The Year of Intentional Living, Part 1

Trigger Warning: This post discusses mental and physical health issues, including depression and suicide.

Early this year, I announced (privately) that 2014 would be the Year of the Liver. My mom was on the transplant list, and the early months of the year boasted that fact with grim force. I determined that alcohol wouldn’t be on my menu, though I strayed a slight handful of times. My fatty liver could use some recovery and health so that I might escape advanced liver disease. And I recognized that being an organ donor is only a partial win for transplant needs. If I take poor care of my body, would anyone be able to use my organs?

And mom DID get a liver in October! It went as smoothly as it could have, I think, and she is doing so well. If she hadn’t received the organ, 2015 could well have been another Year of the Liver.

And, though I didn’t lose all that pernicious weight, I did sign a contract to publish Moon Mail and Star Kisses, illustrate that book (twice), and publish the novel The Founding of Josiah Turn.

Resolutions are not a thing I do. Planning, analysis, and lists, however, I ADORE. Beginning in November of each year, I take stock. What areas of my life exist? Which ones do I like and not like? How do I make the good bits better and position myself away from avoidable bad bits? How can I position myself to contribute to worthy personal and public causes on multiple levels?

This year’s stock-taking has been extraordinary. First, I’m not in the throes of any major life upheaval or depression. Usually, I am. Or at least I have been for a good long while now. Depression and anxiety have always been major forces in my life, sometimes better, sometimes worse. After the birth of my third boy in 2008, I plunged into my darkest, most dangerous depression yet (and, hopefully, ever). Things were really bad for a while. I now accept that I should have been hospitalized, though it was just not a thing I could physically do back then. Rock bottom is not a concept I see clearly enough to illustrate, but the day I took the first step toward help and health was the day that two surreal events occurred.

First, I very nearly hurt one of my children. I say very nearly because a catastrophic event was on its way – one from which there would be no reconciliation, no redemption, and lots of fallout – and something stopped me. Grace? Some shred of sanity? Something.

Second, I had a plan for suicide and was in the midst of executing said plan when my babysitter called in sick. Wow. That is a weird sentence. I had written a note to her, taped it to the door, successfully gotten all my children down for naps, and proceeded, thinking I had about 15 minutes before she arrived. Pause.

Okay, there are oh-so-many things wrong with that last paragraph. I had decided to die, to keep my kids safe. I had decided that my sitter could deal with finding me and would keep my children away from the scene. Not my finest hour.

But there is a right thing, too. Small though it may be. I retained just enough of myself to break down after the sitter called to tell me she was sick. I took down the note, put away my tools of choice, and called my obstetrician’s office. The nurse gave me the only advice that made sense, I’m sure, but it was not something within my power. She told me to go to the emergency room. I told her no. I told her I couldn’t. I had no idea what might happen if I did – to me, to my children. Calling meant that I was seeking help and I needed help without further drama and guilt. Should I have gone? Yes. Could I have gone? No. And it’s okay if you don’t understand that. Good really. That means that you have some clearer thinking going on than I did at the time. Depression thinking is not rational, reasonable, or logical. If I were making good decisions, I wouldn’t have had a problem in the first place.

So I got help. Slowly I allowed my closest loved ones into the circle of truth. Very slowly I started to return to myself.

Then, in the fall of 2009, my eldest son started school. And I fell down another rabbit hole that only two years later (2011, for those who suffer pain from math, as I do) was diagnosed as conversion disorder. During those two years, my anxiety crippled me. I passed out multiple times a day. My parents moved in with my family to care for me and my kids so that my husband could work. Some wacky and unpleasant physical symptoms arose from my ever increasing anxiety load. With tremendous embarrassment and heartache, I accepted uncounted meals, cleaning, and other gifts from my family and my church family. Receiving the diagnosis felt awful. I felt like such a failure. I felt like my mental health condition wasn’t on par with others’ physical health conditions, at least when it came to things like sympathy and aid. Thankfully, many others did not agree with me.

In 2010, my parents moved out and I took on my kids again. The summer brought the unexpected and brutally fast illness and death of my eldest nephew. It was during his illness that I said aloud (to myself and to my nephew, who most likely couldn’t hear me), “I survived postpartum depression so that I could be here for this incredibly hard thing, so that I could not add to the list of the lost, the weight of pain, but to the list of the living and loving. I wouldn’t want to miss this for anything in the world.”

That’s an odd thing to say about a horrible situation. Granted. But I’ve said it multiple times since then and meant it. I do not mean that I am glad the situation exists or that someone is suffering, only that I’m intentionally here when the situation arises or the person suffers. I choose to be here for others’ hard stuff, as they were/are here for mine.

Later that year, my grandmother died. Months later, my mother’s liver disease was diagnosed. I lived imperfectly with enough regrets. But I lived.

For the 2012-2013 school year, I brought my kids home to school virtually. I missed them. Literally and figuratively. From 2008 to 2011, I was barely present in my children’s lives. I don’t know how my second son was potty trained. I don’t know when my baby stopped needing to be rocked to sleep. I missed them and was tired of missing them. Another reason for the decision was to help control my anxiety. (The same way my decision to never watch the news helps control my anxiety.)

We were slowly, so slowly, building our lives again. And 2014 looked like it could derail us big time. My mother’s health was so bad for the first several months of the year. But she started to improve. Then my dad had unexpected open heart surgery. Some weeks later my mom received her liver. My family of origin, along with our individual families, came together again in a way I thought we might have lost. The year has (almost) ended much better than I anticipated. We are healthier, stronger, and more stable than we have been in what feels like a long time.

As I counted those blessings and thanked my God and took stock of my life this November, I felt the urge to label 2015 as the Year of Intentional Living.

