Cognitive Dissonance 

I’ve had to make a decision recently, about a problem that has been bothering me for quite some time. I had been waiting for a moment of clarity, a sign perhaps, to guide me in the right direction. However I have now determined that waiting for some cosmic being to tell me what to do would leave me waiting forever. I had to put on my big girl pants and make a hard decision, and hope that it was the right one. 

I am no longer willing to nurture relationships that are not healthy for all parties involved. I cannot journey healthily into the future if I am still clinging to parts of my past. No more “friends” on facebook that I don’t communicate with. No more hate-stalking, no more waiting for someone I cared for to reach out to me. I have evolved, and my evolution is bound to leave some things and people in the dust. That is not to say that I don’t care about these people or things, I will always wonder about them, but  what I’ve had to give up is wondering why they get along so well without me. I’ve spent too long on the outside of people’s lives, looking in, and feeling a sad disconnect based on the relationship we used to have. My love is always constant, and I’m learning that it is an unrealistic expectation to think that everyone operates on the same emotional plane as me. As much as I try not to be, I  am an empath. I don’t want to feel as much as I do, but it is beyond my control. This amplified feeling of rejection and loss has led to an unhealthy obsession with trying to find out where I’ve gone wrong. What have I done to drive a wedge between myself and this person that I once connected so strongly with? I must’ve done something, because I am defective. Trying to find all of my faults and flaws within each relationship has been taxing both emotionally and physically, but I needed that introspection to determine what I now know: people grow apart, and it’s not (always) anyone’s fault. It’s time to stop focusing on what I could’ve done better, and refocus on taking care of the relationships I currently have, while occasionally remembering the good times and experiences that came from the old ones. 

I no longer have the energy to chase people down, and I will not beg anyone to keep in touch – family or otherwise. I will no longer wonder how to make you like me more, it’s not my job to please anyone, nor is it OK to try to change myself based on who others want me to be. I am me, and I am enough. I am legitimately happy for everyone, past and present, that is living a happy and fulfilling life. If ever our paths cross again I will greet you warmly, as I always have, but I will no longer wait and wonder. I’m ready to let go of my past to prepare for my future. My future involves focusing on the good, fostering love and mutual respect, and finding a state that I have yet to function in – a state of being content with who I am, and with what I have. 

This is not a new years resolution, it is a promise to myself and to my loved ones that I will make a conscious effort to let go of the things I cannot control, and to look to the future with hope and positivity. It’s time to step out from behind the shadow of my past and allow the light to guide me in a healthy direction. 

I love all of you. You past demons, you present angels. I am a product of everyone and everything I’ve ever loved and cared about. I am grateful for who I have become. I am ready to move forward. 

Reflective Fragments 

The first time someone called me delusional I was seventeen. The librarian called said that I must be delusional because she was positive that I hadn’t returned a book that I was positive I had. 
The first time I questioned my mental health, truly, I was sixteen, and was largely rebuffed by the professional I confided in. I was lazy, ungrateful, ambitionless, and angsty. Get out of bed, brush your hair, show up to class on time. You’ll feel better. You have so much potential. 
The first time I wanted to die I was fifteen. I had a panic attack over having to tell my mother that I had failed math again. I had myself in such a lather that I began cleaning out my closet, and I had every intention of hanging myself in it with a belt. A pink belt with green stars that I bought at Forever 21, the only souvenir from my school band trip that I could afford. My mother called and asked me to do the dishes before she got home. I missed my window. That feeling of wanting to end would simmer in the recesses of my mind, bubbling over at different times later in life. 

The first love of my life came at fifteen, and has remained my only love. He nurtures the good parts of me, and forgives the bad. I owe him my life. 
The first novel I remember reading was Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. My dog was my best friend, and the book helped put my emotions into words. It also destroyed me emotionally for a few weeks after finishing it. Being able to read independently (i was in the third grade) offered a method of escape that would save my life more than once as I got older. 
———————————–

On the foggiest days I can reach out and touch the ragged fabric with which my reality is created. It’s frayed edges like worn burlap glide through my fingers as I struggle to grasp something tangible. As the mist coats the flora in the early morning, so does my fragmented reality coat my mind. My thirst for normalcy never quite sated from such a thin layer of moisture. 

