I went somewhere fairly unexpected today: CFOT (the pseudo-seminary I went to). I never intended to go back. I was certain that if I did, I would be either met with pitchforks, torches, and holy water, or would have a massive heart attack upon entering. The universe has other ideas, though, and I found myself saying to a friend yesterday, “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
My friend needed help. I had the day off. Every molecule in my body demanded that I go, so I woke up, used my coupon for free donuts, and drove the few hours to get there. The traffic was gross, but I didn’t mind it. It was when traffic cleared up and I was a few blocks away that things got wobbly. My hands felt a little lighter. My shoulders tensed. My mind raced: pitchforks or heart attack, which will it be? What horrifying circumstance would undo me?
Whether it was one or the other, I was afraid of one message being received again: I don’t belong here. It was a message I heard a lot when I was in The Salvation Army. I saw myself being greeted by one of the officers who was sure to not want me there and having to explain why I was on campus. I thought of all the scathing things I would say and all the potential reactions. The one that brought me the most hypothetical satisfaction was the simplest: Because love shows up. When people need help, love shows up. In my mind, not only would this be simple, but it was also a little gratifying and pompous.
In order to get to the entrance, you have to drive around three sides of the campus. As I drove, I didn’t know what would happen. What monster was I going to meet? Three right turns and I saw the monster I didn’t plan for: my friend Steve.
If I’ve never wanted to jump out of a car I was driving before, I did then.
Steve is the best kind of monster. Steve is, for lack of a better descriptor, a Godzilla of love. Fierce, funny, unapologetic love for everyone, just stomping around this planet, daring anyone to prove themselves unlovable.
Cindy, listen to yourself sometimes: when people need help, love shows up.
I parked and called his name. He hugged me and in seconds, I was laughing. He walked me inside and I waited in his office for a bit. I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong anymore. I don’t know where he was coming from, or where he was headed, but through serendipitous circumstances, he was there.
I went and helped my friends for a while, and while I was helping, a few others showed up throughout my day: Heather came by and helped (I’ve known her since we were nine), and then I ran into her husband Xav, and my former instructors, Beth and Sandy. Dennis, whom I knew as a teenager and now as a young man. Hugs and happy faces. It was a mini “This is Your Life.”
Love shows up.
I was also excited to see my friend Brian, who works there. He’s been good to me over the years I’ve known him. He listens and and asks good questions. We sat and talked for a while before he had to leave and I drove home.
I wish I could have done more to help my friends, but I left knowing they have more help coming, other friends whom I love dearly are going to show up.
Love shows up.
There are times when I am still a little raw about the hurt some people caused. But the deepest part of my soul knows that when life is desperate, when my panic sets in and I need it, love shows up somehow, and often from the friends I have gained through my time in The Salvation Army. It’s not the place for me anymore, but thank God for the people who do get it right. Some are active members and some formers, but we all try to be Godzillas of love.
Because love shows up. When people need help, love shows up.
Everything has a “month” these days. Breast Cancer Month. Polar Bear Month. Nuclear Nonproliferation Month. Left-Handed Ginger Month.
Unless we’re talking about Donut Month, there is a limit to how many tweets I can read about it. It’s just too much to be weighed down with everyone’s “month” sometimes. Compassion fatigue is, well, exhausting.
In addition to being the month for a number of other things, May happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month. Aw, crap. This is where it gets really annoying because it means it’s kind of “my month,” when the thing that runs my life some days gets a little more spotlight.
I sobbed because there was no more ketchup.
My daughter spends days overwhelmed with depression and won’t get out of bed.
I probably would have taken my own life by now if I hadn’t gotten help six months ago.
He is just so mean to me, and I get so upset that I end up cutting my legs just so that it doesn’t feel like he hurts me as much.
These are just a few of the things my friends have said in the last few weeks.
It is sometimes the ultimate test of will to just get out of bed some days.
I still have times when I am suddenly afraid because PTSD is unpredictable. It almost cost me my horrible job two weeks ago.
The thought of living with my parents and working in this job for much longer makes me hyperventilate.
These don’t even skim the surface of the list of things I would tell you if I was brave enough. I don’t tell you because I’m a horribly prideful person who hates the thought of appearing weak in any way. The universe has a sick habit of pointing my weaknesses out, despite my best effort.
The graphics on Pinterest and Facebook blather on about how mental illness is not a weakness, and I get what they are saying, but they are kinda full of crap, too. Mental illness is a real thing, and it doesn’t diminish someone’s worth. But it does weaken you.
When you can’t focus, or you lose memory function, or your relationships suffer, or you start having physical manifestations of the problem, your strength just isn’t there. I think the problem comes when we expect to put on a brave face and function with strength that isn’t there. I don’t know about you, but having to operate outside my resource limit isn’t effective for very long.
We don’t like to ask for help. We fear it, so we look for solutions that don’t seem as obvious to others: alcohol, food, “essential oils” (my sister once saw a brochure for an oil that promised to help lessen the horrors of domestic violence), whatever. Just don’t let someone hear me mention a therapist or a pill, right?
I’ve always had generalized anxiety disorder, and developed PTSD a few years ago. The latter is far less intense or problematic than it used to be, but it still shows up once in a while. The prior is a beast. A nasty, ugly, lying beast that I deal with all day every day, to varying degrees. The last almost two years have taught me a lot about how to cope. Timeouts, “kindnesses,” cognitive behavior therapy, and sometimes medication are needed, and I’m getting better at using them at the right time.
An unofficial cousin recently wrote about how getting treated for a diagnosis that included anxiety has saved her life. She had thought that her misery was just how life was, but now, it’s like a new universe altogether.
I get it. Nearly two years ago, my baby cousin got married, just two days after I got my prescription for my anxiety meds. The first day on them was OK, but it was a pretty normal day. When I woke up and got dressed for his wedding, I was full of the “normal” anxiety I had before anything like that. They didn’t really want you to participate in the wedding. They only asked because they felt sorry for you. You better not embarrass them. Or yourself. There will be hundreds of people there. Just think of how fat you are compared to all the rest of the people who will be on stage. I took a pill as the personal berating I was accustomed to continued.
On the way to the wedding, it got quieter. It was like I forgot to hate myself, forgot to be fearful of judgment. By the time it started, I wasn’t thinking about me, I was thinking about how grown up he is, and how happy he looked. By the time I got to the reception, I was a “me” I didn’t know existed anymore. I wasn’t afraid to talk to the people I’ve known all my life. I didn’t hold my breath when I considered approaching someone. I danced (terribly). I had forgotten that life could be like that.
There are days that still suck. When hours last eternities. Moments when I forget all my coping options and start to close in on myself. But thanks to professionals and the occasional (appropriate) pharmaceutical, good days happen, too. Hours that are so much fun that I wish they wouldn’t end.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Most people I know have experienced some variation of depression, anxiety, or other tribulation at one point or another. Some of you have been at this longer than I have. At least a few of you are likely to be where I, and millions of others, have been: drowning in an invisible tide of stress, fear, and depression, at the end of your rope, not sure how long before you let go. If not for your sake, get help for my sake, for your children’s sake, for whatever reason it is that will save you. If knowing that feeling better will help you be a better dog owner, take that and run with it.
It sucks to feel weak, and it’s humbling to ask for help, but there is hope and light and a whole lot of beautiful on the other side. I promise.