Posts in faith
Side effects may include: atheism
EE B&W.jpg

I quit taking two of my psychotropic medications and suddenly, I believe in God again. [ NOTE: I did this under my doctor's care and according to his orders. I didn't quit my meds just because I wanted to. Don't do that! ]

So, yeah. Apparently one of the side-effects of mood stabilizers is atheism. At least, for me. Somehow, these drugs seem to shut down the God-receptors in my brain. Here’s how it happened:

Last month I developed a rash from Lamictal. It gave me a good scare because my doctor had warned me that sometimes Lamictal can cause a FATAL rash (Google “Lamictal rash” for fun pictures).

Anyway, so there I was with two rashes. One on each leg. And I was like: OMG WHAT IF THIS BECOMES FATAL? So, I went to the doctor and they took me off the medication immediately. And then wonderful things happened:

1. I didn’t die,

2. the rashes went away

3. and I began to feel my life again.

Mood stabilizers numb me out. I mean, sure. I don’t have mood swings. I don’t have mania. But I also can’t feel ANYTHING. Everything is just blahhhhhh.

In the past three weeks I’ve felt my life coming back to me. It’s like my emotions are coming back to life. And here’s the best part: I have faith again. Remember how just last month I was deep in the throes of a spiritual crisis? I mean, I was doubting EVERYTHING about my faith right down to whether the Resurrection was real. Also of note: I was on TWO mood stabilizers.

What if my doubts were the result of medication? What if the mood stabilizers also numbed out my spirituality?

That freaks me out. But it’s also kind of a relief because for awhile there I thought I was becoming an atheist. I was reading memoirs about people losing their faith. II was reading research about how lack of dopamine in the brain affects the ability to believe in God. I was getting all depressed because I felt alone in the universe and very, very small. So insignificant. I wondered if God even cared about me anymore.

I don’t know what to make of all this. I didn’t realize that my faith in God was so dependent upon brain chemistry. Does my faith require a certain combination of neurotransmitters in order to exist? At the very least it seems to require a certain combination of neurotransmitters in order for me to FEEL like my faith exists.

Is my faith so weak that it falls apart when my brain isn’t producing the right chemical balance? Or is my faith’s sensitivity an indicator of its great strength? I can’t decide which it is.

Regardless, this experience has shown me in unequivocal terms that I am a deeply spiritual person and that I rely on my spirituality to help me get through life. I need prayer. I need words from Scripture. I need the Sacraments. These things nourish and sustain me. They ease my anxiety. These things provide true and real comfort to me.

But in order for me to feel my faith, I can’t be numbed out completely on psychotropic medication. It’s a delicate balance, finding the sweet spot where the medication is helping me but not causing intolerable side effects. Becoming an atheist is, for me, an intolerable side effect!

This whole thing has made me question whether faith is something within our control. I used to believe that faith was something I was in charge of; something I could manipulate simply by doing x,y and z. Praying, reading Scripture, doing Bible Studies, going to church...I simply assumed that if I did all of these things then I would have a vibrant faith.

Little did I know that my faith was more about whether or not I was on mood stabilizers.

This makes me wonder if faith is something God gives to people rather than something people get as a result of working at it. It seems to me that faith is more of a gift, something God gave me rather than anything I did or didn’t do in order to have it.

Of course, there are “best practices” for creating an environment where faith can grow. It helps to have a faith community. It helps to be married to a believing spouse. It helps to know how to pray and read Scripture. It helps to know how to meditate. But ultimately, I’m beginning to believe that faith isn’t something we work for, faith is a gift. It’s something given to us.

Honestly, this makes a lot more sense to me. It also gives me greater compassion for those who simply can’t believe. I used to think that unbelievers were choosing their lack of faith. I sort of looked down at them, assuming that if they just prayed more, hung out with other people of faith and engaged in faith practices, then they would have faith. But I don’t believe that anymore. I mean, I lost my faith not because I got disillusioned with the church or because I wasn’t praying or going to church. I lost my faith by taking a few pills every morning. And I got it back by not taking those pills. So, yeah. It wasn’t like I chose it. It just happened.

Once again this makes me ask the question about whether or not what I believe is real and true. But that question no longer bothers me. It’s real enough for me. That’s all that really matters. I have a mustard-seed faith and even if it can’t be proven scientifically, the truth is that it provides me with tangible benefits. It makes me a less anxious person. It makes me a more loving and compassionate person. It helps me live according to my values. It’s a faith that works even if it’s a faith I didn’t work for. It’s just there.

