The blanket

This was written for a dear friend who is looking for some way to reach her sister in the darkness. May it touch you as well. 

The blanket

I stand still and try to disappear into the darkness around me. The cold is unbearable and soon my body begins to shake in search of some warmth or light.

Finding none, I curse everything and everyone. In desperation, I gather up all my pain and begin to knit together a blanket. Weaving in every insult, every punch, the horrible unspeakable things, the shame and the evil I know all too intimately.

I step back and look at my blanket. It is beautiful, a complex knit filled with all the colors of sorrow and despair. I fling it around my shoulders, and like a superhero, it gives me the identity I so crave.

Now I am someone special because of my pain. I am a survivor. I am not numb anymore and I am alive. The blanket makes me think and feel. I spit in the face of everyone who has hurt me.

No longer shivering, I parade around in my blanket for all to see.

“Look at me!” I cry out in joy. “Look at how beautiful I am now.”

I sleep curled up in my blanket, the softness making me feel comfortable and safe. I never let it out of my sight. When others try to get near me, snap, I fling the stitches in their face. Only I know the truth of my pain. Only my blanket can protect me.

Over time though, the blanket becomes worn, heavy and the stitches start to unravel. I desperately cling to it, but the power seems to be fading and the cold and darkness reaches me again.

Huddling under the blanket with tears streaming down my face, the blanket refuses to comfort me anymore. It mocks me now and I get angry.

I look until I find something else to give me comfort.

Then something else.

Then something else.

They all offer a moment of warmth.

Just a moment.

I lay down and now the blanket is so heavy I cannot move. My body is being pushed into the earth and the fabric is cutting into my skin. I pray for death to take me away.

Then I hear a voice quietly whispering my name over and over. I recognize this voice instantly and recoil from it.

No. Go away. I’m too damaged. Too broken. Just leave me.

But the voice continues to whisper over and over and then gently tugs at my blanket.

“I don’t need help,” I yell and pull the suffocating blanket so tight around my face that I can barely breathe.

He whispers my name again and I feel the blanket slowly peeling away from my body. I tug against it one more time and then let go.

All at once He takes the blanket and flings it onto His own shoulders. Through tears I roll over and see Him smiling down at me.

“I will carry this now,” He says.

He reaches His arms out to me and without thinking I leap into them.

He puts a robe around my shoulders and it is the warmest, softest thing I have ever felt.

“Walk with me,” He says.

I do.

I feel so light and free. The air is fresh, the colors bright and everything feels different.

I am no longer alone.

I never really was.

He tells me this walk will never be easy and I will be tempted to weave a new blanket over and over again. The pain, darkness and cold will forever chase me, but I don’t have to live in fear anymore.

He has my blanket. He has my hand.

I am not alone.

I am a child of God and He loves me.

Although I feel unworthy, I accept this love and this gift.

Now, I proudly wear my robe for all to see and remind myself daily to let Him carry my blanket.

I don’t need it.

I am free.

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The light and the dark of my friend

It can happen in just a second.

We are chatting happily about nothing in particular and the light suddenly shifts. Something I said either sparked a memory or struck an exposed wound that I didn’t see, and the darkness descends.

It’s always in the eyes first. I see the color shift slightly and then his gaze drops. Hoping it wasn’t noticed, eye contact is resumed. Yet the wrinkles on his forehead deepen and I can see the truth just under the surface bubbling.

His voice is his biggest betrayer. The tone, volume and speed all drop and I can actually hear the sadness seeping in. It’s subtle, but so noticeable once you pay attention. Like a siren broadcasting the approaching storm, it’s unmistakable.

Defenses shoot up fast, as only someone as experienced in living with pain knows how to do, and I prepare myself for the protective show.

Smiling way too big.

Telling a joke far too exuberantly.

Twisting the conversation away.

Diversionary tactics honed from years of experience.

He is a master at hiding.

