Saturday, May 19, 2018

These Shattered States

"Oh Jesus," I pray upon seeing the news of Santa Fe, heart shattering. "It's happening again."

I remember during that horrible day in Colorado when the Columbine shooting occurred, my friend was birthing her first child. In the weeks that followed she told me, "Heather, I couldn't answer the question 'What kind of world was I bringing this baby into?'"

Over the years, the shootings have become commonplace.

We have drills and trainings.

When I started working for CSU last summer, I had to attend a mandatory active shooter training for university employees. I learned more than I ever cared to know about what went wrong with the Virginia Tech shooting, the methodological plots of a sick, and dare I say, evil, young man. I rarely dream to the point of recall the next day, but I had a horrifically detailed nightmare that evening that history was repeating itself. I was terrified.

All too often these days, our children are also having to do these drills. And then, it happens. Again and again, and again, the stories of the shootings surface, reinforcing the need for the drills, and birth the fear of "When (not will?) will it happen at my school?" What is that doing to their young minds? Is it any wonder that adolescent anxiety is up?

I recall the plane ride home last October, crying at all the empty seats. Seats that had been filled when I checked in online the night before. Too tired to sleep. Too exhausted to stay awake.

 Hot, salty memories snake down my face.

What will it take? How many more lives will be lost, and how much of our future generations will be afflicted with PTSD incurred by the trauma of living through something like that?

I struggle with the instantaneous name calling and finger pointing that people do on social media in the wake of tragedies like this. I experienced that after Vegas from my own loved ones. Never mind my trauma, because your opinions are the only ones that count, how careless of me to forget. Same for all of the nasty commentary directed towards the kids of Parkland who were brave enough to call out the bullshit that is the American fetish for guns. Same for the parents of Sandy Hook who not only lost their children, but continue to be victimized by Alex Jones and other conspiracy theorists that drive attention away from the real public health issues of gun violence in America.

This is the agony of being a woke person in America right now. Whether it's guns or systemic racism, #metoo or political corruption, if you are a person speaking up about these things, the only people hearing you are other woke folks. Everyone else is sleeping under the blankets of privilege, [willful] ignorance, "tradition," and/or complacency.

I don't know how to change it.

I know my husband and I had a rather heated conversation about the guns issue this morning. Or at least it started that way. We never came to an agreement, but we did start to listen to each other.

I wish that our country could at least get to that point. Instead we have viral memes saying terrorists aren't the greatest danger to America, the Democratic party is and all Republicans are racist. That gets us exactly nowhere.

We have got to start attacking the issues instead of each other, in every way.

America, if we Humpty Dumpty too much, cracking our society to the point of no return, nobody will be left to put us all back together.

We have to set differences aside, and consider solutions for the greatest public good. That may require some sacrifice from everyone. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Nine credits later...

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
Or maybe just three.

One completed class out of three total this year. Two incompletes.

But the incomplete is a tool in a grad student's hand, I'm told.

I'm choosing to look at it that way, too, because otherwise, depressed Heather sees it as Exhibit #5967 in the case being argued in the court of my mind that I have lost my Sweary Magdalene™, no-bullshit-high-achieving mojo.

The f*cking prosecuting attorney.
I recently had to do the employee portion of my performance appraisal at work, and wouldn't you know, my deficit mindset had me stymied when it came to thinking of things that I not only accomplished, but did well. With a little coaching though, I was able to pull it together, and damn if I'm not A-Freakin-Mazing!

So, this next bit is a debriefing of sorts. For years, I have counseled people to take inventory of their strengths; guess it is time for me to take some of my own damned medicine.

