It is time to start the conversation

I find myself here again.

Worry.

Dread.

Concern.

Fear.

Helplessness.

Actually, I find myself here in this place more often than not.

This year has been rough. Months of worry and fear.

And then………hope steps in. Something changes and there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The rollercoaster is slowing, coming to the end of the ride………and then……suddenly…….the rollercoaster drops, twisting and turning, gaining speed as it twists and turns and spins us in all directions, leaving us to wonder which way is up and when it will end.

I have been riding this rollercoaster for years now. How I wish I could exit. But I can’t.

Loving someone who suffers from mental illnesses—depression, bi-polar, mood disorder, panic disorder, ADD, addiction—keeps a person on the rollercoaster of emotion and events. Unpredictable. Incomprehensible.

My oldest son suffers from mental illnesses.

And I have come to realize that he will never have the life I dreamed for him when he was born, instead I have adjusted my expectations and have accepted that life is and will be more difficult for him. He is funny, big-hearted, intelligent, thoughtful, impulsive, inquisitive, adventurous, fearless, creative and opinionated. I love my son, unconditionally.

And sometimes I love him too much. His mental illness holds me hostage….the worry of what might happen if I am not here when he needs me, if I don’t give him a place to live, if I make him stand on his own two feet, keeps me on the rollercoaster…….and yet, I cannot continue to enable him.

I am lost. I have no idea what is right and what is wrong when it comes to helping. At what point am I enabling him to stay stuck where he is now? When do I stop helping and let him find his own way?

The thing is, his brain doesn’t work the way mine does, or his father’s does, or even his brother’s does. The world is different through his eyes. Normal is different in his mind.

Society tells us all what “normal” is. And those who suffer from any mental illness do not fit the societal definition of “normal”. And that leads to being judged, condemned, misunderstood, and feared……….which leads those who suffer to feel isolated and alone. And those who love them are left feeling helpless and isolated, judged by those who have never ridden the rollercoaster.

I love my son! And I cannot change his world for him. I cannot fix this for him. I cannot make his brain work the way society says it should. All I can do is love him……and try to find help for him in a world that doesn’t want to recognize or help those who truly need it.

This year the rollercoaster went into hyper-drive……sending our family whirling into the dark, twisting world of those lost to addiction and mental illnesses.

There are days, weeks and even months when I have no idea where my son is………I live each day in fear. Where is he? Who is he with? How is he eating? Where is he sleeping? Is this the day that the doorbell rings or the phone rings and he is asking for help? Or I am told he is in jail? Or the hospital? Or worse, gone forever?

And then he is home, getting help and I see glimpses of my baby………and then he is gone again………….

This is difficult to share with my closest family and friends and even more difficult to share with the world. I grew up in a time when family matters stayed behind closed doors and in the family. We didn’t talk about them. EVER!

But I think THAT is part of the problem in our society. We don’t talk about mental health illnesses unless something tragic happens…….and then it is only to judge the individual and the parents.

We need to start the conversation NOW!

We need to stop judging those individuals and the ones who love them. When a child has an uncontrollable outburst, instead of judging and telling the parents “you need to send him to military school” or “you need to spank him more”, we should offer understanding, a hug….anything that helps rather than isolates. (yes, we heard those often and sadly, my son heard those words from “well-meaning friends”, too.)

We as a society need to talk about mental health issues rather than ignore them, hoping they will just disappear. I don’t know how to get it started, or what the answers are, but I know that it has to start……..NOW…………TODAY.

I have met some people over these past few months who have touched my heart. Out of the blue and without knowing my struggles this year, these brave individuals have shared with me their personal struggles with mental health illnesses and with addiction. I believe that God brought them into my life to let me know I am not alone, my family is not alone and my son is not alone……….that this is something many others struggle with.

My hope is that by sharing this now, I can help someone else as well. And maybe by sharing, others will have more compassion toward my son and toward the many others who also suffer. Maybe the conversation will get started and help will be more affordable and more accessible to all who suffer some kind of mental illness……..We need to start talking and start taking action to get affordable mental health care, with doctors who can really help, who know what they are doing……instead of the doctors that now work with the low income population who don’t care about those individuals and judge them instead of truly helping them.