He has perfected the art of subtly pushing friends away and protecting them from his demons. Thwarting real conversations with jokes meant to make you uncomfortable and to push your limits. If you’re off balance than you won’t look deeper at him.

handI watch as he pours himself into his creative outlets. His music, writing and art are filled with darkness and light. They are brilliant and help keep him from descending deeper down.

All of this hiding, covering up and creativity do work…most of the time.

Yet after experiencing and battling the darkness myself, the terrible monster that is depression, those moments when I see it happen can’t be ignored. I can’t just let them go without notice.

Nobody should have to go it alone.

True darkness isn’t something you can wish away or just “get over.” It’s as personal as your fingerprint, yet universal in its ability to destroy you. Everyone has experience with it, yet not everyone is pulled completely down.

I know that I am lucky. I have support, love and therapy. I strive to stay in the light most of the time, yet I know the dark intimately and slip down more than I care to admit.

There is no fix for depression.

It makes you feel alone and isolated. Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to go there with you. It’s too uncomfortable and you have to be willing to expose your own darkness.

It is not for the faint of heart.

I want to be there for him, for my mother and for many others that I see struggle. All I can offer is an acknowledgement of the pain, my sincere love and a listening ear.

I can’t turn away from them.

For me, when I feel that heaviness start to take me over, I get busy. Super busy. I focus on each task throughout my day, making myself check lists and fretting over tiny details that have little real significance. I pour myself into my children and others and hope it’s enough.

But inevitably it happens.

I break.

Retreating into my hole with tears streaming down my face, I push everyone away and wallow in my feelings of inadequacy and fear.

The Machine

There is something in the tonal change
subtle, barely perceptible
enough to pull the lever

Chain winds around and tightens
breath becomes harder, thoughts unclear
belt moves, screeches its familiar tune

Never enough, constantly trying and failing
can’t let go, things will break
turning, tightening, hurting

Unrelenting it whines and chugs
painful pitch vibrates deep inside
sweet relief, release forever inches away

Intensity, fear wrapped in network of pain
turn it up, always threatening to break
shuddering, pulsing, trembling within

Gears slip, yet won’t fully snap apart
unbalanced it eternally churns uneven song
never the same, lever won’t be pushed back

I can see this pattern, this machine, work itself on me and many others that I love. I see it wind us up and spit us out. I wish I could shake us all free of its grasp and live fully in the light. Yet, deep down I suspect that isn’t something that can happen. The dark is always there.

Yet I am trying.

And I am praying.

I’m a tiny baby Christian just barely blooming. I read the Bible as a teenager, but never really embraced it. I was cynical, questioning and goal focused. There was no time to ponder my soul; I had papers to write, bills to pay and expectations to fulfill.

A few nights ago I read this:

1 John 2:6-7: If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The darkness has been such a big part of my adult life; it’s hard to imagine fully letting it go. Yet I want to. I wonder what it would be like to let go of all the pain that I hold tight to my chest? I wonder what it would feel like to live each day embracing the light and never fearing the dark?

I take another stumbling step forward, but I am no longer alone.

Fighting against the clichés of life

For sure I was going to work with animals. My days would be surrounded with puppies, kittens and horses. I would heal them, train them and love them all. People would be astounded by my abilities and would travel from around the world to see me work my magic.

I’d live somewhere in the mountains surrounded by beautiful redwood trees, but just a short horse ride to the beach. I’d have a house filled with children to share my love and we’d be deliriously happy. My mom would have her own house on my ranch and I’d always have visitors coming and going. I’d be surrounded by people at all times and never feel alone. Ever.

This was the vision. My grand plans for my life.

When your 10-years-old, the world is open to you and nothing seems impossible.

When I look at where I am now, my life is nothing like that. In fact, I epitomize every Lifetime movie special about white middle-aged women.

