Lily of Fire

**Please keep in mind that I am an absolute laymen when it comes to religion. This brief back story is a generalisation of how I interpret the life and miracles of Saint Dymphna. 

                Saint Dymphna, the patron Saint of mental illness, was born during the 7th century to a pagan father (Damon, King of Oriel) and Christian mother. At age fourteen Dymphna consecrated herself to Christ, and soon after her mother died. Her father suffered terribly from the death of his wife, and his mental health rapidly deteriorated. When pressed to remarry, his eye turned to his daughter due to the resemblance she bore to her mother. Upon hearing this, Dymphna, along with her Priest and a few guardians fled her father’s kingdom to avoid the marriage. Eventually, her father was able to trace her to Belgium, and when she refused to return with him he killed the Priest, and cut off Dymphna’s head. Initially her remains were placed in a cave, and eventually found a permanent resting place in Gheel, Belgium. From the time of her placement in the tomb to the present, people who have visited her remains have reported being cured of their mental illnesses, and other illnesses occurring in the brain. It is because of these miracles that she became the patron Saint of the mentally ill.

Officially, Saint Dymphna is the patron Saint of the nervous, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, those who suffer neurological disorders, and the victims of incest.  Fittingly, she is also the patron Saint of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists.

 320px-St_Dymphna

                I do not identify with a particular religion, nor have I decided whether or not I believe in a God. I do however, have an interest in religion, and do my best to educate myself in the hopes that I will someday figure out where my soul is going when I move on. I will say that I am drawn to certain aspects of many religions, and Saint Dymphna has struck a chord with me.

A young girl, who had chosen a life of chastity and with a passion for helping others in the name of her Lord, was the victim of mental illness. She is far from being the only innocent bystander, and her martyrdom has reminded me that illness can easily be brought to madness. Parents, whom suffering from mental illness, sometimes paired with addictions, take the lives of their children – and sometimes their own. They cannot separate their nightmares from reality, and they can find no other way to quiet the demons that are screaming inside of them. Their minds, pinwheels being spun by hurricane-force winds – all of the colours blurred together with no way to slow down and see all of the colours for what they really are.

It is a fine line that separates a lot of us from those like King Damon, a line kept in place by a mix of medication, therapy, a solid support system, and meditation. I do believe that our best weapon against the darkness inside is our own internal reflection. Daily affirmations confirming our self-worth are a vital part of recovery and maintenance. When I don’t boost myself up from the inside, no amount of medication can make me feel better. It is a combination of all of these things that help me function, help me be a good mother, and help me project confidence to the outside world. The love of my children coupled with the support of my friends and family keep me motivated to get out of bed each morning. I can always count on hugs from my daughters, and words of encouragement from my husband, brother, sister, and friends when I am not at my emotional best. Not having a support system would be devastating. Even though I identify as antisocial and have problems with intimacy and touch, I still need to feel loved – without that validation no amount of daily affirmations or medication would make me feel better.

So many of us are missing one or more of these integral puzzle pieces, and are suffering tremendously because of it; some us fatally. If these sufferers cannot reach help before their internal implosion, they could take someone with them. It may not be a parent harming or killing a child, it could be the employee of a company who stabs a co-worker, a student who shoots their classmates. These tragedies CAN be PREVENTED. We need to not only recognise the signs of mental illness, but be willing to act to help these souls. Early intervention and treatment could save so many, but we have to be willing to help. Everyone deserves protection and care, and though I know not every tragedy can be prevented, I know that we could make a big difference if we were more proactive.

We all know someone who suffers from mental illness, either in the open like me, or in silence like so many. Helping doesn’t mean dragging someone to a doctor; it is as simple as being a friend. Take an interest in their lives, take them for lunch, or go for a walk with them. Sometimes a smile can change a person’s whole day. Check in on them, and don’t forget that condescension and judgement gets you nowhere. People suffering from mental illness and addictions are vulnerable; treating them like an 18th century leper will only cause harm.

