Check the Doors for You are Not Alone


So you suffer from anxiety and depression.

Know this. Write this down. Say it to yourself over and over again:

I am not alone.

I know that is hard to believe.

Trust me. It is very hard to believe.

But it is true.

True like rain. Like Carrots. Like smooth stones.

You are not alone.

You do weird shit like put seven ice cubes in your spouse’s water glass. Because seven is a good number. A lucky number. The right number. The only number. And if God forbid you should ever put six ice cubes in her glass all sorts of unlucky bad bad stuff could happen for which you would never forgive yourself. And a small part of your brain knows how silly this is. How crazy. And it wants you to put six ice cubes in her glass to show the crippling forces of anxiety that they have no power over you. But then you just can’t. And you add one more ice cube and move on. You move on because dwelling with the absurdity of what you just did would only take you another step or two down the spiral, the light and life-sucking spiral where you feel powerless and alone.

But you are not alone.

You do weird shit like order the glasses in the cabinet by size and type and purpose. Well, that’s not too bad is it? You find yourself re-arranging the glasses when someone else moves them around because it isn’t right. Isn’t helpful for those who quickly need to find the correct glass. That’s not that abnormal is it? And you re-arrange the glasses on the rack in the dishwasher because there really is only one best way for them to be arranged on that rack and if someone else isn’t going to arrange them that one best way then maybe that’s your life’s calling. And so you re-arrange. And you feel powerless to leave the glasses in some random way because doing so makes you anxious and not just bothered-anxious, but your life can’t move on to the next thing without fixing this problem-anxious. And you know that you are anxious and you can’t do anything about it. Not one damn thing.

You are not alone.

You do normal shit like checking to make sure the doors are locked at night. I mean there was an armed robbery at the 7-11 around the corner in which shots were fired and woke everyone up and the getaway car raced right past your house and you called 9-1-1 and made a report so you better believe that you are going to check the doors. And check them again. And again. And now did you really check that door. Now you’re not sure. Better check it again. And again. And again. Maybe as many as seven times.

And this is just the tip of the OCD-ish anxiety-depression iceberg that ruled my life until some therapy and the correct psychotropic pharmaceuticals taken at the correct dose kicked in. How did I know they were working?

I stopped counting ice cubes. (And other stuff and in other ways, too.)

Some folks hate the idea of being on medication. They think it will make them a zombie. That it is a sign of weakness. That they will be judged for it. That they will never get off of it. That there will be side effects. That they won’t work.

And, yes, at least one (possibly more) of those things will be true for you.

There is always a cost.

But whatever is true for you know this: you are not alone. Others have wrestled with those concerns. Others have counted the cost. Others have been afraid. Others have had to make difficult choices. There is someone out there right now putting six ice cubes in a glass who is willing to suffer a small weight gain for that ability. Or nightmares. Or is up late even now writing for a BLOG. Or stuff that they still aren’t comfortable putting in print. There is always a cost.

Every “Why me?” is in reality a “Why us?” because not only are you not alone, but there is an awful lot of people, to varying degrees, right where you are: Holding those round pills and oval pills and tear-dropped shaped pills, mostly of very boring colors, and in the case of generics, really lousy aftertaste, and telling themselves “Will this one make things right?” or “Will any of these ever start working or what if they stop working?” or “Should I cue up some more Pink Floyd?”

Anxiety and depression suck specifically because of the great lie that they try to sell us: That you are alone in an indifferent world where the best you can hope for, well, is nothing. Because no one will ever understand and you will never get better.

Well, we do. And you can. Hang in there, please.


The Sequel Syndrome (Or Depression Medication Failure and Its Consequences)

I stopped writing here for awhile. Well, fourteen months actually.

The psychiatrist who suggested that I share my reflections on my journey through anxiety, depression, and the auto-immune disorder called lupus, retired, and I started feeling uncomfortable “laying it  all out there.” I no longer wanted to stress out family and friends with every bump in the road, every negative thought, and every fear and struggle. This gave me the choice of being less honest in my writing or not posting at all. So I just stopped.

Maybe I was just suffering with the personal mental health blogger version of “The Sequel Syndrome” as Blogger Miriam Neal writes in her blog “writing/art/etcetera” in tackling the subject for novelists. How do you get back writing again? She suggests first taking a break. Checked that block.

After 14 month  I have come to the tentative conclusion that reflection and posting and interacting with others here is helpful.  Worth the risks to all involved.  Is “good for me.” So here are words collected together in another blogpost.  For me. For you.

Like a great prologue to a sequel,  let me summarize these past 14 months in shorthand: The medication for my depression stopped working and it really sucked.