I’m headed toward 40. I have two kids and live in suburbia with two guinea pigs. I drive a carpool in my minivan and embarrass my children. I volunteer at my kids’ school and am the pizza lady. I’m heavier than I used to be. I’m in therapy for my depression. I’m starting to wear an alarming number of necklaces and scarves. I’ve started collecting little glass turtles. I drink wine and go to a book club. I cry at sappy movies and talk a lot about when my kids were really little. I go on Facebook and try to come up with witty comments so my friends will “like” it. I take an absurd amount of selfies.

I am a cliché.

If my kids played soccer, then the picture would be entirely complete. But since they don’t, I’ll just further my image by saying ridiculous old-people things like “I can remember when gas cost $1.75” or “in my day you had to record your favorite song off the radio if you wanted to hear it over and over.”

Even better, I can start complaining about how fast time goes by and how sad it all is. The children of my two very best friends from high school are 18 and 16 now. Seriously? I can’t even understand that. It’s dumb.

When the depression had its hold on me, this line of thinking would have sent me right back to bed. I’d have pulled the covers over my head and wept at how my life has turned out. I’d try to focus on the blessings, but they would slip through my fingers and fall away. I’d be left lying in the debris of my dreams with an intense sense of hopelessness.

Not anymore. Now, even though I’m aware at how completely formulaic my life is, there is still this enormous part of me that doesn’t believe any of it. This quiet whisper that tells me, “yeah, but there is something special about you.” It cries out to me that my life hasn’t even begun yet.

I carve out moments to think and pray now. I dream about what my life could look like and how I can make it happen. I write a lot of poetry and daydream about love and adventure. I’m filled with a hope that I’d lost before.

I spend a fair amount of time now laughing at myself. This morning, I awoke from a dream about a pink kitten named Cotton Candy. I could almost feel her fur and hear her purring next to me. I made up songs about her and sang them to my children at breakfast.

“Pink kitty, how you make my heart sing
You are the reason for everything
Those eyes are so beautiful and bright
And that sweet purr brings me such delight”

My kids laughed and made fun of their silly mother. I love being childish, vulnerable and open. Life is much more fun when I don’t take myself so seriously.

(NOTE: Just so you know, I’m aware that I’m writing in clichés now. It’s OK. All those Facebook memes are right. Life is too short. Dance like nobody is watching. And so on and so forth.)

The darkness is still there, but I don’t surrender to it as often. As my mother would say, “can I get a whoop-whoop!” There are parts of me that are awakening and stretching for the first time in years, and it feels good.

Damn good.

I am not just a series of stats on a piece of paper. I am not just what you see. Nobody is. Chuck Palahniuk was wrong when he wrote in “Fight Club”:

“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”

There was a time when I believed that whole-heartedly and it almost swallowed me alive. So I now reject that notion. I’m in the “we are all special and unique” camp now. I’m working hard to see the light in everyone and celebrating what I love about people in my life.

I recognize that from the outside, I represent a certain type of white woman in America. You can file me under middle-class, middle-aged, privileged, whining and self-absorbed. I’m not arguing any of that. However, I’m more than that. We are all more than our labels.

I’ve been writing a lot lately, but I haven’t been posting anything here. I think I’m fearful of the types of things I’m writing. Words are flowing, but what is pouring out isn’t focused or even clear. It’s a jumbled puzzle of conflicting emotions and ideas.

Mostly it’s short stories and poems about casting away depression and finding my place. I’m searching for a deeper relationship with God and seeking an understanding of my purpose.

So, with a bit of trepidation and fear, I’m going to share some of that writing with you. Hope you like it.

 

IMG_4624Sky message

I am a child.

I stand in the rain, eyes shut tight, as the drops fall ever faster. Like fingertips pressing down on my head and shoulders, they draw lines down my neck and arms. My clothes become heavy and my body shivers harshly.

