Lessons From The Road

No one can do it for you.

They can love you and care about you, but they can’t fight your fight for you.

People could talk to me and pray for me, but they couldn’t drive for me. No one could come rescue me and bring me home.

*

You can’t control how you feel, but you are in control of how much you suffer.

You can say, “I can’t…” and “This is not okay…” all day long, and it doesn’t change your circumstances one damn bit. All it does is increase your suffering.

You have to breathe.

Don’t rage against what you feel- let it be.

Trust the process.

*

Bad feelings aren’t necessarily bad things.

Stop labeling things as bad just because they feel bad; a lot of good is born out of things that feel really bad.

*

You don’t have to give sucky emotions power by calling them truth.

Emotions come and go. We have to be careful not to let them determine our truth.

*

Some trips are about fun and some trips are about growth.

*

Sometimes it’s important to stop calling the contents of our hearts “wrong” or “bad.”

When you find yourself aware that not everyone sees the world in the same way as you do, maybe it’s better to draw the “wrongness” of your heart closer to yourself rather than push it away. Maybe what feels wrong is actually a unique wiring.

Maybe the key isn’t in making yourself be different, but learning how to embrace what is within you.

Maybe sometimes what we think are our flaws, the ways we struggle, the ways people don’t understand us, maybe the unique way we see the world is actually a secret God whispered into our hearts, and the trick is to learn how to let that widen us up to living bigger and deeper, rather than letting it make us feel discouraged or close us off to life.

*

On the road, all by yourself, you have no choice but to sit with your pain when it arises. You can’t drink it away or overdose it away or refuse to get out of bed, because you’re not home and you have a dog and someone has to take care of him.

And also, being all by yourself, thousands of miles from home, you suddenly realize how terrified you are that you’ll somehow die before ever getting home. You worry about car accidents, mostly, but also murder a little bit when you’re sleeping in a dark parking lot in your car. You worry about your car breaking down and your finances and what if you never get to go home again?

And you realize there’s a whole, beautiful life waiting for you at home. And it’s not perfect, but its yours, and dear God, how badly you just want to be back home where you get to live your imperfect, beautiful life.

So you sit with your pain. And you promise yourself you’ll do that at home too. You promise yourself that even when you’re back in the land where drinking and overdosing and trying to use other people to save you are options, you won’t do that.

*

You have to take some deep breaths and do the things for yourself that you can do- like not text and drive and stop when you need a break and call and talk to people (without begging them to rescue you) when you need to talk.

And you have to trust God with the rest, like no flat tires or car troubles and getting you back home alive.

If you carry the weight of the things God’s responsible for, it will suck all of the beautiful living out of your day and replace it with fear and worry that you were never meant to carry.

*

Every time Arlow makes eye contact with me, I say, “I love you,” or, “How are you doing, baby?” And I do that not because I’m insecure, but because that’s how I communicate.

And that’s how I communicate in my relationships also.

And so when people don’t do that with me, when they go days without talking to me, it feels like they don’t love me.

But not everyone communicates their love in the same way you do. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

 

*

Sometimes you can be royally pissed off and sitting in a park in New Mexico and hating everything about life, and then a woman and her kids will come sit with you and want to pet your dog, and you’ll be even more cranky because you didn’t ask for company or small talk.

But then you’ll notice the woman has a tin can labeled “Please Help. Need Food.” And she won’t address it. She won’t ask for anything. She’ll just set it off to the side and slightly behind herself. And she’ll talk about the weather and her kids and where the nearest CoinStar is while she watches her kids wrestle with a dog twice their size.

And you’ll reach into your wallet. Because MFing New Mexico sucks and it’s hot and dirty and no on drives well, but God clearly led you and your bad attitude to this park where a woman with a genuine need and a smile happened to cross your path.

And what a gift New Mexico turned out to be.

*

If you walk your dog in Texas, people will literally stop their cars to conversationally say to you, “That’s a big dog!”

They will also give you the water out of their car and hold the cup for your dog so he can hydrate.

*

The same part of my brain and heart that were terrified to be so far from home are the same part of my brain and heart that feel four years old.

“I’m so scared,” and, “I want my mom,” came in the same breath.

And maybe that’s how we parent ourselves sometimes. We say, soothingly and with a voice laced with love, “I know.”

But we don’t let that stop us from doing the hard, scary thing.

