Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Tea Cups And Tap Shoes

We can work on fixing our struggles, and we can also turn them into art. I may have been doing this most of my adult life. My poem was written after having a rough couple of days and then cleaning glass tea cups of the table. My emotions went from sadness, to guilt at my sometimes extreme emotions, and then finally to ease. I held the dirty tea cups in my hands in the dark dinning room after everyone was asleep, and the weight of them in my hands reminded me that I was doing my best. Hell I was almost always trying to make magic from the chaos. 

I think one of my in-laws mentioned the fact that I really like to use the word magic. It is true. Magic is the best word. The versions I like best of the word are, "any extraordinary or mystical influence" and "mysteriously enchanting." So of course when I saw a book called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, I knew I needed to read it. Now I don't really want to bore you with my own book review. Because lets face it almost every book is loved and hated by many. But what I do want to tell you is that this book helped me remember why I create. I think its good encouragement for anyone to read. But after reading this book I stopped thinking through things like if I will ever publish a book or how many people will read my poetry. I use to think that I was too scattered as an artist. I write, read, paint, photograph... pick a hobby right? But I have come to realize that painting is another outlet for me. It is one that I can go to when maybe I don't have the right words that day. My photography shows me so many little details that I love to write into my poetry. No art is a waste. 

Lately I have been writing and working on photography and showing almost no one. I am completely off social media, with my only public sharing being this blog. And honestly like four people read my last post during its first week up. My viewings have slowly climbed (maybe it's the same aunt clicking for pictures of the kids?), but it has been freeing to not care. To write for me. To make art for me. To not worry about winning or losing but knowing that by making something I am winning. 

This last weekend our family went to Arkansas. Having a break away from my normal life showed me a lot. For one, I sort of longed for time to write and read. The days were full with friends, but I realized that I write because I need to. My art forms are how I process life. Art for me brings magic. It soothes and helps me understand why things are they way they are. Not only did being away show me that I make art mostly for me, but that there is more to "me" than I give myself credit for. I went to my ten year college reunion, and while it was slightly nerve-raking, I was confident and myself. And people still liked me. With everything I have walked through with mental illness I have at times wondered if I was still the same Jeran that I have been in the past. I think I have learned and walked through too much to be exactly the same, but I am finding that my true self is still there. It felt like this weekend I let the walls down. I just tried to be me. I found out that being me was being someone who liked being with people. I liked catching up with friends. I liked their kids too. I carried my little journal in my purse and still thought a lot about people and my interactions with them. I think about people and watch people a lot. I think it's the writer's spirit. 

In the hospital they use to use a phrase, "build a life worth living." When I was depressed and had been in the hospital three times, building a life worth living felt really far away. I felt like I had all the components: a loving husband, beautiful kids, a nice home, loving family, interests and passions... but I wasn't sure where I fit in all of it and how I could fit all the pieces together. To make my life. And not just a life but one that I was actively participating in. While I was in Arkansas though, I realized I had built it. Slowly over time with lots of work. Honestly I have always been building it. It is just that at times it looks clearer to me than others. This is a big reason that I love taking pictures. They can be so filled with emotion and bring so much beauty. When I look at photographs of my life I clearly see the beauty. 

Depression is a complex illness. I can't explain a lot of it. But when I was finding myself and trying to rise again I had to paint. And it hurt to look at pictures. I wrote a couple of posts ago that I could not even post on here. I couldn't see all of my pictures and the beauty. Because the lie of depression was that I could no longer make that beauty. I knew my kids were still beautiful, but in the midst of depression I was holding everyone back. I made sadness and heartache. But the best thing was to push on. Even if it was making art by painting. It showed me I could still create. I was making beauty. And then I would see the kids imitating me and painting too. I make art because I have to.

As I drove back to the hotel after hanging with friends one night in Arkansas, it felt so evident that my happiness and life was waiting back in room 127 at the Hampton Inn. Life is exhausting and I fall short a lot of the time, but it will always have beauty. I say yes to tea cups and hiking and making art. I say yes to hand-me-down tap shoes that are loud. And yes to driving with my sister to see sunflowers. I build my life by writing and sharing it with the friends I keep stepping out to get closer to. I read stories and learn and change. I have even bought a couple of really cute sweaters for fall. 