When the wind picks up I am carried into the lives of others. Today I’m a parent volunteering at the school. When the wind changes I am an acquaintance in a tattoo shop, a fraud in a bookstore, a friend via text. I can never commit enough energy or attention to any one person or thing for too long. Lights flash in front of my eyes, I want to entertain all of them but instead cannot focus on even one. 
I feel so many things, yet I am paralysed by the thought of expressing them. Truly feeling them. It would be more apt to say that I think about feelings. If I start allowing myself to feel, I won’t be able to stop. I am an emotional implosion waiting to happen. The only thing I feel is fear. 

Fear of loss. Fear of change. Fear of success. Fear of self confidence. Fear of finding out who I really am. Fear of failure. Fear of faith. 
I couldn’t tell you who I am if I had all of the words in the world. I am a collection of grand ideas, half-truths, fears, and open wounds. The embodiment of an overactive imagination. I am an actual metaphor. Or is it a simile? I could never keep them straight. 

The Maker Makes

I have three daughters, aged 7, 4, and 10 months. As my beautiful ladies grow older and develop their own interests and personalities, I find that I’m discovering parts of myself in them. My biggest fear for them is that I will pass my poisons onto them, and not recognise that I’ve done it. 

When I was a child and even a teenager, not many people subscribed to the idea of childhood depression. Many people, my mother and father included, believed that the brain wasn’t capable of mental illness until after the age of 18, and also that “teenage angst” was a choice – not a symptom of mental stress. 

After discussing my youth in-depth with my psychiatrist and councillor, we mutually determined that I have been suffering from anxiety since childhood, major depressive disorder since my mid to late teens, and bipolar disorder stemming from around the same time. Looking back at those times in my life I can quite clearly see the signs and symptoms, which of course, seem obvious in retrospect. 

Now, as a mother in this new mental illness enlightened age, I worry for my girls- my eldest especially. Certified gifted, I was told that I may experience behavioural problems with her, and was giving a few books about “coping” with the gifted child. My amazing, hilarious, friendly, little L has trouble getting out of bed, especially if her dad is sailing. Prone to fits of rage, sometimes physically attacking me, sometimes not being able to eat. Happiness countered immediately with sadness, coupled with anger and obsession. 

It’s hard to deal with. 

I have my own emotional shitstorm to battle with every day, sometimes trying to deal with her is too much for me. I check out, lock myself in my head, and hope that the kids will engage autopilot before I crash the plane. But they deserve better. L needs my compassion, my understanding, my experience, but most days I’m just too tired to give it to her. We do battle on a daily basis. It’s hard on all of us. No matter what, I always try to validate her feelings. She is entitled to feel. Whether I agree with her or not, she gets to tell/yell her thoughts to me. I don’t know if it helps or hurts, but at this point I feel like she’s constantly on the cusp of exploding, but it seems like the yelling and stomping keeps her from diving over the edge  

I’ve read the books, the blogs, the listicles, the forums, and the truth is: I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing when it comes to my girls’ mental health. I have no clue. I barely have a grip on my own mental health, how am I supposed to be responsible for that of these precious beings? I’m terrified daily that I’m causing permanent emotional damage, or passing on my mental instabilities (or both). On the other hand, I don’t want to see symptoms in them that aren’t there. We all know what tricks the mind can play to spike our anxiety and send us spiralling. For now I’ll keep reading, keep fighting, keep cuddling, keep trying, keep failing. I owe them my best, even if some days my best is merely existing through the day. 

I need so desperately to protect them, but I can’t save them from themselves. Or, maybe I can. I wish someone had tried to save me.  

Idiot’s Eden 

I have decided to give my time to an orphanage in Romania. The location and organisation are not up for debate, nor are my intentions. I have been working to advertise, and for the most part, the reactions have been positive. I have a restless soul that is yearning to do good on a bigger scale, and I truly believe that this will be a life changing opportunity for me. 

This next part of the post is for anyone that has been less than supportive. 

