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Archive for December, 2011

Quick Update

The cat is snoring in a ball at my feet. I’m listening to Amy Winehouse, trying not to think about writing. I feel creative, which is normally a good thing. Tonight, my thoughts are moving too fast for me to put the effort into writing them all down. Not to mention the hardest part: playing “connect the dots” with my life, trying to make a picture out of chaos–trying to make a good story that flows well out of this scattered series of events I call my life.

My brother, sister, and I are all home for a few days. It’s rare that my family of five has everyone present. I love when we’re all together, but it also stirs up unaddressed issues that we can otherwise avoid dealing with because we’re all busy and in different states.

The holidays are so stressful for everyone, but it is nice to spend time with family and friends I don’t see often. I’m going to work all day on my grad apps to get the finishing touches. I can’t wait to go back to writing whatever I want.  I’m done even writing this. Hope you’re all well. Happy Holidays!


No Eat. No Pray. Love.

One of the sisters turned 100 yesterday. Despite having an unusual understanding about age compared to most twenty-somethings (thanks to volunteering in a nursing home in high school and befriending a 96-year-old, reading a lot of older writers who reflect on age, and currently living with old women), living 100 years is hard for me to fathom.

I had to miss the 100th birthday party. I’m already back at my parents’ for the holidays in order to get ready for some tests I’m getting done on Tuesday. I needed to come back for some prescriptions and in order to start a clear liquid diet until the tests. Not to complain too much, but my hands are shaking as I type this from not eating. We all went to Red Lobster tonight to celebrate my uncle’s graduation, so I had to be around delicious food while sipping Sprite and tea. They offered not to go to dinner, but it seemed silly to keep everyone from celebrating just because I can’t eat. Plus, I love the sense of community, conversation, and celebration of food. I enjoyed going out and being with everyone.

Speaking of age and food, I’m re-reading Eat, Pray, Love. I read the book 5 years ago, and it deeply moved me. Then, it got marketed as “pop literature,” turned into a Julia Roberts movie, and all while I gained 5 years of wisdom. I didn’t expect to be moved by it again. I’m rereading it, because a former prof suggested I read the middle section (that focuses on the writer’s time spent living a disciplined life focused on spirituality) to take closer notes on how she made her life-changing experiences accessible to the average reader. I figure, in order to appreciate the middle section, I should read the whole book again.

And I DO view the book differently 5 years later. The wisdom she shares seems a little less mind-blowing. I also have a better appreciation of how brave and sad it is to wait until you’re 31 to “find yourself.” I feel like by 31, you should already have experienced your identity crisis, or not even thought about it, planning to hide from it forever. Those who don’t have an identity crisis have usually found ways to pass their life without over-thinking. The fact that the writer created this conventionally perfect life, and then decided to run away makes me both pity those who were hurt by her decision to do that, but also proud that she knew she needed to make more of the life she was living. Our culture encourages numbness, looking the other way when faced with injustices, self-medicating, or even flat out running away from our problems. While many would argue this is what Elizabeth Gilbert (the writer) did, I’d say she chose to live a year free of typical distractions and temptations to run at her problems, head-on.

Anyway, the point of all that was to say that I’m still being blown away. Although the wisdom seems more obvious to me 5 years later, the way she can simplify such complex ideas is phenomenal. I am reminded that the woman can write. If you haven’t read the book, I strongly encourage it. It forces the reader to self-reflect in some of the same ways she did.

The deadlines for my graduate school applications are coming up. That is why I haven’t been blogging much, and I might continue to only blog once a week, or less, until those are finished. It’s a crazy stressful process. It takes a lot of time, effort, outside support, and money to apply to a good variety of programs. It will be worth it if I am accepted into a program that is willing to fund me, though.

I shall wrap this entry up with a quote from Eat Pray Love:

“…[W]hen you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times, you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt–this is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight” (Gilbert 115).

New Found Optimism

I’ve had a new found optimism for most of this week. I switched the furniture in my room around on Monday. The room had the bed in the middle, despite it already being a small room, which gave little extra space. The one maintenance woman suggested I rearrange things back when I first moved in, but due to a combination of apathy and laziness, I didn’t. It took several times of her suggesting it, and assuring me how much more I’d like it, that I finally did it. My stomach hurt less Monday morning, so I decided to be ambitious. It proved to be a complicated process, because of where the cable/internet/phone chords have to be plugged in, etc…

Now that I have everything on one side of the room, and my desk and lazy-boy chair are next to the window, I’ve been productive! Remarkably so. I’ve also had less problems with my stomach, which may be related to the fact I’ve cut dairy products from my diet. I’ve been sleeping better, which I’m sure also helps me function more efficiently. The deadlines for my graduate school applications are creeping up fast, so that also forces me to work a bit more. Although, my Statements of Purpose are killing me. I’m applying to five schools, and each school has different expectations, which requires five different statements. Until the past few days, I avoided even looking at them, because the thought of working on them seemed to paralyze me. I finished my first one today, after several days of working on it. It’s less than two pages, so I didn’t expect it to take this much time, but you have to say so much in very few words, so it took a lot of over-writing and then cutting…just like most good writing, I guess.