This post is about art and finding myself and building myself. It is about leaving and coming back. I wrote it to process and to document the journey. And I also wrote it because I really do love tea cups and tap shoes. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

My Folder of Happiness

I have a folder of happiness. When I go into my photo storage in Lightroom it is the one special place just for me. If there was a photo contest to find the best photo of happiness I'm sure the winner would be some baby with a big smile and an ice cream cone. But to me happiness is a hundred photos. I open up the folder and happiness is there in all those little squares forming one giant feeling. Some of the pictures have been taken with my nice camera, but a lot of the pictures are a bit blurry and foggy and probably taken with a beat up cell phone. The pictures with flaws are my favorites though. The idea must have come to me in a moment of positivity. Sometimes I say that there is more than one me. The positive and happy me is always trying to make life easier and hopefully set up to win for the sad me. That's the problem with a mood disorder. Its really really hard to see beyond the mood. So I am always trying to help myself learn.

The thing about happiness is that I'm sure most people think we all experience it pretty similarly. Happy is a feeling, and we all know what it feels like. But I think happiness is actually very different for everyone. My happiness is barefoot by a fire outside while reading poetry. It's sun kissed children with dirty hair. There are almost always flowers involved and adding something old or worn or delicate only adds to the delight. These aren't just the things that make me happy, they are part of happiness itself. I imagine all of these things swirling around inside of me, stirring up my own flavor of happiness.

One thing that individuals with borderline probably do not talk about enough is that because we tend to experience extreme emotions, that also includes happiness and joy. When struggling with a mental illness it can be easy to talk about how much pain can be felt or how hard it is to control our anger. But what I've noticed lately is that one of the very best parts about me is that I can probably experience happiness in a more intense way than a majority of people.

Today I started challenging myself to 2-3 pages of free writing, which I hope to do every day. I want to share what I wrote because I think it shows how everything is heightened in the very best way.

"I know my day is going to be happy when I open my bathroom drawer and the flowers on the paper lining the bottom start to dance. They greet me singing and purple, and as I put on my mascara I know whatever is responsible for the happiness in my brain is alive and working. Those busy little workers in my brain have had their morning coffee and have sworn to fight off the bad guys of lesser moods. As I move to folding the laundry even the small holes in clothing seem to be a friend. Instead of an absence of fabric or quality, the little hole tells me he is the sign of purpose and play. A life well lived. Worn clothing is nothing to be ashamed of. How our bodies move and sweat happiness underneath. The freshness of the sun and summer air, releasing the tightness of fabric. The sewn buttons finally free and able to jump. And as I move from room to room putting such happy clothes away, the tiny toys and messes turn into an eclectic dance of creativity. Proof of play. Opening and closing drawers as each is filled and the rhythm of laundry is completed. Accomplishment but also realizing that life is okay. Because when you're an artist who feels more colors than others a happy day is more of a poem. The ease of two glasses of wine but none actually poured. And surely I will come crashing down once again, but for now I am the butterfly that doesn't remember being a caterpillar."

And that was all before lunch.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Not Who But What

One of the nine symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder:

“Unclear or shifting self-image. When you have BPD, your sense of self is typically unstable. Sometimes you may feel good about yourself, but other times you hate yourself, or even view yourself as evil. You probably don’t have a clear idea of who you are or what you want in life. As a result, you may frequently change jobs, friends, lovers, religion, values, goals, or even sexual identity.”

I remember one evening, I was in my outpatient therapy group when I looked at some of my paperwork more clearly during a session break. I had already been admitted to the hospital twice. The first time I was persuaded to self-admit so I could take a 600 question psycological test to help determine my diagnosis. My psychiatrist did not think I simply had depression. He was guessing something closer to bipolar. I spent a week in the hospital that August of 2018, and then I was admitted again in September to “help adjust my medication.” Once again I was okay with going to inpatient, because they told me they could increase my medication quicker in the hospital while keeping an eye on me. That night, as I looked closer at my papers from those times, I saw “Cluster B Traits” which I had been told about but was under the impression that it was a small symptom. But under that was Borderline Personality Disorder. Officially.  I asked the therapist why that was written on my papers. No one had used those exact words with me before. She told me that she wasn’t the doctor and couldn’t answer those questions. 

During that week I had several evenings of anger during group therapy and unpredictable mood swings. I remember one night coming into group and before it started I told a few people I wanted to “walk into the psychiatrist’s office and flip his desk over.” Now looking back, I really have no idea why I felt that way. But one of those nights, which one I can’t remember, one of the doctors said he thought I should go back into the hospital. For the third time. I walked out of his office. I paced around outside for a bit and was met by one of the screening nurses. She asked me to come in to sit and talk a bit. Which I knew meant to be screened and admitted in again. I told her I needed to talk to the doctor. I went back to where his office was but the door was closed, and he was seeing another patient. While I sat in the chair outside waiting, the nurse came back and sat beside me. She told me that maybe I could come and talk to her for a bit, and then the doctor would be free. I knew what was happening, all of the sudden I was that patient they were worried was going to leave, and I need to be admitted. She was slightly tricking me. I knew the procedure well by now. After we talked she would call the head doctor and request for my admission. I wouldn’t be seeing the doctor I had walked out on. I followed her anyways. 

