Category Archives: Strengthening through adversity

Muscle only grows when it has been tried and tested, and then given a chance to rest and recover. And then doing it again. While we don’t enjoy the hard times, we can see them for what they are and who they help us become.

Hiding the monster within: Who turns on the night light?

Today is one of those days when I am just trying to get through.

I feel like I should be able to take a deep breath and get going and get the things done on my list for the day. But the harder I try, the more I have to hold back the tears.

No, not tears.

Sobbing.

I feel like I am on the edge and it’s a pretty long fall. For some reason, hitting my head hard comes up as the most logical solution to the problem.

But of course, it doesn’t really help much. It just adds guilt that I’m not in better control.

Control. It’s all about control.

I can’t think clearly. My thoughts are like a water color painting that has liquid spilled on it – everything softly runs together and I can’t really tell one thought from another. This is unusual for me; I can usually run with many, many thoughts at the same time and I understand each one.

Or, at least I clearly distinguish each one.

But not now. Now they are far away. They are someone else’s thoughts. I find that faintly interesting.

My head is going to explode and I can’t really keep pushing, so I lie down on the bed and stare up at the light fixture.

I know the mental exercises to go through. What am I feeling right now? Are they real feelings or imagined? Listen to the real Greg to differentiate. Separate fact from fiction and hold on to reality.

I close my eyes and start the analysis.

I realize that I’m really not afraid anymore. I’ve gone through that list so many times and internalized the solutions in place for potential problems that I find it hard to listen to the fear message when it gets sent.

Even though the emotion for sadness is there, I don’t feel sad. No, it’s almost more of a slightly amused detachment. I’m on the outside looking in. It almost seems silly that this person would just be lying on the bed in the middle of the day when there is so much to do.

My usual friend, anxiety, isn’t there either. I don’t feel anxious about not getting the things done that I need to. That’s a bit unusual. I must be making progress. It is good not to be worried about something. Well, about anything really.

And there it is.

I realize that I just don’t care if I ever get up off the bed again. Everything is far away. I am far away. But I don’t know where, because my thoughts have now been hit with a burst of rain and all the muted colors are becoming one; yet separating into millions more at the same time.

Just close my eyes, and slip away. Sleep. I don’t even care if I ever wake up.

Should there be alarm bells going off at this point?

If you ask me, not really. What could be so wrong?

And that may be the reason that after bad things happen and mental illness is discovered, we so often hear: “I didn’t see any warning signs. They seemed to be doing all right to me.”

You see, mental illness has been such a part of us for so long that we stop being surprised by it, or scared by it, or even able to keep feeling as we work our way through it.

And if no one is really watching…

Then there is another tragedy to report on the evening news.

But I am determined that I will never be one of those stories. In my case, someone is watching. In fact, there are several someones.

I don’t really enjoy it, but each night when Ann comes home she gets out a little calendar book and we talk about how I felt during the day.

And she keeps track.

So when I hit the euphoric points when EVERYTHING is AMAZING and I can’t really remember things being tough, we know that, in fact, just yesterday things were actually hard for me.

And when, in my mind, I don’t see the point of the medication, especially because I don’t like the way that it feels and I ache to just be “me” again, Ann quietly opens the book and I can see for myself.

And I close my eyes and I work again at separating the fact from the fiction, and I hold on to reality.

Isn’t that what we all need? An anchor to secure our line to so that when we each begin to drift a little, we don’t get lost in the tide and find ourselves somewhere completely different than where we set out to be?

What are your anchors?

Just as important, what are the anchors your family and close friends are using? Do you know they have them? Do they?

Part of what keeps me focusing so hard on reality and working to keep feeling is my understanding that my anchors need anchors. And I have the great privilege of being one.

So I open my eyes and focus on the light fixture. I analyze if the best course is a short nap to refresh my body or if I need to get up now and fight a little harder. I roll myself off the bed and hit the floor on all fours and begin my prayer of gratitude for all I have and all I am a part of.

I stand up.

I make the bed and I move on.

I’m ready when Ann comes home to have our conversation about how my day went. Because, you see, we will also talk about how her day went.

And she knows that I’m watching her right back.

Everyone needs an anchor; and everyone needs to be an anchor. Together we stay secure through the storms.

Confident Humility: An oxymoron or the recipe for strength?

I received a wonderful and kind message from someone I haven’t heard from or known anything about for 25 years. I find it inconceivable to be able to say that I am old enough to have not seen someone for that long. Aren’t I still about 25? Well, maybe 30 at most.

John was the force of energy and enthusiasm behind a performing group I had the chance to be a part of in college. It was electrifying for me. I had always wanted to sing and dance and perform, but was too shy and afraid. For the first time in my life I was stepping forward and working with others who knew so much more than I did and doing something that I loved. It scared me to death and for the first few weeks I was physically sick before going in to the early, early morning rehearsals.