That is no small feat and takes a lot of guts. Trust me, every single one of them has been tied up since rendering myself emotionally naked to the world.
  • I was behind in my poli sci class heading into finals - missing two reaction papers and my debate paper, much less being prepared to take the time-limited comprehensive final. That time-limited shit is so damned nerve-wracking and really torturous for anxious perfectionistas like me! In one week, I read all the materials for one reaction paper, revisited the materials for the way earlier reaction paper (and thus had forgotten some of the details), wrote/submitted both reaction papers, and studied/wrote/submitted that damned final.
While not done with any great levels of confidence, mind you, I basically got 3 weeks of graduate study done in 1 week! I feel like I should get a medal for it. The incomplete is for me to get the debate paper materials read, and write the paper. Submit, and I'm three credits richer.
  • Meanwhile in my sociology class, I felt like I struggled all semester. In conversations with my prof, she would say that was not her perception, and we mutually agreed that when I felt that way I needed to tell my inner negativity to STFU. That said, I did struggle with identifying a concept for my term paper that incorporated the theories of the semester. By the time I landed on a valid premise, I really had two weeks to research, review, and write the beast, one of those weeks being the 3 for 1 mentioned earlier. In virtually one week, I located and read umpteen scholarly articles that got me to a point where I could successfully write my paper. I got my bibliography done and turned in, and then realized I was running out of time. 
So I'm almost done with the paper and once it is turned in, I will have completed a doctoral level course, and be three more credits richer, putting me at 21 credits toward my required 36 for the program. (Thank you previous attempt at grad school credits transfer).
It's an expansion of my sociology paper, AND ties in with issues and experience from both my past and present employment roles! Not only am I excited about it, this semester's professors are both super supportive and that has made the confidence soar.
All of that is so not failure, ya know? 

Many of my school peers were in similar boats with respect to staying caught up, and they did not have 40 hour/week jobs, children to raise, and youth was on their sides much more than mine. Although, that was not the case for my sociology classmates - three of us are mothers and one is expecting, and it was helpful to have that commonality.

I'm feeling pretty damned good about this school year.

Soon enough, those pots above will be sporting three flowers, demonstrating this year's accomplishments. Maybe they're a little behind on the blooming, but they WILL bloom.

And that, is all I can ask for at this time.

Friday, May 4, 2018

How to do finals, working mom in grad school edition

Channeling my inner Glennon and trying to remember "I can do hard things."

You're in graduate school, so your finals are really just papers / essays. It's a lot of key-pounding and hitting the delete button like the woodpecker when you realize nothing you articulate makes sense.

There are some things you must do for success. ETA: I took 24 hours PTO off to do all of this, because, uh, balance?

1. Leave the house. You'll think, but the kids are at school, no one's home, this will be great!

You will be dead wrong.

Your dogs will think, "Mom's here, so let's go for a walk." You will be hungry and gain 100 pounds because you ate every thing in the house. You will be cold and fuss with the thermostat. You will smell something weird and begin to investigate the source, only to spend your time at home cleaning.

Leave the house - it will be better for all involved. Shower and makeup are completely unnecessary. Brushing your hair is optional.

2. Dress comfortably. Finals writing is intense, yo. I'm seen above in my 2XL Stranger Things, SO SOFT long-sleeved tee that I scored at Target last week for $3, yoga pants that don't hug too tightly and my fave pair of running shoes. I begrudgingly left my blankie at home.

2.a And....I'm all lathered up in Aspercreme because my muscles are aching from sitting at the library hunched over my lap top for 8 straight hours yesterday. See also, feeling like a geriatric admitting that. It hurts, hurts so good to admit my frailty.

3. Adding to 2.a - use the library computers, not your laptop. Because ergonomic chairs make the difference. Marathoners gotta have the right strategy. Select one closer to the bathroom - (the stall bathrooms, not the single user one that smells like butt EVERY TIME) because....

4. Bring ALL the COFFEE. If you don't do coffee, then insert caffeination of choice here, it is NOT optional. You are averaging 4 hours of sleep per night. You may be here far longer than you anticipate. (and you are an adult learner who has pushed 3 humans out of your body, so you see the need for proximity to the facilities)

5. Take SMALL breaks now and then, preferably to stand and stretch and maybe listen to an upbeat song to regain your focus. Do not open up social media and "just see" what's happening. You will be entering the quicksands of time, never to emerge with sufficient time for success

6. Maintain your sense of humor, but channel it appropriately. For the prof that is asking for a class synopsis, sure, insert wit. For the one you owe a research proposal? Not so much.