I stretch out my arms and try to embrace that which I know I can’t. Tears join the raindrops and at once I can’t stand. My legs give way and I fall to the wet ground. The water pools around me, and the grownup voices yell at me to go inside. Get out of the rain. You look ridiculous.

But I don’t.

I am a child.

I want the rain to grow arms and pick me up. I want it to tell me that I’m beautiful, special and that there is nobody else in the world just like me. I want the words to slip into my ears and run into my brain. The intensity of this longing stabs sharply into my stomach and I wince as the pain spreads and threatens to overtake me.

You are not like everyone else.

These words slosh around me like a living being, vibrating against my head, and I am suddenly lifted. Heavy arms pluck me up like a baby and cradle me in a loving embrace. The rains dripping heartbeat pounds against my back as I bury my face into the bosom of my protector. Soft breath is against my neck and the whispers drip slowly into my ears.

You are safe.

Belief floods me and the shivers cease. The pain runs down my legs onto the ground into a puddle of misery and sadness. I open my eyes to see it reflected below me, the dark and ugly mass of insecurity and loneliness that has clung to me for so long. As I watch, it starts to flow away from me, streaming toward some unknown drain to the depths below.

You are safe.

The words fill me with hope and I cling hard to the arms holding me. Yet even as I try and trust the safety and warmth flooding me, fear creeps in. Am I too heavy? Am I slipping down? How long can this protection possibly last before I am dropped into an even bigger puddle?

I am a child.

The clouds slowly blow away and the sun bursts forward with a strength that takes my breath away. I find myself standing on my own feet, feeling my heartbeat returning to normal. The warm blood of my life courses through my body. I raise my arms to the sky and try to hug that which I know I can’t.

I am not like everyone else.

Nobody is.

Walking with baby Logan

His chubby little hands clench up into fists and he begins to rub his eyes.

“You getting sleepy,” I say to him.

He responds with a tiny whine. His body curls up and his head, suddenly way to heavy for his body, drops on my shoulder.

I grab my well-worn baby carrier and strap him in. I can feel the tension release immediately. He knows what is coming.

Stepping into my shoes we head outside. It’s fairly crisp and the air smells like logs burning. I cradle his head with one hand and we begin to walk.

We stop under my neighbor’s tree and both look up. A bird is chirping loudly, but I can’t find him in the tangle of yellow and brown leaves. After a moment, my sweet little baby nephew begins to whimper. He looks away from the tree and rubs his face against my chest.

Time to walk on.

I used to know every tree, bush, flower and house in my neighborhood. It was as familiar to me as my own backyard.

The enormous plum-tree that exploded pink flowers all over the sidewalk in the spring followed by loads of squishy plums that my kids loved to collect.

The tiny stone turtle that could only be seen under the rose bushes in the winter after the neighbors cut them back.

The crazy, barking dog that would run at the fence if you didn’t remember to cross to the other side of the street.

The grove of twisty trees that dropped plenty of sticks and little red balls just right for children’s hands and imaginations.

The giant black bees that favored the climbing morning-glory that grew along the fence of the house with the giant trampoline in the backyard.

The house with an abundance of pomegranates growing so far over the fence that you’d be able to pick some in the fall without them noticing.

The brick house that grows giant sunflowers in the summer that we just had to stop and measure ourselves against every time.

The house with several towering pine trees that always provided us with pinecones for our nature table.

As I walk around my neighborhood now, with my nephew sleeping soundly on my chest, I suddenly feel lost.

It all looks so foreign and bizarre.

It’s all so different.

Where did that grove of palm trees come from?

When did that retaining wall go in?

Where are all my memories?

It seems that my neighborhood has continued to grow, just like my kids. While I stay tucked inside, living with sadness and longing for the past, time just keeps moving forward.

It’s all so different.

My babies are giant kids who no longer enjoy walks in the neighborhood with their mother, certainly not strapped to my chest. They are smart, creative, intelligent children who love to play board games, read books, create art and make things out of string. They spend hours away at school each day and hardly seem to need me when I pick them up.

