Family

June 28, 2010

My baby brother got married today.  He’s 8 years younger than me and, due to the dynamics of our family, I played a large part in raising him.  The family that was so incredibly dysfunctional when I was younger has grown and mellowed and aged.  My super controlling world-renowned artist uncle has Parkinson’s, and while it’s made him hardly able to walk and totally unable to sculpt, he’s now very encouraging and even told me as I left, “Great job being yourself.”  His wife, who used to routinely insult me and then insist that she was just kidding is older and wrinkled and very sweet.  My cousin survived an abusive marriage and is now married to another man and happy and pregnant and gardening.  Her adolescent son, who was molested by his father, has been adopted by his stepfather and is now an artist.

There were some difficult things going on.  My uncle was just dumped by his girlfriend of twenty years and looked horribly sad.  My other aunt has really bad hip problems and is walking like someone in her eighties, not someone who is 44.  My sister is still not very nice to me – although I did get to hold my beautiful 2 1/2 month old niece.  But most of it was OK, and that was what surprised me.

Artists have it rough, I think, and not just because it’s hard to make a living.  In fact, many of my relatives make a very good living with their art.  The tough thing about being an artist is that somehow – and I’m not sure how it works exactly – I think you have to feel things more strongly than most people.  Maybe in order to see the beauty in life to the level that you can express it creatively, you have to feel the sadness and the pain more than most people.  I’m not sure, but it’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for decades now.  Most of my family members are artists and they (we?  I sometimes include myself but not always) are, at the same time, incredibly blessed by their talent and tortured by it.

We took family photos and I was alone in them.  My brother and his now-wife were in the middle, of course.  My parents are still married (that in itself is a miracle) and were together.  My sister and brother-in-law held their baby.  And then there was me.  The extended family photos weren’t much better.  My aunt and uncle.  My other aunt and uncle.  My cousin, husband, and two kids.  My other cousin, husband and two kids.  My step-cousin and her boyfriend and their kid.  On the other side of the family were my recently-dumped uncle and my widowed grandmother so I wasn’t totally alone.

It’s still a struggle to not let that define me.  I can be the seventh wheel in my family and still be valuable.  My parents’ shelves are filled with photos: My brother and my new sister-in-law, my sister and her husband, my parents together.  Then there’s me and my dog.  Sometimes it’s horribly difficult to see that there – I feel like I’m not as good as the others because no one has yet wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.  I know that’s not true – that God doesn’t take these kinds of things into account – but God’s not there in a photo with me.  Sometimes I think to myself that eventually everyone will be widowed or divorced and we’ll all be alone but that just makes me feel mean and petty. Usually this happens when I’m angry with God for not bringing me what I’m praying for – a husband or release from loneliness.

The real truth is that if I had married any of the people I thought I wanted to marry, I would be miserable and probably a lot more broken than I am.  It’s likely that I wouldn’t be writing this blog because I’d still be depressed.  I definitely wouldn’t have learned that I can actually sit at home alone and be contented and sometimes even joyful.  I think the story that I am in right now is a miracle – a divine gift from God and a miracle of healing.  This may not last, knowing me, but right now I can say that I’d rather have that than what I used to think I wanted, even if it means standing alone in photos.  It’s hard, though, to look deeper into my life for the blessings and gifts and values, and not just take the easy way of pointing to a photo and counting that as my self-worth.

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Vacation

June 25, 2010

I went on a vacation four years ago with my brother to an absolutely beautiful coastal area of Mexico. He had just graduated from college and it was our first time traveling together as adults. The area we were in was scenic and warm and beautiful, with warm blue-green oceans. The food was incredible. I was horribly depressed.

I couldn’t find a reason. I did my best to hide it but my brother isn’t stupid and figured it out but I don’t think he knew what to do. I found myself in an area that was as close to paradise as I’ve ever been and I was absolutely desperately sad. The kind of sad where you find yourself at the bottom of a well with no light shining in. There’s not even a hope of feeling better. I took walks and cried. I made really expensive phone calls to friends in the US and sobbed. They didn’t know what to do or how to help me but listened to me. I tried to pretend like everything was fine around my brother but I just kept crying. At one point I was driving our rental car alone and started thinking about driving it off the cliff into the ocean. 

I think the setting made it worse. Being depressed in the winter if things are going badly is one thing. Being this depressed in the summer with tropical fruit, a warm ocean, and total relaxation makes it very clear that something was wrong with me. Not my situation, not my job, not the weather, but me.