7. Repeat after me: "There is a light at the end of this tunnel. Just 10 more hours today, then 1 down, 1 to go." Adjust according to your coursework.

I wish I'd snapped a picture of the banner ad the library had running on the kiosks when I came in yesterday - it said:

Make Good Choices

Friday, April 20, 2018

Creative...from the archives

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I wrote this just over 5 years ago. It has beckoned to me several times over the years. Someday it will be fully developed into a full fledged fictional account of this biblical story.

Mercy's Fool

 She was cold, trembling with shame as the telltale signs of her chill were exposed, visible through the thin linen underdress, the customary sadhin, that she wore.  "Will they punish me and call me a harlot for this as well?" she wondered.  She crossed her arm over her breasts to conceal the evidence of her discomfort.  The men had taken her without allowing her to put her outer robes back on.  Her thin, almost threadbare, sadhin was a woefully inadequate grasp at any remaining shred of modesty she could claim, and offered no protection from their eyes.

Though she suffered the painful awareness of every carnal need her body was crying out for - warmth, food, drink, and sleep - she remained quietly aloof.  She knew the risk of her actions…that she had willfully sinned against the law.  To become hysterical and beg for undeserved mercy would do nothing for her but subject her to further judgment and cruelty.  She was exhausted, but death was certain, and despite her captors' own periodic dozing, she resisted to sleep, reliving the all-too-few memories she had of feeling loved, safe, protected in her life before it would all be taken from her.

Clearly these 'men of God' had no interest in following the letter of Moses' law, or else Nachum would be here with her, he just as guilty as she.  Nachum, her beloved, who had loved her their whole lives, and mourned the day her parents married her off to that horrid old man she now called husband. Nachum, who had tenderly kissed away the bruises left by Jubal.  Nachum, whose scent still lingered on her skin.  Did he know of her plight, and despair, realizing death was unavoidable?  Or, the more cynical side of her wondered, was he sated to have finally known her, relieved to face no consequence?  That thought stole her breath away, striking her heart with a searing pain far more excruciating than any of Jubal's beatings. "No," she pleaded silently with herself, "Nachum is an honorable man."

He had told her that first night that he was prepared to face death with her if they were ever found out, that he would rather die in the sin of loving her than live a righteous life, without her love.  Hot tears slid down her face at the memory leaving wet trails in the dusty floor as they fell.

Yeshua.  Throughout the night, she heard the elders who were awake talking, most of it unintelligible, frantic whispering.  But that name kept presenting itself in their discussions.  "Who is this Yeshua?" she wondered.  "No matter," she eventually decided. "Dawn is approaching and my fate will be sealed soon enough."  As the men were selectively following the law, she wondered if she would even be given the requisite trial before they executed her for her sin....

The story of the woman caught in adultery has been on my mind a lot in recent months.  As illustrated above, I've imagined many different scenarios that could be the back-story to what we read in John 7:53-8:11.  

In addition, I've done quite a bit of reading regarding the story's authenticity, as my Bible has a disclaimer above this passage: [The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]  

I believe to my core that this passage is authentic because it rings true with Jesus' reactions to the Samaritan woman at the well and that of the sinful woman's washing of his feet with her hair, tears and perfume.  It is a story of love and mercy, which is what Jesus is all about, and has been a go-to passage for me throughout my faith journey because it resonates with me so loudly....

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Spring Haiku

Forsythia glows
All golden while Dogwood's skin
Blushes up her arms

Christopher says it
Is April, the best month since
It is getting warm

Willow's leaves peek out
Chartreuse, with the promise
Lilac and Linden

Will soon scent the air
Accompanied by sweet grass
And sun-dried linens

Grills will be fired up
Creating Spring's miasma
Would that it could be

Bottled, put to sale
To be opened in the cold
Days of winter, a promise

Soon fulfilled as Sun
Warms the Earth, bringing forth life
And all its wonder.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Self-Care fo' Real: It Ain't All Play

It didn't really hit me in the grocery store just why this med container appealed to me.