Dear soapbox preacher:

Please enlighten me as to what you have done for the world. You can think of better places for me to go? More worthy causes? Then why don’t you champion them? Trying to make me feel bad for wanting to help somewhere that it is needed is beyond ludicrous. I know that there are other places that need help. I know that kids in my country are suffering. What you fail to recognise is that there are government programs that can help these kids. I can’t fix the government. I’m not Superman. I can’t fix everything. I have chosen to do this because children with mental or physical defects in Romania are literally thrown in the garbage. I would love to be a philanthropist and help everyone everywhere, but I can’t. I am one person who wants to help a few kids have better days while I can. If you don’t support me – fine! That’s your prerogative, but don’t you dare shame me for wanting to do a little bit of good. I am trying to be a better human being, how is there any shame in that? I shouldn’t have to justify wanting to good. 

Now, for those people who are interested in knowing about my quest, here is some information. 

I am fundraising to spend 6 weeks at an orphanage in Romania with the organisation United Planet. I have a fundraising page, a Facebook page, and I also tweet about it. You can click on the links in the text if you would like to learn more! 

100 Acts of Kindness

Looking through my house a while ago, I determined that we have way too many things. Toys, clothes, movies, books, too much of everything. In the interest of making sure that my children don’t grow into ungrateful little monsters, we have decided to make some much needed changes to the way we live.
One night while mindlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed I came across an article about a man from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, who was in the process of performing 1000 acts of kindness in his community. Feeling inspired, but knowing that 1000 of anything is likely too ambitious for my little ladies, we’ve settled on 100.
100 acts of kindness that can be performed throughout the year, starting with this Christmas and ending with the next. We have already performed our first act, and the girls were very happy to do it! Last night we took them to the mall where they picked Santa’s Anonymous presents. The big girls each picked a child off of a Christmas tree- L picking a seven year old girl and P picking a three year old girl- and then we went to Toys R Us to pick out the gifts. We had a lot of fun browsing and in the end the girls picked some great gifts that they each out a lot of thought into.
I was so proud of them for understanding what they were doing and for not asking if they could have something that my mind went immediately to rewarding them with some kind of gift. Knowing that they would defeat the purpose of this whole endeavor, I decided that the reward should be feeling good about helping others.
Our next act involves all of us packing up the things that we don’t need and donating them to a few different places. I have way too many clothes that go unworn, Big Daddy has way too many books. The ladies will be packing up the majority of their toys and too-small clothes. Toys that they actively play with, no more than ten each, can be kept. They can keep their art supplies, and the stuffed animals that have sentimental value. The goal is to strip the house of all of the excess. Relying on things to make us happy is not the lesson I want to teach my daughters, and I think that by teaching them go pass things on to others when they are done is a good way to help teach that. I want giving to become second nature to them, and even though we are starting during a holiday season, by continuing throughout the year they will see that is important to care all year round-not just when we think Santa is watching.
I have some more ideas lined up for our year of giving and learning, and I have every intention of continuing the cycle for as many years as i can. who knows, maybe when the girls have families of their own, they will continue the tradition!
If you have any suggestions for acts of kindness, please pass them on! Has anyone out there reading done something like this? Let’s talk about it! Reach me via the comments here, or on Twitter! (@thesagemum) Let’s get a discussion going on ways to make our children more kind, forgiving, empathetic people.
I will keep track of our progress here, so stay tuned for more good deeds!

Parallel Lives

Does the term ‘parallel listening already exist’? If not, I’m going to take it upon myself to give it a definition. I am a parallel listener. Meaning, while I listen to you, I don’t necessarily absorb what you are telling me. It’s like when you read a book but after a while you realise that you haven’t absorbed any of it. Your eyes read the words, but their meaning doesn’t reach your brain. The same goes for how I have conversations. I hear the words, but not the meaning. This of course, can cause problems for me. I have trouble retaining directions that I’m giving, my attention span is short, and I have issues recalling simple facts about the people that I should know fairly well. I am constantly inwardly focussed, and I only came to realise it when I was recently called out on it.

