Dan and I are going on a FOUR WEEK TRIP TO EUROPE. Naturally, you have questions.Read More
The last time I wrote a major life update on this blog, Andy and I were getting ready to move to South Florida.
So much has happened since then.
In the words of Inigo Montoya:
So to sum up:
Last August we moved to Florida so Andy could start teaching Bible at a Christian high school. They asked me if I wanted to teach a class (or maybe two) and I wound up teaching four. In September we evacuated because of Hurricane Irma. Thankfully all of our stuff was fine.
But I was not doing fine. For many reasons, the load of teaching I’d taken on was too much, so I resigned at the end of October. That was a rough decision (I hate quitting things), but it was so good for me.
We started settling into Florida life. We went to the beach more. We found a good church. We really liked our apartment.
Then, when we were home with my family in Minnesota for Christmas, we got an email informing us that when the school was inspected after the hurricane, they discovered not hurricane damage, but lots and lots of neglected routine upkeep the school couldn’t afford to pay for.
Andy took a ten percent pay decrease. Morale at the school was not good. The school declared bankruptcy and closed at the end of the school year, leaving teacher contracts massively underpaid.
While this was going down, we needed to figure out what we were going to do next.
We made some wonderful friends in Florida. Also there are alligators there, which is super cool. But since we were going to be uprooted in some measure anyway, we wanted to move closer to family.
Andy decided he was done with teaching for now, and we feel we’re not being called to ministry at the moment. So he thought about what he would do if he could do ANYTHING.
And what he wanted to do is open a small independent movie theater.
This is such an Andy thing to do, and such an extraordinarily non-Anna thing to do. I hate risk. I hate new things. I really love consistent paychecks and health care. All of which make me such a great candidate to be married to an entrepreneur.
But we talked about it. We talked specifically about whether I could handle it. My mental health isn’t always the sprightliest, and the past year hadn’t been especially kind to my poor nerves.
Andy said that if I couldn’t handle it he would do something else.
And that was very tempting.
But this idea makes him so excited. When we had this discussion he had already been researching and planning and contacting people and hustling and he knew it was a real possibility.
And so I said, “OK.”
I trust Andy, and I trust his hustle, and I want him to do things that make him feel alive.
So at the end of the school year we moved to my parents’ house in Minnesota.
He found a fantastic location in Rochester, Minnesota, and incredible people to work with. We’ll be moving down there early this fall, and that's when the theater should open.
I’m still nervous (I’m always nervous) but excited, too.
When we're up and running we would love to have you come and check it out!
And in the meanwhile, you can learn more at the website: www.grayducktheater.com
You can follow all the social medias (which Andy would super appreciate):
And eventually, if you want, you can support the theater’s Indiegogo campaign. There are t-shirts!
We’re so grateful for loving and supportive family and friends as the plan changes once again. I really don’t think I could handle all of these plan changes without such wonderful people. So thanks for reading and caring about the next step in our wild and crazy lives!
I love books. I love reading. I love libraries.
And like many lovers of books, I dreamed about having my own library. The library in Beauty and the Beast would be ideal, but barring that, a room in my house packed with books seemed delightful enough on its own.
I used to own a significant number of books, well on my way to establishing my library. By the end of seminary, Andy and I had a whole wall of bookshelves in our cabin, filled with seminary books and books from college and books from growing up and books we loved. I can't remember how many boxes there were when we moved, but there were a lot.
Since then, due to a series of unfortunate events, we have moved four times in the last 2.5 years. That is too many times. And with all of that moving came tons of packing, and mostly packing tons of books.
Moving, though awful, can clarify things. Do you really want to haul that ugly vase across the country? What are you holding on to that third winter coat for? Is that distinguished-looking but HEAVY dresser the best fit for your itinerant lifestyle?
I soon realized I was asking this question: is it really worth it to haul around all of these books?
I searched in my heart and discovered to my shock that the answer was: no. Definitely not.
I was dismayed by this revelation. Who was I? Did I still love books? Did I still love reading? I performed a deep moral inventory and discovered that those things were still true. But I no longer aspired to having a library in my own house. Libraries are all very well and good for Beasts who live in palaces, or actual libraries--they don't move. I do. And I realized that I could still value books and reading without personally owning a million of them.
We slowly began to sell our books and give others away. At this point I would estimate we've cut our collection down to a third of what we originally started with. How did we decide what to keep?
Essentially we Marie Kondoed them and kept all intensive joy-sparking books. These are books we love with a high-level of re-readability. Or maybe they were a gift. Or maybe they are especially good-looking. Whatever the reason, if they sparked joy, they stayed. My books include everything from theological works to my collection of Junie B. Jones.
We also saved reference works that we might have a hard time accessing at the public library. Andy saved some commentaries and things like that.
Now, when I actually buy books, I often try to get them on Kindle. Yes, the Kindle doesn't feel like a real book, but it has a light in it so I can read late at night without turning on my bedside lamp and bothering my husband #winning. And I don't have to pack them up when we move #winningevenmore. But far more often I go the library and get on the ol' waitlist.
Some of you might be screaming in agony, "But ALL of my books spark joy! I could never part with a single one!" And that's totally cool! Whatever works for you! But what's currently working for me is not having to pack up one billion books every time we move. All the books I do own I love, and I do not begrudge them the box space. And when we get to next place, I will make a beeline to the actual library that contains books I don't have to move. What a great place.
I came across a Twitter thread by Lauren Dubinksy analyzing the less salient points of a book I read growing up, Beautiful Girlhood by Karen Andreola, including this description of the book’s method:
When I read that, I realized that it was fairly accurate description of how I’ve lived my entire life. I’ve known forever that I have intense struggles with perfectionism, but Dubinsky’s words laid bare the assumptions underlying it. If it’s true that “there is no flexibility, no recovery, no growth, no change, no second chances,” that “everything is permanent and damage is forever,” then doing things perfectly, the first time, is absolutely essential. Perfectionism may be, as Brene Brown says, “a twenty-ton shield” that weighs us down, but that weight seems easier to carry than the weight of ruining your whole life.
I’m not saying that there aren’t consequences to our actions or that what you do doesn’t matter. There are, and it does. But living your life as if the goal of it is to have an unblemished record is a recipe for anxiety, depression, and paralysis. Believe me, I know. I’ve tried it. And that’s because life itself isn’t an achievement -- there are achievements along the way, but life itself is a process of growth and change. As Kevin T. Porter says in Episode 31 of the Good Christian Fun podcast says, the test for someone isn’t whether or not they did bad things in the past -- it’s whether or not they’re still doing those things or think they’re okay.
And even when people really do mess up, life goes on. I recently read the book The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, and in it, Leia and Sel are having a conversation about a situation that, to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say seems impossible to reconcile. Leia says, “I’m just so frustrated. At a certain point, when everything gets this wrecked, there can’t be a next, you know? It’s done. Game over. The end. There is no next.” But Sel disagrees, and what he says has stuck with me: “...speaking philosophically? There’s always a next” (295). He goes on to say, “You don’t see it, but next happens anyway and always. With or without you” (296). Leia is struck by it, too, and decides as a result to change the direction of her new graphic novel; she had planned to write a prequel to her first work that literally ended with the end of the world as we know it, brought to destruction by her main character, but now she decides to write about the “next” that has to happen even there: “I could see the world, and V and V had to find a way to live in it. To live with it, with what they had done. There was a next, even after an apocalypse” (298). It may seem like a weird mantra for your life, but I think “There was a next, even after an apocalypse” might become mine to help me overcome my perfectionist ways.
I know that what makes it hard for me to embrace that “There’s always a next” is that that next can be painful or hard, and I’m discovering I’m not actually very good at dealing with hard things (as I talked about last week). I either deny that they’re bad and try to carry on as if everything’s fine, or if I do actually acknowledge the pain, I blame and mentally punish either myself or someone else and fall into depression and/or anxiety, subconsciously deciding that the pain of depression or anxiety is less intense than living with the pain that caused it.** Unfortunately, neither way involves actually moving forward, and they’re both pretty debilitating. My goal now is to learn how to both acknowledge that things are hard or bad or painful and keep going with my life; my second new mantra for my life could be “What’s next?” a la President Bartlet in The West Wing (and this amazing song by Lin-Manuel Miranda could be my jam).