I urge everyone, religious or not, to live by the example that the young Dymphna has set for us. Be compassionate, take gentle care, be the light that someone absorbs to stay alive. Offer your love, find the Saint inside of you and protect the ones you know and love. You may not be the cure, but you can be a part of it.

Pray for us.

To learn more about Saint Dymphna, check out http://www.franciscanmissionassoc.org/requests_stdymphna_story.cfm She also has a wiki page, because internet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dymphna

Advertisements

I can’t handle your horror stories. Or your hugs.

As you may recall, two weeks ago I gave birth to my third little earth angel. Recently, someone decided it would be a good idea to talk to me about crib death, or SIDS. while their motives were pure and they only meant to help me, I must say, it was the opposite of helpful. Too often people either forget or don’t understand what true Generalised Anxiety Disorder is. GAD is not feeling nervous before a presentation at work, it is not the ‘socially awkward’ guy who enjoys telling people how awkward he is, it is true, crippling anxiety that can terrorise the sufferer.
During the first few months of my older girls lives, they did not leave my arms. I am a co-sleeper (deal with it) because my fear of not feeling them breathing is crippling. In fact, with my newest addition, I don’t sleep at night. I sit up with her while she sleeps. In the morning my husband takes her, and I have a nap. My fear of being away from any of my children causes a lot of problems for me, especially now that the two big girls are in school. Any time they aren’t in my line of sight I don’t function like a normal person. I try, but my thoughts are filled only with wondering if they are still ok. I struggle to leave the house, and I struggle even more when they go somewhere without me. Don’t mistake my fears for a lack of trust, I trust my family completely; I know that they can take just as good of care of the girls as I can – but t doesn’t matter. When I’m not with them not only do I feel immense guilt, but the anxiety of being away from them on top of it.
Approaching me about crib death was bad for me emotionally, because I cannot deal with the information properly. Instead of identifying it as reasonable information that could be helpful, I extract only the negative ideas from it. Quickly those ideas fester in my mind and cause me to no longer see the information rationally. Anxiety affects my appetite, my sleep, even my ability to go to the bathroom. My mood suffers, and I cling to my babes more than usual. It sounds unreasonable, and it is – but that’s the nightmare that is anxiety. I can see that I’m overreacting, I can visualise better reactions, but I can’t execute them because the bad always over powers the good. There is no sweeping the anxiety under the rug, there is no drinking some tea to relax. I don’t. Relax. The only moments of emotional safety I enjoy are when I am laying in my giant bed with my three little princesses. (And their dad!)
I do take medications to help take the edge off, but learning to deal with anxiety takes time and practice. The practice includes letting the girls go on dates with their granny, letting my eldest walk to her classroom lineup by herself, and going grocery shopping by myself.
I can justify my behaviour by thinking that my anxiety keeps me vigilant. I take good care of my girls while resisting the urge to helicopter over them. It’s hard, and leads to a lot of internal stress, but I work on it every day. I will continue to co-sleep with my kids, while taking all necessary precautions to prevent SIDS. Hopefully you, the reader, will do your best to remember that sometimes your advice will affect me in a way the you don’t intend, so please consider your audience before you start trying to help.
Also, stop touching me. I hate being touched. If I didn’t give birth to you, I don’t want to hug you. Sorry.

Postpartum Depression? Never heard of it.

Thursday October 9th, 2014, I gave birth to my third and final child. A daughter, a perfect mix in looks of her two older sisters and the final puzzle piece that completes my heart. As the excitement of visitors, gifts, and warm wishes dies down, I will receive a different kind of guest. Tomorrow a psychologist from Social Services will come to my home to ask me if i plan to commit suicide, or feel the urge to harm my family. I am ready for the visit, as unpleasant as I find the prospect of having a stranger come into my home and interview me about my mental health – I know it’s necessary, and I don’t begrudge them coming to check. After all, I could be the one that slips through the cracks and hurts myself, or worse, someone I love.

