WHO World Mental Health Day, October 10, 2020

There was a time when I didn’t understand the term “mental health.” Granted, I was much (much) younger. But still, in my early twenties I recall someone taking a mental health day off from work. I couldn’t remotely wrap my head around it, and assumed the person didn’t have what it takes to overcome a difficult day. When in fact, that was exactly right. On that particular day, this person did not have what he/she needed to manage.

But because I could manage, I didn’t understand why others couldn’t do the same. Many (many) years later, I know there is much more to that person’s story than the simplistic narrative I’d assigned to it. To date, I’ve been fortunate enough to have not taken a mental health day off of work, yet I’ve taken days off for the flu or strep throat. No one questioned me. It was “deserved,” and in fact, co-workers would be glad that I spared them from a contagious illness.

My lack of understanding was ironic, because I am no stranger to the tragedies of mental health diagnoses. Before I was placed in a foster home at a young age, I lived with my mother who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and then also bi-polar.

Years later, as an adult with my own family, I faced the complexities of various diagnoses with immediate family and extended. I also have friends whose depression cripples them and impacts the trajectory of happiness their families anticipated.

Our mental well being, whether clear and intact, or plagued with an altering state, penetrates our relationships and affects the dynamics of our families and friendships.

A mental illness can cause frustration, weariness, and unbearable grief. When left ignored, confusion and disbelief at circumstances create havoc, and a nonproductive battle against a nebulous enemy ensues.

Like cancer or ALS, or any other physical ailment, grave or not, an illness must be identified and attacked with fervor if there is a chance of survival. That’s why people will say, after many trips to a doctor, “At least I know the diagnosis.” Now they can consider step 2.

People experiencing mental illness often call the symptoms something other than what they are, ashamed to assign a diagnosis to it. Instead, they adopt an “I can manage this on my own” mentality that is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” signature of old American culture.

That is not all bad, which is to say, put things in place that will give you an advantage. Pulling oneself up by the bootstrap does not mean, doing it alone, or without assistance from medicine.

Pulling oneself up requires vulnerability.

It’s asking of ourselves, what we ask of each other.

It’s recognizing the stigma that unfairly accompanies the illness, but not giving it any power.

It’s a decision to build scaffolding around your world, to safely navigate in an effort to reach what seems so very unattainable.

It is exposing the condition and speaking truth. It’s saying, “I have strep throat and it’s completely debilitated me. I will need to see the doctor, and take medicine to overcome this illness.”

Except, it sounds a little different.

Instead, it’s, “I have anxiety about the things I can’t change, and I want to run from them and ignore them at all cost. I don’t think my perspective is what it should be. I need to see a doctor, and I will take the medicine prescribed to me.”

For me, it will first always include:

“God, show me the way. I cannot do this on my own, point me in the direction of joy and happiness.”

And then I will lift the lead-heavy blanket and make my way out of bed because God has told me I have a purpose. Ephesians says, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Once, someone I love very dearly said to me, “I don’t want to have to take medicine my whole life.” I replied (I hope gently), “Our friend doesn’t want to wear a prosthesis his whole life.”

Life can be so unfair. Our streets are filled with unfairness; those who couldn’t figure a way out. My own mother was one of them. She didn’t understand that she was mentally ill. Her mental illness prevented her from seeing the world with clarity and perspective and from self-sufficiency.

That is the tragedy. Unlike a person with a physical ailment, who is keenly aware and might equip themselves for battle, some mental illnesses rob a person of their ability to see the enemy, in which case, the enemy has the advantage.

And that is why, if we can see the enemy, we must all call it what it is, and attack. That is pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.

The WHO is hosting a big event today. Click here to access.

I could talk books all day long! Well, sometimes I could talk all day long on a lot of subjects. But this is definitely a favorite topic.

I haven’t read a book outside of the bible in ions. But I listen ALL. THE. TIME. I am in awe of the opportunities we have to access information and entertainment. It’s the ultimate juggle. Listening while I do housework, yardwork, putting on my makeup, making my bed, weeding the vinyl in my JoniTDesigns, working on a Juggle Source project, riding my bike, or taking a walk.

