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Amy M. Ink Slingers

Lifting Weights – Smoothing our Broken

Lifting Weights

           Our oldest son is 15.  Last year, he began lifting weights and working out before school in addition to his soccer practices.  Looking at him, he seemed to be in top physical shape.  However, every so often he “tweaked” his knee.  He’d ice it, rest a couple days, and then feel better and move on.  He had x-rays taken; trainers checked him at school, and everyone felt he didn’t have anything torn, just strained.  Then, it started happening more frequently.  We asked about physical therapy, thinking maybe more strength and stretching would help.  By the end of the summer, he had an MRI done that showed what none of us wanted to see.  He had torn his ACL.  He needed surgery.  We discussed his options with his doctor, consulted a couple different surgeons, and went to see another orthopedic doctor to figure out the best course of therapy.  
            He continued physical therapy while waiting for surgery.  To look at him, he was strong, but inside he was broken.  Without staying close to his physical therapy regimen, he would be weaker and weaker.  
            His surgery came.  He walked into the hospital with us.  The surgery was a success, but of course he seemed more broken afterward than beforehand.  He was immobilized for a few days.  Then, he had to walk for weeks in a full leg brace.  After that, he had to relearn to walk, then to run, jump, move.  Lifting Weights Post Op
            In John’s gospel last week, we heard Peter saying to Jesus, “Where would we go?” when asked if the disciples were leaving Jesus along with others who found the teaching of the Eucharistic too hard to comprehend and live.  Peter knew that Jesus was the answer and that staying close to Him was the only way to stay strong.
            Peter was human, however.  Like all of us, he strayed from Jesus.  He took his eyes off Jesus as he attempted to walk on water and immediately sunk.  He denied Jesus the night of the Last Supper as soon as Jesus wasn’t at his side.  He hid in fear after Jesus’ death.  
            But then we see him emerge as a strong, outspoken follower of Jesus once again, bringing thousands upon thousands to believe and be baptized in the risen Jesus.  What changed?  Peter came back to Jesus.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He learned that his strength only came from and in Jesus.  
            That dream that seemed dead with the torn ACL?  That relationship that we thought was forever but that crumbled?  God knows the end of the story.  God’s plan is for good and not evil, for happiness and not heartbreak.  He knows the whole picture, while many times we have trouble seeing past the tears.
            Lifting Weights Return to PlayOur son’s progress has been slow.  He’s now seven months out from surgery.  He still has deficiencies in strength in some places.  However, he has learned so much about himself, his will to persevere, and his faith as he has gone through this process of breaking and recovering.  He returned to the game he loves this past weekend.  The recovery continues.  Much like our faith, it is a lifelong process.  We can’t stop moving closer to God, working to stay close to Him, living for and in and with Him.
            God takes our broken; the sharp edges that we want to hide or use as a defense and fills them in.  He can take those crushed dreams and hurt places and molds them into something more beautiful than we ever imagined.  When God does the filling, we come out of the broken places stronger than we started.  We just need to stay close to Him and find our strength in Him, only in Him.

 

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Guest Posts Series The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

I Remember Mama: The Early Days

I Remember Mama

If stay-at-home moms were awarded senior superlatives, mine would have been voted “Most Likely to Save the World”. After a major mental breakdown early in her marriage when my older siblings were little, she underwent a dramatic conversion experience and I became the guinea pig upon which her hopes and dreams of revitalizing culture and restoring all things in Christ pivoted — a tall task for a little person. At six, I graced the front cover of a magazine reading picture books at a library with a prospective senator, and some of my earliest memories involve being bussed about to various conservative political rallies and Catholic homeschooling events. My mother didn’t believe in Girl Scouts, so she invented her own alternative group. She didn’t believe in public school, but volleyed hard for me to be included in various local extracurriculars, athletic and artistic. She thought theater was the great Satan, but I was passionate about it and so she directed a makeshift troupe for a Shakespeare festival at a major professional Shakespeare theater in the fifth grade for me, and chauffeured me around to various rehearsals and auditions over the years. I was smart as a whip and precocious to an obnoxious degree, but I always had an unsettled sense of being a satellite — my accomplishments were never my own, but a testament to my mother.