So here's to embracing life with all of its messiness and mistakes and rejecting the lie of perfectionism that makes it possible for you to ruin everything. Because guess what? There's always a next.
**This is in no way meant to imply that if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, you’re actively choosing to be that way and you just need to get over yourself. Depression and anxiety are, as my counselor says, completely normal responses to chaos. I’m just trying to learn how to recognize when I’m heading in their direction and not succumb to them.
I don’t know what weather you’re currently experiencing, but it’s currently 22 degrees here in the Twin Cities. We had a few inches of snow earlier this week. It’s April. And I am DONE.
I set myself up for this. I know it can snow in May here. I usually try to expect that so that I’m not disappointed when my April turns out like this. But last week it started feeling warmer, and more like spring, and I dared to hope that maybe winter was over. Alas.
But I’ve decided that even though snow in April isn’t that crazy for Minnesota, it’s still just wrong. It should not happen. I should not have to deal with it. It’s unfair.
I’ve been feeling the same way this week about the mental, emotional, and physical issues that I have. And while I’ve been trying to accept that they’re a part of my life and manage my expectations accordingly, this week all I could think about was how mad I was that they exist. They are, like snow in April, a sign of the fall. They’re not fair, they should not happen, and I shouldn't have to deal with them. I don’t want to deal with them any more than I want to deal with this snow. I’ve been feeling very broken and very tired of it, and the things that help me cope have been feeling too hard.
But I know that just like that snow will eventually melt and spring and warm weather will come, things won’t always feel as hard as they have felt this week. I don’t have the guarantee that my issues will go away like the snow will, but they won’t always feel so intense, both because intense feelings seldom last very long in general, and because I will continue to learn how to deal with them better. It may be two steps forward, one step back, but it’s still forward.
And in the meantime, I’m realizing how important is for me to remember that my life is still valuable and I am still lovable even with these issues, even when they seem to be winning, even when I’m not handling them well. Part of acceptance of depression or anxiety or codependency or ADHD or endometriosis is accepting my life and myself with them, and not acting as if my life is only worth living if they’re not there.
This isn’t to say that I need to change my perspective so that my issues suddenly seem like good things, because they’re not, and they’re hard enough to deal with without trying to gaslight myself. Rather, it’s an act of self-care to stop fighting reality, even when that reality isn’t what you want. It may be okay to feel really annoyed about the weather for a month while I’m waiting for the snow and cold to go away. But it’s hard, and hard on you, to spend your whole life feeling angry about conditions that probably won’t.
So while I'm not a fan of snow in April or my issues, and I never will be, I'm going to do my best to accept them.
This post was brought to you by these two memes (thanks, Mrs. Bartlett and Sara Hayes):
I’ve been thinking a lot about the saying “You can’t argue with the results,” which is basically another way of saying “the end justifies the means.” I started pondering it after reading this article about the rampant physical, emotional, and verbal abuse in USA gymnastics (in addition to the sexual abuse by Larry Nassar) that was allowed as the cost of Olympic greatness. Yes, medals are a good “end,” and 41 medals are pretty great “results.” But no end justifies abuse, and you can definitely argue with the results of women suffering from eating disorders, poor mental health, and damaged bodies from their training. That seems pretty obvious, although apparently not to USA gymnastics.
But I’ve also been realizing that I’ve still held this “can’t argue with the results” attitude to justify practices that, while nothing like the horrors the gymnasts faced, were still detrimental to my mental, emotional, and overall health. These definitely include staying up too late, drinking too much caffeine, and being too intense in general in the name of doing well in school, as well as not eating enough and stressing myself out in the name of treating my endometriosis, as I've already mentioned. Even more problematically, though, they include the practices of codependency.
One of the things that is so sinister about codependency is that the “ends,” like wanting other people to be happy or taken care of, are good things. But the part that codependents forget is that they are good only if they are done with healthy motivations, not out of compulsion or to control people, and if the well-being of the giver is also duly considered. Unaware codependent people often think that their needs (or wants) don’t matter, and they are a seemingly low cost to pay for the “results” of “peace,” everyone getting along, things not being awkward or uncomfortable, etc. In fact, in my case, that need for other people’s happiness becomes my need, so that while I think I’m serving others, I’m really serving my own discomfort with others’ negative feelings by trying to control them into being happy ones. One example: for my birthday one year, when asked what I wanted to do, I was more concerned if everyone else in my family would be happy with the activity I had planned than if I was, even though it was my birthday, because to me, other people maybe not being entirely enthused felt worse than doing something that I didn’t want to do. Sad, but true. And as I’ve already said, the cost of codependency is great, leading to everything from mental health problems and addictions to the feeling of never having lived your own life or doing what you wanted to do.
I’m glad I recognize now that, newsflash, my needs matter, but sometimes I feel silly that I didn’t before. I guess I shouldn’t be entirely surprised, though, because our culture doesn’t seem to value emotional and mental health that much either, or at least not as much as a packed college application, resume, or money. I was recently struck by this tweet from Anthony Bradley in response to the fact that more and more college students are requiring care for mental health needs:
It’s just another reminder to me to make sure I’m arguing with the seemingly-good results of my life if they come at great cost, even if that cost is deemed insignificant by many. I hope you’re not afraid to argue with them, too.
Last week I mentioned that I now think that stress is more of an underlying issue than my diet is when it comes to my chronic illness and issues like ADHD and that focusing on reducing that stress would probably be a more effective lifestyle change than following a restrictive diet. In this post, I’d like to elaborate a little more on why stress is a big factor in chronic illness (and mental health) and some of my sources of stress that I’m trying to reduce and/or cope with better.
One of the things I read that first made me reconsider focusing so much on my diet as way to manage my endometriosis was one about the Autoimmune Protocol (a very restrictive diet I was considering) by Jessica Flanigan called, “When AIP Becomes a Crutch, Not a Cure.” The point of the article was that only changing your diet without taking other, bigger considerations into account might make you feel a little better, but it won’t really get into the core issues. The biggest of these issues is “what you believe about your life,” which is, as she goes on to explain in another article, is profoundly influenced by trauma. Apparently trauma can have an impact on your DNA, along with impacting your emotional/mental/physical health in all the other ways you would expect, so healing and resolving your trauma is critical. Even though there’s no guarantee that healing your traumas will “cure” your illnesses, Flanigan writes, it often changes how much they affect you, whether it means you’re just mentally more able to accept them or sometimes even that your body can handle different kinds of food better. As she says, “Less reactive on the inside = less reactive on the outside.”
This resonated with me, as I personally have experienced trauma. I was sexually abused as a child, and while I thought I had resolved that trauma, a few years ago I realized that I really hadn’t, at all. The more I’ve learned about it and received counseling and EMDR therapy for it, the more I see how much it has colored how I see myself, life, and God. I’m definitely in a better place now than where I was, but I still have a long way to go. But, reading those articles started opening the doors to realizing that dealing with major stressors in my life, like my trauma, are a better place for my focus than changing my diet. As another website about healing endometriosis says, “Stress is the most potent toxin you can remove from your life, yet it often seems like the last thing many of us want to focus on.”
It’s also well-established that depression and anxiety can stem from or are responses to stress, and particularly chronic stress, and obviously, being depressed and anxious affects how you view your life! Unresolved trauma is a particularly intense chronic stressor. I also realized that I’ve had a few other sources of chronic stress that have probably been major factors in my anxiety and depression that have not helped my endometriosis or ADHD.
