Mental health

Healing, hope & slowness

Well it has been a good long stretch of quiet here hasn’t it? I used to be a fast processor but not anymore. These days the thoughts ooze slowly through my soul, taking time to steep while I fold the daily load of laundry, drive car pool, read books aloud or teach fractions. Everything takes more time  than it used to.

A few months back I started swimming again, lap after lap after lap, to wash my swirling thoughts away. Kicking to try and find clarity. It started from sheer survival - our schedule this fall with Aaron traveling more than he ever has before was frankly a bit much. My own exercise (other than my daily dog walk) went to the wayside taking with it a good chunk of my unanxious mind. My parents came for a visit and could see I was hanging on by a thread, I think. My mom had a come to Jesus type talk with me about taking care of myself and based on her verbally brainstorming for me I finally figured out that I could swim a decent amount in under an hour - in and out. Several of my kids activities take place at our local rec center with a pool, if not there is one close to drop offs. So swimming it is for now. The blue of the pool and quiet of my head under the water brings me a much needed peace. You could say it is what is saving my life these days.

I still constantly find myself having feelings about how long healing takes. Here I am a year and a half after looking at myself, unrecognizable, everything I felt I was shattered into a million pieces on the ground. A year and a half is not a small measure of time, and maybe it isn’t a long one either but I certainly thought I would have ‘finished’ processing healing already. Back to my fast processing and high coping self, of course having learned all the lessons and experienced all the growth I needed to in order to be a more enlightened person. (I wish I were joking.)

A year ago I wrote that healing takes more time than people want to give you and now I year later I am writing that it takes more time than you want to give yourself.

I remember when my therapist chatted with me about sectioning off a period of time in which to focus on my healing and my family. A period of time in which I would say ‘no’ to anything else. I landed on six months. I thought I was being ridiculous and gracious to myself to set out that long period of time.

Now I sit here with open palms, no set end date because I am much more intimate with this process. Two steps forward and one and a half steps back. Reminding myself to keep clinging to God who works all things for good. If there is one lesson I don’t want to loose there it is.

 

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Our culture tends to glorify ‘celebrity style overcoming’ and perhaps rightly so. When you are staring down a scary prognosis it is exceptionally encouraging to see people who have overcome ‘quickly’ with joy and enthusiasm. We want to believe we can self-help everything and to some extent we can. To some extent God gives us bodies and brains to help ourselves - sometimes a miracle looks like getting off our behinds and doing what God has made us capable to do. We can get our buts to therapy or yoga, we can seek out the wise treatments and therapies and modalities. But only by God’s grace does all the stuff work and we find ourselves on the other side - ‘healed’.

And then.

Then you still feel broken and lost and exhausted. Here comes the part of the story that doesn’t sell anything, so we don’t hear about it. This is where you find yourself siting in your ‘healed’ brokenness, feeling like you have messed up because this is supposed to be the easy part, the celebration.

This is the part where you get used to waiting. You get used to showing up and doing the right things to keep healing yourself even when it feels futile. Then you stop doing them and realize - nope not yet. I still need those things. At least for now but also, maybe forever. There are things you don’t get used to: feeling like a stranger in your own body, like a stranger in your own mind. You know there is more healing to come, you loose all pride you had about considering yourself low maintenance, resilient and being a high achiever.

You wish you could contentedly and serenely use prayer to let this draw you closer to God and wisdom and love (some days this happens). Instead, it is more likely you get irritated about life’s petty crap, about your unknowing what to do now, about how everything has changed and yet; nothing has.  You find yourself too agitated to make sense and plop things on a sticky note into your ‘God jar’. Not much here is pretty or presentable.

You listen. You listen a lot because you don’t have many coherent thoughts to share. You sit in silence. More silence than you ever imagined. You try to get comfortable with knowing you only know about two things for sure, while 1001 thoughts swirl around in you. You wait some more.

You move slow, slower, slowest. Sometimes you falter and shame yourself for your slow process but mostly you give yourself more grace than you ever have before. You rest more than before, because you still have to even 1.5 years later. At best this feels like progress (I’ve learned to rest!) at worse you feel like you will never be as healthy as you were.