This past Easter was one of the happiest I could remember. I could FEEL my love for Jesus again. I felt such gratitude for His friendship; such gratitude for His love for me. And I was relieved to discover that Jesus hadn’t gone anywhere. My bout of atheism hadn’t changed anything for Him. He remained faithful. He remained loving. He continued to offer me the Eucharist. I find that so comforting. I find it so truly wonderful that God loves me with such unconditional love. And that that love is not dependent on whether I believe in it. That love just IS.

I am walking away from this experience having learned (once again) that God is so much bigger than I thought He was. And I am so so grateful for that. God is bigger than my imagination. God is bigger than big. Love is bigger than I imagined it. Love is not dependent on my ability to conceive it or categorize it or control it. It’s entirely OUT of my control and that is the most wonderful thing of all.

Side-effects of faith may include: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

Holy Spirit or Manic Episode?

Some of my most meaningful religious experiences happened while I was manic. Or otherwise impaired. Perhaps I was PMSing. Perhaps I'd just given birth. Perhaps I hadn't eaten for a whole day. Perhaps I was deliriously depressed. Regardless, I can't remember one religious experience where I was wholly sane, not under stress, fully in control of my wits and emotionally sober (so to speak).

fragments.jpg

Which begs the question: were my religious experiences the Holy Spirit or just misfiring neurotransmitters?  

In other words, were those experiences real?

I don’t know the answer to that question.

Most of the time I’m OK with not knowing whether my religious experiences were real. They were real enough that I experienced something beautiful and larger than myself, something comforting and life-affirming. They were real enough that I was able to have faith in God. My experience of the divine doesn’t become less real just because it may have been brought on by, say, an overdose of serotonin.

Still, there’s a part of me that really wants to know if what I experienced was real. Objectively real. Empirically real. Because if it wasn’t real, then I’m afraid it’s not true, that I’m simply believing in something conjured up by my feelings and mood.

This is why I’m suspicious of worship services that are geared toward evoking emotional responses. The more smoke-machines and emotionally-fraught music, the more wary I am. The more deeply emotional the experience, the more uncomfortable I am. Not because I don’t find it beautiful. But because I’m worried that a purely emotional response does not accurately reflect reality.

I can feel all kinds of emotions but that does not mean that what I’m feeling accurately reflects what is true.

This is why I’m wary of an experience-based faith. In our faith sub-culture, we place a lot of value on personal experience. We have a whole discipline of “personal testimony” where we bear witness to what God has done in our lives. We share these testimonies with others. And we'd never dare question these testimonies because doing so is almost like questioning God.

In a broader sense, Americans don’t question others’ experiences because that’s a form of “erasure.”

We don’t question our own experiences because we’ve been conditioned to view our own personal experiences as an ultimate form of truth.

“I experienced x, y and z, therefore my conclusions about it represent the truth.”

We even allow eye witness experience in a court of law although scientific experiments have shown just how unreliable eye witness accounts can be.

Personal experience isn’t the whole story. It's one part. I'm worried that to pedestal personal experience is to deny the fact of human limitation. There is so much we don’t know and can’t see. There is so much of the human experience and ultimate reality which we can never know simply because we are not omniscient. We are bound by time and space.

We can only base our beliefs upon fragments. T.S. Eliot once wrote: “These fragments I have shored against my ruin.”

Are these fragments of personal experience enough to shore us against the pounding surf of entropy? Are my personal experiences of God—whether they happened during moments of mania or  not—enough to give me an objective understanding of the Divine?

In the end, fragments are all I have. I suppose faith is the cobbling together of these fragments and believing that they somehow represent the whole, that they are capable of pointing us toward Ultimate Truth.

These fragments are all I have. I can only hope they are enough.

