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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No more Hiding

"Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together."
~Vesta M. Kelly

My son is a snowflake. His mental state can change depending on the way the wind is blowing, the temperature, or simply the tone of a person's voice. And like a snowflake, when his surroundings change, he is affected. He is fragile. He might get stuck on a minor problem and it could carry him away into consuming anxiety. He could get caught in a topic, and want to obsess over it. Right now all he wants to learn about are presidents and fish... Like a snowflake, he has an incredibly unique pattern that people do not understand. They might mistake him for just a distraction, and walk right over him.

But aren't we all like snowflakes, in a way? Each of us distinct and carefully designed.

I think I am. I am sensitive. I long to stick-- to other people, to a greater community and ultimately to God. I am blessed with a husband who sticks to me perfectly. But I wonder if I could stick to anyone if I could not (or cannot) embrace who I truly am-- me with my mask off. I wonder if I could stick if I were pretending to be somebody other than me. If I had to hide.

In my 42 years, I have had periods of depression, and probably anxiety (although never diagnosed.) There were even times as a teenager when my depression made me want to take my own life. In my early 30s, I had to take medication for depression, along with lots of therapy, after I had a traumatic event kind of stir it all up. Now I seem to do pretty well most of the time avoiding true depression. I have learned how to cope. I have become closer to God. I seek people in my life who are authentic. I know what to do when I start to go downhill (talk to those authentic people, get lots of exercise, pray.)

But there is more-- I have slowly learned, probably from being humbled so many (many!) times, that I can fail. I am forgiven if I don't handle every situation or challenge in life perfectly. I am forgiven if my husband-to-be runs off before the wedding (yes, that did happen to me.) I am forgiven if I am fired from a job (yup, to my type-A personality dismay, that happened to me, too.) I am forgiven even if my son has horrifying behavior that makes heads turn everywhere we go. I am forgiven if my house is a mess (still working on believing that one.) I am forgiven if I admit that I have suffered from depression. I still am loved by those who authentically care about me, and by God-- DESPITE myself.

Also, I have gratitude for the dirt. Because I have been through that dark tunnel of hopelessness called "depression", I can relate better to my son T and to many types of people. He may not suffer from depression (we aren't sure), but what is going on in his mind at times causes him isolation, alienation and pain. Being misunderstood hurts. And so I guess I am thankful for getting "mentally ill" in my life. I get it. I have sadly hidden this stuff from most people. This last month I realized that hiding me is not ok. I am made this way for a reason. Not to hide. My three kids need a parent who does not hide. 

Are you mentally healthy? If you think you are, then what would it take for you to be mentally unhealthy? How many steps away are you-- really? After the recent Newton Connecticut shooting, and because my son has become more difficult than ever to live with during this last month, I have been thinking a lot about mental health. How do we respond to people who are not coping with the world in a healthy way? Do we stick to them, with love, like snowflakes do, absorbing their unique pattern, and filling in the spaces when we can? Or do we step on them, or melt them with the heat of our expectations and disapproval? Or do we just let them drift? 

I have also been thinking about the stigma of describing someone as "mentally ill" as opposed to describing someone as, say, having a heart condition (which my son also has.) Do we believe that people are responsible for their brains, and their neural pathways? Are we responsible for how we respond to the world and the traumas we are faced with? Are we responsible for the traumas themselves? Are we in control of our own heart beating? I wonder. I don't think so. 

Many people who are "mentally ill" are extremely sensitive. I put this in quotes because I wonder if "ill" is the right description. Maybe "mentally different from the majority" (and therefore blessed?) would be a better label. The movie I saw this last week "Silver Linings" illustrates the beauty, the darkness and the idiosyncratic coolness of a person who is "mentally ill." When you are sensitive, you care deeply. You feel persons, places and things deeply. You are funky, possibly funny, and you are full of surprises. That is my son T.  And I suppose, to a lesser not-so-cool degree, that is me too.

I am certain that God put me, my son T,  and every other person on this earth here with absolute intention. Every hair on our heads. But we will never know the fullness of that intention if we hide from who we are. All facets of ourselves. I'm blessed today that my son T has taught me to see his pattern clearly, with all of its unique "special" needs and gifts. My daughter and middle son too are unique in striking ways that I could miss if I forget to stop and carefully observe. Because I am blessed by their lives, and all that they have taught me so far, I can see myself a little bit more clearly. And so we stick together.

I pray that I, and you, (and I suppose everyone) could move toward being more of whom we are truly created to be. And in doing so, that we could accept the mystery that God has created in the people around us, in all of their weaknesses and strengths. I pray for less judgement, less labels. More acceptance, humbleness, and people who stick.

"I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of a flower - the Light in the darkness, the Voice in silence."
~Helen Keller

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who lived in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. For the yoke that was weighing upon them and the burden upon their shoulders, thou hast broken in pieces O God.
~ Isaiah 9:2, 4

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