*

If you sit down in a park in Mississippi and sob into your hands, if you’re too weak to hold your dog’s leash anymore and so he runs wild and free while you cry, no one will even notice.

*

I used to think people who picked their scabs were disgusting.

But then I found myself bored and stuck in traffic with a bunch of week-old mosquito bites.

*

A rainbow feels like a personal promise to me in Utah just as much as it does here at home.

*

You can’t outrun your problems or your pain.

You come home at the end of a long road trip and you’re one part, “Thank God, I made it!” And, “Thank God I am back in the right time zone! And thank Him for my bed and my shower and my plants and cats and clean underwear and closet full of clothes!”

And you’re one part complete, black depression.

The road trip wasn’t a solution, it was a lesson.

And now it’s time to put to practice what you learned on your drive.

Now, in this really hard moment, you get to say to yourself, “No, I CAN do it.”

And in the face of blackness, I get to say to myself, “No, I WANT to live.”

*

“You’ve got a big heart. The way you see the world, it got you this far. You might have some bruises and a few scars, but you know you’re gonna be okay. And even though you’re scared, you’re stronger than you know. If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding, if you face the fear that keeps you frozen, chase the sky into the ocean, that’s when something wild calls you home.”

Living Into The Questions

“[The world is] so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need   to sit down and write about it.”

*

A lady at the dog park made me cry today.

Arlow jumped on her. But in his defense, he didn’t until her dog jumped on her.

“You need to get control of your dog!” she said to me.

And I thought, “Yeah. I need to get control of a lot.”

*

I am trying to embrace the fact that I am a person. I am trying to honor my heart and who God made me to be. I am trying to stand tall and firm in my own body rather than grasping and begging for other people to validate me and fill me up.

My friend, Erika, and I talked today about how I’m an empath. How I basically go through the world without any skin- feeling everything so deeply.

And she talked about how it’s important that I take care of myself, that I put up boundaries so that the world doesn’t overwhelm me.

I never really thought about that before, about being uniquely wired to be sensitive, about needing to take care of that truth about me, to honor this quality rather than shame myself for it, to give room for my heart to tell me what it needs.

*

We also talked about why I can’t hold love; why I am empty of love almost the second someone says, “Yes, I love you.”

She said that’s a foundational problem because all of the world is, at its core, about love.

She said to be aware of that, of my inability to hold love. To try to live into the question, to try to open myself up to finding healing for whatever part of me in wounded in that way.

*

“Is life worth it?” I asked her at one point. “I just need to know that life is worth it.”

In response, she said something then that I’ve heard before: “That’s black or white thinking.”

She said some days life is worth it, some days it’s not.

She said, “Welcome the tension, because if you don’t, you’re fighting a battle you don’t need to fight. Allow pain to find a home in you without trying to make yourself be somewhere else. Be present with it. And then you’ll discover you’re able to move on.”

*

I don’t know how my story is going to end. I don’t know what happens next.

But I know there’s grace for me in this season.

So many people are pouring love into me.

I’m so blessed.

And still, I hurt.

*

“The funny thing about writing is that more often than not, you write your own way into truth.”

In Every Moment

“I just think that there’s meaning in everything,” my client said a couple weeks ago. “I think God is in everything and that our days matter so much more than we could ever understand.”

Sometimes my clients help me.

Sometimes they don’t. Another client of mine has told me two times in a row that I look crazy.

Her insight is unnerving.

*

I cried at the doggy daycare last week.

I was petting this sweet, little dog with the most gentle eyes, and the woman behind the counter said, “You know, she’s up for adoption.”

And everything in me wanted to take her home and be her mommy.

And I looked at her eyes, so filled with hope and delight at having my attention, and I thought about how she doesn’t have a mommy, and it made me tear up.

Because her tail was wagging and her eyes were gentle but no one loves her the way I love Arlow.

*

How do we stay in this fight?

If I was with God, His love would feel like a hug.

If everything here, everything I love and everything I desire, is just a mere reflection of the goodness that awaits me in heaven, why wouldn’t I want to be there?

Because love chooses well. Love chooses not to abandon people, not to give up on this life that’s a gift. I know that. In my head, I know that.

But inside of me, I’m a child lost at the carnival and everyone around me is laughing and talking and eating cotton candy, and I’m standing there, terrified, with no parent’s legs to grab onto.

And does anyone see? Does anyone see how alone and scared I am? Only Him. Only heaven.