There is no test that will warn you that the efficacy of your depression meds is waning.  No dipstick you can use (“Looks like I am a quart low on happiness today.”)   No light that starts flashing or turns from green to yellow then to red. No siren that goes off.  No futuristic robot that cries out “DANGER! (inset your own name here).” I concluded the failure of my medication because one part of my mind was still functioning enough to connect the dots of not feeling emotionally mellow as I had for nearly four years; of  not wanting to do anything, particularly anything new; of being defensive, being anxious, snapping back; ED (some day I will be able to write those two letters and crack an actual  joke. Some day); and then finally, a biochemical-induced despair so sudden and severe that another moment of living could not even be imagined: One starts to contemplate sharp objects on an on-going basis. Except. Except for that small corner of cognition that says: “Yea but what about your family; all of the people you are blessed with, the activities that give you such joy.” Somehow that lone spark had not been extinguished.  I headed off with honesty to the psychiatrist and asked for an alternative. We agreed on one and built up its dose and weaned of the first medication and stood back to check on side effects. Side effects are those things that announcers read at the end of drug commercials at a rate of speech approaching the speed of light. My unscientific review of said commercials has led me to conclude that the more likely that death is involved, the faster they read. HOWEVER, the side effects for my new medication could have been spoken slowly by any fifth grader (who we must assume is smarter than most of us), but still I harbor doubts that they would have understood what they were saying. I hope so, any way. In the game of life that includes depression medication, I will be waiting another month to see if I adjust to it to the point where side effects diminish or disappear. Or not. Rinse. Wash. Repeat (as needed). 

I confess that I am broken and wonder if I will ever be whole. I am wounded and wonder if I will ever be healed. Faith declares the answer to be Jesus, the great “yes.” However, in the test of life, I’m beginning to think that this particular question is more essay than short answer; and a multi-parter to boot. Maybe struggles and doubt and pain make me a better pastor, maybe a worse one. I really don’t know. And I’m ok with that.  I “pastor on” because it was what I know how to do, believe that I am called to do, and I can’t imagine another vocation, which is comforting. I pastor on because every time self-doubt creeps in and occasionally brings self-loathing along as a date, God (and I believe with all of my heart that it is God) tosses them out with signs and wonders that open my eyes; eyes that I didn’t even know I had shut to what is taking place around me: the beauty, the spirit, the joy, the love.

And that is more than enough. me

So How Did You Spend World Mental Health Day?

So it has been three months since I last posted on the old BLOG.
It isn’t because I had nothing to write.
It wasn’t because I was too busy.
In fact, I’m not really sure why, but I have some thoughts, some suspicions.

In honor of World Mental Health Day I managed to remember my password and here I am to ponder my drawing back, going quiet, and other related things.

It has been 26 months now since I was first diagnosed with clinical depression and accompanying anxiety and 24 months since the auto-immune disease lupus was confirmed present in my body.
As I have said before, it is a sort of chicken and egg thing as to which came first since one can be present without the other (or not), but they have a somewhat intertwined relationship. My blood counts for lupus are all healthy (yeah team!). My psychiatrist is retiring and we have had our last visit (crap!) And I have about three months worth of medication to find out if my new one will work out (shudder!) Florida’s hotter and more humid summer is nearly over (THANK GOD!) I’ve lived here for 16 years and they are by my own quasi-scientific analysis getting worse and that is before Zika and other more unpronounceable diseases are figured in.

Confession: I’ve been anxious.
Not about contracting Zika (even though I love spending time doing photography in places that are the equivalent of a mosquito Disneyland), nor the blisters that have been randomly forming on my fingers for half a year which may or may not be caused by (1) stress (2) some chemical agent (3) my OTC allergy meds (4) some auto immune issue.

Those things I deal with.

As summer has moved into fall and the various gears and levers in my brain that need to be pushed and pulled in order to adjust to changes in workload and tempo and such awaited to be pushed and pulled, my can of whatever the emotional, physical, and spiritual equivalent of 10W-40 is just flat-out rattled empty.
Pfffffft! Nothing.

I dropped out of some Facebook Groups because I no longer had the amount of energy necessary to engage there. I stopped writing here. I withdrew from some commitments. Starting anything seemed like climbing a hill on a very hot day with no shade and an empty water bottle with all of the election year junk mail in a backpack on my shoulders. Everything required so much energy. My head got foggier and thinking muddier and decisions harder. My cats sensed it as they began to take to my lap every time I sat down. Apollo, lovingly called Sasquatch, had put on a few pounds since the last time. I let him stay on my lap which he quickly trades for my legs until I lose feeling in my feet. Luna would give my arm a bath with her sandpaper tongue until I swear she was removing layers of skin.