I was called self-involved, narcissistic, egotistical, and standoffish (all by the same person). Unfortunately for me, these are all right – it is part of being a psychopath. I couldn’t even defend myself; it is all true – and it needs to change, but how? I like talking about myself (obviously, see: blogging), and when I talk to people I often drift off into thinking about myself, or what I would do in the situation that they are talking about. I honestly don’t do it on purpose, and I am trying very hard to change that. I am asking more questions, not talking to so many people at once, and trying not to respond with something about myself. It isn’t easy, and I’m sure everyone I know is extremely tired of it. My memory is terrible (thanks, depression!) so often I am repetitive. I ask the same things over again because I either wasn’t paying attention, or I was but can’t remember. Wow, being friends with me seems like garbage when I write it down!

Another contributing factor to my parallel listening is my lack of energy. As shallow as it seems, it takes a lot for me to want to engage with others, and when conversations go on too long I peter out and can’t focus. I find that not many people can relate to me, and I can’t relate to them; either. My life has been so different from most of the people in my age and peer group. I can’t connect because I haven’t had the same experiences as everyone else. I have three kids; most of the people I went to high school with are just now getting married or buying houses. The peripheral friends that I have are few in number – the friends I have who actually have life experience that I can relate to are even fewer. I don’t really fit in to the military wife community, but I certainly don’t fit in to civilian life. I’m not a typical PTA mom, but I still want to be involved in my kids’ lives. I’m in my own category and it isolates me from all of the communities I should be able to connect with.

Trying to connect with people on a deeper level takes actual physical energy. I get tired, and sometimes I have to withdraw and not talk to people for a few days. I try to be a good listener, but most of your struggles are foreign to me, and some feel like a waste of time to listen to. I feel bad for saying that, but my priorities have become so different over the past 6 years that I don’t understand where people are coming from anymore. Something that is a big deal to you feels trivial to me, and I have trouble getting past how I would feel in that situation (see: narcissist). I know that being outwardly rude would lose me the friends that I do have, so I try my very best to listen, and give opinions or advice should the situation warrant it. (Word to the wise, never take my advice).

Long story short, I’m sorry that I’m a shitty listener. I promise that I’m working on it, but I don’t know that my level of narcissism will ever change. I have a lot of things going on in my life that I want to talk about, and like you, I feel like the things that I have to say are more important. I know that some of you reading this are also parallel listeners; I have started noticing it in my conversations with people lately. I’m seeing what I do in some of you, and I don’t fault you for it – we’re all self-involved to a certain degree, n’est pas?

I don’t want to be shallow, and I want to set the best example that I can for my little ladies; I’m terrified that I will pass on all of my personality defects to them – but how do I avoid it? So far my answer to that is:

  • By staying self-aware,
  • by critiquing my behaviours and trying to modify them,
  • by being as honest as I can with my doctors
  • by thinking before I speak around them, and
  • By talking to them about their feelings, likes and dislikes, and really listening to what they have to say.

These answers will evolve I’m sure, and there are days when I fail miserably at being the example that I want to be; but I am committed to taking life one day at a time, and waking up each day with the desire to try again no matter what happened the day before. Each day I am waking up with the intention of listening to the things that matter to my loved ones, and I’m trying to appreciate that everyone’s story is important – just because we don’t go through the same things doesn’t mean that it matters less, your story is important to you, and if you matter to me, it should be important to me too.  I’m slowly coming out of my hidey-hole…but sometimes I need to go back. It’s where I keep my Spock Snuggie. Please forgive me the days when I can’t control my interest levels, it really isn’t anything personal. I’ll figure this out eventually.

Here are some signs that you may be parallel listening:

  1. You respond to a message with something completely unrelated to what the person is talking about
  2. If you don’t find the topic interesting, you wait long enough to respond that you can change the subject without making yourself look bad
  3. You respond with an anecdote about yourself in relation to the topic that doesn’t really contribute to their side of the conversation
  4. You have NO IDEA what’s going on with your friends even though you talk to them daily

Any of these sound like you? Can you come up with any examples of this behaviour?