*

Some people think you go to hell if you kill yourself, but I think that’s dumb. It’s professing, in essence, that God’s grace is big enough to cover every sin but one.

Plus, God doesn’t fault us for being sick.

Not to mention, that black and white philosophy leaves so much unanswered. Like what about people who die from an accidental drug overdose? Do they immediately go to hell? Even though they weren’t trying to kill themselves? Even though they might believe in Jesus?

I wonder about my clients sometimes, how a loving God could send to hell a person who can’t possibly believe in Him because they hear cupboards speak to them and think Michael Jackson is preparing a palace for them to live in. How could He fault them for not believing? I don’t think He will.

I don’t think He does.

I watched my client die the other day. I went to deliver her meds, and the next thing I knew, EMTs were trying to get her heart started again.

The only coherent thing she said to me before she died? “I have to say a prayer.”

“You have to say a prayer?” I asked.

And then again, she said, “I have to say a prayer.”

*

My face was pressed against the couch this afternoon. Lies and truths swirling about in my head, fighting for a voice.

And then, I felt God’s gentle urging to just let it be.

“Let the lies and truths coexist for now; it’s not as important to piece them apart as it feels. The real issue at hand is: Who are you?

When it’s just you and the couch, when all your relationships could fall away and it would just be you standing alone, apart from who loves you and who doesn’t, apart from where you belong and where you don’t, apart from what someone thinks of you or if they think of you at all, who are you?”

Yours.

I am Yours, I am Yours, I am Yours.

*

Whenever I need a hug, I watch Narnia.

There’s just something about Aslan. The eyes, the laugh, the roar.

They remind me of home.

*

I don’t know how to do this.

The Battle Continues. And So Does The Laughter.

“Your eyes aren’t smiling today,” my coworker said. Which surprised me because that means my eyes are smiley most days.

*

I keep having to remind myself that life is a gift. Life was God’s idea- the same God I desperately want to be held by. This life is a reflection of Him. It IS Him holding us. We are here, breathing in the stuff of miracles, surrounded by the work of His hands. His fingerprints are everywhere.

The suffering of life wasn’t part of His plan, of course, but the good? The good can reveal to us the heart of our Father, if only we have eyes to see.

*

The dysthymia precedes the panic, every time. Suddenly the world goes dark- black. I try desperately, fiercely to keep my head above water, but I can’t. The current is pulling me down to a place where there is no oxygen or light.

How many nights have ended with me squeezing my eyes closed in bed, my throat tight, my heart racing, repeating: “What I’m feeling right now is a lie. I am alive. I am alive. This life is a gift. I am alive.”

There are moments when suddenly I see and feel about life the way I used to. And those moments are like desperately needed oxygen, loosening the tightness in my chest, lessening the weight on my shoulders, showing me how, even in my best moments, I am weighed down by this fight. And but suddenly these moments of clarity hit me and there’s lightness and relief and something like joy, and I think, “Ah, yes, there you are, Life! I knew it wasn’t supposed to be so hard! I knew you were worth it! I knew you were, at your core, good!”

But the moments are fleeting. Like a blink. And suddenly I’m back in this life where every single decision I make throughout the day is a response to the question: “How can I keep from having a panic attack?”

It’s the panic I can’t do anymore. It is hell. And always, in every moment, I am running as hard as I can away from that, that place that feels like hell, that place that makes me feel certain this is a fight I won’t win.

*

There are moments that make me want to weep with relief because I forget I’m fighting. I’m surrounded by the best kind of chaos, and belonging, and love. And I forget that the sun is setting and that nighttime is hard for me.

God is holding me. He is the breath in my lungs. My throat is tight, but He is my breath. And so I close my eyes and remember I am alive and this life was His idea.

*

And it won’t end. The best parts of this life will continue in heaven.

So when I can’t feel any pleasure in the good of this life, when everything feels empty and meaningless and my heart starts to beat with the wildness I’ve become accustomed to before a panic attack, I can tell myself, without a doubt, that my brain is lying to me. Because even if not all of life is good, some of it is good. And that good has His fingerprints all over it. Life was His idea. And death is an illusion. Those of us to love Him will live forever.

Life is a gift.

