The surgery went well. It took three times longer than expected because they had more material to remove and clean out than originally anticipated, but it’s over now. Pain is mostly under control. All is going alright. I will post a more substantial entry as soon as possible. Thank you all for your prayers.
Menopause. Even though approximately half of the population will go through it at some point, it’s somehow taboo. Oh sure, women joke about the hot flashes and the night sweats. You may hear a random tidbit here or there, or maybe you witnessed the crazy mood swings when someone close to you went through it, but we don’t really talk about it. My mother spent a lot of time in bed during the worst part of hers. It’s not pretty, so polite company doesn’t discuss it.
In all likelihood, I will begin menopause in exactly six days. Most women don’t have the luxury of knowing exactly when this beast will strike, but I do. I only have one ovary left, and it needs to come out. I’m 30 (ish), so young to go through this major life change. But I welcome it. For me, it will not signify the end of childbearing (that ship has sailed already). It won’t mean I’m getting old. It will simply mean a new challenge, and at the end of that challenge, great physical and emotional rewards. It means an end to some of my suffering. I can’t wait. I may not be around for a little while, but don’t forget about me, OK? I’ll write as soon after the surgery as I reasonably can. And if I don’t get the surgery, for whatever reason, you better believe you’ll hear from me.
I’m not afraid of death. I know where I’m going, and I look forward to it. But the dying part… that’s a whole nother story. If you’ve never experienced anaphylaxis, let me tell you, it feels like you’re dying every time. Dying from anaphylaxis is one of my greatest fears. It feels something like drowning, you can’t get a breath, but your body has to keep trying, desperately. It hurts. And every time, I am sure, this is it for me. This is how I will go. But recently, God has given me a deep peace that surpasses my own understanding. Somehow, I feel like I should still be terrified, but while I don’t relish the thought… it’s not so scary anymore. The suffering can’t last forever and either we’ll make it to the ER in time and they’ll save me, or I’ll get to go home to my Abba, my Pop, my friends who have gone on before me, and the baby I never got to hold. I won’t suffer anymore there, and I’ll get to spend eternity in worship and fellowship.
even when we don’t.
I live with a physical disability. When my husband proposed, he knew about my assorted medical issues, but he saw I still lived a relatively normal life. He fell in love with this intelligent, resourceful, strong, tenacious, charismatic woman of God who overcame great obstacles. He watched me beat the odds, and when I failed, he held me while I sobbed and then watched me use my failures to accomplish something different. He knew that living with me would present some unusual challenges because of my health. And he proposed anyway, because I was so much more than my challenges. He promised my tearful mother that he would take good care of me, making the multiple yearly ER visits and the various assorted doctors appointments. We loved each other, we were young and optimistic and together, we could conquer anything. But neither of us could have predicted my future inability to function adequately in society.
As my health declined over the past few years, he struggled to accept the severity. And yesterday, he finally did. It nearly killed him. He lost hope in the long, dark night. Then today went just a little bit better. And tonight, while searching through my computer bag, I found something very dear to him that’s been missing since our move. Something he’d lost hope that he would ever see again. I’ve dug through that bag several times since we’ve been here, but it’s a small item and the same color as the lining of my bag. Still, I don’t know how I missed it before. But it was like a tiny love note from God, telling him “See? Anything is possible. I can restore all that is lost. I love you, here’s a small gift. Don’t give up hope.” That may seem silly to some of you, but for my husband it was a win he desperately needed. Some might call it luck; personally I don’t believe in that.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10
We feel like God spoke this verse into my husband’s soul tonight in a way that he could understand. And he let me be a part of it. Little ole me. What a privilege.
I liked my shrink. He seemed trustworthy, but I didn’t trust him. I couldn’t trust anybody. In our sessions, I held back. He put me on an antidepressant, which made me feel either flat or saccharine-happy all the time. Like plastic.
Most of my treatment consisted of group or class-type therapies. I felt so out of place in group. I was the youngest member, and my peers were SO much more messed up than me (in my mind, at least). Some came in during the day like me, others stayed at the facility. A twitchy bipolar woman kind of scared me. A big older man in recovery from drug addiction did too. But I liked the others well enough. I still wonder about them from time to time. I felt like God had placed me in that group to help the other people, the really messed up ones. I didn’t make much personal progress in group, didn’t talk about myself very much. But I brought my meager offering of compassion and God’s love. I hope that in some way, I did some good there.