I got sick with fever, chills, aches and pains.
Was lupus kicking into gear or was it an upper respiratory infection (as the Urgent Care doctor suggested), who knows?
Still recovering, I headed off to one of my most favorite weeks of the year in which I trade swamps for mountains and beach sand for snow and shoot a thousand photos and see elk and deer and aspen’s turning their fall yellow. The air is cool and dry and fresh and friends old and new surround me with their prayers, joy, and creativity and renew my spirit. This year I had tacked on a quick meeting and four days with some relatives in majestic Oregon, including two that I had not seen since I was 12.

Thanks to the random movements and killer winds of Hurricane Matthew I was on a plane back home eight days early, hurricane shutters in hand within half an hour of dumping my luggage on the floor. I could not not be home with such a threat bearing down on my family and my parishioners. I am at peace with that. No regrets.

But God I am tired.
Sasquatch is right here with me as I type this, doing his cat thing.
I have to think if I took my evening meds (I did).
I have to think about tomorrow (two meetings and some administration in the office).
I think about a few projects to conquer around the house (the patio fountain/pond and patio drainage and that shower head and electrical outlet).
I’ll need to shave tomorrow.

To end my day I will bandage up my blisters after smearing them with the strongest steroid cream made and see what else Twitter thinks of the most recent presidential debate.

There is 35 minutes left to World Mental Health Day.
How did you spend yours?img_4225

The Handyman Can

For most of my life, nearly all of my life, no one would confuse me with being a handyman.

My dad, he built an entire room from the ground up when I was a kid. He had a garage full of tools, some of which he had inherited from his father, my grandfather, who made toys for his children. From scratch. Lincoln logs and blocks and who knows what else. Better than you could buy from the store. My grandfather had a basement full of tools.  Saws and lathes and drills and hammers and sanders and chisels and things which have names that I do not know.

If he wanted to, I am certain with his set up down there that he could have built Sputnik in a race with the entire Soviet empire. But let’s face it, homemade Lincoln logs are much cooler and more practical.

I have neither a garage, nor a basement. Maybe that’s my problem.The cause of so many years of my lack of handyman-ness

I would mix my little organizing drawers full of woods screws and sheet metal screws and sheetrock nails and tiny screwdrivers and drill bits. Orphan parts left over from too many attempted IKEA projects went here and there, making friends with Allen wrenches and odd bits of sandpaper and used single serving crazy glue containers. My kitchen cabinet glassware is organized by size, material, and use.  Every wrongly placed cup or mug is immediately re-shelved. There are no cures for this, only a doctoral thesis waiting to be written. One look at my kitchen and my tool room and one hundred people surveyed would agree: this man is no handyman, but he can find a coffee mug when he needs one

 I am not a handyman, and unfortunately things break.

Lawn sprinklers get run over or mowed over or accidently shoveled. Washers and driers and stoves fizzle and stop working. Lights and electrical switches fail to answer the call. Doors fall off their hinges. The dishwasher gives up the ghost. The garbage disposal actually eats itself.

When Piper and I first got married the running joke was that I loved folding laundry and she loved power tools. To some that was a match made in heaven. The truth is that (a) I still believe we are a match made in heaven (b) That even at a young age, anxiety and self-doubt kept me away from most common tools and simple repairs.  I might venture to change the AC filter or a light bulb, but the one time I tried to hang curtain rods resulted in enough extra holes to require an entire tub of spackling. It is a testament to our strong marriage that we survived such an early test. At least when I hung pictures in our new home I could hide the holes until we moved.

Two years into this whole therapy and depression/anxiety medication thing, I am really starting to reap some benefits besides saying goodbye to the whole “hides in the house and doesn’t think he will ever be happy again” life. The “take a defensive posture for everything” life. The “cries at sappy sitcoms, sappy commercials, sappy songs and over lunch catching up with friends that he hasn’t seen in 30 years” life (Sorry about that S. I am much better now).

That “self-doubt, paralyzing doubt, doubting everything doubting all, doubting life,” life can kiss my ass.

Two years in and with my two new friends “youtube” and HomeDepot, projects that I once dismissed as impossible, I tackle with zeal and the Internet. Everything I listed back in paragraph three, I have fixed.  It wasn’t brain surgery. I didn’t build a room or half a house or replace an electrical panel or finish a basement or tear out a bathroom and start over. But when an electrician charges a couple of hundred bucks to replace the burner on a smooth top stove and I did it with fifteen minutes, a quick check of a video on my cell phone, and a $50 part, I’ll take it.

Here is truth, raw and honest: Anxiety-bred self-doubt desiccates one’s life.

I never lived until I re-wired my first electric light switch (with a master electrician on facetime the whole time). And after four attempts, I finally threw the switch and the light went on. And then I made it go off. Then on. Then off. I felt powerful. Complete. Handy.