I sometimes use Audible, but mostly I use Overdrive through the library system. It’s a great way to preserve money. It does mean that sometimes I’m listening to two books at the same time, because if I don’t finish it within the 21 days it’s loaned to me, I have to request it again, and while I’m waiting, I’m on to another book.

Most of My All Time Favorites are books I have purchased and stay in my very small library.

Right now I’m listening to On Writing, by Stephen King, and Moneyland by Oliver Bullough.

My interests are all over the place, but mostly I gravitate toward non-fiction.

These are the books I’ve documented or remembered. They’re not in any particular order. I often forget to document them; I’m sure I’ve missed some.

I didn’t indicate the topics or why I like the books, so I’m happy to tell you if you want to ask. I love love love discussing books! Ironically, I’m not in a book club, largely because of time, but equally, because I have so many I want to read, and I don’t want to be limited to a book I’m required to read by the book club.

So, Happy Sunday, and Happy Reading, or Listening!

PS: Darn… I forgot to add the other book that MADE ME A READER!

“Don’t Stop the Carnival” by Herman Wouk.

 

It is so tempting to power through grief. To practice gratitude exercises and to count our blessings. To “look on the bright side,” to overcome disappointment, and to “get over it,” which for me is not a quick decision, but an intentional process. I don’t “just get over” anything.

I think these efforts have their place, yet they are not the solution to our sadness. God created every emotion in us. Happiness, joy, elation, celebration, fulfillment, expectations, anger, disappointment, sadness, and sorrow.

Isaiah 53 tells us that Jesus was a man of many sorrows:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

I can see it now. Peter says, “Jesus! Come on. Pull yourself up by your sandals! You’ve got this!” I’ve been told this by well-meaning people on more than one occasion.  It’s everything in me not to say, “Really? That’s all you have?” I think I have said a form of that a couple of times, Oops.

If you know me, you might have the impression that I am a believer of “pull yourself up… get over it…” and all that jazz. It’s true that I am decisive and intentional. But my process includes tears, it doesn’t avoid them.

This morning on my walk I listened to Catholic radio (this is what I call it, but it was actually, Ave Maria radio… or mater day, or something like that… not sure I know exactly what it is… I learned that today is the day of St. Alphonsus Liguori… I knew nothing about him. I am not Catholic.

But I came home to read up a bit (thank you Catholic radio… more enrichment) and create something that I could revisit… maybe often, or daily during some stretches.

This is what attracts me to Jesus. This love that man cannot grasp.

Yet we who love him can know it. In our suffering, or in the beauty around us, like Queen Anne’s lace, or another day to see blackberries ripen in the month of August. It is love that transcends grief and transforms lives.

When my kids began to date, I might have given more consideration to the topic than the average well-rounded, successful, happily married person. I was many things, but I was not that. My emphasis on dating was the expectations of each person, to maintain their integrity and to remain true to one’s self. My dating philosophy sounds easy enough. But so does resisting that last piece of fried chicken. We all know that a simple concept doesn’t necessarily translate to an easy execution. But if we can approach dating, or at least, our reaction to dating, with a few basic practices, I think we can better manage our grief now, and save ourselves from more grief later.

Coming from a divorced woman who has dated very little in the last eleven years, I understand why someone might disregard my opinion. Most people who read this are probably married or have dated much more than I. But what I possess that you may not, are a couple of things. One, I have learned a lot from my mistakes. And two, because of my divorce, I had the opportunity to discover myself, in a space of aloneness. Can I use that word? Is it a word? Dr. Seuss would use it, so I’m leaving it.

Time to reflect on my mistakes and emerge from a place of struggle and autonomy has equipped me for many things.  It’s the source of lots of opinions, based on personal experience. Additionally, I have had three dates since January, one of which lasted for three months. See? I am qualified.