- Undiagnosed codependency. A codependent person is, according to Melody Beattie in Codependent No More, is "...One who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” I’ve mentioned that I have codependent tendencies in the past, but recently my counselor has helped me see that this is a very big issue for me (it’s linked to perfectionism, for one thing, and goodness knows I struggle with that), and I now attend Codependents Anonymous. I’m sure I’ll write more about this in the future, but for now, it’s pertinent to know that codependency can lead to not only anxiety and depression but a whole host of other issues, from addiction to ulcers.
- Years of drinking lots of caffeinated beverages and/or not prioritizing sleep/exercise. This is one that I’m a lot better about now, especially since I don’t really drink much caffeine anymore, but coffee was a big part of my life for the past ten years, and I’ve always been a night-owl who’s struggled to consistently exercise. While the caffeine probably did help me manage my ADHD, too much of it still isn’t great for your overall health (and I know it's particularly bad for endometriosis and anxiety). I think my college years in particular threw my body and brain for a loop. I know now that drinking too many fluids in general can be bad for your metabolism, and low metabolism profoundly affects your health. Drinking a bunch of stimulants, no less, is even more stressful to the body, as is not sleeping enough or getting a decent amount of exercise.
So it seems to me that things like trauma, codependency, and years of little sleep + lots of caffeine had a deeper impact on my health than not eating enough salad, and it’s where I’ll place my focus with counseling, support groups, and trying to get more sleep and being more active. I’ll still make sure I’m eating enough food and find out if I actually do have celiac, but otherwise, eating the right food doesn’t seem to be the main issue. I know that dealing with stressors won’t “cure” me of my endometriosis or ADHD (or at least I have to remind myself of that!), but they certainly won’t make it worse, and may even make it a little better.
I’ve been talking a lot recently about my tendency to want to control and “fix” my life, buying into the false belief that if I just do ____, I’ll never have problems again. I’ve also mentioned that in light of my severe endometriosis diagnosis, I’ve attempted to modify my diet, based on a lot of recommendations and success stories. I’ve never gone into the details of my new diet before because I’ve been waiting for March, which is Endometriosis Awareness month, to roll around, during which I fully expected to detail all the ways that you, too, could have victory over this disease by following my methods. However, that story is a little different now, because I’ve decided that my modified diet has become both one of my compulsive ways of trying to control my life and bad for my overall health.
What was this diet that I’m now giving up? First, about a year ago, it was giving up gluten/"too many” carbs, then later conventional dairy, then most sugar and red meat and processed food. Along with this, I had read that flour and sugar are bad for ADHD, so I really doubled down on avoiding those, including trying to limit my fruit intake. My pain and digestion both improved after going off gluten and dairy especially, but I was still having other health issues and symptoms (more on that later). I’d heard that some of the issues I was still having could indicate an underlying, unrecognized food sensitivity, so I thought that if a few big restrictions were good and seemingly worth it, more were better. So when I read a few weeks ago that you should test all of the common allergies to see if they help make your ADHD better, I went for it -- I decided to cut out all eggs, soy, nightshade plants (including tomatoes and peppers), chocolate, oranges, and apples for a few weeks, after which I would reintroduce them and see if they were problematic. This was after agonizing for days about whether my time would be better served by the GAPS or FODMAPS or Autoimmune Protocol Paleo diet.
And I was miserable. I walked through the grocery store during this time and craved every single thing I couldn’t have. I knew that the latest round restrictions were temporary, but I was terrified that, after testing, I would find out I had sensitivities and have to cut them out for the foreseeable future. I’ve always loved food and eating out, and being gluten- and dairy-free had already been sad enough. I’d basically already been eating a diet of mostly vegetables, some meat, beans, and “healthy” carbs, and I was sick to death of it. I started becoming increasingly sensitive to and loathing of the smell of vegetables; I thought there was something going bad in our fridge, but it was just cauliflower that now smelled TERRIBLE to me. I was starting to hate my life and not wanting to get out of bed because 1) most of my day was now about figuring out what I could eat and not enjoying whatever that was and 2) I was exhausted. I decided to quit the ADHD allergens test and immediately felt relieved -- I hadn’t really noticed a difference with them out of my life anyway.
But I also started questioning the other diet changes I had made, because the fact that I was exhausted also started to get to me. After all, wasn’t I eating “better” than I ever had in my whole life? But I couldn’t deny that there seemed to be some unintended negative consequences of my zeal to have a better diet, and the theory that it was just because my diet still wasn’t “good enough” didn’t seem quite right. I’ve been seeing a naturopath for that last 6 months, and I had recently completed my second round of blood testing, which showed that my morning cortisol was lower than it had been six months ago (a sign of adrenal fatigue, aka exhaustion) and that I was looking pre-hypoglycemic, which also hadn’t been a problem 6 months ago. This was after months of taking a ton of supplements and “improving” my eating. Even though I had less pain, my overall health seemed to be getting worse. And to make matters even more frustrating, I started having other symptoms of endometriosis come back that should have been taken care of already with the changes I had already made.
After doing some more reading, I realized that with all of my restrictions and obsessions with eating the right food, I probably wasn’t eating enough food in general, especially carbs. Most of my new symptoms were aligned with it, and so did my original problems my naturopath was trying to fix. It seems like the solution would be to keep up with the diet and just eat more of the “approved” foods, but the problems ran deeper than that. One was that it can be hard to eat enough calories if you’re only eating “healthy” food. But the other was that I realized that my relationship to food in general was getting pretty unhealthy; I was becoming truly terrified of a lot of different foods and had a lot of symptoms of orthorexia, an obsession with eating the “right way” (and I’m not the only woman with endometriosis who has gone down that path). The only thing that would be legitimately okay for me to be so afraid of would be gluten if I was celiac, but since I hadn’t tested for celiac before going gluten-free (don’t do that!), I didn’t even know if that was justified. And, ironically, the stress that I was experiencing about food was probably only going to make my endometriosis and ADHD symptoms worse. I actually now think stress in general is the bigger root issue for my problems than food ever was, and the bigger “chronic” lifestyle change I need to incorporate for managing my chronic illness (I’ll write more on why I think so next week), so I certainly don’t need any added stress from restricting my diet.
I had really underestimated the effect that food stress was having in my life, or at least I thought the stress was warranted, because it’s hard to argue against eating more healthfully, especially when it promises to make your chronic illness better and when that illness as severe as mine is. After finding out how bad my endometriosis was and how it meant that I might not be able to have children someday, I felt desperate, and it was easy to feel that anything I could do to possibly make it better was something I HAD to do. If I didn’t, my endometriosis getting worse or infertility would be MY fault. This attitude became as extreme in my mind as “If I eat one piece of cheese or a donut, I am putting my ability to have children in jeopardy.” And it was easy to carry this extreme-responsibility sense over to treating my ADHD, especially since I'm not taking regular medications for it because they might make my endometriosis worse. This, my friends, is not a great way to live your life, and especially not a great way to make it less stressful. I’ve realized that it was so tempting for me because it offers the illusion of control that I’m always after. If I eat ___ and never eat ___, I will guarantee that ADHD and endometriosis don’t affect my life. But the reality is that I don’t have complete control over my health, and as I’ve learned, even things that I think will help can sometimes have unintended consequences.
So even if some people have great success in managing their ADHD and endometriosis by vastly restricting their diets, or testing and eliminating food sensitivities for health problems in general (and I know plenty of people who have!) I’m realizing I can’t be trusted to use that method well. I have too many control issues to completely restrict any kind of food from my diet, because I can’t help but go overboard. I’ve realized that all food options have to be open to me in order to eat enough and in a non-disordered way.
I’ll get tested for celiac after eating gluten again for a while to see if I really do need to give it up completely, and even if I’m not, I suspect I’ll probably end up naturally eating less gluten and dairy than I did in my pre-diet days, because it does seem to help with pain. But I only want do things like that because I’m figuring out what’s best for my body and respecting it and not because I compulsively feel forced to follow certain “rules” out of fear. In general, my philosophy is going to be to “Eat the food, Tina!” as Napolean Dynamite said, and to focus my efforts on reducing stress, while of course, trying not to make that the next “cure” for my problems. More on that next week.
