Hand-Me-Downs

Hand Me Downs

As the last of three girls, I wore  a lot of hand-me-downs. We are each a little less than four years apart so by the time I received them they could have been eight years old, making out-of-date an understatement. In the pictures above, I can guarantee, we all three wore those items at one time. I definitely remember the itchy wool and scratchy faux fur collar on my eldest sister’s coat. YUCK!!! We all wore that Christmas dress you see me wearing while cuddling on Grandpa’s lap. Halloween was an assembly line of costumes. Pam could always pick whatever she wanted since she was first. The following year Tami would be what Pam had been as I would be the next year. Raggedy Ann, witch and ghost.  My two least favorite in the queue: overalls and corduroy pants. I am not sure why I dislike overalls so much but my husband feels the same way. The disdain is so strong, we have only recently mustered up the courage to dress Emerson in a pair a dear friend gave us. But Silas never once wore a pair of overalls. And the corduroy culotte. Just thinking about it makes me cringe. Talk about an item of clothing having an identity crisis. Is it a skirt? No. Are they pants? No. Are they shorts? No. None of the above. And then, once they were on, the corduroy made this abhorrent rubbing noise. I am certain I don’t have a cute little picture of those ridiculous culottes because I had a catastrophic meltdown any time my  mother made me wear them.

Jeans were a slightly different story. At least when I received those there was a chance there would be a hole in them (or many) and I would be able to pick out my own iron-on patch. You know the kind I mean, a rose, a rainbow, a butterfly. Of course, faded, worn and with holes are now fashionable but my frugal side can’t seem to pay hard-earned money for something someone else has already worn out. There were some clothes I did look forward to getting down out of the attic. I do remember a sense of excitement each season as we got to box up the passing season’s clothes and trade them for those of the next season. Dad climbing up the ladder and handing boxes down to us. The kids running boxes to one or another’s bedroom. Sometimes, hiding a particularly disliked item in the wrong season’s box so we could avoid having to wear it again. Shh, please don’t tell my mom!

Life is funny how it hands you things. You process them into your memory based on your present moment. As a child, I had one perspective: my own and a very brief history of it. I saw someone else’s used clothes. Worn, reused and not like what I would pick out for myself. Thanks to my boys, I was recently given the gift of a new perspective on hand-me-downs.

We never expected to have more than one child. We struggled for so long we were beyond grateful to have just one. So the idea of saving Silas’ clothes to use as hand-me-downs never occurred to us. We swiftly gave them away to friends and family, consigned or donated them as he grew. Then a blessing happened and we found ourselves able to try IVF again. From that moment we began saving Si’s clothes for his soon-to-be sibling. While we did not have very many of Si’s baby clothes for Emerson, we have plenty starting around 12-24 month size and we just started bringing them out. What an absolute joy!

As a child, I only ever thought about hand-me-downs as a way to save money and that’s all I thought as we started packing away things Silas outgrew. I was surprised by my pleasure as I pulled old shirts and pants and sweaters from the box. Simultaneously, experiencing joy as I remembered pieces of Silas’ childhood and excitement as I marveled at the new memories we would create with Emerson at each stage. It is so much fun to see Emerson in his big brother’s old clothes. Silas pauses and says, “Hey, that’s my shirt.” My own experience, wearing my sisters’ hand-me-downs, I felt like I was being shoved into someone else’s mold. These weren’t the clothes I would pick. Not the fabric. Not the color. Not the style. Seeing Emerson in one of Si’s old shirts… Yes, I do remember Silas and many of the things he did while wearing it. But, I see Emerson as well. I see all the ways he is like and unlike his brother. A unique and very precious individual, just like his big brother.

My sisters were two very different people. I remember going into school, being the third Stephen teachers were assigned to. Many asked me, “So which Stephen are you like?” The simple answer, “I am me.” Even as I stood there, in the same clothes worn by both my sisters, I was always an individual. All the important stuff is on the inside.

Emerson is too young to understand hand-me-downs now. I have no idea if he’ll one day resent wearing them as I did. I hope not. I love this two-lane memory highway. One lane for remembering old memories and the other for making new ones.

I want my boys to grow up knowing there is nothing on the outside that can diminish them. They have their own personalities, strengths and talent. I want Silas and Emerson to have solid cores so when the world tries to distract them, they are able to stand strong, knowing exactly who they are. -No matter what they are wearing, who is around them or what they are facing.