I have floundered through mental and physical sickness, the loss of loved ones, my failures in being a support to those I love, the devastation of my career, and regaining my footing on my love, my life, and my everything. There have been some major and minor struggles in there I’m just not ready to commit to writing. Much of my recovery and growth seems accidental. Even my successes in 2014 have been largely accidental. My publishing contract was born of a Twitter pitch party, for example.

The time for me to set my intentions has arrived.

I consider this a time of course correction. A time when my safety and well-being do not hinge on what-ifs and could-bes. When they do not hinge on ultimatums to myself or others. A time when my well-being hinges on the choices I make daily over both long and short periods. Impacted by external circumstances I cannot control, even to the loss of my own life and health, pretty much overriding all my intentions and choices.

But if I don’t let go of those ropes binding me in the same spot, I will never, ever fly, let alone soar.

I am ready to fly.


What Matt Walsh Gets Wrong About Suicide

Trigger Warning: This post deals with issues of depression and suicide. If, right now, you feel like the choice of suicide is a viable one for you, please get help. Find a friend, a doctor, anyone you can talk to. There are ways to heal depression. There are ways to clear your head. Please don’t die.

It’s six years, thereabouts, since I had a plan to end my life. It was a good plan, as plans go. I thought I had covered all my bases. My plan was interrupted. I am thankful to have survived and even more thankful to have enough distance from that day six years ago to lend my voice to the conversation.

My sister, a family practitioner and amazing friend, sent me a link to Matt Walsh’s recent blog post about suicide. She wanted my insights if I felt comfortable giving them.

I get it. When a celebrity, someone who seems to have what we are taught to covet – a career, a family, friends – commits suicide, the conversation is on our lips. It is an opportunity to raise the social consciousness. So, here I am, doing something I didn’t intend to do: I’m writing a post about suicide.

At first I didn’t read the link. Then I did. I read the post but no comments. Afterwards, I wrote the following email to my sister. I wrote it hastily and passionately. And I’m sharing it here without edit. It may seem trite to say this is a brave thing, so I am trite. I finally have enough distance from that day six years ago to stand up to someone who doesn’t get it and to tell them where their thinking is flawed. I don’t claim to be the everyman of suicide. I don’t claim to know your pain, Robin Williams’ pain, or anyone else’s. But I speak for the me who couldn’t have spoken six years ago.

Feel free to read Matt Walsh’s blog post, which triggered my response. But, as a personal favor to me, please come back here and read my response. An issue this big and deadly deserves multiple viewpoints. 

Email to my sister, 8/12/2014, 10:18 PM:

Okay. I read it anyway. Only the article, no comments.

I feel extremely ragey about his words. He claims to have been inundated by suicides even in his family but he presses free will. Where depression ends with a choice (and may well begin with one or many), heart disease begins (and continues and may well end) with a choice, too. Every disease has an underlying choice. Swim in a pond and you may just get a parasite up your nose to eat your brain. Eat to obesity and you may set yourself up for diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Smoke and invite cancer in. The truth is that everything we do in life is about choices. We just like to judge other people’s choices more than we like to reflect on our own. We like to say some sins are bigger than others. We like to say some decisions are bigger than others. But far more often, we cannot judge the size of a choice until we are past it.

Saying that joy is the only thing that overcomes depression forgets that the depressed person can no longer see joy, feel joy, hear joy. This is why you cannot church a person out of depression. Why you cannot sing or eat or dance or sex a person out of depression. Why you cannot love a person out of depression. Your non-depressed-person joy has exactly zero to do with a depressed person’s depression. While spirituality is a component, it is not the only component to healing depression any more than it is the only component to healing acne. God gave us people with minds attuned to sciences and maths so that they could determine ways to heal diseases. Physicians heal depression, too.

Expecting a depressed person to make a sound decision is not unlike asking a person with dementia to make a sound decision. It may happen by coincidence but not by design. So when choosing life or death, the whole difference between the suicidal and the not suicidal is depression. The depression colors everything, including life and death decisions. 

AAAAAAAAAAH! Okay. I’m better now.

As to ‘free’ – that is used whenever anybody dies and it is sort of a weird thing. In the strictest sense, a dead person is free from all the pain, sickness, and depression of this world. That person may have new concerns but he/she is free from this world. Is a person who died at 96 in her sleep free? Is a person who died in a car wreck free? If yes, then why wouldn’t a person who died from suicide be free? If no, then death does not equal freedom. Death is either equal or not equal to freedom. It isn’t a case by case deal.

The person contemplating suicide will find plenty of backing for his decision. Yes, saying another person was freed through suicide may compound that. Any more so than telling a new cancer patient that another cancer patient was freed in death? I don’t know. 

Calming breaths.

I’ve long, long been depressed. I’ve been in the proximity of suicidal ideation more than once. I’ve been very near commitment to suicide once. Before I was very near commitment to suicide, I think I believed the same way as the author. I think I believed that people just chose rashly or without thought to others, with only their own desires in play. Now I believe very differently. I was going to die FOR the people I loved. I was doing what was best for everyone. Not in a self-pitying way but in an I’ll-never-hurt-my-children way. I wanted to be free. I wanted it to all stop before I did something irrevocable to someone else. That was freedom at the time. That will never make sense to a non-suicidal, never-been-suicidal person.

Therein lies the problem. It is the nonsuicidal, never-been-suicidal people who are in the position to examine these matters and argue their points of view. The suicidal people are far too busy fighting or dying in their disease to become part of the debate.

Thanks to my family who stands beside me at every opportunity. Thanks to Matt Walsh and to my sister for prompting my voice. Thanks to my sister and my husband for telling me my words were good enough to share. Thanks to you for reading. 

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