I'd been in a serve and return pattern with my GP's nurse for a couple of days.

Can I get a referral to a psychiatrist? My depression is hitting especially hard.

You will probably want to check with your insurance to make sure that is covered and who is in your network. We don't really make referrals as much as advise or recommend providers based on their specialties.

Ok - called Anthem BCBS because I was too overwhelmed to navigate the online info. Also, I was on the phone while driving and maximizing my time. Gotta make those customer service reps earn their suppers, no?

The insurance peon emailed the list of eligible providers to me.

I then uploaded it to the patient portal app with a note:

Psychiatry is covered in my plan. Affordably so, even. Here is a list of providers that I am ok to see - could you please tell me which of them on the list specialize in brains dealing with undue societal gender norms in which we have to be super women? With a ton of traumas and two significant concussions in life? Mmmkay, thanks, bye.

Maybe it was a little different. Same idea. You get the point.

Almost as soon as my finger tips hit send on that hot little note, my phone rang.

It was my doctor's nurse. That woman is my freaking hero.

My doc is out of town, and she urged me to come into the clinic and visit with a lovely NP as well as the social worker (aka Patient Navigator), because it could be more than the depression.

True enough. Though not likely, having recently had all my thyroid and endocrinology panels done at a health fair.

Nevertheless, the message was clear: WE NEED TO SEE YOU.

Not to mention the fact that I was just spent psychologically because working up the nerve to coordinate all that shiz was a lot of Big Steps?


So, yesterday morning I found myself sitting in the exam room, waiting for the NP to come in. I'd seen her before with one of the kids' ailments over the years, though who knew if she would remember me.

Soon as she opens the door, I lose it and turn into the bawling, sniveling creature I've been for the past month.

She is great.

We decide to up my Wellbutrin by 100mg a day since I have been on a conservative dosage. We also change it from standard release to extended release for a steady stream throughout the day.

Then the stuff I knew was coming.

How's the sleep?

Well, while I would totally love to cocoon myself and sleep the days away, I am still somehow a responsible, functioning adult and I make do with what I get. I rarely have trouble sleeping, but with homework and all I find myself getting 4 hrs here, 9 hrs there, etc. I know that isn't healthy and I have to regulate, but....yeah.

How's the diet?

So, it's been a whole lotta fish sticks and Poptarts lately because of time and schedule. What? That's not ok? [KIDDING] No, I know, I need to get back to more produce and whole foods, and I'm pretty good at it, it's just a matter of implementing.

So maybe ask your family for some support there in planning and prepping ahead?


How's your relationship with exercise these days?

Completely non-existent....which explains the newly acquired 10 lbs (since November health fair weigh in) your scale informed me of. Again, I was doing SO GOOD getting to the gym, walking dogs, etc. But since school started this semester....I haven't been to the gym since.

Ok, well, let's work on that.

And by 'let US,' you mean me, but yes, I'm aware of the need and that it will help, it always does.

By now, I'm tallying up the list of "small changes" that I need to implement and my head is about to implode.

After 25 years of dealing with depression/anxiety, I know, logically, intellectually, that these are key components of maintaining my mental health. But knowing and doing, especially when your brain is shutting down your motivational centers, are quite different things, it turns out.

And, the knowing of All The Things combined with the not doing of All The Things when your mind is wonky, turns into the "ONE MORE REASON YOU ARE A HORRIBLE, TERRIBLE, NO GOOD HUMAN BEING!" cheer that depression does, ad nauseum - literally, in your head.

What about therapy?

I was seeing a therapist after Vegas. And, while it helped, I really feel like I could have gotten the same impact by going out with my girlfriend and talking - there were no tools, no exercises to work through that gave new perspective or coping mechanisms, ya know?