The Darkest One

*This post originally appeared on my Blogspot in July*

‘My reality’ VS ‘actual reality’
The world in which I exist is a circus-style microcosm of the world that you live in. My emotions are heightened by senses. Smells, colours, and sound are exaggerated and burned into me so quickly that sometimes I break down. My senses become overloaded and I cease to exist on any plane, and become enveloped in every emotion I have ever felt all at once.
I am constantly parallel to you, but we will never reach an understanding on anything, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you. We can both look at the colour red, and though I know you say it’s red, my mind will tell me that it’s something different. I prefer blood, you prefer cherry.
It’s not wrong that I am hyper emotional, in fact, I believe that sometimes it makes me a better decision maker. To see abstractly is to see from all sides, and to pick the prettiest one. Or more like me, perhaps, pick the darkest one.
The kicker is this: knowing that I am more emotionally aware than you puts me in the position to find everyone that isn’t like me confusing, hard to reach, and sometimes not as…evolved, as I am.
 I fear spikes in my emotions and senses because I know that no one understands them. I am not dramatic, I am not a raw nerve, and I’m not an emotional wreck. I feel and love and hear and taste with my whole body and soul, and I know deep down that this is a beautiful gift that I must nurture.
But there is a cycle to this beauty, a cycle that leaves me feeling bloodied and angry – and it never ends. To fit in I change the way I express myself – sometimes subtle things, to let you know that I can cross the tracks and enter the ‘normal human reality’.
Repressing these colourful flaws causes panic that rises from my chest and chokes me in the throat. Anxiety attacks, they are terrifying, and I’m learning slowly that to not have so many, I have to not try to impress anyone with how normal I am.
When I’m angry, I am the angriest person you will encounter. I have no filter on how to control myself when I feel threatened. When I feel loving, there is nothing that would stop me from making you feel like the only person who’s ever been loved.
My point is this: just because the apple I bite tastes sweeter than the one that you bite, doesn’t make me a freak. You can throw buzz-words and pretend psychology at me, but it won’t stick anymore. I am allowed to live my emotions, regardless of if you feel comfortable or not – I am not damaged.
I am always open to hearing your feelings. If I have hurt you, I want to know. I crave openness with all of my loved ones. I crave honesty and hugs and the knowledge that we are all better for having each other. We are all beautiful, and I’ll stop calling your emotional volume too quiet if you stop calling mine too loud.

From The Archives: Reaching Out

*This post originally appeared on my Blogspot in August*

How do you approach a loved one on the topic of their mental health? This post has no answers; I am reaching out to my community for support and guidance in the hopes that we can open a dialogue on a touchy subject, and hopefully pass on the knowledge that we have to each other to piece together a better understanding of mental illness.

If you have read my blog before, you are no stranger to the mental illnesses that I live with. I try my best to be completely transparent with my symptoms, sufferings, and downward spirals, in the hopes that I can encourage others to be honest with themselves and others on the topic of their mental health. So what do I do when I recognise symptoms in a loved one? My concerns have been mounting for several years, and I always try to counter my own arguments to avoid projecting my own symptoms onto this person. However, after a few years of studying, I feel confident in saying that this person IS suffering from mental illness, but does not realise it. I have tried bringing it up in conversations about my own mental health, bringing up genetics, talking about the similarities that we share in personality and the way we react to situations, but so far, nothing has clicked. The biggest problem that I find blocks us from making any progress is, this person believes themselves to be somewhat of a psychology expert – an armchair psychiatrist even. They are quick to point out the damage that they see in me, and even offer ideas on ways that I could improve myself, but refuses to recognise these symptoms in themselves.

Sometimes these conversations are infuriating. I am not always the instigator, and to be told sometimes relentlessly that I am damaged goods, and that I need more help, and that I don’t see in myself what this person sees, eats at me, and causes me extreme anxiety. My first instinct is to lash out, respond with extreme anger (as I am prone to), but I try very hard to repress these feelings, mostly so that I don’t prove this person right. I get so offended at the implication that I don’t know my own suffering. I have been dealing with some of these problems my whole life, and have been very proactive in finding ways to help myself, how dare anyone tell me that I am not trying hard enough? I am tired of receiving ‘advice’ from this person, but at the same time, I understand that they are also suffering; probably more than I am, because they don’t realise that anything is wrong with them.