Half a dozen years ago our 50 something year-old bedroom door, hanging on to its hinges by a few too many coats of paint and a prayer  was declared “unfixable.” We were told to live with it. Today it opens and closes.  To be honest, it isn’t pretty. It is a little too tight. But the first time I shut it and it stayed shut after four hours with an electric drill, wood chisel, hammer, and utility knife, I smiled. I texted friends. Sent a photo to my wife. I threw out my back in the process and haven’t been able to sleep a full night in bed even after anti-inflammatory drugs, ever since,  but that is not important.

I was being handy.

A big masking tape “X” outside our front door reminds me that our doorbell hasn’t worked in seven years. Yep, I googled the troubleshooting steps. I really don’t want a working doorbell, but it is broken. And I fix broken things. With help.

I think I need an intervention. And a dishwasher full of assorted cups and mugs. Stat.



In Which on the Starting Blocks of Life, We Wet Ourselves

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:7 (NRSV)

A lot of people check their doors at night to make sure that each one is locked before going to bed. At one time in my life this ritual would repeat itself, like some poorly-made parody of the movie “Ground Hog Day.” I would get up from my desk, not quite sure if I had checked both doors, and circle the living room, checking both the sliding glass door and the front door locks and return to my seat, only to get up a few moments later and repeat the process. And again. And again. If I told myself that, of course I had just checked them both, a little voice would whisper, “Are you sure?” and off I would go. I HAD to check them again. And again.

For more than a dozen years I baked two loaves or more of communion bread for the weekly Sunday morning services. The process would take hours for the mixing, rising, shaping, panning and baking. The latter half of my week revolved around setting aside the time. I had to make them, you see. People depended upon it. If I didn’t, well I never really finished that thought because the anxiety would go full-throttle and I would find myself baking. I have the burn scars from the hot oven to prove it. After hundreds and hundreds of baking sessions, one acquires accidental burns and the scars that their healing often bring.

And not infrequently, the baking of bread might like this: after mixing the dough, which involved pouring boiling water over a bowl of rolled oats, butter, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, and salt, I would allow it to cool before kneading in bread flour and yeast. Then I would set it aside to rise for a couple of hours, before the second kneading. And I would pause half way through this second kneading trying to remember if I had washed my hands first. And trying to remember what I had been up to before my hands had touched the dough. And I would throw out the dough and start over because the anxiety would lock up my brain and keep my memories prisoner. So the hours long process would begin again.

I want you to be free from anxieties…   1 Corinthians 7:32a

When I swam for our high school swim team, with my speedo and 145 pounds of body weight, the crescendo of anxiety came when I stood atop the starting block, every muscle primed for the starter’s whistle, adrenaline coursing through every cell, my mind a whirlwind of thoughts and fears to the point where I thought I would wet myself. Maybe I did on occasion. Science will tell us that this can occur when our limbic system overcomes the signals from our pre-frontal cortex. Basically, our fear overrides our will and our bodies do the things that we do not want to do, ever, especially in front of other people, and in this case girls. My brief perusal of the research on this suggests that there is no evolutionary purpose, no positive explanation. It just is. It just happens. We get nervous and anxious and occasionally we pee on the starting blocks before the 10 yard breaststroke.

If we are made in the very image of God, not just our eyes and noses, but our emotional selves, our capacity to love and deeply, our compassion and empathy, our desire for forgiveness and to forgive, to know and be known, then I figure anxiety is God in shop class playing with clay for the first time and having the project shatter into pieces in the kiln. God decides to keep those shattered pieces around as a reminder of, well something: A first attempt, a failed attempt, sentimental value, to fix later only to be forgotten about in some old closet. Who knows? After all, God created mosquitoes.

According to the website of the Florida State University Anxiety Clinic

…If these feelings [of anxiety] can be so uncomfortable, why do we have them? The answer is simple: protection! The body has developed anxiety, panic, and worry as a protective alarm system to aid in coping with potential threats and dangers.

This protective alarm system is even more amazing when you consider that the protective function really exists on two levels. We are set up to respond to threats in two ways: a “preparation” mode and a “reaction” mode.

The preparation mode, consisting of anxiety and worry, helps us prepare for future danger or helps us prepare for threats which may be delayed. In essence, this type of fear tells us “You are not in danger. . .YET! But let’s prepare for what may lie ahead….It can be difficult to tell if your level of anxiety is too much. A good rule of thumb is “how much does this impair my life or keep me from doing the things I would like to do?”

How much does this impair my life or keep me from doing the things I would like to do?”

Anxiety would often build in me and leave me emotionally paralyzed. I could not move on to the next task in my life without confronting what I believe to be that issue’s root cause. I could not put it aside. Box it up for later. Or sweet Jesus, just let it go.