So, I am starting the conversation now. I am no longer hiding from the reality that is my world. I am asking everyone to join me in this conversation because alone I cannot change our society, but together we can really make a difference…..for my son and for all who suffer and all who love them.

I pray every single day for my son.

I pray every single day that help comes, that compassion is found, that understanding for all who suffer is found, that the stigma is abolished and in its place is compassion, understanding and help.

I pray every single day that my son will find his own way in this world.

I pray every single day that my son will be okay when my husband and I are no longer here, that someone will be there for him, that someone will love him.

And I pray every single day that the conversation gets started and keeps going………while I just breathe…….

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Fording the River

We were on the third day of our trip through Southern Utah when we arrived in Capitol Reef National Park. We were extremely excited to check another National Park off our bucket list.

We knew we wanted to see Cathedral Valley, but to see that part of the park required driving 57 miles on a dirt road…….one that required a high clearance vehicle and often 4-wheel drive, especially after a rain storm and it required fording a river. But, it had been raining over the past few days and had rained quite a lot the night before our arrival………and it was getting cloudy. Since we could see the building thunderstorms moving our way, we thought it would be best to stop at the Visitor Center first to check on the condition of the dirt road and the river.

The park ranger at let us know that the river was running higher than normal and the last report on road conditions was from the day before we arrived and before the overnight rains. That report was that the road was muddy and required 4-wheel drive. I figured after hearing that from the ranger and since more rain was coming very soon, that we would NOT be driving across the river and into Cathedral Valley….at least not until the next day when it was expected to be sunny…….

But, my husband had other ideas.

He wanted to see the river for himself and then decide whether or not we would go or wait.

So we drove to the dirt road that would lead to the river ford.

It was getting darker…….the storms were getting closer. I was panicking………

I did NOT want to drive into the river or across the river.

The river was running too fast for me………

And how many times have we heard that we should NEVER drive into running water, especially during or after a summer rain storm? I began to think my husband had lost his mind. And even if we could safely ford the river, how were we going to navigate a muddy, dirt road, through washes filling with water from the rain and not get stuck? There was no cell phone service and if we got stuck out there who would come get us? How would anyone know where we were?

Yes, I was in a panic!

My husband checked the river and then said we were going through. He knew it would be safe and we would make it.

And we did. I recorded us fording the river, panic coming through in my voice, and tears flowing down my cheeks. And then we were out of the river, safely on the other side.

I could breathe…….maybe…….

We drove a couple miles down the dirt road and the rain started coming down faster…….in the distance we could see the pouring rain………too much rain, coming toward us. My panic grew.

Thankfully my husband decided we would be safer driving this road the next day when it was expected to be sunny and warm and we turned around.

But turning around meant going back through the river……I couldn’t stop the panic swelling deep inside me. I couldn’t stop the fear. I couldn’t stop the tears.

My husband asked me as we drove back toward the river what was scaring me, did I not trust him to keep me safe or trust his abilities? No, that wasn’t what scared me. I trusted him. I knew he would always keep me safe.

It was deeper than that.

As we approached the river, the realizations were hitting me square in the face.

If we got stuck, out there where no one would find us……if we slid off the side of a bluff on the slippery, muddy roads…….if the rushing water of the river washed us away………I would not live past the age my mother had been when she died. I would not get to my 52nd birthday. That thought paralyzes me. I HAVE to make it to my 52nd birthday. I HAVE to live to experience the things my mother never got to do. I CANNOT leave my boys at the same age my mother was.

In that moment fording the physical river became so much more for me. I was fording my river of fear. I was fording the river of this year……the year of learning to breathe rather than holding my breath.

Fording the river of my biggest fear is scary, difficult and at times paralyzing. But just as my husband kept me safe while we forded the physical river, I know that as long as I have him, my family, my friends and God by my side, I can and will ford this river and I can and will get through this year………one river ford at a time.

IMG_6169And just to let you know, we did go back the next day and we successfully forded the river. And I did not panic…..as my husband said “the third time’s the charm”.  This is the river……not too scary, is it?

 

Facing Fear while hiking in a National Monument

When my husband planned our vacation for this summer I was ready for an adventure. Our vacations are not relaxing vacations, most of the time, anyway. Our vacations are more of an adventure, an experience, and after our adventure we usually need a vacation.

