When you’re drowning.

“We are drowning.”

I said those words to one of my most trusted friends today. Words that I’ve been avoiding. Words that I haven’t let my heart feel. But the most accurate words to describe how I truly feel under the “I’m fine!” attitude.

Today I also realized there are 32 unread text messages on my phone. Mostly from people I love. Some checking in, some waiting for a question answered, some funny gifs that I’ve yet to open. My life also has 32 things on hold. Heavy things. Things I’m trying to hold up from the water so even as I’m drowning, I won’t let anyone or anything down.

It’s not that I have problem saying no, it’s one of my favorite words (I’ve obviously been hanging out with my two year old). We have almost zero extracurricular activities this summer. We’ve rarely seen friends. We haven’t made it to our long weekend in St.Louis. The things I’m holding up have almost nothing to do with me. But the people I hold dearest. The people who live in my home. They are carrying heavy, tired, broken hearts…and I am holding them.

Do you know this feeling? The tightness of your chest that you don’t notice until you sit down at the end of the day. The tears that are always close to the surface but rarely fall. The constant strain to grab a breath just in case your lungs have to hold air for a while before you can resurface.

Maybe you’re holding foster care and financial stress and aging parents. Or maybe it’s homeschooling and foster care and mental health. Maybe your combo is infertility and self-employment and moving. It’s possible your situation is a mix of all of those scenarios.

Whatever it is that has you drowning, I see you, I feel it, I know it’s hard. I know your arms are tired and your lungs are burning. I know your prayers are more angry than loving. I know you’ve have to apologize to the Creator for being bitter and ungrateful.

Guess what? He sees you too.

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King. It is He who will save us.” Isaiah 33:22

Whatever the injustice. Whatever the pain. Whatever it is that is starting to cover your head. Our Lord, our King, He will save us.

Today, by verbalizing my complete feeling of drowning, I turned it over to the King letting Him know I was ready for saving. I still don’t know what that looks like for me. But I do know that I was not created to live in a state of drowning…and neither were you.

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Change the Conversation.

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I never say, “He committed suicide.” I always say, “He died of mental illness.” My dad was sick. The sickness was fatal. The sickness killed him. And the sickness is taboo and often time brings awkward feelings when I talk about it in normal every day conversations.

There are so many terrible fatal diseases in our world and mental illness is one of them. It is a sickness as serious as any other fatal illnesses that have touched your life. It is why I know, when I tell others that my dad was sick for a long time, and eventually succumbed to his illness, I know I am not lying. Mental illness is real, it is ugly, and it can be fatal if not properly treated. Your friend, your cousin, Kate Spade, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, my dad. They didn’t just choose to stop being. Their brains were broken.

This week, I have seen mental illness shake my personal community, and the world as a whole. Mental illness induced suicide has rocked my personal world more than anyone should have to bare. I’ve been on the sidelines as friends and relatives spiraled. I’ve known it was coming and I have been shocked when I received the news. And until mental illness is treated with the same respect, perseverance, and dedication to knowledge as other illnesses, we are still going to be shocked when we lose another precious life.

 

The conversation has to change.

 

“Just pray more.”

“He must have not felt loved.”

“I wish you would just decide to be happy.”

“Don’t take those pills! When I feel sad I just hit up the gym.”

“I didn’t even know she was depressed!”

“I don’t understand why he chose to take his life.”

 

Have you ever said or heard these things when talking to others about depression, bipolar disorder, ptsd, or suicide? It is ok if you have. I was there too at one point in my life. But first hand experiences and education changed my tune. If you have ever been touched by mental illness (you most likely have, by the way), make a choice to be informed. Decide that you want better for this world, for your friends, your family, yourself! Be aware of friends who start to party unusually hard, family members who have pulled away, habitual canceled plans, interest that start to fizzle. Care with a fierce intensity. Use some of the many resources at our fingertips to start changing the conversation about mental illness in your circle. Because as your circle changes so will the world.

To my friends who are in deep dark places of hurting: I have been there. I have spent hours in a hot shower trying to get the sting of panic and depression to lessen. I’ve felt the weight of the world pressing on my chest. I have poured over scripture begging God to change my brain. I have spent days in bed willing the world to care. My dear friend gave me permission to use her words, words that be both deeply believe, and you can too…

“I want to remind everyone to persist. If you feel alone and disconnected from everyone in your life, maybe to the point you feel them losing interest in your struggle–persist. If you have been stuck in a rut for 5 years, even with professional help–persist. If you feel as if you’re just “done”–persist. Nothing lasts forever. Neither happiness nor sadness. Please persist. I’ve been there and I still end up there occasionally. But when it’s good, it’s really good. And life is surprising. Just keep persisting. Remain here and see where you end up. It’ll be worth it. You owe yourself as much time as possible. Persist.”

Jesus cares. And He sees you. He knows what it feels like to be hurt and betrayed. He loves you. He gave us brains to use, hearts to feel, and souls to love. He also allows doctors to use their knowledge to learn how to heal and treat this terrible sickness. Let us use our God-given brains, hearts, and souls to focus on changing the conversation surrounding mental illness.

 

Here are some fantastic resources to start and continue a healthy conversation about mental illness:

https://twloha.com/learn/

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

https://www.mentalhelp.net/

Grief. Two years later.

Grief.

“a. deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.”

Such a tricky word that encompasses so much, yet feels too small to cover the feeling it brings. If you are walking into the Christmas season with grief in your heart, I feel you.

Today, it has been two years since I received the word that my father was missing. Tonight, it will be two years since mental illness ended his life.  I was a thousand miles away and within minutes my life changed forever. Walking into “the most wonderful time of the year” while also feeling like I’d rather skip it is my new normal. And I know I am not alone. I know there are friends around the globe wishing they would wake up and Christmas would be over because it’s a chore to fake joy every day in December.

The strange thing about grief is that it looks so different on each hurting person. My grieving process probably looks different from your grieving process. My siblings and I all grieve the same loss differently. It is important to remember that it’s quite okay if your grief looks different from those around you. The first few months after dad left I had to figure out how to be okay with what my grief looked like. Because I despised the random outbursts of tears in the middle of coaching, the need to take hour long showers to catch my breath, or the canceling of activities. None of those things are who I am, but who grief turned me into. I am thankful for an amazing support and counseling to get me through those horrible months, but grief never really goes away, at least it hasn’t two years later. However, in the grief there is also joy. And in the hurt, there is also peace. And in the missing, there is also remembering.

 

“For everything there is a season…A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance” Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

 

My mother has used a phrase since we started this journey as suicide survivors. She reminds us often: God Wins. God wins…period. Grief is a battle. Sometimes, it is an every day battle. Sometimes, I can go a whole week without needing my dad for something. But regardless, we grieve, God wins.

I know I have many reading this who never had the opportunity to meet my loud, dry humored, Disney movie loving, sports talking, thing fixer of a father. I ask that you read my speech from his memorial service (click here). I believe it paints a clear picture of what he meant to each of us who knew him. It does not seem fair that he left this world before more people could have him in their life. It pains me that I do not get to experience him whispering to my babies or building cribs for the loves who come into our home. But when I picture my dad in heaven I imagine him holding all of my friends babies who never made it to their arms, and I am once again grateful for him.

Thankful for hope and waiting for heaven.

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(Jimmy and baby Amber. May 1991)