I could take a moment now and apologize to all of those people in high school and college and beyond who I would call out of the blue day or night to apologize for some imagined slight or misunderstanding that I believe I had committed against them. They would pick up the phone and have no idea what I was talking about and I would have to take ten minutes to explain what wrong I believed I had done to them; words I might have said that could have been taken the wrong way. Stuff like that. Inevitably they would reassure me and my life would unfreeze and I could go on. I can’t imagine what went through their minds after they received the sixth or seventh phone call like that within in a few month’s time.

It was really like that. And it would get worse.

I grew up and grew older and got married and “Keith,” my wife would ask, “Do you want to…” and my knee-jerk reaction would be to say “No.” It didn’t matter what it was. Everything produced anxiety, especially anything new. My brain would kick into some other gear and my heart would beat faster and some voice inside my head kept shouting “No! No! No!” If I tried to list all of things I did not do. We did not do. That I ruined. Jeez. That trip down memory lane is about as healthy as one of those hamburgers that use Krispy Crème doughnuts in place of a bun.

Anxiety still occasionally pollutes the fresh air of this new life. Episodes are rare, but not gone. Projects that end up taking me as little as five minutes have just in this past month turned off my mental engine and walked away with the keys for awhile. And I sat there frozen, unable to take the first step to get them back, like I have forgotten how to walk. Thank God these are no longer frequent occurrences. They are merely occasional reminders of how delicate a thing brain chemistry is and how it works so well for so many so often that we do not give it a second thought until our thoughts skip like an old record.

Sometimes life is a choice between tossing out part of our record collection or risking the skip. And I’m OK with that.DSC_3046

Just Say Yes* to Drugs

Just say “Yes” to drugs.

*The ones prescribed by a competent psychiatrist. (Emphasis on competent).

Just say “yes” to the psychotropic ones that alter brain chemistry when they have decided to take up surfing or mountain climbing or cave exploration rather than keep their day jobs and be satisfied with instant Maxwell House instead of Starbucks.

Brain chemistry is an emerging science. I’m guessing that most people do not worry about their levels of serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine. It is not what they think about when they wake up or kiss their spouse or go to work or get disappointed when another crash has back up I-95 like a parking lot. Some of us do or should. When they get unbalanced, so will you.

Hence the importance of medication.

At least give them a fair shake. Find the right drug, the right dose, monitor in constant dialogue with your psychiatrist and see how your life can be.

When you are done trying to pray away your depression, or ignoring it.

When you finally overcome your “psychotropic drugs are for weak people” hang up.

Or your belief that it is perfectly acceptable to cry every single day and not want to leave the house and obsess about why everyone doesn’t love and appreciate you and see no positive future for your life, ever.

Just say “yes.”

What psychotropic drugs do for people like me and millions of others is to give us our life back. They give us our life back though we may not remember what life was like before. Or if there was a “before.”

They give us a life that is different from the one that is or was, a different life.

A more preferred life.

But not necessarily a more normal life. Psychiatrists hate that word “normal” because what is normal for you might totally suck for me and vise versa. For example, I enjoy folding laundry, butterfly gardening, photography, NPR, 60’s groups like the Grass Roots, loving my wife deeply, and buying books that I may never read. You might enjoy some of these things, but not all of them and probably enjoy other things and consider yourself normal. My normal and your normal do not have to be the same, so the term creates more problems than it is worth.

Of course, there are likely some things that we all can agree upon are either normal or not, but current reality TV suggests there is always a niche for a new normal for someone out there.

Before medication, my body which had always been a bit susceptible to poor reactions to stress, but typically bounced back after some R&R and a few months in counseling had finally, like a piece of metal flexed too many times, weakened and broken. Over the years I had suffered from a stream of health problems related to stress from burning reflux to Irritable Bowel Syndrome-like symptoms to Erectile Disfunction (just typing those last two words is so much fun for me now – try it). But two years ago even I in the midst of my own new normal of tears and darkness and fear and self-loathing and reflexive defensiveness could see that I had a problem that even a purring cat couldn’t solve (Honestly, Luna cat, it wasn’t your fault).

And as I type this now after nearly two years of medication and therapy and a second cat, I am more than ready to declare that life today is not like the life that once was. My serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine play much nicer with one another. Most of the time. Without too many side effects. Anxiety does seem to drop from the sky from time to time. Is it a “normal” amount of anxiety? A “typical and acceptable” amount? Eh. I would prefer none, but as my saintly shrink likes to remind me, I am stuck being a human being. Do I still get depressed? Again, eh. Rinse, wash and repeat what I said about anxiety. Certain things can trigger either of them, my own personal kryptonite. I know them and for the most part I still can’t do much about them short of constant vigilance and avoidance. It gives my psychiatrist and I something to talk about every few months.