Tuesday night, we had a party here for all of the staff members and their families. It proved to be a beautiful, fun night. Unfortunately, I missed the memo about dressing up, so if being a 23-year-old living in a retirement home isn’t awkward enough, add the fact that I was the only one in jeans, and I started the evening feeling incredibly anxious. As more staff that I knew arrived, I started to engage in different conversations and have fun. I’m amazed that the staff is so kind to me here. I don’t like to make them go out of their way for me, because I’m not paying anything to live here, but they are more than happy to help me in whatever way they can. Not to mention, they all say hi, ask how I’m doing, and ask about my writing nearly every day.

The sisters are also wonderful to me. At the party, they told me how thankful they are that I live here. They also gave me a very thoughtful card with a gift card inside, as if they don’t do enough for me already! I’ve had a fear of being in the way (even just taking up space) since childhood. Needless to say, living somewhere for free where they feed me and spoil me with whatever I could need or want, makes me a bit uncomfortable at times. I’m constantly paranoid that I’m not contributing to the community enough or they will regret taking me in. So for them to not only take me in, but make me feel loved and appreciated has helped me feel more at home.

My therapist switched my meds a bit again. She said if this next adjustment doesn’t help, we may have to look into a mood stabilizer, which would imply I have some sort of bipolar, which I’d prefer not to think about. Researching bipolar, though, there is a spectrum between unipolar depression and full blown manic depression. Full blown Manic Depression is called Bipolar Type I. Apparently bipolar II is closer to my experience, although it still seems too extreme to describe my symptoms. But there is also a “gray area” in between unipolar depression and bipolar type II. It involves “more complicated experiences with depression.” People who fall into that category usually have depression that comes in cycles, does not respond to medication, or responds to medication for a while, but then comes back. It also involves symptoms such as sleeplessness, racing thoughts, migraines, and elated moods/energy where he or she talks faster, has more energy, gets more accomplished or thinks too fast to concentrate (reading is often more difficult) etc… The part about medication working, but then failing to work as brain chemistry (especially in connection with the seasons) changes seems to describe my experience pretty accurately. Not to mention, I’ve had a hell of a time reading lately.

Luckily, long-term therapy helped me learn to cope with the sick thoughts better, but it can’t protect me from the biological aspect of the illness, which seem to be surfacing now. Thankfully, I do not have any self-destructive thoughts yet. When extremely depressed, I not only have those thoughts, but they are relentless. I hope I’m being proactive enough, by seeing a therapist who is also a nurse practitioner and can control my meds, that I will continue to stay sane, and that the symptoms will fade soon. Being here with the nuns is probably the best place I could be while all of these health issues are surfacing. I have people who constantly ask how I’m doing, are sympathetic to not feeling well, and I have very few required obligations. I pretty much get to choose my own work schedule, so if I don’t feel well, I can rest. So as weird as it may sound, besides all of these physical health problems I’m experiencing and the occasional sleeplessness/racing thoughts, life is going really well. I’m optimistic about my writing.

It’s been a blast talking back and forth with the writer I’m going to do my ind. study with this summer. We’ve already developed a game plan for me to follow before I get to meet with her on my birthday when we will both be in Chicago for a Writing Conference. The best part of this fact, is that when my best friend, Laura, got me my pass to the conference for my birthday present, this was before I’d e-mailed this writer about working with her. Laura and I are both fans of her work, and knew she was going to be on some panels at this conference. Laura promised me this Leap Year (my birthday) would be fun, because the last couple weren’t. I joked when she told me she bought my pass and said, “I’m gonna pull the Leap Year birthday card to get some of my favorite writers to go to coffee.” Laura laughed and said, “Knowing you, I wouldn’t doubt it.”

I told Marya (my instructor) this story, requesting that our meeting fall on the 29th. She answered with a very brief message, saying she was in a rush, but something along the line of “Of course we can meet on your birthday. For Pete’s Sake! I’d love to!” Her enthusiasm cracked me up and made me realize I’m truly living my dream these days: I don’t work or go to school, but I learn new things every day. My life is centered around creativity and spirituality, which are closely connected for me, and I’m going to be able to write this book with the help of a role-model of mine. Life is good. That’s really all that matters. The rest will work itself out. It just requires my patience and forgiveness of myself on days I don’t feel well and am, therefore, not productive.