But everyone kind of took me in and taught me what they knew and soon we were learning together. I felt like we would be more than friends, we would be family all our lives. They had had such a significant impact on me and my vision of myself.

Of course, things change. People graduate, get married, go to post graduate studies, and move on with their lives. I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any other way for any of them. They deserve every opportunity and possibility that life has to offer.

I noticed though, that not only had my situation changed, but I had changed. I now had the courage to do difficult things in front of other people. This was an important part of my college education because it went with me into my career. I could now travel to different parts of the country and learn, teach, train, and create.

While doing this I crossed paths with some pretty incredible people. Again, I thought that we would be more than friends, we would be family all our lives. My vision of myself continued to take shape and I dared to dream.

But as the dream got bigger, my ability to keep the symptoms of mental illness in check diminished. The confident Greg who learned that he could do scary things and make big decisions was there some days; others, however, the young and inexperienced Greg seemed to come back. Things were scary again.

The dream, of necessity, had to get smaller.

And smaller.

And smaller.

This journey through mental illness has changed me, changed who I used to be. For a while I thought that it was robbing me of who I was meant to be. You see, I felt I was headed to be quite a mover and a shaker, someone who was doing big things for a big salary.

I was going to make a difference.

It was a pretty hard blow to accept when Ann and I made the decision that it was time to leave the workforce before I did something pretty terrible and got fired, or hurt someone, or just gave up and ended it all.

I think it was safe to say that the Greg who could get up on stage and sing and dance and perform and absolutely love the thrill of it all wasn’t there anymore.

The confidence was gone.

Being the question asker that I am, I wondered, where does confidence come from?

Had I based it in a series of accolades and positive reinforcement from others? I think those things always help build someone up and lets them know that they indeed can do something hard.

But if you can’t do those things anymore, then what?

As we approach the Easter season, our minds are drawn to the One who lived a life of complete success. He never failed at anything. If anyone deserves to be raised up on a pedestal and revered, it is He.

To have that kind of confidence, that surety of direction, that ability to conquer fear would make one powerful beyond description. Certainly, we have witnessed many who have attempted to duplicate that kind of record of never getting it wrong.

But in the process, haven’t they ended up getting the things that matter the most, terribly, terribly wrong?

Maybe the secret isn’t in being bigger and bigger and better and better. Those who are larger than life don’t really have any advantage over the one who quietly supports and makes sure that things are cleaned up and taken care of after the lights are turned off.

“I have come to do the will of the Father.”

“Not my will, Lord, but Thine be done.”

Even the person who only attends a worship service on a yearly basis knows these verses.

We know the verses, but do we know what they mean?

I think they mean that the secret isn’t really a secret.

Yes, my life is completely different than it was planned to be. I would bet that yours is too. It happens to most of us.

And in the end, aren’t we grateful that it is?

Some days it is still too hard to dare to dream. I’m learning how to get through those.

But some days, I begin again. I feel like that young college student driving through the cold early mornings to rehearsal , a little sick, a little afraid, but heading toward it nonetheless.

Because this time through, I get to take all my learned experiences and memories with me. Who I am is a wonderful mosaic made of countless interactions, inspirations, successes and failures.

hold-my-hand

And knowing that I failed and succeeded and will most likely fail again, I reach out and take the offered Hand, the Hand that was always there but I somehow missed before in my excitement and enthusiasm.

We have become more than friends, I know that we will be family all our lives. My vision of myself is clearer now than it has ever been.

This is who I am meant to be. I want my will to match His. I want to do the things that He would have me do.

Now I am quietly confident in the new and better dream, and I am humbly grateful for it.

Choosing to dance in the rain

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

The first time I read this statement we had just been told that the probable diagnosis for my neurologic problems was Hungtington’s disease. That was a pretty big kick in the head after years of trying to figure out what was going on with me. It had been a long road of more than 5 years of visiting doctors, neurologists, psychologists, specialists. We had ruled out Parkinson’s, MS, and ALS. I remember thinking that we’d go back and take Parkinson’s for $1000 please Alex – if we could choose.

But I was losing energy and the will to keep playing the game. I’m not sure winning the game was even still on my radar at this point.

discouraged3I was tired. More tired than I could find an adequate way to describe it. I just wanted to close my eyes and wake up when it was all over. Over, or ended. At that point it didn’t really matter.

About that time someone sent us a quick story with that quote about dancing in the rain at the end of it. I remember I just kept reading the phrase over and over again. I could see the words but they didn’t seem to make it off the page.

Are you kidding me? If ever there was a time in our life when it was “raining”, this was it.

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