 

"Blessed are the manic for they shall obtain mood stabilizers" #BipolarStories Part 3

Here's a handy guide for surviving a manic episode:

  1. Temporary tattoos. I repeat. TEMPORARY tattoos. You do not need to come out of a manic episode and discover you’ve had PEACE LOVE DONUTS permanently tattoo’d across your chest.
  2. Same goes for body piercing. You don’t need to discover, post-mania, that you’re now the proud owner of a septum ring. Faux nose rings are your friend.
  3. Hide the credit cards. Better yet, have your spouse/significant other/best friend keep them for you until the mania passes. I know you feel really strongly that you just MUST HAVE that $2,300 Vitamix blender. I know you truly and fully believe it will change your life forever and that you must have it NOW so you can start whipping up all those kale smoothies but wait. Borrow your friend’s Vitamix. And remember this: you don’t like kale.
  4. No, you don’t need a brand new RV. I know you really, really think you've become an outdoorsy person. But that's just the mania talking. How do I know this? Because you hate camping, that’s why. You’re an indoors kind of girl. You like fuzzy socks and indoor plumbing. You like books and crocheting by the (indoor) fire.
  5. I know! I know! You’re gonna become a real adventurer! You’re gonna sell everything and live out of a van like all those sexy hipsters on Instagram.
  6. But no, you’re not.
  7. Because you’re 40 now and maybe living out of a van was cool and hip and amazing when you were in your early twenties, but now you have children and animals and a mortgage.
  8. Also, you are a person who requires Netflix, a full-size bathtub and a toilet at 2am every night. Camping is not your dealy-o. Just say no to #vanlife.
  9. Get off of Craig’s List. You don’t need to come out of this episode to discover a beatup 1959 Shasta camper parked in your driveway. Because, no, you’re not gonna restore this camper from the moldly floorboards up. These things require experience. Experience which you do not have.
  10. I know you think your husband is ruining all your fun but believe me, you’ll thank him when this is over. (Thanks, Matt).

MEET MY THREE BEST FRIENDS

Meet my three best friends: Lofty, Booty and Billy. These are my nicknames for Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Abilify. Together, these friends of mine work hard to keep my brain from careening off a cliff. They are basically the guardrails of my mind. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes my mind is driving so fast that even the highest guardrail is no match. When I’m manic, almost nothing can stop me. My brain is like a car going downhill without brakes. It’s exciting and utterly terrifying. Mania would be awesome if it weren’t followed so hard by crushing, black-out depression.

Hence, the meds.

Wellbutrin keeps me from getting too depressed, Zoloft prevents me from getting too anxious and Abilify gives me the ability of maintaining a steady mood all day.

At this point in my life, I believe it's my moral obligation to take my meds. 

HELLO INSOMNIA, MY OLD FRIEND

Joy Wreath.jpg

One of the side effects of my medication is that I have trouble sleeping. As someone who used to sleep deeply and well for most of her life, this is extremely irritating. Well, it was irritating until I began to learn how to use those quiet, insomniac hours for something good. Like writing. Which is what I’m doing right now at 3:01am.

    There was a time when I would have viewed insomnia as more than enough reason to quit my meds. Sleeplessness was not a sacrifice I wanted to make. Insomnia felt wasteful. It made me anxious about how tired I would feel the next day. I’m not saying I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy being awake when everyone else is sleeping, but my perspective has shifted.

    For one thing, now that I view taking my medication as my personal moral responsibility to myself and those around me, quitting my medication is not an option. This means that insomnia is an unpleasant side effect but it is still better than being wildly manic or crushingly depressed. This is the price I pay. And for the sake of my family, I pay it gladly.

While nothing seems to help my insomnia, what has helped is viewing these wakeful hours from the ancient Christian perspective. Christians have a longstanding tradition of praying through the night. Monks and religious pray the liturgy of the hours and rising at 3 or 4am is not uncommon. Their schedules and timetables are determined by a summons to prayer.

I, too, am finding that these quiet, early morning hours can be redeemed through prayer. They do not have to be wasted. They can be shaped for the glory of God. Through prayer and meditation, I find a freeing self-forgetfulness.

To be clear, self-forgetfulness is not self-erasure. It is not destroying the self God created for me, as me.

It is the ancient Christian understanding that I am created for a purpose—to bring God glory with my life. It is a grateful acknowledgment that I am free from the entanglements of my feelings, my character flaws, even my mental illness. In Christ, I am a new creation. 

Self-forgetfulness is not self-loathing or self-hatred. Rather, it is loving the sacred self God made in me which bears the image of His own self. The beauty of my self is owed to the One whom it reflects: God. Just as the beautifully sculpted marble reflects the skill of the sculptor, so, too, our selves reflect His skill and limitless glory. We do not look at a statue and think: wow, this statue really did a great job sculpting itself! We look at a statue and think: whoa, what amazing artist created this sculpture?