My favorite part of the program was art therapy. I didn’t have to talk about hard things, I just got to express myself freely in a way that made sense to me. Some days we did directed projects with themes or a specific medium, but most of the time we had access to any art supply we could possibly want and could create freely from the heart. I worked some things out in art that I couldn’t express verbally.
My therapist was a pleasant older lady. Through her gentle, knowing questions, her shocking compassion and understanding, she became a maternal figure in my healing. With her I went deeper, but still held back. Inside of me I held deeply disturbing things that no one could know about. I pushed them deep down, a little ball of hurt in a dark corner of my soul. Those things belonged to me, to pull out alone in the dark of night, to consume. I knew my survival hinged on confronting the eating disorder, but I held tightly to anything I deemed unnecessary to getting out and getting back to My Life, whatever that meant. The skilled professionals on my treatment team did manage to pull a few other hurts out of the darkness, but I “graduated” from the program far too soon.
A thin veil shrouds the twenty-four hours after my stomach pumping (Food for Thought, Part VI). I remember a hazy snippet of green scrubs mumbling something; my parents, crushed, talking to a white lab coat. I signed some papers. Someone tried to explain them to me. What I can piece together follows: None of the private mental health facilities nearby could take me. In my parents’ minds, state facilities resembled giant prisons filled with neglect and rape. Out of the question, the hospital could send me there over their dead bodies. So my parents signed me out Against Medical Advice, into their protective custody and on the condition that I would enter an intense counseling program. I signed papers agreeing not to attempt suicide again and that if I did, nobody could sue the hospital.
I slept a lot over the next few days as my system tried to recover. My parents received instructions on keeping me as safe as possible at home: No internet, no phones, no visitors until my new counselor approved them. No closing the bathroom door. No driving. No preparing my own food. No belts. I found all this ridiculous, I didn’t want to hurt myself. Yes, I took the pills on purpose, but I didn’t do it to die. I don’t know why I took them. No, I’m not crazy (newsflash: I was.)
Mother finally found an intensive outpatient program (or IOP) at a nearby hospital for me. I understood that it looked like I’d tried to kill myself. I needed to jump through some hoops to get my life back. Piece of cake, I thought. I’ll show them I’m not crazy, I’m not going to try anything stupid. It never even occurred to me that I might need to investigate what caused me to take the pills so that it wouldn’t happen again. I pushed the whole thing out of my mind as something that had happened to me, outside myself. I didn’t really do it. I boxed the whole experience up neatly in denial and taped it shut.
I easily complied with all the rules, ate whatever I got. I spent a week or two high as a kite. I read an explanation once that when depression culminates in a suicide attempt, it sometimes resets the brain’s chemicals, resulting in a euphoria-like state. This state can end suddenly, resulting in another attempt, or wear off gradually. By the grace of God I experienced the latter. I felt kind of like a happy robot for a long time. I could do what I needed to without much thought or personal responsibility. Run the program. Jump through the hoops. No thoughts of what I’d do with the rest of my life after, just comply. Go with the program. Get life back, whatever that meant.
How fitting, I thought as I entered the cold, gray facility that cold, gray morning. The lobby seemed cheery enough: pale yellow walls and burgundy carpet, green chairs, art, cheery lighting, plants and polished wood. Large, beige steel doors with skinny windows, metal mesh between the glass panes. A card reader and number pad beside them. Looking through the doors, I saw a cold gray hallway with sterile tile floors and white hospital chair rails. People in wheelchairs, slippers, and drab robes, pushed by sterile white orderlies. Fluorescent lighting. I didn’t want to go there. It looked like the kind of place that eats you alive and never spits you out. I shuddered and looked away.
The receptionist looked pleasant enough. She smiled sadly at me and handed me a clipboard with several forms on it. Some of the questions confused me. Eventually I got through them all and returned them to her. I sat down and waited. Studied the billows of my giant white tee shirt over my stomach and sweat pants. Studied my shoes. A man with a clipboard came and called my name. He smiled, shook my hand firmly, introduced himself as Dr. Smith. We turned away from the big metal doors (OH THANK YOU JESUS) and went down a long, yellow hallway, around a couple of bends, and finally entered his corner office.