Postpartum depression is something that, oddly enough, I have never experienced. After each of my pregnancies I have experienced the happiest phases of my life – like a not quite manic version of postpartum euphoria. ‘The baby pinks’, as opposed to ‘the baby blues’, is very real, and like the blues, it goes away. The first few months after my children are born I am radiant, thoughtful, active, and genuinely happy. I take care of everyone like I was born for it. I float happily through 3 am feedings, I am not affected by endless crying, I even make friends more easily.

Now that I am properly medicated I am hoping that this pink phase isn’t as extreme as it was with the other two – although it feels like I will be doing her a disservice by not being as doting as I was with the other girls. The pinks are frightening because the inevitable come-down is devastating, and not just to me. I go from beaming angel of motherly excellency to the catatonic, stinky, angry, person that I normally am. I go back to not eating properly, not sleeping, and not brushing my hair.

I don’t understand any of it. Some have told me that I do better at the beginning because I feel like I have a purpose again; but do I not have a purpose to begin with? I am already a mother, saying that I have ‘new meaning’ makes me feel as though I didn’t love my older children as much. (I am fully aware that that is not the intent of the statement). I love all of my girls so much (understatement), why can’t I constantly be in the pink? Will I ever have enough to satisfy me enough to be happy with my every day routine? Fortunately for me, this is the last time that I will be enduring this unique form of mental illness – but I am scared of what is to come. Am I destined to a life of indifference and complacency?

Wake up, medicate, just get by, repeat.

My girls deserve a pink mom, and so does my husband. I have signed up to do volunteer work at my oldest daughter’s school in the hopes that I feel valuable for a longer period of time. I am determined to keep writing, to leave the house every day – even just for a walk around the neighbourhood. I want to fight back, and I want to succeed. I can be permanently pink, but it’s going to take a helluva lot of work – work that the cloudy part of me doesn’t feel interested in participating in. Be prepared for my struggle, I will document it here in the hopes that if you have any advice, you offer it up.

Even though The baby blues/pinks can go away with treatment and time, it is still a very serious and very real form of mental illness, and I think we can all benefit from keeping a dialogue and educating everyone on the risks and dangers of postpartum psychosis. As a community, we shall let no one else slip through the cracks. No more mothers harming themselves or their precious families. Support and understanding is something that we all need, but these women especially, need to know that we are here for them. I am here for you. When I reach my downward fall from motherly grace, I hope that some of you can be here for me.

The Divine Mrs Meadows

Does anyone else have that one person in their lives that makes them feel beautiful in any weather? A person who seems to exude sunlight, smiles rainbows, smells like what you imagine mother Earth should smell like, and leaves a trail of fairy dust behind them? No? Well, I do, and I am incredibly lucky.

A few decades ago I was blessed with a new (to me) cousin, who was given up for adoption and then later reacquainted with our family. He and his whole family were amazing, and we all were so happy that we were able to reconnect with him and have a new family of faces to love. After a while I lost contact with him, thanks in part to my horrible inability to contact the people that I love. Years later Facebook reintroduced us, and I’m so glad that it did. His daughters, all grown up, are beautiful and wonderful to talk to, he is older and wiser and looking exceptionally like the rest of the men in my family, (biology, right!?) but who I really connected with was his wife.

As far as what’s on the outside, we should have nothing in common. I value material things, I watch too much TV, I don’t spend enough time appreciating the things that I have or the people that I love – and she is the opposite. She hears and sees and smells everything, takes time to say nice things to everyone, and I highly doubt she would ever yell at her dog for barfing on the floor. (My dog is gross like that. I still love him.)

Being introduced to her opened up a whole new part of me that I didn’t know existed. She really does see beauty in everything and everyone, and you feel beautiful just being near her. Hell, we live a day’s drive away from each other, and when she texts me, I feel wonderful. What did I do to deserve to know someone so amazing?