But she loved things and causes and ideas and her faith passionately, and me in her own way, and I don’t mean to say my mother was a bad lady. She wasn’t — isn’t. And that’s important, really, to the story I am about to tell. My mother descends from the ranks of Irish-German peasantry, fervent people whose fervor is not always matched by their intellectual acumen. God, country, and family are priorities they hold dear, but often at the price of a deliberate, self-imposed ignorance toward anything that rollicks that foundation or shakes up that pecking order. Already predisposed to turn a blind eye to the unpleasant, she is and always has been well-practiced in the art of denial and committed to the task of keeping up appearances. It is of such people that Twain wrote when he wrote of proponents of culture’s “silent-assertion lies”, the lie that there “[isn’t] anything going on in which humane and intelligent people [are] interested.” Nothing to look at here – move along! might as well be their mantra. In my mother’s world, then, her earlier mental breakdowns were chiefly a source of embarrassment and shame. She had, in her own mind, pulled herself up by her own bootstraps – according to a very loose interpretation of the term “up”, at any rate – and other people should be able to, too. She always had a very tenuous understanding of psychopathology, believing it to be a sign of weakness, of laziness, of moral failure – something one should just be able to “snap out of” at will. Chalk it up to her military upbringing, but the woman was fierce, stubborn, and unable to ask for help.

In that sense, I really came along at a fortuitous time for her. Her father died mere months before my birth, and she likes to say I saved her — a responsibility I took very seriously as a child — from a dark night of the soul after his death. And by the time I reached my elementary school years she was busily saving the world again. In hindsight, my mother was always mentally ill and teetering on the brink of mania; as a child, the constant pace of frenetic energy was my normal. 

It was a bit of an ongoing joke that she couldn’t keep house, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized she was a compulsive hoarder. (The television show of the same name, incidentally, was a breath of relief to me as I could finally put a name to the phenomenon with which I grew up.) You couldn’t walk in my house growing up, and the squalor was truly impressive, with colonies of ants perpetually infesting the sink, and clean dishes and chairs on which to sit always at a premium. The place was a fire hazard and a death trap, really, and it is constantly a wonder to me that none of her homeschooling acquaintances ever called CPS. I was vaguely aware of it not looking like the houses of my friends, but as she laughed it off and called it her “clutter” I learned to identify it as an acceptable level of mess for many years. Certainly it never stopped her from having company over, although she exploded into inexplicable rage if anyone ever offered to help her clean.

All that being said, my childhood was both remarkable and unremarkable. I have mixed memories, good and bad, of her parenting as a child. The best adjective I can think of to describe it is “erratic”. I saw all three Child’s Play movies before I was seven, but was forbidden to see the live-action Grinch Who Stole Christmas as a teenager. I wasn’t allowed to read To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, or anything by Beverly Cleary (for the sole reason that my mother had her confused with Judy Blume). I wasn’t allowed to attend Christian sleep-away camps or retreats because of all the trouble I might get into, which was laughable since at that point in my life I never got into any trouble. I was tacitly permitted my theatrical pursuits, but forbidden to consider majoring in it in college or pursuing it professionally. I was expressly forbidden to go to Catholic high school with my peers or to apply to Ivy League colleges because they would steal my soul. Control was the order of the day — not a healthy discipline, but an oppressive oversight of my every thought, and violent rage was the response to any disobedience, however slight. I remember reading 1984 as a teen and thinking Winston Smith had it easy.

Still, my childhood years were probably the “sanest” she ever was.

But then things started happening.

In the first place, she had a stillborn daughter when I was young, an event from which she never fully recovered. As an adult who has now experienced pregnancy loss myself, I can better understand her grief and the depths of depression that followed, but as a little girl the severity of her grief — her undoing — was downright frightening. 