There is real joy now. Moments profound and deep and rich with feeling, of being one with God and the universe and time and space and all that. Moments that I no longer fear will not repeat; lost forever, worthy of grief and sorrow and cascades of tears. Maybe now is the true beginning of faith. And honestly, I do not give a sh*t whether the drugs have unblocked them and freed me to experience them or produced them by setting some mad scientist free in my brain. If it is the latter, I owe him/her/it and their ordinary drip coffee-drinking selves, my life.


Apparently I’m Still (Uneasily) Human

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
 and the light around me become night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to you;
 the night is as bright as the day,
 for darkness is as light to you – Psalm 139:11-12

Apparently I’m still human.

Though I am still not so sure how I feel about it, emotions being such messy things.

Let me explain.

In all things moderation, the saying goes. However, I am by nature not a particularly moderate person. Years ago, when my wife mentioned we might want to start cutting back on beef and pork, I went cold turkey (except for bacon, because, of course, bacon.) When we first moved here sixteen years ago and I decided to garden, I ended up digging up huge swaths of grass around the house and have been futzing with it ever since.  There are 23 pots of African violets within my line of sight as I type this.  My legacy in lack of moderation speaks for itself.

One of the side effects or at least outcomes of two years of medication and therapy has been an impact in my “enthusiasms” as well as my emotions. The internal fire from my hobby of nature photography has not burned out, but remains a time of solace and renewal for me. As for my emotions, when one goes from crying almost daily to once or twice a year and from becoming impatient and angry quite frequently to once or twice a year, any hint of negative emotion can be alarming, almost shocking.  Recently that alarm rang in deafening clangs and whoops and siren screams. I had the experience of that paralyzing unhinging of emotional control; going from master of the moments of my life to a lost child who keeps repeating a single phrase: Did I forget to lock the door?

When one stands of the precipice of the deep dark rabbit hole of depression, frozen in place by anxiety and the ground begins to give way, panic usually ensues and builds upon itself, a tsunami of misplaced energy and debris. Pointing into the hole is a sign: “This way there be monsters” until the sign, itself, becomes victim and food for the abyss.

This time I refused to be consumed, to be nutrient and simultaneously excrement in the ongoing neuro-chemical war in my brain and body. Not. This. Time.

I struck back at the chaos brought on by a person, who had once again wounded me, by this time separating them from their unhealthy behaviors. Behaviors are things that can be placed in the matrix of acceptable and unacceptable. Others can be invited in to offer wisdom and determined a shared and agreed upon way forward. I was no longer alone and involving others became a lifeline pulling me back, keeping my feet firmly planted.DSC_0740

Look, we can seek to love people without affirming poor behavior. Without proper boundaries everything is food for the darkness, which has consumed many people and perhaps especially pastors who often struggle, I suggest, with separating people from their behaviors and inviting others in to take a firm stand on the matter. Congregations can be havens for unhealthy people for there is where a loving and supportive community gathers and there is where the power and presence of Jesus, our wounded healer can be especially present and experienced. Congregations are also where things can be so right and go so wrong when unhealthy behaviors are tolerated, and by that I mean, ignored or even affirmed when grace is confused with pity.

We can’t fix people, but we can seek to respond to their behaviors in appropriate ways. We can continue to work on our own health so that we do not become victims  and in that we make ourselves more open to more truly and deeply loving God and neighbor.

A Sigh Too Deep for Words

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.                          Romans 8:26 (NRSV)

I find it hard to pray when my brain is on fire.

The words do not come, though I try to push them out, birth them with the practiced ease of a thousand, thousand prayers before.

I want to, try to, but I cannot.

It is hard to pray when my brain is on fire, body exhausted; a sure sign that I have overdone it, heaped one too many logs on the fire of stress, once again reminding myself that all is not well with me. Somewhere deep inside me there continues to lurk a disease that will unfailingly find the open door and return triumphant. I come home unable to work one more minute, collapse into bed and the hours pass by. I sleep but not for lack of sleeping, but in response to a body with no more energy for activity; to let the fire burn low, coals in time extinguished, the fuel of the regularity of even the simple things consumed.

I could take the path of self-indulgent pity I suppose, shaking a fist at the sun, the moon, the stars, the heavens, at God that two years of therapy and thousands of pills and hundreds of thousands of steps could still leave me so fragile that one day, one conversation, one act by one person could ricochet in memory and loose pain so long now left behind, give that pain legs, muscle, a will to race into my present and leave the healthier me in the dust.

But I do not want that pity.

The fire in my brain will not consume me. Not this time. No.

For even in the midst of a conflagration of past and present, of memory and actuality, the way forward has a voice, a certainty in the smoke and heat and flame. Instead of being lost, a way forward finds me and I take it and the rightness of it helps to still the building up of anxiety and I can take a breath.