Four years later, I’m spending a week and a half in Hawaii. There are so many similarities – I’m with people I love (in this case, it’s two good friends), the weather is warm and humid and wonderful, the beach is beautiful and the water is turquoise and warm. I am relaxing and snorkeling and getting sunburned – all the same as the trip to Mexico.

The difference is more than I can explain. And in fact, I wish I could explain it. There is not even a drop of depression in this trip. There is not one moment when I have felt like crying, felt weepy, felt desperate, felt hopeless. There are not words to describe what a miracle that is – and I am not using the word lightly. Yes, I’m on medication, but I was on medication four years ago too. I am just enjoying my time with friends, on the beach, and relaxing, without the precipice or the dark howling storm coming to swallow me up.

When I was feeling at my worst – which happened more times than I want to think about; it seemed like I would never NOT be feeling my worst – I thought the best I could ever hope for was to live a life that was sort of neutral-feeling, with bouts of really bad depression that let up sometimes. That letting up sometimes was all I was hoping for, and THAT felt like too much to ask. So to spend ten days feeling joyful – the whole time – and then realizing that the month before that at home was the same… it feels like I’ve possibly made it to heaven. 

I have no idea why God took so long to answer my prayers and the prayers of so many other people who were interceding for me. I don’t know if this will last – although somehow it feels like it will “stick” this time. I just know that right now it’s wonderful – better than I could have ever imagined.


The Problem With Healing…

June 8, 2010

…is that I forget. For example, the nightmares I talked about. I’ve sort of forgotten that I used to have nightmares and I certainly forget that I’ve been healed from it. I lose hope about other things and write them off as things that will never be fixed, my prayers will never be listened to. For example, I’m having a lot of trouble sleeping. A LOT of trouble. I’ve prayed about it. I’ve seen doctors over and over. It doesn’t seem to be getting better. I’m tempted to believe it won’t and can’t ever get better.

I think it would be easier if I could explain it. If I could say “Oh, it’s this one factor that stopped the nightmares (or the depression),” then I would know what did it, I would be able to know that I didn’t have to worry about it coming back, and I would know what to do next time I had a problem. I hate things that I can’t explain. I have no idea what to do and how to fix this. I guess part of that is faith, and there is beauty and mystery to that, but most of the time I’d rather have something I can explain.


Nightmares

June 3, 2010

It’s a sure sign of healing that I’ve forgotten to talk about nightmares until now.

I’ve had problems with nightmares for years. I remember being a very small child and waking up terrified – I rarely explained what the dreams were about because they often didn’t sound scary (one involved me being a cookie that got eaten; another was a giant sandbox full of potatoes – but they were both frightening).

As I got older, the dreams tapered off until I began teaching. I started having nightmares again and this time they sounded scary. I taught in the inner city and although I was never scared while I was awake and at the school, the terror came out at night. I dreamed about red-eyed demons at the school, and about violence – a lot of violence. I dreamed a lot about getting shot except I usually woke up before I was actually shot but while I was still in the terror of anticipation. Once I dreamed that Satan was chasing me while I tried to run up a mountain with all the students – he was following me, throwing fire at me and trying to kill the kids. There were a lot of dreams about Satan – not as a devil with a pitchfork, but as a nebulous evil presence. Often, he was chasing me. Sometimes I started praying in my dreams; once I just repeated Jesus’ name over and over. The nightmares were all about fear – unrelenting, all-consuming fear.

These bean to be extremely common – a few times a week, and I usually woke up with such bad tension headaches from having all of my muscles tensed that I couldn’t move. The headaches were worse than any migraine I’ve had and sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed for hours, even to take medicine.

The funny thing is that I don’t really remember now how they stopped. I know I had a lot of people praying for me, and I wanted to give up hope many times. I asked a couple of pastors at my church to pray for me and they took it very seriously. At one point, they offered to come pray at my house and asked me to invite friends over to pray. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing that I had so many good friends – there were probably 12 or 15 people who showed up to pray over my house. I don’t remember if that’s when the nightmares stopped – I don’t think it was right away. All of a sudden, maybe a year ago, I just realized that I wasn’t having them. I wish I had paid better attention because this was a major major problem – definitely something I thought would never get better! It was crippling me, and now it’s just gone.

Nightmares: gone. Depression: gone. I don’t know if those two things will stay gone but in the meantime, I don’t really need more proof that God works miracles.