To be direct with this person is out of the question. Confrontation is not their strong suit, unless they are the confronting party; and being confronted even gently about any subject causes them to shut down and regress into a very angry survival attitude that is unreasonable and impossible to deal with. I have tried to introduce the common-denominator theory to them, obviously with no success. In case you aren’t aware of the common denominator theory, I’ll explain it quickly: If you have more complaints about life, people, work, weather, etc. in a day than the people you normally associate with, then the common denominator in your poor day is you. (A very simple way of putting it, but I think that gets the point across). I have also entertained the idea of staging some sort of mental health intervention. After giving it a lot of thought, I have determined that if it were I that were being confronted about my mental health by a group of people, especially after decades of refusing to see the problems within myself, it would likely cause a large emotional breakdown at the least, and violence, extreme rage, or even suicide at the worst. No one wants to hear from a group that they are questioning your mental stability, no matter how much they need to hear it.

So what options am I left with? Guided discovery hasn’t been successful, hint-dropping hasn’t been successful, and asking them to read articles about mental health has only lead to them finding more problems in everyone else. I feel like I am running out of options, which is a scary feeling. I love this person very much, and I care deeply about their well-being. Their treatment of me and their constant chipping at my own health is wearing me down, however, and I fear that I won’t be able to control my own anger for much longer. I don’t want to cause this person any damage.

I am going to include some links on this page for some helpful resources regarding mental health. I know that the person doesn’t read my blog, but I am hoping that if enough of the people surrounding them have a good understanding of signs and symptoms, it will be easier to help them find their way to acceptance, and ultimately, help.

If anyone reading this has ANY suggestions for how I can better help this person, please leave me a comment or reach me on Twitter (@thesagemum).

My goal is not to shame this person or make them feel the stigma that I have lived with for most of my life, but to offer them support, love, and an understanding person to talk to about all of the new things they will be dealing with as a card-carrying member  of the mental illness club.

CANADIAN MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION – UNDERSTANDING MENTAL ILLNESS

http://www.cmha.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness/

THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY for BIPOLAR DISORDERS

http://www.isbd.org/

ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA – FACTS AND STATISTICS

http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

A link to my favourite poem about war-time: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, by Dylan Thomas

Some of my family went to the cemetery where my granddad is buried and put their poppies on his memorial tree. Had I been home, I would have done the same.
Some of my family went to the cemetery where my granddad is buried and put their poppies on his memorial tree. Had I been home, I would have done the same.
The high-browns of the Mountie who stood guard at the Cenotaph today. This is where my daughters and I placed our poppies.
The high-browns of the Mountie who stood guard at the Cenotaph today. This is where my daughters and I placed our poppies.

My Remembrance Day started a few days ago, when I asked my husband to have his uniform dry-cleaned for the service. Each year we argue over whether or not he is going to wear it, and each year he pitches a fit; but I always prevail, and he wears it to the service. This year, he didn’t, and it threw everything off for me. I tried to explain why it was important to me, but I am not always great at expressing myself when it matters. Both of our families are rich in military history, and when he wears his uniform he is a visual representation of everyone that I have loved who has served. I can’t be with them to hug them and see that they are still here (for the ones that are in fact, still here), but I can be with him and see his uniform as a representation of everyone else. That’s the best that I can explain it. Maybe I should have explained it that way to him. My mama compares my marriage to that of her parents quite a lot, and this situation reminded her of them at this time of year. Every year my grandmother would argue with my granddad about wearing his uniform, and every year he would stubbornly say no. I understand that a lot of our members choose not to wear their uniforms because they don’t wish to draw attention to themselves, but I feel like for one day a year they deserve it, and the rest of us deserve it too. We need to feel that they know how much we appreciate them. Selfish? Maybe. Don’t care. I want my pride in him to be validated by a sea of civilians who respect and admire the sacrifices he makes that others cannot. He works hard and deserves his one day of accolades, n’est pas?