The Shape of Water won best picture at the Oscars last night. If you haven't seen it, you probably have at least heard about the fact that the plot includes a woman having sex with an aquatic creature. You might think that a film with such a scene has little to teach the church. But it actually is an incredibly convicting story for an American church that continues to grapple with racism and sexism.Read More
I’ve realized, once again, that I have a pattern of trying to find the right thing(s) that I can master/fix so I can hit cruise control and never have problems again (aka, once I know/do/be ___, I’ll be good/acceptable/okay). I’ve written about it here several times. It makes sense given my perfectionistic and controlling tendencies, but it tends to make life insanely stressful and not very fun.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to NOT fall into that pattern (although, let’s be honest, I’m kind of scared that I’m trying to make it into my next ___ that I think will solve all my problems; the irony is delicious). I know that accepting where I am and working from there is the right direction, but tonight I figured out a metaphor that might help me put it into practice a little more easily.
If my life is like driving a car, I keep acting like there will be some way that I can just set to cruise control for the rest of it. But as we all know, cruise control is definitely NOT something that can be used all the time -- it can only be used in certain situations, and even then, you still have to be paying attention and ready to hit the brake and get out of it if you need to. (I realize that some people use cruise control a LOT more than I do, but the point still stands.) To be a good driver, you need to be aware of your current conditions and adjust to what’s going on around you. You never know when someone’s going to randomly stomp on the brakes or a child is going to run out into the road.
And I think to be good at life, you have to be aware of and adjust to what’s going on around you, including what’s going on inside you. That’s always going to be changing, and it may not always be what you want, but if you're in denial about what's really going on and refuse to adjust accordingly, you'll either get really frustrated or maybe even end up hurting someone, including yourself. It's the same way you have to brake out of cruise control when traffic starts piling up. There may be a few situations in life that are predictable enough or that you’ve mastered that you can basically set to cruise control (like laundry or cooking your staple dinners or riding a bike), just like you've probably got the basic functions of driving a car down, but no one thing will ever make you master your whole life. Not only does life have a way of throwing new things, both good and bad, at you all the time, but you change, too.
I hope that metaphor will make it a little easier for me (and maybe for you) to remember to accept where you are and not try to “fix” yourself in unhealthy ways. And if you need another way to remember, I like to watch this music video from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to remind myself how ridiculous the idea that something will make me never have problems again truly is.
I read an article in Outside magazine the other day about the “new generation of workers enabled by the gig and sharing economics to ditch the cubicle and earn a living while traveling the world” (50). These people are called “digital nomads” who often self-describe as “‘location independent’” (50). Writer Alice Gregory observes them for a week and closes the article with reflections on her own career with lots of travel that have stayed with me:
Getting paid to see the world is a great privilege, but it has also become a compulsion for me -- a way of life I don’t really enjoy but engage in out of an abstract sense that, as a woman who wants children one day, I’d be crazy not to travel while I still can. It’s easy to convince myself that all the lost luggage and jet lag and missed birthday parties are a small price to pay for a future that doesn’t include at least this one very specific form of regret.
By the end of my week in Bali, though, I wanted to come home more desperately than I have from anywhere on earth. I missed my husband, who I met only because we lived in New York and shared mutual friends, and my dog, who I could never cart around the world, and my friends, who feel like the opposite of incidental. I’m 30, which isn’t old but isn’t terribly young either, and when I think about the past 12 years, which constitute my adult life, I have the tendency to think of it passively, as a mantle of experiences that have happened to me. But that’s not true. I have chosen so many things: where I live, what I write about, who I love. Home, for me, is the nexus of all the choices I typically refuse to think of as such. (53)
The first thing that struck me about this is that Gregory is one of the only people I’ve seen who have admitted that they don’t actually like traveling constantly but do so out of, essentially, FOMO (that’s fear of missing out). I’ve talked about my own struggles with FOMO once I have kids previously. In that post, I mostly rebutted the FOMO by questioning the premise that your life ends once you have kids. That’s a good thing to realize, but I found one phrase coming from a different line of reasoning that I think is just as important, because it gets at the idea that you don’t have to do things just because you feel like you should: “[I]t [was] mostly about catering to other people’s expectations.” So often our FOMO comes from things that other people have told us we should be afraid to miss out on.
For Gregory and me, and for a lot of people, traveling is one of those things. I’ve wondered if the fact that Dave and I haven’t traveled as extensively or just done as many “wild and crazy” things as some people we know, partially because of my health issues, partly because of our personalities, is a bad thing and if I should just suck it up and do more before it’s “too late.” Most recently, I felt somewhat guilty for not going to Minneapolis during Super Bowl week this year, just to see what it was like. I knew the chances of Minneapolis hosting a Super Bowl again anytime soon was close to zero and so this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I just couldn’t get past the crowds and the particularly freezing cold, all to see a spectacle I didn’t even know if I would enjoy. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’m glad we didn’t go, because if we had, it really would have only been because we felt like we should, and not because we wanted to.
Which brings me to the second notable thing about Gregory’s thoughts: the contrast between the “compulsion” that drives her to travel versus the “chosen” nature of the things she really enjoys -- the elements of home -- even though she hasn’t always acknowledged them as choices. To me, this highlights perfectly the difference between FOMO and JOMO, or the joy of missing out, a concept I just heard about from the Slow Home podcast. In the blog post corresponding with their episode about FOMO, host Brooke McAlary defines JOMO as “the antidote to FOMO” and “the utter delight that is saying no and doing less and choosing to not compete in the Busy Olympics.” In addition, “JOMO comes from a place of abundance (everything, right now, is enough) while FOMO comes from a place of scarcity (I’m scared that this will never be enough).” Anna has written before about how living with a scarcity mindset instead of an abundance mindset leads to doing things you don’t really want to do -- it’s hard to be joyful in that context. To me, the fact that Gregory describes her traveling as a “compulsion” that she doesn’t really like shows that it comes from a fear and scarcity mindset, but fortunately, it does seem like she’s experiencing some JOMO in her choices about her home.
Of course, in order to feel like your choices are enough, it helps to “know your why,” or know your reasons for your choices, another Slow Home podcast idea I’ve written about previously. Once you know why you want to do the things that you do, it’s a lot easier to own your choices and be “all in,” not wavering about whether or not you did the right thing, as the hosts said on the podcast. Maybe the reason Gregory never realized her choices were actually choices is because she never really thought through why she made them. This isn’t always bad -- following your gut can be a really good thing. But it is easier to not feel regret or second-guess yourself if you’re more intentional. And of course, it’s much easier to feel joy in your choices that way, too.
So here’s to less FOMO and more JOMO. And I hope both Gregory and I feel better about staying home when that’s what we want to do.
Gregory, Alice. “Re-think Your Commute.” Outside. March 2018:48-53. Print.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a time of fasting in various ways and preparation for remembering and celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter. It’s also Valentine’s Day. They are odd bedfellows, but what they both have in common is that they’re both days I’ve had mixed feelings about in the past.
I grew up going to Ash Wednesday services and often giving things up for Lent, from TV and movies to chocolate. I really liked the services and appreciated the results of fasting, if I didn’t exactly enjoy it during the moment.
I also grew up enjoying Valentine’s Day. I loved making a pretty valentine collection box and reading all the valentines from my classmates, and I loved candy and the heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies my mom would make.
But as I got older, I started to wonder a little bit about both of those days. In college, I was surrounded by people from denominations that didn’t celebrate Lent at all, and I heard a lot of questioning about why Lent was even necessary -- if you were giving a bad habit up for Lent, maybe it just meant you should give it up all the time, it was a legalistic Catholic tradition, etc. I had had too many good experiences with Lent to be fully convinced by these arguments, but stressed out from school work and realizing how legalistic I had been at times in pursuing different kinds of fasting, I stepped back from Lent for a few years.