And God. You still need to cling God. Because you aren’t as desperate as you were before, but you are other things instead. This was perhaps the most unexpected part. You are so grateful for your everyday ordinary life and also so many things are still being rooted out. You still feel sad, angry, frustrated, annoyed, tired and just done already alongside of grateful, grateful, grateful. More questions, more wresting, more learning. You are still in need of a savior and you are still in need of hope. Hope. The light. Rest from all the change and growing and learning. A glimpse of new life, an end (at least for now) of things dying away. You are aching for the bloom.

And then - and then it is advent.

Quiet. You find so much quiet and stillness. This is a natural posture for you now. Sitting, quiet. Being present. Palms open. Praying for eyes to see hope, hope everywhere. Perhaps more will die away but you are also open to receive. There is no magic. No single moment where you wake up and think ‘this is it I have bloomed’. Not yet anyway. Instead you listen for the next step, then the next, then the next. Slow, quiet, listen. Slow, quiet, listen.

This is the heartbeat of the healing.

 

Late March

It is snowing outside again today - big flakes backed by a grey sky and freezing temperatures. Even though we have lived in Northern Alberta for eleven years now, winter still feels long, each and every year. I grew up in Southern Alberta where there were always tulips in early April and we never wore snowsuits (or even coats) for Halloween. Probably only four to six weeks less of winter a year, but enough of a difference to make me feel trapped after the five and a half or so months we get here. I'm dreaming of bare feet on grass. I quit facebook, probably not forever, but for well over a week now. My mind needed some extra space, and I don't have the self-discipline to stop checking on my own, so quitting it was. I'm craving a lot of quiet which is ironic for a woman who homeschools her three children, has a nine week old puppy and is living out the last few weeks of full on winter. I'm trying all my get through this season tricks that are available to me.

Running usually helps me get through this period of the year and I'm missing the mental clarity it brings to me. I've been thinking much about running because yes, I'm missing how it makes me feel but also because I feel like I have just run a race. A race I didn't sign up for and I didn't know how long it was going to be.

This is true of any tragedy, of any trauma, of any hardship that comes and surprises us I think. For anything you have to do that you really would rather not have to handle. Any race you would rather not have to run.

The actual running of the race is the really hard and scary part. You have to push yourself, you use all your positive thinking mind tricks, you tell yourself you aren't tired and that heck yes, you can go a lot further. You tell yourself you are strong, you are brave, you are not a victim. Because you are, but also because if you didn't think you were before, you have to be now.

You have to surrender yourself to the process, to God, to faith and hope. You give yourself over to the belief that good will come from this. Because the alternative just doesn't jive with your soul.

Of course there are times where you break down, where you think you can't do this anymore. Times when you depend on the medics and the volunteers who pass out water and your family and friends who helped you train and are cheering you on, even if they don't really understand running at all.

After you are patched up, cheered on, taken care of, you keep going because you aren't ready to give up. Mostly you do pretty well and don't break down too often,  and you think I'm okay, I'm fine, I'm not tired. I can keep doing this shit like I was born to handle it. This goes on for varying lengths of time and involves random changes in the course.

You keep going because you are strong, you are brave yes, but also because you are tenderhearted. Because you have the will to live and grow and heal. You learn all kinds of things about God and your self you weren't sure you ever wanted to learn. You make it through things that are taking every ounce of will you have.

Then one day the race is over, at least for now.

And whatever your race is that you didn't choose and didn't know how long it would be, when it is over you are tired. Maybe it was only a half marathon instead of a full or maybe you had to do the whole freaking iron man. Anyone who has trained for these types of runs knows, you lie to yourself to get yourself through. No I'm not tired. I can keep going. This hill is no big deal. But when you let yourself stop, when the race is done, it comes flooding in. Tired muscles, tired lungs, tired self.

So here I am in late March. Tired. Feeling acceptance about this messy middle, the place where I can't feel all the gratitude I know I will feel when I've sat here long enough to catch my breath, when I've stopped racing long enough to have recovered a bit more.

It's my nature to rush this, just like the last few weeks of winter, to wish it away, instead of learning from where I am at. So for now I tell myself, spring is coming, everything just needs a bit more rest.

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