It’s all so different.

photoAs I walk home, I am suddenly struck by everything.

The beauty of the clouds and the vastness of the sky above.

A mass of deep, dark purple flowers growing next to a small ceramic snail.

An arch covered in a rich green tangle of ivy.

A lawn of dark, thick grass that is dotted with five baby pine trees in a star pattern.

A square garden box made of redwood that is growing pumpkins, squash and kale.

I feel like a small child out on my walk in the big, wide world.

I’m amazed at everything.

I pick up a golden leaf that I can’t bare to leave behind; stuck by how soft and cool it feels as I trace the vein pattern with my finger.

I stop and watch a group of blue jays fight in a bird bath and laugh at them.

I see sparks in my neighbor’s garage as he solders something together and I’m excited by what it might be.

When I get home I lay my nephew down to finish his nap and I pick up my Bible. I’m finding my way back to God and I can feel him speaking to me.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

I pray for peace and for God to open my eyes to the beauty around me every day. I pray for forgiveness and strength.

Before I know it, little baby Logan awakes. He stirs sweetly and I quickly go to him. He smiles up at me with his entire body.

I return the smile with mine.

Hello? Anybody out there?

You are not alone.

At this very moment someone else is going through something just like you.

They may be sitting in their car blaring Johnny Cash and bawling their eyes out.

Just like you.

They may be fighting the urge to have a drink at 9 a.m.

Just like you.

They may wish to just keep driving until the world seems right.

Just like you.

Then why do we feel so alone?

Depression. Abuse. Marriage problems. Parenting. Addiction. Death. Health struggles. It’s all hard and so many are struggling with similar things.

Yet…

We feel so alone.

Our society is sick. Just keep marching forward with that smile. Don’t you dare show weak eyes. Distraction, distraction, distraction. I am not sure, but maybe its always been this way. Maybe that’s just the nature of life. Keep your pain inside. Suck it up. If you give into the pain then it will only serve to make you feel it more. That cannot be good for anyone.

I know that religion is the answer for many. They turn to God and church. They find a community to support them, friends who lift them up and God to pray to for answers and guidance.

I have not had luck on that front in my life. I have found churches to be filled with judgement, fake smiles and hate. They speak the right words and dress the part, but it’s empty. Sunday morning faith. You put someone broken in front of them and you get judgement and pity.

They will “pray for you,” but at a distance. Please do not muddy up their “perfect” lives with your imperfections and questioning. Your lack of faith is ugly.

There are the exceptions. I have met a few people lately that have shown me what real faith and love look like. They show kindness and understanding. Positivity and light pours from them and you can feel hope just being around them. They do not minimize struggle or try to fix you. They recognize that faith and love are personal struggles and that all you want is someone to say, “I’m here. You are not alone.”

I’m here.

You are not alone.

This weekend I went to a nightclub to dance. I wanted to be surrounded by people. Strangers. We did not talk. We just danced. I could feel a connection to those around me. Something about the music, darkness and allowing myself to let go felt real. I felt alive.

Don’t freak dear friends and readers, I don’t plan on becoming a clubber who leaves her family for that feeling. It just struck me hard that what I crave is contact and real connection. Yet, something about dancing with strangers met my needs in ways other things have not.

There was something about being vulnerable, looking like a fool and then just accepting that. Not caring what these people thought about me. Seeing how free others were to just be.

I want some of that.

I spent a fair amount of time over the long weekend staring at the sky. The clouds have been just amazing, filled with shapes and movement. Then the sky opened up and poured yesterday. I filled my house with candles and tried to focus on the light.

I have no idea where I’m going with all this. There are no answers or wisdom to be found here. I’m just fumbling through another day and spilling myself out here.

But I’m spilling all this out in public because I want you to know I’m here. I’m here and YOU are not alone. WE are not alone.

So struggle on friends. We will make it.

I love you.