*

Here are some things I know:
1. Not everyone feels this way. My brain is sick. Life isn’t this hard for everyone. Which means there’s hope for me. There’s hope that my brain will get healthier. There is hope that the life I knew for 20-something years will return to me.
2. God doesn’t blame me. He knows how I’m fighting. He knows my thoughts and my heart. And there is no condemnation in His eyes. Only love.
3. I am human. I am flawed and weak and sinful, and I vacillate constantly between thoughts and emotions, lies and truths, fears and desires. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be human because God’s grace is bigger than the width and depth of my need and depravity.
4. I am never alone.

*

I don’t know if it’s going to be okay this side of heaven. When I ask myself that question, my response is always, “It HAS to be.” It has to get better or I don’t know if I’ll survive. My desire to fight? It’s huge. But the panic is bigger.

And so I surrender. I embrace not knowing. I accept that this is my fight right now. I breathe. And I say, “I don’t know. I don’t know how or when or why or what’s next. But thank You.”

And I do. I thank God for air, for breath and belonging and moments where life feels real to me and worth it. I thank Him for love and family, laughter and sun, Arlow and the moments before sleep when all feels okay.

I thank Him that He holds me.

And I thank Him that whether my head is above water or below, He is there.

When It Rains

After work today, Arlow walked in, went to the pantry, grabbed a dog bone, went to the living room to eat it, and then fell asleep on the couch where he is currently periodically farting.

Replace the dog bone with a beer and my dog is a 55-year-old man.

*

I told a couple people today that I feel like a flashlight in which the batteries are dying. I still put off light, but not enough to illuminate anything.

When I told my therapist that tonight, she paused a moment and then said, “Do you write this stuff down? Because sometimes I hear a book in you.”

I hope so.

#reasonstostayalive.

*

Midday today I found myself driving in the rain, surrounded by gray. And, for the first time in my life, I was not only annoyed with the rain, but I was actually pissed off at it. Like, angry enough to want to raise my fist to the sky and yell: “I am sick and tired of your sh**. Pull it together!”

Thankfully, I’m crazy, but not so crazy that I believe the rain can hear me, so I just silently fumed rather than actually giving the rain an earful.

Still, every time I got out of my car I felt angry with the cold and wet and lack of sunshine. I was raging against it, refusing to surrender to what was, and it was making me miserable.

So I decided to try to embrace it. I took my hair out of its ponytail, stood outside my car, tilted my face to the sky, and I let the rain fall down on me. And I breathed. I felt the coolness of the rain on my skin, my hair curling as it grew increasingly wet, and slowly I felt myself starting to smile. Because how often in adulthood do we take the time to stand in the rain? And really, water falling from the sky? It’s kind of incredible when you stop long enough to wonder again at the things we have become so desensitized to.

And so there I was, smiling at the sky. Once I stopped raging against the rain and decided just to accept it, I suddenly didn’t feel so angry.

I talked with my therapist tonight about how I think my panic is often the result of me trying to rage against the depression, particularly when it settles itself on top of me like a heavy, wool blanket. I try to kick it off, try to get out from underneath it, try to see some light, and I can’t. It’s all heavy blackness. And I can’t fix it . So I panic.

But when I don’t try? When I just accept that this is where I am right now? When I remind myself I haven’t always felt this way and won’t always feel this way? When I stop raging against it, stop saying, “I CAN’T FEEL THIS WAY,” and instead focus on breathing? The panic is much less likely to be next in the series of events.

Radical acceptance. Mindfulness. Thought monitoring.

I prefer sunshine.

But the rain won’t kill me.

Breath

Arlow is laying on the floor by my feet right now.

He played all day at daycare and is probably tired, but I keep studying his face. Is he okay? Is he bored? Depressed? Am I being a good mom? Does he know I love him?

This is my brain always.

Does he know I love him? Does she?

And also: Am I enough? Am I lovable?

Followed by: Yes, they know you love them. And they love you, they love you, they love you.

*

Not everything is fragile.

Love isn’t supposed to be a fragile, fleeting thing. It’s a commitment. A thing that just is and that cannot be lost. Because love doesn’t forsake us.

I am alive because I love.

And I am alive because they love me too.

That, love, (and Love), is the solid ground beneath my feet when all the world grows hazy and unreal to me. When my brain is flooded with a silent scream, and my chest is tight from trying to keep breathing, love keeps me committed to this fight.

*

I remember when things used to matter to me, not just consciously, but in a life-affirming, deep-in-my-soul sort of way.