Such battles leave me tired, so tired, yet not defeated. There is a victory to give thanks for even as such a prayer still cannot come, will not come. But some days even if my only words are sighs, they are enough. Such is the promise. Such is all our hope.


Of Calories, Neurogenesis and Apparently, Sex

So Saturday we are planning our make-up Valentine’s Day, since Piper was down hard with the flu during the actual one. As of this writing we are all healthy and the flu has flown. Recovery is nearly complete. The weather is pleasant. The winter birds are flocking. I have my wildlife lens setup on the camera tested and ready to go. And to boot, I took most of this week off from work to catch up on projects around the house, like repotting Piper’s orchids and giving my home butterfly garden some attention. But since I love my wife much more than I do her dendrobiums and phalaenopsis, today I made chicken piccata with angel hair pasta. Why is this important? Because nothing can adjust the trajectory of the week towards a beautiful weekend of laughter and smooches, then some homemade Italian cooking. Google it. I’ll wait while you blush.

I ended up eating roughly 172 calories of piccata placed upon 200 calories of pasta. And a 2 oz slice of ciabatta with 45 calories worth of Brommel & Brown yogurt spread that tastes amazingly like butter without putting me over my saturated fat limit for the day. And baby carrots which barely caused my calorie count to flinch. And my third glass of water for the day replacing three of my usual four cups of tea with milk and sugar and several glasses of ice tea which I have only taken a liking to in the previous year or so and so actually miss it.

We (by we, I mean me, because my wife takes a much more rational approach about such things) have become crazy health zombies who live and die by the feedback given by “MyFitnessPal.”   I’m barely over 1,500 calories for the day, which means I’ve eaten about as much as that fictional space guy who was stranded on Mars in The Martian, without haven’t to wear a space suit or deal with imminent death every other minute, though I did just upgrade my seven year old computer to Windows 10, if that counts.

So after having walked some 660,000 steps so far in 2016 and not losing any weight I decided to look at the other variable in the equation: calories, or my indiscriminant intake of them.  I marvel at all of the folks busy doing cleanses, downing protein shakes, doing the paelo-diet or the Atkins diet or Weight Watchers or the South Beach diet or the cookie diet or whatever. Hey, if it works for you, rock on!  Ditto for joining a gym. I am a simple guy who is going to try a simple formula. Eat Less + exercise more = happy doctor/wife/me. I am on pace to lose 30 pounds in a year.  Why? Because 180 pounds sounds a lot better than 210. Because it would mean a lot less stress on my knees and back and better cholesterol and a longer life if I am not randomly struck by lightning or eater by an alligator or bitten by some killer mosquito while photographing in the Everglades (note to self: put more cream on those two bites on my ankles from last week’s excursion).

When you have lupus you are always tired. So I thought, screw it, I am going to get healthy and put a little more plus on the balance of plusses and minuses in my daily life.  And I have six pairs of jeans that no longer fit me in my closet that may fit me in a couple of months, so take that LL BEAN free $10 gift card with a jeans purchase email sending person. If I lose weight I have free pants that will fit.

I am also reading this book that says that 70% of our aging after 50 is not necessary. That so much of this later life aging is because of the choices we make or don’t make in our eating and exercising. That every time I tell myself I am north of fifty and now it will be that gradual slide down hill over some cacti and into a pile of rocks while wearing pants with that hidden comfort waistband, that I am lying to myself. That with proper diet and exercise and having some passion and purpose to build meaning in my life that it won’t totally suck until I am sucking my food through a straw and watching Love Boat reruns while wearing white socks with black shoes.

Hang on a second, I need to record the two cups of Cheerios I just ate which pushed me above the daily caloric intake of Matt Damon’s Mark Watney on Mars. (Editor’s note: the audiobook of The Martian is all kinds of awesome. Download it now and listen while you read this, but remember that Matt Damon is in the movie, not reading the audiobook, though I am sure he could have).

And as we are talking health, somewhere on Twitter I learned that sustained aerobic exercise enables the brains of mice to rebuild. You and I and every adult have been losing brain cells for years, so the topic of neurogenesis is very hot right now. Apparently running and other such aerobic activity isn’t the only way to stimulate neurogenesis, either. lists 11 Ways to Grow New Brain Cells. So with lupus and lupus meds and depression and anxiety meds all part of my daily “stuff” and most of these possible contributors to “brain fog” (it’s a thing, google it), I figure more brain cells is something I need to get up to speed on, like, yesterday. Other than several substances currently illegal in my home state of Florida, activities such as running and sex made the list as did restricting caloric intake (I’m holding at two apples a day for snack). Omega-3 rich foods (think fish and about half of the supplement aisle in your average pharmacy). Throw in blueberries, green tea and anti-depressants and it makes for a great topic of conversation for that next party when all people want to do is talk about the election and the odds that they might be moving to Canada soon. Of course, the benefit of all of these new neurons in one’s brain is still a topic of research, but my money is that more is always better when it comes to brain cells.