My opinions about Valentine’s Day started to be shaped by others, too. I became increasingly aware from high school onward that the “cool”/“mature” way to feel about Valentine’s Day was to be against it. It was a cheesy, consumeristic holiday pushed by Hallmark to sell cards and make single people feel bad about themselves. And cool girls who were actually in a relationship didn’t need to get a gift on a predetermined day, and if they wanted it, they were probably needy and kind of shallow. I now see a lot of defense mechanisms and internalized misogyny in these views, but there they were. And so my first married Valentine’s Day, I told Dave I didn’t want anything and bought us a romantic Men in Black DVD instead.
But at the end of the day, I felt sad that I didn’t have flowers or chocolate or some token of “Be Mine,” and I realized that, deep down, I did want to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Has it been used for capitalistic gain and caused pain via unmet expectations? Yes. But there’s a lot of good to be found in Valentine’s Day, too, and I still cared about it. The same can be said for Lent -- it’s a church season that has been used for legalistic, shame-ridden purposes. But at its heart, it’s for good, and I was always a little sad when I was part of churches that didn’t celebrate Lent and glad to be part of a church now that does.
Our pastor, in explaining why we follow the liturgical church calendar, points out that our lives are shaped by all kinds of calendars -- the school year, the sports seasons, different holidays, etc. -- and so it also makes sense for our lives to be shaped by a calendar that honors our faith. I’ve realized that I want to be shaped by the religious season of Lent. And when it comes to being shaped by secular calendars and days, I want Valentine’s Day to be one of them, too. Other people may feel differently, but that’s where I’m at, and it is disrespectful and dishonest to pretend otherwise. So I’ll take the strange juxtaposition of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday today, and look forward to the future juxtaposition this year of Easter and April Fool’s Day, although I think I’ll be okay not being shaped by the latter.
Matt Walsh’s article about why he doesn’t think Christians should do yoga has been generating some buzz around the internet. While I don’t want to rebut his article point by point, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share why I love yoga and feel comfortable practicing it as a Christian.
You may know that yoga has its origins in Hinduism, and there are chants and meditations that directly reflect them. I choose not to do those parts of yoga practice; I “plunder the Egyptians” as my philosophy professor Dr. Meek used to say, and take the physical and mental benefits from yoga and leave the rest behind. If the Calvinist idea that “all truth is God’s truth” is true, and I think it is, then we are allowed to celebrate and participate in the truth in secular and non-Christian thought and practice even as we acknowledge the brokenness and try to avoid the pitfalls. However, this is still a matter of conscience, and if you don’t feel good about doing yoga, you shouldn’t do it, and Christians who do feel comfortable doing it shouldn’t judge you for it. And let’s remember that, as someone on Twitter pointed out (whose tweet I can no longer find, unfortunately), Paul let people eat meat that was sacrificed to idols -- if that can be a matter of conscience, certainly yoga can, too.
That said, I think that yoga, at its best, offers physical and mental benefits and a knowledge of how the human body works that serves as a complement and sometimes corrective to the strictly Western view of medicine. Sometimes I think that in American Christians’ desire to avoid the practices of other religions, we reject the truths of Eastern thought in general. Just because something is Eastern doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, and just because something is Western doesn’t mean that it’s right or the only way of doing things.
For example, one of the main reasons I do yoga is that it’s very good for treating my endometriosis. The poses and stretches help keep blood flowing and break up adhesions, which also can decrease my pain. If I stuck to a strictly Western method of treating endometriosis, all I would have at my disposal is surgery and hormonal birth control. I’m grateful that these things exist, and I’ve used both of them at different times, but they both have significant costs, physical and financial. Yoga doesn’t.
In addition to not having physical costs, yoga also has significant mental benefits. For one thing, it’s great for treating my ADHD. I already wrote about how exercise in general is good for my ADHD, and yoga seems to be particularly effective. It forces you to be mindful and brings you back into your body, which is important when you get too much in your own head, as my counselor would say. I also just feel better about myself when I do it, and I suspect this is partially because of the wonderfulness of the instructor I follow, Allannah Law of YogaYin. (I may or may not have a woman crush on her.) She is gentle and positive, encouraging you to accept where your body is and not judge it, and to do things when you’re ready. I’ve been realizing the importance and power of acceptance a lot lately, and she’s helped me do that. I was brought to tears one day when I realized that God might view me in the same gentle, loving way that Allannah views all of her followers. The peaceful, non-judging ethos of yoga has been immensely healing for my judging, shame-fueled modus operandi.
For me, yoga has been immensely helpful, and its benefits outweigh the costs of having to be intentional and careful to not incorporate any elements that are too similar to Hindu beliefs that don’t align with my faith. I hope you can enjoy it, too, and if you do, please help me learn how to make downward dog less terrible. Thank you.
Hi everyone. I apologize that I've been MIA for so long. I'm back to posting on Wednesdays, for real. --Mary
The last time I posted on this blog, I shared my ADHD diagnosis. I have not written since then, partly because of the holidays, partly because I was busy going through the grief cycle about this diagnosis about five times. It’s a lot to realize you have this thing that’s never going to go away, that some things will always be hard. And it’s especially hard when you also realize that regular medications like Adderall aren’t going to work for you.
To be clear, by not working for me, I don’t mean that Adderall was ineffective. The week I was was on Adderall absolutely incredible. The cold, damp fog over my brain lifted and I felt AMAZING. I had more energy. I had more focus. And most surprisingly to me, I felt much more emotionally stable. I had read that ADHD affects your emotions but didn’t realize how much it did until then. And on top of all of that, doing so well on Adderall gave me official confirmation that I did, in fact, have ADHD (because of course I doubted that maybe I just hadn’t done the test right and this was all a lie and I was, in fact, just a lazy, unfocused mess). If I didn’t have ADHD, Adderall would make me feel like I was on speed. But I wasn’t--I just finally felt like a normal person.
Adderall and I will always have that one glorious week together. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be forever. Why? Because of my other health condition, endometriosis.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I have endometriosis. What I haven’t mentioned is that this fall I had to have my second surgery to remove a 8.5cm cyst (yikes) and other endometrial tissue. The surgery was very successful, but I also found out that my endometriosis was at Stage IV, the worst stage, which is not great for your health in general, including your fertility. Sobered by this news, I doubled down on my efforts through diet to prevent it from coming back or getting worse, including giving up drinking regular coffee, which, with its caffeine, is thought to have an estrogenic effect, which is bad news for endometriosis. I love coffee, so it was already hard to give it up, but it was even more sad to me because I’d learned about how caffeine, because it is a stimulant, is a way that many people help manage their ADHD symptoms. In the few times I’ve had a regular cup of coffee since my diagnosis, I can tell IMMEDIATELY how much better I feel. (And I know exactly why I drank so much coffee in college and grad school.)
But then I started thinking about it more -- if caffeine, which is a stimulant, is bad for my endometriosis, wouldn’t Adderall, which is a MAJOR stimulant, be REALLY bad for my endometriosis? I’m sorry to say that there’s little definitive information about this (after all, most ADHD specialists don’t know anything about endometriosis, and many OBG-YNs, in addition to not knowing much about ADHD, don’t even acknowledge dietary effects on endometriosis), so the default seems to be, “It’s probably fine.” But I did find enough information that suggested that stimulants would make endometriosis grow faster to make me want to stop taking them.
So I stopped taking Adderall and dealt with both the withdrawal symptoms and the sadness and anger of feeling like my body was working against itself. Why did I have to have these two specific conditions which, if I treat one, make the other one worse? How unfair was that? It was really, really hard.
But as is usually the way with these things, I realized that all wasn’t lost. I’ve come across some research about an amino acid supplement that could help a lot with my ADHD without (I think) making my endometriosis worse -- I still have to discuss it with a doctor. In the meantime, though, I’ve found an even more guaranteed method to feel better with both my ADHD and my endometriosis -- exercise. According to one broad survey, exercise is the most consistently effective treatment for ADHD, even more so than prescription medication. And women who exercise consistently are less likely to have endometriosis. You’re also less likely to have anxiety and depression if you exercise regularly, too.
