I’ll Be Okay

A month ago, I wrote about learning the difference between depression and grief in “Finding Hope Under the Blanket.”

My description of grieving the loss of my young, functional body left out an event that triggered anger and envy. I got an announcement that a woman I know at church, a long-time hospital chaplain, was to be ordained as a Minister of Spiritual Direction.

My immediate reaction was intense. I looked back over 28 years with rheumatoid arthritis and saw how it limited my choices and opportunities.

I cried. I rarely cry, so that alone got the attention of the retired man I live with.

And me.

My whole being, body and soul, was sad and angry.

I wrote in my journal. I carried those intense feelings around for a couple of weeks before I talked to a trusted friend and my spiritual director. All that helped and the intensity of my feelings lessened slowly.

Last Sunday, I sat in church lost in a spectacular piece of music performed by our choir and organist. Out of nowhere, the thought popped into my head–without the arthritis, would you have the faith that your spiritual journey has led you to? Would you ever have considered any form of ministry?

No.

I started in AA a few months before my arthritis was diagnosed. Both are chronic illnesses and they have intertwined in my faith journey for the last 28 years. The 12 steps (12 Steps), particularly 1-3, 10, and 11, were my introduction to a template for a personal relationship with a Higher Power.

I am grateful for the many gifts of my spiritual journey. Sometimes I tell God I think I’ve learned enough and he can ease up on my challenges now. Then I have a special moment like last Sunday and I know God still has much to teach me.

Would I prefer a less painful way to learn? Hell, yes. But I don’t think it works that way.

I learned over these years how to do hard stuff. And deep inside me, in my soul, I believe that whatever comes, I can be okay if I remember to ask God for help.

In “Finding Hope Under the Blanket,” I wrote

Without words, my spirit reached out to God and grace made the difference…

Many times lately, my prayer is simply, “Help me.” And that is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on November 17, 2015 at 11:42 am  Comments (6)  
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Finding Hope Under the Blanket

The retired man I live with walked into the den recently and said, “Ten years ago you had cancer. Now you have 3 grandchildren. It’s all going to be okay.”

I was in a dark place that day, a place I called depression. A few weeks later, my therapist called it grief.

In the last 2 years, my brother (the last of my family of origin) died, and I had 6 surgeries, most complicated by very slow healing due to immune-suppressant drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. I had reason to be in a dark place. But I didn’t label it grief until my therapist did.

There’s a difference, for me, between depression and grief. Depression feels endless and hopeless. Grief, on the other hand, is a recognition of loss, a process that I can move through. There is hope in that.

My friend, Kim, a former Hospice grief counselor, said that grief and depression can feel the same. For me, both involve emotional and physical fatigue that makes any kind of movement challenging. Inertia settles over me like a blanket and I become comfortable there.

I don’t drink anymore and depression kills my appetite so I don’t stress-eat. I use reading as my numbing-agent, my drug of choice.  I can tune out any feelings or circumstances if I have something to read. Inertia looks okay if I’m reading, right?

My family valued good grades and achievement and emotional control. I need to feel competent. So, in my head, my physical limitations become defects, which makes me defective, not competent. And so I am grieving the loss of my competent self.

My therapist helped me see that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t tell myself the truth.

I’ve been dealt a hand of cards that includes physical limitations, but I can find competence within those limitations. I tell myself I have strengths and talents that are still available to me, no matter how well I walk or balance on one foot. Sometimes I believe that.

I’m not sure just when the window opened on my dark place and started letting some light in. I became willing to change, to move out of the comfortable, dark place under that warm blanket of inertia into a new place of acceptance and hope. I became willing to do the hard work of growth.

Without words, my spirit reached out to God and grace made the difference.

It’s rained here for a week and a half with a couple more days of showers to come. The temperature has dropped into the 50’s. A week ago, I had to stop one of my arthritis medications because of possible side effects. Between the no-medication and the weather, my whole body feels stiff and achy.

But I’m okay in that. A bit whiny at times, but not rooted in a chair with a book. In a bit, I’ll go to a recovery group at Higher Ground, the drop-in house for people who are HIV positive. This afternoon I’ll go sit with a Hospice patient for a couple of hours to give the caregiver a break. Tomorrow morning I’ll go to an AA meeting and then out to lunch with a woman I sponsor.