Two Lane Memory Road

A Chasm of Sadness

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When I was fourteen a good friend was murdered by another peer of ours. There were other things going on but this was the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back. It spun me into a deep and dark depression. I alternately pursued dangerous things daring to feel anything at all and trying to take my own life. No matter what I tried, I failed to feel anything but sadness and fatigue.  I cried myself to sleep almost every night for over a year and prayed to God, asking him to just take me. My sister found one of my suicide notes. (I always chided myself as being too much of a coward to actually follow through with ending things myself.) My parents had a counselor, one I had been seeing for months, complete an assessment of me. I honestly can’t remember what it was but do remember her saying a score of 20 was clinically depressed and I had scored a 40. The doctor wanted to admit me into a psychiatric hospital I had seen advertised on tv. My parents opted to admit me to one closer to home even though my doctor did not have privileges there. Of course, they lied to me to get me to go. They told me it was just for an overnight stay but once I arrived, it was in for the duration. Our neighbor was a doctor there so they felt more comfortable putting me with someone they knew well.  My parents pulled me out of school under the pretense of an illness and admitted me to the looney bin. My deep, dark secret: I am crazy and I have the papers to prove it. My joke: I also have the papers to prove I am sane. How about you? :o

I remember it being set-up an awful lot like a dorm. I also remember thinking these people have real problems. I’m just a spoiled brat who can’t cope. It wasn’t at all like you might see in the movies. -Think more of an indoor camp where you aren’t allowed to have shoe laces. Or leave. Or call home. There was group therapy, individual therapy, art therapy, music therapy, family therapy. Work with a social worker. School and activities. If you made progress and were good you could earn calls home, trips home or outings on and off campus. I also made some of the closest friendships I’ve ever had (until recently). I remember there being a poster hung up on the wall proclaiming something about assertiveness being healthy. Then there was the day I saw someone else from my high school there and panicking because everyone would find out I was crazy.

I am usually pretty good with words but I cannot describe to you the immense weight of depression. It is all consuming. It’s like a black hole, sucking everything into it. Your energy. Your hope. Your happiness. Like a blender on puree, it brutally cuts everything into nothing or, sometimes, sorrow. Never mind lifting yourself up out of depression. A friend once said, every part of your being is struggling to simply not sink any lower. It is as if you are standing at the bottom of that chasm pictured above with no equipment, energy or will to get yourself out. I did not even want to be saved. I simply held on because I did not want to be the cause of anyone else’s pain. All I wanted was for everyone to stop loving me so I could go without hurting anyone. Yet, a hand reached down. And another. And another. Pulling this unwilling soul up out of the chasm. Pushing me towards the help I desperately needed. They refused to give up for me. They insisted and forced me (because I was a minor they could) to survive, to let help slowly steep in. It worked. Not in that moment. But at least I found the strength to survive, to begin the long and arduous path towards health.

It took decades for me to return to my whole self. I was very fortunate to be able to do this without taking medicine. Others are not so lucky. We are made up of a jumble of chemicals that can easily go awry. Even if you find the right mix of medicines your body can change causing you to start the stabilization process all over again. You “survive” what you can easily describe as your most difficult battle in life only to discover you will have to face it again. Perhaps repeatedly. I almost drowned once. I remember the waves coming so hard and fast I was not able to gather my strength in between each wave. I kept trying and trying, swallowing more and more water. Eventually my legs gave out from under me and the waves pummeled me. I was under the water, the waves rolling me along and I lacked the strength to do anything about it. Luckily the life guard pulled me out but this is very much like fighting depression. The waves of depression, much like the riptide of an ocean, are so much stronger than you. To “defeat” depression, you must vow to tread water, to continue to exist until the current shifts. I cringe every time my mother refers someone’s child to me saying, “Kerry has overcome depression. You should talk to her.” It is not something you overcome. Much like an alcoholic, it is one day at a time. I keep the clouds at bay with positive behaviors/actions, therapy and surrounding myself with love but rip currents can surprise you.