“The Sin of Despair”

Today, the homily at mass offended me a little bit, or at least made me squirm. He talked about the “sin of despair.” Thankfully, he included a disclaimer that he was not talking about clinical depression, which is an illness. However, he then went on to say how awful suicide is (I agree), but almost in the old school guilt-base sort of way. I took away that he was saying it is a sin for people to feel despair unless they are mentally ill. I think despair comes with being human. Not to mention, I think anyone who commits suicide is sick in someway–even if its not clinical depression.

My instinct is to get angry when I hear someone call a victim of suicide “selfish.” Because having been sick enough to feel suicidal, I understand sickness is not logical. In order to kill yourself, you have to have severely distorted logic. For example, when I felt suicidal, I knew it would hurt the people I loved. That hurt to think about. I truly believed that just by being alive, I hurt them continuously and made their lives worse. My logic was that I would make their pain quick and permanent, like ripping off a Band-Aid. Then they could heal and move on with their lives–without being dragged down by me forever.

Thankfully, I achieved health and with that health, true logic returned. My loved ones made it clear they would rather sacrifice everything to take care of me sick forever than see me dead. If I was still sick, I wouldn’t be able to believe that. I’d believe that they felt like they “had to” say that. Now, I’m far from permanently healthy. Mental health still dictates a lot of my life. Yet, I’m well enough to trust my loved ones on that. I see it in their actions and feel it in their hugs.

When I get angry at people for blaming the person, not the illness,  in a suicide, I try to show compassion for the person speaking. I understand they are speaking out of pain. Not to mention, I felt the same way as a teenager when a loved one told me he tried to kill himself. I was furious at him. I said, “How could you do that to us?” (meaning the people who loved him). The truth is, that my response was self-centered. I didn’t understand how mental illness works, and I thought the person was just so wrapped up in his pain, that he didn’t care about mine. Suicide is traumatic and just plain tragic for all involved. It’s natural we want to blame ourselves, feel betrayed, or wonder how we could have “saved the person.” Anytime I hear of a suicide or suicide attempt, I am deeply saddened because it’s hell for everyone involved.

I don’t think religions, especially the Catholic Church, have handled mental illness well. They are getting better, like the disclaimer today about clinical depression being an illness and not a sin, but they have so far to go. Spirituality is a big part of the healing necessary with mental health. Many people suffering, like myself, can’t find solace in religion or a patriarchal God because of how mental illness and suicides have been handled.

For instance, I have a friend whose cousin committed suicide. She said someone at the visitation said to the mother something about how sorry she was that the woman’s son would be in hell for his action. What an AWFUL thing to say, or even think, about someone sick and suffering enough to resort to murdering themselves. I heard suicide referred to as murder once, and I thought it was dramatic, but now that I’m healthy and understand just how sick and sad it is, it’s true.

A man from the church I grew up in recently committed suicide. His parents are active churchgoers, and his brother is a priest. I was so thankful to hear that they had the funeral at the Church I grew up in, and that something like 5 priests helped at his funeral. The Catholic Church has turned people away in the past, refusing to do funerals for suicides. I wanted to cry for the family, despite not knowing them well. The parents are old-school Catholics, and I feared how they and the church would respond to their son’s suicide. I couldn’t have been more grateful to hear that the funeral was a loving, respectful one where respected members in the Church showed nothing but support and compassion. We have to stop keeping these things secret and viewing them as “evil.”

I don’t really believe that a deity is counting my “sins.” I think there are definitely crimes we commit against ourselves and others that are wrong, but I don’t think it goes on our permanent record, or anything like that. I think we suffer from those enough if we fail to forgive ourselves. Yet, to hear someone call despair a sin, alarmed me. Let’s not make people feel worse for already feeling bad.

Many people with mental illness, just like most people with addiction, don’t believe they really have a problem. That means there could be undiagnosed mentally ill people in the congregation, internalizing all of this. Then, they will only feel worse about already suffering. Because, let’s be honest, no one likes feeling despair. I’m thankful to be informed about my illness and have the proper support. If I’d have heard this homily 6 years ago, this would have given me even more of a reason to hate myself. I’m not trying to take on the whole Catholic Church. I’m grateful they let me stay here and show me nothing but compassion. I am taking on society, though. Something needs to change about the way we think about mental illness and suicide. Neither are any sort of weakness or flaw of character. They are medical issues that confuse a person’s idea of logic and cause them to feel despair. The least the Church, and society, can do is show some compassion. My God.