I closed my eyes and started to drift away. But something inside of me, a male voice, not my own like before, said GET UP. My body shook. I pried my eyelids open, but most of my field of vision remained black. There was a small opening in the center, but it was dark and blurry and kept fading in and out. TIME TO GO GET HELP, the voice thundered softly. I tried to sit up, “OH,” my whole body groaned. I managed to stand and feel my way down the hall, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, feeling like I would topple over each time I lifted a foot. It felt like something outside of me propelled me forward, down the hall, supporting me because I had no energy. I still didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live either. I didn’t want anything; emotions ceased to exist. I barely existed. I was compelled to do as I was told, and I was too tired and weak to resist. So into the stairwell we went, my angel or maybe even the hand of God himself and what was left of me. I should have fallen down the stairs, but I didn’t.
Somehow I stumbled into the lobby. “Hey, you don’t look so good. Is everything OK? …OK? …OK?” I tried to form a coherent thought, and words tumbled out. “Um, yeah, I think… I OD’ed on the painkillers… for my shoulder…” “OK, well let’s get you to the hospital, we’ll get you taken care of.” I don’t remember anything after that, until I was lying on a hospital bed. Nurses were strapping my arms down. “We’re going to put a tube down your throat to pump your stomach, and your body’s natural reaction is to try and pull the tube out. It will feel like you’re choking, but you’re not. It’s OK. We’re going to take care of you. Here’s some numbing spray. Now swallow.” I gagged as the tube went down. As the procedure began, the nurses’ faces changed. I heard a man say “Looooot of pill fragments there…” The room went silent, except for the sound of the various hospital machines, as more and more came up through the tube. It seemed to take a long time. I remember the feeling of my stomach walls touching. And then, I fell into a deep sleep.
In my house, we lived out an emotional script. Sometimes there were limited choices, other times there was only one permissible emotion. If we expressed an inappropriate emotion, sometimes we were simply told not to feel that way, to feel this way instead. Other times we were instructed to express the prescribed emotion, and punished if we failed to comply.
I don’t remember being happy very much as a young child, but I know I was at least sometimes. In middle childhood, happiness rarely happened for me. I often felt confused, sad, frustrated, or angry. If I expressed those feelings at an unacceptable time, even non-verbally, I was ignored, belittled, or corrected. My emotional state defaulted to numbness. As I grew, the numbness grew. Eventually I stopped feeling happy almost entirely. I stopped feeling much of anything most of the time. Since I didn’t feel sad all the time, and people didn’t talk about depression, I had no idea that I had lived with clinical depression for most of my life.
I suffer from a disorder that causes my joints to dislocate extremely easily, sometimes in ridiculous ways. Like dislocating a shoulder while putting on a loose t-shirt. It happened that first semester of college, a few weeks in. I hadn’t even gotten my head to the neck hole, my arm got stuck in the air. When the triage nurse at the ER took my medical history and asked if I had a history of depression, naturally I said no. The ER doctor prescribed me Percocet, which apparently mixes poorly with mood disorders. I experienced massive mood swings while taking it. Lying in bed, I thought Well, I guess it’s time. I did not question what that meant, even though I hadn’t been contemplating suicide or self-harm. I just took every pill in my possession. I have no idea what happened in my brain, just that I had unknowingly been depressed for a long time and that, mixed with Percocet, almost killed me. I got back into bed with a smile on my face, feeling serene, high, sick… and I waited. Then, darkness crept into the edges of my vision and slowly closed in.
As I moved through high school, I experienced periods of healing along with periods of simply getting worse more slowly than before. Sometimes I took two steps forward, one step back. Other times it was ten steps back, then two steps forward, then just crawling forward inch by inch. By graduation day, I knew that I was sick and needed help. I began to recognize some of my disordered thoughts and behaviors for what they were. That didn’t mean I stopped, many times I didn’t know how or was too wrapped up in the illness to care. But I saw that some of my thoughts and behaviors were abnormal and unhealthy. Sometimes I was afraid, sometimes I just wanted to be normal, but I wasn’t quite to the place of wanting to fully heal just yet. I’d been sick for so long that I felt it was a large part of my identity, and I wasn’t ready to let it go.