We talk about CBT and bio-feedback options and how the patient navigator could help me explore options regarding providers with those qualifications.

The patient navigator comes in and thank you, Jesus, she is amazing at her job.

We talk a lot about how difficult it is to disclose when you're in the field of helping. How you know people and they know you, but do you want them to know that? How while we preach no stigma, it is almost doubly stigmatizing to disclose our own diagnoses and struggles.

We talk Brene Brown and apps like Calm (which I've had on my phone for several months) and other mindfulness/self-help tools.

I show her the brilliance that I found on the website Unf*ck Your Brain, and she is impressed. The woman behind the site, Kara Lowentheil, is a BAMF feminist with the smarts to use cognitive neuroscience in her coaching - Sweary Magdalene approves.

"See, you got this!"

Heavy, shaky sigh.


I go to the grocery store to get my new RX, determined to buy the fixings for a healthy dinner, but hey depression has my executive functioning by the balls, so to speak. I can't think of anything.

I have a Pinterest account with eleventy-one thousand recipes, most of them health conscious, at the ready on my mobile life manager - but that idea never even lands.

I walk to the magazine aisle, look at a couple of food mags, and snap pictures of a couple recipes that call out to me, then proceed to buy the items I don't have at home. How's that for coping mechanisms? Outta the box, I know. :pats self on back:

Go to the pharmacy department, pick up new meds. We're out of vitamins, so I grab some while I'm there. I recall being low in vitamin D, so I grab some of those. Out of the corner of my eye, the pill boxes call to me. The one I already have is too small for everything I need to put in it.

And then I see it, the rainbow stacker pictured above. Toss it into the cart, and don't think anything more of it.

Until this morning.

As I took my meds and the promise of a new day glimmered anew before me, it hit me.

His promise.

I "subconsciously" picked a daily pill box that will constantly remind me.

You will not be destroyed. 

You can do all things with Me

Nothing will EVER change that.

So may it be.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Shine that Light

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering, as I share some of my own struggles in this area. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386, or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Sunday morning I was in the church nursery with a little body in which the biggest spirit I've ever known resides.

He's a special boy, who has overcome so many developmental barriers in his short life that his mere presence in a room teaches a thousand unspoken lessons. Too often I admire him and his family from a distance because of The Busy Life.

Together, we tentatively, shyly at first, sang that old song, This Little Light of Mine, giggling at the joy he displayed when we hid our little "lights" (index fingers) under "bushels" (our cupped hands) and then ripped them away as we stage shouted our "No's."

This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine

Hide it under a bushel?

I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Sometimes that light is to help guide others to a path that is right. That is the context Matthew 5:16 affords to the two verses preceding it and in which it is often preached.

Other times, that light serves to illuminate the dark within us.

The pain and courage it takes to summon that light, share it, and let the world gaze at all that is wrong within us is one of the greatest paradoxes the lived experience offers us.

The paradox continues in that this brightening process holds the key to our self-perpetuated prisons, offering freedom from shame and heartache.

Yet The Jailer* stands guard, whispering, "You can't tell them - they will never see you the same way again - all they will ever see is your weakness. Attention seeking, pathetic weakness."

That Jailer is a liar, but oh, how we fall hard for that tired old routine.

So...I did a thing today.

Well, really, I did a thing yesterday, the ramifications of which lead to this thing I did today.

I had a bit of a melt down at work yesterday.

I was the woman who cries at the office. 

And not because I was telling a sentimental story.

No, this was full-on depressed Heather riding the spiral of disaster ALL THE WAY DOWN because she just couldn't even, heaving sobs in reply to the non-stop barrage of inner self loathing that roared louder than the supportive words of my co-workers.

It was irrational. Completely crazy, if you will.

Which heaped up more shame for The Jailer inside to sling at me. 

I had class to get to and begged off finishing the meeting. 

A hand reached out.

"Are you ok?" was asked. 

Not the Captain Obvious variety of the question, rather, the "Are you ok to end the conversation/move on?" sort. 

