Friday, March 24, 2017

Lessons on Bravery from an Unlikely Teacher

     Having a blog can be a really strange thing sometimes. I, or anyone else with access to the internet, can write about whatever I want, and send it out into the universe for anyone to discover and read. There are no rules, unless I choose to set them for myself. Most of the time, I don't worry about it very much because I don't get a ton of feedback, and the things I write about aren't typically scandalous or shocking. But seeing the number of views on my last post, compared to the numbers on other recent posts, was a reality check for me. While I was very happy that so many people were interested enough to read what I wrote, my eyes were opened to the fact that I am putting my feelings on the internet for the world to see, and the world, or at least a part of it around me, is taking notice.
     Obviously, being real and honest and vulnerable is something that people connect with. I try my very best to write from a place of authenticity, and I'm usually quite open about the things I share. But as open as I may seem when it comes to writing, there is a side of me that is not so comfortable with people knowing so much about me. Many of the people who read this blog are people I know in real life. I might see you in the grocery store or at church after you've read all about my feelings, and I would be lying if I said that doesn't make me feel a little uncomfortable at times.
      As I've been thinking about the impact of being so vulnerable so publicly, I looked at many bible verses, devotions, and articles about vulnerability, and also this issue of guarding my heart that keeps coming to my mind whenever I worry that I am sharing too much.  In the end, the thing that helped me find my answer didn't come from a Bible story or academic article. It came from one of my childhood heroes, Franklin the Turtle. Franklin starred in a TV show and also a series of books, whose opening lines are somehow still etched into the farthest corners of my long term memory. "Franklin could count by twos and tie his shoes..."  I remember when I had to have a minor surgery when I was probably four or five, and my parents gave me the book Franklin Goes to the Hospital. For some reason as I began writing about vulnerability that book came to mind, so I decided to revisit my childhood and look it up. Something that fictional, animated animal says is exactly what I want to say."Everybody thinks I'm brave, but I've just been pretending." What if, after reading that I've really been struggling with my feelings, people who once thought I was brave now start to change their minds. Now, instead of a brave young woman who's gracefully endured hardships throughout her life, I'm just another "snowflake" millennial talking about mental health and feelings on the internet? For the record, I believe that talking about mental health is very important and something we should do far more openly and often, but that's a topic for another day.
     This is not the first time I've worried about losing my bravery badge. I have felt that way so many times, since I was very young. Is it brave to endure life with a disability that makes me different, and the struggles that sometimes come with it? Maybe, but I don't exactly have a choice in the matter. I did not choose to be born with a birth defect, it's just who I am, and since it's not going away, I try not to focus on it. I'm not sure if that's bravery or just a coping mechanism.
     Is it brave to travel to a foreign country alone, and stay there for three weeks? Some people say so, I say it was an experience that I loved. To me, the issue of bravery only kicked in once I returned home and had to face the ways I had changed. When I had to realize that I had returned different than I left, in ways that I don't yet know how to fully describe.
     As strange as it may seem coming from a person who has endured some pretty gruesome medical drama and traveled to two foreign countries that aren't exactly tourism destinations to do mission work, I think the bravest thing I've ever done was to be open and honest about my feelings. I am still struggling to find a balance between guarding my heart and allowing my weakness to be on display, but here's what I know for sure; If my struggles can help someone in any way, even if only to let them know that they are not alone, then I believe it is important to share my experiences as honestly as possible. It can be scary for me to be so honest sometimes, but I know a thing or two about bravery thanks to a book from my past about a beloved cartoon turtle.
     What part of your story are you keeping to yourself, because it feels too risky to share? You never know who needs to hear the chapter of your story that you've always left untold.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sadness is Not a Sin Part II : Find What's Best

