Thursday, December 10, 2015

Breaking Through

You know what happens when I am brave and transparent?!  I feel 1000 times better.  That isn't entirely true... At first I feel a huge wave of regret, and then a little sick and my head starts spinning like I just got off a roller coaster.  I go through panic and wonder if I said too much or if people are still going to like me when I'm vulnerable and weak (and not my normal fun or organized or social self).  What if people start throwing cliches at me or trying to fix me or eye contact!?  But after that rush of crazy subsides, I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER.  I slept without vivid nightmares for the first time in months.  There were a couple of times when I didn't even need to remind myself to breathe.

It makes me wonder why I waited so long.  I am not all better, our family still isn't okay, but the pressure subsided just a tiny bit.  When the honest, real, and raw truth is released, it is like a sacred memorial.  The people who love and support you, and you love and support, gather around.  People share in your story and then they share their love.  It is hard and painful but it is real and it is beautiful and there is connection.  It allows for a tiny tinge of healing or adapting... the glimmer of that first star on a moonless night.

Just so I am clear...  It isn't all raindrops on roses and sunrises and cosmos.  I've discovered over this year that lots and lots of people are not thrilled with transparency.  Some people choose to hop-scotch their own grief / depression / unwanted change / impossibly hard stuff and have no desire to witness anyone wallow in theirs (totally understandable!  I'm tired watching myself wallowing too!).  Lots and lots of people are uncomfortable and few know how to respond (especially in person or as time goes on).  It is a lot easier when we all pretend to be happy and fun, and it is a real buzz-kill when broken things are laying all over the place with little hope of being cleaned-up let alone fixed.

I was raised in "the church", and I find that grief and depression are some of those areas that the church is really not very good at.  Jesus is supposed to be the answer, "This is not our final home" is supposed to be enough, and when people are still broken, it is like God was not enough.  I know many many broken people who are afraid to take medication or be transparent because of perceived judgement and poor responses.  The church often throws a lot of prayers and cliches and casseroles and worship songs and Bible verses (and sometimes whole Bibles) but then doesn't really know where to go beyond there.

There is never going to be a perfect way to come along side someone in grief or depression or unwanted change.  What works for me, won't work for everyone (and often I have no idea what works for me or it changes or nothing works).  The church, people, friends, and family mean well.  I am confident that most people are not intentionally trying to be hurtful, but it happens, especially in the hard parts of life.  Please don't be nervous if you've said these things, I'm sure that I've said them before! I know you meant well, you did the best you could, and I'm in such a haze that I would never remember who has said them anyway.  There are no magic words or perfect responses but firstly, I highly recommend avoiding empty cliches and shallow platitudes.  To most people, lines like these are not helpful:
  • Everything happens for a reason.  God is in control.
  • God only gives you what you can handle
  • At least his suffering wasn't long.  He is in a better place.  God needed another angel.
  • Time heals all wounds.  This too will pass.  Something good will come from this.
  • What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
  • It was his time to go; he had done the work he was meant to do on this earth.
  • Don't you think it is time to move on?  ______ would want you to be happy.
  • You just need to... (pray, exercise, get fresh air, eat clean, get pregnant again, etc.)
  • I couldn't handle this, you are so much stronger than I am.
  • How are you doing? really? (especially with a tilted head-- and on the sidelines of a loud soccer game)
I love much of Jewish culture on mourning but my absolute favorite part is that it is in very poor taste to get in the way of someone's processing of grief. Not only are platitudes taboo, but it isn't even polite to divert the conversation from talking about the deceased*.  Upon leaving, in Jewish custom they say, "May the Lord comfort you with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem"  I LOVE THAT!  I bet the church lost that somewhere because of  Paul's line about "Do not grieve like those with no hope."  I'm not sure what the modern equivalent is, but what if instead of shallow cliches, people were like, "May you feel comfort as all of  the heavens and FaceBook mourn with you."

Some stories have brought me unspeakable comfort... others, not so much.  It is a fine line, but it lies somewhere in the depth and sincerity and the purpose of the story.  If someone says, "I know exactly how you feel!  When my aunt had cancer... like 15 years ago..."  and then goes on and on and on... Pretty quickly, the voice starts to sound like a Charlie Brown teacher down a very long tunnel and I go into a self preservation shell so that I don't accidentally melt-down in public.

Amidst depression (or grief or unwanted change or impossibly hard stuff) small talk, filibustering, or feigned empathy are nearly unbearable.  It is usually much more appropriate to say, "I recognize that you are going through some really hard and painful stuff.  I am here with you and for you.  My heart breaks with yours.  I know nothing can fix this, but if there is anything tangible, even if you just want me to sit beside you in silence..." or if words aren't your thing... just a hug...  Or a hand squeeze...  Or a plant...  Or a cleaning lady... Or yoga certificates...  Or a text with only a heart... but basically, if you are still talking and the person is wordless with glazed eyes... the story might not be effective comfort.  

The stories that have softened my soul are often when someone puts their arm around me and says, "My dear girl. All this $#!+ so impossibly hard, and you are right, it effing sucks, life will never be the same..."  and then we share back and forth on how our lives are forever altered by unwanted change and impossibly hard stuff (as well as some stuff that should be easy but isn't)...  I feel my soul breathe.  It isn't the time to get advice or take on another burden, but it is the time to walk beside each other and carry our burdens together for a few minutes... especially if your burden isn't as raw as mine and you somehow survived, even in a forever altered state.

So with all that said, my Dear Friends... thank you.  I am surrounded by so many of the right kinds of people.  Thank you for your space and your silence and listening to my story and for being vulnerable with your own.  Please know that your love is felt in very real and meaningful ways... <3

*There isn't really a win/win with bringing up the hard stuff or not.  Sometimes (but not always), I'd rather hear some awkward recognition than avoiding with empty small talk.  If nothing at all is acknowledged, the elephant just starts to grow larger and larger and it feels like there is no room for me at all and I could collapse under it's belly and no one would notice... but I'm sure that isn't normal or even healthy -- probably best to use the Jewish custom and follow the lead of the person grieving... lots of people are much better (and healthier) at compartmentalizing and just want to take a true break--  to appreciate where they are at that moment, to enjoy a genuine and deep laugh.  Gosh life would be so much easier if I personally got better at that! Putting "Learn to Compartmentalize while Processing" as #1 on my New Years Resolution list... although, it would probably be more helpful for the Christmas Spirit if I started practicing right now...  I'll count writing it down on this blog as step one.

So maybe my revised mantra, still allowing me to be true to myself but process in a more healthy direction:

I AM NOT FINE!!  But I am trying really hard to compartmentalize and enjoy this moment.