The kind that implies "You're not going to do anything harmful to yourself, right?" 

The kind that makes me feel like a gigantic zero.

A muffled wail of, "No, but I'll be alright," was my response. I was humiliated, and of my own doing.

I fled the building, hot trails of disgrace snaking down my face.

I got to class and avoided eye contact, knowing the tell-tale puffy red look would elicit questions that I didn't want to, couldn't, answer.

Over the course of the next two hours, I re-gained my composure, even managing the nail-hitting commentary of the night. 

Home and straight to bed, skipping church.

I woke up this morning and had the same sense of dread wash over me as soon as my feet hit the floor.

Damn, still there.

Got through the motions of getting everyone off to school and arrived at work earlier than normal since Chris had a before school choir practice.

Had an unanticipated "so, about yesterday," conversation with my supervisor that went really, very well. 

And yet....

He said, "You're doing amazing." 

But I heard The Jailer, five times louder, screaming, "LIES!"

The sobs came to visit again.

My best friend brought me out to lunch, and I fell apart a few times during the conversation.

She said, "You're in the midst of a flare, Heather. It's ok. It happens, and you will recover, just as you have in the past."

The Jailer started up again, squeezing my heart, "This will never end. You're mine."

I silently mustered up the strength to counter, "No, I'm God's and God's alone. You don't own me. I will do my time, and then I'll be free again."

I rode the roller coaster of emotion the next several hours, culminating in a silent drive to FLTI tonight with Kelsey. 

Occasionally, the jailer's hurled insults and my recounting of the day resulted in fresh tears. The skin just under my eyes is so damn raw, y'all,


We got to FLTI and I sent my supervisor a text. 

"Thanks for the talk today. I'm in the midst of a depressive flare and I'm struggling..."

This little light of mine.

I pulled myself together and put a semblance of a mask on. I'm all pro at that. Have had a lifetime of practice.

I felt my heart lift more and more as the evening went on. 

Fully doing life and getting outside of your head will do that. Not saying it will replace talk therapy or monitored medication, lest y'all think I'm going all David Avocado Wolfe on you. But it does help.

At the end of the session, we had our closing circle as always.

"Aha's" first.

I raised my hand.

I'm gonna let it shine.

"My aha tonight was what a powerful mood booster you all can be. I've been struggling, really struggling, with a flare of my depression all week, I was crying on the car-ride all the way here tonight, and you all have made me laugh and feel lighter than I have all week."

Let it shine.

It's slightly terrifying to share with people who know you in the community, in a context where this kind of vulnerability could potentially damage your career / reputation. 

But, as Sweary Magdalene (Kelsey's new name for me, given my last post) would say:


That kind of thinking blows the light right out, and makes everyone think you're doing Just Fine.

Most of the world isn't doing Just Fine.

Our kids getting shot up at school is not Just Fine.

The deep-seated racism that continues in our country is not Just Fine.

The tremendous lack of access to safe, affordable housing and quality childcare  is not Just Fine.

The so common it pains me to think about occurrence of #MeToo events against women in our country is not Just Fine.

And really, so much more.

Bottom line is that we ARE NOT JUST FINE.

And I'm not going to perpetuate the lie that I am anymore.

Am I in a forever state of sadness? 

No - God and friends and family and the miracle of Wellbutrin have all gotten me through this before. I will get through this again.

Anyway, back to my point about tonight.

After our circle, I encountered the largest, tightest group hug ever.

The love. The light. 

It was shining BRIGHT.

Every body there was the power of Christ (Higher Power) that is laid upon us when we boast about our weaknesses. Because in that power, that fulfillment of humans living in relationship, as God intended, is freedom and life.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Sidenote: In FLTI, we believe that what happens in FLTI stays in FLTI. I wish to make clear that I have honored that in this account in that I have only shared what *I* own to share and none of my peers' actions/statements.

*The Jailer is a creative literary device to symbolize depression in this story. I have chronic depression, not psychosis via delusions and hallucinations.