I am trying my best to take parenting cues from her (and my cousin) as I think that they are amazing parents, and they have the sweetest little kids in the whole world. When I get stressed out, I like to think of what she would do. (The answer, almost always, is meditate). I have been inspired to find the better parts of myself thanks to her, and I don’t think there was anyone else who could have shown me these little snippets of goodness. I know my husband tries to highlight my goodness, and I’m so grateful for him, but there is something to be said for having someone in your life who owes you no extra kindnesses, who needn’t expend any extra energy on you because they don’t know you, who wants to get to know you, and loves you once they do. She chose to love me even after she found out how crazy I am, and she actively tries to make me feel good. What more could you ask out of another human? She expects nothing from me, puts up with me being horrible at communication, and loves me through all of the days that I don’t feel like a good person. She inspires and encourages me every day, and I will never be able to repay her for her kindness has softened my heart. I can feel her energy with me every day, and I honestly believe that she was the catalyst that put me on the right track to being a better person. My daughters love her, my husband loves her, my dog loves her, find me someone that doesn’t love her and I’ll straight up punch them in the face. (I’m sure she wouldn’t approve of that, but I can’t be good all the time!)

Long story short, this is my thank-you letter. I was always taught that when someone shows you a kindness you repay it the best way that you can; and writing a letter is the way to see me in my finest form. Thank-you, Mrs Meadows, for helping me to feel good about myself at a time in my life when I didn’t believe there was anything good left about me. I will spend the rest of my life making sure that I do you and your family proud.

“Thank you for being here reading.”

The other day I was reading through the blogs that I follow on here, and I decided to leave a comment on one that I particularly enjoyed. The blogger is chronicling her struggle to overcome an eating disorder, and I find it especially interesting because that is one thing that I have never dealt with (Although when I was younger I was frequently referred to as a ‘dyslexic anorexic’ because I had a fast metabolism and ate a lot).I left my comment and the author responded with “Thank you for being here reading.” This phrase can be interpreted several ways. I could take it generically, literally in the sense that she is thanking me for reading, or I can apply it to my own life, that i am still here – and reading.

Of course I wouldn’t be writing this entry if I had taken it the generic way.

People like me who are self-destructive, angry, depressed, people that have the inability to always see the value in themselves, people like me who fight every day to remember that we are worth more alive than dead – every day that we are here is a victory. We sabotage ourselves in the hopes that someday our faults and failures will be a memory for the people we loved but couldn’t love the right way. (In our own skewed opinions). When I read her response, “Thank you for being here reading,” it resonated with me. I am here. Not only am I present as a heart that hasn’t stopped beating yet, I am providing (hopefully) words of encouragement to someone else who could be in my same emotional and psychological situations.

Everyday we struggle against the current of our emotions. We are fighting a constant battle against the filth in our minds telling us that we aren’t worth as much as the rest of the world. We aren’t worth enough to care about our bodies, we aren’t deserving of true love or friendships, people don’t really like us, they tolerate us. We can hear the judgmental whispers, and we cannot always separate the ones coming from hurtful people versus the ones that our minds are creating. The seeds have been sewn, and too often the justification for taking our lives becomes easier than finding reasons to keep fighting. I am proud of myself for every day that I finish without knowing how easy it would be to leave. I will think these thoughts for the rest of my life. I have a poison in me that I will always have to fight against to keep what little sanity I have. There is no day off from a battle within yourself, the effort is as real and as physical as running laps at the gym. I am exhausted at the end of every day, but I’ve made it.

Thank you for being here reading.

This simple phrase meant so much to me. An acknowledgment within myself that I am still here, and that there are people who appreciate my just being here. I didn’t do anything special for her, I just read and commented. She however, did something special for me. Sometimes the validation of a stranger can put your life back into perspective, and it’s refreshing. I know my kids love me, and I’m sure they appreciate the things that I do for them in a day, but it’s easy to fall into a space of complacency when you live the same routine. Fight, nap, make a lunch, kiss a boo-boo, brush hair, run a bath, turn the fight inward. 

So now I say thank-you to you, for  being here. Take that how you want, but know that I appreciate every heartbeat that is reading this, and that isn’t, because we all deserve to be here. The fight is hard and frustrating and never ending, but we all deserve to be here – and as long as you need a friend, you have one in me.

Day by Day | Rewriting the heart and letting go. (This is a link to the blog that inspired this post)