The next morning after I was admitted, I had a couple of med students come in and talk with me before the head doctor came. I answered their questions, and once they were gone I started reading Harry Pottery again. While I was lost in the story, laying on my side facing the wall and under the covers, I heard my name. He said it slowly, a question, almost like I was a child and we were playing hide and go seek. Him being the adult and knowing where I was hiding. I startled. It felt strangely intimate to have the doctor standing there while I lay in bed. I’m not sure why it felt different than being in the hospital for a psychical illness, when doctors come in and out all of the time. Maybe it was because there wasn’t an IV or monitors, it was just me lying in bed reading like I was at home. He told me he had heard that I had seen the diagnosis for Borderline, and that I wasn’t happy about it. I remember saying apparently I couldn’t cry in that other doctor’s office. I showed emotion and then was admitted. But there was more going on than that. I remember sitting up in bed watching the doctor lean against the wall and tell me all these horrible symptoms of Borderline and painfully realizing I had several of them. 

Symptoms like “fear of abandonment” and “shaky sense of self” stuck in my throat. Didn’t everyone not really know who they were? Or maybe we were all on that same journey of finding ourselves. Wasn’t I still young enough to be figuring it out? All I really knew was that I thought I had been redefining myself. I had lost myself in motherhood and was figuring out what I liked again. I had been painting, hula hooping, and reading so many more books than I use to. But maybe I had been redefining myself for years. At the time though, these were just blips of thoughts, fragments of what could be or what was, I really was too confused to know.

Looking back to different stages of my life I can see certain signs of a shifting self image. I remember telling my therapist in college that I had all different groups of friends.They were even at extremes. I had my art friends, old friends, new friends, drinking friends, let's obey the rules friends. The fact was, I needed all of them. They made up all the pieces of me. I wasn’t liberal or conservative, a partier or a rule follower, an unpredictable free spirit or a faithful friend. I was everything. I was who I was with. I was them. Or as close to it as I could be. 

I could go through the different times of my life and point things out, but the truth is that I am probably more of a what than a who. I am an adjective or verb not a noun. Others may not see me that way but it is how I view myself. I recreate myself all the time, and I often take on traits and hobbies of those around me. When I met Andrew, just a year before I had been in Europe and interested in fashion. I liked to wear what was in style and do my hair and make-up. But after dating Andrew for awhile, I slowly morphed. I stopped wearing make-up. I camped and hiked and bought the water bottles and sandals I had always made fun of earlier in college. I was “crunchy” yeah, that’s what I could be. One of the first things Andrew and I did together was dye v-necks, and I started wearing them all the time just like he did. 

I have been an art student, a charismatic Christian, a hiker, a homemaker, a southern baptist, a natural parent, a vegan, a poet, a homeschooler, a composter, a yogi, an Anglican, a painter, a reader, a runner, a writer. I do believe that these were interests, but in my mind they became who I was.

Trying to write all this out has felt confusing to me. I'm trying to make an identity out of not having one, haha. I know there are whole parts of me, but maybe the truth behind it all is that there are many parts of myself that are always changing. I am more unsure of myself than I want people to know. Maybe a person doesn't have to have Borderline to be confused about who they are or who they want to be, but having an actual diagnosis that says something is off with my identity and ultimately my personality is a hard thing to accept. This is why I go to therapy, haha. I am trying to do more of the work of understanding myself so I can know more of who I am, for my own benefit and for those around me as well. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Holding So Many Pieces

*I originally wrote this post about my experience with mental illness in November of 2017. I wrote it all out and then couldn't publish it. I hadn't written anything on my blog in over six months at that point, and after writing this and not posting it, I stopped writing for almost two years. When I wrote this I thought I had walked through the hardest part. I had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, and in my own thoughts had honestly had a complete breakdown. Maybe though it was just the beginning of mental illness. Here's what I wrote, and I believe is the first step for me to begin writing again, to post what I was afraid I couldn't.*