The saints held everything loosely, including their own lives. The only thing to which they clung was God’s will. And even doing God’s will was not something they believed they could accomplish in and of themselves but only through the power of the Holy Spirit. Clinging without grasping. Holding fast without needy desperation. Saying with Queen Esther, “If I perish, I perish.” Understanding and fully accepting that their lives were not about them. But about God and the work God was doing through them.

When I look at these insomniac hours, I begin to feel comforted: that my suffering is not meaningless.

My suffering can be offered up for the benefit of others through prayer; my obedience to treatment and taking my medication provides the opportunity of these hours to cooperate with God’s work; and that, most poignantly, by using these hours to pray I can, perhaps, in some measure, relieve the pain my dearest friend Katherine felt on the night she took her life. These were the hours of her death. These have become the hours of my new life in Christ.

 

That time Jesus said: "Blessed are the bipolar for theirs is the pharmacy of Heaven." #BipolarStories Part 1

I don’t have a cute little mental illness (if there is such a thing). I have Bipolar II with Mixed Features. Which is just a short way of saying, Significantly Impaired with a lot of different symptoms mixed in. Mood swings. Paranoia. Mania. Depression. Psychosis. Panic. You know, all the really fun stuff. All the stuff that makes my kids super excited about having their friends over.

It’s humbling to admit I have this illness. I would prefer to tell you that I’m actually a really super spiritual person; that my bouts of mania mean I’m a mystic. A saint like St. Thérèse of Lisieux: all emotional and capable of deep love for God. But then I’d be lying. I’m no saint. I’m just your average, garden-variety sinner with delusions of grandeur.

These posts are about untreated mental illness and also, my journey toward a proper diagnosis and medical intervention. It’s about highly effective, medically prescribed drugs which keep me from wanting to claw my skin off my face (fun visual, amen?) and it’s also about learning how to live as a normal, sane person—because when you’ve lived with illness for most of your life, being healthy feels really, really weird. It takes some getting used to.

These posts are also a love story. They're about my husband, Matt, a fine Scotsman who—despite being a mere human like everyone else—has miraculously loved and lived with someone as mentally ill as myself. Basically, he’s Braveheart without the warpaint. Welcome to our odd little love story.

The End of My Rope

The day I go mad dawns blazing hot. 

The heat makes everything worse—like the fact that government agents are spying on me. They're watching me through my computer and tracking my movements through my iPhone. I know this like I know the sky is blue. It's just an irrefutable fact.

bipolar journal.jpg

The thing is, I don’t know why they’re spying on me. I don't know what I've done wrong. All I know is that I AM NOT HERE FOR THIS. This is extra basic and not on fleek right now.

What do you do when the CIA is spying on you? Well, you throw an old sock over the built-in camera on your computer, shut off location services on your phone and keep the bedroom blinds tightly closed (in case of spying drones, duh). Take that, ye servants of Satan.

From what I am later told, this episode is brought on by too much Zoloft in my system. Apparently, the Zoloft triggered my underlying illness: bipolar. At the time, though, I don't know that I'm bipolar, only that I've been undergoing various treatments for four years for a variety of increasingly severe symptoms: mostly anxiety and depression.

By midday, I am gnawing on my nails and scribbling in my journal. I’m trying to make a list of things I know to be true. It goes something like this:

