coming, I promise.

 

*** In case you’ve never heard of Craps    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craps#Rules_of_play