A couple weeks ago I moved one of the house plants to my bedside. I had thought the plant was beautiful when I first bought it, but it never grew like its sister plant I bought the same day. I was even shopping at the store I bought it from not long ago and saw a girl trying to return a dead version of it. So, I knew that this plant was going to require a bit more attention than the others. Maybe it was going through something. I figured my bedside was a good new home; the plant could hear my voice at night and in the morning, maybe we'd share dreams occasionally. If that sounds too earthy and bohemian, then maybe the extra sunlight from my large bedroom windows would be enough. That and the fact that two year old Foster loves to water the plants in my room. They all sit on a table low enough that he can reach them with the spray bottle. After a few weeks of giving this plant a bit of extra attention, today I saw new growth. Those delicate baby leaves, fragile but filled with hope. I like plants because I can pretty quickly see if I'm doing something wrong. Unlike humans, plants tell me pretty quickly if I'm doing a good job.

So I guess this one baby leaf gave me the hope of enough words to write publicly again. Maybe it has little to do with hope and more to do with inspiration. And the fact that we have internet again. I stopped writing online mostly because we stopped paying for internet for a few months. Thank you Google Fiber for your more affordable rates. So, thanks to baby leaves and Google Fiber, I'm back.

It has a been a bit surreal, having a nervous breakdown. I would say Wikipedia has a pretty good definition of the last five to six months of my life.

"A mental breakdown (also known as a nervous breakdown) is an acute, time-limited mental disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depressionanxiety, or dissociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day basis until the disorder is resolved. A nervous breakdown is defined by its temporary nature, and often closely tied to psychological burnoutsevere overworksleep deprivation, and similar stressors, which may combine to temporarily overwhelm an individual with otherwise sound mental functions."

Its weird that Wikipedia could know my life so closely. And I'm not being dramatic. I sort of wish I was. I have had some well meaning people tell me or text me things like, "Some people take medicine, but I believe what you are dealing with is a spirit of fear" and "Yeah, there are lots of medications but ultimately you have to give it to God." Oh Lord, I think I may have a demon of anger or annoyance over fear. I don't mind people bringing God into life situations. Because I think God cares a lot about my life. But I don't appreciate God talk as the triumphant answer over medication. Almost exactly a year ago I asked a guest Priest at a retreat to heal me of depression and anxiety. And I think maybe God is healing me, with 60mg of Prozac a day. 

I guess thats kind of a high dose. Like my insurance needs prior authorization and won't cover three 20mg pills a day. But you know, I think I'm over the shame. Because there's no fucking shame when a person takes Amoxicilin. Why does an imbalance in the brain, temporarally or permanently, make people so nervous? Why does it suddenly involve spirits or demons and science cannot be the answer? I am not sure, maybe too many people have used antidepressants as a silver bullet. And I have learned and am walking a path that I understand its not the complete answer to all of my problems. But so far a higher dose has given me the ability to start learning how to manage and control my own emotions better. Learning how to walk through those lows that I have written about it the past. My medication is also helping control my anxiety enough so I can function. I don't owe it to the internet to explain all of what has happened, but make no mistake, the definition above saying, "unable to function on a day-to-day basis" was true for me. Andrew had a period of time where he didn't work for almost two weeks? I barely remember those days. 

I don't know why I'm sharing what I am. I got online to write about something and pictured it being symbolic or metaphorical but all I am doing is processing. Maybe I have to begin to claim it as my own story to heal myself. Maybe if I admit that I was that houseplant, barely hanging on, needing so much more sun and water and love then I was allowing myself to receive. Andrew and I saw the movie "Lady Bird" last night. Not about the First Lady, but a coming of age story that I loved. In the movie a nun is talking with the main character. She states that giving attention to something is basically loving that thing. Undivided attention shows love doesn't it? I thought of Andrew and the many times he has helped me plan my coming days hour by hour. Putting my pills in the right box each week. Knowing what I need before I need it, attention and love.

So, maybe thats where I am. I wrote the title before I wrote this post. Which is maybe backwards. But I just have this picture of something beautiful and important breaking, and that at first I didn't even know where all the pieces were. And maybe I still don't have all the pieces, but I am holding a lot of them in my hands. I am still not sure what I was before I broke or what exactly I will be once I put all these pieces back together. But slowly, piece by piece and color by color, I am starting to remember.   

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Camping at South Llano River

Last week we headed west two and half hours to Junction, Texas to camp at South Llano River State Park. Our second month doing the family challenge to camp at a different state park each month this year. This trip was easier than the first; we came in knowing more of what it would be like to camp with three small children, and even brought a chair we could buckle Foster into. Letting a toddler be "free range" for three days is pretty exhausting, hence the chair. We brought lots of cold, sweet watermelon and other camping snacks so he didn't mind being sat down occasionally.