  1. I know it is Friday.
  2. I know The State is spying on me.
  3. I know I haven’t done anything wrong. (Have I?)
  4. I know I’m a mom who works part-time as a server in a Greek restaurant—OH WAIT! OMG, that’s it. The State suspects I haven’t properly reported my cash tips. 
  5. Dear IRS, mea maxima culpa. I get it. I know. I’m a horrible person. I’m sorry. I have five kids. They need things like food (not that I cook) but they need things. Like Netflix. And tacos.
  6. I know I’ve been having nightmares—especially that recurring one where I’m arrested and placed in solitary confinement for some crime I don’t remember committing. And nobody will tell me.
  7. I know my family thinks I’m going crazy. Well, THEY are the crazy ones. THEY are the unwell ones. Not me. Nope. And anyway, aren’t we all kind of mentally ill? Aren’t we all a bit touched in the head?
  8. I know that I grew up in a cult. Such a beautiful childhood. So healthy. So happy. Har-har.
  9. I know that I might need help. But I don’t know if I can get it because stupid health insurance companies are stupid about behavioral health. They keep it all hidden and hard to access. They like to give you things you don’t need: like high deductibles. Insurance companies are like Aunt LaBelle who used to hide her cigarettes in the cookie jar and when you went to her house she was like: “Me? Smoke? Never. Here, have an antihistimine”—because you were wheezing asthmatically from all the cigarette smoke that permeated every corner of her house. The point is, insurance companies keep high deductibles in cookie jars.
  10. I know that eight is my favorite number. Eight years old was my favorite age. It was the last time I remember being happy. That was the year I climbed the tallest pine tree in my yard and was able to see the Matterhorn mountain ride several miles away at Disneyland. And that made me impossibly happy. I had only been to Disneyland once and it was addicting. I was like Edmund in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe tasting Turkish Delight for the first time. Yep, I would totally hand over my family to the White Witch for just one more taste of Mickey Mouse. I could eat that Mouse all day. Ew. But alas, I wasn’t in Disneyland, I was in a cult. Thanks for that tiny glimpse of happiness, age eight. Thanks for showing me what was possible and then yanking it away. I won’t see happiness again for another gajillion years. Cue sobs.

 

Somehow I have enough presence of mind to ask my neighbor to drive me to the hospital...

The young, fresh-faced volunteer at the ER intake desk looks up at me and says: “Just sign here.”

    “I can’t,” I say.

    He looks baffled. “You can’t sign?”

    I lean forward and whisper, “I’m not ok, ok? I’m not ok, ok? I’m not ok—”

    He sees my shaking hands and a light seems to go off in his head—

Suddenly I am being hustled to a chair, papers are given to my neighbor and I’m told just to wait for a moment. I don’t know what is happening. I just sit when they tell me to sit. I just stand when they tell me to stand. Why is that young lady staring at me? Why are the lights so bright? Why are the sounds so loud?

    “Can you hold me down in my seat?” I say to my neighbor. “I feel like I might float away if I’m not pinned down.”

    She presses a reassuring arm on my shoulder.

    Someone is calling my name.

    OH, NO. THEY FOUND ME.

    I look up to see someone all dressed up in a nurse’s uniform holding a clipboard. NICE COSTUME, FELLAS. I know who you are! You can’t trick me!

    “Elizabeth, they just want to check you in,” says my neighbor.

“I just want to die,” I say.

Her eyes grow wide.

She helps me up and I hobble over to the intake desk again. Apparently, the gig is up. I’m caught. Oh, well. Solitary confinement here I come. Beam me up, Scotty.

I don’t remember much of what happens next except that I am asked a lot of questions, taken to a room with a bed and told to undress, told to swallow a pill, poked with needles and, several hours later, sent home with a prescription for Zyprexa and strict orders to call my psychiatrist the following Monday.

When I ask the psychiatric nurse to let me stay, she says: “I’d rather send you home because I think being around other really mentally ill people will make you worse.”

Apparently, I’m not going to prison, after all. Apparently, I have to keep on living. UGH.

Ever since my best friend died by suicide, I can’t seem to get a grip on this new, horrible reality without her.

Katherine is the reason why I used to laugh and now she’s the reason why I cry.     

I really thought I had a handle on this stupid grief thing. Instead, things got worse (witness: the spying drones, witness the CIA tracking my iPhone).

    I thought I was getting better.

    I thought I was moving on.

    You know, MOVING ON. That’s the thing people say to grieving people. They say: “You’ll always cherish the special memories but now it’s time to move on.”

    I wish people would stop saying that.

Because the thing is, after losing Katherine, I didn’t get better. I got worse. I moved deeper into grief, deeper into a dark hole that spilled itself like black ink all over my mind. Losing Katherine triggered all the underlying symptoms of Bipolar II and it came roaring to life like a beast released from its cage.

Katherine, ever since you died:

I can't figure out what to do with all these things I need to tell you.

I can't seem to remember who I am or why I’m here.

I keep calling your cell phone just to hear your voice.

I can't concentrate.

I forget everything.

I imagine your voice in my dreams.

I wish I would have done more to help you.

I tell you everyday how much I love you, how much I miss you, how much I hope you're OK.