How the dishwasher exhales steam when you open it, breathing wet, warm air onto your face.

The calming way the sunlight comes through the window in the early morning if you leave the lights off.

I remember who I used to be. I remember when life held magic and possibility and felt like a hug from the Lord, even when it was hard. I remember how just the simple act of existing felt like a gift.

The entire man-made world is designed to make life better. iPhones; and boats; and vacations; and TV shows; and recipes for something homemade and warm and delicious. And God gives us love. Love and sunshine and the smell of freshly cut grass and bananas and hugs and Himself. The entire world is infused with good, reasons to laugh and enjoy, and I can’t feel ANYTHING.

I read good books, and drink warm tea, and let myself be loved, and bend low to kiss Arlow’s wet nose. I laugh at jokes my coworkers tell, and hold doors open for people, and plan to go see movies with those whose company makes my life better.

I’m doing everything I can to try to make myself, the me I really am, return. The me who can feel joy in budding flowers and the smell of a freshly cut cucumber. I am desperate to stop floating somewhere above this world, unable to feel or touch anything, like it’s all a dream. I am begging myself to come back.

But the harder I try, the more panicked I feel. Because it isn’t working. Trying harder isn’t always the solution. But this? This version of living? This isn’t going to work for me either.

*

I text my therapist tonight. “I need to know if anything–grief or experiences or lies I’m believing–is contributing to this depression and panic,” I said. “I need to fix it. I need to not feel powerless. I need to be me again.”

Someday I’ll look back on this season and I won’t see it as wasted time.

God hasn’t brought me (or kept me) here to suffer.

And even now, I can see His hand in all of it.

I am currently here with two of my favorite kids, in a house that feels as much like home to me as my own. And I have a place here. I belong here.

And regularly people text me and tell me they’re thinking of me and love me, or that something funny or good happened in their day, or that they need prayer or to talk to someone who understands. My life matters to people. I know that to be true.

And I have a job that I love. It’s hard, brutally hard at times, but rewarding. I have lots of time to myself, and I regularly get home early, and my clients are so lovable. It’s the perfect job for me in so many ways.

And Arlow. My whole heart loves him.

All of that is God.

And the way I feel Sundays, surrounded by my church family, watching the band play and candles on stage flicker, and knowing we’ve all come together with our brokenness and joy to worship the Lord? Oh, it’s so undeniably God. His hand in my life. An unmistakable gift.

*

Maybe I don’t need to try so hard.

Sometimes “trying harder” just breeds panic, especially when you’re already doing the best you can.

So I’ll look down at Arlow, and rather than worrying that I’m failing him, I’ll say, “He is loved. And he knows it. He is resting because he feels safe and secure and relaxed. He is resting. He is not depressed.”

And I’ll look at myself and offer myself the same gift of speaking truth. “I am okay. I am still breathing, in the midst of the crazy I still have the breath of God in my lungs, and that is not a mistake. I am going to be okay. I am held. I am loved. I am His precious child. And I am not going to be gone from myself forever.”

Sometimes you have to stand firm and wield your weapons and fight.

And sometimes you have to be still and know.

And that’s a kind of fighting too.

Subversive

My voice is a sword.

My brain and heart and eyes are all sorts of drowning in crazy. I can’t trust a damn thing any of them say or feel.

But I can keep speaking good. I can wield that sword.

I can speak of life-affirming things- like how Arlow crouches down with his butt in the air when he wants to play, and every time someone says (in words or actions) that they love me, and warmer days. I don’t have to check with my brain and heart and eyes. I don’t have to ask them to validate the good inherent in life. They can’t be trusted anyway.

I will speak what I know to be good and true, even when everything else in me is screaming in contrary protest.

My voice is the rebel-rouser of my body.

*

I met with my therapist yesterday. I was crying in earnest, completely drowning in the fear of this battle that is so, so much bigger than me. But then she said something that struck me as funny, and with tears running down my face, I started laughing.

And I thought… Is there anything more telling of hope, and that good wins, than when laughter shows up and is somehow bigger than our tears?

I can’t control my sadness any more than I can control my laughter.

I can’t control my depression or my panic.

But I can hold tight to this sword. And I can trust that God is as much in the tears as He is in the laughter.

And none of it is wasted.

A bigger-than-me fight isn’t reason to despair. It’s reason to stand firm and wait on the God for whom nothing is too big.