I’ve seen this in my own life -- the time when I felt the best mentally was the semester in college where I did a Navy workout five days a week. (I’m still not sure how that actually happened, but somehow, it did.) I had my first surgery for my endometriosis right after that semester, so it was in a pretty advanced stage, but I don’t remember feeling the effects of it that much during that time. So dang it, exercise works! I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for having a hard time exercising regularly in my life (like, literally besides that one semester)-- if you feel bad, physically, mentally, and emotionally, exercise is often hardest thing to do. But now that I know how effective and important, nay, crucial it is for my life, it’s been a little easier to get past the initial hurdle. I’m trying to make exercise and especially getting outside (some people think that ADHD is in some ways a nature-deficit disorder!) a non-negotiable part of my day, the way I have with eating well.
In the end, I’m (almost?) glad I’ve been forced to find other ways to deal with my ADHD besides stimulant medication. Not because I think medication is bad or doesn’t have its place--I’m still taking two antidepressants, after all, and was happy to find out that Wellbutrin is kind of secondary medication for ADHD. But, in general, I’ve found that I feel most comfortable with treating chronic conditions like endometriosis or ADHD with “chronic” lifestyle changes because it seems like they can get more to the root causes of the issues without bad side effects or risks. And no matter what, I know I’ll be better off in general if I’m eating well and exercising regularly. At the same time, I realize that sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough, or aren’t feasible given your life circumstances, or aren’t even doable without a little boost from medications, and that taking medications long-term, even with those risks and side effects, is absolutely the right call. I know that I could NEVER have started changing my diet and exercise habits without the boost from my antidepressants, and even though I’d love to be able to get off of them someday, I acknowledge that I may never get to that point, and that’s okay. And sometimes you need to take more intense measures, like having surgery for endometriosis. And hey, maybe someday when I’m not worried as much about the effects of endometriosis, I’ll take Adderall again. I just have to keep working with what I’ve got and where I am, and so does everyone else.
But for now, while I’ll always have a special place for Adderall in my heart, I’m going to try to live without it. If you’ll excuse me, I should go take a walk.
This week I was officially diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD (or, because I lack the hyperactivity, ADD, but since ADHD seems to be the more common term now, that's what I'll use).
I never thought those words would ever be applicable to me for a couple of reasons.
One, I had no idea that "Inattentive ADHD" was even a thing, as opposed to hyperactive-impulsive or the combination type. Worse, I was honestly skeptical of ADHD as a whole. I'm ashamed, especially as someone who is fighting to #endthestigma against mental health issues, to admit that when I thought of ADHD, I thought of it as an, in general, over-diagnosed disorder that really only applied to hyperactive little boys (and even then, I thought, how many naturally rambunctious kids were just given Ritalin so their parents and teachers wouldn't have to deal with them?). Most people who claimed to have it probably just needed stop making excuses and learn how to discipline themselves to focus on "boring" things. Only boring people are bored, and if you see something shiny, just get over it and move on, okay? After all, in a world of smartphones and clickbait and notifications, don't we all have a little "ADHD" that we just need to deal with?
Wrong, wrong, wrong, and I am so, so sorry. Yes, our screen-based society makes paying attention harder for all of us, but ADHD is real and on a different level. Saying you’re “a little ADHD” when you get distracted is like saying you’re “kind of bipolar” when you feel a little moody, and we really need to stop doing that.
Two, even when I allowed for the existence of legitimate ADHD. I didn’t think someone like me who did really well in school could possibly have ADHD. I was a straight-A student my entire life. I was the valedictorian of my college class. I have a master's degree. How could I have problems with attention?
Well, it turns out that “problems with attention” are not what I thought they were. I thought having problems with attention meant that you noticed everything around you all the time (again, the “Ooh! Something shiny!” idea). I’ve never been very visually observant -- if anything I thought I had the exact opposite problem. And the symptom that first made my counselor suspect I might have ADHD was something that I thought was only anxiety: getting overwhelmed by packing. I thought someone with ADHD would feel fine about packing but just get continually distracted by other things. In actuality, feeling overwhelmed by projects that involve organization and planning is classic ADHD. If you think about it, it makes sense -- it’s a not very stimulating task that requires a lot of focus. But I had never thought about it that way before: I just thought I had a lot of undue anxiety due to, if anything logical, my perfectionism. And then there are the real outlier symptoms: things like getting a second wind in the evening and having a hard time waking up in the morning are related to ADHD. Who knew??
I even misinterpreted my symptoms that make complete sense with ADHD, like constantly thinking all the time or spacing out during long sermons or lectures. I thought I was just a thinker/intuitive and really impatient. Now I know that while I don’t have super fidgety body of someone who has the hyperactive type of ADHD, I have a fidgety mind that not only wanders when someone else is talking for what I think is too long of a time but also, to go back to a previous symptom, keeps me from being very visually observant. And even though I realized that I had a harder time with my attention span when I was really depressed, I thought that was because I was really depressed, not because I also have ADHD.
It makes me feel a little better that I’m not alone; ADHD is suspected to be very underdiagnosed in women, partly because, in women, it often looks so different than the stereotype. The whole thing blew my mind, but the more I read and took quizzes like this one, the more I realized that it was probably true. Here are some of the items on the quiz that applied to me:
I end up doing several things at once.
I struggle to follow through on complex tasks. Short deadlines work best for me.
I may be looking right at someone but I’m lost in thought. My mind often wanders.
Sometimes, I even lose track of what I’m saying, or I go off on tangents.
I don’t have regular routines at work or home. I struggle with schedules or plans.
I’m not being obstinate. I know what to do, I just can’t seem to do it.
I have trouble organizing my work schedule, social life, and family obligations.
I create long To-Do lists then find them overwhelming.
Planning a big project feels daunting.
I procrastinate because I can’t see where to start, or figure out what I need.
I struggle to finish things that demand a lot of focus for a long period of time. Other times I get ‘in the zone’ and hyper-focus.
When faced with a big, important task, I will do a bunch of trivial chores instead.
Things have to be out where I can see them, otherwise I worry that I’ll forget about them.
I often misplace things like my phone, keys, or TV remote. “I just had it a minute ago!!”
I’m often lost in thought, my mind will be far away, imagining interesting ideas, situations, or conversations.
I’m pretty smart, but a bit absentminded. I’ve been called a ‘day-dreamer.’
I’m bad with names.
When I am alone I talk out loud to myself to stay on track.
Another factor that made it harder for me to get a diagnosis is that I had pretty high-functioning ADHD that enabled me to avoid a lot of the external consequences of these characteristics, like bad grades, that are often a tip-off that something's not right. While I procrastinated on probably every major assignment in high school and college, because I could still pull off an A, no one, including me, could tell that anything was really wrong, besides my own nagging sense of feeling like I never really did my best at anything (and, of course, being chronically sleep-deprived and defaulting to guilt, fear, and shame as motivators for my life -- no big deal). I was a "good student," but not because I was particularly disciplined, organized, or methodical. I was in spite of those things.
Finding out that all of these things mean I have Inattentive ADHD has brought on a lot of conflicting emotions. Sometimes, I feel relieved to know that there’s a reason why all of these things have been so hard for me, and it’s not because I’m just a bad person who can’t get her act together. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed because a lot of what I thought I knew about myself either isn’t true or is more complicated. For example, while it’s common to have depression, anxiety, and OCD symptoms coexisting with ADHD, a lot of times undiagnosed ADHD, and the guilt that comes from thinking you’re kind of a screw-up, can, not surprisingly, cause at least some of that very depression and anxiety. And that makes me sad, because I really wonder how much less I would have struggled if I had known I had ADHD earlier. I probably could have gotten so much more done and felt so much less bad about myself, and I’ll never get those years back.