Remembrance Day is emotional for me for various reasons. The most obvious being that my husband is an active member. (See: paragraph 1). The next reason is my granddad. He died in 1978 when my mother was just 11 years old. Before the war he was a farmer, and during the war he sent money home to his father to help out. When he returned from war after storming the beaches of Normandy, being shot twice, watching his friends and brothers die in front of him, he came home to nothing. The farm was gone, the money was gone. A resilient man, he worked at the CN Rail yard until his death. Every year we mourn his loss on his birthday, death-day, and Remembrance Day. It is a day of great sadness as well as pride – pride in his exemplary service and dedication to his family, and sadness that I never had the chance to meet him, ask him questions, have him brush my hair. He loved children, and even though he would be well into his 90’s now, I know that he would have loved to meet all of us, and I often think of what it would be like to have a granddad, and my girls have a great-granddad. They are lacking in grandparents on my side of the family.

He instilled in my mother and her siblings an honourable sense of familial responsibility, and they have handled their jobs as matriarchs and patriarch of our family quite gallantly. They in turn have passed that on to my generation. Pride in family, hard work, and respect for the past. We are all descendants of him, and us living our best lives is a tribute to him, and to his service as a young man.

The other soldier for whom I pray on this day is my father’s brother, the bravest man I have ever known. He served in the American Armed Forces for as long as I’ve known him and much prior (we met in 1997ish), and had an incredible career. Each Remembrance Day in which he was deployed – which was most of them – I would attend the service feeling sick to my stomach. Before the days of Skype or Facebook I would go months without hearing from him, and the terror of not knowing if he was safe or not caused me more sleepless nights than any kid needed. I’m not complaining, he deserved my worry. I would cry for him through the moments of silence, shakily sing the hymns (still crying), clutching a book of photos of him that I have amassed over the years. My worry for him didn’t fade on the days that weren’t marked for remembrance, but November 11th amplified it exponentially. He finally retired after my second daughter was born, and the Remembrance Day after his last tour overseas I cried with relief that he was finally safe forever. I am closer to him than I am my own father, and the thought of losing him still sends my stomach into a horror-spiral. He is the one hero I have had in my life, and I am so  grateful that he is safe. If I weren’t blonde I would definitely have grey hair from worry!!

My life as a military wife has been a roller coaster that I keep paying to ride. I love my life, and I am so unfathomably proud of my husband. The time that he goes away is hard on my soul, because I worry about his physical and mental well-being, but I am normally good at coping with keeping our home running while he is away. I owe him that. I take good care of our girls, I pay our bills, I get on with our lives. I don’t have crying fits, I don’t need breaks from my children, I operate in survival mode so that he doesn’t have to worry about us. As strong as I can be through deployments and training, I still cry when I hear songs that remind me of him, and my insomnia gets worse when I think about him being so far away, and some nights I shake with fear from the knowledge that I am the only one protecting our house; but I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. I am so proud of how far my family has come, and it is because of the man who gives up his family time to protect us globally. He has missed birthdays, holidays, and was away for the birth of our second daughter. As hard as it was for me, I can’t imagine how it felt for him. I am so grateful to him that I don’t miss out on any milestones, although I regret that it is at the expense of him experiencing things first-hand.

I gave him a very hard time today for not wearing his uniform – I had hurt feelings and chose to take it out on him, even though ultimately it’s not up to me whether he wears his spiffy’s or not. I don’t regret cajoling him, but I hope he knows that I love him past all of the stars, and am so proud of him that sometimes I fear my chest will burst. Our daughters are proud of him whether he’s in uniform or not – he is their super hero every day. Their eyes sparkle when they think of him, and I hope that they will continue to accept and understand our lives as they grow older.

At the end of today we took some nice family photos, and I popped several Advil for the migraine that I get every year on this day. We ended our solemn day with smiles and full hearts, happy that another year of safety for our loved ones has passed. Not every year will be happy ones for us, it’s a hazard of the life that we live, but for now I will focus on the good. Everyone we know is safe, my girls are learning to respect the past and enjoy their history, and I have one day where everyone else has my husband on the same pedestal that I do.

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.

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                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