Katherine, why did you have to go?

 

Zyprexa zombie

Zyprexa is not my friend. I learn this after the ER doctors prescribe Zyprexa and it wallops me upside the head and knocks me out for sixteen hours straight. When I wake up, I don’t wake up. I mean, technically. I’m awake. But my eyelids won’t open. My eyelids are all: We hate you right now so we are going on strike. Your eyelids will be closed until further notice. Signed, The Management.

This is perplexing. Also, highly inconvenient. Maybe I should just prop open my eyelids with Q-tips. That’ll work. That won’t be weird at all. My kids won’t mind if I drop them off at school with Q-tips taped to my eyeballs.

This could be a new look for me. Zyprexa Zombie Mom. Somebody get me a TV show, stat. AMC, I have a new show for you: The Walking Q-Tip Head. You’re welcome.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Zyprexa Zombie. Let’s discuss how fun it is to show up at your kids’ school in 3 day old pajamas and matted hair. Let’s discuss how many awesome invitations you’ll get to playdates and Moms' Nights Out. Exactly zero.

This is the first thing you need to know about severe mental illness: it is lonely.

    You don’t get invited to things.

    And if you do, the host regrets it.

I mean, there was a time when you got invited to things. But on the day of the party, you were burrowed under your covers convinced the CIA was spying on you through your computer so you didn’t show up for the party. In fact, you completely forgot about it. Throwing the CIA off your tracks was more important. But three days later—in a blind panic—you suddenly remembered: THE PARTY.

You frantically text your friend: Hi, Kate. I’m so so so so so so so so so so sorry I missed the Moms Night Out. I was sick in bed with bipolar 2. It’s a severe mental illness. Have you heard of it? It used to be called manic depression. I can send you some articles if you’d like to read up about it!

    And then you wonder why you never hear from Kate again.

Here’s the second big lesson of mental illness: I am not my feelings.

    Oh, boy. I’m in trouble now.

 Mental illness has taught me that my feelings are not the be-all, end-all of the entire world. The Earth does not spin on its axis because of my feelings. The sun does not rise because I felt like it should. Everything goes on with or without my feelings which is why I need to learn to how to detach.

Detach is a terrible word and I hate it very much. But that’s mostly because I am way too attached to my feelings. I am way too attached to my way of seeing the world. Did you know that the medieval definition of attached was NAILED TO? Yeah. That’s me, alright. I am nailed to my feelings. I can’t go anywhere or do anything because I am nailed to how my feelings feel about where I go or what I do. I am the handmaiden of my feelings. I serve my feelings with gladness and thanksgiving because my feelings are….uh-oh. My feelings are beginning to sound a lot like God.

    Ay, there’s the rub, Hamlet.

 I feel so many things and they feel so very real and yet, those feelings are not me. I am the one having the feelings but I am not the feelings themselves. This is good news because it means I can detach from your feelings. I have the power to change my feelings. Except when I don’t. Except when my neurotransmitters have gone horribly awry and my brain is lacking dopamine and then I'm like: AAAUGH.

 But the point is, once my neurotransmitters are stabilized, it’s actually possible to get a handle on my feelings. This is not to say I don’t feel your feelings. It’s just to say that I don’t let your feelings boss you around. My feelings are not the boss of me. I am the boss of me and if my feelings are getting too out of control, I have every right to put my hands on my hips and say: “GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN!”

TO BE CONTINUED..... 

 

I don't have a lot of friends...and actually, I'm ok with that

For most of my adult life I haven't had a lot of friends. I still don't.

I've never written about this because I've always believed that the measure of a successful life is having many, many friends. I've worried that my lack of friends means something is wrong with me. That is it somehow MY fault.

If I was just happier, kinder, more fun, more involved, more  _____(fill in the blank), I would "attract" friends, lots of them.

But I've tried really hard. I am friendly and empathetic and "likable." I have no problem talking with and meeting new people.

But here's the honest truth:  I don't maintain an active and busy social calendar because...I like being at home.

I don't host dinner parties or entertain during the holidays because, well...large groups of people frighten me—especially if they're in my home. I don't like traveling because I get terribly homesick. I don't like group activities because I chafe under membership requirements, rules and expectations. 