At the beginning of my online dating experience, when it was fun and novel, I thought it would be relatively easy to share my experience. That was until I met someone I liked. Someone worth exploring. I wondered if he would be “the one.” I know, “the one” sounds ambitious. But I am hoping to find a guy who wants to share the rest of his life with me. Real-time documentation suddenly didn’t feel right. Reality TV is not in my future.

Writing about one’s dating life is super intimate. With good friends, transparency is my middle name. However, my middle name changes when we’re talking about going public. Being able to reflect and work through this has been a great luxury, and now I have some things I can share, that won’t read like you’ve broken the lock on my personal diary.

HERE GOES. A whole book could be written on this topic, so understand this is a snapshot of my dating philosophy.

I value the dating process. . .

I went into this relationship with the same mentality I had developed several years back when my kids began to date. If respected, the dating process is an awesome opportunity of discovery, before we make a permanent decision. I say, “if respected,” because often people don’t treat dating like a temporary experience. Instead, subconsciously they commit to the relationship in a permanent sense before there’s a mutual agreement of where the relationship is headed.

Unless both parties have agreed to marriage, I believe either party can call it off, FOR WHATEVER REASON. I understand that there is more to this when a couple has been dating for a long time. This point could have its own chapter. But let’s assume we’re talking about six months or less (but I’m inclined to have the same philosophy for longer periods of time as well). Regardless if one person feels the relationship going in a good direction, it is either person’s right to call it off, FOR WHATEVER REASON. This frees both people to continue in their search.

Breaking up (reverting to my junior high vernacular) is especially hard when you’re focused on marriage, you’re old(er), or it appears that a target has come into view. I had to remind myself of my own dating philosophy. That as much as I liked what I was experiencing, it would not serve either of us well to manipulate or maneuver it. Understanding that dating is a time of exploration, we both have the right to end the discovery.

The best and least we can give one another is kindness. We can’t and shouldn’t attempt to force virtues on another person. We have no right to demand any more than what they want to give us. If they have asked to end the relationship, I believe we should honor their request with very little contest.

Does that mean we were just handed a crappy day, that seeps into a few weeks? Probably. But that doesn’t change that explanations are not owed to either party. The breakup experience is still part of your story, individually and within your relationship. It’s the whole process that refines both of you. It is beautiful, valuable, and sometimes, difficult and painful.

Frequently couples “stick it out”, because the thought of hurting another person is so troublesome. Breaking up seems unkind. As hard as it is to be the breakee (new word), for me, it is more difficult to be the breaker (another new word), unless you don’t mind kicking dogs. OK, I’m joking, but for many people, the anticipation of hurting another person is something to avoid at all cost.  At times truth, authenticity, and sincerity may be uncomfortable and hurt. But almost always, it is the right thing.

If we grant each other this liberty, we can avoid the darts that get thrown and save us wasted time attempting to force relationships that result in bad outcomes.

Remember, we are D A T I N G.

Why it hurts so bad when it ends. . .

After just three months, with Stay at Home orders, and a long-distance relationship, it was still really sad to break up with Bill (Not his real name. Poor guy; he dated someone who blogs!). I think there are two main reasons breakups hurt. One is because we give someone our heart. The other is because we begin to establish a culture that becomes comfortable and familiar, which is where I love to sit. But for this post, I’m going to focus mostly on our hearts.

We hand another person the most tender, powerful part of us. The part that stores our emotions, desires, aspirations, hopes, dreams, feels pain, loss, and grief. We do this, because we care about something. Most likely, it is this other person. Although it’s not always just that, but this snapshot prevents me from elaborating.

This is no different than many things we put our heart into. On a team, you play to win. When you’re not on the field, you think about the game. You prepare off the field and execute on the field. You don’t hesitate. You move forward with ambition, desire, and determination. You dodge bullets, endure discomfort, and subject yourself to pain. On fourth downs you deliberate and make strategic decisions. Your heart is all in.