And honestly, I’m still feeling a little sad and overwhelmed about it even now that I do know, because I now get to figure out how to manage it, which feels like a complex task that is the bane of the ADHD mind’s existence, even though it’s really more about acceptance, not working harder. (Really, I can’t give myself a break, ever.) I wish I didn’t have to deal with this at all. But there are lot of positives to the ADHD mind, like creativity and (seemingly ironically) the ability to hyper-focus on things that are interesting to us, and I have a lot to offer with it. And above all else, I have the assurance that I’m really not, as the title of classic ADHD book says, lazy, crazy, or stupid.
I’ll be looking into different medication possibilities soon and generally figuring this out. I guarantee you will hear more about it here, so stay tuned.
I'm a big podcast fan. If I'm driving alone or cleaning, or getting ready for the day, there's a 90% chance I'm listening to one. Podcasts can be informative and hilarious, and I'm convinced that listening to the Gilmore Guys podcast got me through the worst bout of depression I've ever had. They can make tedious tasks more fun or, if you're like me, keep your mind from spiraling into deeply negative or racing, anxious thoughts.
But I've often wondered if I've relied on them a little too much. I've heard a lot about the fact that the prerequisite for creativity is boredom, and I think it's really important. My friend Rachel's blog post about giving up streaming video for Lent and its positive effect on her writing has particularly haunted me. And in fact, before I discovered podcasts, I used to drive in silence semi-frequently.
But I just couldn't seem to drop my habit. I was a little afraid of being left alone with my thoughts, and honestly, I think a lot of the time, I was justified in that fear. My mind is never not working, and not always in great ways. By listening to podcasts, I wasn't so much avoiding boredom as preserving my sanity and ability to get things done.
Then an interesting thing happened last week. I was getting ready to format the bulletin and slides for my church, a task which I usually do with a Netflix show on in the background. But that day, I realized that I didn't want to have the TV on in the background. It seemed too overstimulating. So I did it in silence. And then, when I drove to meet a friend later, I kept the podcast turned off. I realized I probably hadn't driven by myself without a podcast, intentionally, in about two years. And it was really nice. I don't know if I had any extra creative thoughts that day, but it was encouraging to me that my anxiety had abated enough to welcome some silence.
That said, I'm not planning on cutting out podcasts or Netflix entirely to embrace silence. As long as I have depression and anxiety, I will always have hard days, hours, and moments, and if a podcast or Netflix show will help me get my chores done or get out of the house, the potential loss of creativity is worth it. I doubt I would come up with much of anything in those circumstances, anyway. A deeply anxious or depressed mind is rarely fruitful. Also, it's okay to listen to podcasts and watch TV just because you want to. Someone has to enjoy the fruits of someone else's creativity, after all.
But I do think I'm going to try to push myself on my better days, when it really is just boredom and not my churning mind I'm avoiding, to add in a little more silence. If the quality and/or quantity of my blog posts vastly improves, you'll know why.
The first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week. If you've read this blog for awhile, you're probably pretty aware that I'm pretty aware that I struggle with anxiety and depression. And it might seem that I'm pretty comfortable with it since I write about it a lot.
I thought I was, too. Not only do I tell people that I struggle with it, but I even will acknowledge that, contrary to what I thought when I first started counseling and taking antidepressants, my anxiety and depression will probably never really go away, and I'll need to manage them for the rest of my life.
It's only recently, through the help of a very insightful counselor, that I've come to realize that when I said I would need to "manage," my present-tense mental illness, I really meant "fix," as in "When I take my medication and do counseling and anything else that seems like a good idea (yoga, journaling, etc.), I should be able to act exactly as if my mental illness is all past-tense." After all, depression and anxiety don't define who I am, right? I'm more than just my depression and anxiety, aren't I?
Here's the thing: my identity may not be in my mental illness, but it can and does affect my life. As my friend Tes said, "People say, 'Labels don’t define you.' Yes, but they are part of me." And too often I have found myself trying to suppress that part of me instead of accepting it and adjusting my expectations for my life accordingly. Instead of viewing medication or counseling or yoga or journaling as ways to keep me functioning as best as I can with mental illness, I viewed them as ways to become, essentially, a fundamentally different person who didn't struggle at all. If I just wrote down the positive truths about myself, and did yoga, and x, y, and z, just right, all the effects of my mental illness on my life would be past tense. Specifically, I would become a person who had no longer had trouble getting up in the morning, who didn't get disproportionately nervous about reaching out and getting together with friends, who didn't often find regular chores overwhelming, who could plan an event or and pack for a camping trip without crying, who could handle having a regular full-time job without being completely and utterly spent at home. I would become energetic and fearless and live my best life. And until I was that person, I wasn't okay. Until I was that person, I needed to keep fighting, do more things, reconfigure my system, or else I was letting my depression and anxiety define me and not trying hard enough. Never mind that some days I barely had it in me to survive, much less work harder. Because until I was that person, I wasn't acceptable.
This, my friends, is not a great way to live your life.
I will cut myself a little slack for thinking this only because sometimes depression and anxiety seem to be more situational, and people do get "back to normal" after a while. They get off their meds permanently, they stop going to therapy, and they're great. But mine is looking pretty chronic. And while you can do things to make chronic illnesses less awful, they aren't going away. I should know, since I have a chronic disease called endometriosis, in which tissue grows places it's not supposed to and causes a lot of pain. I've learned a lot over the last year about things I can do to stunt the tissue's growth and feel less pain, like changing my diet and taking certain supplements. But I can't cure it, and not only it would be silly of me to expect that, it would also be silly of me to act as if the pain shouldn't affect how I live my life at all. Yet I do this all the time with depression and anxiety.
I even did it in the midst of writing this post. Dave and I are going camping this weekend, and while I love camping, I do not love packing for camping. It overwhelms me, a lot. I know this about myself. But instead of accepting it and say, asking for help from Dave earlier in the week, I once again hoped that I wouldn't feel that way and would be able to do it easily, all by myself, with no anxiety at all. Because if I'm honest, I'm embarrassed that it paralyzes me, and I hate that I can't just get my act together and not freak out about it. I hate that I need help and take up Dave's time with something that I feel any regular adult should be able to do. But that's where I'm at, and if I had asked for help sooner, I probably wouldn't have had to freak out about it all. Instead I procrastinated in anxiety, got more overwhelmed as a result, and melted down, and guess what? Dave still had to help me, but in a much less pleasant way for him. Not only does nobody win when I don't accept myself, but when I do, I ironically feel a lot better and struggle a whole lot less.
That's probably because I'm living according to the truth of who I am instead of pretending I'm someone I'm not, and Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said the truth will set you free. The truth is that I have anxiety and depression; I'm aware of that. Now I need to work on not getting rid of them, but accepting who I am with them and feeling comfortable with the fact that they affect my life in the present tense.
Hey everyone -- Mary’s husband Dave here. Anna, Lisa, and Mary have been taking a little hiatus amid the busyness of summer, (and some small life changes like, you know, getting married or moving across the country -- no big deal). Mary's posts will return next week. In the meantime, I thought I would share some thoughts from one of my most recent creative exploits: photography.
A few months back, Mary let me fit a new camera into our budget, my first DSLR. It has opened up my world to the wonders of good photography and photo-editing, and is my new favorite creative hobby. Photo-editing, in particular, is a lot of fun because it allows you to breathe life back into pictures that seemed to die somewhere between the shutter button and the computer screen.
One of the key steps of photo-editing is adding contrast. What is contrast? Contrast = difference. In photo-editing, it’s about the difference between tones and colors in an image. A photo with higher contrast will have lighter light areas, darker dark areas, and stronger colors, which can make for a more eye-catching and visually interesting picture. The amount of contrast needed depends largely on the scene and the intent of the image. In post-processing work, a little often goes a long way, and too much can be a disaster.