I guess you could say I have social anxiety. I mean, I know some of this is fallout from being raised in a cult (I associate social activities with trauma). But even if I hadn't been raised in a cult, I still wouldn't like group activities.

My idea of torture is a party. Or a women's Bible Study. Or a mommy-and-me group. Or—God forbid—a conference. But if you don't go to parties, or attend lots of group-y things, then how do you make friends?And we're all supposed to have lots of friends, right?

OK, but maybe having lots of friends isn't a good measure of a happy life. Maybe it's ok if we just have one or two friends. 

One of my therapists recently asked me if my friends could tell that my mental health has improved over the last couple of months and I just stared at her, embarrassed. "Well," I squeaked. "I don't really have friends that I hang out with regularly."

To my surprise she didn't react negatively. "That's ok," she said. "You're more of a homebody, right? You're more family-centered?"

I almost wept tears of relief. Because YES. And also: It's OK? It's ok for me to be like this?

Here's the thing: I am a very happy little homebody. I like being in my garden with my roses. I like watching my dogs play. I like my bedroom and my writing desk and my art corner and my books. 

For me, a quiet home is the measure of a happy life.

And I'm finally ok with that.

My living room fireplace with my original artwork, "Blue Roses." I love this little area of my home.

My living room fireplace with my original artwork, "Blue Roses." I love this little area of my home.

I like being home and I like taking care of my home. I like arranging and rearranging the furniture. I like organizing and decluttering.

I like couponing. I like sewing and baking and painting (---> those paints over there? my FAVORITE watercolors!)

I like quiet nights by the fire. I like animals and trees and looking at the night sky.

Whenever I have to leave home, I feel terribly homesick.

Some flowers from my garden

Some flowers from my garden

Things like parties make me very unhappy and very homesick.

Parties are so noisy. So many people. So many lights. So many facial expressions I must plaster on my face.

Weirdly, though, I love the idea of a party. I have this fantasy party in my head which is a small gathering of two or three likeminded people who enjoy deep, quiet conversations. This doesn't happen at any of the parties I've ever attended. Especially when it's a kid party or a party where a lot of alcohol is served.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a little wine with a nice dinner. But I get very nervous and even frightened when people drink too much. They start getting noisy. They say things they don't mean. They think they are so funny and expect everyone to laugh at their jokes. They break things. Sometimes, they lose their tempers. Why risk that kind of evening when I'd be much happier at home with my dogs, reading or writing by a cozy fire?

A built-in bookcase in my living room plus the marie antoinette costume i sewed last halloween for my daughter

A built-in bookcase in my living room plus the marie antoinette costume i sewed last halloween for my daughter

Here's the thing: I am an ambivert. I am energized by people. But I also need a lot of quiet space.

It took me FOREVER to learn that while I am energized by people, it has to be the RIGHT people in the RIGHT setting. A quiet lunch with one or two friends is quite enough for me. I have the ability to connect deeply with people but I don't have energy to connect with all the peoples.

To the outsider, my quiet homebody life might look boring. Or like I'm not DOING anything. But this quiet life IS something.

It is something very, very important to me. And it is also vital to my health and wellbeing. I need quiet and space to reflect, to come up with new ideas, to stare into the garden, to take a long walk in silence. I need time to really SEE things. I can sit in one place staring at a tree for thirty minutes and find so many wonderful things happening there.

Bernie relaxing in the backyard :)

Bernie relaxing in the backyard :)

I decided to write about this today because I know I'm not the only one who enjoys a quiet life at home.

If you feel badly because you don't have a WHOLE BUNCH OF FRIENDS or you're feeling somehow guilty because you don't keep a busy social calendar, I want you to know that you're not weird. There's nothing wrong with you.

People may misunderstand you but that doesn't mean you are required to meet their expectations. Or even explain it to them.

 Sometimes my kids are frustrated that I don't go out very much. I know they sometimes wish I enjoyed going to parties like all the other "cool" parents. They often ask me to be more involved in their schools. Or chaperone field trips. They get annoyed that I so rarely allow their friends to sleepover. They wish I was more comfortable in crowds so we could enjoy a whole baseball game without me needing to leave at the 7th inning, or refuse to sit in a seat unless I'm on the aisle.