When my mother was depressed, it was like a Ferris wheel drifting to a stop with all the lights and music out. And from there on out, her depressive episodes became more frequent. She had another child – a boy – about a year after my sister’s death, and when my youngest brother was still a toddler checked herself into the hospital at my father’s behest for a stint because she was suffering from severe delusions and desires to hurt herself. They wrote her a script for lithium and sent her on her merry way, but it was a confusing time for a middle-schooler like me. It didn’t help that I later stumbled upon journal entries she wrote while in the hospital, in which she stated that she was only staying alive for my baby brother’s sake, that my brother needed her to live and be a mother.

Apparently since I was a full twelve years old, I could fend for myself. 

Then my dad attempted suicide around that time, a situation I have never fully understood as he had no prior history of mental illness. As a man relentlessly bullied and steamrolled by his wife, I could see how life could become unlivable, although I don’t approve or condone his actions and certainly they are ultimately his own. She never missed an opportunity for the following two decades to malign him at any opportunity for his perceived betrayal.

When her mother and her best friend died back-to-back, however, a few years later, it was the real beginning of the end. She promptly put on her pajamas, climbed under her covers, and stayed there.

For seven years.

Seven years punctuated by intermittent hospitalizations.

I have one vivid memory of the year I was sixteen: I visited her during one of her numerous hospitalizations only to realize that my mother absolutely did not recognize me and had no idea who I was. That night, I was attending a formal dance and had a bra strap peeking out of the back of my dress.

“Where is your mother, honey?” asked one of the other girls’ moms, a chaperone, who spirited me away to the powder room without further ceremony to help pin it. And I cried, and cried, and cried, because my mother was alive but not, there but not there.

And so it was that where is your mother, honey? became something of a leitmotif in my life.

RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

BOOK: THE CATHOLIC GUIDE TO DEPRESSION by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty

REVIEW OF THE CATHOLIC GUIDE TO DEPRESSION

Categories
Communion Confession Emily Fasting Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Prayer Sacraments Spiritual Growth

Groundhog Day

It’s February 2nd… again.

Remember that fabulous Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell movie? Bill Murray’s character repeatedly wakes up to find he is reliving the same day over… and over… and over. It takes a while, but over the course of the movie he slowly improves day after day by loving and serving others. Only when his efforts have become perfect does he finally escape the crazy time loop. It sounds rather nightmarish to me…

You know those moments in your life when you constantly re-live  certain past events in your mind… playing them over and over? Wishing sometimes you had just responded differently? It’s painful – like a burning in your chest – knowing that your words or actions (or lack of words or actions) negatively impacted a situation. I wonder if that’s like the “fire” of purgatory? But what happens when it’s not past events, but daily turmoils, and you have to continue to carry on through what seems to be a torturous existence? You know God has led you to the desert – and it feels like He’s just forgotten about you. 40 days seem to come and go, but the burdens seem endless.  That’s when patience has to turn into perseverance.

Patience is passive waiting.  It’s a rather fine character trait, but it’s not necessarily one that gets us anywhere. Perseverance , on the other hand, is a very active word.  It requires effort, sweat, blood, and tears.

We don’t passively work our way through this world that’s filled with sin… we drag our feet through the mud, and it’s not always pretty or easy.

The Old Testament’s book of Job has become a recent favorite of mine. Discerning the purpose of suffering in our lives is an age-old mystery. There is no table of contents that we can turn to in our lives and discover how many more chapters are left. We must wade through the seemingly endless daily struggles. We must – there is no alternative. Like Job, we cannot be tempted to give in and sin. One day we’ll wake up to find the music has finally changed. Prayers are often answered in very mysterious ways. In the meantime, we trudge on.

There are ways to ease our path – through prayer and fasting and giving of ourselves when we least desire to do so. What are your favorite ways to stay close to God in times of perseverance?

I think the Sacraments are the greatest gifts God gives us. Cleansing our souls in reconciliation and receiving the Eucharist – the very BODY of Christ, the ultimate sufferer… what more could we ask for?!?