For example, consider this picture I took of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes State Park:
Unedited, it’s meh. Not the vibrant blue waters I remember seeing in person.
Now here it is again with a little contrast added:
That little adjustment allows the colors and tones to pop, making for a much more appealing image.
Here’s another one of a butterfly I took awhile back, before (left side) and after (right side) increasing contrast:
So if some is good, more is better, right? (#’MURICA!) Well, let’s try turning the contrast all the way up and see what we get:
Ugh! Yuck! What happened?
To put it briefly, turning up the contrast decreased the variety of tones and shades in the picture, making all the dark areas closer to black and the light areas closer to white. In doing this, we effectively lose all the beautiful details and hue variety that made this photo great. All the intricate mid-level tones and colors that bridged the spectrum are gone, and we are left with an ugly and featureless mess.
What struck me the other day is how contrast in photography is similar to how it is with people. Our minds (like our eyes) tend to gravitate towards contrast -- we notice the differences in others quicker than we do the similarities. These differences are what make people (like our photos) so beautiful and interesting. Without any differences at all, everything and everybody would all be a grayish blob of nothing meaningful or true, kind of like the original lake photo with the contrast slider turned all the way down:
Yet the same contrast that helps us understand and appreciate God's world better threatens to distort and destroy our perspective if taken too far. If we see everything in extremes, then we have no eyes for the in-between, the huge spectrum of middle ground that helps us to see others (and ourselves) as beautiful people created in the image of God. In a black-and-white world, there’s no middle ground and no room to relate and understand, leading to a distorted mess.
The more I take photos, the more I realize that this world and the people in it are beautifully complex and different, with endless little details to look for and marvel at. I’m challenged by this thought, because as a Christian I tend towards black-and- white thinking, coloring the world with the limited shades that make up my worldview. But I’ve found I don’t have to compromise my palette of beliefs to enjoy a more colorful world, which is where I often get tripped up. Rather, I just have to turn the contrast down enough in my mind and in my eyes, and I’ll be able to see the shades that others are using.
This concludes my photography and life lesson for the day. :)
[Disclaimer: This post discusses this week’s episode of The Bachelorette. The Bachelorette is usually just entertaining garbage, but every now and again, something happens on it that makes you think. Unfortunately, sometimes, especially this season, that “something” is extremely problematic, and that is certainly the case with the situation I’m going to discuss here, which never should have aired on national television. I’m seriously questioning whether I’ll keep watching the show after this season as a result of this and other choices ABC has made. But, it did bring up a lot of thoughts for me, and I think they’re still worth discussing here.]
This week was “Hometowns” on The Bachelorette, in which our hero, Rachel, goes to visit the families of the four remaining men. One of these men, Dean, had indicated previously that his family wasn’t exactly Norman Rockwell-esque. After his mother died when he was a teenager, he felt emotionally abandoned by his dad. As a result, they don’t have a close relationship, and Dean even admits that he hasn’t seen him in two years. Suffice it to say he is not exactly pumped to introduce his girlfriend to him. Rachel, who comes from a very close, loving family, wants to try to help. And that’s where she goes wrong. As Molly Fitzpatrick writes,
Rachel is concerned by Dean’s estrangement from [his dad], and particularly concerned that he hasn’t tried to close the gap between them. She encourages Dean to confront his dad about the emotional distance he kept from his kids after their mother passed away, which seems like an objectively terrible plan for a high-stress reunion taking place on a national television show about dating. Also, quick reminder: Some parents are toxic and their children have every right to cut them out of their lives. That’s all!
Spoiler alert: It is a terrible plan, and it goes about as well as you might expect.
There was a lot of discussion around the internet and on podcasts about this event that shared Fitzpatrick’s concerns. Many people who also have toxic parents were painfully reminded of times when others didn’t understand their need for boundaries and only seemed to care about whether or not they had done their part to reach out and make it right. There were a lot of comments about the fact that some relationships can’t be saved (or if they can, the responsibility lies with the offending parents, not the child), but because that’s unsettling, people like Rachel can’t help but try to come up with the “solution” instead of comforting and trusting the person who’s hurting.
All of this reminded me of something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, which is that far too often, we assume that people’s problems are always 1) fixable, and therefore, 2) the most important thing we can do is “encourage” them to fix them. We investigate to see if they’ve done everything in their power to solve the problem, and if they haven’t, then we can conclude that they’re just being irresponsible or self-pitying. (Or, we may talk to ourselves about our own problems this way.)
That might be true if your problem is that you’re hungry but you just don’t feel like going to the grocery store. But what if your problem involves real pain? What if you’re really suffering? To fixate on the solutions in that case is just cruel because 1) There might not really be a solution, 2) If there is, it might be really, really hard, and 3) It might not be entirely within your control. In Dean’s case, for Rachel to focus on what HE’s done to fix it makes it seem like she’s kicking him while he’s down: “Sorry that your dad was so awful to you, but I can’t believe you haven’t done this REALLY HARD THING and reached out to him and fixed it!” Many people commented online that Rachel probably just didn’t understand how truly awful Dean’s family situation could be because she has such a good one; the possibility that a family situation may be so bad that it’s better to have your family out of your life doesn’t even occur to her.
It’s hard to just be sad with and comfort someone in deep pain, because let’s face it, deep pain is really uncomfortable, both to experience and observe. And if we’re Christians, we might not even feel like it’s okay. In Good News for Anxious Christians, Philip Cary talks about some Christians’ inability to accept the fact that other Christians may not always “experience joy, ” based on the lie that “You’re not really allowed to be sad at heart, because everybody says Christians are supposed to have a deep inner joy in their hearts, which is always there beneath all the troubles of life” (137-138). (Or, as I like to call it, “But everything’s okay because JESUS!”) He writes:
The idea that Christians are supposed to have a deep inner joy all the time is a terribly cruel notion….it turns people who wish to comfort the afflicted into tormentors. They want to help their suffering friends get their joy back, but in the process they insist their friends accept the underlying idea that it’s not normal for the Christian life to include deep suffering of heart. So in addition to their suffering, their friends are wounded by the suggestion that their affliction is due to some failure in their Christian life---as if there’s something wrong with Christians who have a cross to bear. (139)
Rather than be tormentors, Cary says, oftentimes we ought to simply “be present” with those who suffer and “recognize that sometimes we have no words to make things better” (147).
That’s what I think Rachel should have done when Dean told her about his issues with his family: quietly listened, acknowledged his feelings and his hardship, and let him know she was there for him. Maybe later it would have been appropriate to broach the possibility of talking to his dad as a way of helping Dean heal. But it wasn’t okay for her to blame Dean for not taking those steps yet and to try to immediately “fix” a situation she didn’t really understand, minimizing Dean’s pain.
This isn’t to say that what Rachel did isn’t understandable. I know that I probably would have done the same thing not that long ago. But if (and when) we do encounter someone who is deeply hurting, let’s remember to weep with those who weep.
I've been re-watching 30 Rock lately; I forgot how much I love it. Sometimes I think my answer to the "What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?" Robert H. Schuller quote would be to be a writer on a Tina Fey show. Those throwaway lines!
One of those lines in particular has been speaking to me today:
Tracy Jordan: Stop eating people's old French fries, pigeon. Have some self respect! Don't you know you can fly?
Lately, I've been very aware of my own "eating people's old French fries" habit -- negative self-talk. I've known I have a problem with this for a very long time. But now that I've been making changes to my diet and exercise habits, I'm realizing even more that physical changes alone can't make up for the damage of thinking mean things about myself.
And why am doing that anyway? I can't fly, but I am God's creation, made in His image, no less. That's enough reason right there to knock it off.
I don't want this to sound harsh or to become something else I beat myself up for, though (aka, I can't believe I was mean to myself again! I'm such an idiot!). That seems counter-productive. But it seems good to remember (again) that being kind to myself is a good thing.
I don't know what your version of "eating people's old French fries are," but whatever it is, you don't have to do it. Don't you know you can fly?