Around this time last year, I was inspired to write a post entitled "Sadness is not a Sin" that I ended up being glad I decided to share. In it, I mentioned that I have experienced periods in my life of what I believe to be depression. Today, almost a year later, I feel that I should return to that subject again, because I feel like although it's an uncomfortable subject to talk about, it is important that it is indeed talked about.
I mentioned that I had struggled problems that were most likely some form of depression, even though I say again that this was not an official diagnosis, and I had not sought out any kind of diagnosis at that time. My problems did not manifest in the ways that our society is comfortable with. The way I see it, we live in a society that is largely uncomfortable talking about anything having to do with mental health, so we either make it a joke or avoid talking about it at all. We casually armchair diagnose people, even entire political parties, with mental illnesses when we can't comprehend why they do the things they do. I'll admit that I've done that, thankfully in private conversation and not in a public forum. We make fun of celebrities and public figures for "acting crazy", because that's more comfortable and more fun than acknowledging the very real issues that people deal with.
The reason I bring that up is that in a world where we observe other peoples behaviors for entertainment, the behaviors that I have experienced when I've gone through hard times are not entertaining at all. I did not become a fun party girl, or take long road trips to find myself. I did not write whimsical poetry or make art. Instead, I became stuck in my own cruel cycle, bored and withdrawn. I sat I the same chair for hours, doing nothing of consequence, racking my brain in an attempt to figure out how I had reached this point. When I go through my low points, the effects are embarrassing to talk about, so I usually don't. It's only on rare occasions like today that I've been comfortable enough to share a little bit of myself that is usually not revealed.
There's a song I've been hearing a lot lately, even though it's been around for a little while. There is a line in the song that says “Lay down what’s good and find what’s best.”, and I feel like that describes what I am trying to do currently. Right now, I’m okay, some of the time I can even pass for good. But I have decided that good isn’t good enough anymore. I am ready to be the best version of myself, and if that means that I have to do things that make me feel a little uncomfortable, then so be it.
I have found that for me, trying to pretend that I'm okay when I'm not only makes things worse. If you're not really okay right now, that's okay. I am writing this in hopes that, even if you take nothing else from reading this, you will realize you are not alone, because that seemingly simple realization has helped me tremendously. There's no shame in the way you feel, and there are steps you can take to help yourself feel better again. I took one of those steps myself earlier today, which is what prompted me to write this.
I'm so thankful for that Psychology professor I had who was so open about being a Christian, and at the same time so unafraid and unashamed of encouraging us to take care of our mental health. I'm also thankful for the other examples in my life of good Christian people who have encouraged me to take care of my mind just as much as I take care of myself in all of the other ways that our world hasn't attached shame and stigma to. I am taking steps to lay down what's good and find what's best, and I encourage you to do the same. If I can do it, so can you.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Loose Gravel and Other Temporary Problems

     An interesting project took place on some areas of the road near where I live earlier this week. I'm no engineer, but as far as I can tell it involved spreading a somewhat thick layer of small gravel on random stretches of the road for no beneficial reason other than to make my personal driving experience less enjoyable. Obviously, that was not the real reason for this project, but that hasn't stopped me from being annoyed by it, and expressing that annoyance to anyone who will listen.
     The saving grace of this mysterious gravel project is that it is temporary. Eventually, that layer of gravel will be dispersed by cars and the weather. It will make it's way to the sides of the road and eventually into the ditch, and all that will be left is the memory of that time the road was covered in gravel and I didn't like it. It is a temporary problem that will have no long term affects on me, unless I allow it too.
     Obviously, a road work project that I don't understand is not really a big deal. It's just a silly thing that gets on my nerves, but is still easy to laugh about. It's the bigger annoyances in life that I find more difficult to let go of. When people say and do things that hurt my feelings, or when I am faced with circumstances that seem unfair, my natural reaction is to hold on to my hurt feelings until the situation is resolved in my favor. I can recall a particular time I was treated unfairly in kindergarten, and even though I can see some humor in it now that I am an adult, I still get worked up about if I think about it too much. That's how good I can be at holding on to my hurt feelings, and it's not something I am proud of.
      While I think it is probably natural to want situations to be resolved so that my feelings can be mended, I have to realize that it is not beneficial to me or the people around me. I don't want to spend my whole life being angry and bitter, which means that eventually I have to swallow my pride and just let things go. It's hard because it doesn't leave me feeling justified and satisfied, but it is better that the alternative, being permanently bitter.
     Clearly I'm not going to stop driving on the road for the rest of my life because of this temporary project I don't agree with, so why should I give up on relationships and positive connections because of temporary problems? One day, all of that gravel that annoys me so much right now will be long forgotten, and the minor things that hurt my feelings today won't matter anymore. What will matter is how I chose to react to those things, because that could be the difference between ending good things in a moment of hurt, or choosing to see beyond the moment and realize that hurt is only temporary, and simply moving on.