I remember coming back to school, standing by my locker in between classes, chatting with friends. Someone told a joke. I don’t even know what it was about but I laughed. A deep belly laugh. A real one. Not at all like the fake ones I had been doing for so long. God, it was a brilliant gift and it felt so good. The current had shifted. I instantly thought to myself, “I am glad I did not kill myself.” I have not had such a deep depression since then but I have had periods of struggle. In those times, I remember that laugh and remind myself it will come again. Perhaps this is why I adore the every day simple moments so much. I no longer need to be or want to be at the edge of thrill, excitement,  defeat or death to feel things. Right here, in the middle of every day life are the greatest pleasures. Light. Laughter. Learning. Love.

I usually limit my writing to life with my self, family and friends. While this is my personal story of depression, it is inspired by the loss of Robin Williams. Yesterday, it seems apparent, one of the world’s greatest actors and comedians committed suicide. It boggles the mind how someone so talented and adored could end in this way. And, yet, I understand. He struggled with depression for so long and won out so many times. I wish there were a distress signal those suffering could send out.

S.O.S. – Support, one of us is suffering.

Then, from all walks of life, people with your affliction come to tell you it will end. It will eventually be all right. They can hold you up until you find your way again. I wish you had lived to laugh and love again, not only Robin but all others who have died from mental illness.

Depression is a deeply uncharted chasm of sadness. It makes me ache whenever I hear of someone not making it to the other side. It is there. The other side is there.

I write this for those of you suffering right now. Your big belly laugh is there waiting for you. On this blog I often talk about sunny days and rainy days. When depressed it is so hard to envision sunny days. It’s as if you’ve lost the right to have access to them anymore. Stephen Fry once wrote, “It will be sunny one dayIt isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will. One day.” Please do what you can to find someone to be your umbrella, your raft, your life guard until your sun returns.

For those who have been left behind, I write for you too. There is nothing you could have done to save your loved one. My family got me help but it would not have worked unless I wanted it too. There was enough of my brain not clouded over with the disease to let others begin the healing work. Only I could finish it though. I could have refused to engage with any of the services offered to me in that hospital and afterwards. Your lost family member or friend loved you very much. This disease is just as venomous as cancer. I pray you find peace in knowing they are finally at rest. Their suffering is done and I’d be willing to bet they have found their big belly laugh in Heaven. Yes, I wholeheartedly believe they are in Heaven. ChasmToSunshine

Flying High with My Fears: Part Two

Leap of Faith
Leap of Faith

Well, I signed up for much more than I expected! When I registered I thought I was only signing up to do a single challenge, the zip line. I quickly realized I had signed up to do all three challenges: a zip line, a tree top swing and something called the Leap of Faith. I felt doing the zip line was an excellent way to face my fears.  Seriously, I have a fear of heights. Courageously facing my fears in a safe manner via a zip line: Check!

Let me explain the Leap of Faith challenge to you. It involves climbing up a 22-foot tall telephone pole. Standing on top of it and then leaping out to grab at a trapeze bar you have little hope of actually reaching. Oh, by the way, it was also raining so the pole and climbing rungs were both slippery.

I’d be lying if I told you I was not scared. I felt like my stomach was in my throat as I watched the first two people attempt the Leap of Faith challenge. I know how my anxiety works. The longer I simmer with it the more difficult a task becomes. But my support system, my sister, was late to the event. My choice was to go ahead and go without her there to support me through it or wait and risk being paralyzed by my fear. I knew the longer I waited the less likely I was to actually do it so I said I would go. Before I knew it, my turn had arrived. And my sister had still not arrived. Gulp.

The guide put the full body safety harness on me and I began to climb. I felt like I was doing a pretty good job considering my fears and the fact that I think the last time I exercised in earnest was over 10 years ago. I looked up and felt like someone had punched me. I was only halfway there. Oh well, just keep moving… One trembling leg up at a time.

Finally, I was at the top. Now I had to figure out how to transition from the pole and rungs to the flat top. It sounds simple but it was not. It was something I watched every person struggle with once they arrived at the top. There was nothing above to use as leverage. I had to figure out how to hold on while using what little strength was left in my legs to push myself up. I was struggling though. I couldn’t figure out where to move my legs and felt as if I would fall if I moved my arms at all. Stranded on top of the pole. Literally hugging it for dear life. Trying to hold on while developing a strategy to do what I wanted to do. Then I heard a voice telling me to move my left foot to the right. That was it. All I needed was a little direction from someone with a clearer perspective on things. Now I was on top of the pole!