Honestly I think the pictures speak of almost all the highlights of the trip. We loved bird watching as a family and some of the best bird shots (especially these last two) were Andrew using my camera. We both enjoying capturing more nature this time around. Andrew said we were still growing to be like one another as I asked for time alone in the bird blind to take some pictures, and he went tubbing down the river with Blanche. Normally I am the one in the water and he likes to sit and observe. Either way it was a nice change to give each other time to do special things while there. We had a fire going both nights and Andrew and I looked at the stars and talked and by the end of the trip I wasn't even afraid of raccoons that much anymore. Colorado Bend really had a large amount of hissing raccoons. Thankfully this time we did walk in camping and were more isolated. We hung up our food and tied down our cooler and old Rocky the raccoon pretty much left us alone.

There was hiking and swimming and marshmallow roasting. Blanche loves the water, but was a bit more whiney this time about "being the only one not carried." But I'm hopeful she will get back into the love of hiking. I thank God that one night as I was putting the younger two to bed I decided to check for ticks. I looked very closely and found one on Rosemary's head. That was the worse part of the trip. She was so scared and couldn't be convinced that it wouldn't hurt to take it out. It was close to bed time and we just told her we had to hold her down and do it if she wouldn't lay still on her own. She was shaking and crying but thank God we got it out and she was fine afterwards. Its always hard as a parent to feel mean for a few moments, when you know you are doing the best thing for your child.

We saw a jackrabbit jump through our campsite one morning, a little bunny one evening, and so many birds, some which are even endangered. The love of nature and protecting it is growing into our family culture and it makes the work of the trips worth it. Camping forces us to disconnect from the busy world a bit and connects us to one another and the nature around us. I think its easy in our big and strong homes to feel like we have this world under control, that we are alone in some ways as living creatures. But when you spend a few nights in the wild its pretty apparent that we are one part of a large and beautiful creation. During the day hundreds of lizards ran up and down the sidewalks and over the trails, hiding in the tall grass. The fire ants were busy at work, making their tunnels underground and flattening the earth into a large round circle of hustle. The birds sang as the sun set and the ants and lizards went to sleep. Then came the stirring of grass and trees in the shadows, a spookiness coming alive with a million stars.

Even in my most struggling moments, when I can't seem to put into words what it is that I believe about the world and God, I always have found God in nature. I see the grandness of the stars all the way to the finest detail of a bee inside a flower and know how foolish I would be if I thought I was the one in charge. God has always used nature to speak to me, to show me that he too is an artist. Nature shows me that God and Jesus and the gospel is an earthy thing. Jesus came at a time that he was outside and walking, hiking even, with his closets friends most days. After camping for a couple days, covered by the dust blown by the wind, I feel a little closer to Christ. Maybe it all sounds far stretching but sometimes removing my own control, even of the most basic act, like rinsing in the river over the shower, can show me truth. I can never hike along wildflowers and through fields and tall trees and not thank God for a beautiful creation. It is so stunning. And the thing is, He didn't have to make it this way, but he did.

The week before we camped was Holy week. It was a week that started by waving palm branches in the air for the coming of Christ. Followed by my own priest washing and kissing my feet as Christ himself did to his disciples. And then on good Friday I stood with a rose in my hand and walked what felt like an eternity to a cross, where Jesus was wrapped in black, facing death for my own sin. I had never had the weight of my own brokenness hit me so hard. I often think to my moments of weakness, the times when I am angry and bitter and hateful. And even with Christ I still have those moments. And honestly the moments of good and love and any sort of character come from God himself, teaching me and molding me. And yet, when I was yet still a sinner, Christ died for me. That truth made me want to collapse onto the floor at the foot of the cross. I laid my rose at the foot of the cross and had to take a few minutes to collect myself. All that I am is from him. Then Sunday came the largest celebration. All of the kids ringing large white bells, the entire sanctuary feeling covered in white and flowers. Christ has risen. Food and friends and celebrating the love of Christ. And then, almost like with an old friend, we drove out west. We went into the wilderness. The wild creation not in contrast to the decorated church but the very depth of the church itself. Feeling similar to where it all began when God placed humanity first in the garden. Nature shows me that while we are fallen, the story isn't over. It can't be. There is sadness but also so much beauty.

So, we will keep camping. We will keep working hard to set up tents and herd our children in the wild. I have come back feeling so thankful for all that is around me. It is a privileged life to have time to spend apart from the busyness of work and the daily to dos. My hope is that these trips continue to be a growing and rejuvenating time for our family.