And sometimes on our adventure vacations, I learn new things about myself and I often face my fears.

This adventure had me facing my fear of heights, again, and my fear of lightning storms…both at the same time on the same hike.

I am scared of heights………I approach overlooks and edges with caution, often standing back far enough to not feel as if I will fall to what I know will be my certain death. And my husband loves to find ways to push me into facing that fear. So, with shaking legs and hands, heart beating out of my chest and a feeling that I may just pass out, I went with my husband on the hike he had chosen for us.

But this time on our hike, as I faced and conquered my fear of heights, I had to also face my fear of lightning storms, a fear brought about by a severe thunderstorm that produced a tornado when I was in first grade……….a long held fear that has me hiding under my blankets at night when lightning strikes…..a fear that grips me and keeps me from venturing outside or near an open door when I hear the first clap of thunder. I am so scared that I will be struck by lightning that I run as fast as I can if I am outside, seeking shelter from the storm……..on this hike, I couldn’t run….I was hiking and going up a steep trail when thunder came rolling in.

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Going down the stairs near the beginning of the hike.

We were in Natural Bridges National Monument. It was evening, close to sunset. And it was cloudy and lightly raining when we arrived. The rain slowed and then stopped so we headed out on our hike to Sipapu Bridge. The hike down to the canyon floor under Sipapu bridge was not long, it was only .6 miles. But it was steep, descending 500 feet in the .6 miles. There was a set of steep stairs and 3 wooden ladders along the trail to help us get to lower sections. The ladders scared me…..not being able to see where I was stepping, nor how far the ladders descended had me frozen on the rungs, unable to take that next step…..until my husband guided me, making me feel safe enough to travel down the rest of the ladder.

 

There was a moment when my fear told me that there was no way I was going down those rocks and that the view I had at that moment was close enough. We had reached a point on the trail where metal railings had been cemented into the rock so that we could hold on and not fall as we descended down the steep rock…..ugh! I saw that and froze. Nope! No need to go any further. My fear said to just look at the natural bridge from here and wait for my husband to finish the hike and return to me.

And then I realized that fear is irrational and illogical. And I was not going to let it stop me from experiencing the view from underneath the natural rock bridge. So, with my husband’s guidance and reassurance and despite my legs feeling like jello, I grabbed that railing with a grip so tight I thought I just might pull the rail out of the rock and I finished the hike down to the bottom.

It was worth every shaky, anxiety filled moment! The view beneath that bridge was breathtaking. I felt so small standing under the rocks. And I felt so proud of myself. This was one of those moments that had me glowing!

And then it was time to climb 500 feet back up out of the canyon on the return .6-mile hike. It was steep. It was scary. And my legs shook again as I walked along the edge of the rock, up the ladders and grabbed the railing with a death grip. My heart beat fast and hard, from the fear and from the exertion of climbing up the 500 feet.

We made it half way up and stopped to take in the view. How tiny we felt standing there, awed by the stunning beauty that lay before us.

And then………the thunder. My heart jumped, my body shook. I still had a long way to climb up…….a ladder and the steep set of stairs between me and the safety of our vehicle. No way was I going to stick around for lightening to strike me, or the trees around me, or the rock that I was hiking on. Time for this girl to move and move fast.

And fast we went. I forgot about the height and the drop off next to me and moved quickly up the trail, praying I would reach the top before the lightening got me.

I was almost to the top…….I could almost touch the top and could see the SUV but I couldn’t breathe, my heart was beating so hard and fast I thought it was going to jump out of my body. I reached for my husband and let me hold onto him as he helped me to the top. And once we were there, next to the SUV and finally ready to jump inside to safety………and then he made me walk some more to slow my heart rate before climbing into the safety of the SUV…..…..really? in the thunder and lightning?

I did it. Despite my fears I hiked to the bottom and back up.

I did not fall to my certain death. I did not fall and injure myself. I did not get struck by lightning and I did not die of a heart attack.

Fear is irrational, fear is illogical and fear is born of our past experiences.

But facing my fears and pushing past them allows me to see just how strong I can be and lets me experience things that the fear would have had me miss.

I survived. I took the leap. And the experience was amazing!