I think dating well looks the same. Of course, there are stages and circumstances vary. Some relationships require more effort and experience more challenges. They’re all different. Our hearts attach to the unique personality of the relationship. You keep at it because along the way you’ve decided this person is worth the efforts, sacrifice, or emotions you’re handing over. You’re in it to win it.

This is the beauty of life. You expose your talents, skills, personality, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. A lot is going right. Then you mess up a little, but so what? We all do it. It’s a fumble! You get back up and recover. You keep at it. But then the game clock ends, and you’re left standing there, wondering why you’re stuck in the middle of a play that can’t be finished. Nobody asked you, and the game is over. You didn’t win, and it hurts.

But here’s the thing: unless you cheated, lied, or stole, you played a fair game. If you gave it all you could, you played well. That’s all we can do when we’re looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right. My objective is to find a person who wants to play with me for the rest of my life. After a few sucky weeks, things begin to turn around. We recognize how much we’ve gained, and we’re ready to play again.

When in doubt, stand still. . .

This is an old saying, even before my time! If we aren’t sure about something, then we’re unsure, which means we’re in doubt. Right after a break-up, we are pretty unsure about a lot of things. The relationship, the sincerity of it, the person, our judgment, the list goes on.

I think the hardest thing to do at this time, is to stand still. We desperately want comfort and instinctually want to grab at the most convenient thing. Most often, we think we’ll find comfort in answers. We’re tempted to demand them in an effort to finish the play. What? I wasn’t done! You said this, and what about that? When we don’t get answers, we consider another relationship. We want to be assured that we’re okay. We are, aren’t we?  We’re desperate to compensate for the new loneliness and the abrupt change in culture that has us looking around like Marty McFly in 1955. If we’re not careful, we could find ourselves twirling, into the arms of a tragic country song.

In that moment, our vision is so blurred and our motives so self-serving, that really, the best thing we can do is to be still, be sad, cry, and pray. Even when it doesn’t make sense, we need to accept that we lost this one. There are a million ways we can interfere with God’s plan. I think we have the advantage of seeing his plan, if when in doubt, we stand still.

Trust God (when you’ve asked Him to guide you). . .

After the breakup, I kept coming back to this. We both prayed, together and separately, that God would bless us individually and as a couple. My prayers are a sincere conversation with God. When Bill broke it off with me, I wanted explanations as we all do. But thankfully, Bill was spared the tears when I chose to trust God and honor the dating process that I so much respect.

I mostly stood still.

I don’t think I can write this post without addressing two things. Yes, the hundred miles between us was a challenge. The Stay at Home orders were executed a few weeks into our relationship. That was an even bigger challenge. But I don’t consider either of those obstacles an explanation of why things didn’t work out for us. Because, if both of us wanted our relationship we would have overcome the obstacles that stood in our way.

When we date well, it will hurt when we lose (meaning the relationship ends). When we date well and lose, we will recover and continue. When we date well, and lose, and recover, and continue,  one day we’ll find our team, and win the game.

Whew… this was a long one. Happy D A T I N G . . . whatever that looks like during a pandemic!

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1: 3-5

This notebook is not my “look.” In fact, I think it’s ugly. It was one of the few things I inherited when my mom died. I knew it had its place; in my purse and out of view. It reflects my mom’s personality, and using it for God’s word was a perfect way to honor her. I decided to use this ugly little thing for the most beautiful thing: Promises that would inspire me when I needed it, or inspire others for the same reason.

MY PRAYER

Jesus, you are my life. May your light show me what you see, beyond what is right before me, and into the hearts of those around me. May your light reveal what is true and right and forever. Whatever my eyes see or I perceive, may your light provide better vision that will give hope where there is darkness, and light the path that leads myself and others toward restoration.

 

Forgive my horrible writing. In the moments when I write in this book, I’m usually cramming the gem onto the page, determined to retain the comfort for another time, but not concerned with my penmanship. I wish I could share this with you with pride in my writing style. If I could, I’d have my friend who writes beautiful calligraphy enter them. They deserve that attention.