Exhilaration paused. Now, I was on top of the pole. Ugh. There was an option to sit or stand. I honestly can not remember if I ever sat. All I remember was standing there staring out at the tops of trees and down at the rest of my team. No sister yet. My team cheered and the guide advised me to count back from three to one and leap. I took a few breaths and started to count. ” One. No. Three. Two. Okay, starting over. Three. Two. One. Oh, crap.” My team continued to encourage me. I had a choice. I could do it or not do it. Either way, I was going to go down. My legs had no strength left to climb back down and the guide pulling me off could harm me. I was not about to back down but I still lacked the courage to actually jump. I stared out at the tree tops once more. This was a leap of faith and I was struggling. I turned to God and prayed for courage. I counted. “Three. Two. One.” I jumped off the pole. I’m certain I was not even close to grabbing the trapeze but I did it! I DID IT!!!

My team members asked me what it was like and I said, “The hardest part is the transition from the pole to the top.” -Just like in life, transitions are always hard. One must figure out what is holding you back and how to overcome that obstacle. After my leap of faith, the remaining challenges came relatively easy to me. Not without a little screaming but certainly none pushed me as the Leap of Faith had.

I am proud that I completed all three activities. I did things I never imagined I would ever do. I pushed myself physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I think the physical and emotional growth is inherently described above.  However, turning to God first as I struggle with problems in life is something I have been working on. I did just that when I was on top of the telephone pole. The fact that I could continue to confront my fears was proof that I was capable. I knew I was capable. Yet, I still held onto my fears. I could never figure out why they continued to exist in spite of my repeated efforts to face them. These challenges lead me to believe maybe the fears are irrelevant. There will always be something to be afraid of. You need something (for me, faith) to help you transition from a place of fear to action and self-actualization.  In the absence of my sister, God sent me team members to cheer me on and give me information I could not clearly see myself. Then, when alone with no one else to lean on, I had to look inside myself, hand over my fears to God and trust Him to take care of me. He did. As He always does.  With God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)

I do not mean to convey every person needs to turn to God to overcome their fears. Maybe that’s not your key. This is the issue I have been working on and the epiphany I had. This was the only thing holding me back. I am never alone. I do not have to do all things myself. I need to turn my fears over to God. I need to accept help from my friends. I need to trust that everything will be okay. Fear is like any illness. It presents with a set of symptoms that could signal a wide variety of things, from common cold to cancer. Carol deLaski writes:

Our fears vary and are as unique as our fingerprints. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Not to frighten yourself but to grow more confident and skillful at overcoming whatever is holding you back. Develop courage and resilience by facing and navigating your fears one small step at a time.

By the way, my sister arrived shortly after my leap… Just late enough for me to prove to myself I could do brave things without her. I think she received a memo from God to be late. We celebrated finding our courage under a beautiful rainbow!

Courage was at the end of this rainbow.
Courage was at the end of this rainbow.

 

 

Flying High with My Fears

My Camera's View from the Eiffel Tower
My Camera’s View from the Eiffel Tower

Around this time next week I will be on a zip line adventure. I’ll be flying 60 feet in the air for 600 feet through the woods. One of the life coaches affiliated with the group asked me if I was feeling fear. I joked, “I’m okay right now. I’m guessing I’ll be nervous when I’m staring down from on high though!”

Reflecting upon her question, I’m not nervous (right now) because I know there will be plenty of safety measures in place to eliminate/reduce the danger. If only life came with harnesses, helmets, safety straps and nets. Literal ones. Wouldn’t that be hysterical if we were all walking around with safety accessories?!?!

I have many fears. One of them is heights. As I rode the elevator to the top of the Empire State building, I slid down the wall, craving the ground again. As my friends ran around looking at things, I just clung to the inner wall praying for it to be time to leave. I once visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I was in Paris. How could I NOT go up the Eiffel Tower?!?! By the time I reached the top I was crawling on my hands and knees. (Obviously, my fear of heights trumps my fear of germs.) My mom marveled at how I had taken pictures from the top in that state of mind. I said I was surprised they actually came out because I held the camera up in the air over my head on each side and blindly snapped away. –Just watching a video of people on a zip line makes my shoulders tense up. This time next week I have to climb 60 feet high, leap out into a 600 foot ride through the tree tops. I may rethink the fun factor of this endeavor as I see tall and very hard trees whooshing by my fragile body at high speed.