I’m grateful today for the energy to push through the remnants of grief and the physical challenges of the day. It helps to focus on the needs of others.

I look for balance between denial and being overwhelmed. Denial sends me back to my chair with a book. Overwhelmed takes all my energy and I care about nothing. Balance says, “Okay, today I hurt, but I can go sit in a chair and listen to others just as easily as I can take root in my lonely chair at home”.

Balance requires mindfulness, acceptance, gratitude and hard work paired with surrender to what is.

Many times lately, my prayer is simply, “Help me.” And that is enough.

Published in: on October 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm  Comments (15)  
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Of Loneliness and Connection and Hope

A young man, 22, hanged himself from a tree behind our church the other day.

My friend, who lives across the street, woke up to police cars all down her street. When she walked to the end of her driveway, she saw him, still hanging from the tree.  He used a rope and a lawn chair. The tree was surprisingly small, but on a slight hill. One branch with a few big knots was strong enough and high enough.

They had to leave him hanging for quite a while waiting for the crime scene people. That lack of dignity and respect hurts my heart.

Our ministers and some of his friends and people from the neighborhood gathered by the tree later to honor and pray for him. Someone put a cross and some flowers on the tree.

My friend and I spent the next few days working on a fundraiser for the non-profit where she works and I’m on the Board of Directors. People host parties all over town, collect donations, and then gather at one big dessert finale with a band at the local coliseum complex.

Our non-profit provides case-management and prevention services for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Every May for the last 26 years, this Dining for Friends fundraiser has provided a big piece of the agency’s budget. The majority of the donations are $100 or less. That’s a whole lot of people who care. Still.

I watched people from all parts of town come together for this event. The mayor came and so did some of the clients. Young people came (they wear short skirts these days!) and so did some with grey hair. A lesbian couple brought their 5-year-old daughter. There were brown people and white people and people with neon hair. We had desserts donated by many fine restaurants and bakeries, more than anyone could eat, really.

I watched all these people come together to bring money and dance and smile, to celebrate and to help people they will probably never meet. My heart started to heal.

I can’t imagine the loneliness and despair that leads to suicide.

I can’t imagine the loneliness and despair of being told you are HIV positive.

I’ve seen what connection to others, concrete help with disease management, and a safe place to be honest and not hide can do for those who are HIV positive.

I know nothing about the young man who committed suicide–his problems, his life, his circumstances. Not even his name. I know he was one of God’s children who hurt too much to go on. And that is just so sad.

Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 11:08 am  Comments (3)  
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Give Up or Surrender?

I just about ran out of pluck.

And gumption.

And grit.

I’ve had 6 surgeries in the last year and a half, some bigger than others, but all required some rest and recovery time.  My muscles atrophied from all the sitting.  It’s harder for me to move around easily. Then I took a trip and came home worn out and sick with bronchitis.

After a long day of consciously feeling the fear of not getting better and staying weak and fragile, I realized I had a choice. I could give up or I could surrender to reality and begin the work to get better. Giving up looked easier.

Giving up means admitting defeat. It’s saying, “I have lost, there’s no sense in trying anymore.” Surrender means stopping the fight against forces you cannot control. Surrender allows you to reserve your energy for later. It’s the process of letting go. It does not mean giving up. (Teresa Bruni)

I surrendered. I asked–well, begged–God to help me find my pluck and gumption and grit again.

The difference between surrender and giving up is the difference between suffering (giving up) and being at peace (surrender). It is the difference between being lost and finding your way.  (Tim Custis)

I remembered what I hear in 12-step meetings:  Do the next right thing. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And from Anne Lamott:  Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.

Giving up is resistance to what is. Surrender is acceptance of what is. Giving up says “No” to life (you curl up in a ball on the bed). Surrender says “Yes” to life (you hold your arms wide open ready to receive). Giving up moves you away from God. Surrender moves you closer to God.  (Tim Custis)

I exercise in the pool again. I ride the exercise bike in the basement. I lead with my weaker leg when I go up the stairs from the basement. I bought some new shoes (Hey, girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do) that work with my new orthotics so I can walk outside.

I’m not angry at God anymore. I had to feel the anger and tell God I was angry before I could let go of it.

There is no hope in giving up. It’s a dark, miserable place to be.

God and I are buddies again.

I have hope again.

And pluck.

And gumption.

And grit.

Thank God.

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 12:03 pm  Comments (15)  
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