Sunday, May 6, 2018

My Mental Illness Makes Me Supergirl

I have a mental illness. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which is the best (or worst?) acronym ever. Like Supergirl or Superman, I get my powers from the Earth’s yellow sun. But in September, when the days get shorter and the sun becomes more oblique, I lose my powers, just as if Supergirl were back on Krypton. I lose my ability to sleep through the night, I lose my power of motivation, and I lose my patience. In other words, I get restless, irritable, and slothful.

People with SAD can use medication or light therapy (or both) to treat the symptoms. Light therapy is buying a really bright light and sitting in front of it daily for a certain amount of time. My “prescription” is 20 minutes of bright light in the morning and in the early evening. You can buy a light box, also known as a sun lamp, online from any number of sources.You cannot, however, get the same effect from sitting in front of a lamp with a high wattage bulb. You also cannot get the same effect by just going outside more in the winter, because the oblique angle of the sun means that winter light is less intense than summer light.

This spring has been especially difficult for me. While many people with SAD are most affected by fall, I find spring the be the worst season. I hate spring, I hate the month of March, I hate all the weather between January snows and May 80 degree days.

And I know that I “shouldn’t” use the word hate. I know I ought to use gratitude and acceptance to deal with the variables of spring weather, but this spring pushed me over the edge. It was a constant barrage of cold weather and cold rain and gray dull days. Then we had snow storms in March. Then it just stayed cold and wet and dull all through April, with freezes as late as April 20, which is VERY late for Raleigh, NC.

This past week has been different though. It has finally warmed up. The sun has been shining. And I’ve been able to sit outside and breathe fresh air for several consecutive days. I’m regaining my superpowers. And I finally feel like myself again. The world lays in front of me, a buffet of projects and opportunities and fun things to do. Weeding my gardens, planting flowers that will probably either die or get eaten by the wild bunnies in my yard, going on picnics and walks with my family, taking Sunday naps in my hammock, sweating poolside with friends, squinting at my computer screen while sitting outside a coffee shop, listening to birds greet the morning sun, watching fireflies ascend with the moon, all these things beckon to me. Even the ordinary tasks of life are easier: laundry, tidying up, cooking, meal planning, grocery shopping, brushing teeth: it’s all better when it’s warm outside.

It's later than normal, but I am Supergirl once again.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Mandate of Inclusion

I have often heard people use the Bible to justify “putting out” a sinner from the church community. In Matthew, Jesus taught a form of conflict resolution: Confront the person, confront the person with a witness, confront the person in the presence of the church, kick the person out. In 1 Corinthians, Paul urges the church to turn their back on a sinning member.
But in today’s reading, 2 Corinthians, Paul has a different message: “Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.” It’s pretty clear that Paul is following up on the case he mentioned in 1 Corinthians.
We like kicking people out. The us v. them mentality is ubiquitous and deeply satisfying. We like bringing people into our club and we like pushing them out. We like joining and then leaving. I have heard far too many stories of churches kicking people out for their sins.
And this isn’t a hobby just found in the American Evangelical and Fundamentalist groups. Early church history is a long list of excommunications and double anathemas. Part of the spread of Christianity is due to the exiling of “heretical” priests. They went into the wilderness and spread the gospel.
I personally believe that the church needs to transcend this divisive mentality. As we prepare to celebrate Maundy Thursday, it would be good to meditate on the actual words Jesus spoke. Maundy comes from the same root word as “mandate.” Jesus gave us a mandate: to serve one another. To wash each other’s feet; in other words, to do lowly and humiliating service to everyone in our community. Jesus taught us very clearly that it is in abiding in Him that we will be identified. Not by who we exclude. But by our willingness to extend our loving service to every single person.

As always, I’m not bragging here. I write these words as a reminder as much to myself as to anyone else. Today I will strive to abide in God’s love, and I will fail. But God will always open Her arms back to me.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Teaching Empathy

I work with a family therapist, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. She does more work with Tori than with me, but I do join them at the beginning or end of the session. During one session, she asked me if I gave parental advice. I was shocked. I mean, here I am, at a family therapist. Doesn't that mean I'm not qualified to give advice? But she was serious. She thinks I'm doing a really good job, and that I should share my ideas with others. I have to say, I'm not sure I really am qualified to be a parental advisor, but here's a story I'm comfortable sharing, with the hopes that it may help other parents.

Every so often my daughter gets chatty about school. It’s usually at night, when the lights are off and we are engaged in “quiet” cuddles. I know it’s a delaying tactic, but since she NEVER talks about school otherwise, I let it happen.

Generally speaking, the narrative is one about how she is the hero of the playground. Quite often, there is also judgmental commentary on the kids in the class who misbehave. My daughter may think nothing of slamming doors at home, but at school she is truly a little angel. People often tell me that's a sign of good parenting. Sometimes I wish I weren't such a good parent...

Last night she was telling me about a kid in her class who clearly has some behavioral issues. This child, I’ll call them Pat, is taken out of class to work with a special teacher and my daughter mentioned that Pat goes to the principal’s office to avoid “hurting the other kids in class.” I don’t know if Pat has a learning disability, or a severe behavioral problem. I don’t know anything about Pat except that my daughter disapproves and feels superior.

I'm all about removing stigma from mental health issues, and I don't think 6 is too young to start her education. So I said: “It sounds like Pat has some big feelings and doesn’t know how to handle them. You know, when you had big feelings, we had to go see the counselor.”

“Yes, I used to hit you, and then I saw the feelings doctor and learned how to get my angries out.”

“That’s right. And then you wanted to go again, so you get to go now.”

“Yes, I like going to see her. I get a lot out of it.”

“Well, it sounds like Pat doesn’t get to go see a feelings doctor. Isn’t it great that Pat can see a feelings doctor at school? Sometimes, when people have big feelings and don’t know how to deal with them, they do bad things. They hurt other people.”

“Yes, Pat tells lies about the other kids in the class.” Then followed a long story about kids tattling on other kids. Teachers are saints. I would go insane - just listening to my daughter recount all this drama is wearing me out!

I brought us back to the matter at hand: “So the important thing to remember is that when we meet people like Pat, it’s OK to set boundaries and stay away so they can’t hurt us. But we also need to give them sympathy. Because they have big feelings and don’t know what to do with them. They are feeling really bad when they do those things. And if it really bothers you, you can pray for Pat. That’s what I do.”

She responded with silence to this, thinking it over. I know I haven't won the Nobel prize for this conversation, or answered all her questions about mental health. But it's a start. 

I want her to be compassionate towards all people. Compassionate for kids who are less intelligent than her, kids who have less opportunities or money than her, kids who have disabilities. It's a big goal and will take me the rest of her time at home, and maybe longer. And it's a lesson I need to keep learning for myself.  

Note: I used a gender neutral alias for the child in this post.