I’ve always been pretty good at doing things even when I am afraid of them. I could hardly order my own meal in a restaurant but decided I wanted to be a class officer in High School. Once I signed up for the race,  I learned that I had to speak in front of the ENTIRE school not just my own class. Mortified. It’s too bad we didn’t take videos as freely then because I would love to hear how I sounded. I am sure my voice was quivering like the cheeks on a skydiver. But I did it. I keep on doing it. For some reason, fear doesn’t seem to hold me back. But doing the things I fear does little to eradicate it. The next time I have to revisit the same scenario it’s still there. We’ll see if this crazy little adventure finally helps me conquer one of my fears. Stay tuned!

 

 

Writing from the Heart

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It has been a while since I’ve posted any real writing. I’ve been told my words come from the heart. Perhaps that’s why I don’t seem to have any words flowing right now. My heart is hurting. In spite of our two vibrant young boys and all the life of Spring and Summer, much of my world seems to be in a season of death right now. I have never dealt particularly well with death.

First, celebrating Memorial Day, visiting my grandfather’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. I was overwhelmed with all that he gave to other soldiers and their families as we went to the Visitor’s Center for the first time in my life. I was floored, telling my sons that their great grandfather was intricately involved in planning the funeral for JFK. Their great grandfather researched and wrote the military protocol observed for over 27 funerals taking place per day and that is just at ANC. What a gift my grandfather gave to those who died as well as those left behind. What a legacy. I had, only moments before, walked by a long line of tourists saying to my husband, “Grandpa would be ashamed of what I am thinking of those people.  –Touring the dead and having picnics on their graves. Do they know what it cost? Do they really understand?” I was overcome seeing all these people stopping to read information, to pause and reflect as I never had before. I always made a beeline for my grandfather’s grave and went straight out again. I see now. I realize I haven’t the slightest idea what it is like to have a soldier’s soul.

Then there was Mrs. Z’s death. The first of my constants to pass away. We lost touch because life gets so darn busy and then the party list gets so long you feel like you have to cut it down. And you learn later you cut out the wrong people. You invited people who aren’t really invested in you or your children. People who aren’t really involved. People who wouldn’t know if you were having a good week or a bad one. No, she should have been here more often. I am reminded of something relayed at my step grandmother’s funeral. She once said, “Come to my birthday party. Skip the funeral.” I should try to remember to keep the invitation lists long for the birthday parties. Who cares about the funeral.

Finally, or at least I hope so, we just found out our “daughter”/dog is dying of cancer. I am a noted worrier yet I took her to this appointment thinking we were wasting our money on an x-ray because they were going to say everything was fine. But it isn’t. I am not certain what I expected to hear when I asked how long she had. A year maybe. But they estimate a month. And all of the sudden the 12 years we’ve spent with her seem so short. And every less than stellar mothering moment stands out boldly in my mind. Moments I should have been more patient, more kind, more loving. I’m tossing the regret aside, to be observed at a later time. Now, we have a month plus or minus (now already a week into that estimation), so I am trying to cherish and memorize. Silas celebrates every morning with a pronouncement, “Yea! Star is still alive!” He worries each time we return home, “I hope she didn’t die while we were away.” I know he doesn’t really get it but we are doing our best to help him cherish and remember what little time we have left with her. Maybe teaching him will help me to remember these important lessons I am reminded of with each death yet forget with time. The hum of a busy life is like falling asleep in a poppy field. It is so easy to lose track of the things which truly matter.

So… My heart seems to be building a cocoon to shelter from recent and coming days. It is curling up inside as it undergoes yet another metamorphosis. I have always been more emotive than anything else. I have a friend who calls me intuitive. Maybe I have intuited that I need to reserve my strength. At any rate, it is hard for me to write deeply when I am holding back pain. It is my heart that needs to speak not my mind. Perhaps it has to be both but my heart certainly leads the way. I feel the words beginning to stir but they have not yet taken form.

They hold the safety net that catches me when I fall. They hold umbrellas over me when the world seemingly crumbles all around us. They hold my hand and they hold my heart. They are my friends. And I love them. -Celeste McNiesh