Well, time to drink another glass of water. Stay healthy, my friends! I’ll check back in around 1,000,000 steps or so to see how you are doing.


A Valentine’s Interrupted

I roll over in bed, the light telling me that it is morning, my glasses well out of reach, the cat, hungry, swatting my nose with just a hint of claw, not yet fully annoyed with me. My wife coughs, once, twice, her full-blown case of the flu now in its third day. “You’re beautiful,” I tell her. And she is. And it coaxes a smile even through the misery.

We’re both exhausted after five late night hours in Urgent Care, my wife one among a full house of masked people, all coughing and sneezing and feverish. Next to us, behind a white curtain, a nurse and mother have moved on from gentle encouragement to threatening a young boy with a shot if he purposefully (“I can tell you did that on purpose!”) throws up his medicine again. The doctor, who had been running from patient to patient in the midst of a triage room bursting at the seams from a flu epidemic, finally found us, me standing at the door, arms folded, trying to look imposing and annoyed at the wait. The damn guy was cheerful. Kind. Compassionate. Thorough. Helpful. I sat down like the exhausted lump that I was and let the awe of his upbeatness wash over me.

The nurse gives my wife something for her pain. And now we must wait longer to make sure she doesn’t have a reaction to it. Prescriptions find their way to us, one, two, three, four. Thank God there is a pharmacy down the street that is still open at 1 AM. We know this because the doctor told us about it. He alone may be the tipping point for justifying human cloning.

The pharmacy seems as busy as the Urgent Care, not from the flu epidemic, but from an epidemic of people needing to buy heart-shaped balloons and bouquets of flowers and Hallmark cards and chocolate. Valentine’s Day is an hour old and they are just catching up. “Is your insurance up to date?” asks the pharmacist. I pull out my insurance card and look at it. I can’t remember the last time I had to show it at my regular pharmacy. “I have no idea,” I say. Honestly, I don’t. Cheerfully she scans it and tells me to come back in five minutes. I shop the nearby vitamin counter. Who on earth would willingly take a daily dose of Krill oil? Isn’t that whale food? Apparently it is better for my heart than fish oil, but they are also selling fish oil. Just in case.

I wander back over to the window and use the counter to prop up my body, which technically might already be asleep. I must be dreaming since the store is filled with young children who wander the very cheap toy aisle while a parent grabs a balloon that says: “LOVE.” The pharmacist is interrupted by a request for the bathroom to be unlocked. The pharmacist moves to the microphone and announces this request over the loudspeaker. It is 1:15AM. And she is still smiling. My name is called, I search my wallet for my debit card, which I swipe just as I remember that we have a different debit card for our health savings account. I look up and say that I have used the wrong card. She smiles and says no problem and I empty my wallet on the counter looking for the correct card. The young woman who needed the bathroom returns to report that it is still locked. As I find the correct card the loudspeaker once again requests that someone unlock the bathroom. Transaction complete, the pharmacist goes over the proper way to take all of the medication and wishes me a good night and hopes that my wife feels better. I walk past the long line of red mylar balloons at the regular check out counter and head home.

The rest of the night is a mixture of all that a full-on case of the flu brings. Hint: it may involve continuous trips to the bathroom. During a lull I wish my wife a happy Valentine’s Day, trying to be sweet. She turns and looks at me. Her expression is inscrutable. “I love you,” I say.

And I do.

I can’t remember the last time my wife was sick, let alone this sick. On the balance of our marriage, the last few years I have so tipped the scales from illness that they may have very well fallen over. I do not know what goes through the mind of a spouse when the other in the relationship suffers as long as I have from bouts of depression and anxiety. Honestly, it is a question I have never been brave enough to ask. And if it were only just depression and anxiety. I cannot count the number of afternoons she has come home after a full day of teaching science to middle-schoolers and all that accompanies education in this day and age, only to find dinner not made, a sink full of dirty dishes, a dinning room table piled high with unfolded clothes and me asleep in the recliner, exhausted by an auto-immune disease that pits my body against itself.

There is not enough gratitude in the world to right the balance, to make up for the days, the moods, the disappointments. There was a day, many years ago now, when we looked into each other’s eyes, holding hands, and laughed while we promised to love one another in sickness and in health for as long as we both shall live. Such vows, when we make them, we so often have no idea on their depth; how they will be etched into our soul; the full-on cost of a few simple words truthfully held in trust and faith. I think we are learning.

I love you, Piper. Always.