I don't expect them to like my rules or like my peculiarities. But I do expect them to be respectful. They know that I have anxiety issues. They know I need my home to be a safe, sacred space. Over the years, they've learned to accept me and they are very understanding. I think when they are adults they will realize I gave them a different kind of gift: the gift of a quiet, loving, stable home. A home where they could always find their mother. A home they could always return to, no matter what.

climbing roses in my front garden

climbing roses in my front garden

I am not a good cook. I don't use my back yard for entertaining. I have mental health issues. But I love sewing for my kids. I love creating beautiful spaces for us to enjoy as a family. I love nurturing pets and roses and connectedness. 

My sewing, painting, art corner.

My sewing, painting, art corner.

I have finally figured out that it's ok for me to be me. And guess what? It's ok for you to be you, too. Comparing yourself to someone else's life will only lead to despair. We can be quiet little homebody nerds together, k? Look, here's a little birdie I painted for you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go cozy up with a good book and hot cup of tea.

Speaking of books, maybe you'd like to try something like this? I suggest "Big Little Lies." It was FABULOUS.

this post contains affiliate links

I (still) believe in Jesus

A humid summer night and I can't fall sleep. But it's not the heat keeping me awake. It's my restless heart. Ever since Katherine took her life back in January, I've been in a death match with my faith. This isn't new, exactly. Seems like I've always struggled with my faith. It has never come easily for me (growing up in a fundamentalist cult probably didn't help). Faith—and especially a belief in a loving, truly good God— is something I have to fight for, something I have to CHOOSE each day.

What was new after Katherine's death was indifference.

I've never experienced that. Whether I'm losing faith or finding it, I've always had strong feelings about my relationship with God. I thought about God all the time. But that all changed after Katherine died. For the first time in my life I was indifferent toward Him.  

In n the days following her death and heartbreaking funeral, I felt numb. I don't think it was a conscious choice, really, to turn away from God. I just kind of shut down and shut Him out.

Here's what I learned (again): life without God is hard. It's harder than it's meant to be. Trying to live my life without a trusting faith in a loving God is riddled with anxiety. It's easier to let the lies in: 

I'm not good enough

I don't belong here

I'm not lovable

Incidentally, these are some of the same things Katherine believed about herself. In her goodbye letter to me, she wrote that she always felt like she didn't belong. I can't tell you how many times I've wept over that line.

It shattered my heart because she did belong. She really, really did. She was so loved. She was a good, good person. A truly kind, gentle, sensitive soul.

Months later, those same lies were creeping into my thoughts.

The good thing is, I knew they were lies. Sometimes I struggle with believing I'm ok, that I belong, that I'm deeply loved. This time around, though, I began to see that the reason I was struggling so hard with these lies was because I wasn't asking for help.

I'd tried my best to do life by myself, without God. And this is where my best efforts had landed me: unable to sleep at night, restless, despairing.

That night, lying in bed, I felt a gentle whisper: How about you just talk to Me about it? I'm here for you.

Jesus is so gentle with us, isn't He? It's how I know it's Him.

It was a simple, quiet invitation. It was the invitation to rest, to lean against the everlasting arms and talk about what was bothering my heart.

I got out of bed and got on my knees. It's been a very long time since I did that. My knees were out of practice. My knees weren't super thrilled to find themselves on the floor at one in the morning. 

But somehow, I knew I needed to kneel. The physical posture of kneeling is important for me. It connects my body to my spirit. For me, kneeling is the quickest way to get honest about reality; mainly, who God is and who I am. Kneeling helps me get honest about what I've done and what I have failed to do. The longer I stay away from God—the longer I don't spend time on my knees— the more dishonest I become about myself. It's not even intentional. It's just a casual slide into unawareness. Kneeling is a way of saying with my body: God, I know I'm not God.

Kneeling is a simple beginning. 

There on my knees, I began with confession. First, I admitted I needed help. Second, I repented of trying to heal from this grief all on my own. My confession wasn't dramatic. It was simple. God already knew. It was just time for me to acknowledge it that I need Jesus just like everyone else.

When it was over I stood up and got back in bed. I could feel the tiniest crack of light enter my soul, the tiniest beam of hope....the Lord my God will illuminate my darkness (Psalm 18:28).

I still miss my beloved friend. I still struggle with unbelief and trusting that God is good and that I can trust Him. But I'm no longer struggling alone. I'm grieving with Jesus by my side. He has become such a good friend to me. A friend that sticks closer than a brother....

"But those who HOPE in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31