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Battling the Storms of Life

My favorite quotation is, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain” by Vivian Greene. For a long time, my life felt like one long storm. I’d get a brief glimpse of the sun, just long enough to remind me there is a sun, but then I’d be back into the dark turbulence, overwhelmed by the gloom. One of the things I like about this quote is it doesn’t claim there will be no storms. It doesn’t say the sun will always be shining and that peace and love will reign all the time. It acknowledges the storm and it simply states that life is about learning to find joy even when life is hard.

We all have storms we go through. Some of those storms are external, battling us from all sides: flooding our homes, taking away our jobs, making us feel helpless, lost, out of control. Sometimes the storms are internal: depression, despair, physical illness. The result is the same. We feel helpless, battered at the whim of forces beyond our control. Some people face these storms head on, battling through They look at the rest of us floundering and judge us. They feel we are weak. We are not weak. We possess a strength as well. We may stumble but we endure. We may flounder but we don’t give up. We keep going, keep trying, even when having no support for the storms we’re battling. We’re still here.

For some of us, life is very, very, hard. Some people can take the hard knocks of life and roll with them effortlessly. But, for some of us, we get knocked down so hard and so often, we don’t want to get up anymore. It seems easier to stay down. And some of us are surrounded by those seemingly blessed people with sunny dispositions who can always look for the rainbows. They mean well with their, “choose to be happy” exclamations. But they don’t get it. They don’t understand that for some of us, our brains work differently. Telling someone who is clinically depressed to “choose to be happy” is like telling a blind man, “see that road down there, you just follow that road and it will get you where you want to go.” It doesn’t mean the depressed person can’t be happy or the blind man can’t follow the road. It does mean that those roads need to be traversed in a different way. The person on the road may need to go slower, be more cautious, they may need a friend to help them along the way, and they may need help just getting to the road. They definitely don’t need to feel bad because they aren’t on the road yet and they don’t need to be told to just “keep looking” when they can’t see!

I understand the pain and agony of mental illness. I was 11 when I first tried to kill myself. Even at that young age I battled depression and a home life that left me unsettled and insecure. Then, one day, it all came to a head. I was at school and I had to give a presentation. I felt overwhelmed, out of control. I tried to take control back in a very odd way – I stopped talking. Not surprisingly, the other children didn’t think that made any sense whatsoever. I was trying to make sense of the storm I was in from my eleven-year-old mind. So, I took my presentation and wrote out notecards for every word I wanted to say and I tried to give the presentation. It didn’t go well. I don’t know whether I spoke without realizing it or if one of the other children just wanted to accuse me of it but my control was broken. I had tried to gain control and I had failed. I was presenting a lesson on cooking fondue. Using a fondue pot. Fired by lighter fluid. So, I took the lighter fluid, ran to the bathroom and tried to drink it. I don’t recommend lighter fluid as a suicide method. After the first sip, I was gagging and teachers were rushing in. I was taken to the hospital and had my stomach pumped. It was labeled an attempt to get “attention”. I’ve always wondered who came up with the idea that a child trying to get attention should not be given attention. As an adult, I am mortified that a CHILD would want to die and yet her plea would be dismissed as an attention grabbing stunt. I wanted attention alright. I wanted help. I wanted understanding. I wanted to have all the pain that was driving me to want to die to go away. But that didn’t happen. I was in the hospital a few days. Saw a counselor a few times and moved on with my life.

I was 15 when I was diagnosed with bipolar illness. I would experience mania that felt so good yet caused such damage, or depression that left me curled up in bed, unable to function. As a youth, my “attention” getting behavior was met without any realistic attempt at relief. I had people in my life who cared but no one who truly understood my struggles. I was blessed from that time on to have excellent doctors who could think outside the box and find me the treatment I needed. I didn’t get well then but I survived.

I was in my late 20’s / early 30’s when the psychosis became obvious: paranoid delusions and visual and auditory hallucinations. My life fell apart. I was married with two children. My husband is an amazing man but those years pushed our marriage to the brink. I could barely take care of myself let alone my children. Those were the darkest years of my life. I had no friends. (I was told I was too negative.) I had no job. I had left high school early to go to college but I didn’t finish either. I had a GED but no diploma. A few college classes under my belt but not enough to get me anywhere. I was in a black hole with no idea how to climb out.

The storms raged on and I held on. Eventually, after years of attempts, I was put on a medication that worked. It was a slow, arduous climb but I made it out of the pit. The storms raged so much, sometimes I wanted to go back to the pit, thinking I would find some protection from the battle but I kept on, working with doctors and therapists I survived those storms. I was even able to learn some lessons along the way. I’m hoping by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned, others can get through their storms. There are three things I want you to know: 1) You’re not alone. There are others of us out there, fighting through the storm. 2) There is hope. Life is hard. Life is discouraging. But life is also a blessing. Whatever you are going through can be faced and triumphed over. I know, you’re tired. You’re tired of the storm and you just want the sun to shine on you. I want you to believe that you don’t need the sun to feel happy. You don’t need the storm to end to find peace. In the midst of the storm there is hope. In the midst of the battle there is courage. And in the midst of the loneliness there is love. 3) You CAN reclaim your life. It takes time and frequently it takes other people, too, but you CAN have a life. Maybe not some fantasy version but you can find meaning and purpose in your life.

I started out sharing how my story started. Now, I’d like to jump to the end. The person that once was lost in the maze of her own brain, found a way out. Through medications and an awesome doctor, we averted electro-shock therapy and found some semblance of stability. I finished my bachelor’s degree and then my master’s. I discovered I can hold down a job and do it well. My husband and I are still together 28 years later and our kids are okay. They have their own stories to tell but I’m proud of the persons each one has become. Through faith in God, I keep finding my way through my storms. I’m hoping I can help you through yours.

I write from a Christian perspective but for those that believe differently, don’t dismiss me automatically. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God. I believe He’s been with me through every storm, getting me through it. I was raised Methodist with a focus on helping others. When I was about 19, I started questioning my faith. I read books on religion hoping to find answers. Instead, I found churches that did more harm than good. They used the Bible as a weapon and closed ranks to those that struggled. I learned about “fire insurance” – believing in God just to avoid going to hell. I learned a lot about religion and discovered that what some people tout as “Christianity” is really just their own way of putting God in a box, not understanding that God doesn’t fit in a box.

I’m a Christian and I believe in Jesus Christ and I can’t write about my struggles, my storms, without talking about the God who was with me throughout. If you aren’t a Christian, please don’t stop reading. What I have to say doesn’t go with a particular theology. Ultimately, I am called to help others and I hope this blog will help you regardless of your beliefs. I’m not going to say I have all the answers, only suggestions. During those long, unstable years the church abandoned me. I didn’t fit in. I was battered by the illness so I wasn’t the kind of person that people wanted to be friends with. So, where was God? He was by my side. Guiding the doctors, cheering me on. Telling me not to give up. So, now I’m telling you the same thing. Don’t give up! You’re not alone! There is hope! You can reclaim your life!

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