After graduation, I went to my second-choice college. In orientation, the counselors from the health center each spoke about some of the common problems new college students face and what resources were available on campus and in town to help us navigate these challenges. One of the things covered was eating disorders. My heart fluttered as I listened and heard specific things about myself included in the descriptions of disordered thinking and behavior. I was sicker than I’d thought, and I was not alone, not by a long shot. Things I thought I owned were common.
I left that orientation session a little shell-shocked from the new information. I tucked the resources away in the back of my mind, in case I ever felt ready to use them. But the disease had so consumed me, I wanted to see how sick I could get before I had to start getting well. How thin could I REALLY get? How hard could I push my body? How long could I deal with the blackouts and other side effects before collapsing in public, and thus “getting caught?” This is how sick I was. I actually thought those things. I wanted to push my body to the brink of death, just to see where the brink was. I didn’t care if I fell over the edge. I didn’t consciously want to die, but if I did, I thought I was OK with that. I wanted to stop, to be free, but I didn’t care about actually getting better. I didn’t think I could. I just wanted to be free from the strict litany of rules and the urges and the fun-house mirror distortions. But I didn’t want to be fat, to be noticed, to get hurt again.
Deep within me, the Holy Spirit had been whispering to me for a long time. No. Beloved. Stop. No. Sometimes louder. This is wrong! You’re hurting yourself! It hurts ME when you do these things. Can’t you see I have plans for you? Beloved. And I would tell him Lord, I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. Please don’t make me. This is MINE, I don’t want to give it to You and anyway, I don’t know how. I do not trust You with this part of me. Don’t let people see me. I just don’t want to hurt anymore. This doesn’t hurt. Let me have this. It’s mine. I want to serve You, but I don’t want to get hurt so that means keeping people out. If they can’t see me they can’t hurt me. Just let me do this. Let me disappear. And then God would be silent, and I was alone. I’d feel empty. So I’d try to fill the emptiness with runner’s highs and hunger.
Those first few weeks of college, I reveled in my new-found freedom. With no family meals to worry about, no friends holding my spot at our lunch table, I ate less than ever before. And with a beautiful campus where I could run and hike and a free gym with all kinds of equipment, I was in anorectic/non-purging type bulimic/ED-NOS heaven. I rarely went to the dining hall. I lost weight more quickly than I’d ever been able to at home. And I loved it, but I felt like crap. And of course, it wasn’t enough to appease the disease. It demanded ever more, more pounds shed, more ticks on the pedometer, more time in the gym, fewer calories. I began to black out more frequently. I couldn’t concentrate in class and frequently skipped class to exercise. The numbness and tingling in my extremities got worse. And one day, I finally collapsed during a run. Just blacked out and fell, mid-stride. Fortunately it happened in a well-populated area of campus and a cute boy came to my rescue. He scooped me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to his car, then drove me to the health center. He asked if I wanted him to stay with me, but I told him I’d be OK and gave him a winning smile. I never saw him again.
As I waited to see the nurse, I filled out the necessary forms and took in my surroundings. The medical scale in the corner naturally grabbed my attention. There was a large plant by the check-in counter, and a book shelf filled with those clear plastic brochure holders. Any mental health-related issue you can imagine a college student dealing with, they had a colorful brochure for it.There were some on eating disorders I made mental notes of; some on depression, learning disorders, pregnancy and STDs, drugs and alcohol. Then it was my turn to see the nurse.
She examined my ankle and felt like it was probably just a sprain, so she splinted it and issued me a loaner pair of crutches. She gave me some samples of Aleve and told me to visit the hospital in the morning for an X-ray if the pain got worse or wasn’t improving, and gave me my discharge information. And then she flipped to a new page on her clipboard. She asked how I was liking school so far, if I was making friends, had I tried any of the clubs or extra curricular activities. She said they ask any student visiting the health center for any reason a few standard questions and smiled. I was caught a little off guard by some of her questions, and the fall had scared me, so I answered more honestly than I otherwise might have. She looked a little concerned and asked if she could introduce me to one of the staff counselors. I said yes, and immediately regretted it.
