I received some flowers yesterday for no reason from a friend I met on this blog. I was touched and humbled by this small act of kindness and when I look at these flowers I am thinking of the people in Fergusun. I am thinking of James Foley and his family and all journalists risking their lives to tell the truest stories they can. I am thinking of every single victim of a senseless shooting. I am thinking of my little town struggling to find ways to make a dent in the mental health issues plaguing our young adults. I am thinking of so many parents who lose their children to suicide. And I am thinking of how the summer of 2014 became the summer of the ice bucket challenge for ALS. I am thinking of those who suffer from ALS, a debilitating and heartless disease that shows no mercy. I am hoping against hope that with every single bucket poured and every dollar raised, those afflicted and those who are caregivers can feel the love and compassion. It is truly amazing to watch the simple act of pouring water turn into a viral cause that has raised millions of dollars. It is a bouquet of humanity in a desert of so much sadness.
These flowers are speaking a certain truth to me. They say, "I care about you. Thank you for being you. I am here for you." The truth is not always so pleasant, however. When we tell the truth with our words and actions, people don't want to listen. The truth is that racism still exists. The truth is some people are heartless and cruel. The truth is that ALS is so ugly people don't want to hear about it. The truth is that some people will take their own lives and we we will never understand why.
What is also true is that some people send flowers for no reason. The truth is that one small act can create a chain of similar actions that brings national attention to something previously ignored. The truth is that when I speak the truth, some people may not want to hear it because it isn't convenient to them. The truth is that I, too, don't want always want to know the truth because it hurts.
So we take in what we can. We listen and digest and turn over and set aside and move forward or hide out and some of us act. We often feel our little acts mean nothing but then I think of the ice buckets!
And probably more than anything, that is what I do. I think. I think of a victim or a senseless act and in that moment, I want to believe I am somehow lifting up the suffering. I hold the name of a person or place in my head and heart for just a few seconds on a continuous cycle and I want to believe that these seconds add up to minutes and hours and days and months and since time is never-ending no one is ever truly forgotten.
Little actions like flowers and pouring ice water on your head or holding a thought may seem small in the context of our overwhelming problems. But small is good and we are good and we can do these little things and we need to keep doing them. Just keep doing them.
The small town that I live in has experienced it's share of youth suicides. In the last three years, 3 young men have taken their own lives for reasons we will never know. The recent death of Robin Williams has everyone talking about mental health and as horrible as it all is, talk is good, so very good, because it keeps us thinking and watching and listening and searching for better answers and more help.
I had a moment in Camp Empowerment last week when we were discussing how we make choices. One girls suggested that pro and con lists always work for her. I wondered out loud if the answer you wanted was ever different than the answer that can appear on the list. Another girl chimed in with this, "Well, I have wanted to kill myself, but I know that it isn't a good idea. People would miss me. It would be hard on them."
Right then I started to sweat because I am not a trained counselor or specialist in any such thing. I have never worked for a suicide hotline or have any claim to being expert in the field.
Yet I do know how it feels to be down. I know how it feels to be so far down that you can't really see up. I have lived with my depression like many live with it and that is really what you choose to do...you choose to live with it.
And so that is what I said, "You know deep down ending things is not right so you make a choice to live through the hurt."
I used to spend a lot of time thinking there was something terribly wrong with me. Of course there was and yet I also spent time thinking I should be able to change it if I just did this and that and this other thing. So when I finally sought treatment after the birth of my son, a kind nurse gently saved me with these words, "It's not your fault, honey. It's chemistry."
I got some meds and I was able to pick my head up long enough to look around and examine more closely what I needed to do.
Medication is not magical. It does not solve everything for everyone. It does not cure that restless and sometimes hopeless and persistent feeling all of the time. What my medicine does for me is give me the ability to put forth the effort to do all of the other things I need to do to stay on top of or ahead of the cloud, the monster, the hole. I need to walk and talk and write and connect and move and see a counselor and cry and write some more. Without medicine, not only do I not do these things, I don't know I need to do these things.
I have never contemplated suicide. My down is either a low grade solid gray or an amped-up and overwhelming red anger that makes no sense to me when I am well.
And that's the thing. When I am sick, I cannot imagine being well though I know enough to understand that I have been well and the sickness is not what I want to choose.
It takes constant vigilance, constant monitoring, constant attention. Self-care is not a weekend at a spa. It is a daily walk, time to write, a deep breath in the middle of a tense conversation, an evening meditation, a visit or two or three to the doctor to manage medication, talking to therapists and friends, yoga or pilates, and books upon books upon books. It is a quiet room and the shades drawn and petting my cat and loving up my dog and more deep breathing and healthy food and reaching out to my husband and not comparing my journey to anyone else's. It is the work of my life and sometimes none of this works. And so what is left is to wait it out, let it do it's thing before that storm passes and I can see the clouds roll away and I can step out into the light again. That's what I do. I try to always step out into the light.
It will be controversial so say I get why people choose a different path. There are so many who are hurting more than I ever have and if that is true, then I get why they seek relief. Many will say it is selfish, but that is not true. It is, at their weakest moment, their only version of self- care they can think of. What I want to say is that you just alwaysalwaysalwaysalwaysalwaysalwaysalways have to go toward the light. It is there. It is waiting for you. It can be yours for a minute and then another and then another. Minutes stack up to hours and it is soon a day and then another and you get to live and work and fight for a better way.
But it is a fight and sometimes people lose. And so, all I want to do is help people with the fight. I want us all to be helpers, lovers, watchers, listeners, encouragers, hand-holders. Let's be fighters with big hearts and warm hands and tender gentle ears. We can all do that. I know we can.
Thursday brought more reflection. I kept reminding them to add any practice or idea that seemed to fit into our "tool kits" for their future use. Claire Marie, the performance director for Seed Performance Art in Winona, spent the rest of the afternoon leading the girls through dialogue and giving them scripts to read that were based on empowering scenes. I took this time to leave because my poor daughter has been at camp with me in the wings. It hasn't been bad, but I really wanted to give her some time to be without me and so I did.
Erica and I left the last day as a sort of reflection and celebration of sticking with us and really trying. We had the chance to ask them what tools seem easily accessible to them and the laughing yoga, breathing, journaling, and movement came up. Three cheers for tools!
Finally, we presented them with gifts. I gave each of them a pen and a small notebook and a few of my favorite empowering quotes. Erica presented a hand-written note, a rock with their word on it (a word that reflects what they revealed to us about who they are at this time in their life), and a bead that represents the power of being female. Erica and I hugged each girl and had a private message for them. After every girl received her own round of applause, they immediately dug into their notes and quotations.
Erica and I collapsed and laughed and wished Annika were here and the girls simply enjoyed being in such a safe place.
On Friday evening after camp was finished, my daughter wanted to talk to me. She is struggling mightily with her own issues, and she felt overwhelmed. I let her talk though I have to confess, I was tapped from the week which is exactly what it means to be a parent. I knew I had to rise above the exhaustion and do this work. So she talked and I listened and after she was all finished, I only had this left to offer.
"You know, babe. You have all the tools. At some point you are going to have to make the decision to fight for it. Fight for what you know and believe to be true."
And there I was confronting every single minute I have ever had in my own dark place.
And to me, that is what empowerment is-- the choice to turn what you believe in your gut into active truth. Our struggles may vary wildly, but we all have choices. My baby has the tools and I do, too.
The real work, the dig-deep-and-get-messy-and-fight-for-it work, is using them.