I grew up a total Daddy’s Girl. He was big and strong and fun and smart, and he gave the best hugs. I wanted to be just like him. He’d rough house with us, but I always felt safe with him. My Daddy would never let anything bad happen to me. I’d watch him and emulate the way he sat, stood, walked, even his posture when we rode an escalator. I would do just about anything to spend time with him.
As I got older, he spent less and less time at home. He and my mom separated sometimes, and he would still come play with us after work, but then would go wherever he was living after we went to bed. As a child I didn’t understand. I knew that I missed him terribly when he was gone. I found out sometime in my teen years that he had struggled with addiction since before I was born. He left to protect us. Sometimes someone from his community of dealers and users would threaten his family, other times the drugs made him paranoid. For years, he kept the drugs from my mom.
My great aunt taught my mama how to go to war in prayer. They prayed that any bed but his marriage bed with my mother would feel like a bag of rocks. A couple of the times when he moved out he asked her if he could take their mattress with him because he couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep anywhere else!
Near the end of my childhood, he stopped coming home to see us every night. This was new, and I hated it. I felt angry and confused. When I asked my mom where he was, she averted her eyes and made excuses. Sometimes we’d go nearly a week without seeing or hearing from him. I needed my Daddy. I began waiting up for him, sometimes falling asleep in odd places. One day, something happened at school and I really needed to talk to my dad about it, but I didn’t know how to reach him. It had been a few days already since he’d come home, so I hoped all day that he would show up that night. He didn’t. I was crushed. So I wrote him a note. I told him what happened at school, and how much I needed him there to talk to me and help me through it. How I missed him. I poured my little heart out into that note, and solemnly gave it to my mom, asking her to give it to him if he ever bothered coming back. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I handed her that pink envelope.
Since the letter was for my Daddy, I never thought that she might open it and read it first. At her desk she sat, weeping over my words, my hurt, late into the night. In the morning she called him and read him my letter, barely holding herself together as she felt my pain meet her own for the hundredth time. Where her tears and begging met with stony resistance, seeing the pain he had caused his daughter was too much. He came home that night and stayed for a couple of days. Then, he gathered us all at his knee and told us that he had to go on a trip. He didn’t know how long he would be gone, but he promised to call every day and send postcards and letters when he could. My sister and I cried and begged him to stay, but he said this was just something that he had to do and that when he came back, he would see us every day. I believed him. I was willing to part with him again for a while if it meant getting to be a real family again.
For my dad’s “trip,” he spent a couple of days detoxing on the couch with the one “clean” person he felt he could trust. The detox nearly killed him before he finally gave in and let his friend take him to the hospital.
I remember visiting him in rehab. I didn’t like it there. It felt like a weird hotel, not a home. It bothered me knowing he had to sleep there. And I didn’t feel like we could be ourselves there. I wanted him to come home. But Daddy was sick, and this was a special hospital where he could get better. When we visited him, he’d read to us or we could play cards or board games with him. I liked that, it felt more normal. As time passed, he seemed different. I remember feeling hesitant and unsure about the changes I saw in him. Some days, he seemed sad and didn’t talk much. He’d be distracted while we played. Other days he was much as he’d always been, just my happy, fun, big strong Dad. But even on those days, something was definitely different.
I remember the day he came home. It felt like a dream, I was so afraid I’d wake up and he’d be back in the hospital. I wanted to never stop hugging him. But he was actually home, and he never left us again. He’d hit rock bottom and found Jesus waiting to pick him up. He started going to church with us, and soon we got baptized as a family at the church that helped my mother pray him out of addiction without even knowing what exactly they were battling.
My dad doesn’t know how to do anything half-way, so when he met Jesus he dove into the relationship head first and immersed himself in the Bible. After a few years, he felt the need for a solid Biblical education, so he went to divinity school and became an ordained minister. Now, he is my “go-to” guy for questions about the Bible and theology. He and my mother are deeply in love and devoted to one another. They’re that sweet older couple you see still holding hands in public, teasing and grinning at each other like a couple of teenagers. They’ve been that way, with surprising consistency, for over a decade. My dad has ministered to countless addicts over the years, some in prison and some on the outside. He’s performed several weddings and been a guest speaker in churches in three different states, telling his story. As a family, we have seen so many prayers answered, so many miracles. I hope to share many of them with you soon.